“25 yrs ago I lost the Christianity of my youth. Found a deeper faith embracing silence, centering prayer, doubt, mystery, Jesus. Recognized my own deep brokenness & moved toward the brokenness of the world. 25 yrs later, the world’s overwhelming pain pushes me again into silence.”
(478) 40th ANNIVERSARY OF RICHARD FOSTER’S CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE – Emerging Trends in the Church Today
Time flies when you are having fun. However, a book that has really invaded the Evangelical Church and has dramatically changed spiritual practices like never before is a book by Richard Foster – A Celebration of Discipline. As publishers push to put out a 40-year anniversary edition to seminaries, churches, pastors and lay people, it is important to understand what you are getting into – MYSTICISM and CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER…..etc.
Christian University Graduate Agrees—Celebration of Discipline/Richard Foster Bypass the Cross—As CoD Soon Celebrates 40-Year Anniversary!
Just as Lighthouse Trails was about to issue a post this week about Celebration of Discipline’s (by Richard Foster) 40-year anniversary announcement (that we received by e-mail this month), we received the following e-mail from a Christian university graduate:
Three years ago this past September, I began my studies at Tyndale University in Toronto, Ontario. Right away, for one class, we were asked to study one author in particular whom I had never heard of, RICHARD FOSTER and his book Celebration of Discipline. I went online to do research and came across your website, and found your analysis of Foster to be spot on. As I read Foster, I realized he had completely bypassed the role of the Cross in bringing man into relationship with God, and instead substituted what he calls the “SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES”. This is of course heresy.
For nearly sixteen years, Lighthouse Trails has tirelessly tried to warn the church about contemplative spirituality and how it entered the church in the first place largely through Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline.
The following is a repost of a prior article we wrote about Celebration of Discipline. It would be a good idea to ask your own pastor if he has ever read Celebration of Discipline and if he has, what does he think. And if he has not read the refutation A Time of Departing and is willing to do so, Lighthouse Trails will gladly send him a complimentary copy of it.
=> [HIGH RECOMMEND: A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen. This book opened my eyes to the gradual but definite mission creep of mystical contemplative practices coming into the church.]
First published in 1978, Celebration of Discipline has had a massive influence on today’s Christianity. Unfortunately, the influence has helped to saturate the church with MYSTICAL CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER and the NEW AGE. Most likely, your pastor has a copy of this book sitting on his library shelves. He may even have it sitting on his desk for easy reach and reference. Richard Foster, a Quaker and the founder of an organization called RENOVARE (meaning renewal), wrote the book, and even he may have had no idea the impact this book would have. But decades later, it is still being read, and in fact, Christian leaders and organizations continue promoting the book.
Foster said in the book, that we “should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer” (p. 13, 1978 ed.). In other books and writings of Foster’s, he makes it very clear that this “CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER” is the EASTERN-style MANTRA MEDIATION to which mystic monk THOMAS MERTON adhered. In fact, Richard Foster once told Ray Yungen (author of A Time of Departing) that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people” (at a conference in Salem, OR in the 90s).
Thomas Merton, who said he was “impregnated with Sufism” (Merton and Sufism, p. 69) and wanted to “become as GOOD A BUDDHIST” as he could be (David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West”), believed that “God’s people” lacked one thing—mysticism, and this is to what they needed “awakening.” Of Merton, Foster says: “Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood.” (Spiritual Classics, p. 17) And yet, Thomas Merton once told NEW AGE Episcopal priest MATTHEW FOX that he felt sorry for the hippies in the 60s who were dropping LSD because all they had to do was practice the MYSTICAL (contemplative) stream to achieve the same results. (Interview) We couldn’t agree with him more. Both altered states are the same, but we differ from Merton and Foster in conclusions outcome—we know neither leads to God.
Listed under “excellent books on spirituality,” in some editions of Celebration of Discipline, Foster says of panentheist Tilden Edwards’ book Spiritual Friend that it helps “clear away the confusion and invites us to see that we do not have to live the spiritual life in isolation.” And yet, TILDEN EDWARDS, founder of the “Christian”/Buddhist SHALEM INSTITUTE in Washington, DC, said that contemplative spirituality was the “Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality”(Spiritual Friend, p. 18). On the Shalem Institute website you can find numerous quotes, references, articles, and recommendations to panentheism, universalism, interspirituality, New Age, and Eastern thought.
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster tells us “we must be willing to go down into the recreating SILENCES, into the inner world of contemplation” (COD, p.13.) He goes on to say that the “masters of meditation beckon us.” Just prior to that remark, he quotes Carl Jung and Thomas Merton.
Celebration of Discipline has helped to pave the way for Thomas Merton’s panentheistic belief system. It has opened the door for other Christian authors, speakers, and pastors to bring contemplative spirituality into the lives of millions of people. The late HENRI NOUWEN, a popular contemplative who also followed the teachings of Thomas Merton, made a telling statement towards the end of his life:
I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, ALL human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God(emphasis added – Sabbatical Journey, p. 51).
Essentially, the fruit of years of practicing mysticism by Nouwen was a departure from believing the Cross was the only way to salvation. This is the fruit of contemplative spirituality.
Today, countless ministers and ministries are promoting and endorsing Celebration of Discipline. If they really knew what Foster’s “celebration” was all about, we think many of them would race away from the teachings of Thomas Merton and Richard Foster and back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Note: If your pastor or someone you know has a copy of Celebration of Discipline or quotes Richard Foster, be sure and give him a copy of Ray Yungen’s new booklet A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer. Also, want to know what Spiritual Formation is (and its dangers), read this: Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t
Quotes by Richard Foster:
“Spend some time this week listening to contemplative music designed to quiet you, settle you, deepen you. (Compact discs and tapes from the TAIZE community, JOHN MICHAEL TALBOT, and the Monks of Weston Priory are especially helpful).” Renovare’s Perspective Newsletter
“We now come to the ultimate stage of Christian experience. Divine Union…. Contemplatives sometimes speak of their union with God by the analogy of a log in a fire: the glowing log is so united with the fire that it is fire.” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 159)
“Christians . . . have developed two fundamental expressions of Unceasing Prayer. The first . . . is usually called aspiratory prayer or BREATH PRAYER. The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer. It is also possible to discover your own individual breath prayer. . . . Begin praying your breath prayer as often as possible.” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 122) [LT Note: Remember, Rick Warren promoted breath prayers in The Purpose Driven Life.]
