“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.”
The Shack was one of the free movies shown this past weekend with Projecting Hope.
Several concerns about the new movie, The Shack, based on the best-selling novel by William P. Young. The following article is a review by Marcia Montenegro: http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_TheShack.html
WHAT’S AT THE BACK OF THE SHACK? A LOOK AT WILLIAM, P. YOUNG’S THE SHACK
By Marcia Montenegro
Written November 2008
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29
Note: Many will say this is fiction and therefore criticisms of Young’s theology in this book are off-limits or irrelevant. But Young is a Christian who places God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as central characters in his book, The Shack. Why insert obvious lessons that Mack, the main character, is learning about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit if we are to assume that God in this book is fantasy or fiction? The characters who represent God…
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(478) 40th ANNIVERSARY OF RICHARD FOSTER’S CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE – Emerging Trends in the Church Today
Time flies when you are having fun. However, a book that has really invaded the Evangelical Church and has dramatically changed spiritual practices like never before is a book by Richard Foster – A Celebration of Discipline. As publishers push to put out a 40-year anniversary edition to seminaries, churches, pastors and lay people, it is important to understand what you are getting into – MYSTICISM and CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER…..etc.
Christian University Graduate Agrees—Celebration of Discipline/Richard Foster Bypass the Cross—As CoD Soon Celebrates 40-Year Anniversary!
Just as Lighthouse Trails was about to issue a post this week about Celebration of Discipline’s (by Richard Foster) 40-year anniversary announcement (that we received by e-mail this month), we received the following e-mail from a…
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NOT MUCH OF A MYSTERY
If you base your views on the Bible, one can easily see the contradictions, discrepancies, aberrant, and sometimes false teachings involved within popular movements today such as the Emerging Church. The problem is that many of these inclinations and teachings go unchecked and become normalized within the church. People become desensitized to their jargon and common definitions that have been used by the church for centuries change to a more ancient usage or outright usage more commonly found in other religions (Eastern religions). The Evangelical Church is in a free-fall in regards to this effect. Seminaries are required for accreditation to include these new teachings – each generation of church leaders and pastors are being exposed to these different teachings that emphasize a mystical approach to faith – one that hasn’t been a part of historic Evangelicalism and one that deviates from the Reformation view.
What does this mean to YOU?
The teaching which you ingest by hearing sermons and lectures in Sunday School classes, discussions with friends, sermons from the pulpit, church resources in the library, seminary professors teaching classes, books authored by well-known writers and teachers…..etc. all can affect your learning and can either be used to grow your walk in faith or stunt your walk in faith. Because of the subtle nature of this effect, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify these items and the potentially adverse effects of exposure to these teachings.
Lynne Hybels (wife of the mega church founder of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels), recently said the following:
She said she lost her Christianity of her youth and found DEEPER faith embracing SILENCE, CENTERING PRAYER, DOUBT, MYSTERY……etc. Her mysticism is beyond opinion – each of these descriptives carries with it a great deal mysticism directly from ancient Roman Catholic saints and commonly found in Eastern Mysticism.
This is just one view of the adverse effects of where mysticism can lead. In my Growth Group class at church, I have come across several examples of mysticism having an adverse effect on a person’s walk.
Let’s look at a few examples in the areas of popular Christian books and teachings from popular Christian leaders. This chart shows how MYSTICISM (i.e. CONTEMPLATIVE) influences Christians in the church (laypeople and pastors) using very popular books and teachings from commonly known leaders.
Who hasn’t heard of CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE by RICHARD J. FOSTER? It is one of the most popular Christian books sold within the last 20-30 years. It is highly acclaimed by Christians journals such as Christianity Today and is commonly used in churches and seminaries across many denominations. Details of this book can be found in other postings on this blog. For now, let’s just look at how easily one can follow a trail from RICHARD FOSTER back to MONASTIC practices found in ancient ROMAN CATHOLICISM. These include the repetition of words or phrases (i.e. mantras) during prayer and meditation – something clearly Jesus told us not to do in our prayer time.
You can see that popular authors such as RICHARD FOSTER and DALLAS WILLARD have been heavily influenced by ROMAN CATHOLIC monks who teach principles of mysticism. They admit that they learned some of these principles from BUDDHIST MONKS visiting their monasteries. THOMAS MERTON, a Roman Catholic monk is quoted in the chart as saying that he wants to be as good as a BUDDHIST that he can.
