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(458) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: RUTH HALEY BARTON & THE SHALEM INSTITUTE FOR SPIRITUAL FORMATION

RUTH HALEY BARTON 

As we continue our discussion on Ruth Haley Barton, let’s remember her educational background to understand what has influenced her in her thinking, teaching, and theology.https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL4D7FED5E4D04ACAD&time_continue=480&v=0p3vMnzz1rMFrom her website (www.transformingcenter.org), she describes her

background as follows –

Untitled copy

Ruth has been a student, a practitioner, a teacher and a leader in the area of Christian spirituality and SPIRITUAL FORMATION for twenty years. A trained SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR and RETREAT leader, she is the author of numerous booksand resources on the spiritual life.Ruth_Jeans_Horizontal

Ruth holds a Doctor of Divinity from Northern Theological Seminary (Lombard, IL), along with a Bachelor of Arts from Wheaton College (IL) and Master’s studies at Loyola University Chicago Institute for Pastoral Studies. She received her training in spiritual direction through the SHALEM INSTITUTE FOR SPIRITUAL FORMATION (Bethesda, MD) under the guidance of Tilden Edwards, Rosemary Dougherty and GERALD MAY. She’s also a student of family systems theory as it relates to congregational life (Lombard Mennonite Peace Center) and has studied the ENNEAGRAM with Russ Hudson of the Enneagram Institute

Ruth travels widely, teaching and consulting with leadership teams in the areas of leadership transformation, corporate discernment, and spiritual community.  She has served on the pastoral staff of several churches, including WILLOW CREEK Community Church.  Ruth has taught at the Wheaton College Graduate School, Denver Seminary, Northeastern Seminary and Mars Hill Graduate School and is a senior teaching fellow for the Renovare Institute [RICHARD FOSTER].  She has recently joined the faculty of Northern Seminary as an adjunct Professor of Spiritual Transformation.

 

Looking at the part of her training from the SHALEM INSTITUTE, much could be written on this part alone.   We have done some of this in previous postings. 

So, let me just expose you to the Shalem Institute Gerald G. May Seminars being held today at Shalem by looking at the following video.  They are teaching (for lack of a better term) various aspects of mysticism.  They occasionally refer to mystics such as Francis of Assisi.  Thespeaker is MirabaiStarr (one word).  The talk is over 1.5 hours long – unless you are a glutton for punishment, only listen to the first 8-10 minutes or poke around at various portions to get a flavor of what is being promoted as CONTEMPLATIVE practices, SPIRITUAL FORMATION,………..MYSTICISM. – 

Just to give you a taste of what is being discussed, consider the following – 

  • Very little Scripture is used – actually, I think no Scripture is used. 
  • They begin the session – not with a prayer but a moment of SILENCE
  • They welcome all faiths, traditions, groups…..etc. (i.e. all religions?)
  • They talk about prayer with the source of prayer emanating from DEEP WITHIN ourselves (classical mysticism).
  • They lift up those who are participating in the CLIMATE MARCH – referring to the Earth as their “SISTER MOTHER EARTH”
  • The speaker, MirabaiStarr talks about her guru – named – “Bubba” something or other, who died in 1970 but travels with her today and continues to hold her? 
  • She asks the audience to sit straight, to control their breathing – “to feel the breath through a whole cycle to wash every cell in their body”?  Refers to their YOGA BREATH.
  • Later in the talk, she encourages the audience to stop thinking, “dismiss the eternal” which she quickly corrects herself to “dismiss the internal editor” causing you to think about what you write (i.e. don’t think). 
  • She also talks about being “unified with the Beloved” (internal unity with others including the Divine is also classic mysticism)
  • She explains the “feminine presence of the Divine”. 
  • She calls upon the group to engage in CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER
  • She tests the validity of their experience by seeing if they end up with “more love towards others” (not if it is given by God through His word, the Bible). 
  • There is another video listed next to this video and it shows MirabaiStarr giving another talk entitled – “BUDDHA AT THE GAS PUMP“…….etc.  That sounds enticing I’m sure.

This list is just a sampling from the video – I could go on and on.  But the above topics all fall under the subject of MYSTICISM, CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, SPIRITUAL FORMATION……etc.

Unfortunately, these characteristics are today, commonly being copied, borrowed, combined…etc. with historic Christian practices  – both within traditional mainline denominations as well as Evangelical denominations.  Much of the origin of these practices originate from ancient Roman Catholic mysticism as well as from Eastern religions (i.e. Eastern Mysticism) such as Buddhism, Hinduism…etc.
That is why I think these practices can be dangerous to the church and likewise, Scripture has a great deal to say about warning believers to NOT mix in and accept pagan practices.  But again, unfortunately, that is what is being done in the church today and in particular, it is becoming common in seminaries across the country from various denominations.

In previous postings, we have looked at the influence within the ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, NAZARENE, CHRISTIAN & MISSIONARY ALLIANCE, BAPTISTS, EVANGELICAL FREE…etc. churches.  Seminaries included  AMBROSE, NYACK….etc.

Let me give some specific examples – don’t feel bad if your denomination is not on this list because in reality, many if not most Evangelical denominations are developing a track record in CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, MYSTICISM, SPIRITUAL FORMATION...etc. 

My intention is to not pick on my denomination, rather, I am giving specific details of events that I am well aware of and even tried to warn the church before they decided to participate.  In my neck of the woods, the Western PA District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance invited RUTH HALEY BARTON to speak and its leaders and the graduating classof the local Bible Institute.  These are the same leaders who engaged in the ENNEAGRAM.  Here is a letter by a former C&MA pastor sent to the editor to a Christian site – explaining these concerns – 

Letter to the Editor: Christian & Missionary Alliance OK With Ruth Haley Barton and Other Contemplatives

Two and a half years ago the leadership of the Western PA District of the Christian and Missionary Allianceinvited Ruth Haley Barton to speak to its pastors and lay delegates at its annual District Conference.

