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Reincarnation and Christianity

This is not intended as a comprehensive study on the topic of reincarnation, or the position of early Christians relative to that issue.  Rather, it is an attempt to offer some information which I have found helpful as I've tried to integrate my "belief system" with the reality of what I am experiencing within the interior life.  To expand that belief system to include the possibility of such things as evolution and reincarnation has been a process for me, a painful process at times.

Gary Zukav writes that: "The incarnation of a soul is a massive reduction of the power of the soul to a scale that is appropriate to a physical form.  It is a reduction of an immortal Life system into the framework of time and the span of a few years.  It is the reduction of a perceptual system that partakes simultaneously, through direct experience, of countless lifetimes, some of them physical and some of them nonphysical, to the five physical senses.  The soul chooses, voluntarily, to undertake this experience in order to heal." (The Seat of the Soul)

The issue of reincarnation is not a new one for me.  As a teenager I had questions about the concept.  In fact, I originally took up the practice of hypnosis primarily to discover whether or not a person could remember a previous life.  But after my dramatic Christian conversion experience at age 18, I dropped the subject.  Within my framework of Christian belief there was room for neither reincarnation nor evolution.  But as time passed, I found that it was becoming harder and harder not to revisit these issues again.  Then I encountered the book, Old Souls - The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives, by Tom Shroder, a Washington Post editor.  This book is a  journalist's account of some of the casework of psychiatrist and scholar Dr. Ian Stevenson relative to the memory of children's past lives.  The work of Dr. Stevenson has removed any doubt in my mind relative to the validity of a belief in reincarnation.  The evidence is to overwhelming to believe otherwise (at least for me).  More information about his studies can be found at the Children's Past Lives Research Center website.

It has always appeared to me that Christianity is the only religion that does not believe in reincarnation.  So then the question that arises is:  Does this expansion of my belief system necessitate that I lay down my Christian experience and seek elsewhere for a religious system that I can grow through?  Or can a person hold to the position of reincarnation and also accept the teachings and Lordship of Jesus Christ?

There is a difference between accepting the teachings and Lordship of Jesus Christ and accepting the position of the institutional church regarding matters of doctrine and faith.  Since the Council of Nicea in 325 a.d. the institutional church has taken a strong position against reincarnation.  Prior to the Council, there had been active debate within the Christian community regarding the way that humanity is saved:  through emulating Jesus or through worshiping him.  Based on the writings of Origen of Alexandria, there was a position that human nature is transformed into the divine.  The idea was that Jesus became God's Son and thereby demonstrated a universal principle that all created beings can follow.  This conflicted with the orthodox position of Bishop Alexander that Jesus had always been God's Son, was of the same essence as God (and therefore was God) and could not be imitated by mere creatures, who lack God's essence.  Salvation could come only by accessing God's grace via the Church.  

Thus, the Council of Nicea created the necessity for the institutional church to exist!  And also opened the door for the first systematic government persecution of dissident Christians.  This Council marked the beginning of the end of the concepts of preexistence, reincarnation, and salvation through union with God.  While the Protestant Reformation opened the door for a direct relationship between God and the believer, it did nothing to move Christian thinking back to the possibility that the spark of divinity within each human being could grow into the Logos - the Christ.

After the Council, Origen's writings had continued to be popular among those seeking clarification about the nature of Christ, the destiny of the soul and the manner of the resurrection.  Some of the more educated monks had taken Origen's ideas and were using them in mystical practices with the aim of becoming one with God.  This emphasis on Origen's thought continued until the Fifth General Council of the Church in 553 when Justinian and the orthodox church labeled Origen a heretic.  From that point on, there was definitely no emphasis in the institutional church on issues such as reincarnation.  Rather, a strong position was taken accepting original sin, a doctrine that made it even more difficult for mystics to practice.

Origen's theological system has been summarized in the following way:  Originally all beings existed as pure mind on an ideational or thought level.  Humans, angels, and heavenly bodies lacked incarnate existence and had their being only as ideas.  God is pure intelligence and all things were reconciled with God before creation.  But then individual beings became weary of their union with God and chose to become cool in their divine fervor.  This resulted in a "fall".  But Origen maintained that everything that defects from God must eventually be brought back to him.  There will come a time when the great defection from God that initiated physical creation will come to an end.  All things, both heavenly bodies and human souls, will be so pure and ardent in their love for God that physical existence will no longer be necessary.  As he triumphantly affirmed at the end of his "On First Principles", men are the "blood brothers" of God himself and cannot stay away forever!

Above, I have drawn freely from information written by Kevin Williams regarding the concept of Christian Reincarnation.  The complete set of documents, including scripture references, can be found on the near-death.com website.

The question arises:  Does any of this really matter?  The answer for me is a resounding YES!  I am not so much interested in a person believing in reincarnation.  What I am interested in is removing any barriers that might stand in the way of personal growth toward oneness with God.  And when we live in the midst of cultural prejudice and misunderstanding, it is difficult to not have barriers there.  Just the fact that early Christians were open to reincarnation should liberate us to consider the validity of the concept within the writings of authors such as Gary Zukav.  As a Christian, I am free to find truth everywhere it exists, and appropriately apply it to my life as I progress into Christ-likeness!

There is seldom soul growth without pain.  Out of the pain; hope, purpose, direction, and love emerge. 

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