NOT MUCH OF A MYSTERY
If you base your views on the Bible, one can easily see the contradictions, discrepancies, aberrant, and sometimes false teachings involved within popular movements today such as the Emerging Church. The problem is that many of these inclinations and teachings go unchecked and become normalized within the church. People become desensitized to their jargon and common definitions that have been used by the church for centuries change to a more ancient usage or outright usage more commonly found in other religions (Eastern religions). The Evangelical Church is in a free-fall in regards to this effect. Seminaries are required for accreditation to include these new teachings – each generation of church leaders and pastors are being exposed to these different teachings that emphasize a mystical approach to faith – one that hasn’t been a part of historic Evangelicalism and one that deviates from the Reformation view.
What does this mean to YOU?
The teaching which you ingest by hearing sermons and lectures in Sunday School classes, discussions with friends, sermons from the pulpit, church resources in the library, seminary professors teaching classes, books authored by well-known writers and teachers…..etc. all can affect your learning and can either be used to grow your walk in faith or stunt your walk in faith. Because of the subtle nature of this effect, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify these items and the potentially adverse effects of exposure to these teachings.
Lynne Hybels (wife of the mega church founder of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels), recently said the following:
She said she lost her Christianity of her youth and found DEEPER faith embracing SILENCE, CENTERING PRAYER, DOUBT, MYSTERY……etc. Her mysticism is beyond opinion – each of these descriptives carries with it a great deal mysticism directly from ancient Roman Catholic saints and commonly found in Eastern Mysticism.
This is just one view of the adverse effects of where mysticism can lead. In my Growth Group class at church, I have come across several examples of mysticism having an adverse effect on a person’s walk.
Let’s look at a few examples in the areas of popular Christian books and teachings from popular Christian leaders. This chart shows how MYSTICISM (i.e. CONTEMPLATIVE) influences Christians in the church (laypeople and pastors) using very popular books and teachings from commonly known leaders.
Who hasn’t heard of CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE by RICHARD J. FOSTER? It is one of the most popular Christian books sold within the last 20-30 years. It is highly acclaimed by Christians journals such as Christianity Today and is commonly used in churches and seminaries across many denominations. Details of this book can be found in other postings on this blog. For now, let’s just look at how easily one can follow a trail from RICHARD FOSTER back to MONASTIC practices found in ancient ROMAN CATHOLICISM. These include the repetition of words or phrases (i.e. mantras) during prayer and meditation – something clearly Jesus told us not to do in our prayer time.
You can see that popular authors such as RICHARD FOSTER and DALLAS WILLARD have been heavily influenced by ROMAN CATHOLIC monks who teach principles of mysticism. They admit that they learned some of these principles from BUDDHIST MONKS visiting their monasteries. THOMAS MERTON, a Roman Catholic monk is quoted in the chart as saying that he wants to be as good as a BUDDHIST that he can.
You can see how they have influenced (connect the dots) popular Evangelical writers today than many Christians have no idea that they are “under the influence”. These monks commonly hold retreats today teaching others (Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Buddhists….etc.) their view of mysticism and they give people opportunity to spend time in SILENCE and SOLITUDE. While claiming that these principles come from the early church (e.g. the Desert Fathers), it is difficult to find biblical support for their teachings. In actuality, there are more similaries to to NEW AGE (similar to EASTERN MYSTICISM). One of the guest teachers from Alliance Theological Seminary informed our church’s congregation that he routinely spends time in retreats at a local monastery. So much could be said about this but not in this post.
Take a look at just a few quotes directly from these authors and teachers and see if you can differentiate what is biblical and what is a mystical approach to faith. If it is not found in God’s word, does it come from man’s philosophy, church traditions, personal experience? Is biblical teaching suppressed by the promotion of a more imaginative inner workings, intuitive, experiential…etc. view of spiritual issues. Should these be held higher than God’s word in influencing your walk of faith?
BRIAN MCLAREN: “This full, radiant, glorious experience of God in Jesus Christ eventually revolutionized the whole concept of God, so that the word God itself was re-imagined through the experience of encountering Jesus, seeing him act, hearing him speak, watching him relate, and reflecting on his whole career.” (McLaren, 73)
BRIAN MCLAREN: “Think of [i.e. “imagine”] the kind of universe you would expect if God A created it: a universe of dominance, control, limitation, submission, uniformity, coercion. Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God B created it: a universe of interdependence, relationship, possibility, responsibility, becoming, novelty, mutualilty, freedom. . . . I find myself in universe B getting to know God B.” (McLaren 76)
LEONARD SWEET: “Right belief” should not hold the “upper hand over a believer’s authentic experience.” (Sweet)
LEONARD SWEET: Christianity should not be viewed as a “belief system with a distinct worldview,” but as an experiential “conversation” with God and others. (Sweet)
LEONARD SWEET: Christianity is “not primarily a matter of belief,” but rather “immersion and engagement, a full-on experience of life.” (Sweet)
LEONARD SWEET: Sweet wonders with Amos Yong, “what the gospel might look like if its primary dialogue partners are not Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel or Whitehead, but rather Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu, Nagarjuna, Shankara, Ramanuja, Chu His, Dogen, Wang Yang Ming, and so on.”
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Each of the above quotes could merit its own posting with an explanation of the concerns involved. Hopefully, you can see a few things that at least should raise a red flag in your eyes. Scripture will help you to see the issues involved:
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; (1 Corinthians 3:18-19)
O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge— by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:6)
Let me conclude with God’s wisdom from His word –
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. (Proverbs 30:5)
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.
The latest fad that has come into play within Evangelicalism has elements that fall under the broad category mysticism and has to do with monastic spirituality. What is monasticism? Why is it becoming more and more popular among Evangelicals?
(1.) MONASTICISM DEFINED
Monasticism, an institutionalized religious practice or movement whose members attempt to live by a rule that requires works that go beyond those of either the laity or the ordinary spiritual leaders of their religions. Commonly celibate and universally ascetic, the monastic individual separates himself or herself from society either by living as a hermit or anchorite (religious recluse) or by joining a community (coenobium) of others who profess similar intentions. First applied to Christian groups, both Latin and Greek, the term monasticism is now used to denote similar, though not identical, practices in religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Daoism.
The word monasticism is derived from the Greek monachos (“living alone”), but this etymology highlights only one of the elements of monasticism and is somewhat misleading, because a large proportion of the world’s monastics live in cenobitic (common life) communities. The term monasticism implies celibacy, or living alone in the sense of lacking a spouse, which became a socially and historically crucial feature of the monastic life.