I sat in amazement as I watched my fellow pastors nod their heads in affirmation as Mrs. Barton said Moses went in to the desert to meditate.  I didn’t see my fellow pastors turn to the book of Exodus to read the account of Moses.  My Bible says Moses went to the desert to escape being killed by Pharaoh.

Mrs. Barton also twisted the account of Elijah to say it was contemplative meditation which brought him out of his despair and depression.  At no time did I hear anyone in District C&MA leadership correct Mrs. Barton’s misrepresentation of Scripture.

Other Districts also have had Mrs. Barton speak to their pastors.  The late Brennan Manning and other heretical teachers also have been promoted.  When I questioned my District Superintendent about the use and promotion of Mr. Manning, I was told he must be all right, because the denomination has used him as a speaker at national youth rallies.

When I learned last spring that my District had invited as speakers for our next District Conference two C&MA seminary professors who teach contemplative meditation, I decided it was time to resign from the C&MA after __ years of ministry.  Sadly, the C&MA is no longer what it once was.

Currently my wife and I are working secular jobs, and I preach in independent churches when given the opportunity.  Prospects for full-time pastoral ministry seem slim, since I am __ years old.  However, I would rather do what I am doing than continue to support the heresy being promoted in the C&MA.

Everywhere in God’s Word where meditation is mentioned, the object of meditation is God’s Word, God’s law, God’s statutes, etc.  I see no mention of a centering prayer that I heard Mrs. Barton promote.  I want no part of pagan, vain repetitions.  Using Christian words doesn’t negate the pagan practice.  I was saved out of Catholicism and want no part of Catholicism, Hinduism, or Buddhism.

 

The C&MA has never corrected their error in allowing for these mystical practices that originated from outside the church, outside of Scripture and have more in common with other religions.  The reason is that they don’t view these issues as an error.  Today, the Alliance Theological Seminary continues to train future leaders and pastors in these same practices. In my opinion, the C&MA should renounce their participation in these practices to warn and correct current leaders from straying away from God’s word.  But, they have not chosen not to take that approach. 

So, mysticism is alive and well in the Evangelical church today – and as Paul warns Timothy and Jude warns believers – error creeps into the church from within the leadership and over time has a detrimental effect on the church.  What will other denominations do?  The NAZARENES, BAPTISTS, ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, EVANGELICAL FREE……..your church?

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(453) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – BIBLIOLATRY

Question: “What is bibliolatry?”

https://www.gotquestions.org/bibliolatry.html

Answer: The term bibliolatry comes from combining the Greek words for Bible and worship. In a Christian context, simply stated, bibliolatry is the worship of the Bible. Typically, the accusation of bibliolatry is used as an attack on those who hold to the inerrancy, infallibility, and supremacy of Scripture. It is often employed as an inflammatory and derogatory attack on believers who hold to “sola scriptura” and/or a literal interpretation of the Bible.photo-1470549638415-0a0755be0619_opt

It is important to note that the charge of bibliolatry does not claim some Christians literally bow down before a Bible and worship it, as if it were an idol. While there may be some strange cult out there that literally worships the Bible, that is not what bibliolatry is referring to. The accusation of bibliolatry is that some Christians elevate the Bible to the point that it is equal with God, or to the point that studying the Bible is more important than developing a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Is the charge of bibliolatry accurate?

First, it is important to understand what the Bible says about itself. Second Timothy 3:16-17 declares, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So, if the Bible is “God-breathed,” and “God does not lie” (Titus 1:2), then every word in the Bible must be true. Believing in an inerrant, infallible, and authoritative Bible is not bibliolatry. Rather, it is simply believing what the Bible says about itself. Further, believing what the Bible says about itself is in fact worshipping the God who breathed out His Word. Only a perfect, infallible, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God could create written revelation that is itself perfect and infallible.

Do some believers emphasize the Bible to the point that other things of importance—such as tradition, nature, reason, and experience—are neglected? Yes. However, the Bible, based on what it says about itself, must be a higher authority than any of these and must, in fact, be the authority against which they are judged. God would never contradict Himself by revealing something in nature, reason, or experience that disagrees with what He revealed in His Word. The Bible is not to be worshipped, but the God of the Bible is to be worshipped. To ignore what God has revealed about Himself in His Word and instead elevate the subjective “revelations” of nature, reason, and experience is idolatry (Romans 1:18-25).

The Bible is not God. The Bible does not contain all of God’s knowledge. While the Bible gives principles that apply to every situation, it does not explicitly give us all the information we need to daily live our lives. Part of the problem is that some Christians take the saying “the Bible says it, that settles it, I believe it” to extremes. While the statement is absolutely true and should reflect how we view the Bible, God’s Word does not instruct us to abandon our brains or ignore our experiences. True reason is completely compatible with Scripture. Experience can help us in our understanding of Scripture. While the Bible must be our authority, we must also use it to confirm and verify the conclusions we reach with our God-given reason and God-directed experience (1 Peter 3:15). Believing what the Bible says about itself is not bibliolatry. Rather, accepting God’s Word for what it claims to be is in fact worshipping the God who breathed it.

(452) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – Moody Bible Institute – Leaning Towards Heresy?

