(399) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: C&MA COLLEGES & THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY ANCHORED AND CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM?
(399) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: CHRISTIAN & MISSIONARY ALLIANCE SCHOOLING FUTURE PASTORS IN ANCIENT ROMAN CATHOLIC & EASTERN MYSTICISM?
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
It continues to sadden me to see many Evangelical denominations go down the path of contemplative prayer, spiritual formation……..mysticism and the like. It especially hits home with the denomination that I am a part of – The Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.
Time and again, the question needs to be asked, people need to be biblically challenged, leaders need to be confronted with Scripture and simply ask themselves why are you surrounding yourselves in practices that have little to no foundation in the Bible but resemble closely mystical practices of other religions and belief systems?
Sure, nobody from the C&MA admits to these things….publically. They say we misunderstand or they say we use the same descriptions of these practices but we really mean something else. Really?
(1) I would ask first, what gives you the right to borrow descriptions from these OTHER RELIGIONS and incorporate them into so-called Christian Disciplines? Do you really not see a problem with this approach? And you teach in their seminary………wow!
Let’s define our terms:
- Spiritual Formation: A movement that has provided a platform and a channel through which contemplative prayer is entering the church. Find spiritual formation being used, and in nearly every case you will find contemplative spirituality. In fact, contemplative spirituality is the heartbeat of the spiritual formation movement. (LHT)
- Contemplative Spirituality: A belief system that uses ancient mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness (the silence) and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but often wrapped in Christian terminology. The premise of contemplative spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all). Common terms used for this movement are “spiritual formation,” “the silence,” “the stillness,” “ancient-wisdom,” “spiritual disciplines,” and many others. (LHT)
With SPIRITUAL FORMATION, we have another description of CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY. Let’s not go too deeply and just first stop at the descriptives of ANCIENT and MYSTICISM.
These are religious sounding descriptions but are they biblical? I think especially since we are looking at the seminary of a major Evangelical denomination, this should be a fair question to ask.
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17)
ARE WE NITPICKING? At Nyack and Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS), it is public knowledge for all to see by visiting their website –
Alliance Theological Seminary is focused on three key areas of formation. Each of these three formational areas is featured prominently throughout our curriculum:
Spiritual Formation – Leaders can no longer rely on growing spiritually in a Christian dominated culture. ATS is committed to teaching leaders deep spiritual formation so they can continue to grow and flourish in their contexts of calling. http://www.nyack.edu/content/SFATSWelcome
What should I expect in spiritual formation?
You should expect to be part of a tradition that began centuries ago. Spiritual formation sounds new to some churches, but actually it has been around for centuries. It is a dynamic, exciting, passionate journey and you will find challenge and support for the journey. You will be encouraged to pursue the passion and possibility that God has placed in your life.
So, when someone reads this language from the ATS website, do we interpret the meanings of spiritual formation based on the original and common meaning used by most other sources today? Do we go by the historic meaning of what these words and phrases mean? Or, does ATS expect people to inquiry the meaning directly from them in order to see how ATS uses these terms? Someone who is a bit educated in these terms probably would not think to inquire of ATS to see if they are using the terms with the same meaning as virtually everyone else.
The use of “Spiritual Formation” from a historical perspectives shows that what is being promoted today mirrors what the ancient Roman Catholic mystics (e.g. the Desert Fathers) practiced. It is believed that these practices were influenced by Eastern Religions. And, these practices resemble actual mystical practices from these Eastern religions. How sure are we of this? Well, even the promotors of these practices today give credit to Eastern Mysticism’s influence. In our previous posting, (#398), we looked at several contemporary promoters, who in many cases are Roman Catholics but also now include authors known within Evangelical circles. Some of these authors/teachers include Basil Pennington, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Ruth Haley Barton, Richard Foster (e.g. Celebration of Discipline),….etc.
(2) Examples of the influence of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Mysticism on the C&MA?
