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Can a pagan practice be "Christianized?"

By Marsha West

January 25, 2008

NewsWithViews.com

Is yoga just a way of reducing stress or is there more to it than that? I mean, everyone's doing it so it has to be a good thing…right? The short answer is that there's more to yoga than meets the eye. So bear with me as I explain the reasons practicing yoga "stretches traditional Christian boundaries" and why Christians should avoid yoga and seek other alternatives.

Yoga has gotten its eight limbed arms into the "Christian West" and, amazingly, a large number of Christians are participating in what has now been termed "Christian yoga" (CY). Before you bend to the temptation to join a class, ask yourself this question: Are Christians who practice yoga going against the Bible?

Many won't like the answer, but here it is anyway: The Bible says, "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds but rather expose them." Exposing evil keeps Christians from being "polluted by the world." And yes, yoga is evil. Now, before you get your kickers in a knot and dash off an angry email, allow me to enlighten you.

Yoga is being marketed to mainline churches with the assurance of creating stress reduction, developing self-confidence, and improving concentration. It is also marketed to business and industry, athletes, senior citizens, students, teens and adolescents. Because of our fast pace life-style, who wouldn't want to reduce stress? Which is why yoga classes have become so popular.

Now here's the main reason Christians should avoid yoga. Christian apologists John Ankerberg and John Weldon maintain that, "The basic premise of yoga theory is the fundamental unity of all existence: God, man, and all of creation are ultimately one divine reality." To explain the basic premise, the authors quote from an editorial in the Yoga Journal:

"We are all aware that yoga means 'union' and that the practice of yoga unites body, breath, and mind, lower and higher energy centers and, ultimately self and God, or higher Self. But more broadly, yoga directs our attention to the unity or oneness that underlies our fragmented experiences and equally fragmented world. Family, friends, the Druze guerrilla in Lebanon, the great whale migrating north—all share the same essential [divine] nature."[1]

Reportedly there are upward of 15 million yoga practitioners in the US so it would seem the yoga craze is here to stay.

But Pope Benedict XVI is not at all happy about the large number of Christians practicing yoga. Recently he gave this warning: "Yoga can degenerate into the cult of the body."

S. Michael Houdmann thinks yoga is blatantly anti-Christian philosophy. "It teaches one to focus on oneself instead of on the one true God. It encourages its participants to seek the answers to life's difficult questions within their own conscience instead of in the Word of God. It also leaves one open to deception from God's enemy, who searches for victims that he can turn away from God (1 Peter 5:8)."

And the purists aren't happy either. They believe that yoga without spirituality isn't yoga at all. Some Hindus complain that yoga with its Christian message just doesn't work. "If you take a tree and chop it's roots off then you don't have a tree." (Watch the video "Christian yoga sweeps the US" By Jeremy Cooke[2])

Believe it or not, there are CY practitioners who advise their students that practicing yoga can help draw the individual closer to God, improve spirituality, create self-awareness and, blasphemy of all blasphemies, help devotees find divinity within oneself. Take Parkwood Baptist Church in Annandale, Va. For example. The following occurred during a yoga class:

"Marylyn Mandeville sits crossed-legged on a mat in front of 11 of her students. Her hands are folded as if in prayer, framed by the slogan on her T-shirt: 'Know Yoga, Know Peace.' A gold cross rests on the Om symbol emblazoned on her shirt. 'Namaste,' she says to the class, bowing deeply while offering the Sanskrit salutation 'I bow to the God within you.'"[3]

Incredibly, her pastor had no problem with what she was teaching. In fact, he participated in the class!

Incidentally, Christians must know precisely what he or she is teaching the sheep entrusted to him or her. Clearly, CY practitioners like Marilyn haven't done their homework on Hinduism. Why is that, since Hinduism is the religion yoga is rooted in?

Listen to occult and cult expert, Caryl Matrisciana, who gives the reason God forbids His people to partake in pagan practices. She says, "While the word 'Yoga' isn't mentioned in the Bible, the idea of 'yoking' oneself to pagan gods and concepts is forbidden as is adulating self's desire above God's will."

Christians will argue that they only do the stretching and relaxation exercises. And since they don't embrace all that "divinity within" stuff Hindu's believe in, what's all the fuss about? They simply cannot wrap their minds around the idea that yoga cannot be separated from its Hindu roots.

Matrisciana warns that yoga postures, "are designed to form one's body into the likeness of man, animals, birds, insects, snakes, fish, and many more--all of which are revered as gods in Hinduism."

Hollywood is responsible for many of today's trends and has gotten into the act. Actress Janine Turner, a professing Christian, is hyping an exercise program that combines yoga moves with Christian meditation.

"As a dancer, Janine Turner loved the physical benefits of yoga. As a Christian, she didn't connect with yoga's roots in Eastern spirituality. Now she's found a middle way."[4]

The middle way Turner discovered is "Christoga." (Watch the "Christoga" trailer[5])

Mary Cunningham, a Hatha yoga instructor, wanted to do CY and approached Turner with the idea. She bought into it hook line and sinker. In an interview with Mary Jacobs of UM News, Turner was asked if yoga conflicts with Christianity. She replied that she wouldn't be afraid to go to a yoga class but admitted that "there are a lot of Christians that are, and there are churches that are. Yoga was inspired by Eastern religions. What's wonderful is that it works the body and the soul. I think that if Christians are going to do yoga, and if it is going to be spiritual, they'd like to be secure in knowing that it's a spirituality that they endorse."