Even this aspect of monasticism does not extend beyond the cultures and languages that perpetuate the religious terminology of the so-called Abrahamic or prophetic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the Islamic world, Arabic and Persian terms that can be translated as monk or monastic do not mean “solitary,” as in the Greek. Instead, they are etymologically derived from other terms associated with monastic life in Islam (e.g., zuhd, “asceticism”). None of the many Indic terms for monk (Sanskrit apabhramsha; Pali prakrit) mean “single” or “living alone,” though monastics in those traditions—Brahman-Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain—live alone or in groups that are set off from the rest of their societies. The etymologies of the Indian and some of the Arabic and Persian terminology connote poverty, ecstatic states of mind, dress conventions, and so on, while other terms imply single, celibate living.
Nature and significance
Monastics have been instrumental in creating, preserving, and enhancing institutions of religious and secular learning and in transmitting cultural goods, artifacts, and intellectual skills down through the generations. Monastic institutions have also fulfilled medical, political, and military functions, though since 1500 the latter two have become completely secularized in most societies.
A definition of monasticism that covers all its forms would be so broad that particulars would have to be relegated to the analysis of specific monastic systems. Such a definition might be: religiously mandated behaviour (i.e., orthopraxy), together with its institutions, ritual, and belief systems, whose agents, members, or participants undertake voluntarily (often through a vow) religious works that go beyond those required by the religious teachings of the society at large. Such behaviour derives from the example of religious and spiritual founders who interpreted more radically the tenets that apply to all believers or to the whole society. Beyond such a statement, one can speak only of the principal characteristics of the monastic life and its institutions, since none of them is universal. Celibacy is fundamental to the majority of the world’s monastic orders but is by no means universal, as shown by the case of Buddhism in modern Japan. Another characteristic, asceticism, is universal, provided the term is defined widely enough so as to include all supererogatory (i.e., additional but voluntarily undertaken) religious practices. The truly universal characteristic of monasticism follows from its definition: the monastic separates himself from society, either to abide alone as a religious recluse (hermit or anchorite) or to join a community of those who have separated themselves from their surroundings with similar intentions—i.e., the full-time pursuit of the religious life in its most radical and often in its most demanding guise.
Monasticism does not exist in societies that lack a written transmitted lore. Nonliterate societies cannot have monastic institutions, because the monastic responds to an established written body of religious doctrine, which has undergone criticism and then generated countercriticism in a dialectic process that presupposes a literate, codified manipulation of the doctrine. The monastic founders and their successors may either support or oppose the official religious tradition, but the presence of such a tradition is indispensable as the matrix of all monastic endeavour.
(2.) MONASTICISM IN CHRISTIANITY
Although used by scholars to describe similar institutions and practices in other religions, the terms monk and monastic are historically and etymologically Christian. A sweeping view of Christian monastic history reveals a gradual shift of emphasis from the contemplative to the socially active. Highly meditative orders emerged in the Eastern Orthodox Church and other churches based on the Greek liturgy, the Mount Athos (Greece) complex (founded in the 10th century) being the most famous among them. The large variety of Roman Catholic orders displays eclectic emphases: the Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians, Carmelites, and certain orders designated as “minor” (in the Latin sense of humble or modest, rather than lower in a hierarchy or organization) emphasize meditation. The Dominicans should be called “major”—though they are not—because the tasks of preaching, maintaining scholastic continuity, and evangelizing outrank that of contemplation in their order. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits; founded by Ignatius of Loyola between 1534 and 1540) stands at the other end of the contemplative–social-centred continuum. Nearly all the members of the order are priests, and the order regards teaching, social work, and the active life as the quintessence of supererogatory piety.
The Jesuits represented a new kind of order that proliferated in the Roman Catholic Church after 1520, the so-called “clerks regular.” Other orders of clerks regular include the Theatines, founded in 1524 as “Clerks Regular of the Divine Providence,” and the Barnabites, founded in 1530 as the “Clerks Regular of St. Paul.” They and their numerous female equivalents, such as the Daughters of Charity and the Ursulines, constitute the active orders, none of which after 1965 live any longer in enclosure. In the 20th century Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, which turned away from enclosure and contemplation to pursue a life of service. Some scholars would argue that, because of this outward orientation, such orders should no longer be called monastic.
Certain monastic institutions have existed within the Protestant tradition. In the mid-19th century a number of Anglican religious communities for men and women were founded. The first communities were sisterhoods that combined service (teaching and nursing) with prayer, and male communities appeared not long after. In the late 20th century there were some 50 Protestant religious communities. The Taizé (France) communities of the Reformed Protestant tradition, founded in the Burgundy region of France in the 1940s, initiated an ecumenical movement of contemplative monasticism. The first brothers of Taizé came from French and Swiss Reformed churches and were later joined by members of Lutheran churches; a community of sisters in association with Taizé was later founded at Grandchamp near Neuchâtel, Switz. There are also a few surviving Lutheran monasteries. Monasticism would thus seem to be a viable expression of the Protestant tradition; yet, owing to a set of historical accidents whose ideological summation was described in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920), Protestantism has always emphasized active engagement in the world rather than seclusion. This explains the existence of various part-time Protestant retreats, usually in rural settings, designed as centres for recuperation from overwork.1
Source: 1. “Monasticism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 17 Jan. 2012.
(3) JOHN CALVIN ON MONASTIC VOWS & SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
Ken Silva: In Means Of Grace: Searching The Scriptures the other day here at Apprising Ministries reminded you about the spread of what I call a cult of Foster-Willardism deep within mainstream Protestant evangelicalism; and with it, a rebirth of Pietism masquerading as the SPIRITUAL FORMATION.
A good four years ago in SPIRITUAL FORMATION: Just Say No I warned that, with an assist from his spiritual twin Dallas Willard and the neoliberal cult operating within the Emergent Church, Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster would successfully perpetrate this reimagined monastic mythology.
This all was accomplished under the guise of so-called “spiritual disciplines,” and Foster-Willardism has now captured the younger sectors of the church visible. You should know that the core practice of this Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM) is its crown jewel Contemplative/Centering Prayer (CCP).
However the truth is, CCP is actually a type of meditation in an altered state of consciousness that’s virtually identical to that practiced in Eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism and the transcendental meditation of Hinduism. It is “Christian” mysticism that forms the basis of spurious spiritual formation.
The fact remains it was really developed in the antibiblical monastic traditions of apostate Roman Catholicism; and yet we now see this CSM showing up in more and more mainstream evangelical churches. For example, CSM Invades Evangelicalism With Rick Warren and Kay Warren Leading The Charge.
