New Age occult beliefs have seduced many with intriguing spiritual deception. Here's the story of one Christian woman's journey through apostasy.
Why are growing numbers of women and men who claim to be Christians dabbling in clearly non-Christian spiritual teachings?
From church groups called "spiritual seekers" to belief in Eastern mysticism and instruction in the occult A Course in Miracles, so-called Christians are wading in spiritually heretical waters with no thought of drowning. But unless their spiritual eyes are opened, drown they will, for warnings against such activities are frequent and uncompromising throughout the Bible.
Many professing Christians are unfamiliar with basic tenets of Christian faith and Scripture, and herein lies the danger. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," said the prophet Hosea (4:6). So we have Christian churches that not only deny the truth of God's word, but seem to go out of their way to flaunt their doubts, believing this is enlightened and progressive. As Scripture records, this is an age-old story. Antedeluvian society strayed from God and eventually received severe judgment. Pre-exilic Israel and Judah of the first millenium B.C. intermingled pagan idol-worship and occultism with Hebrew faith and tradition; God was not amused. As recorded in well-attested Old Testament writings, this apostasy was the subject of the dire warnings of Hebrew prophets from Elijah to Ezekiel. All but a small remnant ignored the warnings; the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were attacked, their cities burned and people killed or enslaved. Far from a minor theme, these consequences of attempting to blend pagan belief with God's commands form what is probably the central historical event in the history of the nation of Israel, and one of the major fulfilled prophecies of the Old Testament. These events were evidence that there really is a God out there, and the imprint of His hand on history is undeniable for those who take the time to study Scripture.
Still, we have mainline denominations-- Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Catholics, and others-- that openly debate the divinity of Christ, the reality of the virgin birth, and the atoning salvation of the crucifixion and Resurrection. Many leaders of these churches maintain that goddess worship and witchcraft are compatible with "Christianity." So is, apparently, channeling, belief in salvation through other faiths, homosexuality, reincarnation, and so on. Everything in the Bible is now open to question, it is alleged, without losing the integrity of the faith. Despite the consistent messages in Scripture about occult practices and worship of alternate images of God, starting with the First Commandment, flirting with blasphemy doesn't seem to bother these seekers.
Searching for God
In the life of one woman, such openness led her on a journey far from orthodox Christianity. The story begins, not in recent years, but several decades ago.
Beverly Conner was a church-going wife and mother in the early 1970s in the affluent Columbus, Ohio suburb of Worthington. Her spiritual life, however, seemed unfulfilling, and she launched a personal "quest" for God.
She was not alone in this quest at her Presbyterian church. A "search for God" group had formed from within the membership, consisting mostly of women, and endorsed by the pastor. Even though theirs was in many respects a typical Christian church congregation, this group saw nothing amiss with its growing fascination with yoga, transcendental meditation (TM), and reincarnation.
"Our pastor was open to beliefs other than Christianity," Beverly recalls. "He would tell us that each person had his or her own spiritual path to follow."
So Beverly and others enthusiastically explored all avenues of the supernatural. Yoga was a favorite pursuit during these years. Beverly attended a yoga retreat and considered becoming an instructor. She meditated, and began to believe she had a spirit guide. And a large part of this path of exploration was an intense study of the life and writings of Edgar Cayce, the spiritualist and healer who was a big occult sensation early in this century, and whose beliefs are still popular with New Age devotees.
A smaller yet bolder group led by the pastor himself formed at the church. This group of ten people became totally immersed in the Edgar Cayce beliefs. And Beverly soon became their most "gifted" member.
" Before long, I began to see visions and experience extra-sensory perception (ESP)," she remembers. And yoga was the real starting point. The practice of yoga trains the practitioner to use the mind to overcome the body's senses through the various yoga positions. This enables the person to achieve an altered state of consciousness, to "empty" the mind. But a mind not guided by the Holy Spirit through true belief will be open to other spiritual influences. As Scripture tells us, there are only two types of spirtual beings-- those guided by Almighty God (the God whose character is described in the Bible) and which confess the name of Jesus Christ-- and those of the demonic realm.
Yet there was no recognition of Satan or a demonic spirit world at Bev Conner's Presbyterian church. "No discussion of Satan or his power ever took place," Beverly says. "It was simply not part of the church's teachings." Doubt about the authority and validity of the Bible had produced skepticism about the existence of Satan-- in fact, about the nature of evil itself.
So the new-found spiritual experiences were assumed to be completely friendly, good, and acceptable. "I believed the Creator gave me these powers," Beverly says. "If someone would have told me these experiences were from Satan, I would've punched them in the nose."
Yet very unusual things were happening. Beverly would know who was calling before she picked up the phone. She knew the garage door was going to break before it did so. In a vision from her "spirit guide," she asked his name. She was told to go to her bookshelf and turn to a certain page in a particular book. When she did so, a character named on that page was said to be her spirit guide. Assuming this was divinely-inspired prophetic knowledge, Beverly willingly believed.
Meanwhile, her range of experiences was very impressive to the church group, and an ego trip for Beverly. "I would relate these experiences to my group, and they became more and more in awe of my 'powers'," she remembers. "I soon became the channeler of 'healing' for members of the group."
