New Age Asceticism or a Cult of One?

While perusing the ‘net, I happened upon a story about the decline of the sport of Golf; the author of which opined that regardless of the horror of the purists, the game was going to have to change or run the risk of falling into obscurity as the under 35 crowd–for the most part–do not seem interested in the ancient sport.

Personally I could care less about the future of Golf; having grown up in rural America I never understood the attraction some have in taking a perfectly good cow pasture and batting balls around for the given reason of exercise, even though most participants–especially those that need the walk for their health–tend to ride around in little carts.  But what caught my attention about the impending demise of the venerable game, was that those that have interviewed the under 35 crowd found that their supposed disdain of golf was that in the opinion of the millennial generation the sport took too long to learn and had too many rules.

Being old enough to be a parent of an under 35 year old, it would be disingenuous of me to criticize this demographic in the same manner our parents criticized my generation, but the thought that some in this generation have a problem with a time consuming learning curve and rules that are a part of the tradition which define the activity; intrigued me as I realized this phenomenon of a dislike of a learning curve and rules of golf were similar to the comments of young people that are leaving traditional denominations of Christianity.

Not too many days go by without reading of a young person that has found a spiritual path following Jesus but abstaining from participating in church services.  Much has been said, hashed and rehashed concerning the results of a survey that reportedly revealed a growing segment of young people who claim to be spiritual but not religious, in that they believe in God and even Christ, but they don’t like traditional organized religions.  These “Nones” as the pop media likes to refer to them often think of themselves as followers of Christ but not the church.  Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, or what have you, it makes no difference, these folks we refer to seem to have a dislike for the rules, magisterium, authority, doctrine, established teaching, and commentary that has been compiled over the last two thousand years.

The group I refer too often say that they read and study Jesus’ words and sayings, some also finding great wisdom in other parts of the Bible outside of the Gospels; they typically say that the word speaks to them and they don’t need the church, its doctrine, theologians, or other authorities to interpret the word for them, preferring to interpret the meaning of the various parts of the bible as it speaks to them, without depending on classical exegesis as agreed upon by theologians for two millennia.  Perhaps our brethren in the Roman Catholic church or the Orthodox might point out–in criticism of this concept-due to the disregard of classic interpretation there are more than three thousand sects of Protestantism–each claiming an accurate interpretation–but if everyone did as those I speak of, there would be millions if not billions of different denominations of Christianity as each participant would arrive at a meaning as he or she saw fit.

With tongue in cheek, I sometimes refer to the system of this group as new age asceticism; new age as it can’t by traditional definition be defined as Christian as some deny the divinity of Christ or they disagree with trinity doctrine, also by combining new age with asceticism you infer an anti-thesis to that of traditional asceticism typical of the early Christian church.

Traditional asceticism can be characterized as religious zealots who through rigorous self-denial, extreme abstinence, and a life of austerity find spiritual Nirvana. Conversely the new age ascetics I speak of practice a rigorous denial of selflessness, hedonism, and usually materialism.  They ignore the basis of traditional Christian discernment—prayer, contemplation, and testing the proposed idea or concept as to whether or not it glorifies God as per scriptural positions—and without the gift of discernment they seek interpretations or understandings of biblical teachings that justify their own desires or that negates their sin.

Those of us that have been married, divorced from our previous spouse, then remarried to another spouse; pray that God will understand why we felt compelled to divorce and remarry again; and we pray that the Father will forgive us for our sin of adultery.  These new age ascetics when faced with the same dilemma—for example—simply choose to reinterpret scripture to make the sin of adultery acceptable in God’s eyes.

Of course—I reiterate—that I am only being facetious when I use the term ascetic to describe the group that we are discussing today, I certainly mean no disrespect to any religious practitioner; but rather I am simply attempting to raise attention to those that deceive themselves—or allow Satan to do so—believing that can reinterpret the Bible—or history for that matter—to justify their selfish desires, regardless of what those desires might be.

I fear for these people when I read their testimony of how they have “thrown out” all reference materials, biblical commentary, academic level theological opinion from antiquity to present day including the works of the great Fathers of the church—both the early church voices and post reformation Protestant voices—and solely rely on that small inner voice of “reason.”  The bottom line here is just who is the source of that small inner voice?

On the other hand some would argue that Sola Scriptura justifies their belief of not relying on traditional teachings as to the meaning of scripture.

The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.  It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture. The most ardent defender of sola Scriptura will concede, for example, that Scripture has little or nothing to say about DNA structures, microbiology, the rules of Chinese grammar, or rocket science. This or that “scientific truth,” for example, may or may not be actually true, whether or not it can be supported by Scripture—but Scripture is a “more sure Word,” standing above all other truth in its authority and certainty. It is “more sure,” according to the apostle Peter, than the data we gather firsthand through our senses (2 Peter 1:19). Therefore, Scripture is the highest and supreme authority on any matter on which it speaks. But there are many important questions on which Scripture is silent. Sola Scriptura makes no claim to the contrary. Nor does sola Scriptura claim that everything Jesus or the apostles ever taught is preserved in Scripture. It only means that everything necessary, everything binding on our consciences, and everything God requires of us is given to us in Scripture (2 Peter 1:3). Furthermore, we are forbidden to add to or take away from Scripture (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Rev. 22:18–19). To add to it is to lay on people a burden that God Himself does not intend for them to bear (cf. Matt. 23:4). Scripture is therefore the perfect and only standard of spiritual truth, revealing infallibly all that we must believe in order to be saved and all that we must do in order to glorify God. That—no more, no less—is what sola Scriptura means. “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” — Westminster Confession of Faith


Furthermore, we are forbidden to add to or take away from Scripture (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Rev. 22:18–19).

Radically changing the meaning of scripture is effectively taking away and adding to it.  Of course we have to recognize that while this phenomena of changing the meaning of scripture to fit one’s won agenda is growing exponentially among the so called nones of the millennial generation; quoting passages so far out of context as to totally change their meaning is not new, but one that even pastors have maligned for some time.

One urban legend that illustrates this point well has its origins in the days when it was fashionable for the ladies to wear their hair on top if their head in a bun or what was commonly referred to as a top-knot.  The story goes that this fad for some unknown reason insulted the sensibilities of one fiery East Texas Minister; who used Matthew 24:17 which reads:

Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; ESV

In a sermon this minister changed the words to fit his admonitions aimed at the ladies in his congregation, ordering them to refrain from this particular hairstyle. He claimed that it was in scripture that that Jesus ordered; “Top-knot shall come down,” which is absolutely not how the Gospel read.

This type of practice—that of changing scripture to fit one’s own agenda, or that of the larger group—has been the hall mark of cults throughout the ages; the Peoples Temple disaster in Jones town Guyana is a prime example of a cult using convoluted teachings and interpretations to brainwash its members.  In Jones town 920 people died in 1978 as a result of that cult’s misdeeds.

In conclusion, don’t allow yourself to be a cult of one, a post-modern-new age ascetic that interprets scripture to fit your fancy, but rather make it a practice to rely on tradition and sound interpretation.

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