Home > Chapter 11

Face to face with a New Ager

Michael was about to enter the Orchard MRT station when he heard someone call his name. He turned and saw her, large as life, walking past the Sunday crowd, up the steps toward him.

"Sheila!" he exclaimed. He tucked his shopping bag under his left arm to shake her hands warmly.

She patted his back and laughed.

"Surprised to see me, eh? I thought you would not remember me."

"Surprised! Yes! How can I forget my partner in zoology practicals? Sheila you must have been in Britain for eight years at least."

"Jolly good! You have always had a head for figures."

He drew her to one side of the crowd.

"You must come to have dinner with Linda and me tonight and we’ll talk of old times."

It was to be a memorable dinner.

That evening Linda cooked a delicious meal of local dishes topping it with chendol for dessert, after which they retired to the breezy balcony overlooking the expressway.

Sheila took a deep breath. "It won’t help my weight problem but that dinner was superb. Where did you learn to cook like that, Linda? I’m sure Archie didn’t teach you."

Linda raised a puzzled brow and Michael smiled.

"I should explain," Sheila went on, "we called Michael the archangel back in university days for he was always busy in Christian work and looked so holy-holy."

"I am learning new things about my good husband," smiled Linda, throwing Michael a glance, as she poured him fresh coffee. Balancing his cup Michael gingerly lowered himself on the pouf.

"I invited you to some of our meetings. At one of these you had an argument with the speaker," reminisced Michael, "after the meeting, of course. You were always forthright in putting across your views."

"I still am Michael, I still am," replied Sheila, narrowing her almond eyes menacingly. Almost absent-mindedly, she reached into her capacious sling bag to withdraw a packet of cigarettes but tossed it back with a murmured apology and a laugh.

"Are you with a church now?" asked Michael.

"Ah yes! I am with a mainline church outside London. Guess what? I am the librarian and I help out occasionally with a small drama and choral group in the congregation."

Michael brightened up. "That’s wonderful news. You became a Christian while you were in England."

"There you go, Michael. You haven’t changed a bit. Do you know that I have been with this church for years and no one has ever asked me whether I am a Christian or not? They just accepted me as I am. Now that is Christian love as I see it. It doesn’t judge a person or make distinctions."

"If you are a Christian, Sheila," Linda ventured gently, "would there be any good reason not to confess it? After all the Bible encourages us to do so." (Romans 10:8 - 11)

"That is Paul from somewhere in his letter to the Romans," Sheila replied with a knowing smile. "Now Paul was a late entry on the apostolic scene. I do not take his opinion as gospel truth. Besides I don’t like his views on women."

"That is a rather interesting view you have of the Bible, Sheila," said Michael. "Do you reject all of Paul’s writings as God’s Word?"

"Not all," replied Sheila. "He says some sensible things. I’ll have to see what you have in mind."

"Would you take Peter’s writings more seriously than Paul’s?"

"Yes. He was before Paul. Besides, he’s my favourite Bible character. He’s so human."

"Do you know that Peter had a high opinion of Paul and his writings?"

"Peter could not have had a high opinion of Paul, for goodness sake! I know they had a quarrel. It’s all there in the Bible."

"Sheila, you ought to get your facts straight," Michael remarked. He excused himself and returned with a Bible.

"The quarrel you refer to is not a fight between the two apostles over the truth of the gospel. Peter was inconsistent in his behaviour towards Jews and Gentiles in a town called Antioch. (Galatians 2:11 - 14) Paul drew Peter’s attention to the problem. Peter took it in good grace. Let me read Peter’s high praise of Paul’s writings.

Our dear brother Paul wrote to you, using the wisdom God gave him. This is what he says in all his letters, when he writes on this subject. There are some difficult things in his letters which ignorant and unstable people explain falsely, as they do with other passages of Scriptures. So they bring on their own destruction.’ (2 Peter 3:15 - 16)

Peter puts Paul’s writings in the same class as other Spirit-inspired Scriptures, something a reverent Jew like Peter would never do unless it were true."

