Yogatta be kidding me

It’s been a bad few weeks for Yoga in the Christian community.  First Al Mohler came out with his stance:  “Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a “post-Christian, spiritually polyglot” reality.”

Then others, including Mark Driscoll, took it a step further, calling Yoga “absolute paganism”:  “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots? Totally. Yoga is demonic… If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class.”

Then, yesterday, I read this blog post by Shawn Groves entitled “The Death of Discernment”.  Shawn made some great points about many things that we do that have some pagan roots.  Things like tortillas, Halloween… even paper and Thursday. (the day of the week)

A little internet search this morning told me this:

  • Wedding rings were and are a pagan custom, and there is no biblical command for them, but we use them in church-sanctioned ceremonies.
  • Wedding ceremonies themselves were also a pagan custom, and are not commanded in Scripture.
  • Funerals include pagan customs, too, based on erroneous ideas about the afterlife. Scripture says nothing about putting flowers on graves, etc.  Egyptian mythology said that the dead should be embalmed, and Joseph participated in this custom (Gen. 50:2-3) despite its pagan origin.
  • Pagans created statues — of animals and people, both life-size and miniatures. They had statues in their flower gardens and statues in their homes. But statues have lost their “pagan” connotations because people do not believe in such gods and goddesses anymore.
  • Money has pagan designs on it. Some U.S. coins used to have the goddess “Liberty” on them. Dollar bills have an eye over a pyramid.
  • Pagans assigned days of the week to different gods, and we still use these names.

Just because something was created by non-christians doesn’t mean that it is forbidden.

Paul talks about idols in the New Testament.  His approach is not to run as fast as we can from the pagan stuff, in fact, he takes a different approach… an approach that still bothers many Christians.

1 Corinthians 8:4 and 7 talks specifically about this when it relates to the actual food we eat and it’s relationship to idols:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.   For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.  But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Paul is saying:  even if your food has been sacrified to an idol; it’s still permissible.  That doesn’t mean you should eat it and flaunt it, but it is permissible.  In Paul’s words, we’re no better if we do, or no better if we don’t.

Viewing things as pagan is largely determined by your culture.  Things we would have done in Moses’ time may have been pagan; but today have lost their cultural stigma.

So what’s my view on Yoga?  My view is that nobody really cares.

I do think that Christians that go to a yoga class are no more trying to embrace pagan culture than I am when I send my wife flowers.

Do I think that taking a yoga class is like taking a little demon class?  No… probably not the same thing.

But one thing I do know… you won’t find me in a yoga class anytime soon.  Or ever.

Read Al Mohler’s thoughts on Yoga.

Read the Seattle Times interview with Mark Driscoll.

Read The Death of Discernment by Shawn Groves.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this… what do you think?  Are Mohler and Driscoll out in left field on this one, or did what they say need to be said.  How big of a threat is Yoga to the Christian’s walk?  What say you?



  • Serving Strong October 20, 2010 Reply

    That’s what we need.
    That’s what you provided.

    btw, you won’t find me at a yoga class either. my aging muscles would never forgive me.

  • karen Kemi October 20, 2010 Reply

    I haven’t read all the articles yet but I would like to say that I practice yoga-or at least the stretches
    I do not chant or find my inner light…..etc
    I practice it because it is one of the few ways I van exercise with my arthritis

    Also- bo mention of weddings in the Bible? A Wedding was the site of Jesus’ first miracle

  • Joe Sewell October 20, 2010 Reply

    AMEN!!! Finally a sane response to a “Christian panic attack.”

    Based on the 1 Corinthians quote (which is 100% appropriate in this and many other situations), if Mark Driscoll or anyone else recognizes the pagan influences and may be influenced by them, OR the yoga teacher goes overboard into the pagan ritual aspects of the thing, then those people should disconnect from yoga.

    I, too, could probably do a yoga movement exactly once, and after that the judgment. 🙂

  • Roger Green October 20, 2010 Reply

    I think the “controversy” is silly. Next thing you know, we’ll be getting rid of Christmas trees (pagan), Easter eggs (pagan)…

  • Kim S October 20, 2010 Reply

    In the effort of full-disclosure, I personally do yoga. I’m a former dancer and adding yoga to my exercise regimen has been wonderful for me physically.