Another good article at MidWest Christian Outreach about how easy and subtle it is to “lean towards heresy”.  Again, how easy and subtle aberrant theology flows into churches that may be generally very conservative in their approach to Scripture.  No church is immune to this effect – even Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-31

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)

This article lays out an example happening today in a well-known Bible institution – http://midwestoutreach.org/2018/04/25/leaning-toward-heresy/

 

Leaning Toward Heresy

                  Few realize how subtly doctrinal drift occurs. It often isn’t a jump from sound teaching and belief in the essentials of the faith to all out denial but is a slight lean from one to the other. It comes with a slight change in wording or application of a new definition which makes an aberrant view sound acceptableJulie Roys  publicly raised this issue regarding Moody Bible Institute last month after spending a great deal of time trying to dialogue with the leadership at MBI. One of the issues was inerrancy. In her article, Moody Bible Institute Takes Bold Step to Affirm Biblical Inerrancy we see the impact of redefining terms:

Yet as I reported last month, two Moody professors last year admitted in a Bible/Theology Division meeting that while they affirmed Moody’s doctrinal statement, they rejected the Chicago Statement, as well as what’s known as a “correspondence view of truth.”

It was a slight lean but was sufficient to demonstrate under scrutiny that they didn’t actually affirm Moody’s doctrinal statement after all. Would anyone have caught the subtle shift had Julie not brought it to public attention? It’s hard telling because although the professors seemingly affirmed the statement no one thought to ask them how they defined “truth.” This is not a new problem but has been with us since the beginning of the church, and truth be told, we see it throughout the Old Testament as well. Much of the New Testament was written to correct false teaching and lay down clear definitions of belief, including Early Church Creeds such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. The Church Councils formulated Creeds to clarify the essentials of the faith which were being subtly corrupted by false teachers. As we look at the creeds, they went from the simple statements of the Nicene Creed (325) to longer more detailed statements of the First Council of Constantinople (381, see comparison). By the time we get to the Athanasian Creed it is longer, more detailed and includes definitions which would prevent false teachers from co-opting the language by redefinition. Although it addresses the humanity of Christ, the bulk of the Athanasian Creed focuses on the deity of Christ, the nature of God (One True God) and the relation of the three persons (Trinity) who share that nature. Reviewing this issue in light of recent revelations and discussions, Julie Roys points out:

Moody also announced that it is revising its doctrinal statement regarding the Trinity. The revision adds that God is “three co-equal Persons” and that “these divine Persons, together possessing the same eternal perfections, work inseparably and harmoniously in creating, sustaining and redeeming the world.”

The nuances of trinitarian language often makes a big difference in what is being communicated, so someone who is orthodox in their view may unwittingly use heretical terminology. For example, in 2011 Mark Hensch did a fine article on Evangelicals Take Stand on Trinity with the exception of the statement:

For Spencer and other signers like him, taking stock of the Trinity requires maintaining the Bible’s emphasis on one god and three manifestations of that God. (emphasis ours)

Spencer and the other signers would never use the terms “three manifestations,” as that is the language of an Early Church heresy called modalism. Many point out that modalism is perhaps the most common theological error on the nature of God. It is the idea that God one person Who “manifested” Himself as Father in creation, Son in redemption and Holy Spirit in sanctification – but that they are not co-equal, co-eternal, co-powerful, etc. Did Mark Hensch intentionally embrace modalism by using this term? Probably not. The definition sounded close to the truth but leaned into heresy.

Many churches today opt for “user friendlysermons, and do not teach the essentials of the faith on a regular basis. As a result, most who attend such a church are prey for cults and false teachers who use similar terms with different definitions to pull the unwary away from the faith.

Adding to this problem, some organizations which represent themselves as Christian media promote and sell false teaching online. A book such as Joe Kovacs’ Shocked by the Bible and The Divine Secret, promoted and sold by WorldNetDaily, is little more than an updated version of the false teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong who denied the deity of Christ and doctrine of the Trinity – and promulgated many other false teachings. Even though this has been brought to the attention of the leadership of WorldNetDaily privately and publicly, it has fallen on deaf ears. Unlike Moody, they appear to be uncorrectable.

Again, none of this is new and the Apostle Paul was so concerned about the flood of false doctrine that would flood into the church after his death, he sent for the Ephesian elders and gave them a mandate which still applies to church leadership today:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)

The Apostle visited this theme in Romans 16:7; Ephesians 4:14; 1 Timothy 1:3 & 10, 4:6, 6:3; Titus 1:9, 2:1 and 2:10. Discernment and watchfulness is vital to prevent the flock from subtly leaning or drifting away “from the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).Ω

(This first appeared in the Christian Post)

Don and Joy Signature 2

© 2018, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

 

http://midwestoutreach.org/2018/04/25/leaning-toward-heresy/

(450) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – “Go-Along-To-Get-Along” Christianity

“Go-Along-To-Get-Along” Christianity

In today’s church environment, there are a few people who are discerning and apt to identify false teaching when they see it in the church/Christianity.  Many more people are interested in just being involved with other Christians and not rocking the boat.  This can include a less discerning, all-inclusive, non-confrontational, so-called tolerance shown to others both outside the church and those within the church.

Many would agree that there can be extremes on either end of this spectrum.  Some folks exhibit a prideful and critical arrogance in thinking the worst of other Christians no matter how much they truly know of their situation or what they believe on an issue.  My Pastor consistently convicts me to check your actions in how we deal with other Christians. These are wise words because it can be very easy to think we know it all and that everyone needs to hear your view on the issues even though we may not know the background of the issue. 

