Archive | November 2017

(476) MEDITATION (Part 2): DANGEROUS MEDITATIONS – Emerging Trends in the Church Today.

Overstressed Americans are increasingly turning to various forms of Eastern meditation, particularly yoga, in search of relaxation and spirituality. Underlying these meditative practices, however, is a worldview in conflict with biblical spirituality—though many Christians are (unwisely) practicing yoga.

Many Eastern religions teach that the source of salvation is found within,  and that the fundamental human problem is not sin against a holy God but ignorance of our true condition. These worldviews advocate meditation and “higher forms of consciousness” as a way to discover a secret inner divinity.

Yoga, deeply rooted in Hinduism, essentially means to be “yoked” with the divine. Yogic postures, breathing, and chanting were originally designed not to bring better physical health and well-being (Western marketing to the contrary), but a sense of oneness with Brahman—the Hindu word for the absolute being that pervades all things. This is pantheism (all is divine), not Christianity.

Transcendental Meditation is a veiled form of Hindu yoga, though it claims to be a religiously neutral method of relaxation and rejuvenation. Initiates to TM receive a mantra (Hindu holy word) to repeat while sitting in yogic postures and engaging in yogic breathing. The goal is to find God within their own beings, since God (Brahman) and the self (Atman) are really one.

Differences in various forms of Eastern meditation aside, they all aim at a supposedly “higher” or “altered” state of consciousness. Meditation guides claim that normal consciousness obscures sacred realities. Therefore, meditation is practiced in order to suspend rational patterns of thought.

This helps explain why so many Eastern mystics claim that divine realities are utterly beyond words, thought, and personality. In order to find “enlightenment,” one must extinguish one’s critical capacities—something the Bible never calls us to do (Rom. 12:1-2). In fact, suspending our critical capacities through meditation opens the soul to deception and even to spiritual bondage.

The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. We are not one with an impersonal absolute being that is called “God.” Rather, we are estranged from the true personal God because of our “true moral guilt,” as Francis Schaeffer says.

No amount of chanting, breathing, visualizing, or physical contortions will melt away the sin that separates us from the Lord of the cosmos—however “peaceful” these practices may feel. Moreover, Paul warns that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). “Pleasant” experiences may be portals to peril. Even yoga teachers warn that yoga may open one up to spiritual and physical maladies.

The answer to our plight is not found in some “higher level of consciousness” (really a deceptive state of mind), but in placing our faith in the unmatched achievements of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If it were possible to find enlightenment within, God would not have sent “his one and only Son” (John 3:16) to die on the Cross for our sins in order to give us new life and hope for eternity through Christ’s resurrection. We cannot raise ourselves from the dead.

The biblical concept of prayer assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit is “with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). Nor should we repeat words meaninglessly to induce a trance (Matt. 6:7).

In the Bible, meditation always means pondering God’s revealed truths and reflecting on how they pertain to us. David revels in the richness of God’s law throughout Psalm 119. He encourages us to meditate on it: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Ps. 119:15-16). Since all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), all of it is profitable for meditation in the biblical sense.

Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of several books, including Unmasking the New Age and Confronting the New Age.

Advertisements

(475) MEDITATION: IS MEDIATION BIBLICAL? – Emerging Trends in the Church Today.

Meditation: Is Meditation Biblical?

Today, the word meditation can have various meanings from across different denominations as well as different religions. One concern within Evangelicalism is the inclusion of several of these meanings into practices within the church.  These practices can cross over from Roman Catholicism or from Eastern Mysticism using the same word, meditation, but whose meaning may be different from the historic meaning within Evangelicism.  The subtle this shift in usage, the more easily it attaches itself to the vernacular jargon within the church.

The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality gives the spectrum of meanings of meditation.  It tends to promote a more contemplative view as more mainstream but it is a good starting point to understand the meanings of meditation:

(1) Meditation [1]

Meditation is the spiritual practice of focused attentiveness. Christian meditation has traditionally been focused on the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, read personally and christocentrically.

