Invasion of the Body Snatchers
By George Byron Koch
Muggeridge, a world-famous English journalist who became a Christian late in life, was prophetic as he saw the coming remaking of the core of the Christian faith by its very leaders. We might wonder if he could have imagined how far the faith could be taken apart.
The problem is this: many of our modern theologians, clergy and seminaries are remaking the Christian faith, changing it into a confusing blend of New Age pantheism, Gnosticism, scientific reductionism, ancient superstition and sexual license. This is not only occurring within the Episcopal Church, but also throughout most mainline Christian denominations.
The process might remind us of the "pod people" in the old science fiction movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The aliens in the movie seek to conquer earth by the simple technique of possession - taking over the bodies of human beings and killing the mind and soul of the person who once lived inside. Except for the somewhat glazed look in their eyes, and the fact that they now follow their alien leaders without question, its impossible to tell by outer appearance those whose bodies have been occupied by aliens from the real, unpossessed humans. This same technique has been used to change our theologians, clergy and seminaries. They continue to maintain Christian labels, words and appearances, but what is inside - the core of the faith - has been replaced with something alien.
The first reaction to such a suggestion is usually disbelief, followed by denial: "This cant be happening!" Once the reality of it sinks it, despair, anger and bitterness often follow. But this is not what God calls us to do. Rather we are to contend for the faith, as generations of Christians have in the past. These are old enemies - dressed up in modern garb - but the church has faced them before. So our first task is to clearly understand the enemies that confront us. This article will look at several of them.
Gnosticism Strikes Again
One of the current threats to the Christian faith, called Gnosticism, arose first in the early church, and its false teachings led many astray. Gnosticism taught that everything about the world was evil, but that some people were "gods," had a seed of the Divine planted in them, and had special knowledge that set them above the rest of us, who were merely "fleshly." The "Christ," to them, was an emissary from the supreme God to bring "gnosis" or occult knowledge to these human "gods." Jesus (who the Gnostics distinguished from Christ) was merely a simple Jew whose body was occupied by this "Christ."
Many of these "gods" concluded that since their bodies were evil, and had passions that were uncontrollable, it was perfectly alright for them to engage in any kind of sexual or other perversion. Their bodies were "made" that way, after all, so such activity was natural for them. They believed that their "spirits" remained holy, regardless of what their bodies did.
Jude, a brother of Jesus, wrote to the church to correct these false teachings. His letter (the book of Jude) appears just before the book of Revelation in the New Testament. Here is a portion of his letter:
Similar false teachings have invaded the modern church. Every item cited here will be quoted directly from original sources, from the theologians, authors, teachers and leaders. You can judge them by their own words and deeds.
The Theft and Redefinition of Christian Words and Symbols
""Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
""I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least--at least I mean what I say - thats the same thing, you know."
""Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter, "Why, you
might just as well say that "I see what I eat is the same thing as "I eat
what I see!"
Unlike Alice, many modern theologians neither say what they mean, nor mean what they say. They redefine familiar words so that, to the naive, they seem to mean what theyve always meant, but in fact something very different is now intended. When they say the words of the Creeds, or when they quote scripture, even when they speak of "Christ," it is not at all what you and I and nearly two thousand years of Christians mean when we say the very same words. For example:
In one Episcopal seminary in Massachusetts, where men and women are trained to be Christian deacons and priests in our church, the Christian chapel is used by faculty members for the worship of Gaia, the "goddess of the earth." When asked about the appropriateness of this at a supposedly Christian seminary, an Episcopal bishop then on the faculty said, "The argument is that the sexist oppression of women came with the Christian conversion of Europe. They are returning to a pre-Christian time. We did not stop it because we believe in peoples freedom. We also have people on the campus calling themselves pagans."1
That is, Gaia is permitted to be worshiped in a Christian seminary chapel, by the very faculty of that seminary, because they are "returning to a pre-Christian time."
Although it would be clear to the average Christian in the pew that the worship of Gaia was a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me," the advocates of the new teaching claim otherwise. They simply redefine a "Cosmic Christ" to include Gaia.
The redefined Christ is a new cosmic being who encompasses all that is "spiritual." He is also "Mother Earth." He encourages the possession of humans by the "spirits" of animals. He liberates sexual activity from the confines of marriage.
These ideas come in part from the extensive writings of Matthew Fox, a former Dominican (Roman Catholic) monk who is now an Episcopal priest in San Francisco. Fox was asked to leave the Dominican order because of his teachings, and was received into the Episcopal Church. He is enormously popular in the seminaries and with clergy from all denominations who study his books, including The Coming of the Cosmic Christ and Creation Spirituality.