On the other end are those who refuse to judge, compare what is being taught to what the Bible teaches, are always trying to show love to all they come in contact with…etc.  This shows itself in what some will call a “go-along-to-get-along” Christianity.  Knowingly or unknowingly, they view what society says above what the word of God says on everything from church issues to societal issues.  Some act this way because they are truly ignorant of God’s word, or they are fearful of being ridiculed, and some do it because they themselves may be caught up in false teaching.  

An example today includes the following –

Extremes are shown repeatedly today in the church.  It is not uncommon to find today unbiblical and non-Christian practices within the church.  Practices that don’t have a basis in the Bible but rather have more in common with mysticism found in Eastern religions and along with ancient Roman Catholic mysticism. On one end of the spectrum, some will say that since many Christians are doing these things, it must be alright to participate.  They refuse to think critically about what is being taught compared to what the Bible teaches.    Even leaders, seminaries, pastors…etc., exhibit a “go-along-to-get-along” attitude as the easy way out.

With this in mind, another very common example of this is shown by our society’s inclusion of YOGA both outside of the church and within the church. What is Yoga and why should we be concerned?  This article gives a glimpse into what the church is experiencing today  and how Christians respond:

THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2018

Christian woman in Manitoba who warns of the dangers of Yoga shows more discernment and courage than the local “Christian” clergy

 
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.   For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. John 3:19-20

yoga
noun: yo·ga \ ˈyō-gə \
1: capitalized : a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation

As reported by Riley Laychuk of CBC NewsApril 24, 2018:

Yoga is supposed to bring about calm and tranquillity, but a letter denouncing the practice as anti-Christian is stirring up controversy in Boissevain, Man.

It started with the upcoming opening of a new yoga studio in the Manitoba town, 222 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

“I was startled and shocked about the negativity that could come out of a new business opening in Boissevain,” said Lindsay Alvis, owner of Soul Worx Yoga & Fitness, the studio she is preparing to open in the town.

“I was disappointed, obviously,” she told CBC’s Radio Noon on Tuesday. “I think it’s quite prejudiced to say that [yoga] is against a religion, especially in this day and age.”

Alvis believes the letter in question was sent to members of one local church. It’s not clear who authored it or how many people got copies. It surfaced about 10 days ago.

In it, the author cautions that yoga could disrupt the beliefs of Christians.

“If one desires to physical fitness only, exercise designed for that specific purpose ought rather be chosen,” it reads in part. “No part of yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it.”

The author also said with the imminent opening of a new studio in the town, they felt the need to share the letter.

Alvis, who practises Buti yoga — a mixture of traditional yoga and dance — believes the popular exercise has come a long way from its Hindu origins in India.

Wendy Giesbrecht, another yoga instructor in Boissevain, also saw a copy of the letter.

“It was kind of insulting, for sure, and I’d like to see the whole discussion on yoga come to light,” she said. “It’s an opinion that I obviously don’t share.”

Giesbrecht said she’s hosted community forums in the past to educate people on what yoga is and the sessions were met with many curious residents and questions.

“Yoga is not a religion.… It’s a very personal journey,” she said.

Rev. Michael Canning, who leads the local Anglican church, said he wasn’t aware of the letter until he was approached about it this week.

“I really don’t see yoga as anti-Christian,” he said, calling it a good way for people to get in touch with their minds and bodies. “I know people who are Christians who find that its a good way of meditating.”

Alvis says she’s had nothing but positive words and thoughts come in from people around town since the letter came to light.

She believes it’ll lead to even more support for her new studio, which she hopes to open in the near future.

“I think that people are entitled to their opinion, but I don’t think religion needs to be an influence or a decision-making [factor] in yoga.”

“I was very surprised by the letter,” said Jane Barter, an associate professor of religion and culture at the University of Winnipeg who specializes in Christian thought. 

“It was so decisive about not allowing Christians to attend yoga, which is odd because yoga is a universal practice — it’s meant to be a universal practice.”

Barter said Christians have incorporated all sorts of non-Christian practices over the centuries, always adapting the religion to the current culture. She said in Roman times, the gospel was explained through the lens of Greek philosophy. 

“I think it’s a feature of a lack of religious literacy in a way, because there have been times where people have been more inclined to recognize the value and the benefit of other practices, including spiritual practices, than today. But I suspect the letter writer represents a very small minority of people,” she said. 

Barter also doesn’t believe that much yoga practised in Manitoba is representative of Hinduism. “But nevertheless, it’s a practice that deserves respect and I believe there is absolutely no problem or peril to the souls of Christians for practising yoga.”

As reported by Kelly Geraldine Malone of Canadian PressApril 25, 2018:

BOISSEVAIN, Man. — Lindsay Alvis was excitedly preparing to open up the first yoga studio in the small southwestern Manitoba community she calls home when a letter showed up in the mail boxes of some of her neighbours.

“PLEASE DON’T DO YOGA” the letter began.

The typed letter left in mailboxes around Boissevain cautions people in the community of about 1,500 not to do yoga because of its Hindu roots, before closing with a dire warning for Christians.

“If you do yoga or are thinking of joining a class, prayerfully search your heart.”

The letter, which warns about “yoga missionaries” and that “no part of yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it,” is only signed with the name “Marie.”

Alvis was astounded and disappointed that it was being circulated just as she was preparing to teach her first class at Soul Worx Yoga and Fitness.

“If you don’t like yoga don’t do yoga,” Alvis said.

“(If yoga) doesn’t fall within your beliefs then don’t do it, but I don’t think you need to send out a letter warning people of dangers, telling people not to do yoga and saying it in response to a yoga studio opening in your town.”

Alvis was born and raised in the former town, not far from the border with North Dakota. She ended up moving to Alberta, living there for 13 years, before she came back so her husband could take over the family farm two years ago.