During this whole time, however, Beverly truly wanted to be close to God. "I would stand in front of the mirror,stare at myself and say, 'God, what do you want me to do?'" She believes, that despite her ignorance, God honored her sincere heart, and in His grace, provided a way out of the deception.
And The Truth Shall Make You Free
Then one weekend during 1972, two older women friends asked Beverly to drive them to a Christian women's retreat in Dayton. Only going as a favor to her friends, Beverly heard a speaker present a biblically-based message about salvation through Jesus Christ. For the first time, she was hearing clear, uncompromised truth. She wasn't completely sure where this was heading, but she responded to the altar call and accepted Christ as Saviour. She also bought a book at the conference--The Holy Spirit and You by Dennis Bennett.
At home Beverly read the book and recited a prayer suggested in the book, renouncing her occult activities. Suddenly, it occurred to her that what she had been practicing might be wrong.
"I cried all day," Beverly remembers."I knew I wanted God more than all the powers I had." Exhausted, she fell asleep. When she awoke from the nap, her thinking was clear. " I had a Scripture citation in my head--Proverbs 3:5-6--that I knew I was supposed to read," she recalls, "even though I had no idea what it said." She scoured the house just to find a Bible in order to look it up.
She opened the Bible and read: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:4-5 NKJV) The truth was suddenly revealed to her, and with it, the nature of her occult deception.
"I knew then that Jesus was my Lord and Saviour," she remembers," and He was the only answer to fill the void in my heart."
The Veil Removed
With new understanding, Beverly knew that she had to confess before her church groups, renounce the pagan practices--and share the Gospel with them as well. How ironic--sharing the Gospel with a Presbyterian women's group! But that's exactly what was required.
"First, I called the pastor and told him about having received Jesus as Lord," Beverly says. "But I also told him I had to leave both groups and never engage in these activities again." The pastor was cool and unreceptive. When Beverly faced the larger group, she was greeted with disdain.. She was no longer "one of them" but had become in their eyes that fate-worse-than-death: a fundamentalist.
"They ridiculed me," she remembers, "and I began to hear I was being labeled a 'Jesus freak.'" Yet there was one exception.
One woman had been paying close attention as Beverly gave her testimony. She told Beverly later that the confession had reached something long dormant inside her. Having received Christ as a small child, this woman had been experiencing growing discomfort with the activities of the group, but had not been able to put her finger on why. Now her eyes were opened, and she too left the group. But all the other participants were unmoved, and Beverly and her friend were ostracized.
During this time, Beverly's husband had been watching these activities with some curiosity, but without alarm, thinking it was just a hobby or phase she was going through. Even as a regular churchgoer, Christ had not yet come into his life. One evening Beverly accompanied her husband to church as he attended an evening event. While waiting for him, she went into the dark sanctuary, knelt at the altar, and once again, committed herself to the Lord.
"I know He was saying to me at that moment, 'Go and witness.' I began to think about how to do that," Beverly says. She knew that she needed to share these experiences with others and warn them about occult practices.
But her husband, Jack, did not share her newfound faith. As Beverly began to speak at Christian women's groups, it became obvious that she needed to change churches. Eventually, she was asked to participate in Christian radio programs. Her three children responded eagerly to the Gospel message--but Jack's growing skepticism was beginning to put a strain on their marriage. And it didn't end.
It was eleven years later and their marriage was at the breaking point, when Jack finally agreed to attend Beverly's church. He would give it one year. Before the end of the year, however, God decided to use other methods to convince Jack.
A Wake-Up Call
Jack had always been intensely interested in clocks. He repaired clocks, collected clocks, and was, predictably, very punctual in his personal life. He was taking his time, however, responding to God's gift of salvation.
The onset of heart problems put everything in a different perspective. As he was preparing for the surgery, Jack related necessary details of family financial matters to Beverly. She listened, thanked him for having taken such good care of the family, then said, "Now, it's time to take care of you." And she put the question to him: wasn't it time to make a decision for Christ?
When Jack went into surgery, he went as a believer. Now, over a decade later and healthier than ever, Jack serves the Lord enthusiastically alongside Beverly through Bible studies and many other church activities.
What would have happened to Beverly -- and her family--if she had not found authentic belief, instead of the counterfeit faith she was pursuing?
"I don't know," she says. "I just feel intensely grateful for being saved." Bev believes that it is a combination of ignorance of the Bible and arrogance that leads people astray. Going to church and believing one is a"good person" is not the key to eternal life.
"People want to fill the void inside," she says, "But unless it is filled by God Almighty through the Holy Spirit, there can be no true understanding." Churches need to get back to Bible-centered beliefs, and they need to be taught that Satan is real, not a myth from long ago, and that great spiritual deception is therefore an ever-present possibility.
"Only Jesus can change our lives to serve God," she says, "when we come to Him with an open heart of faith, wanting to believe and trust in Him."
As a repudiation of occult activities, Bev burned all her books on yoga, meditation and false spirituality, with the exception of two on Edgar Cayce, which she kept for reference. She now teaches groups about the dangers of New Age deception.
"I only know that it is by God's grace that I was saved, and that's what I try to share with others."
On March 20, 2003, Bev Conner passed away after a long, brave fight against leukemia. She was a shining light to those who saw how she battled her disease, knowing that she would be with the Lord no matter what.
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits,whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you shall know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God."
(1 John 4:1-3 NKJV)