The practice of Christian meditation is rooted in the practice of Jesus himself. From Jesus’ use of Scripture, especially in his Emmaus Road discourse (Luke 24:25–27), it is clear that meditation on the Hebrew Scriptures constituted an important part of Jesus’ devotional practice. After his resurrection and ascension, believers incorporated the remembered words of Jesus and the words of the first apostles into their worship and meditation (Col. 3:16). The rich use of the OT throughout the NT is evidence for and illustrative of early Christian meditative practice, the Hebrew Scriptures read in the light of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

In the MONASTIC tradition, meditation was an integral aspect of the life of prayer. According to Jean Leclercq, it required the monk not only to think about the Scriptures, but “to practice a thing by thinking of it … to fix it in the memory, to learn it.”

In the 12th and 13th centuries, NEW emphasis was placed on EMOTIONAL engagement in meditative practice, with the person inserting himself or herself into a visualized reenactment of a biblical event. This “meditation of the historical event” allowed the person to imagine, for example, standing in the place of Mary at the foot of the cross, seeking to feel what she had felt, and so to enter into the INNER spiritual meaning of the event. The goal of such meditation was ultimately to EXPERIENCE UNION with God [i.e. the definition of mysticism] . The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (1548) combined such visualization with the examination of one’s own sinfulness, with a view to deepening repentance and enhancing wonder at God’s grace.

After the REFORMATION, Protestant meditation placed a RENEWED EMPHASIS on the BIBLE as God’s Word; the printing press, vernacular translations, and widening literacy made the reading and meditation of the Scripture available to rank-and-file Christians. Following John Calvin’s insistence that every word of Scripture should be received as spoken directly to the reader by the mouth of God (Institutes, 7.1), Puritan meditation was intensely oriented toward the Scriptures, with the intent not merely to memorize and recite the words, but also TO APPLY them to one’s own life.

In recent decades, there have been several developments in Christian meditation.

(1) A return to pre-Reformation sources of Christian meditative practice. SILENT RETREATS, often guided by some form of the IGNATIAN exercises, are part of the spiritual practice of many.

(2) A renewed interest in meditative foci other than Scriptural texts. In Celebration of Discipline (1978), Richard Foster encouraged focused meditation on some aspect of creation as preparation for learning how to meditate on Scripture (24–25).

(3) An increased openness toward some aspects of EASTERN MEDITATION seen to be compatible with Christian meditation. THOMAS MERTON is the primary influence on this turn; the BUDDHIST practice of MINDFULNESS is seen as a way of becoming attentive to the present moment.

(4) A growing awareness of the neurological effects of meditation, with an interest in the therapeutic or cognitive, rather than purely spiritual, benefits it confers, with many therapies incorporating meditative practices.

[1] Hancock, M. (2011). Meditation. In G. G. Scorgie (Ed.), Dictionary of Christian spirituality (pp. 606–608). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 => More specifically, does the Bible tell us, as Christians, to meditate?  If so, how?

(2) What is Christian meditation? [2]

To answer this question, we may have to first understand what meditation is not.

Psalm 19:14 states, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” What, then, is Christian meditation, and how should Christians meditate? Unfortunately, the word “meditation” can carry the connotation of something mystical.

  • For some, meditation is clearing the mind while sitting in an unusual position.
  • For others, meditation is communing with the spirit world around us.

=> Concepts such as these most definitely do NOT characterize Christian meditation.

Christian meditation has NOTHING to do with practices that have EASTERN MYSTICISM  as their foundation. Such practices include LECTIO DIVINA, TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION,  and many forms of what is called CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER. These have at their core a DANGEROUS premise that we need to “hear God’s voice,” not through His Word, but through personal revelation through meditation. Some churches are filled with people who think they are hearing a “word from the Lord,” often contradicting one another and therefore causing endless divisions within the body of Christ. Christians are not to abandon God’s Word, which is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If the Bible is sufficient to thoroughly equip us for every good work, how could we think we need to seek a mystical experience instead of or in addition to it?

