Reginald Rivett over at Christian Thought Sandbox posted a great blog today titled, "Can this be redeemed too?" In the blog, Reggie aptly draws an analogy about the evolution and acceptance of Rock n' Roll music in the church. There was a time when the church had hostility towards the genre of Rock n' Roll. There were many that declared it, "the devils music". There was a change with people like Larry Norman who asked, "Why should the devil have all the good music?" Reggie believes that it's people like Mr. Norman that paved the way for the church to not only have a less hostile attitude towards different genre's; but to redeem it as its own.
|Droff: A guitar player from Hillsong Church|
I couldn't agree more. I think church music as a whole has improved with additions of many different musical genres. I must confess to a personal bias: I love rock n roll. A majority of the music in my iTunes library is rock or is in some way related to rock n roll. I also confess to spending considerable time playing electric guitar each week at church!
Reggie then asks a critical question for which he named his blog post: "Can yoga be redeemed?" It's a great question that deserves some reflection. If rock n' roll can 'get saved', can we say the same about Yoga? This is the question that I am going to spend the remainder of this blog pondering about.
This is definitely a heated issue for some in the church today. It's an issue that I have no personal investment in, as I have never done Yoga myself, but I do have friends and family that have participated in "Christian Yoga." I have had a few conversations over the years regarding this issue with those who oppose any Christian conception of Yoga.
I tend to first ask: "Is stretching and physical exercise wrong?", to which everyone has responded, "No".
The next question I ask: Is prayerful meditation wrong?" The answer that I receive is "No".
Then of course my counter question is, "Can I combine prayer and a variety exercises that include positions that are similar to Yoga?". You would think that the answer should logically be "Yes, you can", but I almost never receive that reply.
What is fascinating to me is that the underlying issues that are brought up to tell me why I am or others are prevented from prayerful meditation and stretching. The biggest objection I have come across: Yoga originates from the East as a form of worship in Buddhism and Hinduism and is therefore inherently irredeemable. Pastor Mark Driscoll summarizes this objection, "Yoga is a religious philosophy that is in direct opposition to Christianity. Thus, in its true form, yoga cannot be simply received by any Christian in good conscious."
Here is where I agree with Pastor Mark. If by Yoga, you mean blindly embrace all tenants of Hinduism, then of course that is antithetical to Christian practice. But from what I can tell those who practice "Christian Yoga" are not trying to promote an idolatrous synergism. A Christian approach to Yoga is not Yoga "in its true form". It's also likely that your common Yoga class at the community centre is likely not Yoga in "its true form". Doireann Fristoe explains,
Most Yoga currently practiced in [Western culture] only slightly resembles the original practice. In fact, most of what we call yoga in the West is not truly yoga at all—it is only asana, the physical postures, and pranayama, the breathing exercises. There are myriad schools of thought in modern yoga and to sum all of them up in a few paragraphs would do them no justice. Hinduism involves yoga; all yoga is not Hinduism.Can we incorporate asana and pranayama into the Christian's practices of prayer, contemplation and meditation? Here even Driscoll gives us middle ground at the end of long article denouncing Yoga, "feel free in Christian liberty to stretch however you’d like, participate in exercise, calm your nerves through breathing, and even contemplate the Scriptures in silence. But do so in a way that does not identify with yoga and non-Christian mysticism." It appears to me that the issue behind the issue is the inherent 'foreignness' of the term "yoga", which literally translates as 'yoke'. Call it "prayer & stretching" and everyone is okay with it. Call it 'Christian Yoga' or 'Holy Yoga' and there is a visceral gut reaction to the 'otherness' of the term despite the disassociation from any cultic practices and world views.
The second issue I have encountered: "Yoga's physical positions allow for the influence of the demonic." I am told that assuming the physical poses can allow demonic influence in your life. Objectors suggest that when you participate in Yoga, even Yoga that is based in Christian prayer and worship, you are unknowing worshiping demons and idols.
