Sunday, August 05, 2007

hell no

One of the things I wanted to touch on this weekend was reincarnation, only because some feel it’s a humane alternative to hell. But there are big problems Biblically with reincarnation.

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...


Dave,

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, _____


Hello _____,

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.
Yours,
Dave

16 comments:

  1. I am SO glad you are back, Dave! :) And what a way to come back. Wow. The message on Heaven & Hell was great. We needed it. Wish it could have been longer.
    Thanks for creating the blog!

    Respectfully,
    Linda

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  2. Glad you're back too. What you said in regards to suicide was very moving to me...and very comforting. Having struggled with the death of a close friend many years ago to suicide...always had that fear, but now I don't. Had never heard it put quite that way, thanks for your wisdom.

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  3. Wow! Vacation must have been great as a new REVIVED Dave entered VCC on Saturday night. What an awesome message to be delivered on your first celebration back!! I dont think that we talk enough about Heaven or Hell and the preparation that is required to make sure that Heaven is the final destination. I think the procrastinator in us says "Oh, I will make that decision later. I have plenty of time" or "I am a good person and God wouldn't send me to Hell". I think we forget that when we are physcially born, we are born into sin and our destination is Hell until we exercise our FREE WILL to have a spiritual rebirth and CHOOSE Christ as our Lord and Savior. The chit-chat conversations in church and in the parking lot after the celebration were ALL positive and many people felt it was time to hear the facts instead of tip toeing thru the service to try to please folks. WAY TO GO DAVE!!! I GOT YOUR BACK!!!!

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  4. Re: Reincarnation

    Way to speak the Truth in Love Dave. We have all had those times when conversations have turned to either politics and/or religion and how that seems to bring the worst out of many of us.

    And that is the amazing part. It would seem to me that in the course of "defending" our position that it really opens up or magnifies the TRUTH/NON-TRUTH in our own lives. The person that you are trying to "get on your side" shines that flashlight back at you.

    Quite frankly sometimes that light shows uglier things then the person you are trying to "convert".

    Throughout this amazing walk I am constantly reminded that encounters with others who may not share my beliefs only serve to make me either do as I say I do or make me assess whether or not my path is indeed true and research the answer. If you are indeed genuine in your search for the truth, then I believe it is necessary to look at the other side. To not investigate the other side is blind faith regardless of who or what you follow, and I find it hard to believe that God wants blind faith followers. Real faith after real searching. It is indeed a PERSONAL journey, with the body of Christ to guide along the way but when the time comes to "meet the Man". It is only you and the Judge. Not others in the Body, not your mom, not your pastor... yeah scary.

    To the reincarnation-ist, keep on searching for the truth, I am glad to hear you are searching for the truth and positive if you genuinely look for the treasure, then you will find it. To break the cycle is to know ultimate Truth and to not sound cliche but...that Truth will set you free.

    I found the Truth, the Life and the Way in 2003 and I still stumble and sometimes even take a step back but it is far better then having my wheel spin and not go anywhere.

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  5. Glad you're back Dave and what a message for your first week back! I didn't get to hear all of it on Sunday so I finished up tonight. Truly inspiring and so well delivered. I've never heard a message discussing heaven and hell the way you put it. Thanks for making so many things so much clearer.

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  6. I enjoyed this series so much! God's presence is permeable at the Vineyard when we worship and when we pray together. It is so exciting for me as a Christian who is learning her way through the Bible and through the teachings at the Vineyard to be a part of this fantastic family. I feel that God is with us every step of the way and He speaks through you Dave in an exciting way! God blesses us through you and your acceptance of this mission from Him becomes a blessing to all who hear you and know you.

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  7. Gee, I'm blushing, guys. Thanks for the kind comments; maybe I should speak on hell more often...

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  8. Dave
    You compassionately handled the topic way more effectively than any "fire and brimstone" approach could do. Seeker sensiive but sincere and impactful. I served at three celebrations this weekend so heard the message thrice - each time found a new perspective on something and have been a follower of Christ for almost 30 years.