"Now I recall why I argued with that man after the talk," Sheila chuckled. "He was downright obnoxious. He kept saying the Bible says this or that. He insisted that Christianity is the only way to eternal life. I told him I believed there are other ways to God."

"Jesus has said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father except by me,’" observed Michael. "I would think that is clear enough answer to your opinion that there are other ways to God. (John 14:6) This is not to say religions other than Christianity have no insights about God that are true. After all, God made us all and we are all religious by human nature. But this same God has sent His Son Jesus Christ to be the world’s Saviour. One cannot deny that and still call oneself a Christian."

Sheila replied, her voice trembling a little, "I’ve just told you that I belong to a mainline church. What you are saying is, I have to believe in all that stuff that you do in order to qualify as a Christian in your eyes."

Michael’s voice softened, "No, Sheila, that’s not what I am saying. If, as you say, Christ is not the only way…"

"Not ‘if’ Michael!" Sheila interrupted, regaining her composure. "My stay abroad has convinced me more than ever that the Bible teaches a culturally based religion. I am not saying there are no truths in it. We have to extract the most relevant and discard what is not. We have to do the same with the teachings of other faiths."

"You will require a superior wisdom to pick and choose what you consider relevant. A wisdom superior to that which produced the Bible. Are you sure you have it?"

"There is one God whom we celebrate but who is known by many different names," persisted Sheila. "Michael, you are behind the times. You are like your Bible."

"Speaking about that, Sheila, don’t you know that the truths taught by the Bible are not culturally based? As an example, consider Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the ten commandments from God. Below, in the valley, the culture of Egypt caught up with the Israelites. They turned to idolatry. But they were brought back to their senses by Moses with tragic consequences to themselves. (Exodus 19:20 - 31:18; 32:1 - 35) So Israel learned from Moses and the later prophets to be faithful to God, something alien to the cultures of their times. The true church has, time and again, found itself opposing ungodly cultures."

Sheila leaned forward, her eyes bright with excitement.

"The reason why Moses was angry with Israel was because the people set up a false god, an image of a bull. Moses was waiting to usher them into a new age, the age of the Ram. We, too, Michael, are on the verge of breaking into a new spiritual era. We are passing from the are of Pisces to the age of Aquarius. We need to beware of the gods of the past and be prepared for changes in thinking and perception."

Somewhat alarmed, Michael placed his cup on the floor and opened his Bible.

"Hold on, Sheila. One thing at a time. Where does it say in the Bible Moses was waiting to usher in a new age of the Ram? Is this one of your new perceptions? This is what I read in Exodus: ‘Moses then returned to the Lord and said, "These people have committed a terrible sin. They have made a god out of gold and worshipped it."’ (Exodus 32:31)

The psalmist adds: ‘They forgot the God who had saved them by his mighty acts in Egypt. What wonderful things he did there! What amazing things at the Red Sea!’ (Psalm 106:21 - 22)

Now what is this you said about the gods of the past which we are to beware? Do you put Jesus Christ as one of them?"

"Not the real Jesus Christ, Michael. We are only to beware of the traditional understanding of the Christian church about Jesus Christ," replied Sheila. "That is not the real Christ and it holds back progress to have a false Christ."

"It so happens, Sheila, that the traditional understanding of Jesus Christ has been at the root of the growth of the Christian church for two thousand years. It also happens that the same understanding nurtured Western civilisation and the birth of modern science as we know it today. How then can you say such an understanding holds back progress?"

"I know what you believe, Michael. You think of Jesus Christ as God come in the flesh. But it is really Jesus the man becoming the Christ because he showed God’s love. We all can become christs if we are willing to let God use us as agents of global change. God’s love becomes incarnate through us. Perhaps this happened more fully in the case of Jesus than in any other human being. But Christhood is not exclusive to Him. Can you imagine what this kind of revolutionary thinking will do for global wholeness, for world peace and unity? There will be no divisive religions, each looking after its own individual gods. We are all part of God."

