(340) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER
This is an important topic that keeps re-emerging within Evangelical writings today. It is increasingly being promoted at seminary, in churches, in popular Christian books…etc. Many of you have probably already been exposed to these teachings either directly or indirectly as they become more widespread and accepted as normal Christian practice. Some of these practices are extra-biblical with origins outside of Evangelical Christianity (to say the least). To begin to understand CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, it is important to understand its origin. Along with that, the next logical question is what effect could these practices have on your spiritual walk?
Marcia Montenegro has written a great deal on this and similar topics at Christian Answers for the New Age. This is an important topic today in that it relates ancient Roman Catholic and Eastern Mysticism with Christianity (Evangelical). You will see the relationship as outlined in Part 1 of this article – http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_ContemplativePrayer1.html
CONTEMPLATING CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER: IS IT REALLY PRAYER?
By Marcia Montenegro (page 1 of 3)
“God’s first language is silence.” 1
“Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence.” 2
“The important thing is that we are relaxed and our back is straight so that the vitalizing energies can flow freely.” 3
Contemplation is “a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word ‘wherever He may go.'” 4
Contemplative Prayer, also called Centering Prayer or Listening Prayer, has been taught by Roman Catholic monks Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington, as well as by Quaker Richard Foster, and is being advocated by many others. There is no one authority on this method, nor is there necessarily a consistent teaching on it, though most of the founding teachers quote medieval mystics, Hindu, and Buddhist spiritual teachers.
According to http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org, “Centering Prayer is drawn from ancient prayer practices of the Christian contemplative heritage, notably the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert, Lectio Divina, (praying the scriptures), The Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. It was distilled into a simple method of prayer in the 1970’s by three Trappist monks, Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating at the Trappist Abbey, St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.” It should be added, “During the twenty years (1961-1981) when Keating was abbot, St. Joseph’s held dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu representatives, and a Zen master gave a week-long retreat to the monks. A former Trappist monk who had become a Transcendental Meditation teacher also gave a session to the monks.” 5
The influence of Buddhism and Hinduism on Contemplative Prayer (hereafter referred to as CP) is apparent. Words such as “detachment,” “transformation,” “emptiness,” “enlightenment” and “awakening” swim in and out of the waters of these books. The use of such terms certainly mandates a closer inspection of what is being taught, despite the fact that contemplative prayer is presented as Christian practice.
Themes that one finds echoed in the CP movement include the notions that true prayer is: silent, beyond words, beyond thought, does away with the “false self,” triggers transformation of consciousness, and is an awakening. Suggested techniques often include breathing exercises, visualization, repetition of a word or phrase, and detachment from thinking.
Beyond words: The Silence
As we see from the quotes above, silence is assumed to be God’s “language.” This seems contradictory since language usually involves the use of words, or at least symbols. From whence did this idea arise? Some quote Ps. 62:5, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.” But the passage is about depending on God for refuge and salvation, and is not instructing how to pray. The emphasis is expectation for God only – only God can save. Even if the psalmist is praying, it is not telling us that silence is the only way to pray, or that we must approach God in silence. However, Keating states that vocal prayer is not “the most profound prayer.” 6
According to St. John of the Cross, who is heavily quoted by CP advocates, entering an “advanced state of Contemplation” requires education and training.7 This type of prayer has “nothing to do with the words and petitions of what is commonly called prayer. It is not articulate; it has no form.”8 Certainly one of the ironies of CP is that it essentially is not prayer.
It is a Zen Buddhist concept that truth is beyond words (this is also a Taoist view; Zen’s roots are in Taoism and Buddhism). Zen teaches that truth must be realized as one practices sitting meditation (zazen), cultivating an empty mind by letting go of thoughts so that rational thinking is transcended; or perhaps, as in the Rinzai school of Zen, one’s awareness is triggered by koans such as, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “What was your face before you were born?” According to Zen, Buddha’s “real message remained always unspoken, and was such that, when words attempted to express it, they made it seem as if it were nothing at all.” 9
The Unity School of Christianity, a church founded on New Thought principles, and whose founders were influenced by Eastern beliefs, is a forerunner of the New Age Movement. Jesus is known as a “Way-Shower” and is believed to have become the Christ when he attained perfection; all people are believed to have the inner potential to be the same as Christ. In a Unity booklet, “The Adventure Called Unity,”10 it states that prayer involves
“[C]oncentrating one’s entire intellect on God, affirming a positive statement of truth, meditating on Divine Principles, and finally turning within one’s own being in a wonderful time of quiet which Unity calls ‘the silence,’ wherein one becomes receptive to the ‘still small voice’ of God.” 11
The above, with the exception of the phrase “Divine Principles,” is similar to statements found in CP literature. Unity also asserts that “spiritual communion takes place through prayer and meditation in the silence.” 12
A popular Bible passage used to advocate silent meditation as prayer is Ps. 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” However, this is being taken out of context.13 A study of this Psalm shows this is actually a rebuke from God to those striving against Him. Some translations render this as “Cease striving and know that I am God,” (NASB, ESV). Charles H. Spurgeon’s remarks on verse 10 are “Hold off your hands, ye enemies! Sit down and wait in patience, ye believers! Acknowledge that Jehovah is God, ye who feel the terrors of his wrath! Adore him, and him only, ye who partake in the protection of his grace.” 14
Praying in silence, or ruminating on a passage of scripture in silence, is normal, but silence should not be regarded as superior to words; nor does the Bible give any support to the notion that the “language of God” is silence. Interestingly, Foster even warns about silent CP, saying that it is for more mature believers, that “we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm” where we may encounter “spiritual beings” who are not on God’s side. He suggests a prayer of protection in which one surrounds himself with “the light of Christ,” saying “all dark and evil spirits must now leave,” and other words to keep evil ones at bay.15 I could not help but think of my New Age days when I was taught to invoke a white light of protection before psychic activity or contact with the dead. Jesus, in teaching the disciples to pray, said, “Keep us from the evil one,” but this was a petition to guard us from Satan’s schemes, not a formula for warding off evil spirits while we pray.
