A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Facing the NEW AGE Challenge
Have you ever heard of the Archangel Chamuel? He is said to be 'the angel of Divine Love and his influence on earth grows ever stronger'. Or 'Maitreya the World Teacher' who comes to inspire humanity to create a new civilisation based on freedom. justice and peace'? Or how about 'Universal Harmonic Healing' — 'a self healing technique, channeled by ancient healing masters from Atlantis'? Just a tiny sample of what was on offer at the four-day Quest Natural Health Show held at Newton Abbot Racecourse last July.
I was there because a group of local Christians who witness there regularly (this was their ninth year) invited me to fill two seminar spots. As I wandered around the exhibition and browsed the programme of events, I found the whole thing a real eye-opener. The first thing that struck me was the utter gullibility of the hundreds attending. People were paying £20 a time to have a photograph of their 'aura' taken, and £10 to attend a seminar on 'Channeling with the Ascended Masters', which promised to be a 'deeply moving spiritual experience [which] will accelerate spiritual and mediumistic abilities', or £15 to learn how to fire-walk. The next thing that struck me was the fact that these people were seeking some kind of spiritual experience and had a thirst for something outside of the physical realm.
This set me thinking and asking serious questions. Why are these people not seeking spiritual help from the church? Why are they open to such absurd and outlandish ideas, yet uninterested in the Christian message, which is so simple, so rational by comparison? Why will they believe in the Archangel Chamuel and 'Maitreya the World Teacher' yet not in Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection is a fact of history? Many of those who attended the festival were not young; I imagine that many were the hippies of the sixties. As they pursue their search for spirituality, why are they passing us by?
May I suggest a few possible answers
- For years the Church has played down the supernatural side of our faith. 'Higher critics' have tried to explain away both Old and New Testament miracles, and undermine foundational truths such as the Virgin Birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus and his literal bodily return to earth in glory. In seeking to make the Christian message acceptable, we have pandered to the humanists and rationalists in our midst, not realising that a faith that is stripped of its mystery and miracles has little to offer, and is less likely to appeal.
- The Church has neglected the healing ministry. Whilst rightly rejecting the more extreme activities of some healing evangelists, we have erred too much in the other direction, and forgotten that Jesus commissioned his followers to minister to the whole person, and to bring healing to mind, body and spirit.
- We have tended to shun those who follow 'new age' beliefs. I found those I met at the festival to be generally very kind, friendly, helpful people. Although there was much evidence of occult ideas and anti-Christian teaching, I did not feel any real sense of the presence of evil; just a deep sadness at the way people were being deceived and manipulated. Certainly Satan was very active there, but in a very subtle way. I wondered why more Christian groups don’t take part in these events, and have exhibits. The Open Air Campaigners had a tent where they served free tea and coffee and organised activities for children, but apart from that there was only one Christian stand in the whole exhibition, and the group who organised that had been criticised by other local Christians who thought they should not go near such an event. I can’t imagine why, for surely Jesus would have been there?
Some concluding thoughts: We should see the evidence that most people are spiritually aware as something positive, and face the challenge of reaching out to them. Our materialistic, secular society is not meeting people’s deepest needs. We need not blame ourselves entirely for the fact that these people are not coming to us, for many of them want an 'easy believe-ism' where they can make up their own rules and not have to worry about personal accountability. I was reminded of Paul’s experience in Athens, where he found that the people 'spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas' (Acts 17: 21). Should we not be seeking ways to exploit the openness of 'new agers' to all kinds of philosophies by persuading them to consider Jesus as being more than just one of the gurus or 'spirit masters'?
But let’s stop watering down our faith — this neither impresses nor converts anyone. I believe the Christian faith is rational, logical and intellectually satisfying, but we don’t need to remove the miraculous and mysterious to make it so. We must also rediscover the healing ministry that Jesus passed on to the church, and remind ourselves that people need to be whole in body, mind and spirit.