    On reincarnation Hebrews 9:27 -28 seals the argument: "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

    I heard an explanantion on "Abraham's bosom" recently - would be interested in your perspective on this - I had never thought of it this way before: Pre-Christ God followers were said to go there when they died....a deposit of the things to come and that when Christ rose he took everyone from Abrham's bosom with him.
    Thanks for all you do and your servant heart.
    Another grape in the VCC bunch.

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  9. Hey Dave! I hope you enjoyed your time away and it was great to have you back (and Charlie as well). I wondered why the worship band is never introduced. Sometimes I am curious and want to know who is playing up there for us. I don't think it would take much time for Charlie or Jim to let us know who is in the band every once in awhile. Maybe they are satisfied being anonymous, but they deserve recognition for their talents that are God given and used for God.

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  10. I too thought the message was great. Dave rocks.

    I'm sitting-in with the 3% that don't believe they are going to hell. I do, however, have my days/weeks of doubt.

    I believe in hell and know with certainy there is a spiritual realm where satan's angels are bidding. I especially feel it when I'm overwhelmed and/or pressured. God's peace does not come soon enough. I will never understand or master His timing.

    A great friend of mine is Hindu and believes in reincarnation. We discuss religion often. Her religion is so embedded in the culture and family structure it's not something she could easily walk away from...nor at this time or ever would she want to. I don't want to think she and her family would not be in heaven. It feels like cruel punishment.

    Peace,
    Tabitha

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  11. My wife and I found the talk to be engaging as well. We really loved the way you called out the "I cannot be happy in heaven while people are in hell" people. I have heard that many times, and sometimes over a cup of starbucks. It is nice to hear a sort of rebuttal (about people in Darfur living in hell right now while we enjoy our consumerism).
    I felt the talk was given with authority. Really good stuff.
    Thanks Dave.
    -Don-
    www.youseedrybones.com

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  12. Hi Dave could you explain your understanding of the Idea of abrahams bussom and Christs work there as mentioned in someones comments, I would love you hear your perspective. I did like your approach to the reincarnation question posed.

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  13. I was on vacation and missed the Heaven and Hell message. But when I got back and saw the newsletter about a reincarnation messages I got excited, because I also can't help feel there may be something to this. I have no doubts about my faith in Christ, and my being saved. But this issue is intriguing. But I believe it’s like the argument between Creation and Evolution. There are good arguments for both, but you will never get anywhere. Maybe it’s a combination of both? Maybe there is something to being Saved and Reincarnation, past lives, NDE, etc…? There is so much here we don’t know and maybe can’t understand. I don’t know. But the important thing is to keep the most importing things in clear focus. Being Redeemed by our Savior.

    I have read Mere Christianity, A case for Christ, and am now reading ‘A case for Faith’ ( which awesome by the way). And I did find that book Dave mentioned: Reincarnation by Mark C. Albrecht online for free here:
    http://www.ccel.us/reincarnation.toc.html

    I also read a very good book about past lives called ‘Many Lives, Many Masters’ by Brian Weiss, M.D. which was very interesting. I prayed before I read this book, and felt it was ok to read it. It was very convincing, but I can see how it may be dangerous to ones faith to ‘dabble’ in such things. The Bible teaches us to avoid this, and I can see that it really ‘adds’ nothing to my faith. So, even though I am curious, that was the only one I have read.

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  14. I cannot imagine a more brutal and unloving religious conviction than reincarnation. Jesus and His Way are all about love, life and freedom through grace and mercy. Hinduism is all about justice, works and revenge.

    As one expert on reincarnation said, "It would take about 600,000 years to escape the karma of an earlier life. As Bono said, "I believe that God's grace trumps your karma."

    Thanks to Jesus for liberating us 2000 years ago from all karma.

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