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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Rejecting Reincarnation

A surprising number of professing Christians buy into the unbiblical concept of multiple rebirths

By John W. Kennedy
April 24, 2011

As Christians today commemorate the most significant event in the faith’s calendar, it’s apparent that not all grasp the reality of Easter’s meaning.

Easter celebrates the cornerstone doctrine of the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Yet, according to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life poll, 1 in 5 self-professed Protestants believes in reincarnation.

Reincarnation is a Hindu and Buddhist notion that people are reborn in this world again and again.

It is the antithesis of what Jesus’ resurrection symbolizes: that the Savior’s followers will live forever with Him once they depart earthly life.

The Pew analysis, published in December 2009, showed that 22 percent of Christians — including 10 percent of evangelicals — accept reincarnation as truth. The highly committed are less susceptible. Only 5 percent among weekly churchgoers acknowledge reincarnation as valid.

Among all Americans, 24 percent believe in reincarnation — 28 percent of females and 21 percent of males, according to Pew.

Half a century ago, hardly any Americans gave credence to such fringe thinking. But since then, an influx of Eastern religions into the country, plus subsequent favorable media coverage as well as academic acceptance, has made the idea of reincarnation almost mainstream.

Christian experts, however, see as irrational the teaching that a person can repeatedly return to earth in a different form and advance, without any memory of the past. Scholars say Hebrews 9:27 — “We die only once, and then we are judged” (CEV) — provides clear evidence that reincarnation is an unbiblical view. 

“There is one death; there is no cycle of birth, death and rebirth,” says Calvin Pincombe, biblical education professor at Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo. “Reincarnation is hostile to the biblical understanding of who we are as persons, making the body a prison rather than something that God created as good.”

“Reincarnation is the event of dying and then being reconstituted,” says James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door. “Each person is reconstituted from the general characteristics of what it takes to make up a human being.”

That thinking is an accepted tenet in various forms in Buddhism and Hinduism. Sire says Buddhists believe each person is successively constituted and then reconstituted from the general characteristics of what it takes to make up a human being. Repeated rebirth is a form of evolving consciousness in an effort to achieve perfection.

Hindus, Sire says, believe each soul is a spark of one divine soul. That individual soul doesn’t really die, but is constantly reincarnated in a higher or lower material being in accordance with karma (how it has behaved in its successive incarnations).

Pincombe says reincarnation essentially attacks the biblical teaching regarding the Incarnation, which declares that God the Son continues to identify with His followers as physical beings.

Sire, who lives in Downers Grove, Ill., notes that a resurrected Christian who lives in eternity with God is recognizable as someone who lived on earth. He contrasts this truth with the teaching of reincarnation.

“Every reincarnation is a new person,” Sire says. “Jane can become John who becomes Joel becomes Jack becomes Juan becomes Ian becomes Igor.”

Eastern religious thought, ranging from transcendental meditation to Hare Krishna, gained a foothold in the United States during the 1960s.

“There has been a remarkable degree of success of the Hindu gurus and Buddhist missionary teachers who came to the West,” says Mark C. Albrecht, author of Reincarnation: A Christian Critique of a New Age Doctrine. “They effectively managed to convert up to a quarter of the population into accepting a pantheistic worldview.”

Tenzin Gyatso, the Tibetan Buddhist leader known as the 14th reincarnated Dalai Lama, is a folk hero to many Americans. His widespread acceptance increased after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The Dalai Lama, who hobnobs with celebrities such as actor Richard Gere, claims to be from a line of reborn Buddhist teachers dating from the 16th century.

Though not always a direct connection, reincarnation terminology is filtering into Western culture. Avatar, released in 2009, became the highest grossing motion picture in history. The word avatar is a Hindu term describing the manifestation of a Hindu deity that appears as an animal or mythical creature. The film included an element of rebirth in its plot.

Some professing Christians have absorbed reincarnation as reality because they failed to examine the topic biblically. The supposition that all religious systems have validity — and that the exclusive claims of Christianity are narrow-minded — has crept into the psyche of some churchgoers.

“The appeal of reincarnation may be fueled by a pluralistic, postmodern worldview that states that all religions are true, and absolute Truth does not exist,” says David M. Dippold, church ministries professor at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Pa. “Hence, there is little critical thinking going on in the area of religious thought or doctrine, for fear of not being tolerant of other viewpoints.”

Ease of travel and advancing technology have helped to solidify reincarnation as a viable option for many.

Traditional Christianity, including the Assemblies of God, teaches there is a real heaven and a real hell and that a future judgment awaits everyone. (See the March 27 Pentecostal Evangel cover feature, “Heaven — Make It Your Destination.”) Reincarnation has gained followers in the West, in part, because it avoids the notion of hell, Sire says.

“People think, Maybe I don’t really die, and I can come back as something else,” Sire says. “They think they can get another chance, and they don’t have to worry about eternal judgment.”

Reincarnation proponents have convinced many Americans that such a concept is exotic and mysterious, according to Albrecht, who lives in Milwaukee.

“The naively understood idea that you messed up in this life and you get another chance runs counter to orthodox Christianity,” says Albrecht, whose apologetics book has been translated into five languages since it was first published in 1982.

“The Resurrection is absolutely incongruous with the notion of reincarnation,” Pincombe says. “Jesus’ resurrection was physical, and the resurrection of believers at the end of the age will be physical.”

Reincarnation runs counter to the core Christian teaching on salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9).

“If reincarnation is viewed as a means for one to work one’s salvation by being reincarnated in higher or lower forms to attain salvation or pay for one’s sins, then clearly this is against the doctrine of salvation by faith alone and grace alone as worked out through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection,” Dippold says. “Reincarnation is really a salvation through works theology that is against orthodox Christian doctrine.”

Dippold says syncretism, mixing of multiple religious belief systems, is a perilous practice that God has denounced since Moses’ time.

“The real danger is that it is simply not true,” Albrecht says.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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