Reincarnation and Christianity

By Beth Hyduke

As a result of the popularity of New Age spirituality, there has been a growing acceptance of reincarnation in the U.S. today. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 1 out of 5 American adults believe in reincarnation. More recently, a 2009 survey conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that that number had risen to 1 in 4. Unfortunately, even among those proclaiming to be evangelical Christians, belief in reincarnation is alarmingly on the rise. Recent surveys by the Barna Group have reported that 25% of American Christians, including 10% of those who define themselves as "born-again," have embraced a belief in reincarnation.

The reason for this disturbing trend centers upon the de-prioritization of Biblical truth and the loss of Christian conviction. Albert Mohler offers this perspective: " seems very likely that this new acceptance of reincarnation is more a matter of therapeutic fads and cultural fashions than a huge theological shift. The shift we are seeing is more likely a loss of Christian conviction in the face of secularization — not a comprehensive embrace of Eastern worldviews." Secular American culture has certainly played a role in creating and fostering a syncretistic environment in which the average person feels it is perfectly acceptable to pick and choose the beliefs they most prefer from an assortment of available religions, regardless of whether or not they are logically consistent or compatible with already-held beliefs. Bestsellers such as Rhonda Byrne's The Secret and Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God series are two examples of highly syncretistic works promoting originally-eastern doctrines like pantheism, karma, and reincarnation ideology while continuing to pay at least superficial lip-service to traditionally accepted beliefs including Judeo-Christianity. Additionally, personal testimonies of popular and well-known celebrities such as Shirley MacLaine, and celebrity-endorsed reincarnationists, such as the psychiatrist and author Brian Weiss, have had a noticeable impact on our culture in recent years in championing reincarnation as a legitimate belief for the secular as well as the religious-minded consumer.

This has led to a very bizarre phenomenological situation in which it is not uncommon to hear someone who labels and identifies themselves as Christian also espouse a belief in reincarnation. Ephesians 6 warns Christian believers that attacks on our faith and convictions will inevitably come, having been ultimately devised by the spiritual forces and powers of evil. The Christian's responsibility and safety lies in equipping themselves so they will be prepared to meet these attacks and answer them with compelling and loving truth. That is why Christians are exhorted to regularly engage the Word of God, to "impress these words on our hearts and on our souls" (Deuteronomy 11:18-19), to "put on the full armor of God" so that they can "stand firm against the devil's schemes" (Ephesians 6:11) and "always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks" (1 Peter 3:15). When we neglect the Word, we find ourselves ill-prepared for the spiritual battle underway, and vulnerable to the fiery darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Since Satan continually seeks to undermine our faith and lead us away from the truth, we are specifically warned to be on guard against attacks that attempt to subvert sound doctrine. "For the time will come when people will no longer listen to sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths and fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). There are many false doctrines circulating in the world today, many "myths and fables" that though they may superficially seem harmless enough, are designed to deceive and lead us astray.

Reincarnation falls under the heading of doctrine concerning the afterlife — specifically, what happens to the soul after the body dies. Either through sinful desire to conform to worldly fads or out of simple ignorance of the Scripture's teachings on the subject, Christians who have embraced a belief in reincarnation are laboring under a wrong assumption that the Bible might somehow be interpreted in such a way that it becomes compatible with the teaching of reincarnation. Such Christians desperately need to be confronted with Biblical truth. Since Christians, by definition, believe Christ and submit to His teachings (John 10:26-27) — and therefore reject all opposing teachings — we need to establish what the Bible teaches about the afterlife. Fortunately for us, the assertion that the Bible's teachings support the doctrine of reincarnation is easy to decisively invalidate. The Bible does not leave what happens after we die an ambiguous mystery. Jesus Christ speaks a great deal about Heaven and Hell; in fact, Jesus is the most prolific teacher of this topic in the Bible, speaking significantly more about Hell than He did about Heaven (but never once about reincarnation). According to Jesus, after physical death, we must give an account to God, meaning we all undergo a judgment before God (which is significantly different for the believer whose sins have been paid for by the blood of Christ than it is for an unregenerate sinner) before we go to one of only two, very real, equally eternal places — Heaven, a place of everlasting peace and life, which is reserved for Christian believers, and Hell, a place of eternal punishment and torment which is reserved for those who rejected God in this life. (For Christ's teachings on Judgment Day and the afterlife, see: Matthew 10:28, 12:35-37, 13:49-50, 16:26-27, 23:33, 25:41-46; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 3:17, 12:42-48; John 3:16, 3:36, 5:29; Revelation 22:12. For additional biblical references in both Old and New Testaments that fully support what Christ taught about Judgment and the afterlife, see: Job 34:11, Psalm 9:17 & 37:9-11, Ecclesiastes 3:17, Ezekiel 18:20, Daniel 12:2, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Colossians 3:25, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 2 Peter 2:4-9, 2 Timothy 4:1, Jude 23, Revelation 19:19-22:5).

