“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.”
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)
(473) “THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB, THE JIG IS UP” – Emerging Trends in the Church Today
DIANA BUTLER BASS – CHRISTIANITY FOR THE REST OF US
A Pacific Northwest newspaper describes how a local church is changing the way they practices church and view Christianity. These new practices include what can broadly be called a “CONTEMPLATIVE APPROACH”. This was derived from reading DIANA BUTLER BASS – CHRISTIANITY FOR THE REST OF US.
The following article is found at http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=25355
It’s no wonder a church would head in the contemplative
direction if congregants are turning to Butler Bass for spiritual nourishment. You may recall a Lighthouse Trails article in November of 2015 about Diana Butler Bass titled “New Spirituality Teacher Says ‘The Jig is Up’ to Those Who Believe in ‘the Blo
od of the Lamb.’” Bass is a CONTEMPLATIVE proponent, and like so many of her contemplative constituents who wander into the CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER world, her views toward the CROSS and the ATONEMENT have become outright hostile; and those who adhere to the “blood of the lamb” and who cling to the old rugged Cross are seen as an enemy and hindrance to world peace and “restoration.”
Christianity for the Rest of Us is filled with the ideologies of CONTEMPLATIVES, EMERGENTS, and SOCIALIST-like figures such as Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Eddie Gibbs, Marcus Borg, JoanChittister, Parker Palmer, and her “friend” Brian McLaren. A prevailing theme in the book is “SITTING IN SILENCE,” meditation, and contemplation. She says things like:
People need silence to find their way back to interior wisdom. They need a recovery of the contemplative arts of “thinking, meditating, ruminating.” (Kindle Locations 1789-1790).
True knowledge of the self, of love and meaning, comes only in silence. (Kindle Locations 1795-1796).
If this and other churches continue following the same path as Diana Butler Bass, they may also begin to embrace her view that “the jig is up” to those who believe in the “blood of the lamb.” Below is the article we wrote in 2015. If your church is reading books by authors such as Diana Butler Bass, please urge them to reconsider what they are doing.
New Spirituality Teacher Says “The Jig is Up” to Those Who Believe in “the Blood of the Lamb”
Every now and then something come along that presents our case in such a succinct and obvious way that we are compelled to share it with our readers with the hope it will leave no question as to how serious the present situation is with regard to Christianity in the Western world. Religious author Diana Butler Bass, who was one of the speakers at the  Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, has written a book titled Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. In it, she makes the stunning statement:
Conventional, comforting Christianity has failed. It does not work. For the churches that insist on preaching it, the jig is up. We cannot go back, and we should not want to. . . . In earlier American awakenings, preachers extolled “old-time religion” as the answer to questions about God, morality, and existence. This awakening is different . . . it is not about sawdust trails, mortification of sin [putting to death the old man], and being washed in the blood of the Lamb [the preaching of the Cross – emphasis ours]. The awakening going on around us is not an evangelical revival; it is not returning to the faith of our fathers or re-creating our grandparents church. Instead, it is a Great Returning to ancient understandings of the human quest for the divine. (pp. 36, 99).
Contrast this with 2 Corinthians 5: 18-21, which states:
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
It could not be any more clear what’s at stake here. The term “the jig is up” is a slang term that has the connotation of someone being caught at doing something wrong. It has an intrinsically militant tone that is more or less saying “you’re not going to get away with this any longer.” By Butler Bass saying “the jig is up,” there is an underlying implication of a mounting consensus that backs up that statement, such as what Ray Yungen and others we know recently witnessed at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, where 14,000 people attended and where a clear animosity toward biblical Christians was prevalent.
Inside Diana Butler Bass’ book that so openly rejects the Cross and the atonement are the following glowing endorsements of people you have probably heard of:
She’s spot-on prophetic, compelling, and most important, hopeful. —ROB BELL, author of Love Wins
Join her in rebuilding religion from the bottom up!— RICHARD ROHR, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation and author of Falling Upward
She has a good nose to sniff out crappy religion, but she also has the eyes to see new life budding from the compost of Christendom. SHANE CLAIBORNE, mentored by TONY CAMPOLO
Diana Butler Bass has a keen eye for what is happening in the Christian world these days— so keen, she is able to see through the bad news for the good news that is emerging. PARKER PALMER
Bass as one of our foremost commentators on twenty-first century Christianity.—MARCUS BORG
I expect (and hope) that this will be the must-read ‘church book’ for every Christian leader— clergy and lay— for years to come.” —BRIAN D. McLAREN, , author of A New Kind of Christianity and Naked Spirituality
……..What Butler Bass refers to as the “ancient understandings of the human quest for the divine” is what the apostle Paul called the mystery of iniquity. This is where man is deceived by familiar spirits (demons) into believing that man is God.