“I know religion is big in Boissevain but, when I decided to open the studio, I only had positive feedback,” Alvis said. “I never intended to offend any religion and I don’t believe that yoga is any sort of religion, especially like in my yoga studio.”

She teaches Buti yoga, a cardio-intensive version of the traditional practice which involves stretching and dance. It was created by a celebrity trainer in the United States. Alvis said it’s far removed from having any religious overtones.

While her studio will be the first yoga-dedicated location in Boissevain, yoga has been in the community for a while. Alvis previously taught classes through the local municipality.

“It went very well in town. So it was kind of a first for me hearing about this,” said recreation director Samantha Dyck.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve never heard any issues with yoga with regards to religious beliefs.”

Ken Warkentin, executive director of Mennonite Church Manitoba which represents one of the churches in Boissevain, said he understands that some people may be “opposed to yoga as a spiritual discipline of Hinduism.” But he said it’s important to have meaningful discussions with people of other religions and beliefs.

“By and large, we would continue to value a conversation around those things and try hard not to become overly judgmental,” he said.

Avis said she won’t let the letter dampen her excitement over the studio opening.

While a few people may share the letter’s sentiment, she said a lot more have reached out to show their support.

“I just want a great thing for the community,” she said.

Click on the link to see the entire letter. Marie is in fact correct in her warning that Yoga is a HINDU practice, that it’s spiritually dangerous, and that Christians should avoid it. Ms. Alvis’s comment that “I don’t think you need to send out a letter warning people of dangers” shows the truth of the passage in John 3 quoted above–those in darkness hate the light. Contrary to the assertion of Professor Barter, there’s nothing in Marie’s letter that’s “decisive about not allowing Christians to attend yoga”–no threats, merely warnings that Yoga is a Hindu practice, and that Christians should prayerfully check their hearts if they’re involved in it or are thinking of doing so.

While Marie is contending for the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3), Ken Warkentin, the provincial Mennonite leader, exhibits the “go-along-to-get-along” spinelessness that’s so typical of modern “Christianity,” while Rev. Canning, the local Anglican minister, exhibits the ignorance and apostasy that so characterizes the Anglican Church of Canada.

For further reading, I recommend the books Death of a Guru by Rabi Maharaj with Dave Hunt (1977, 1984) and Yoga & the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt (2006), and the article The Basic Spirituality of Yoga by an anonymous guest writer at Midwest Christian Outreach (March 8, 2018).

 

(448) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – EVANGELICAL & ROMAN CATHOLIC SPIRITUALITY

Evangelical & Roman Catholic Spirituality

(1) INTRODUCTION

Looking at the issue of Evangelical spirituality and how it has progressed today, although regressed may be a better description, it is not uncommon to get blank stares when mentioning the influence of ancient Roman Catholic and Eastern Mysticism on Evangelical spirituality.   As I continue to see Evangelicals increasingly including Roman Catholic & Eastern mysticism practices, it makes one wonder if Evangelicals have lost sight as to why they became Evangelicals in the first place. Stated plainly, there is an increasingly syncretic blending of Eastern Mysticism along with Roman Catholicism practices infusing its way into Evangelical practices – which may be the most disturbing aspect of these trends. 

Evangelicals participating in ASH WEDNESDAY, STATIONS OF THE CROSS, SACRIFICIAL OBSERVANCE OF LENT….etc., seem to participate without considering the biblical basis for what they do.  As I researched the history of Evangelical spirituality, I discovered several bits of wisdom that can better put things in perspective.OCD_Zelle

Some would say that previously, spirituality was a drastically neglected subject among scholars. Christian experience was treated as an optional dimension of Christian life.  An additive that had its place in personal devotion and pastoral work but was marginal as a subject of serious reflection. The focus was on the Church’s theology but with minimal attention to what made up the Church’s shell and its various forms.

Roman Catholics, produced what seems to be excessive amounts of pious literature but little in the way of solid critical analysis and reflection.

That has changed over the last several decades.  Works have appeared in spiritual theology from every perspective: Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, anabaptist, Wesleyan, evangelical, Jungian, liberationist, and even liberal. Spirituality is now discussed repeatedly with seminaries leading the way in developing new programs and classes on these issues.  Christian authors include, to various degrees, some aspect of the latest buzz words to describe some type of new practices that one can participate in order to experience spirituality in new ways and seek to become more intimate with God.

(2) REFORMATION, EVANGELICALS & RICHARD FOSTER’S CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE

Over the last decade, Evangelicals have been greatly influenced by what many would consider a departure from Reformation practices to a merging of outside mystical influences originating from Roman Catholic and Eastern religions.  There were always groups within Evangelical camps that were more mystical than others, but in 1978, author Richard Foster wrote, Celebration of DisciplineThis book 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. 

Richard Foster, a Quaker and the founder of an organization called Renovare (meaning renewal) wrote this book having no idea the impact it would have.  But, even today, celebrationofdiscipline-40-years-400x600many Christian leaders and organizations continue to promote the book.  Christianity Today proclaimed it to be one of the ten best books of the 20th century.  Foster is a Quaker.  Quakers are known to have a spiritual life which is grounded in the subjective “inner light” presupposition of the Friends. Dr. Gary Giley summarizes Foster’s book –

“Foster is highly steeped in the Roman Catholic mystics, drawing from dozens of them for his theology. More than that, Eugene Peterson informs us that Foster has “‘found’ the spiritual disciplines [in the mystics] that the modern world stored away and forgot” (p. 206). Foster’s views are also formed by Quaker mystics and even secular thinking, most surprisingly Carl Jung….”

•The contemplative prayer movement which has taken many to the foothills of Eastern mysticism.