    When I first started taking the classes, the whole meditation thing, chanting, and Buddha’s in some of the classrooms, very much rubbed me the wrong way. I started doing a little research and realized that there was a general outcry by some Christians regarding the practice of yoga.

    While I loved the practice so much, I didn’t want to do it in a way that would compromise my faith. I suppose it helped me to get a little more comfortable when I realized that the daughter of my pastor practiced yoga. I guess I felt I was in safe company?!

    Anyway, so what was my answer and final decision on the topic? Find yoga practitioners that don’t put so much emphasis on the Hindu beginnings, but much more emphasis on the body stretching and positioning. I don’t participate in chanting and I don’t meditate on myself, but I do pray during those quiet times. Maybe this is too simplistic of an approach, but I’m okay with it.

    Regardless, I think you touched upon something important and that is what we choose to give value to. While garden statues may stem from idol worship, we put them in our gardens today because they look pretty. We have no clue what they mean and don’t care to know.

    I’m with you on your bottom line on this topic: who cares? Focus on this sort of thing is what separates us from the world in a seemingly destructive way. Very un-Christ like, no?

  • Joe Sewell October 20, 2010 Reply

    Roger: some people already avoid Christmas trees, yule logs, Easter eggs, Halloween decorations, and so forth. (I must confess to avoiding most of those, more due to lack of interest, though.)

  • joy-renée October 20, 2010 Reply


    yoga class = demonic class

    Good post, sir! I think some things can really be taken overboard…

  • Leonard October 20, 2010 Reply

    I practice my yoga while listening to rock music played backwards. It really gets me going.

    Yoga as a practice… not good.
    Yoga as exercise and stretches… healthy.

    Just my opinion.

  • herbhalstead October 20, 2010 Reply


    I think we spend so much time being “against” things that we really miss the point of what our walk on this earth is about – loving God, loving each other, and passing that love on. Let’s get passionate about those things and we’ll soon see that all this other stuff is really insignificant.


  • joshbernard October 20, 2010 Reply

    In the Old Testament when the Ark of the covenant was being made out of gold. The only gold the Israelites had was gold that was used to make idols in Egypt. God didn’t have a problem with the Israelites melting down the gold to make things for God’s glory. He liked it actually. It’s the same with things we do now. I am a minister and I did “yoga” on P90x. Before I even knew it was originally a thing to worship other gods. So know what I have done is I change the meaning. Now I do yoga to exercise my body, to keep up my strength, etc… because my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. If you are not doing these things to worship other gods than I believe God has no problem with it. And if you are convicted of it. Then don’t do it. And let people who are not convicted of it do it. Let God be the judge. That’s why He is God not us. Not to mention we get the english word “God” from Germanic paganism. Food for thought. God Bless!

  • David October 20, 2010 Reply

    I have to say I have a lot of respect for Driscoll. He is a pretty smart cookie. You’d have to look at the Times article in context – Seattle is a very secular city; does the average reader know the distinction between yoga with and without the eastern influence? Not likely. Being ignorant of the self-realization or finding your inner god-power doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an affect.
    His church has multiple sites around the city and I was watching a short piece on the downtown site. The previous tenant was quite a violent night-club. They are not above finding the value in a bad situation. He does not hide in his sanctuary – never to go out in public.
    So in this case, the first word is no on yoga. The nuanced answer is stretching without any (not just “less emphasis”) buddist/hindu vestiges.
    As far as the other items: most of what you list is objects without the ceremonies or customs. The latter have been stripped away. Much like the customs of Christmas and Easter for the general public – only the hollow objects remain.

  • BunnyB1802 October 20, 2010 Reply

    I have performed an exercise that combines yoga, tai-chi and pilates. It’s excellent for improving movement and core strength. I don’t think about the Eastern meditation practices but, like anybody commentor, I pray instead to Jesus. I think the practice of Yoga is only harmful when teamed with Eastern spiritual practice. Other than that, it’s just stretching!

  • CS October 20, 2010 Reply

    For full disclosure, I practiced Chinese martial arts for a decade and a half, which included many elements of eastern mysticism including yoga, tai chi, meditation, and other forms of Taoist and Buddhist exercise.

    That said, I agree with Mohler, and yoga is wrong for a Christian to practice. The primary purpose of yoga was to work toward higher spirituality. Many yoga classes teach the same principles of assuming stances while emptying the mind in order to expand this sort of consciousness. It is a religious practice at heart, and not simply a matter of exercise, and we, as Christians, should not engage in the religious practices of another faith.

