(Read Part 1 to see why I’m writing about yoga.)

If we’re going to understand how a Christian should respond to yoga, we’re going to have to turn to the Bible. Of course, yoga isn’t mentioned in the Bible; there’s no command that says “thou shalt not practice yoga.” So we need to construct a biblical framework on which we can build a wise response to the practice of yoga in Western culture.

When we’re dealing with how Christians should interact with popular practices derived from another religion, an appropriate place to go would be 1 Corinthians 8–10. These three chapters teach us three principles that will help us respond to yoga.

The church at Corinth has written the apostle Paul a letter, in which they’ve asked him to settle a number of disputes within the church. One of these disputes is about whether or not a Christian can eat food that has been sacrificed to idols. Now, here in the West, we never have to face this issue, but it was a real problem for the Corinthians (and for many present-day believers in other cultures!). Corinth was a diverse and pluralistic city, filled with people from a smorgasbord of religions. Their social life often revolved around the worship of idols stationed in the temples of the city. A pagan Corinthian would bring an animal to be sacrificed at the altar of an idol. After being roasted on the altar, the meat would be eaten by the man and his friends and family at a party which he would throw in the temple. Any leftovers would be sold in the marketplace. If a Christian were to join the Jews of the city in avoiding any kind of idol meat, they would be cut off from the social life of their friends and family, and they could only buy meat from a Jewish kosher butcher. And beyond Corinth, any Christians living in a small town without a kosher butcher would be out of luck.

Principle #1: Give up your rights

Now, in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul responds to the theological arguments of the Christians in Corinth who believed it was okay to eat idol meat. They basically argued that since “there is no God but one” (v 4), idols were nothing more than empty statues. And there’s no danger in eating food offered to beings that don’t even exist. So they just roll their eyes at all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo spoken at the idol feasts, and with a clear conscience they eat the meat which their friends offer to them.

Paul agrees with their logic—or more accurately, he saves his major caveat for chapter 10. Right now, he wants to address the attitude of these self-styled theologians. Even though their theology is sound, not all of their fellow Christians are buying into it just yet. God has saved many of them out of idol-worshiping backgrounds; they can’t help but attach great spiritual significance to stone and metal images. When they watch these “stronger” Christians going to idol temples and eating meat at idol feasts, they are tempted to join in themselves. And so they are tempted to worship idols by eating sacrificial meat. Paul declares that in this way, the “stronger” Christians are sinning against their brothers by introducing this temptation; and in so doing, they’re sinning against Christ himself. So Paul concludes, “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (v 13). He’s willing to give up his right to eat meat if it will tempt other Christians to sin.

In chapter 9, Paul expands on this teaching, explaining how he has given up his rights as an apostle to be supported financially and to bring a wife along with him on his journeys. He even adapts himself to the culture of the people to whom he is preaching the gospel. Paul is willing to give up his rights for the sake of the gospel, so that unbelievers will see Christ and believers will remain in Christ.

Principle #2: Flee from idolatry

As we reach chapter 10, Paul turns back to the “stronger” Christians and begins to warn them about the road they’re walking down. They’re very willing to associate with idol worship—and they’re playing with fire. Paul reminds them that the Israelites made the same mistake. They succumbed to idol worship, and the Corinthians are no better than they were. So Paul warns them, “Flee from idolatry” (v 14).

Here’s where he turns the tables on the Corinthian theologians. They aren’t totally correct in saying that an idol is an empty statue. It’s true that gods like Zeus and Apollos don’t exist, but the fact is that demons are lurking behind the images of these false gods. The pagans at these temples don’t realize it, but they are worshiping evil spirits. So when these Corinthians sit down at the idol feasts, they are participating in a sort of “communion service” with demons. “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” Paul asks them (v 22).

All the Corinthian believers agreed that offering sacrifices to idols is sin. Paul is telling them that participating in these idol feasts is sin as well. Christians should not connect themselves to idolatry but rather flee from it. They must not join unbelievers in the improper worship of anyone or anything other than God.

Principle #3: Embrace what is good

Now Paul turns to the issue of meat found in the marketplace. Usually, a buyer would have no way of knowing whether the meat had been sacrificed. Based on Principle #2, we might expect Paul to say that Christians should avoid buying any meat. But he doesn’t! Instead, he reminds us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (v 26). God made these animals to serve as food, and no pagan perversions will be able to change the goodness of this food. Outside of the context of idol feasts, this meat is perfectly good to eat. Only if it bothers another Christian’s conscience should a believer abstain from eating (Principle #1). Otherwise, Paul urges Christians not only to eat the meat, but to enjoy it and give thanks to God for it! He doesn’t want the “weaker” Christians to remain weak forever. He wants them to embrace what God has created as good.

So, those are the three principles that we will use to construct a Christian’s response to yoga. Tune in tomorrow when we apply them to this issue!

9 thoughts on “Yoga: a biblical response (Part 2 of 4)

  1. Dave… I’m very much looking forward to your conclusion! I have actually done the P90X yoga disc you mentioned multiple times (okay, I only do the first 1/2 hour because it’s so long!) … and I can’t say I ever thought about the spiritual history behind it at all! So this is very interesting…

    1. I agree that the length of Yoga X is long. I’ve done it several times and haven’t finished it yet! My plan so far is has been to add 5-10 minutes each time I do the workout, so I’m up to about 40 minutes. If I miss a workout for the week, I’ll just skip the Yoga X and do all the others. But after last week, I think I’m actually beginning to enjoy the “yoga” exercises.

  2. It’s my opinion that this issue is rather silly. Yoga is an excellent way to become strong, fit and healthy. What specifically is wrong with Yoga? Dr. Mohler did not provide an explanation or reasoning for his view. As it stands, the reasoning is ‘Cause he says so’. This is disappointing coming from an academic.

    1. Kelley, sorry I am getting to your comment so late. As a Christian, it would be a big mistake to agree with you that this issue is “silly.” If yoga is part and parcel of a false religious system that leads people away from Jesus Christ, then we need to be very careful in deciding whether we can practice it, and if so, in what way. Also, Mohler provided several reasons in his original article why the practice of yoga (in its Eastern form) is unacceptable for a follower of Christ. Some examples are its view of the body and mind, its perspective on meditation, and the way it directs its adherents toward internal “revelation” rather than the external revelation of Christ in the Bible. It’s hardly “cause he says so.”

      To disagree with Mohler is one thing, but to accuse him of being silly and arbitrary is quite another. I encourage you to reread his post with more charity.

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