Standing on the thin edge of the wedge.

As a young man in his early twenties I took up karate and became reasonably good at it. I loved the training sessions which involved the endless repetition of detailed feet and hand movements and the katas that involved a complicated series of karate actions that if done perfectly would finish exactly where you started. I became very fit and also ‘happily addicted’ to the point where during coffee and lunch breaks I would constantly be repeating these complicated moves. Upon entering and leaving the Dojo (training hall) we would stop, face into the hall, and bow. As we also bowed out of respect to each competitor before and after we competed I thought nothing of it. Some twenty years later I became a Christian and several years into my walk with Jesus I was shocked to suddenly find myself going through deliverance from a spirit connected to karate. (I will spare the details) I later discovered that when I bowed upon entering and leaving the Dojo I was in fact bowing to the ‘spirit of the Dojo’. Dojo means “place of the way” in Japanese. Shoes must not be worn inside a dojo, and in some martial arts it is customary to ritually clean the dojo before and after training sessions. 

Nothing spiritual was ever mentioned but with the benefit of hindsight I realise I was standing on the thin edge of the spiritual wedge. But still on the wedge.

For many years I worked hard to expose the spiritual dangers of Freemasonry to Christians who saw it as merely a gentleman’s good deeds society. Similarly, in Northern Ireland the ‘protestant’ Orange Order - and especially its sister organisations - the Royal Arch Purple and the Royal Black Institute had obvious spiritual links to Freemasonry roots but were insistent that spiritually they were not Masonic. Defending these organisations one minister wrote ‘"several of the ritual features of our order are Masonic..we have admitted that..but conclude that Orangeism could be described as a Christianised or reformed Freemasonry with the un-scriptural bits cut out and the movement brought into line with evangelical doctrine.” That’s like taking the Swastica and the heil arm-raise and saying ‘that was then, but it means something completely innocent to us now. We just enjoy the healthy marching style and the arm exercise!

In the natural, the roots of a fig tree will bears figs on the branches no matter how far away the uppermost branches are from the roots. So it is spiritually. Jesus said. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” Matthew 12:33. This brings me to yoga. Type ‘the history of yoga’ or ‘which culture developed yoga?’ into your search engine and immediately you will be left in no doubt about yoga’s deep eastern spiritual roots and its eventual exporting to the west. Wikipedia states ‘ Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. Yoga is one of the six Āstika (orthodox) schools of Hindu philosophical traditions. There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism’.

The Yoga basics website says that ‘the word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures.’ Yoga’s multi-branch onward journey then developed through what are termed the classical and post classical stages and finally through to the modern period. Here it states that ‘In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions.’ It says ‘The importation of yoga to the West still continued at a trickle until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing Hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.’  

So what is today’s Hatha yoga about?  The site’s author writes, ‘What is commonly called yoga in the West is technically Hatha Yoga.  Hatha Yoga (ha=”sun” tha=”moon”) attains the union of mind-body-spirit through a practice of asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (yoga breathing), mudra (body gestures), bandha (energy locks or seals) and shatkarma (internal cleansing). These body-centered practices are used to strengthen and purify the physical body, and cultivate prana (life-force energy) and activate kundalini (dormant spiritual energy). Modern Hatha Yoga does not emphasize most of these esoteric practices and instead focuses primarily on the physical yoga postures.’  

The instructor in gyms and halls (even church halls) may be nothing more than a fitness trainer calling themselves a yoga instructor, or they may be an accredited yoga instructor. Reed Employment, one of the UK’s leading employment and training companies offers a six-month online Yoga Practitioner Diploma for £199. The description with the course reads, ‘Teaching yoga has been a growing profession around the world for some time now. This course is designed to equip you with the basic knowledge of teaching yoga, building upon the foundation of your preferred yoga styles. It will also complement other natural healing and counselling courses. Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that dates back over 5,000 years. It’s a holistic form of exercise that promotes the union of mind, body and universal spirit.’

So should a Christian be associated with ‘yoga’?  

It’s a personal decision.

John Piper was asked this question and I thought his response was wise. He said, ‘One of the first things I would want to say is that there are two kinds of approaches to questionable practices in life. One I would call a minimalist approach to holiness and godliness, and the other a maximalist approach. In the first case, your typical question is “Well, what is wrong with it?” It would apply to movies and music, and kids often ask their parents, “What is wrong with it?” The other approach is not mainly to ask, “What is wrong with it?”  but, “Will it make me more Christlike? Will it make me more devoted to Jesus? Will I be more powerful and full of the Holy Spirit? Will I be more effective in prayer because of it? Will it make me bolder in witness, or weaken me? Will it help me be spiritually discerning of the ways of Satan in the world, and will it help me lay up treasures in heaven? Will it help me find joy in God and all that he is for me in Jesus?” 

I will finish with this thought.

I have been a fisherman for more than fifty years. (Jesus seemed to like fishermen!) I’ve learnt that if the fish see the hook, - no matter how small - they back off. I have to put something they like and that looks natural, and hide the hook inside it.

Ken Symington

Flame International Burning Issues July 2020