Fox describes a very different Christ from the one we know in the gospels, but one which fits well into the New Age ideas of the earth as a goddess to be worshiped. Fox says, "...the appropriate symbol of the Cosmic Christ who became incarnate in Jesus is... Mother Earth crucified yet rising daily."2
In Foxs theology, the god we really know and are a part of is not the eternal creator of the universe, but a local deity - a conscious being which is the "network" of all life forms on the earth. Fox calls this "panentheism." He says that God is in everything and is everything, and that we experience God by becoming more consciously aware of this truth.
The worship of Gaia at the seminary celebrates this theme. Gaia is the name given to the goddess of a new "planetary religion," which redefines many Christian words and symbols, and which asserts that "Mother Earth" is a conscious being, a goddess. This idea comes from an environmental scientist, James Lovelock, who in 1972 wrote an article titled Gaia as Seen Through the Atmosphere. His article promoted "the older idea of the Earth as a very large living creature, Gaia, several giga-years [billion years] old who has molded the surface, the oceans, and the air to suit her, and for the very brief time we have been part of her, our needs."
In a 1988 book, Lovelock asks, "What if Mary is another name for Gaia? Then her capacity for virgin birth is no miracle... [Gaia is] the source of life everlasting and is alive now; she gave birth to humankind and we are a part of her."3 [emphasis mine]
Thus the God of the Bible is no longer the creator, but rather our true creator is Gaia, Mother Earth. Never mind that Fox thinks Mother Earth is properly identified with Christ, and Lovelock identifies her with Mary. The contradictions, and the outright rejection of the teaching of scripture, are all a part of the vast confusion and change underway. Much of the revision of the faith within the mainline churches has had this sort of approach. It rejects the fundamentals of the Christian faith as backward, small-minded, almost moronic. And it replaces them with a modern kind of pantheism, which proclaims that God is everything and asserts that we, actually, are God - we just have to realize it.
An Episcopal clergy conference in California in September 1993 illustrated much of this redefinition of "Christ," by encouraging the worship of the earth as Gaia. Those priests and deacons who attended were told that they could reconnect with the earth and be spiritually liberated, by wearing the masks or head-dresses of animals - wolves, rabbits, bears - and allowing the "spirits" of these animals to enter them and speak through them - much as an animistic (animal-worshipping) tribe might. Some of the priests present spoke up about having actually participated in such rituals - and having found it a wonderful and freeing experience.
The conference leader, Danny Martin, an ex-Roman Catholic priest, then went on to teach that the spiritually wise are now leaving their narrow Christian notions, and embracing a "post-religion," and "meta-religion" which sees Christ as a cosmic being whose arms embrace all religious traditions equally, and toward which everything "spiritual" flows. He belittled the small-mindedness that caused Christians to proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God. Participants were asked, "when will we grow up?" and realize "how limited our faith has been."4
Fox supports this idea, and also elaborates the point about you and me really being God. He says, "Divinity is found in all creatures... Jesus shows us how to embrace our own divinity. The Cosmic Christ is the "I am in every creature." Fox then puts these words into the mouth of the Cosmic Christ: "Be still and know that I am God ... And you are too."5 [emphasis mine]
This is what Satan teaches, in Genesis 3:
Here Satan, in the form of a serpent, "deconstructs" the words of God. That is, he takes them apart and then reinterprets and "corrects" them, and uses this technique to seduce Eve and Adam into believing that they will be like God. And so they are led, willingly, into sin. It is no accident that this sin of pride, this sin of arrogating ourselves to the status of God himself, is the first sin the Bible describes. It is also the very sin which caused Satan and his angels to be cast out of heaven - they wanted to put themselves in the place of God.
It is also no accident that scripture shows that this seduction came about by deconstructing, reinterpreting and "correcting" Gods word. Satans tactics have not changed.
The elevation of human reason above scripture - above Gods revelation of himself.
Recently the Jesus Seminar, a group of self-described "biblical scholars" with a flair for publicity, has issued a new collection of scripture. The seminar has distinguished itself by voting on which words of Jesus they believe Jesus actually said. They have eliminated all those which contain miracles, or any suggestions of divinity for Jesus, and left behind what they see as an itinerant social agitator, who did not consider himself the Son of God, who was surprised to find himself executed, and who certainly didnt rise again on the third day. It should be no surprise that this is basically how they viewed Jesus before they started voting on which words were actually his.
Theyve also added a fifth gospel, beyond Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The book is called the Gospel of Thomas. The Jesus Seminar proclaims this book as a "lost" gospel which they have recovered for us. But the book was not lost. It is an old Gnostic text, long ago rejected by the church. Visit the religion section of any regular bookstore, and you will find dozens of books on Gnostic teachings. They use many Christian words and symbols, and to the unwary, they appear to be Christian, but they promote a different faith entirely.