Christian meditation is to be solely on the Word of God and what it reveals about Him. David found this to be so, and he describes the man who is “blessed” as one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). True Christian meditation is an active thought process whereby we give ourselves to the study of the Word, praying over it and asking God to give us understanding by the Spirit, who has promised to lead us “into all truth” (John 16:13). Then we put this truth into practice, committing ourselves to the Scriptures as the rule for life and practice as we go about our daily activities. This causes spiritual growth and maturing in the things of God as we are taught by His Holy Spirit.[1]

[2] Got Questions Ministries. (2002–2013). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

(3) Meditation after reading Scripture [3] is as critical as preparation before reading Scripture. One can read diligently, but the reading will bear no fruit if meditation does not follow. Reading may give some breadth, but only meditation and study will give depth. The difference between reading and meditation is like the difference between drifting in a boat and rowing toward a destination. “Meditation without reading is erroneous, and reading without meditation is barren.… Meditation makes that which we have read to be our own. He is blessed which meditates in the law day and night” (Psalm 1).”16

Meditation involves our MINDS and UNDERSTANDING, as well as our hearts and affections. To reach a sound and settled judgment on various truths, the mind must be brought to meditative understanding. Meditation, however, also “digests” this settled judgment and makes it work upon our affections. If our affections do not become involved, our sound meditative understanding will erode away. The Scriptures must be transfused through the entire texture of the soul.

16 Ibid., 393.

[3] Beeke, J. R. and L., Ray B. (2009). Chapter Seven: The Transforming Power of Scripture. In D. Kistler (Ed.), Sola Scriptura: The Protestant position on the Bible (p. 120). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

As a check, let’s take one more look at an overview of mediation.  Christian Research Institute states the following:

(4) CHRISTIAN MEDITATION- Summary
Meditation. Is meditation a non-Christian practice? Or is meditation something the Bible clearly encourages us to do?

CHRISTIAN MEDITATION- Self-Centered Motives
Many people view meditation as a means to develop their natural and psychic powers. In other cases, people practice meditation with the goal of self-relaxation. Whatever the case may be, the fact is, this kind of meditation — that is, EASTERN MEDITATION — is characterized by self-centered objectives. It employs techniques like concentrating on objects, exercising “controlled” breathing, and uttering mantras — all this with the purpose of emptying the mind of all kinds of distractions which supposedly will enable a person to reach an altered state of consciousness, a state of harmony with himself and the universe.

CHRISTIAN MEDITATION- No Blending with Eastern Mysticism
Eastern meditation is very dangerous, to say the least, because it draws people away from God by encouraging them to look inwardly to themselves rather than to God. Additionally, the kind of meditation we are talking about right now is intimately tied to Eastern philosophies which run counter to biblical teaching. Not only that, but the notion of emptying one’s mind opens up the possibility of demonic deception, manipulation, and yes, even possession.

CHRISTIAN MEDITATION- Meditation the Christian Way
Now, we have to be careful not to write off meditation itself simply because it’s practiced by Eastern mystics. Keep in mind that the Bible in no uncertain terms encourages us to meditate on God’s law day and night (Josh. 1:8)! However, biblical meditation doesn’t involve looking within ourselves or emptying our minds for selfish reasons. Rather, it urges believers to contemplate and deeply reflect God’s Person and faithfulness — not only that, it also calls us to look to His Word (Psa. 119), and His creation (Psa. 19, 104). In fact, Christian meditation calls us to look upward and outward to God so that our minds may be filled with godly wisdom and insight, and so that our hearts may be filled with comfort, happiness, and joy. To echo the opening words of the Book of Psalms: “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psa. 1:1-2 NIV). And remember, there is a quantum difference between getting into the Word of God and getting the Word into you — so let me encourage you to hide God’s Word in your heart.

[4] http://www.equip.org/perspectives/christian-meditation-is-meditation-biblical/

=> This concludes the brief summary of meditation.  There is more that could be said – so God willing, another posting will follow soon.  For now, it is my hope that your focus is on God and His word.

(474) WHEN EVERYTHING IS MISSIONS – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

Missio Dei – Mission of God


41gwP1-rOfL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Today, it is not uncommon to hear several variations of the basic description that most of us have always heard growing up in the church – MISSIONS.  However, we find today that people can use missions in a multitude of ways.  The modern word, “missional” is also used to describe some of these variations.

Ed Stetzer states that “People use the words mission, missions, and missional in different ways. Thus, any discussion of missional cannot be complete without asking the question, “which missional?”

The problem is that not everyone uses the same definition of these words.  My, how times have changed.  One has to define what perspective they are using the word to describe its purpose – is describing the mission of God (“Missio Dei”) in the world today; the Great Commission of the church; the modern offshoot of the EMERGING CHURCH movement; does it describe the engagement of the social Gospel out in local communities as opposed to being under an attractional model within the church……etc.?  Alan Hirsch states that “a quick Google search shows the presence of “missional communities,” “missional leaders,” “missional worship,” even “missional seating,” and “missional coffee.””