Several examples can be given. For now, let’s just look at a few. Richard Rohr‘s books and teachings are promoted as part of the class work at ATS. Who is Richard Rohr? From his website –
Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition. He is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.
As an Evangelical, does any of these descriptives concern you – especially if your seminary was using Rohr’s material as part of their education curriculum? Words like – ecumenical (which the C&MA has a doctrinal position on), universal awakening, mysticism, Fransciscan, contemplation, alternative orthodoxy, self-emptying….etc.
Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:13)
At Nyack, the Professor of Philosophy, Dr. James Danaher, has written an essay article in Oneing: An Alternative Orthodoxy from the Rohr Institute. Here is information taken from the Nyack website – . http://www.nyack.edu/blog/CASNews/1995
Dr. Danaher publishes essay in Oneing
Dr. James Danaher, Professor of Philosophy, publishes “Transgression” in Oneing: An Alternative Orthodoxy (Vol 2, No 1), a bi-annual literary journal of the Rohr Institute.
Richard Rohr, in his introduction to this edition of Oneing, states: “It seems that we must fail, and even ‘transgress,’ and then desire mercy and love because of that very transgression.”
The paradox is that transgression is a necessary part of the transformative process. Transgression can be “sin” that separates us from the Divine in ourselves and in others, preventing us from entering into the flow of relationship…. At other times, what may be perceived as transgression is the necessary movement across false boundaries that keep us from God. Until we experience the pain of separation from Divine Reality, we often don’t do the necessary work to move beyond our small narcissistic selves into the much larger reality of a Truth that frees and transforms us.
This issue of Oneing includes original articles by Richard Rohr, ROB BELL, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Danaher, Russ Hudson, Diarmuid O’Murchu, Bill Plotkin, Robert Sardello, Avideh Shashaani, and others.
What do you make of seeing this being promoted and taught at Nyack/ATS? Some would see nothing wrong with this. But, several questions come to my mind for any Christian who is reading material from the Rohr Institue. Even before trying to fully understand what Danaher’s article conveys, several questions bounce out –
- Rohr’s Roman Catholicism – what effect is that having on the students at Nyack/ATS?
- What does “Alternative Orthodoxy mean?
- Why are we learning ancient Roman Catholic mystical practices and mixing them in with Christian principles?
- Since we are learning about “universal awakening”, “mysticism”, “Fransciscan, contemplation”, “alternative orthodoxy”, “self-emptying”….etc. What effect will this have on my personal walk and the personal walk of these future C&MA pastors and their future congregations.?
13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.(1 Timothy 4:13-16)
There are many more questions to ask but in the end, why are we, as Evangelicals, exposing (i.e. educating) our impressionable future leaders in Roman Catholic mysticism? What are the biblical mandates to do this? Do we stubbornly buck the historic use of these descriptives that align more closely with ancient Roman Catholic and Eastern Mysticism and instead just say what we really are trying to do is just disciple the flock? If that is what we are doing, why not stick to the biblical view and biblical definition of discipleship, prayer, meditation…..etc.? Why mislead people by using terms that point away from the Bible and away from Christianity towards Eastern Mysticism?
6 If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. (1 Timothy 4:6)
We could spend additional time on defining terms such as mysticism – but that would make this posting a bit too long. More importantly, previous postings deal extensively with these and similar topics.
3 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. (1 Timothy 1:3-7)
10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17)
Several more examples from Nyack/ATS as well as most of the other colleges associated with the C&MA. There are many seminary professors leading future leaders down a path that move further away from the Scriptures. This is not meant to single out any person in particular or even the C&MA just for the sake of finding fault but rather – it is to inform and show concern based on our biblical calling. These trends are happening in your church, in your denomination, in your seminary – today, these trends are moving in all direction within the Evangelical church. As, I said at the beginning, at the very minimum, it is deeply concerning. We may look further at this topic in future postings. For now, pray about the future of the church and look to God and His word for wisdom and direction. Paul encourages Timothy in the Pastoral epistles to do just that. Let us encourage our future pastors and leaders likewise –
4 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)