In the preface to a book about Christ, an author states that Jesus is not outside our mind, but that “it is in your mind that Jesus addresses you. He is your most intimate friend speaking to you, sometimes in words, often beyond words.”16 This book is a classic New Age book, yet these words are not that dissimilar to many statements made by CP authors.
Silence can be soothing and comforting; we can get deep insights when we are quiet. But simply trying to be quiet is not prayer, and there is no biblical basis for the belief that real prayer is wordless. After all, God has given us a written revelation, and God’s laws and words are acclaimed throughout the Bible, such as Psalm 119, which extols God’s word as a treasure and lamp. In Is. 40:8, we learn, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever,” and Jesus declares to the Father in Jn. 17:17, “Your word is truth.”
(328) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, MYSTICISM, KUNDALINI
This video gives a brief overview of what types of CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER & MYSTICISM are moving through many EVANGELICAL CHURCHES today – sometimes in a subtle fashion. The danger of this subtle influence on the church is that the language used, the practices taught, the sermons spoken, the books sold and read…etc., on any of these subjects become increasingly infested with these new concepts that it becomes difficult to notice how far these issues have strayed from biblical truth.
- In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, the Apostle Paul calls on us to – “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (NASB) His wording is not spoken in a casual way but rather he uses strong language with words such as “everything” and “every form“.
- In a similar fashion, John likewise gives us a strong warning in 1 John 4:1 – “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.” (NKJV)
These warnings call on us with both direct and indirect actions to make sure that we protect ourselves from things that are not from God as wells as warnings about about being exposed to evil and false teachings that at the time of these NT writings, the church was already being affected by.
This video clip is from the DVD production entitled “The Submerging Church”. Joe Schimmel, a Pastor who has studied and written about these topics, discusses how they have crept into the church through popular outlets – many of which you will probably recognize. He talks about the popularity of transcendental mediation (TM) and its introduction into popular American culture (e.g. music) by MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI during the 1960s – groups including the Beatles, the Beach Boys,….etc. Some reference is given to how TM was introduced to kids in our public school systems under the guise of it being a scientifically proven method to reduce stress, improve test scores…etc. and not a religious practice. The ironic thing is that it includes the use of MANTRAs that were actually names of Hindu gods (so much for being strictly scientific). The question that arises is by engaging in these pagan rituals and practices, are they exposing the participants to evil influences? There are similar variations to these practices that we see happening today ranging from medical programs (RHEIKI), fitness programs (YOGA), youth meditation programs in PUBLIC SCHOOLS and in the church (CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER) where the same questions needs to asked. If the Apostle Paul and John asked these questions, should we not also ask the same questions today?
Notice in the video some popular teachers such as RICK WARREN and ROB BELL teaching their audience how to participate in these practices. Rick Warren is being advised by a doctor (one of the doctors in his Daniel Plan) to repeat a word over and over again during meditation (i.e. a MANTRA) – stating that this method is scientific and religious? Rob Bell introduces his audiences to other teachers such as KEN WILBUR who promote New Age and Occultism. Bell teaches the audience to engage in a popular EASTERN MYSTICISM technique involving BREATHING. He calls it the THEOLOGY OF BREATHING and appeals to church tradition over the thousands of years for its legitimacy.
Rick Warren appeals to science and Rob Bell appeals to ancient church tradition to justify their teachings involving meditation and mysticism. What happened to one of the most basic EVANGELICAL foundational practice of looking to the BIBLE for our guidance? More importantly, what happened to following after what the Bible itself commands us to do and warns us to avoid?
Matthew 6:7 – “when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them.”
The appeal to science is a clever way of disguising the true religious source of a practice. It is popular today, especially in the Emerging Church, that an appeal to early church tradition (in many cases to Roman Catholic mystical traditions) is used to justify a teaching or practice. The idea that since the Early Church was closer to the time of Christ and the Apostles, they must be correct in their interpretation and teachings. Well, if you study these historic early church figures and what they actually taught, even without a seminary degree, you can quickly come to realize that some of these teachings are the very opposite of what Scripture teaches. Many of the Early Church Fathers, as noble and sacrificial as they were with their lives at the time, some of what they taught would be considered heretical today. If you want to back to the early church, go back to the earliest church possible – the writings in the New Testament.
Listen to what Paul is pleading with Timothy about sticking with biblical doctrine and warning about those who have strayed –
1 Timothy 1:3-7 – “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4 nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. 5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.” (NKJV)
The call is urgent – teach no other doctrine! See what you think about these issues in this video clip: