I used to believe in reincarnation. But that was long ago, in another life. Dave Schinbeckler
I don’t believe in reincarnation, and I didn’t believe in it when I was a hamster. Shane Ritchie
Remember all the times you’ve sat in a Christian church pew and heard yet another sermon about reincarnation? It’s easy. Zero! Unless it would be to denounce it. You will never, ever hear anything validating reincarnation in a Church. Why? That’s what this post is about.
Is reincarnation in the Bible?
In the New Testament there are 3 stories worth mentioning:
1. At the time of Jesus, there was a belief among his people that the prophet Elijah (who lived in the 10th Century BC) had to come back before God’s promised Messiah could come into the world. In Matthew 17, the disciples of Jesus were discussing it, and Jesus says, “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man (referring to himself) is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.” Matthew 17: 12,13
King Herod had John the Baptist beheaded. But the point here is that Jesus is clearly affirming the fact that John was Elijah reincarnated.
2. Another story clearly shows that belief in reincarnation was quite common at the time of Jesus:
Jesus is walking along with his disciples and they see a man blind from birth. “His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Obviously if the man was being punished for his own sin, and he was born blind, his sin must have been from a previous life. Jesus’ disciples were so familiar with the idea of reincarnation that it seems here quite acceptable to talk about it.
And Jesus did not correct them for asking the question, he merely shifted the focus to a healthier understanding of Karma, which is for healing and growth of the soul, and not punishment.
In my years as a Lutheran Pastor, these stories were read and preached on regularly at worship services. But neither I nor anyone else I’ve ever heard, ever used these stories to support the idea of reincarnation. It was never talked about.
3. There is a story about the Jewish leaders sending priests and Temple assistants (leaders of the Jewish religion!) from Jerusalem to John the Baptist (out in the wilderness). They say to John “Who are you?” John comes right out and says “I am not the Messiah.” “Well then, who are you? Are you Elijah?” “No,” John replied. John 1: 19-23
Now the very fact that the question was even asked by religious leaders clearly shows that reincarnation was taken seriously by them.
Again, this interesting Biblical tidbit is never mentioned in the Church as any kind of affirmation of reincarnation.
So there is reincarnation in the gospels of the New Testament. Hidden in plain sight, as they say.
So why is it never affirmed or even brought up in the Church? I believe there are three parts to the problem the Church has always had with reincarnation:
1. In the Gospels, Jesus never flat out says, “Reincarnation is real. Believe in it.” He just doesn’t deny it, or he seems to only infer that it is real. That doesn’t mean he didn’t teach it. It just isn’t included by the writers of the gospels, outside of the examples I’ve provided. It’s actually amazing that anything is included in the Gospels that reference reincarnation.
The reasons for that I believe are found in the following:
2. As I wrote in Post 6, the definitive summary of what the Christian Church would profess came together at Nicea in 325 AD. For 300 years the fledgling Church came up with different teachings and beliefs. Reincarnation being one of them. And of course it argued about it all. It was then that the Roman Emperor Constantine gathered bishops of the fledgling Church to agree on a statement that would summarize what the Church’s faith would be. The primary motivation here was to unify his empire and power. Decisions about what would be left out were just as important as what would be included in the Nicean Creed. Reincarnation was intentionally left out. It was never to be taught or professed again.
But the belief in reincarnation didn’t disappear easily in the Church, and persisted for centuries. For example, in the early 13th Century, the Pope launched a crusade against the Cathars, a reincarnation Christian sect in Italy and Southern France, and wiped them out completely. The Spanish Inquisition followed with its fatal intolerance of any deviance from strict church doctrine.
So why was the Church so threatened by reincarnation?
3. If reincarnation is taken seriously by the Church, it’s whole traditional belief system collapses like a house of cards. By that I mean that the traditional, Orthodox teaching of the Christian faith is that you live one life. During that life you have to come to faith in Jesus as your Savior (by dying on the cross for your sins) in order to get into heaven when you die. So it’s all dependent on Jesus and believing the right things about his death and resurrection. The Church has the only solution to the “problem” of salvation and eternal damnation. Everything is all wrapped up in one event (Jesus’ death and resurrection.)
But if you keep reincarnating and working on your own salvation through the experiences you have on earth, then the Church loses it’s power and significance. The Church would not have any of this! People like me would have been out of a job, or our job would have drastically changed!
And if reincarnation is believed, the very understanding of “salvation” changes. The Church teaches salvation is primarily about “getting into heaven,” through what Jesus did on the cross. In reincarnation “salvation” is all about the growth and maturity of your soul through the many lives you come here to live. And salvation becomes much more of a process, than the one-time event of the cross.
I love the fact that I am involved with, and have responsibility for the process of my salvation (growth of my soul.) I’ve got “skin in the game”, literally! The decisions I make matter. What I choose to do or not do matters. I love being a co-creator with God of my soul’s journey, growth, and salvation. I can get much more excited, challenged, and fascinated by that, than I can by only believing in something someone else (Jesus) did 2,000 years ago.
Involvement, responsibility, and knowing what I do or don’t do matters, can produce more growth of the soul, not less.
The Truth of the matter is that reincarnation has never been in conflict with Jesus’ teachings, but only in conflict with the needs of the Church.
Reincarnation does not in any way diminish our dependency on God. On the contrary, through the reincarnation process of mistakes we make and the suffering they produce, we grow into an understanding of our utter dependence on God. And in God as the essence of our True Self, or soul.
Reincarnation is the truest expression of the Love of God. Love never forces itself. True Divine Love always gives freedom. Freedom granted the soul to choose and find it’s own way Home. Love cannot have it any other way.
You Are Love! And it takes many lifetimes to remember it while you are human. Be patient, as God is infinitely patient with you.
Pastor Tim Tengblad