Centering prayer in which one moves to the center of God or self—an Eastern mystical practice.

•An unbiblical use of imagination which leads to occultic visualization.

•Use of rosaries and prayer wheels.

•Propagation of the Roman Catholic view of confession, penitence and spiritual directives.

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 meditation to which mystic monk THOMAS MERTON adhered.  Foster is quoted as saying that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people”.

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.” 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. 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.

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.”

 

(3) REFORMATION SPIRITUALITY

What is interesting to me is how Evangelical theology has developed from its Reformation basis.

The following is written by a church historian – Richard Lovelace.  Lovelace was a professor of Church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.  Back in 1988, he identified several items that struck me as being very important terms of a distinction between Roman Catholic and Evangelical practices.  Yes, today, with the growth of groups such as the Emerging Church movements as well as other ecumenical movements, we are seeing a return of some of these distinctives back to Roman Catholicism as well as to Eastern Mysticism.   With that, many today know very little of the history of their group’s spirituality as well as little consideration for what the Bible actually teaches about these issues. Lovelace states – 

The spirituality of Luther and Calvin is a reaction against western Catholic spirituality. Let me first point out the features that aroused reaction.

The absence of justification as a theological category separate from sanctification is a dominant factor shaping pre-Reformation spirituality. Luther felt that the spiritual lives of all Catholics, from the monks and nuns to the most retiring layperson, were affected by this justification gap. He also believed that this missing spiritual dimension virtually determined the whole shape of the medieval Church: “Ah, if the article on justification hadn’t fallen, the brotherhoods, pilgrimages, masses, invocation of saints, etc., would have found no place in the church. If it falls again (which may God prevent!) these idols will return.”3

This is an interesting comment on the vital force of theology and spirituality in shaping structures. The core doctrines of spiritual theology determine the shape of spirituality. But spirituality then amplifies the force of these doctrines, and it energizes and projects their.shape on the whole of theology and Church structure.

How did the absence of justification lead to dysfunction in medieval spirituality? Catholics believed that they were justified in the process of being sanctified. Since sanctification is never perfect and always in peril during our lifetime, they were imperfectly assured of their salvation. Serious believers could cure this uneasiness by martyrdom, or by the bloodless martyrdom of ascetic spirituality.

Sanctification, bearing an unnatural weight because it was expected to pacify the believer’s conscience, was a subject of extraordinary concern. But the ascetic method of sanctification was by amputation, not by healing. If the believer is having trouble with sex, give up sexual relations. If he or she is having difficulty with covetousness, give up private property. If he or she is tempted by power, give up independence. The monastery and the nunnery are sanctification machines that guarantee the surest victory over the sinful use of money, sex and power.4

Monasteries are an EASTERN religious instrument, NOT a Biblical format. And the medieval view of sanctification was subject to other eastern intrusions. The desert fathers are typically Hellenistic, if not BUDDHIST, in their assumption that spirit and matter—and especially soul and body—are enemies. “The body kills me,” says Macarius, “so I will kill it!”5

The western mystical tradition, from Augustine through Bernard and the Rhineland mystics, moved beyond this spiritual masochism to see that mortifying sin was the goal of sanctification and that this was not usually helped by punishing the body. But ASCETIC MYSTICISM characteristically views spiritual growth as the result of hard work. A central image of this literature is the ladder. One starts at the bottom, and there are thirteen steps that must be climbed, for instance, to move from pride to humility.6

Or, at the very least, there are the three steps of the Triple Way: the purging of sin from one’s life, then the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and then union with God. There are important lessons for Protestants in this structure, but we must make two observations: (1) that first step (purgation of sin) is a big one; (2) faith in Jesus Christ, and even the mention of the Redeemer, are scarce commodities in this literature. It is overwhelmingly theocentric rather than Christocentric, and it is full of nervous instructions to believers trying to cross the gap between man and God on their own footpaths.

This is not to agree with the common Protestant prejudice that nothing deeply spiritual can be going on among MYSTICS and in MONASTERIES. The problem is somewhat different: Spiritual experiences which for the Catholic doctors seem rare and hard to come by—the awesome summits of acquired or infused contemplation—appear to evangelical Protestants as common and routine possessions found among the laity, part of the birthright acquired by faith in Christ.

And this is the genius of Reformation spirituality. It assumes that the simplest believer leaps to the top of the spiritual ladder simply by realistic faith in Jesus Christ. Consistent Protestants start every day at the top of the ladder, receiving by faith what only God can give and what cannot be achieved by human efforts: assurance of salvation, and the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. They may slip down a few rungs during the course of the day, but the way up again is not by climbing. It is by the vault of faith.

Similarly Luther stands the via triplex on its head. Union with Christ, received by faith, is the foundation of evangelical spirituality, not the final achievement. The illumination of the Holy Spirit then comes in to break up our darkness and show us our sins. Purgation of sin, finally, is a sanctification process in which we are led by the Spirit to recognize, confess and put to death the particular patterns of sin that are present in our characteristic fallen nature.

It seems obvious to evangelicals that this is a Biblical way to look at spiritual growth. The disciples, after all, were not Essene monks any more than Jesus was. They did not wear animal skins and eat locusts, like John. They were clumsy learners and listeners on the track of faith, NOT CHANTING MONKS pursuing SOLITUDE. They were annoyingly dense in their spiritual response throughout the gospels. They were cured, however, NOT by keeping SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES but by an infusion of the Holy Spirit, a whirlwind restructuring their minds, imparting a spirituality that they could never have achieved. As Paul puts it:

“Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?… Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Gal 3:2–5).