……..when it comes to the preaching of the Cross, Diana Butler Bass, Marcus Borg, Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr, and Shane Claiborne are wrong. On the contrary to what they believe, the preaching of the Cross DOES work. People ARE reconciled to God when they are washed in the blood of the lamb. In other words, they’re not just wrong, they are terribly tragically wrong.
The complete article can be found at http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=25355
And they [the saints of Jesus Christ] overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Revelation 12:11)
LECTIO DIVINA – Part 1
What Is Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina is Latin for “divine reading,” “spiritual reading,” or “holy reading” and represents a method of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God and provide special spiritual insights. The principles of lectio divina were expressed around the year 220 and later practiced by CATHOLIC MONKS, especially the MONASTIC rules of Sts. Pachomius, Augustine, Basil, and Benedict.
The practice of lectio divina is currently very popular among CATHOLICS and GNOSTICS, and is gaining acceptance as an integral part of the devotional practices of the EMERGING CHURCH. Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2005 speech, “I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart.” Lectio is also said to be adaptable for people of other faiths in reading their scripture—whether that be the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, or the Koran. Non-Christians may simply make suitable modifications of the method to accommodate secular traditions. Further, the four principles of lectio divina can also be adapted to the four Jungian psychological principles of sensing, thinking, intuiting, and feeling.
The actual practice of lectio divina begins with a time of relaxation, making oneself comfortable and CLEARING the MIND of mundane thoughts and cares. Some lectio practitioners find it helpful to concentrate by beginning with DEEP CLEANSING BREATHS and REPEATING a chosen phrase or word SEVERAL times to help FREE the MIND.. Then they follow four steps:
Lectio—Reading the Bible passage gently and slowly several times. The passage itself is not as important as the savoring of each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow speaks to the practitioner.
Meditatio—Reflecting on the text of the passage and thinking about how it applies to one’s own life. This is considered to be a very personal reading of the Scripture and very personal application.
Oratio—Responding to the passage by opening the heart to God. This is NOT primarily an INTELLECTUAL exercise, but is thought to be more of the beginning of a CONVERSATION with God.
Contemplatio—Listening to God. This is a FREEING of oneself from one’s own THOUGHTS, both mundane and holy, and hearing God talk to us. Opening the mind, heart, and soul to the influence of God.
Naturally, the connection between Bible reading and prayer is one to be encouraged; they should always go together. However, the dangers inherent in this kind of practice, and its astonishing similarity to TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION and other dangerous rituals, should be carefully considered. It has the potential to become a pursuit of MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE where the goal is to FREE the mind and empower oneself.
The Christian should use the Scriptures to pursue the knowledge of God, wisdom, and holiness through the objective meaning of the text with the aim of transforming the mind according to truth. God said His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6), not for lack of mystical, personal encounters with Him.
Those who take a supernatural approach to the text tend to disconnect it from its context and natural meaning and use it in a subjective, individualistic, experiential way for which it was never intended. Here is where lectio and GNOSTICISM share a similarity. Christian Gnosticism is the belief that one must have a “gnosis” (from Greek Gnosko, “to know”) or mystical, inner knowledge obtained only after one has been properly initiated. Only a few can possess this mystical knowledge. Naturally, the idea of having special knowledge is very appealing and makes the “knower” feel important and unique in that he/she has a special experience with God that no one else has. The “knower” believes that the masses are not in possession of spiritual knowledge and only the truly “enlightened” can experience God. Thus, the reintroduction of CONTEMPLATIVE or CENTERING PRAYER —a meditative practice that focuses on having a MYSTICAL experience with God—into the Church. Contemplative prayer is similar to the meditative exercises used in EASTERN RELIGIONS and NEW AGE CULTS and has no basis whatsoever in the Bible, although the contemplative pray-ers do use the Bible as a starting point.
Further, the DANGERS inherent in OPENING our MINDS and LISTENING for voices should be obvious. The contemplative pray-ers are so eager to hear something—anything—that they can lose the objectivity needed to discern between God’s voice, their own thoughts, and the infiltration of demons into their minds. Satan and his minions are always eager for inroads into the minds of the unsuspecting, and to open our minds in such ways is to invite disaster. We must never forget that Satan is ever on the prowl, seeking to devour our souls (1 Peter 5:8) and can appear as an angel of light (2Corinthians 11:14), whispering his deception into our open and willing minds.