You can see how they have influenced (connect the dots) popular Evangelical writers today than many Christians have no idea that they are “under the influence”. These monks commonly hold retreats today teaching others (Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Buddhists….etc.) their view of mysticism and they give people opportunity to spend time in SILENCE and SOLITUDE. While claiming that these principles come from the early church (e.g. the Desert Fathers), it is difficult to find biblical support for their teachings. In actuality, there are more similaries to to NEW AGE (similar to EASTERN MYSTICISM). One of the guest teachers from Alliance Theological Seminary informed our church’s congregation that he routinely spends time in retreats at a local monastery. So much could be said about this but not in this post.
Take a look at just a few quotes directly from these authors and teachers and see if you can differentiate what is biblical and what is a mystical approach to faith. If it is not found in God’s word, does it come from man’s philosophy, church traditions, personal experience? Is biblical teaching suppressed by the promotion of a more imaginative inner workings, intuitive, experiential…etc. view of spiritual issues. Should these be held higher than God’s word in influencing your walk of faith?
BRIAN MCLAREN: “This full, radiant, glorious experience of God in Jesus Christ eventually revolutionized the whole concept of God, so that the word God itself was re-imagined through the experience of encountering Jesus, seeing him act, hearing him speak, watching him relate, and reflecting on his whole career.” (McLaren, 73)
BRIAN MCLAREN: “Think of [i.e. “imagine”] the kind of universe you would expect if God A created it: a universe of dominance, control, limitation, submission, uniformity, coercion. Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God B created it: a universe of interdependence, relationship, possibility, responsibility, becoming, novelty, mutualilty, freedom. . . . I find myself in universe B getting to know God B.” (McLaren 76)
LEONARD SWEET: “Right belief” should not hold the “upper hand over a believer’s authentic experience.” (Sweet)
LEONARD SWEET: Christianity should not be viewed as a “belief system with a distinct worldview,” but as an experiential “conversation” with God and others. (Sweet)
LEONARD SWEET: Christianity is “not primarily a matter of belief,” but rather “immersion and engagement, a full-on experience of life.” (Sweet)
LEONARD SWEET: Sweet wonders with Amos Yong, “what the gospel might look like if its primary dialogue partners are not Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel or Whitehead, but rather Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu, Nagarjuna, Shankara, Ramanuja, Chu His, Dogen, Wang Yang Ming, and so on.”
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Each of the above quotes could merit its own posting with an explanation of the concerns involved. Hopefully, you can see a few things that at least should raise a red flag in your eyes. Scripture will help you to see the issues involved:
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; (1 Corinthians 3:18-19)
O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge— by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:6)
Let me conclude with God’s wisdom from His word –
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. (Proverbs 30:5)
Overstressed Americans are increasingly turning to various forms of Eastern meditation, particularly yoga, in search of relaxation and spirituality. Underlying these meditative practices, however, is a worldview in conflict with biblical spirituality—though many Christians are (unwisely) practicing yoga.
Many Eastern religions teach that the source of salvation is found within, and that the fundamental human problem is not sin against a holy God but ignorance of our true condition. These worldviews advocate meditation and “higher forms of consciousness” as a way to discover a secret inner divinity.
Yoga, deeply rooted in Hinduism, essentially means to be “yoked” with the divine. Yogic postures, breathing, and chanting were originally designed not to bring better physical health and well-being (Western marketing to the contrary), but a sense of oneness with Brahman—the Hindu word for the absolute being that pervades all things. This is pantheism (all is divine), not Christianity.
Transcendental Meditation is a veiled form of Hindu yoga, though it claims to be a religiously neutral method of relaxation and rejuvenation. Initiates to TM receive a mantra (Hindu holy word) to repeat while sitting in yogic postures and engaging in yogic breathing. The goal is to find God within their own beings, since God (Brahman) and the self (Atman) are really one.
Differences in various forms of Eastern meditation aside, they all aim at a supposedly “higher” or “altered” state of consciousness. Meditation guides claim that normal consciousness obscures sacred realities. Therefore, meditation is practiced in order to suspend rational patterns of thought.
This helps explain why so many Eastern mystics claim that divine realities are utterly beyond words, thought, and personality. In order to find “enlightenment,” one must extinguish one’s critical capacities—something the Bible never calls us to do (Rom. 12:1-2). In fact, suspending our critical capacities through meditation opens the soul to deception and even to spiritual bondage.