    You want to stretch and do calisthenics? Wonderful. You want to learn a martial art for health, defense, and strength? Wonderful. But engaging in something that nearly a billion people follow or regard within their faith as a way of growing spiritually? No.


  • sgillesp October 20, 2010 Reply

    Thanks, Todd, for your wise discernment. It’s not lost on me that Dr. Mohler makes sure we note that the “other” Michelle Obama is behind trying to make that pagan yoga something our children are doing! I suppose we Christians ought to stick to the spiritual discipline of donuts every Sunday. All joking aside, I appreciate a call to examine what we do and not do it unthinkingly, but I appreciate even more that to put the body in a particular pose does not in and of itself invite demons into my life: that’s a matter of my ‘spiritual posture,’ if you will – and I can be doing that while sitting in church.

  • Serving Strong October 20, 2010 Reply

    @Leonard: “I practice my yoga while listening to rock music played backwards. It really gets me going.”

    Thanks for the laugh this afternoon. Excellent! 🙂

  • Brookerose October 20, 2010 Reply

    I am a lover of Jesus and a certified yoga instructor. My teachers know that I am a Christian and I do not participate in the chanting ever. I am engaged in this sub culture in q very unique way. I recognize that many of the students I take class with do this for other reasons but I do this as a way to work out stress and meditate on all Gods doing and what I need to surrender. Going to my yoga class is a way for me to engage in the world with people that are searching for the truth and a place for me to surrender everything over again to Jesus. Yes I do this off the mat in my car and in the mornings and with friends but I find that the mat is a place of humility and an exercise of being present and listening to God.

  • bobby October 20, 2010 Reply

    David – I would have to disagree with you. I am a church planter in Santa Cruz, CA. It is a community at least as “secular” as Seattle if not more so. Very comparable to San Francisco or Berkeley. Now I am not nearly as “successful” (as we define it typically) as Mark, so perhaps I don’t have the same credibility, but nonetheless, I would take a different approach completely. I don’t think in an area where something like Yoga is practiced widely, even as a spiritual practice that the answer is to publicly blast it and forbid it.

    I would argue that this in fact would turn people off. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with people being turned off for the right reasons, but I don’t think this is one of them. I’m sure I’ll get some push back here, but maybe we as Christians can even learn from the spiritual side of yoga. Rather than tell those who have practiced yoga on a spiritual level to stop it completely, we should help them to redirect their spirituality in the act toward Christ. In an overseas missions context, we don’t tell a culture to completely change it practices and customs, rather we help them turn their hearts and devotions toward the true God of the universe while maintaining their identity.

    Of course with the nuances that go into the conversation, perhaps it’s better to engage people on a personal level on such a topic in their lives instead of feeling that we need to make a blanket yes or no rule for a practice or action.

  • pastor Chris October 20, 2010 Reply

    not to mention Christmas trees, Easter eggs, holly wreaths, devils with horns, bobbing for apples and on and on and on. That word, “discernment” is exactly the word. God gave us brains with which to discern what is useful, what transcends its roots, what can add to our lives. To maintain that God can not use what comes from other cultures to bring good into our lives is a rather heretical limit on God’s power, isn’t it?

  • Peter Hamm October 20, 2010 Reply

    I know some Christians who practice it without the original spiritual dimension, and I know a couple that teach it. Based on that, I think it’s no big deal… but I can’t do that kind of stretching and moving anymore… egads…

  • Matt October 20, 2010 Reply

    Christians are getting bent out of shape about yoga? Wait…

  • I did a post on this last week and was blown away by the number of people who wanted to talk about it. Over 70 comments later, and people still aren’t sure. I didn’t even bring Paul into the equation (though that discussion followed in the comments.) Some people were hyper-legalists, but of course as you mention, they can’t possibly sweep their lives clean of all “unclean” things, though they’ll sure tell you their lives are pure and spotless.

    I think Driscoll told his church what they needed to be told given his context in Seattle where New Age philosophies and eastern traditions have left the city one of the most unchurched places in the country. You could say that for spiritual beginners, the line needs to be drawn. But for mature believers, all things are permissible, but not all things are profitable, and some things are permissible, but cause others to stumble.

    Here’s my post, which kind of covers some of the same ground you covered.