Finally, the attack on the sufficiency of Scripture is a clear distinctive of lectio divina. Where the Bible claims to be all we need to
live the Christian life (2 Timothy 3:16), lectio’s adherents deny that. Those who practice “conversational” prayers, seeking a special revelation from God, are asking Him to bypass what He has already revealed to mankind, as though He would now renege on all His promises concerning His eternal Word. Psalm 19:7–14 contains the definitive statement about the sufficiency of Scripture. It is “perfect, reviving the soul”; it is “right, rejoicing the heart”; it is “pure, enlightening the eyes”; it is “true” and “righteous altogether”; and it is “more desirable than gold.” If God meant all that He said in this psalm, there is no need for additional revelation, and to ask Him for one is to deny what He has already revealed.
The Old and New Testaments are words from God to be studied, meditated upon, prayed over, and memorized for the knowledge and objective meaning they contain and the authority from God they carry, and not for the mystical experience or feeling of personal power and inner peace they may stimulate. Sound knowledge comes first; then the lasting kind of experience and peace comes as a byproduct of knowing and communing with God rightly. As long as a person takes this view of the Bible and prayer, he/she is engaging in the same kind of meditation and prayer that Bible-believing followers of Christ have always commended.
Got Questions Ministries. (2002–2013). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
“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.
“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?
REVIEW: In our the previous postings on SPIRITUAL FORMATION, we have
- looked at several different definitions of Spiritual Formation from various perspectives.
- looked at the history of how Spiritual Formation entered into mainstream Evangelical churches mainly from Roman Catholic sources but also influenced from with many similarities found in Eastern religions.
- looked at how some have mis-interpreted commonly used passages in the Bible to justify their meaning of related practices under the umbrella of Spiritual Formation.
=> Common phrases such as “Be STILL and know…..etc.” (Ps. 46:10) have been mis-interpreted by many people historically up through today. As a result, there are several so-called Spiritual Disciplines such as SOLITUDE, STILLNESS and SILENCE that have evolved from these mistaken interpretations. They have spawned many practices that have more in common with other mystical religions from the East. We see a similarity in historic ancient Roman Catholic mystical practices from the time of the early church through the Middle Ages. Roman Catholicism has a long history of people who proclaimed God’ word.
Looking more in detail at the origins and meaning of Spiritual Formation, we can see other sources for this information –
The Christian Research Network* states:
Despite assertions that the spiritual disciplines are “God-ordained,”13 they are in fact derived from the practices of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mystics.14 These practices are contrary to the biblical theology fought for in the Reformation.
Gary Gilley asks:
Do we, as believers in Sola Scriptura, take our marching orders from the written Word, or do we look to the ‘white spaces’ in Scripture to determine how we live?15
In other words, are we to turn to mystical, subjective ascetic practices, or do we rely upon the objective truth of God’s Word?
Bob DeWaay contends:
The Bible nowhere describes an inward journey to explore the realm of the spirit. God chose to reveal the truth about spiritual reality through His ordained, Spirit-inspired, biblical writers.16
UNBIBLICAL VIEW OF MAN’S CONDITION
Spiritual formation teaches that man possesses innate goodness, but that his fallen state of sin is a result of “deprivation” or “spiritual starvation.” Thus, the disciplines help to feed, mature and grow man’s spirituality. In his Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard states:
The evil that we do in our present condition is a reflection of a weakness caused by spiritual starvation. When Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was not just being generous to his killers; he was expressing the facts of the case. They really did not know what they were doing. As St. Augustine so clearly saw, the deranged condition of humankind is not, at bottom, a positive fact, but a deprivation. It is one that results in vast positive evils, of course, yet depravity is no less a horror because it stems from a deficiency, and people are no less responsible for it and its consequences.17
INVENTED PRACTICES MADE BINDING UPON CHRISTIANS
Spiritual disciplines are not commanded in Scripture. To impose practices not commanded in Scripture as necessary for spiritual maturity is to undermine and deny the sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
In spite of the absence of an explicit command in Scripture to practice these disciplines, leaders like Dallas Willard continue to assert their necessity:
The disciplines are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken, to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order. They enable us more and more to live in a power that is, strictly speaking, beyond us, deriving from the spiritual realm itself, as we “yield ourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God,” as Romans 6:13 puts it.