Sadly, it’s been forgotten that CSM is the Counter Reformation spirituality practiced contemporary to the early Church Reformers, which they rejected in favor of the proper Christian spirituality of sola Scriptura. God didn’t want His Christians practicing CSM then, and He doesn’t want us doing so now.
In closing this here’s John Calvin, one the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, and what he thought about the reimagined form of semi-pelagian Pietism that’s been revived by Richard Foster in these so-called spiritual disciplines of Spiritual Formation:
IT is indeed deplorable that the Church, whose freedom was purchased by the inestimable price of Christ’s blood, should have been thus oppressed by a cruel tyranny, and almost buried under a huge mass of traditions; but, at the same time, the private infatuation of each individual shows, that not without just cause has so much power been given from above to Satan and his ministers.
It was not enough to neglect the command of Christ, and bear anyburdens which false teachers might please to impose, but each individual behoved to have his own peculiar burdens, and thus sink deeper by digging his own cavern. This has been the result when men set about devising vows, by which a stronger and closer obligation might be added to common ties…
[M]onks place the principal part of their holiness in idleness. For if you take away their idleness, where will that which they glory that they excel all others, and make a near approach to the angels?… [I]nstead of Christians, we hear some called Benedictines, others Franciscans, others Dominicans, and so called, that while they affect to be distinguished from the common body of Christians, they proudly substitute these names for a religious profession…
This much is certain, that there is no order of men more polluted by all kinds of vicious turpitude; nowhere do faction, hatred, party-spirit, and intrigue, more prevail… It is fine to philosophise in seclusion, far away from the intercourse of society; but it ill accords with Christian meekness for any one, as if in hatred of the human race, to fly to the wilderness and to solitude, and at the same time desert the duties which the Lord has especially commanded.
Were we to grant that there was nothing worse in that profession, there is certainly no small evil in its having introduced a useless and perilous example into the Church. Now, then, let us see the nature of the vows by which the monks of the present day are initiated into this famous order. First, as their intention is to institute a new and fictitious worship with a view to gain favour with God, I conclude from what has been said above, that everything which they vow is abomination to God.
Secondly, I hold that as they frame their own mode of life at pleasure, without any regard to the calling of God, or to his approbation, the attempt is rash and unlawful; because their conscience has no ground on which it can support itself before God; and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).
Moreover, I maintain that in astricting themselves to many perverse and impious modes of worship, such as are exhibited in modern monasticism, they consecrate themselves not to God but to the devil. For why should the prophets have been permitted to say that the Israelites sacrificed their sons to devils and not to God (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37), merely because they had corrupted the true worship of God by profane ceremonies; and we not be permitted to say the same thing of monks who, along with the cowl, cover themselves with the net of a thousand impious superstitions? 2
Source: 2. JOHN CALVIN ON MONASTIC VOWS I.E. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
By Ken Silva pastor-teacher on Dec 30, 2012 in Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism
In Part 2, we will look at monasticism within the Evangelical Church today.
“MOORE ON” CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER
Beth Moore, a Southern Baptist who has been a staple in Bible studies for quite some time now among Christian groups. This is especially true
With Evangelical women’s groups that have met to review her many books on prayer, Bible study…..etc. So, I want to respect that and not paint a broad stroke that questions her motives or tears down what may have been beneficial to many people over the years.
The purpose of this posting is to look at specific issues where she crossed a very obvious line by combining practices not found in the Bible and instead having more similarities to other religions. This type of syncretic characteristic may be detrimental if followers are taking their mind off of God’s word and His teaching and instead following after influences not from God. This is true whether they realize they are doing this or not.
In April 2008, she joined up with RICHARD FOSTER, DALLAS WILLARD and other CONTEMPLATIVES on the Be Still DVD. Because of the questions raised regarding her association with the contemplative and mystical nature of the DVD, she issued a retraction. However, soon afterward, she issued a retraction of a retraction. In a statement published on May 26, 2008, Moore’s Living Proof Ministries said: “We believe that once you view the Be Still video you will agree that there is no problem with its expression of Truth”
However, that was quickly discounted since the DVD features RICHARD FOSTER and DALLAS WILLARD. One review stated –
“In the DVD, there are countless enticements, references and comments that clearly show its affinity with contemplative spirituality. For instance, Richard Foster says that anyone can practice CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER and become a ‘portable sanctuary’ for God. This PANENTHEISTIC VIEW of God is very typical for contemplatives. … The underlying theme of the Be Still DVD is that we cannot truly know God or be intimate with Him without contemplative prayer and the state of SILENCE that it produces. While the DVD is vague and lacking in actual instruction on word or phrase REPETITION (which lies at the heart of contemplative prayer), it is really quite misleading.
What they don’t tell you in the DVD is that this state of STILLNESS or SILENCE is, for the most part, achieved through some method such as mantra-like meditation. THE PURPOSE OF THE DVD, IN ESSENCE, IS NOT TO INSTRUCT YOU IN CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER BUT RATHER TO MAKE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY HUNGRY FOR IT. The DVD even promises that practicing the silence will heal your family problems. … THIS PROJECT IS AN INFOMERCIAL FOR CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE, and because of the huge advertising campaign that Fox Home Entertainment has launched, contemplative prayer could be potentially introduced into millions of homes around the world. (LHT)
“[On the DVD Moore says], ‘… if we are not STILL before Him [God], we will NEVER truly know to the DEPTHS of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s GOT to be a STILLNESS.’ … [But is] it not true that as believers we come to Him by grace, boldly to His throne, and we call Him our friend? No stillness, no mantra, no breath prayer, no rituals. Our personal relationship with Him is based on His faithfulness and His love and His offer that we have access to Him through the blood of Jesus Christ, and not on the basis of entering an ALTERED STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS or state of bliss or ecstasy as some call it” (“Beth Moore Gives Thumbs Up to Be Still DVD,”http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/bethmoorethumbsup.htm).
Beth Moore in her book When Godly People Do Ungodly Things (2002), recommends contemplative Roman Catholics Brother Lawrence and Brennan Manning.
Of Manning she says that his contribution to our generation “may be a gift without parallel” (p. 72) and calls Ragamuffin Gospel “one of the most remarkable books” (p. 290). But, there is no warning given to the readers of what is salvation as outlined in the Bible – no clear Gospel message. Manning attends Mass regularly, has questionable views on homosexuality, promotes the use of mantras to create a thoughtless state of silent meditation, he spent six months in ISOLATION in a CAVE and spends eight days each year in silent retreat under the direction of a Dominican nun that he promotes the dangerous practice of VISUALIZATION that he quotes very approvingly from the New Agers such as Beatrice Bruteau and Matthew Fox.