  • Mark La Roi October 20, 2010 Reply

    I don’t think it’s at all silly to want to demonstrate a holy life, and I believe that a significant portion of people who do yoga recognize it’s origins. The clear-headed presentation by Al Mohler explains quite well why it’s better for Christians to stay away from yoga. I won’t go into all his details because he does it himself, and he does it to such a degree that it’s hard for me to understand why any Christian would even want to argue.

    (I do realize Todd that you said you won’t be doing yoga, so I’m not referring to you.)

    A note on weddings, they might not have been commanded in Scripture but there sure are a lot of examples of them.

    Money? How can a responsible Christian pay his taxes if he doesn’t earn money?

    I whole-heartedly agree that just because something is created by non-Christians that doesn’t make it forbidden, but I also think that Christian lives should be marked by a distinction from the world. I’m not saying retreat from everything, but using strong discernment and remembering others as BETTER than ourselves will lead us to change a lot of things in our lives that are of themselves possibly harmless for us to do, but might send the wrong message to another.

    We also need to do that out of love, not rigid appearances. Y’know?

  • Ron Citlau October 20, 2010 Reply

    Pagans also eat breakfast; we should stop that as well. Give me a break.

  • herbhalstead October 20, 2010 Reply

    pagans also pray – it’s not the action, it’s the heart and motive behind them.

  • sgillesp October 20, 2010 Reply

    I suspect that Mark D attracts the folks in his area who are really into black-and-white, legalistic rules – the kind of folks whose personalities are comforted by thinking God’s like that. Now it’s up to someone else to preach the gospel in ways that other personalities can hear it. I suspect it’s always that way, in every community. At our church, we gather the wounded who weren’t at all comforted at Mark D-type churches.

  • Brian October 22, 2010 Reply

    Try Yoga X from the P90X Video Series and I’ll guarantee you will feel like the devil is in the room beating you up. One of the best workouts I’ve ever done! Satanic – I don’t think so…Hard as Hell – You betcha!

  • toddh October 24, 2010 Reply

    Great post and discussion. I think a big issue in this discussion is where meaning comes from. Is it contained in the event or practice itself? In other words, does the history or way that others participate determine it’s meaning? Does yoga or Halloween have some inherent evilness because of history or practice by others? I don’t think so. Meaning for these things is supplied by you and your community. Is yoga about religious practices, or is it just exercise? That’s for you to decide in how you practice it. Is Halloween a pagan celebration or just a time to dress up and get candy? I don’t know. It is what you make it to be.

  • Glen November 2, 2010 Reply

    Some good points are made about how pagan origins are much a part of what we consider normal every day life. However, I see the yoga issue differently. Yoga is intrinsically tied to Hinduism. If you doubt this, see this link:

    While arguments can be made that one can do the stretching and breathing exercises without participating in any of the Eastern mysticism, the very fact that Yoga is a current expression of Hindu thought and worship, suggests to me that Christians should have no part in it. While the names of the days of our week have pagan origins, no one uses them today to honor their god. The same goes for wedding rings. In my opinion, certain pagan practices and symbols have been redeemed by Christians for good and their meaning has been replaced. Yet, yoga does not fit that category for the very purpose that millions of Hindus around the world use it to cease agitation of the consciousness and set the soul free.

  • bobby November 2, 2010 Reply

    Glen, I can see where you are coming from. At the same time though, those practices that have been replaced and redeemed were not always that way. There was a time when it was first being replaced that Easter was more connected to the worship of the Easter Solstice. Those sort of shifts take time. So how would it ever happen if some Christians didn’t start redeeming these things before they were seen as redeemed? in order for us to do those things with a Christ centered perspective, someone has to adopt early on, and possibly be criticized by church folks in the process.

  • Don Johnson November 3, 2010 Reply

    We need to also remember that this isn’t only about us and our understanding or thoughts of whether this is holy hindu or extra-spiritual exercise. We have to also consider how others will see what we are doing, and to ensure that we do not have the appearance of any problems.

    There are some that say you should not go into a multi-plex movie theater, as you could give the appearance of attending an improper movie. Likewise, some think you should not go into a bar, as it gives the appearance that you are participating in the drinking to excess that might be happening there.

    In this case, participating in something that has active, directly related hindu worship activities (even if you pray to God) could give the appearance to people that you are doing the same thing as their true hindu neighbors. Jesus said to let your light shine among men, and when that light looks like hindu worship, what will other people see?

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