Over and over again, in the popular religious press and in our own seminaries, we are replacing the core beliefs of the Christian faith with ancient pagan beliefs, and we are pretending that they are holy, and giving them Christian labels. And it is with these false teachings that we are educating our future priests, deacons, and bishops. In fact, this process has been underway for many years. Many of todays clergy have already been affected and, frankly, dont even know it - after all, they went to seminary trusting that they would be taught the true faith.
The advocates of these new ideas are becoming quite bold in their rejection of central Christian doctrines. One popular Episcopal bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Spong of Newark, says, "...Jesus virgin birth stands in violation of all we know about genetics." He says we continue to tell this story through our "dishonesty." Because of our fear of being accused of heresy, he says, we participate in the "perpetuation of this ignorance." He also concludes that because of Darwins assertions about the nature of evolution, "the assumption behind the traditional understanding of Jesus as Gods divine rescuer becomes inoperative."6 He calls these teachings "Christian propaganda."
Elsewhere, he says, "I knew that the Noah story, or the splitting of the Red Sea story, could not be literally true, to say nothing of the stories of Jesus turning water into wine, walking on the water and ascending to... heaven"7
In theological circles, this anti-biblical worldview has its roots in a method known as "Higher Criticism," which began in the last century. The fundamental idea was to examine the Bible to understand its literary methods and sources. Although on the surface this sounds like it should be worthwhile, in practice it has become so absorbed in a "scientific analysis" of the human authors of the Bible and their age, that the God who revealed Himself through them has been forgotten. The Bible has come to be seen as simply a collection of old stories used to help create and reinforce an ancient culture, and the Nicene Creed, which we use to state the faith clearly, is simply a crumbling assertion of simple-minded superstition.
G.K. Chesterton described the problem this way: "What is always crumbling is not the Creed itself but the criticism. Especially when it is of the sort which calls itself, with the well-known humility of science, the higher criticism. The person whose position is perpetually growing shaky, shifting, sliding, and breaking away from under him, is the advanced sceptic who is attacking the tradition of Orthodoxy. It is he who has to abandon position after position, in order to continue the battle or even remain in the field."8
To a Christian who has experienced Gods revelation of Himself in scripture, Spongs view is an unbelievable reductionism and discounting of the Bible. But it is not the exception. It is typical of the way scripture is now taught in many mainline Christian seminaries, including most of ours.
Frightening Christians with attacks on their most basic beliefs.
Standards of sexual morality which have stood for thousands of years, are now not only rejected as "outmoded," but those who still advocate them are now accused of bigotry. Any suggestion that certain sexual acts might be sinful (even though the Bible says they are), is said to be a disguised hatred (or a denied envy) of those who indulge in them. That the acts themselves might be contrary to Gods will is laughed off as at best fuzzy-headed, and at worst hateful.
This is intentional misdirection. It is intended to take our focus off of the issues themselves by accusing anyone who opposes sin of hating the sinner, and frightening us from speaking the truth. This is the tactic of the child who says, "You hate me!" when his parents will not approve of something they know will harm him. Weak parents will give in rather than risk not being liked - and the child will be harmed because he is successful in his self-indulgence and in his self-serving tactics to defend it. We must not permit our church to be so easily manipulated.
So successful has this notion been - that those who condemn sin are hateful - that one of the seminaries now teaches a course, focused on orthodox believers, which is described as "Studying Christofascist dynamics."9 Those who believe in biblical standards have become "fascists" needing to be examined and eliminated. This word "Christofascist" as a description of orthodox believers has even made its way into the teaching in some Episcopal parishes.
Overriding clear moral and ethical guidelines set down in scripture.
Modern men and women are not required to believe, accept, or live by biblical teachings. They are free to do anything the law allows - and it allows many things the Bible forbids. But Christians who accept Bible as the Word of God cant reject those parts of it that dont fit their personal lifestyle or taste. If it is indeed Gods Word, we ought to heed it even when - especially when - it makes us uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, the idea is regularly repeated in our church today that the only real sin associated with sexual activity is self-loathing. Thus the plain warnings in scripture about sexual sin are dismissed as being the result of feelings of guilt. Paul writes in Romans 1:20 -
One bishop dismisses these words of Paul by saying, "it is not too harsh to say he loathes himself," and the intensity of feelings Paul expressed about sexual sin stemmed from his "realization that he was a homosexual male..."10
Thus, according to this bishop, we cannot trust the words of scripture to give us insight into the mind and will of God. Rather, it must be "deconstructed" and corrected to conform to more modern views of sex. He concludes that Paul, one of the clearest and most prolific writers in the New Testament, writes these warnings not by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but out of self-loathing because he is a homosexual.