The necessity for such disciplines comes from the very nature of the self in the image of God, discussed earlier. Once the individual has through divine initiative become alive to God and his Kingdom, the extent of integration of his or her total being into that Kingdom order significantly depends upon the individual’s initiative.18
Though Dallas Willard admits that the Bible does not command that these disciplines be followed, he nevertheless argues that they were practiced among members of the early church. Bob DeWaay summarizes Willard’s argument regarding Paul’s silence as being that he “did not write about the spiritual disciplines because everyone was practicing them.”19 He further states:
Spiritual disciplines are man-made, amorphous, and not revealed in the Bible; they assume that one is saved by grace and perfected by works.”20
The Apostle Paul writes against such ascetic practices. In Col. 2:20–23, Paul rebukes the idea of relying on fleshly practices to grow in holiness. Gal. 3:3 reads: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected in the flesh?”
Though proponents like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard claim that spiritual formation has been practiced since the early days of the church, Foster admits that the term “spiritual formation” did not appear in evangelical vocabulary until he ushered it into the mainstream in the 1970s with The Celebration of Discipline:
By now enough water has gone under the Christian Spiritual Formation bridge that we can give some assessment of where we have come and what yet needs to be done. When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. And more.”21
POSSIBILITY OF REAL SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES NOT FROM GOD
Richard Foster himself has offered warnings when it comes to practicing some of the disciplines. In regard to the practice of contemplative prayer, which is a type of meditation, Foster, in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, writes:
I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on that, there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way!….
…But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.22
When seeking to “hear from God,” there is no biblical guidance as to how one may determine exactly who or what is communicating. Foster himself notes that not only could one be deceived by Satan, but one may also mistake one’s own imagination or “human voices” for the voice of God.
Learning to distinguish the voice of God…from just human voices within us…comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. Satan pushes and condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference.23
Though Foster provides criteria for determining just who or what is speaking, there is no biblical support for the specifications he provides. He implies that God will always speak in a positive manner, yet there are multiple instances in Scripture when God speaks negatively to His people. About Foster’s comments in the above-referenced Be Still DVD, Pastor Larry DeBruyn writes:
Assuming that God speaks Soul to soul today, what if Foster’s paradigm for determining “the voice” were reversed; that the negative voice is God’s, and the positive is Satan’s? It happened that way in the Garden. God warned Adam and Eve that for disobedience to God, “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17), but Satan reassuringly told Adam and Eve, “You surely shall not die!” (Genesis 3:4). The point is that when engaging meditative spirituality, the contemplator can never be certain who will speak, and as a consequence, the experience can become the spawning ground for myriads of flashy ideas based solely upon, “he heard this,” or “she heard that.” And at that juncture, Christians and the church will have turned aside “to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4).24
Deception is rampant, and unbiblical, mystical practices may offer people an actual spiritual experience, though not one that originates from the true and living God. To ignore the boundaries of Scripture is to open oneself up to danger.
In addition to Foster descriptions and warnings about these related SILENCE and MEDIATION,…..etc. and various types of CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, Dr. Rod Whitacre from Trinity School of Ministry in Contemplative Prayer: A Brief Introduction, states (with my highlights added):
DANGER can arise if we practice the more extreme forms of physical control found in some forms of contemplative prayer. A gentle attention to the breath is not a danger, but more intensive forms of control of the breath or the beating of the heart can interfere with these functions and cause damage. Such practices should be avoided unless one has a competent guide.
Another form of DANGER occurs if we let our mind go blank, rather than focusing on the Lord. Such a condition can open us to demonic suggestion.
Sometimes people try to practice contemplative forms of prayer, but in fact they only daydream. Instead of an alert concentration on God, they simply let their minds roam among various thoughts and feelings, with perhaps a vague sense of God in the background. Such woolgathering is not the Prayer of the Heart and can have the negative effect of making us more vague and fuzzy in the rest of our life.
Since contemplative forms of prayer can be DISTURBING or even DANGEROUS, it is often recommended that we have a spiritual director, or at least a close friend who is sympathetic with such prayer with whom to share something of what we are experiencing. However, if we avoid excessive interference with our breathing and heartbeat, and if we focus on the Lord, asking for His guidance and protection, there need be no danger. The regular reading of Scripture and participation in Christian community, especially worship, are further safeguards.