Much of these characteristics come from Eastern Mysticism, New Age, and ancient Roman Catholic mysticism.
=> Contemplative prayer has been around for centuries and it is rooted firmly in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Centuries ago, Christians in the Eastern hemisphere began to pick up these practices and incorporate them. Contemplative practices, or “disciplines” as they are called, include centering prayers and mantra meditation.
=> “Contemplative prayer is the act of going into the “Silence”. (The term is often capitalized because this is the Silence in which God is supposedly encountered.) It requires shutting your mind down by the use of a favorite word or phrase repeated over and over to shut off your thinking processes. Proponents of this practice claim that once your mind is shut down you will encounter God in the spirit realm. Unlike the meditation referred to by the Psalmist in Psalm 119:15 where he writes, “I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways”, this contemplative meditation requires the mind to be shut down to the point of silence. Into this SILENCE God is supposed to speak. Rather than encounter God through His Word, Christians are now seeking something new and more “authentic” by using the Bible passages as mantras in an attempt to experience God in a whole new way. There is great danger here. A brief look at those who revived this practice in the 20th century will tell us why.” (D. Cloud)
Joseph G. Sandman writes in America Magazine,
“Who could have predicted 25 years ago, when three Trappist monks from a monastery in Massachusetts introduced contemplative prayer to a group of “noncontemplatives,” that its popularity would grow so dramatically? Today, thousands of believers from a variety of Christian denominations in every state and in dozens of countries practice contemplative prayer daily. In addition, an international network of dedicated volunteers teaches it around the world.” (America Magazine, 9/9/00)
BIBLICAL MEDIATION versus THE SILENCE:
It is important to understand that Biblical meditation involves reflective thinking on a biblical truth found in God’s word. CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER doesn’t involve thinking – contrary to its title. Rather, an altered state of consciousness is achieved by allowing your mind to go into a state of SILENCE where thoughts are minimized. This is done by repeating MANTRAs that focuses your mind on a word or phrase. Once your mind is not focused on anything else, you begin to open yourself up to whatever enters your mind next. The problem is that you are opening yourself up to any outside influence while mistakenly thinking that you are hearing from God.
So, clearly, Beth Moore is promoting these types of mystical and contemplative practices by associating with modern day mystics and contemplatives such as RICHARD FOSTER, and DALLAS WILLARD along with promoting teachings that include mystical practices such as STILLNESS and THE SILENCE under a category called CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER – all of which are not based on God’s word. While much of her teaching may be beneficial, when one is teaching practices that share more with other religions, it becomes important to not only warn others but to educate them on these specific differences. This was a brief overview of some of the issues involved with Beth Moore’s teachings. We will continue to look at Beth Moore’s teachings in upcoming postings. Also, keep in mind, there is a great deal of background information on other topics discussed in this posting in the archives of this blog (e.g. “the silence”). These can be obtained by doing a search on this site.
(Part 2) (I have not yet included all the references in
Ken Shigematsu comes across in his writings as someone who not pushing an agenda for the sake of being controversial. Rather, there seems to be a sincerity in his writings which I find very appealing and encouraging to read.
But, and it’s a big but, he inundates his writings with an appeal to mystics, monastics (Roman Catholicism), along with being critical of leaders such as Franklin Graham and his public stands on important social issues. In essence, he ends up siding with those who not only disagree with someone like Franklin Graham, but disagrees with the biblical position on those issues. No, he doesn’t come out and say that but rather he softens the implication by looking to not be viewed as disruptive to the community. Noble sounding but is it scriptural?
Let’s investigate this in more detail. In his article titled – How Meditation and Monotasking Help Me Live More Mindfully (from Image for Psychology & Spiritual Formation Shortreads), several items quickly jump out. Faithful followers of this blog will recognize several of these points including the use of words such as DEEP, CONTEMPLATIVE, MEDITATION, REPEATING YOUR WORDS (i.e. MANTRA), CONTROL YOUR BREATH, VISUALIZATION,…etc. See if you can identify any of these terms in SHIGEMATSU’s writing:
For me, paying attention and living CONTEMPLATIVELY don’t come naturally. I need the grace of God. I also need practices which make me more receptive to the grace of God, more aware of Christ’s presence around and within me.
One of the practices that I have found especially helpful is MEDITATION.
At some point in the morning, I typically sit down and take some DEEP BREATHS. Because I am easily distracted, I will often REPEAT a single word like “wait” or “Jesus” to help focus me.
=> MY NOTE: Tibetan Buddhism, being a more esoteric and mystical form of Buddhism, utilizes breath control and visualization to train the mind where it can focus on Sunyata, “the essential emptiness of the phenomenal world,” and reach states where “the sense of experience ceases to exist.“
Meditation, as taught and practiced today in the West, originates from practices and beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, the goal of meditation is to realize that one’s personal identity is a barrier to the truth that the real self is part of the divine godhead, which is ultimate reality.1
The MIND in both Hinduism & Buddhism is seen as part of the material body and therefore a BARRIER to spiritual enlightenment.2 Meditation is designed to BYPASS the MIND, using special breathing techniques.3 The ultimate goal is samadhi with no cognition, or absorption into a state of pure consciousness through disengaging the MIND and a loss of self-awareness and subject-object awareness4: “The mind which for so long stood between us and our true nature has been overcome.”5 One of the most common ways this is done is through various forms of yoga, including the popular hatha yoga taught in the West.6 “Though their means may differ, all yogic paths seek to transcend duality in union” so that one’s “mistaken belief in himself as a separate, unique individual apart from God will be overcome.”7 Exhaling the BREATH is “the surrender of our ego” and the move from attachment to “non-attachment.”8
This imported meditation is usually packaged as a way to relax or reduce stress. But this was never the purpose of meditation in its HINDU or BUDDHIST form. Sometimes taught with VISUALIZATION and BREATHING exercises, this “relaxation” exercise has many hidden dangers. The mind often goes into an ALTERED STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS, also known as a light TRANCE or HYPNOTIC state, during the meditation.9 The exercises are designed to bring this about. In such a state, rational judgment and discernment is suspended, and the mind is highly suggestible and open to any influences present. In one class the writer attended, a student who fell asleep was reprimanded because he would miss the “spiritual trip” intended by the exercise.
This state of mind is not the same as spontaneous daydreaming, quiet contemplation, or conscious, rational concentration. The euphoria or peace experienced by many at first is short-lived and deceptive. Instructors of these techniques who teach them as a spiritual discipline often warn students that psychic experiences and supernatural encounters are common, some of them frightening, and that the breathing techniques can be dangerous10. The effect for some people is similar to a drug trip. It is this state of mind during which one is supposed to contact guides from the spirit world.11
Ken Shigematsu goes on in the same article –
I set a timer on my watch (usually 12 minutes) so I am not thinking about the time (if the time starts to feel too short, I’ll add time or if it begins to feel too long, I will decrease the time). After I have meditated, I feel more relaxed, a little more focused and a little more aware of Jesus throughout the day.
Meditation to some people may seem like a weird waste of time, but it can help us become more aware of God and more mindful of our choices.
Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist who teaches at Stanford, describes how meditation actually changes our brain—and it doesn’t take a lifetime for our brain to experience this transformation. Dr. McGonigal cites a study which found that just three accumulated hours of meditation practice—or about 10 minutes a day for two to three weeks—led to improved attention and self-control. After 11 accumulated hours of meditation—about 10 minutes a day for just over two months—researchers could actually see increased neural connections in the regions of the brain important for avoiding distractions and controlling impulses. Magnetic resonance (MR) scans have shown that when people meditate, the gray matter in the brain associated with stress, anxiety, and depression shrinks.
There is a person named Andrew, who like me was easily distracted and also felt like a terrible meditator. An electrical engineer, he was convinced that the goal of meditation was to get rid of all thoughts and empty the mind. But even when he was trying to focus on his breathing, other thoughts leaked in. He was ready to give up on the practice because he wasn’t making progress as quickly as he expected, and felt he was wasting his time. But as he reflected on his experience, Andrew realized that even when he felt distracted during his 5 or 10 minutes of meditation, he was more focused on days he meditated than on days when he skipped it. He also realized that on the days he meditated, when he was just about to order something salty and deep-fried for lunch (he was trying to improve his diet), he was more likely to order something healthier. When he had a sarcastic comment on his lips and needed to pause and hold his tongue, on the days he meditated he found he was more likely to bite his tongue. And when he was distracted at work—which was often—he realized that on the days he meditated he was better able to refocus on his work and get back on track.
These changes may seem superficial, but if our goal is to experience God in our everything, then our eating choices, how we talk to other people, how we work really matter.
A simple practice of meditation helps me become more present to God in each part of my life.
Meditation not only helps improve my ability to concentrate, it helps me live a more focused life. Rather than serving as an antidote to multitasking, it can helps me monotask—to focus on just one thing at a time.
I have been inspired by the wisdom of the ZEN tradition to aim to do just one thing at a time. The Vietnamese ZEN master, Thich Nhat Hanh, says: “While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterward and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means that you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes.”
When I monotask, I aim not to just hurry through something to check it off my “to-do” list, but to actually be mindful and present while doing it, and then move on to the next thing. Walk from here to there. Type an email. Work on a budget. Eat an oat bar. Read. Talk to a friend. Cut the grass. Wash the dishes. Change a water filter. Read a story. Bathe our son.
Most of the time, I don’t live this way (I recently got a well-deserved ticket for talking on my smart phone while driving), but from time to time, when I consciously do just one thing at a time, it helps me be more fully present and aware of God. I start to feel like I am not merely a person who says my prayers but that my life itself is becoming a kind of prayer. Ultimately, meditation and the contemplative life is not about removing oneself from the world, but empowering us to become more fully present and responsive to it.
Truly, there are a number of words, phrases, sentence…etc.,(many are listed above) used by Ken Shigematsu that cause concern. The concern stems from the fact that these words and phrases come either directly from Eastern Mystical practices or at a minimum are not taught as normative in the Bible. When was the last time you practiced your breathing? Lived Contemplatively?
When altered states of conscientious are achieved, it leaves the participant highly susceptible to whatever thought comes to into the mind at this point. That is dangerous on many different levels.
More could be said. Simply stated, one has to question why a Pastor who has been trained in God’s word would combine practices from other religions in with Christianity. To me, that is a serious problem that conflicts with many passages of scripture. It can leave one open to influence from sources other than God when in these types of altered states.
“ORIGINS – Where Gaming Begins”….but I digress.
Is your church “doing SPIRITUAL FORMATION”?
Is your church promoting SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES?
These are some of the catch phrases EMERGING today within the church as more and more Christians become increasingly influenced by a CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM that has become popular within Evangelicalism over the last several years.
How people use these words and phrases may differ today but their origins can be traced – in some cases back to the EARLY CHURCH or in other cases to various MYSTICAL PHILOSOPHIES and EASTERN RELIGIONS. To properly understand their meaning, it is important to understand their original meaning and compare it to what is being promoted today.
For example – some will use the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION (& SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES) to describe what basically has been known as DISCIPLESHIP. A problem arises when the principles behind what we call SPIRITUAL FORMATION have little in common with what Scripture teaches and more in common with what was taught by some in the EARLY CHURCH.
Why is that a problem? A problem arises when the church looks to history and actually values man’s views higher than God’s word. (2 Timothy 3:16)
When a source other than the Bible is used to establish practices and define doctrine, this can be an invitation to do down a path over time that is simply not beneficial in our spiritual walk. This can lead people/church away from its primary mission (i.e. discipleship) and into other activities not specified in the Bible. In the example of SPIRITUAL FORMATION, some of these popular activities were performed during the EARLY CHURCH. This fact alone will convince some to hold these concepts on par with the Bible. When the “Early Church” is brought into a conversation, it seemingly conveys a status of authority that some will actually say is equivalent to Scripture. Others won’t actually go that far in saying that but in practice, they hold up the Early Church sometimes more so than they look to Scripture.
Therefore, as doctrine develops in the church, if is not rooted and grounded in the Bible, then the opportunity exists for all sorts of error and aberrant theology to develop. When you read through the Bible in both the OT and the NT, the people of God have repeatedly dealt with doctrinal errors and heresies. In fact, we are warned that as we approach the final days, the amount of false teaching will increase – 2 Peter 2:
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. …
Many things could be said in this passage in 2 Peter. But looking at a few of the main issues include the following.When we look to define SPIRITUAL FORMATION, some basic observations should be noted.
=> False teaching came from WITHIN the church.
=> False teaching came from WITHIN the leadership of the church
=> False teaching will be SECRETLY brought in.
=> False teaching will be DESTRUCTIVE.
=> DECEPTIVE words will be used.
=> TRUTH will be BLASPHEMED.