Essentially what Turner is saying is that if Christians are going to do yoga anyway, then it should be made more palatable for those who are afraid of it. So she and Mary Cunningham put their heads together and came up with the catchy name "Christoga."

In my article "Christian Yoga? C'mon!" I made the comment that,

"Many Christians have been duped into thinking that yoga is just relaxation and exercise. Nothing could be further from the truth. Classical yoga is intended to put one into an altered state of consciousness. Believers who think they're 'just exercising' are being swept into a counterfeit religion."[6]

One can only hope Janine Turner will wise up.

And the same goes for Shelley Pagitt. Shelley is the wife of controversial Emerging Church "guru" Doug Pagitt. Shelley will be leading a CY class at Zondervan's 2008 National Pastors Convention. On the website we discover that attendees are welcome to join Shelley "for a time of prayer, stretching, and meditative reflection as you begin your day at the NPC."

CY is being offered to Church leaders and no one has a problem with it?

In a September 2007 CNN Primetime News interview [7] (Must watch!) Doug Pagitt and John MacArthur were asked "Should Christians practice yoga?" As space is limited, I'll summarize the interview. Doug Pagitt pastors a church that offers CY. During the exchange, he stated that in his view those who practice yoga are looking for a whole, complete and healed life. "Yoga can be a positive thing in our lives," he asserts. And of all the people he knows who practice yoga, none of them ever found themselves opened up to something negative or demonic or evil. (But Pagitt's dead wrong! A number of people have been negatively affected by yoga. More on this later.) The host asked Pagitt what Jesus would think about yoga. He replied that even though yoga predates Christ by a few thousand years, He never spoke against it. (What Padgitt seems to forget is that Jesus didn't speak against a number of things He certainly would have disapproved of.) We also learn from Pagitt that he believes Christianity and yoga are not in competition with each other and are not enemies of one another.

I mean really. This is unbelievable. Is Pastor Pagitt unfamiliar with what the Apostle Paul said in Eph. 6:10-13? He warned of demonic interference in the lives of believers – and he was not kidding around, nnbsp; Putting on the full Armor of God is imperative for God's people! "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power," Paul admonished. "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."

Authentic Christians are to stand against evil, not engage in it!

As for John MacArthur, he wondered why Christians would want to "borrow a term that is part of a false religion" (that clashes with historic orthodox Christianity). MacArthur contends that Christians shouldn't put themselves in weird physical positions, empty their minds, focus on him or herself, and try to find the "god within" as a way to relieve stress. "This is practicing a false religion," he said rather pointedly. Then he boldly shared the gospel. He said in order to have a whole and complete life Christians must go to the Word of God, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "The idea of Christianity is to fill your mind with biblical truth and focus on the God which is above you."

Bravo!

With all due respect, I found Pastor Pagitt's remarks disturbing -- especially the unkind remarks he made about John MacArthur to the CNN camera operator following the interview. (Watch the video to the end.) However, his comments on yoga aren't all that surprising as Pagitt is a "Progressive Christian." Most progressives (liberals) disagree with those who hold that the Bible is the literal inerrant Word of God. Thus, they are free to bend it and twist it and shape it into their postmodern worldview.

Another troubling aspect of yoga is that it can lead to involvement in meditation. "What harm is there in achieving a higher state of consciousness through meditation?" queries Douglas Groothuis in his article "Dangerous Meditations." His answer should give those who practice CY cause for concern:

"Eastern mystics claim that divine realities are utterly beyond words, thought, and personality. In order to find 'enlightenment,' one must extinguish one's critical capacities -- something the Bible never calls us to do (Rom. 12:1-2). In fact, suspending our critical capacities through meditation opens the soul to deception and even to spiritual bondage.

"The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. We are not one with an impersonal absolute being that is called 'God.' Rather, we are estranged from the true personal God because of our 'true moral guilt,' as Francis Schaeffer says.

"No amount of chanting, breathing, visualizing, or physical contortions will melt away the sin that separates us from the Lord of the cosmos—however 'peaceful' these practices may feel. Moreover, Paul warns that 'Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light' (2 Cor. 11:14). 'Pleasant' experiences may be portals to peril. Even yoga teachers warn that yoga may open one up to spiritual and physical maladies."[8]

Mantra meditation is unbiblical. Moreover, it matters not what Doug Pagitt has observed, yoga meditation can be dangerous.

Groothuis goes on to say,

"The biblical concept of prayer assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit is 'with groans that words cannot express' (Rom. 8:26)."[9]

I've got a couple of questions for CY practitioners. Do you really know what you're talking about? (1 Tim. 1:7) Are you teaching yoga to build up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:10-12)?

 

Consider what James 3:1 says, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly"

For those who desire to keep in shape join a stretch class! Or take a long walk and while walking, pray! And remember, "Friendship with the world is hatred toward God." Jesus tells us, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first."

Footnotes:

1, Yoga Theory and Practice: Separable? -- Part 1 by Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon
2, Christian Yoga Sweeps the US—BBC News
3, Yoga Stretches Traditional Christian Boundaries By Alexandra Alter
4, Christian meditation, yoga unite on DVD By Mary Jacobs
5, Christoga trailer – Westlake Entertainment
6, "Christian Yoga? C'mon!" By Marsha West
7, No Yoga for Christians? http://technorati.com/videos/youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D24r1LV93IXg">Prime News interview with John MacArthur & Doug Pagitt
8, Dangerous Meditations By Douglas Groothuis
9, Ibid

Additional Reading

1, Marsha West's articles on yoga, visit NewsWithViews website
2, Mantra Meditation By Ray Yungen
3, The Worldview and Practices of the Occult - Part 2 by Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon