Last month, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, blogged about Christians and yoga. The blog caught the attention of many media outlets including USA Today and landed on Yahoo’s front page on October 7 (two and a half weeks after the original blog). In a second blog post, responding to the Yahoo news story, Dr. Mohler points out that, “Stephanie Dillon, who has injected Christian themes into her studio in Louisville, said yoga brought her closer to her Christian faith.” John Piper responded on his blog with similar concerns.
Without question, Eastern Mystics and New Age proponents seek to align the body and spirit in a way that is inconsistent with the Bible. One doesn’t need to look very far to find this is true. One of the founders of martial arts, Gichin Funakoshi, said “The mind and technique become one in true karate.” His philosophy sounds similar to those quoted by Mohler, et. al regarding yoga. When asked if Christians should practice the martial arts (karate, kung fu, etc.), Hank Hanegraaff, president of The Christian Research Institute said, it depends.
In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment. He responded, to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Paul reminds us to glorify God in our body in 1 Corinthians 6:20. Clearly these verses show that there is a God-designed connection between our spirit and our body. God desires that we honor and glorify Him with all aspects of our lives.
As we look around at believers, it is obvious that many of us either do not recognize the God-designed connection between our spirit and body, or are not living consistently with that connection in mind. (Note, I said “us”. I am very much aware of the log in my eye at this point; I am not attempting to merely focus on the speck in someone else’s eye.) Duke University recently released a study that revealed higher obesity and chronic disease risks among Methodist clergy. I’m sure they would find similar results among other divisions (i.e., denominations).
Let me summarize my thoughts at this point:
1. God designed us with a connection between spirit and body.
2. Some have approached this connection in an unbiblical manner.
3. Some have approached this connection in a biblical manner, but are inconsistent in application, even hypocritical in some cases. (I am not saying that Mohler and Piper are hypocrites, just that some people are)
My conclusion at this point is that: God is not honored with an unbiblical approach to the connection. But neither is He honored in a biblical approach with a hypocritical lifestyle.
When a friend asked for my two cents’ worth on the issue, I read up a bit before responding to her question, especially since she has been practicing yoga.
When I finally had a chance to respond to her question, I felt I needed to ask her two questions:
1. What would you say if I told you that you shouldn’t practice yoga?
2. Where is your heart?
Her response to the first question was, “I’ll have to pray more about it, because that’s not the answer I’m hearing.” Her response showed me that she had already sought God’s guidance and it revealed how sincere her question was.
I felt that I needed to ask my second question to determine why she was practicing yoga. If her goal was to align her spirit and body through a metaphysical or New Age experience, it would reveal that she was not seeking to follow biblical teachings regarding the connection between the spirit and body. If however, she responded that she simply recognized her need to stretch and tone her body, that might be a different issue.
I reminded her about Paul’s caution against “causing a weaker brother to stumble” in Romans 14:21. Paul was addressing the issue of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. In his counsel, he did not say that you should never eat meat. Neither did he say you should never eat idol-sacrificed meat. What he does say is that if your eating idol-sacrificed meat causes someone to be kept from the Kingdom of God, then you shouldn’t do it.
One might argue that more people are being kept out of the Kingdom because of the bickering and gnat-straining of Christian leaders than because some people want to relax and tone their muscles, but I digress.
Taking all of this into account, I believe that she is at liberty to stretch and tone her body. But she must walk a fine line of:
1. being aware of those who can’t (yet) walk in that liberty (former involvement in Eastern Mysticism or New Age movement) — looking out for the spiritual health of others
2. not being legalistic — looking out for her own spiritual health.
From pondering the issue for over a week now, I believe that the issue isn’t whether or not Christians should practice yoga; the issue is the honor and glory of God in our lives.
So should Christians practice yoga? If they can do so without endangering the spiritual health of others and themselves, then they should do it to the glory of God! (Colossians 3:23)