Luther’s teaching cut through the Roman Catholic spirituality of achievement by stressing the thing that was most important to Jesus: CHRIST-CENTERED FAITH. Evangelical piety is first of all a spirituality of faith as opposed to one of achievement. Responding to an ascetic model of Christian experience, Protestantism adopted an essentially pentecostal or charismatic model. Spirituality comes not through laborious cultivation of the human spirit but through the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a spirituality that flourishes in the atmosphere of faith. It is NOT WORKED UP through ASCETIC EXERCISES but infused directly, as at Pentecost. In Roman Catholic terms, infused contemplation is thus the common inheritance of all laity and clergy and not the private prerogative of those with ascetic vocations.7

P. T. Forsyth summarized Luther’s approach:

Perfection is not sanctity but faith … It is a perfection of attitude rather than of achievement, of relation more than of realization, of truth more than of behaviour … It is not a matter of our behaviour before God the Judge, but of our relation to God the Saviour … It is a fatal mistake to think of holiness as a possession which we have distinct from our faith … Every Christian experience is an experience of faith; that is, it is an experience of what we have not … Faith is always in opposition to seeing, possessing, experiencing. A faith wholly experimental has its perils. It varies too much with our subjectivity. It is not our experience of holiness that makes as believe in the Holy Ghost. It is a matter of faith that we are God’s children; there is plenty of experience in us against it … We are not saved by the love we exercise, but by the Love we trust.8

Luther believed that Catholic spirituality imposed a barrier between the believer and God. Because it leaves the believer in partial darkness, unaware of the imputed righteousness of Christ, the theology of Trent leaves weak Christians feeling distant from the Holy Spirit. It discourages the laity, and wherever it prevails in modern Catholicism the result is spiritual deadness, as Henri Nouwen has stated.9

The Reformers shied away from spiritual exercises as a road to growth, though they did stress the need to hear and read Scripture in order to nourish faith and the need to pray in order to express faith. John Calvin also balanced Luther’s emphasis on justification by an intensive treatment of sanctification. Out of the material in the application sections of Paul’s letters, Calvin carefully drew an understanding of spiritual growth through mortification of sin and vivification of every aspect of the personality by the Spirit’s releasing work. 

(4) CONCLUSIONS

There is much more to say about the history of spirituality from both a Roman Catholic and Evangelical perspective – this just touched the surface.  In future blogs, we can look at additional stages.  The important now is to realize that there was a clear difference in the Reformers approach to spirituality compared to Roman Catholicism.  

=> With that, Roman Catholicism has at least some influence from Eastern Mysticism/religions including in groups such as the DESERT FATHERS, MONKS, MONASTERIES, along with monks/authors such as THOMAS MERTON.  A key aspect of Protestant spirituality is based on reading and meditating on God’s word along with prayer.

As with the theological differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestants / Evangelicals, the practices promoted by Roman Catholicism seemingly stray very close to if not entirely within the camp of a works-based practice – i.e. there is something that you need to do in order to obtain unification with God.  But, Protestants believe there is nothing we can do to earn favor from God but rather God provides us with what we need in our walk because of Grace.   We can accept that by faith.  These two spirituality spectrums approach each other from opposite directions. 

So, when I hear Evangelicals all to quick to participate in or start a practice in their church (e.g. during Lent – Ash Wednesday, Stations of the Cross) that they borrow from Roman Catholicism, I have to ask if they realize that some will come under bondage in their efforts to please God.

____________________________________________________________________________________________


Evangelical Spirituality: A Church Historian’s Perspective — By: Richard F. Lovelace

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 31:1 (Mar 1988)
Article: Evangelical Spirituality: A Church Historian’s Perspective
Author: Richard F. Lovelace

 

1 I have reflected more extensively on this problem in the preface to Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1979).

2 This is not to minimize the solid contributions of P. Pourrat, L. Bouyer and a few others who have explored the history of Christian spirituality from a Roman Catholic perspective. But in 1980 when I surveyed Roman Catholic educational institutions, most seemed unaware of spiritual theology, and few even had functioning analogues in the disciplines of pastoral theology, evangelism and spiritual formation. It appears that Thomas Merton was able to make the transition from a kind of ascetic, pietistic, Catholic chauvinism to the keen observation of world events through the lens of a well-developed ecumenical sensibility, which we see in works like Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, without losing his spiritual rootage in the Augustinian contemplative tradition. But a whole generation of Catholics seems to have attempted to dive into the world without maintaining any transcendental airhose. Perhaps one of their motivations in exploring the world has been their annoyance with asceticism and other toxic residua in the received tradition. Mainline Protestants and evangelicals after 1960 have had much the same experience in reacting to weaknesses in their own spiritualities.

3 Martin Luther, Table Talk (ed. T. G. Tappert; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967) 340.

4 My favorite analysis of the problems and provisional advantages of asceticism is still H. B. Workman, The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (Boston: Beacon, 1962).

5 Palladius: The Lausiac History (Westminster: Newman, 1965) 58-67.

6 The reference here is to Bernard’s Thirteen Steps.

7 Sister M. Murphy, a Catholic charismatic who has worked closely with George Gallup in recent years, comments that charismatic renewal is simply infused contemplation made available to everybody in the Church. Note that Leo Cardinal Suenens, early in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, stood up against the traditional teaching that the charismatic gifts had ended with the apostolic era on the grounds that without spiritual charisms broadly available among the laity the priesthood of believers could not be achieved.

8 P. T. Forsyth, Christian Perfection (London, 1899) 56, 7–9, 73.

9 H. J. M. Nouwen, Gracias (San Francisco: Harper, 1983).

(480) POSTEVANGELICAL, POSTCONSERVATIVE, POSTMODERNISM (Part 1) – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

CERTAINTY:  A PLACE TO STAND (Part 1)

(1) INTRODUCTION

A very useful book by Dr. Grant Richison with a Forward by Dr. Norm Geisler.