There was silence when Sheila paused.

Michael began. "Your point about Jesus Christ, that He is not unique, is untrue. There is only one true Christ, the Lord Jesus. He is unique and He has no equal. He rose from the dead after the crucifixion. Why don’t you listen to your favourite apostle Peter? ‘God raised him from the dead; he set him free from the pains of death, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner.’ (Acts 2:24)

And Peter says also: ‘Salvation is to be found through him alone; for there is no one else in all the world, whose name God has given to men, by whom we can be saved.’" (Acts 4:12)

"I see you are still stuck on this idea of people being saved. Many knowledgeable people - Christians, mind you - are moving away from a sin-and-redemption focus to one that sees man as already forgiven and accepted. And the only condition for God’s forgiveness according to the Lord’s Prayer is that we also forgive others."

Michael smiled and shook his head slowly.

Sheila laughed. "You don’t believe me. Read the Bible. The father of the prodigal son did not require a blood sacrifice. As soon as he saw his son returning he had compassion and ran to him!"

"I am shaking my head with incredulity," explained Michael. "One moment you make the Bible a collection of writings to be disregarded at your fancy. The next moment you quote the Lord’s Prayer and the parable of the prodigal son as if they support your ideas all along. Neither of them does.

In case you have forgotten, the Lord’s Prayer is for Christians; it begins with the words, ‘Our Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:8 - 15; Luke 11:1 - 4) Christians pray that God will forgive them the wrongs they have done as they have forgiven the wrongs others have done to them. The prayer is not meant to be an explanation of how and why God forgives them.

Similarly with the parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:15 - 32) It portrays the willingness of God to forgive the repentant sinner. The basis of a holy God forgiving sinners must be found in Christ’s death on the cross at Calvary, which all the four gospels report."

"Christ dying on the cross is a fine example of self-giving love. He didn’t die for anybody’s sins to be forgiven. That is just an atonement theory," responded Sheila.

"Again, Sheila, you conveniently disregard what the Bible so plainly teaches. Christ did not just die to provide a fine example. He died to save us by taking our place. To quote Peter: ‘Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed.’" (1 Peter 2:24)

Pensive throughout the evening, Linda filled Sheila’s cup and offered her a chocolate mint.

She asked, "Sheila, I have been listening keenly to what has been said. Did you come to adopt the views that you have on your own or through the influence of a group?"

"A bit of both, Linda. I was already into a ‘Save the Environment’ campaign fighting against pollution of air and water. A week-long programme was held in my church by a New Age group. They worked us hard as it was an intensive programme. We have seminars and workshops on the New World Order, cosmic laws, spiritism, visualisation techniques, creating rituals, feminist theology and alternative lifestyles. As usual some left the course but those of us who remained found it liberating. We discovered new ways to network, to heal and support each other. It was fabulous!"

"Did it occur to you, as Michael tried to point out tonight, that these new ideas go directly against the teachings of the Bible?" queried Linda.

Sheila sipped her coffee as she framed an answer.

"Let me put it this way. I see these things as an advance on Biblical ideas, some of which I still accept. The Bible is one guide but there are also other wisdom books. Most important of all, we have spirit guides or ascended masters who can be contacted by meditation and visualisation techniques. These are very wise beings, full of wisdom."

Her voice filled with awe, Sheila related her experiences of these spirit guides. It became clear to Michael and Linda where Sheila had obtained her anti-Biblical ideas. It was getting late as Sheila took her leave. But not before Michael read to her once more from Peter’s second letter:

"False prophets appeared in the past among the people, and in the same way false teachers will appear among you. They will bring in destructive, untrue doctrines, and will deny the Master who redeemed them, and so they will bring upon themselves sudden destruction. Even so, many will follow their immoral ways; and because of what they do, others will speak evil of the Way of truth. In their greed these false teachers will make a profit out of telling you made-up stories. For a long time now their Judge has been ready, and their Destroyer has been wide awake." (2 Peter 2:1 - 3)


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