It may be no accident that concepts such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION have caught on among Bible colleges and seminaries. There is an intellectual elite side to the appeal of these practices even though the practices themselves tend to downplay intellect, knowledge, doctrine,….etc. So, with this in mind, let’s look at the MEANING and the ORIGINS of the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.
First, we don’t see this phrase used in the Bible. It is a simple fact but one that should be clearly noted when we decide to follow the associated teachings that spring forth from its inclusion in Christian practice. That doesn’t void its use in Christian practices and doctrine, (e.g. the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible but defines a core aspect of our faith found throughout Scripture) but it should cause you to look further at the principles being suggested to determine if they are biblically supported.
Second – If the phrase is largely dependent on historical traditions – then, obviously, we should investigate how these traditions developed and how they were used over time in the church. Again, we need to look at the core principles being suggested to determine if they are biblically supported.
So, how is this phrase used in Christianity today and where did it originate from historically”. In a previous posting, we looked at the recent history of SPIRITUAL FORMATION. Let’s look back further in history (and we won’t do this justice in this blog):
As we look back at the “Early Church“, one of the earliest sources to investigate is with Origen (A.D. 185-254). You may recall that Origen rejected the single meaning of a text of Scripture and adopted the Greek allegorical approach popular in secular mythological literature especially in the Alexandria, Egypt, region in which he lived.
This view taught that every passage of Scripture had various levels of meaning. It ranged from the literal, which was the simplest, to the allegorical, which was considered the most insightful. The allegorical is described using some of the same phraseology used today among contemplative spiritual formation proponents => allegorical was viewed as the DEEPER and RICHER form of biblical interpretation.
Origen and proponents searched for hidden, symbolic meanings within the biblical texts – but they were not necessarily the meaning intended by the author. The result of this approach was not an accurate understanding what the Scripture was saying but rather it opened up the reader to all kinds of aberrant interpretations.
Gary Gilley (from “Roots of the Spiritual Formation Movement”, Think on These Things Ministry) states that “this method was guided by personal imagination instead of informed study which of course led to all sorts of fanciful and, at times, heretical, interpretations”.
There are those today (e.g. Emerging Church proponents) who recommend reading material from Origen himself. I came across this from a men’s small group leader at my church who wanted to drop reading the Bible and instead read through the works of Origen for a period of time. Someone asked me of my opinion and I stated that while there may be a time and place for reading the works of Origen, replacing the Bible in a small group setting is not the time and place for it. Unknown to the leader, Origen taught a number of heresies such as UNIVERSALISM and PRE-EXISTENCE of SOULS. I don’t think that is the type of material we should be focusing on instead of the Bible.
An author, who is supportive of Origen’s views, wrote, “Almost all Christian spiritual and ascetic literature, ever since, has been indebted to Origen’s foundational architecture of Christian MYSTICISM.”
2b) DESERT FATHERS
Next up on the scene were the DESERT FATHERS. After Emperor Constantine’s conversion and the established the church as the state religion in 312-313 A.D., the persecutions of Christians were no longer carried out by the state. As a result, some saw the struggle against evil being minimized when Constantine took power. Becuase of this, (“man” in his infinite wisdom (not)), some felt the need to carry on the struggle resisting evil and left their places of comfort in society and fled to the desert to take up an ASCETIC life in battling evil. Many became isolated hermits while some formed local communities in the dessert. In a somewhat ironic shift in thinking, today we find Evangelicals going after the writings of those Desert Fathers and applying them to their walk today. (see item number #4 below)
The desert fathers followed in Origen’s footsteps. Gerald L. Sittser, “The Desert Fathers,” p. 199, states –
Their overall approach to the Bible seems—and, in fact, is—foreign to the modern age. They jumped from text to text, as if by free association, making connections that would appear odd to us, and they interpreted the Bible allegorically, which gives the impression that their interpretation is informed more by fanciful imagination than by careful exegesis.
Gary Gilley states that
“this approach to Scripture ultimately led to numerous schools of spirituality (ways of living out the gospel) such as Augustinian, Dominican, Benedictine, Ignatian and so forth. But ultimately they all had one thing in common, the so-called tripartite division of spiritual life. The sine qua non of this three-fold division consists of purgation, illumination, and union and is found in ALL forms of MYSTICISM, not just Christianized forms.”
Greg Peters defines these terms:
The purgative way consists in one’s active cleansing and is aided by spiritual exercises and ascetic practices, through the cultivation of humility and by practicing the virtues. Further advancement is made with the assistance of meditation, prayer and contemplation. The illuminative way is characterized by further meditation, prayer and contemplation, combined with the reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, additional spiritual exercises and a devotion to the Virgin Mary. The unitive way involves the exercising of proper Christian love until one experiences or achieves MYSTICAL UNION with God as Trinity. Greg Peters, “Spiritual Theology, ibid, p. 82, (cf. pp. 188-189).
MYSTICISM – Gary Gilley goes on to summarize –
- PURGATION = emptying oneself not only of sin but of passion, desire and even of intellectual thought.
- ILLUMINATION = is what takes place when the Lord fills the emptiness of our souls and minds with extrabiblical knowledge and experience
- UNION = is that mystical contact with God that cannot be rationally described, only experienced.
It is a bit beyond the scope of this posting to give too much more detail on these aspects of mysticism. But, some general conclusions can easily be identified with characteristics we see in even among Evangelicals today:
- An important goal in MYSTICISM is the belief that we can ALL achieve a UNION with God.
- We become like Christ by practicing SPIRITUAL EXERCISES/DISCIPLINES.
- RATIONAL (intellect) is downplayed while extra-biblical EXPERIENCE in encouraged.
The implications of these include the belief (by some) that the UNION achieved with God is available and achievable by all people (not just Christians). What comes to mind are false teachings such as UNIVERSALISM. A quote found in a popular book promoting a mystical view:
“… any and all active contemplation on your part is also just preparation for bringing you to a passive state. They are preparations. They are not the end. They are a way to the end. The end is union with God” (Guyon, Experiencing Union with God through Inner Prayer).
=> David Cloud states that – “This is a pagan concept that has no basis in Scripture. The believer is a child of God, but he is not absorbed into God and does not partake of his divine essence. Only Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, can say that He is one with and of the same essence with God. Christ alone dwells in the light “which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:15). In Revelation 22:3, in the New Heaven and New Earth, the Bible says that God is still God and “his servants shall serve him.” God is God, and though the believer is His child through Christ, he is not God and never will be. When 1 Peter 1:4 speaks of being a “partaker of the divine nature,” it refers to partaking of God’s moral qualities, which is what the Bible means when it speaks of man as made in the image of God. Adam was made in God’s image morally, as an upright being, but Adam was not God. 1 Peter 1:4 refers to the same thing as Ephesians 4:24, “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” and as Colossians 3:10, “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” www.wayoflife.org
SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES (silence, solitude, chanting, meditation….etc.) may sound like a constructive description, but some of the disciplines include items that are not biblical. In fact, some of the disciplines are mirror images of practices within Eastern Mysticism and other Eastern religious and New Age beliefs.