In contrast to the biblical teaching of Heaven or Hell, reincarnation is the belief that after physical death, the surviving soul begins a new cycle of life in a new body. Reincarnation usually has some connection to pantheism through the notion of karma, which is the belief that after the soul has fulfilled its destiny, learned its lessons, and become sufficiently enlightened, it will revert to its original status as a divine being, and simply be absorbed into the "Divine All." Reincarnation doctrine is a central tenet of most Indian religions as well as a common belief of more recent religions such as Spiritism, New Age, and Scientology. Obvious incompatibilities arise in comparing the undefined, amorphous, impersonal, pantheistic "Divinity" with the Personal, Almighty One-God-In-Three-Persons God of the Christian Bible. Apart from that insurmountable difference, the biblical teaching of divine retributive judgment is incompatible with reincarnation ideology, which teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and that people will not be judged for their actions, but instead are given as many opportunities as they need to "level up" through repeated cycles of physical life. In addition, belief in reincarnation requires that you believe there is no end to the earth and natural order since it is the platform to which you and all others return in your successive lives. However, this stands in direct opposition to Biblical teaching that Christ's Second Coming brings with it the destruction of this earth and the natural realm by fire (2 Peter 3:7, 10-13). Most compellingly, we must ask ourselves what is the central message of Christianity if reincarnation were true. If people simply cycle through lives until everyone eventually achieves enlightenment, what does the Cross mean? In such a construct, what would be the point of Jesus Christ dying to save us from our sins? The Bible explicitly tells us that "Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God..." (1 Peter 3:18). In contrast to the Christian tenet of substitutionary atonement by which a dual transfer takes place (our sins imputed to Christ, His righteousness imputed to us), reincarnation offers a works-based merit system by which, through the repetition of successive lifetimes, karma ensures that everyone "pays" for his or her own misdeeds and is eventually rewarded in the conceptually nebulous currency of enlightenment. Reincarnation therefore makes sin, judgment, salvation, heaven and hell, and the hope of reconciliation with a holy God obsolete. By extrapolation, if you believe in reincarnation, there is no reason to believe in the Cross, nor in a Savior authoritatively claiming to be able to pay for your sins on it.

If what Christ teaches is true, (in this case one final judgment after death followed by a resurrection of bodies either to eternal life or eternal death), then anything other than what Christ teaches must be untrue, regardless of whether it is highly educated scientists, likeable celebrities, or cute little children who are voicing the opposing doctrine. In the face of compelling personal accounts that conflict with what Christ has told us, it would be wise to remember that Satan takes many shapes and forms, even angelic ones (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), and holds strong influence over people who are lost and in bondage to him. While spokespersons promoting reincarnation may seem credible, educated, innocent, or sincere, we must remember that Satan wants to deceive people (John 8:44), and in doing so, steer them away from the Truth, away from Christ (John 14:6 & 17:17; 1 Peter 5:8-9), who is our only hope for salvation and freedom.

As clever and powerful an opponent as Satan is, however, he is an already-defeated enemy (John 12:31-32), and James 4:7-8 tells us the key to resisting him successfully. "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded..." As Christian believers we have access to much greater power than Satan has been given, but notice what the verse tells us. We must submit to God's ways (not our own or others' ways), we must draw near to God as He truly is (and not as we would rather have Him), we must cleanse our ways and thoughts so that we can, as John puts it, "worship God in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). God will not accept our allegiance if it is marred by lies and false doctrines about Him and what He has ordained; He requires that we know and worship Him as He truly is, as He has made Himself known to us in the Bible.

To assume that reincarnation is in any way, shape, or form taught in the Bible, that it is a benign doctrine, or even that it is harmless to accept it as a personal belief that is "somewhat" compatible with Biblical Christianity is a naive error and a complete untruth. In teaching about the afterlife, Christ never made any mention of reincarnation or even once suggested that people might take another shape and return to this life in another body, but instead only taught two ultimate and final destinations — Heaven or Hell. Trying to bend what the Bible teaches about the afterlife so that it may fit together with the pagan doctrine of reincarnation is unnecessary, unconstructive, untrue, and unwise (Revelation 22:18-19).

Published 6-24-2014