The Standing Liturgical Commission and the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops has just completed a "Report to the  General Convention on the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships." Although it cites the traditional view of marriage, it places it simply as one end of a spectrum of alternatives for relationships which could be blessed by the church. One argument it lists, from proponents of same-sex marriage, is that the Biblical texts which condemn homosexual acts are referring to those acts when performed by heterosexuals, rather than by people "who are by nature homosexual." It offers no evidence to support the idea that anyone at all is "by nature homosexual,"11 nor does it explain why, even if homosexual urges were biologically based, they should therefore be considered good. A persons desire to eat too much, or to drink too much, or cheat on ones spouse, may one day prove to have a genetic basis; this doesnt mean theyre good. Rather, they are conditions we would hope to heal or overcome.
One bishop in the church - the same one who defended the worship of Gaia at the seminary chapel - expressed the sentiments of many other bishops. He said of the proposal for same-sex marriage rites: "When this one goes over the top, I want it to go over in such a big way that everyone is swept along with it and it becomes a slam dunk."12
The norm set forth in the Bible for sexual activity that is blessed by God is monogamous, heterosexual marriage. That human beings, even Christians, often fail to live this out does not erase the standard which we are called to teach and follow. Yet so completely have we abandoned the idea that abstinence outside of marriage is what the Bible teaches, that we now - in our church materials - are even educating teens on how to have sexual intercourse successfully and unashamedly.
The Episcopal Church publishes the "Episcopal Guide to TAP (Teens for AIDS Prevention)." This training manual is to be used by parishes to educate their teenagers about sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, and is described by Presiding Bishop Browning as "an outstanding new peer education program." It features training sessions which include a "condom hunt" to teach the teens to be able "to obtain a condom without pressure." It also includes "Practice Role Plays" where participants are to act out the roles of teenagers "that have been having sexual intercourse" but have forgotten their condoms.
In one role play, Ben, who has just learned he has HIV, "goes to a party where he is attracted to Terry. The attraction is mutual, and Terry invites Ben to go outside to the car." After the role-playing has been completed, the discussion questions include "What activities could Ben and Terry safely engage in?" and "What difference would it make if Terry was a boy instead of a girl?"13
Where are we left?
Sex is such an obsession in our society that many of the debates on the future of our church seem to center solely on sexual issues. But these are in many ways more an outcome of the remaking of the faith, than the cause. We must avoid getting stuck on this single issue, and realize the depth and breadth of the real challenge: the fundamentals of the faith are being replaced by entirely new ideas - and old heresies - simply dressed up in familiar words.
Our faith is being rewritten into something new, a post-Christian, all-inclusive pantheism, which worships Gaia, sexuality, and the spirits of animals, which denies the revelation of God in the Bible. It steals and uses the words of the Christian faith, and it scoffs at Jesus Christ as the only Son of God. It pretends to be Christian, but it is not.
This is not, as some claim, the Holy Spirit "doing a new thing in the church." The Holy Spirit is not two-faced, and will never contradict the revelation of God in scripture. These are old heresies, the doctrines of demons, that tickle our ears and appeal to arrogance and lust. But no matter how dressed up they are in Christian words and symbols, they are not the faith of Jesus Christ, but a fabrication meant to seduce us once again.
What do we do?
Referring to "remakers" of the faith in his own day, Jude concluded his letter this way:
So we are to build on our faith, pray in the Spirit, and keep ourselves in the love of God - which we do by loving one another - and we are to look forward to eternal life. And in this faith, we are to reach out in mercy to save those who are wavering or lost in the fire of false belief.
May God grant us the grace to do this without self-righteousness, but with genuine love for those who have been misled, and utter reliance on the truth, who is Jesus Christ.
1. Bishop Bennison, interviewed in Cornerstone News, March 7, 1997, by David Virtue. The seminary is EDS, the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
2. Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), p. 145.
3. J. E. Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia; A Biography of Our Living Earth (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1988), p. 206.
4. September 1993, Diocese of California. The author was present at this conference
5. Fox, p. 154
6. John Shelby Spong, in "Heresy! This Church Is on Trial" from "The Bishops Voice" column, Diocese of Newark, December, 1995.
7. John Shelby Spong, in "Propaganda or Education? A New Vocation for the Church," from "The Bishops Voice" column, October, 1995.
8. G. K. Chesterton, in The Illustrated London News, November 26, 1927.
9. Course T119, Professor Carter Heyward, Episcopal Divinity School Catalogue, 1995-1996.
10. John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark, in Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991)
11. Report to the 1997 General Convention, from The Standing Liturgical Commission - Part 3, March 1997.
12. Bishop Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania, in The Pennsylvania Episcopalian, February 1997.
13. The Rev Canon Gene Robinson, and the Rev Thaddeus A.Bennett, Editors; the Rev Altagracia Perez, writer/consultant, Episcopal Guide to TAP (New York: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 1994)
The Rev. George Byron Koch is the pastor of Church of the Resurrection.
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