Richison, G. C. (2010). Certainty, a Place to Stand: Critique of the Emergent Church of Postevangelicals (pp. 19–20). Grant C. Richison. 

The book describes the rampant uncertainty in the church today.  So much so that some of the most popular Christian teachers and leaders actually have their own brand of theology that teaches uncertainty as true doctrine.

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Dr. Geisler states that “In a day when the evangelical trumpet is making an uncertain sound, every Christian leader needs to read this book. It shows the need to be anchored to the Rock in our efforts to be geared to the times. At no time in our generation has there been a greater need and a clearer call to return to a surer foundation than that which is laid for our faith.”

The book is a critique of the EMERGENT CHURCH of POSTEVANGELICALS.

Richison also promotes a few other books that will give the reader a view of the POSTCONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT for what it really is:

  1. The Evangelical Left by Millard J. Erickson (Baker Books, 1997)
  2. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church by D.A. Carson (Zondervan, 2005)
  3. The Courage to be Protestant by David Wells (Eerdmans, 2008)
  4. Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times edited by Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth and Justin Taylor (Crossway Books, 2004) – critiques Renewing the Center by Stanley Grenz.
  5. The Emerging Church, Undefining Christianity by Bob DeWaay (Bethany Press International, 2009)
  6. Evangelicals Engaging Emergent: A Discussion of the Emergent Church Movement (B & H Academic, 2009) is a balanced book critiquing the emergent church movement.
  7. Why We’re Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Tel Kluck (Moody, 2009).

 

(2) DEFINITIONS:  

It important to familiarize yourself with important terms that today are part of the common Christian vernacular.  Throw in several words originating from Eastern mystical religions, your grasp of the contemporary language scene would be complete. 

First, Richison differentiates postmodernism between philosophical and functional:  

Philosophical postmodernism is a belief in a system; the function of postmodernity manifests itself in how people live their normal lives but without a clear understanding of the philosophy. Philosophical postmodernism gives no direct extrapolation to functional postmodernism; we find functional postmodernism in television, movies, and business. Not all postmodernity (the function) comes from postmodernism (the philosophy)

Certainty is lack of doubt about some state of affairs. Certainty admits degrees. Evangelicals do not affirm certainty about all things exhaustively. A proposition is certain if no other proposition has greater warrant than it does.

Absolute certainty is lack of any doubt. The Bible presents its thoughts with certainty, not tentatively (Luke 1:4; Acts 1:3). God’s Word is the criterion for truth. Certainty comes by an act of God through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4–16; 1 Thessalonians 1:5). Absolute certainty is the supernatural foundation for knowledge.

Postmodernism is a catch-all term that covers many ideas. At its base, postmodernism is belief in plurality: no one can come to ultimate truth because people come to truth from their own perspective.

Postconservatism is belief in postmodernism by evangelicals who are sometimes called “postevangelicals.” This is the belief system behind those in the emergent church who want to soft pedal truth.4

Emerging church is a broad term describing churches that seek to contextualize the gospel by method to postmodern philosophy. Not all emergent churches are postconservative in philosophy but are what we call “doctrine-friendly” or “truth-friendly” churches.

Emergent church is a particular term for an official network of contextualizers committed to postmodern Christianity. All their thinking is emerging; they do not claim certainty of truth. They deconstruct previous evangelical thinking about certainty and other essential doctrines of Scripture. They emphasize narrative theology rather than propositional truth. Presentation of Christianity is by missional living rather than by statements of the gospel. They presume that historic evangelicalism is non-authentic, not involved with non-Christians, obsessed with doctrine, and not operating by Christocentric living.5 This group is not “truth-friendly.”

Coherent truth is the basis of the emergent approach to reality, wherein facts and objective truth are not necessary and only a general coherence of an idea is needed.

Correspondent truth is the view that truth must correspond to facts, objectivity, and reality.

Missional is the term used for attempting to incarnate the gospel with personal and community testimony rather than presenting the gospel through propositions. Postconservatives use the word “missional” in the sense of “improving society now.” It is a way to correct society’s evils.

Proposition is that which corresponds to truth; it is the meaning of a declarative sentence. It is not an encounter, event, or personal experience. Biblical propositional assertions correspond to facts and reality.

Spiritual formation is not what evangelicals call sanctification, but it is rather the means whereby emergents use disciplines such as mysticism to make them feel closer to God. This is a non-biblical, extra-biblical idea. Many evangelicals use this term for sanctification and confuse terminology in doing so.

Foundationalism is an approach to reality that builds beliefs on givens. In the case of the Word of God, Christians build their beliefs on givens in the Bible. Emergents want to “rethink” everything. They do not operate on givens. It is important to distinguish the foundationalism of the Enlightenment from the foundationalism of the Bible. Biblical foundationalism does not rest on rationalism or empiricism but on the law of non-contradiction, the validity of the law of causality, and the reliability of sense perception. Without foundationalism we cannot establish truth by categories. Without the law of non-contradiction, it would be impossible to communicate adequately with others. Certainty does not require total understanding to know something for sure. To reject foundationalism is to reject rationality.

=> Just taking some time to understand what these terms mean and how they are used today in the church and by Christians in general is an important first step to understanding the direction the church is heading.  

In Part 2, we will go into detail in how widespread these terms are being used by Christians who don’t have clue to their origins and how they are used today.

 

 

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

Missio Dei – Mission of God


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Everything Is Missions

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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