Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The real problem with the recent Southern Baptist Yoga Controversy: Christian Confusion about the Body

So Mohler seems to have done it again. His name and controversy seem to go hand in hand. But this controversy is a little more telling of the general problems that are plagueing American Evangelicalism.

You see the problem isn't really yoga. Its not whether or not Dr. Moehler is right or not. The real problem is the one we all share as (pay close attention to these three designators) Western Christian Protestants.

I think the problem that is being displayed in this ridiculous current controversy is really just one problem: confusion about how God relates to our bodies. Moehler and his audience are both just as confused, and in some ways both just as wrong.

I'm 25, I just started doing graduate work like a month ago so I realize nothing I say here is even remotely important or authoritative. But I'm going to say it anyway. Mostly because I'm 25 and this is the internet (and like three people might read this in any case).

So here is the problem as I see it. First piece of evidence, the seventh article of the Southern Baptist Statement of Faith:

"Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.

The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12."

In many ways this is what is really causing all the trouble. You see this discussion is between Western Christian Protestants. Now we don't all agree on the Lord's Supper (there's been some pretty heated debate) but we all pretty much agree that what is stated above is physically and spiritually true of the elements we eat together. Everybody hashes it out differently but the same metaphysic lies behind all of the controversy. The fact is there is no view of the elements of the Lord's Supper within Protestantism (except for some Anglicans but they're mostly honorary protestants anyway, I mean they're just not angry enough about the Papacy) that thinks God's presence does anything in or with the elements. Lutherans believe the elements become surronded by the holy presence. Calvinists think grace is given directly to the believer in a kind of occasionalism (if you're ever eating a sandwich in church you better hope the Holy Spirit isn't being a little negligent that day). But most of us think that absolutely nothing happens at all. Its just a pure act of obedience. And it is surely that. Taking the Lord's Supper is odedience to God's will. But most protestants don't think that the elements themselves have become anything special. Why not?

Here's why not:

"Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God — an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation — not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables."

That last quote was given by Dr. Moehler in his most recent response to this controversy. Notice the two most important statements: 1) not see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine and 2) an external Word.

Lets look at Col. 2:12. This is one of the verses given in the Southern Baptist document cited above that supposedly proves the empty symbol Baptist account of Baptism. It says: having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead (ESV).

Where is the symbol? I'm not a greek scholar at all (I have a big fat F and an incomplete to prove it) but the ESV is like the American Calvinist Vulgate. So I'm betting not only is it a pretty literal translation but its also pretty accurate (at least to their standards). And this translation doesn't even imply the doctrine stated above. What this one tiny verse says in and out of context is that the event which is baptism does the following: raises you with Christ through your faith. It also says that you were buried with Christ. In baptism. Could it be a mere symbol? Well yes, its not logically impossible. The author could have had that intent. But thats reading into this text, or rather restricting this text due to metaphysical presuppositions. The text actually says: IN WHICH. This is the reference to Baptism. In what? In Baptism through your faith you have been put to death with Christ and brought to new life in Christ. The action is clearly symbolic but symbols aren’t always empty, they often are a part of the reality they represent. Just like sex and marriage! Sex is symbolic of the reality of marriage and yet it is part of that reality, and so is the marriage ceremony. Something is actually taking place in both sex and the marriage act yet they are both symbolic of the reality as well. It is an act of unity, as well as part of the overall unity of marriage. Baptism and the Lord's Supper function in just this same way. Something like this was pretty much church dogma believed by most Christians prior to the reformation (and if you're going to work numbers still is unless you deny that the Latins and Greeks/Russians are Christians, but still less so in the Roman tradition since they believe that the symbol is pretty much completely removed and only the reality is left). Its a symbol of the reality and the symbol is part of that reality. In both a symbolic and an actual way. The water symbolizes death and cleansing while also contributing to this process in the Christian's life. Saying its a symbol isn’t a big deal. Sure, of course its a symbol. Its also real. The problem is showing how it is just a symbol, a mere symbol, or an empty symbol when the literal obvious reading seems to indicate that it is also reality. Just read the verse again. Then read the chapter. It becomes even more obvious within the context of Colossians 2.

Lets also look at 1 Corinthians 10.

Verse 16 says: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

And Verse 21 says: You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of
demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

These are two more verses cited within the Souther Baptist document to support their view. But here the view fairs even worse. Baptists have historically denied that the Lord's supper is a participation in the Body of Christ. But verse 16 just flatly denies that. It directly contradicts the historic baptist position. You have to beg the question with these texts in order to come to the conclusion that the sacrements are in fact not sacrements. The Bible just seems to say that they are reality, more than mere symbol.

And so we come to another quote by Dr. Moehler:

"Nevertheless, a significant number of American Christians either experiment with yoga or become adherents of some yoga discipline. Most seem unaware that yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions. The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine."
Well the phsyical and the spiritual cannot be neatly dividely. They aren't supposed to be. Look Dr. Moebler is right that Yoga as a Yoga really is a Hindu religious practice. And he's right to object to that. Most of these Christians (as he admits) aren't really practicing Yoga. They're just using Yoga positions. Its like being a Unitarian. They talk about Jesus' resurrection but in reality as Dr. John Mark Reynolds likes to say they're thinking of something like spring. They're pagans or atheists using empty Christian Icons. And so are many of these "yoga" practitioners. They're using empty yoga techniques because they're helpful in the same way that Jesus' resurrection is simply beautiful whether its real or not. Each of them has divorced the symbol from the reality.

And so Moehler and his audience have the same problem. Divorcing the physical and the spiritual. And since Christians need a phsyical religion as well as an "external" word many of them are finding this physical need met in yoga. Is that right? No but not because streching and disicipline is wrong. Its wrong because the church has nothing to feed us physically. God never intended us to live in any mode of being other than the physical. We are physical. When my spirit leaves my body in death that is only a product of the fall and they're being reuniting by Christ in the eschaton is part of the consumation of all things to their proper place and order. Our bodies are so important to our faith that God actually took on human nature in order to accomplish our salvation and more fully unite himself to his creation. So by ignoring the phsyical in Christian worship and divorcing the spiritual and physical we protestants have almost literally castrated our own faith.

And so Dr. Moehler’s faith needs to become sacremental and physical. And the Yoga people can keep strectching but they need to realize that Yoga as originally intended is not Christ honoring. But neither is Football. They are both body honoring though, which is a good thing. And maybe those positions and techniques completely divorced from the participation in demons that was originally intended can be good. Pretty much all religions have something in them which makes people act more like the image bearers they truly are. But in the final sum your soul is more distorted. So the Yoga people need to be careful. They are doing something that has the potential to hurt them if they’re being uncritical. But so does the memorialist view of the Lord’s Supper.

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