There are some basic problems with how the word is used today – especially when answering the question of what is our purpose here on the earth or more broadly – what is the purpose of the church?  Does the Bible call us to be “missional” in the sense of Missio Dei?  Or do we look at what Christ said our mission is from the Great Commission – to GO and MAKE DISCIPLES which includes a more traditional usage of the word missions?

I think the church today is moving further away from the Great Commission as described by Jesus and running on various pursuits under the banner called “Missio Dei” – the mission of God.  But is that scriptural?  It depends.  I question those who proclaim being missional and using it as the focus of the church engagement in the social Gospel or going out into the communities and moving away from the institutional church…etc., when Jesus made it clear what He commanded us to do to fulfill His purpose on the earth – the GREAT COMMISSION.   A recent blog by Kevin Deyoung discusses some of these issues in his recommendation of a new book about this topic – When Everything is Missions by Spitters and Ellison.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, l“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 mGo 3therefore and nmake disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 oteaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am pwith you always, even to the end of the age.” 4Amen.  (Matthew 28:18-20)

The New King James Version. (1982). (Mt 28:18–20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

When Everything Is Missions

 

Pastors, mission committees, mission agencies, and church leaders would do well to read the new (and short!) book When Everything is Missions, written by Denny Spitters (vice-president for church partnerships with Pioneers USA) and Matthew Ellison (a missions pastor turned parachurch president and missions coach).

The theme of the book is simple and provocative: we are NOT ALL missionaries and NOT EVERYTHING is missions, and if we don’t get these definitions correct we will not be effective in carrying out the mission Christ gave to the church.

In his foreword to the book, Jeff Lewis (of California Baptist University) notes that in his class on the global context of the Christian faith, 99 percent of his students think every Christian is a missionary, and 99 percent think he thinks that as well (12). But the old slogan “every member a missionary” is NOT really accurate. We are all called to be witnesses and disciple makers, but the Latin word missio, like the Greek word apostelein, refers to sending or being sent. A missionary, Spitters and Ellison maintain, means (a) sent (b) across a boundary to where the gospel is not known, (c) to see a church planted that (d) can reach that region with the gospel once the missionary leaves (69). When everything is missions and everyone is a missionary, this task is obscured or forgotten.

Likewise, Spitters and Ellison insist that missio Dei, mission, missional, and missions CANNOT be used interchangeably. Though helpful terms when used with precision, we should not assume, for example, that the missio Dei and the mission of the church are synonymous. We are not called to do all that God will do, and what we are called to do in missions is not equal to all the good we want to do as Christians. Spitters and Ellison make it clear that they do not oppose social transformation and holistic ministry, but they do not believe these are the goals of Christian mission. In fact, they argue that when the primacy of disciple making and church planting have been replaced with efforts at social transformation the results have been bad for the spiritual welfare and the physical welfare of the people we are trying to reach. In other words, “MAKING DISCIPLES who birth the local church is the KEY to both EVANGELISM and SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION. ” (45).

Spitters and Ellision do not write as armchair critics looking to pick nits over things that don’t matter. They are both deeply engaged in missions and have been for decades. Their burden is that definitions matter: “We contend that many churches do not do missions well because they don’t think about missions well” (19). We will not make progress in the mission of the church if everything is missions. That’s why we must be careful with the words we use.

It is not too late for the North American church to reassert that missionaries are sent-out ones—to cast aside the notion that everything is mission and everybody is a missionary, or that the debate is only a semantic one. We believe the future health of the Church and the advancement of the gospel in our own context is directly linked to thinking clearly about the mission task and missionary roles. To go and make disciples of all nations and send out those whom God has called for specific purposes is not only a command, it is the very lifeblood of our task—of advancing the gospel and joining in the work of Jesus to build His global Church. (80)

Should churches support Christian schools at home and college ministry on secular campuses in the United States? Should we work to have excellent and engaging youth and children’s ministries? Should we be concerned by poverty and homelessness and clean water? Yes, yes, and yes. But Spitters and Ellison remind us that if we think all of this is missions we will end up neglecting the very task laid out for us in the Great Commission. When everything is missions, missions gets left behind.