For one, human beings are the crowning creation of God. We are unique because we are created in the image of God. If the possibility exists that we may come back as something lesser—even an animal in some reincarnation belief systems—because of karmic difficulties the last time around, we are simply no longer a human being with the dignity of God’s image and the beauty of free will. Being a human being is essential to who you are. It’s incoherent philosophically.
I can’t say I follow Christ and subscribe to reincarnation; the Foundation of my faith gave His life as a scandalous sacrificial expression of the love of God, to take upon Himself my sins that I, as the Bible says, might become the righteousness of God. So if by each rebirth I can attempt to become better morally, I have no need of the blood of Christ. It’s incongruous intellectually and theologically with scripture.
Lastly, we have an expert on this issue—Jesus, the only one who died and rose again to never taste death again. He spoke articulately about judgment after death.
If you’re interested in more and have some thoughts as well, read the long email exchange here about reincarnation from someone at the Vineyard. It’s a long post. But hey, it’s shorter than, uh, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...
Your comments on reincarnation deeply disturbed me. First of all, the Bible is filled with references to reincarnation. Here are two (of many) examples: by inference ... "And as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, 'Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him.'" (John 9:1)
Or overtly ... "For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come." (Matt. 11:13-14) "And the disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' But he answered them and said, 'Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.' Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist." (Matt. 17:10-13)
Having attended this church for over a year, I can personally attest to being one of those struggling with Christianity, especially with regard to my belief in reincarnation. Taking five minutes to summarily dismiss this profound subject was unreasonable. My own research into this subject allowed me to resolve this apparent discontinuity by gaining historical perspective on the issue (e.g., Council of Nicaea in 325 a.d., and the Second Council of Constantinople in 525 a.d.). Why didn't you even mention these tectonic events in shaping today's Christianity?
Anyway, I don't know if there is any room for an alternative viewpoint, but here is one site that I found particularly interesting was the following: http://www.near-death.com/origen.html
I guess my basic question boils down to this, does my deep belief in reincarnation need to change to become "born again" with Vineyard Community Church?
Sincerely yours, _____
Thanks for writing; I appreciate your honesty. I’m glad you’ve been coming the past year to the Vineyard…I hope you’ve enjoyed your time with us.
The problem with attempting to speak on a Christian perspective of the afterlife is that the topic is way too broad to cover in a single 30 minute talk! Obviously, any of the points could have been a series in itself. You raised a big question at the end that I would like to answer first: “…does my deep belief in reincarnation need to change to become ‘born again’ with Vineyard Community Church?” That’s a layered question.
First, our value is to love people “where they are”, meaning that none of us have it all together and we desire to love first—serve first—and ask questions later! With that in mind, there is a wide spectrum of different people all along the spiritual landscape at VCC. That’s one thing I love about this place.
Second, I’m not sure what becoming “born again” with the Vineyard means! We do adhere to orthodox creeds, but I believe doctrine is often abused in churches. Instead of it being transformational, it tends to be used as a determining factor for who’s “in” and who’s “out”. Doctrine should lead to transformation via the work of Jesus—how we think of Him and receive Him. Honestly, we wouldn’t let someone teach or lead who held to a firm belief in something that did not agree with basic Christianity. What makes someone part of the Church—the Body of Christ (not just VCC)—is being “born from above”, or the overused term, “born again”. That means the first deposit of “experienced salvation”…forgiveness of sin and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. With that, one does not “join” the Vineyard, but rather becomes grafted into the Body of Christ via surrender to His Lordship and subsequent transformation.
Reincarnation is problematic for basic Christianity at several levels. I took a look at the website you suggested and felt it was dishonest exegetically, historically and logically. For example, Origen is held up as a proponent of classic reincarnation. While Origen leaned toward universalism and preexistent souls, he certainly did not believe in reincarnation. In a book written toward the end of his life, he plainly gave his view of reincarnation. In his Commentary on Matthew he resists the idea of John the Baptist being Elijah: “In this place it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of, lest I should fall into the dogma of transmigration, which is foreign to the church of God, and not handed down by the Apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the Scriptures; for it is also in opposition to the saying that "things seen are temporal," and that "this age shall have a consummation," and also to the fulfillment of the saying, "Heaven and earth shall pass away," and "the fashion of this world passeth away," and "the heavens shall perish," and what follows. …The spirit and power of Elijah - not the soul - were in the Baptist…For, observe, he did not say in the ‘soul’ of Elijah, in which case the doctrine of transmigration might have some ground, but ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah.’"
It simply is not true that the early church fathers believed in reincarnation; that’s just bad reporting. Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and Jerome all refuted it plainly. And frankly, the Council of Nicaea dealt with Arianism (was Christ created?) and the Second Council of Constantinople was primarily about the Monophysite heresy (was Christ human and divine?) and the preexistence of souls but literally nothing about reincarnation. The books of the New Testament were not altered at all by this council; they had already been in place about 200 years earlier.
In the case of the man born blind, Jesus could have used it as an ideal teaching moment for karma and reincarnation, but clearly didn’t. His answer was simple: neither the man or his parents sinned. The reason his parents were brought into the equation was because the Jews believed that a person’s bad actions had ongoing consequences that rippled out to future generations (“The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Numbers 14:18). That was not reincarnation. The other scriptures listed were really out of context in my opinion; the writer confused “resurrection” and “conversion” passages with reincarnation. Context is critical: for example, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is absolutely central to Christianity; it is the focal point of the New Testament. Reincarnation forces that to be a moot point.
Gnosticism, which included a lot more than the preexistence of souls, was the first great heresy to be tackled by Christians. New age writers often use scriptures out of context and avoid whole principles.
The essence of Christianity is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. Because of that, eventually reincarnationists have to redefine who Jesus is and avoid the many passages Jesus spoke of regarding judgment and hell. The very essence of Christianity is difficult for the reincarnationist; usually the divinity of Jesus and the purpose of His mission are the first things that have to be reconstructed. That’s where it begins to deviate from “mere Christianity”.
All we want to do at the Vineyard is offer the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. There is no shortage of other views of Jesus: every major religion has their own interpretation of who He is, not to mention the myriad of cults. That is what defines Christianity. Usually the question is not “What do you believe about reincarnation?” but rather “Who is Jesus to you?” I would hazard a guess that if you’re struggling with Christianity as you mentioned in your email, the problem is not so much about reincarnation as it is about who Jesus is.
If you really want to be fair and scientific, you have to explore both sides of any issue. After I became a believer, I read Bertrand Russell’s anti-Christian books, as well as the “pop”-atheists Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. I read a little of H. G. Wells; he ranted too much for me! But you cannot read how a reincarnationist interprets scripture to understand both sides. I might suggest a couple of books on the flipside: Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias, and (specific to the issue) Reincarnation by Mark Albrecht. Any of these could be found in a Christian bookstore. Here are a couple of webpages that are decent counter-arguments as well: http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/gudel.htm and http://www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation.html#worldreligions
Hope you continue to hang with us to explore all Jesus has to offer you. Thanks again for writing.