Gise J. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

Growth in Ecumenism

In our sheltered environment, we sometimes fail to realize the developing ecumenism of our day. A few years ago there was considerable discussion about proposed mergers of different denominations. Some proposed mergers materialized, others seemed to be bogged down in endless discussion and debate. It appeared that though the leaders of the denominations favored mergers, on the “grass roots” level, the people rejected this.

The past several years the attempt has been made to establish clear contact between denominations and people, without formal merger, The theory appears to be that once people in different denominations work together on certain projects, these will begin to see the advantage of organic union as well.

The trend toward greater cooperation, and eventual union, was presented in the Grand Rapids Press, Sept. 19, 1987. The Rev. Arie Brouwer, a minister in the Reformed Church in America, and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, was interviewed by George W. Cornell, Associated Press religious editor. He wrote:

The nation’s top ecumenical officer says cooperative work among Protestants, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches is burgeoning in this country. 

“It’s becoming a common pattern,” says the Rev. Arie Brouwer . . . “A sense of genuine Christian community is developing.” 

. . . The overwhelming preponderance of U.S. Christianity, both denominationally and in coalitions, is overcoming the old walls that once kept Protestants and Catholics apart, Brouwer says. 

“There’s a tremendous surge of ecumenical interest among Catholics,” he said in an interview. “At many, many points, we now work together, more than most people realize. It’s a constantly growing thing.” 

However, asked about a thesis by the late great Catholic theologian Karl Rahner that sufficient agreements have been reached in talks between Protestants and Catholics for reunion now, Brouwer said:

“So far, at least, we haven’t heeded him. But history has a remarkable way of catching-up with the prophets. It’s a matter of time. People of vision make statements, and they may not be accepted immediately.

“But gradually, the Spirit works and they become the new orthodoxy. We may need to wait a while, but reunion will come.” 

Brouwer . . . said he couldn’t predict when that would happen, but added, “I live in hope.”

In the remaining part of the article, Brouwer gives many instances of the cooperation between denominations and specifically of that between Protestant and Roman Catholic. The article concludes:

“We do dozens of different things together,” Brouwer said. 

This fall, the council’s division of overseas ministries and Roman Catholic orders are meeting together to coordinate mission work abroad. 

However, he said the underpinning of it all comes at the grass roots, among local Protestant and Catholic congregations, and that ecumenical sessions with the pope should spur “those kinds of relationships all over the country.” 

“His meeting with other church leaders was a bit like a meeting of leaders of a commonwealth,” he said. “It underscores the fact we are all part of one church. It (is) a very important image, and makes impressions. 

“These kinds of symbols have tremendous impact. It symbolizes the sense in which we are all part of the same church. It’s like a statement of faith, a demonstrative confession that we’re one.”

There appears to be no doubt in Brouwers mind that union between Protestant and Roman Catholic will come. It is true that Christ prayed for unity: “That they all may be one . . . .”, but He added, “. . . as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . . .” True unity must be sought—but ever on the basis of the truth. That is the unity between Christ and the Father. The unity of which Brouwer speaks is not a unity based on the truth nor a reflection of that unity between Christ and God. One is rather reminded of the end of time when there will be one Antichrist governing one church on this earth in cooperation with a one world government. That time is closer than we sometimes realize.

Now: the New Age Spiritism

There is in this country a powerful movement called “The New Age” movement. It combines Hinduism and other Oriental religions into a form of modern idolatry. Not only does this movement have a large number of followers, but many of the most admired and imitated men and women openly admit practicing it. Actors and actresses, whose number is already being decimated by the AIDS disease, are also “channelers” or followers of those who claim to be “channels”. The whole practice reminds one of the demon possession of Jesus’ day. Television stars, some of whom are even seen in our own homes on TV., are among the chief offenders. If one needed further evidence of the corruption of the dramas both of TV. and movie, he has but to consider those “artists” who perform under the guidance of the devil.

Christianity Today, Sept. 18, 1987, has an interesting article on the subject, “Theology from the Twilight Zone”. I quote part of that:

“Bashar” is an extra-terrestrial. 

“Mafu” is a highly evolved being From the seventh dimension, last seen on Earth when he incarnated as a leper in first century Pompeii.

“Ramtha” is a 35,000-year-old ascended master, once a barbarian warriorking, later a Hindu god, now beyond even deity itself.

“Lazaris” is a disembodied personality with no incarnations—a being with no past lives in his portfolio. 

These are not characters from Superhero Comix, or a “‘Star Trek” episode. They are “entities.” And these entities, with others like them, have helped to create a modern mass-mania—the so-called channeling craze. 

Besides their general implausibility, these entities have three things in common: They have no physical existence (that is, they are “‘spirits,” or “spirit beings”); they are mainly interested in dispensing their philosophy of life to human beings; and they operate through other humans to do so, temporarily assuming control of the body during trance. People who subject themselves to such entrancement and control are called “channelers,” or simply “channels.” 

According to the channels, the Function of the trance state is to disengage the mind from involvement with the space time world by shutting out sensory input. The same effect is achieved by making the input of a single sense dominant and repetitive, as in the chanting of mantras. This state of disengaged attention permits contact with the nonsensory realm of spirits and also vacates control of the physical faculties for use by the spirits themselves. While the channel is in an entranced condition, the controlling spirit, or entity, will lecture, counsel, teach, or otherwise advise its human audience. As the entity operates the channel’s body, it comes through as a “new inhabitant,” a distinct and different personality. As one channel’ put it, “Channelling is a form of voluntary possession.” 

. . . The impact of channeling is easy to see, but difficult to assess. Its current high profile comes chiefly from celebrity endorsement. Stars of stage, screen, and tube have given public testimonials about their spirit guides . . . 

. . . There is extensive grassroots involvement as well. Channeled books are the top-selling titles in the growing occult and metaphysical market; many of them instruct readers how to contact their own spirit guides and become channels themselves . . .

All of this resembles to a remarkable degree the demon possession of Jesus’ day. Now many willingly submit to “entities” who reveal bits of “wisdom” for those who would listen. And the evil pervades the so-called “film arts” realm. If one even needed additional reason to shun all of these worldly amusements, the above should be it. Ought we to be entertained by those who subject themselves to such devilish guidance?

May this all be a warning also to us. There is the temptation to adopt many of the “innocent” practices of this New Age movement, such as repeating “mantras” and involving one’s self in “meditations”. Perhaps, even, it would be “fun” to see if “channeling” would really work for us. But all of this is devilish and the “New Age” movement is nothing other than the old idolatry for which Israel was repeatedly rebuked.