I am critical of the claim that a Christians can unknowingly worship a demon (idol or 'god'). It seems like a bit of stretch too me. (excuse the pun) I don't think the Apostle Paul buys this claim either as evidenced in the first letter to the Corinthians. When asked about eating meat sacrificed to idols Paul says:
"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." -1 Corinthians 8:4-6Paul does not think eating meat that has been offered to an idol somehow defiles the Christian by consuming that meat. Paul believes this to be true because through Christ all things came and through Christ we live. (v6) God is Creator of the meat, not the idol god. So it appears that by thinking the meat is defiled might be giving credit where credit is not due. How is this connected to the Yoga discussion? Let me suggest that because our bodies came from God, and thereby any physical actions necessitated with having a body (i.e. eating, stretching, sitting, laying), I am in no danger of worshiping an idol. (I am of course not including actions done with the body, such as adultery or gluttony, within this category of normal human physicality.) A Christian who does a Yoga pose (like the downward facing dog) is no more in danger of worshiping an idol (demon/god) than a non-Christian is of worshiping YHWH by raising their hands upward in a yawn or of giving a gift at Christmas time.
To sum up my answer: If I can eat meat (a physical action) that is sacrificed to idols and still be faithful to Christ; cannot I not also assume a yoga position (a physical action) in prayer and worship to Jesus without worry of unknowingly worshiping an idol? To say "No" seems to suggest a frightening perspective that Christ is NOT "through whom all things came"(v6). Worse, it seems to suggest the equivalent of 'spiritual cooties'- the idea that I might catch evil through accidental encounter. "Mere possession of idols or consumption of food sacrificed to them cannot be detrimental unless one adds acts of religious devotion to the mix."  So my answer is: Yes, we can redeem Yoga, the asana: the physical postures, and pranayama: the breathing exercises, and direct our worship, prayer, and meditation to the Triune God.
BUT...(and this is important).
"Not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled."- 1 Corinthians 8:7Paul understands that there are those who are weak in conscience. They are what Paul describes as those who are "weak in faith" in Romans 14-15. What is our reaction to those who do not agree with our assessment that Yoga can be redeemed? Paul goes on to tell us:
"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall." 1 Corinthians 8:9-13Paul teaches us that we need to:
1. Be careful in the exercise our freedom. (v9)
2. We should not encourage others to violate their conscience by our actions. (v10)
3. Wounding and damaging someone's weak conscience is a sin against Christ. (v12)
4. We should be prepared to deny ourselves our freedoms in order to prevent a brother or sister from falling into sin. (v13)
So does this mean that we should jettison the idea of a "Christian Yoga" in order to risk offending others? Not quite.What Paul isn't saying is to watch out against offending people. Paul is telling us not to put a stumbling block in the path of the weak in faith. The question we need to ask is: Who are the weaker brothers and sisters?
"The key issue in applying verses 7-13 involves recognizing those who truly have weak consciences. Nothing in the context justifies an association of 'weaker brothers/sisters' with those who are merely offended by a particular practice, notwithstanding the misleading translation of verse 13 in the KJV ("if meat make my brother to offend"). Even less justified is the application of theses principals to the "professional weaker brother"- the Christians legalist eager to forbid morally neutral activities even though he or she would never personally indulge in those activities. Rather, the weaker brother or sister is the Christian who is likely to imitate a stronger believer in some morally neutral practice but feel guilty about doing so or, worse still, be led into that which is inherently sinful or destructive. The strong believer's freedom thus actually has damaging consequences for the spiritual growth and maturation of the weaker sibling. Jack Kuhatschek points out that an adequate analogy to 1 Corinthians 8 must have three elements: (a) a threat to Christian freedom; (b) a potential stumbling block; and (c) a Christian brother or sister who might actually be led into sin.
Application of verses 7-13 must also leave room for 10:25-30, in which Paul will stress the freedom of the "strong" more pointedly than he does here. If the strong should not hurt the weak, neither should the weak accuse the strong of sin. Romans 14:1-15:13, Paul's other major teaching passage on the topic, carefully balances these two commands. "To wrap this up: I think it is totally possible to redeem 'yoga'- the asana and pranayama -within a Christian spirituality and worldview. I also acknowledge that this is a "meat topic" - a morally neutral issue. There are those who by their consciences could never participate with any activity, even if 'redeemed' , that associates itself with the term 'yoga'. I get that and would never think of less of someone who holds that position. It might be better, as Driscoll suggests, for Christians to ditch the word "Yoga" altogether to avoid any confusion and controversy. As with all things in Christian ethics, our approach should be grounded in love for other above ourselves. I am with the Apostle Paul when he says:
Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.- 1 Corinthians 10:32-33
The last words I will give to Bruxy Cavey:
4.Blomburg, Craig. The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Location 3540 (e-version)