(407) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – SEMINARIES & SYNCRETISM
EASTERN MYSTICISM & THEIR INFLUENCE ON SEMINARIES – MINDFULNESS & BIOLA UNIVERSITY.
By now, one quickly sees a common theme resonating throughout this blog involving the influence of Mysticism on the Evangelical church in the United States. Both Eastern Mysticism and ancient Roman Catholic Mysticism are common topics that are discussed. Much of the influence comes from authors and teachers who write popular best-selling Christian books that you can purchase at your local Christian bookstore. Influence also comes from the pulpit of the church – yes, Evangelical churches are becoming inundated with these trends and concepts are being interwoven into traditional biblical practices while being labeled with titles sounding very “Christian” or “religious” or just beneficial to your spiritual walk – i.e. syncretism.
What is syncretism?
American Heritage Dictionary, syncretism is “the reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief.” This is most evident in the areas of philosophy and religion, and usually results in a new teaching or belief system.
Gotquestions.org states that obviously, this cannot be reconciled to biblical Christianity –
Religious syncretism often takes place when foreign beliefs are introduced to an indigenous belief system and the teachings are blended. The new, heterogeneous religion then takes a shape of its own. This has been seen most clearly in Roman Catholic missionary history. Take, for example, the Roman Catholic Church’s proselytizing of animistic South America. Threatened with the fear of death, natives were baptized into the church by the tens of thousands without any preaching of the Gospel whatsoever. Former temples were razed, with Catholic shrines and chapels built on the same spot. Natives were allowed to substitute praying to saints instead of gods of water, earth and air, and replaced their former idols with new images of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, the animistic religion the natives had formerly practiced was never fully replaced—it was adapted into Catholic teachings, and this new belief system was allowed to flourish.
=> More recently, religious syncretism can be seen in such religious systems as the New Age, Hinduism,Unitarianism, and Christian Science. These religions are a blending of multiple different belief systems, and are continually evolving as the philosophies of mankind rise and fall in popularity.
Therein lies the problem, for syncretism relies on the whim of man, not the standard of Scripture. The Bible makes it very clear what true religion is. Think on just a few things stated in Scripture: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37); “Jesus replied, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6); “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31-32); and “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Religious syncretism is simply not compatible with true Christianity. In fact, any modification to biblical law and principle for the sake of a “better” religion is heresy (Revelation 22:18-19).
Here is an even bigger problem. Syncretic practices are seeping into the Evangelical Church with increasing frequency and it is occurring from both a top-down and a bottom-up perspective. This snowball effect is resulting in widespread acceptance of practices that years ago would have been rejected outright by Evangelical Churches.
Let’s look at one example of these practices taking hold in the church today. The Buddhist concept of MINDFULNESS. We introduce it here and will go into more details in future postings.
Mindfulness is a term used to describe a meditative state in which people direct their attention inward to become more self-aware. Mindfulness is self-examination of one’s thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and emotions with no judgment of their being right or wrong. The goal of meditative mindfulness is to identify thoughts and feelings about a particular issue, to live in the moment, and to accept oneself completely. When this goal has been reached, the person is said to have entered a state of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is rooted in BUDDHISM, as promoters of mindfulness readily admit, although it is often adapted for secular purposes. The ideology behind mindfulness is to achieve STILLNESS and balance of the mind.
Man’s efforts to calm the mind and rid the life of stressors—through mindfulness or other NEW AGE techniques—are an attempt to manufacture peace. From a biblical perspective, we know that only Jesus gives the peace that can exist in all circumstances (John 14:27; Philippians 4:7). No human can control emotions or thoughts on his or her own because we are born slaves to a sinful nature (Romans 6:17–23). Only through the power of the Holy Spirit who sets our minds free to think truthfully can we know true peace. If we want to practice being more aware or insightful, there are much better options than mindfulness techniques, such as Bible study and prayers for insight.
When Christians think biblically, they see things defined through the lens of Scripture. The word mindful, which means “attentive,” is not describing anything inherently wrong. Christians can be mindful of Christ by taking every thought captive for Christ and renewing their minds with the truth (2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 12:2). But mindfulness, as promoted in PSYCHOLOGY and used as a MEDITATION technique, is not biblical. (gotquestions.org)
How can these practices originating from Buddhist practices seep into the Evangelical Church today? You are probably thinking that this is an extreme view. Surely, pastors, seminary professors, leaders…etc., would not go down this path? Right?
Well, as bad as following after Buddhist practices are, potentially more dangerous is the fact that many pastors and seminaries are openly teaching these practices to your next group of leaders in the church resulting in an implied endorsement of something that is resulting in the church being desensitized to the central issue of accepting these syncretic practices. There are several reasons that this is occurring today – one of them is the popularity among younger Christians (e.g. “Emerging Church”) who are seeking after new and different ways to follow after God. Unfortunately, many times, this carries with it baggage that includes Eastern Mysticism . It is being blended in with Christian-sounding practices giving the appearance of endorsement by the church, seminaries, instructors, pastors…..etc.
Let’s look at a well-known theological conservative evangelical seminary – BIOLA University with its TALBOT School of Theology.
As many will attest, Talbot has a 60-year heritage of biblical fidelity. The seminary couples solid evangelical scholarship with intentional character development to prepare students for a lifetime of relevant, effective ministry. The seminary’s six master’s degree programs and three doctoral degree programs are led by a faculty of nationally renowned, widely-published and actively engaged ministry leaders.
A program within the seminary is called the Institute for Spiritual Formation. Yes, Spiritual Formation – one of many warning signs should go up. They offer master’s programs in Spiritual Formation & Soul Care and as they state on their website, they are dedicated to deepening the life of prayer and openness of the heart to God.
Another area of study is Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought. This exists to reconnect Christian Scholarship with the Church and the Academy. The Center offers scholars from a variety of Christian perspectives a unique opportunity to work collaboratively on a selected theme. Together, they develop their ideas, refine their thinking, and examine important cultural issues in a way that is informed by Scripture. Ultimately, the collaborative work will result in scholarly and popular-level materials, providing the broader culture with thoughtful and carefully articulated Christian perspectives on current events, ethical concerns, and social trends.
This short video gives you a taste of what is being taught in the area of MINDFULNESS. It is by Research Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz who attempts to answer the question is mindfulness Buddhist or Christian?
Take a look at this 4 minute video and see what you think –
What did you think – were you convinced? Does he say anything of value or is he correct in what he says? There maybe some items that are but overall do you see how Schwartz is trying to combine the Christian concepts with Buddhist practice of Mindfulness? Marcia Montenegro states that
……in this video, he re-defines Mindfulness as a way to recognize if your state of mind is “wholesome or unwholesome.” Wrong!! No! Mindfulness is a process of detachment in order to get closer to enlightenment and liberation!
To summarize, the Evangelical Church today is being exposed to mystical beliefs from outside the faith in more ways than ever before. We have seen how these beliefs are coming into the church from exposure to teachings being promoted by Christian authors. As this posting shows, it is also being taught to the next generation of leaders, teachers, authors, professors, and pastors through seminaries. That is very concerning because it obviously presents an image of these syncretic practices being widely and quickly disseminated without discernment to Christians throughout the church. Welcome to today’s emerging trends in the church!