Along with these practical DANGERS, there are also potential theological DANGERS. Those who seek to simply attend to God’s Presence as such, with no thoughts of any sort, are practicing an ancient and valuable form of Christian prayer, but such prayer can run the RISK of seeking a God beyond God, like some of the ancient Gnostics, and denying the Incarnation. We can guard against this DANGER by putting our contemplative prayer in the context of lectio divina, the meditative reading of Scripture.
Similarly, such forms of prayer can promote unmediated God-mysticism. The focus of the New Testament, however, is the Presence of God mediated to us in Jesus, the divine/human Son. Indeed, St. John seems to consciously reject unmediated God- mysticism, insisting that no one has seen God apart from Christ (e.g., John 1.18). The writings of John Main contain much help in understanding the role of Christ and the Holy Spirit in contemplative prayer.
There is so much to be said about these comments, but for now, I will just focus on the fact that a contemplative prayer advocate spends a great deal of time explaining the DANGER of contemplative forms of prayers. He makes it sound casually…….alarming and scary. This is how the Richard Foster describes the dangers associated with these practices.
=> The question becomes WHY are we suggesting to pursue a practice that comes with this type of DANGER? Does Scripture give us these stark warnings when we pray?
To be continued.
(460.3) Spiritual Formation 2017.3 – Interpreting Key Passages in the Bible Used to Promote Contemplative Spirituality – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY
Some of the key verses used to promote and defend CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY are usually taken out of context. There are several contemporary authors/speakers who promote a Christian walk that moves further away from the Bible and prayer to a walk that looks INWARD and seeks to be drawn CLOSER to become UNIFIED with God in the DEEPEST part of our soul. The problem is that Scripture discusses our sanctification and growth involving our dedication to God’s word and Biblical prayer – NOT in chasing after ancient mystical approaches that we find in the early church. There are other religions that promote the idea of being unified with God by being unified with all of humanity – but Christianity is not it. To summarize – passages from the Bible are used to justify this seeking to be close to God in the DEEPEST part of the soul so that they can ultimately become unified with God. But, the passages referred are usually taken out of context to arrive at their conclusion.
In the following book, Relentless Spirituality: Embracing The Spiritual Disciplines of A.B. Simpson, by Dr. Gary Keisling illustrates a simple example of this. The foreword was written by DALLAS WILLARD – a huge influence on the church accepting contemplative/spiritual formation.
The book uses phraseology that quickly tips off the reader of the perspective that promotes a more mystical approach (e.g. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES).
First, let me say that my intention is not to be critical of Keisling but rather, my review is focused on how Scripture is used to come up with relentless alternative interpretations of the Bible that may not be justified when those passages are looked at in context.
Keisling discusses the disciplines such as SILENCE and SOLITUDE. He states that “both have complimentary roles in SPIRITUAL FORMATION”. Solitude unfolds in two dimensions. First, there is solitude that is in response to Jesus’ invitation: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (NIV Mark 6:31) .
Now, look at that verse again and ask yourself what is actually being said in the passage. In context, look at the entire chapter to get an understanding of the context of verse 31. Again, ask yourself, how should verse 31 be interpreted?
Keisling states that – “Christ’s disciples were invited to join Jesus in doing something they had seen Him do in the past and would certainly see Him to again in the future. It was an invitation………..to be alone and draw close to God.”
Hold the phone. Was that the reasons stated in this passage of Scripture? Read the passage again. Read it from another translation – NKJV: “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while”. You can read in a number of both literal and dynamic translations and they say the same thing.
=> I would say that Jesus was inviting the disciples to literally “get some rest”. Radical idea? This passage doesn’t say or even imply that Jesus was calling them to engage in a Spiritual Discipline of drawing close to God. Keisling states that we are to “draw close to the Presence of the Almighty.”
He goes on to explain that “these steps of spiritual formation are an essential part of life in Christ”. Really? “These steps” are an essential part of our spiritual formation – yet Christiandom is just finding out about it now?
=> QUESTION: Where does the Bible instruct us to be in SILENCE and SOLITUDE with respect to our devotional life in our walk with Christ?
=> If you find a passage in the Bible, ask yourself first – are you interpreting the passage correctly?
=> Then ask yourself is the passage asking us to engage in SILENCE and SOLITUDE as a part of our normative walk in Christ?
In my opinion, the so-called disciplines of SILENCE and SOLITUDE find themselves to be silent in the Bible. With the huge emphasis today on this topic, I think it very important to note that many look at early church traditions (that many consider being mystical) more so than look to see what Scripture actually says on these issues.
There are other key passages that supporters of CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER take out of context making their case for Spiritual Formation. We will look at a few in the near future.