=> Keep in mind, these fall under the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.
As discussed above, during the first two centuries of church history persecution and martyrdom were not uncommon. Many Christians suffered because the church stood against the corrupt world system and the devil. The martyrs became the heroes of the faith. These folks, willingly made the ultimate sacrifice for Christ. That changed in 312 A.D. with the legalization of Christianity by Constantine. Some viewed the change as a watering down of the Christian faith. Martyrdom became a thing of the past, and Christians were asking who would become the spiritual heroes of this new generation?
Hermits and monks who later became known as the desert fathers and mothers were the ones who stepped out of their life of relative comfort. D. Cloud states that “They originally moved to the deserts of Egypt, and to similar areas, because it was their belief that Satan still ruled there and they sought battle with him as Christians had battled him during times of persecution. And in the face of a softening approach to the Christian life they wanted to demonstrate dedication. As their reputations grew, the desert fathers and mothers became the Christian heroes of their day. Many flooded to the deserts to see these living martyrs, to perhaps learn from them, and some to join them.”
What developed were many misguided attempts to show the dedication of the hermits and monks. Extreme forms of asceticism included fasting, days & nights without sleep, celibacy, poverty, loneliness….etc. It was under these extreme, self-induced physical conditions that some of these folks began to claim visions and revelations from the Lord.
Gary Gilley states that –
“these were passed down orally by their followers and then recorded in books to be spread throughout the Christian community. These writings became the basis for new forms of spiritualties that continue to have an impact on the church to this day. Those in the Spiritual Formation Movement today look continually to this group, which they call spiritual masters and physicians of the soul, for insights into a deeper life with God. The roots of spiritual formation are planted in the desert fathers and mothers of the second to sixth centuries.”
However to these early formers of mystical and ascetic spirituality must be added a number of others who mostly appeared in the Medieval Era, an era variously pegged as from 325 (the council of Nicaea) to 604 (the death of Pope Gregory the Great) and ending from 1453 (the fall of Constantinople to the Turks) to 1517 (Luther posting his “Ninety-Five Theses”). Developers and promoters of these forms of Christianity included Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Bonaventure (1217-1274), Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), Pseudo-Dionysius (c. 500), and Thomas á Kempis (1380-1471), to name a few. Around the time of the Reformation a number of efforts were made by Rome to draw those who had adopted Reformational theology back to the Catholic Church. This Counter-Reformation was led in part by those who supported mystical and ascetic views and insights. This same group popularized their ideas by means of their own experiences, supposed visions and writings. St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) were among the luminaries.
Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) is somewhat representative of this latter group. She was a nun in Norwich, England, who was locked in a cell that was attached to a church and lived there in seclusion (such women were called anchoresses). These cells or anchor holds would have a window that looked into the church so the individual could participate in the worship services. There would also be another window in which to receive food and water. While living in this condition, and at a time of extreme sickness, Julian claimed that she received 16 “showings” (revelations) on May 8, 1373, when she was 30 years old. These showings are held in high regard by the mystics and became somewhat of a pattern for the visions of others, which became increasingly common during this era.”
Consistent throughout the history of the mystical and ascetic spiritualties, including those promoting spiritual formation today, has been the four-fold hermeneutical approach to Scripture attempting to follow the three stage pathway to spirituality (purgation, illumination, union), as well as openness to extrabiblical visions, revelations, traditions and practices. It is the acceptance of these three foundational premises that has enabled this branch of heretical Christianity to survive and flourish.
While these stories are more common within Roman Catholic circles, today, we are seeing many Evangelicals being caught up with these practices. Many Evangelicals are reading books about these historic figures and mimicking the practices they used which originated from the mystical and ascetic life of the hermits living in the deserts. Relatively strong evangelicals are willing to drop their safeguards and minimize the clear teaching of Scripture in order to glean from these mystics what they believe will be spiritual insights. This is true even as these evangelicals are aware that the theological foundation of this system of spirituality is often corrupt to the core.
Gilley discusses this –
“One of the most interesting and puzzling examples of this is Dr. Bruce Demarest, former professor of theology at Denver Seminary for more than thirty years. Demarest is a man who has studied and taught evangelical theology for virtually his entire life and recognizes true heresy when he sees it. In writing the chapter “Reading Catholic Spirituality” in the book Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics, Demarest expresses deep appreciation for what he has learned from Roman Catholics concerning spiritual life. Yet he knows full well that the spiritual masters that he promotes and the teachings of Rome are in serious doctrinal error. He identifies a number of these himself: Catholic spiritual writers placed church tradition on par with Scripture and used faulty hermeneutics; they believed in papal supremacy and infallibility; they had a low view of the fall and human sinfulness; they did not call clearly for conversion; they did not believe in justification by faith alone; they believed in a redemptive role for Mary; they prayed to Mary and the saints; they practiced severe asceticism; they promoted unbiblical mysticism; and they were, and are, a pathway to Eastern religions. Fred Sanders, another author who is supportive of who many call the spiritual masters and their classics, nevertheless admits, “These nonevangelical traditions may hold the gospel itself in stewardship, but they are messing it up, and a messed-up gospel is not the gospel; its result is dysangel, not evangel; bad news, not good.” 
Many of these are core doctrines of the faith. To simply follow after them and substitute them in the place of Scripture and orthodox historic church practice is a serious change that many Evangelicals are misunderstanding in their rush to jump into these practices. In essence, these new Spiritual Disciplines fall into their own form of a WORKS mentality which looks to achieve based on disciplines that are engaged and practiced in their walk.
=> The positions taken by the “spiritual masters” and the Church of Rome place them outside the realm of biblical Christianity and in some cases demonstrate a clear rejection of the gospel.
Is your church involved in SPIRITUAL FORMATION? As we have seen, there are several indicators showing that may be the case. Is your church promoting the writings of the Desert Fathers and from the Early Church (e.g. is your Sunday School class reading from Origen or Teresa of Avila, St.John of the Cross….etc.)? Do you see and hear terms such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION being used over biblical descriptions such as DISCIPLESHIP?