The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. We are not one with an impersonal absolute being that is called “God.” Rather, we are estranged from the true personal God because of our “true moral guilt,” as Francis Schaeffer says.
No amount of chanting, breathing, visualizing, or physical contortions will melt away the sin that separates us from the Lord of the cosmos—however “peaceful” these practices may feel. Moreover, Paul warns that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). “Pleasant” experiences may be portals to peril. Even yoga teachers warn that yoga may open one up to spiritual and physical maladies.
The answer to our plight is not found in some “higher level of consciousness” (really a deceptive state of mind), but in placing our faith in the unmatched achievements of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If it were possible to find enlightenment within, God would not have sent “his one and only Son” (John 3:16) to die on the Cross for our sins in order to give us new life and hope for eternity through Christ’s resurrection. We cannot raise ourselves from the dead.
The biblical concept of prayer assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit is “with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). Nor should we repeat words meaninglessly to induce a trance (Matt. 6:7).
In the Bible, meditation always means pondering God’s revealed truths and reflecting on how they pertain to us. David revels in the richness of God’s law throughout Psalm 119. He encourages us to meditate on it: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Ps. 119:15-16). Since all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), all of it is profitable for meditation in the biblical sense.
Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of several books, including Unmasking the New Age and Confronting the New Age.
Meditation: Is Meditation Biblical?
Today, the word meditation can have various meanings from across different denominations as well as different religions. One concern within Evangelicalism is the inclusion of several of these meanings into practices within the church. These practices can cross over from Roman Catholicism or from Eastern Mysticism using the same word, meditation, but whose meaning may be different from the historic meaning within Evangelicism. The subtle this shift in usage, the more easily it attaches itself to the vernacular jargon within the church.
The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality gives the spectrum of meanings of meditation. It tends to promote a more contemplative view as more mainstream but it is a good starting point to understand the meanings of meditation:
(1) Meditation 
Meditation is the spiritual practice of focused attentiveness. Christian meditation has traditionally been focused on the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, read personally and christocentrically.
The practice of Christian meditation is rooted in the practice of Jesus himself. From Jesus’ use of Scripture, especially in his Emmaus Road discourse (Luke 24:25–27), it is clear that meditation on the Hebrew Scriptures constituted an important part of Jesus’ devotional practice. After his resurrection and ascension, believers incorporated the remembered words of Jesus and the words of the first apostles into their worship and meditation (Col. 3:16). The rich use of the OT throughout the NT is evidence for and illustrative of early Christian meditative practice, the Hebrew Scriptures read in the light of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
In the MONASTIC tradition, meditation was an integral aspect of the life of prayer. According to Jean Leclercq, it required the monk not only to think about the Scriptures, but “to practice a thing by thinking of it … to fix it in the memory, to learn it.”
In the 12th and 13th centuries, NEW emphasis was placed on EMOTIONAL engagement in meditative practice, with the person inserting himself or herself into a visualized reenactment of a biblical event. This “meditation of the historical event” allowed the person to imagine, for example, standing in the place of Mary at the foot of the cross, seeking to feel what she had felt, and so to enter into the INNER spiritual meaning of the event. The goal of such meditation was ultimately to EXPERIENCE UNION with God [i.e. the definition of mysticism] . The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (1548) combined such visualization with the examination of one’s own sinfulness, with a view to deepening repentance and enhancing wonder at God’s grace.
After the REFORMATION, Protestant meditation placed a RENEWED EMPHASIS on the BIBLE as God’s Word; the printing press, vernacular translations, and widening literacy made the reading and meditation of the Scripture available to rank-and-file Christians. Following John Calvin’s insistence that every word of Scripture should be received as spoken directly to the reader by the mouth of God (Institutes, 7.1), Puritan meditation was intensely oriented toward the Scriptures, with the intent not merely to memorize and recite the words, but also TO APPLY them to one’s own life.
In recent decades, there have been several developments in Christian meditation.
(1) A return to pre-Reformation sources of Christian meditative practice. SILENT RETREATS, often guided by some form of the IGNATIAN exercises, are part of the spiritual practice of many.
(2) A renewed interest in meditative foci other than Scriptural texts. In Celebration of Discipline (1978), Richard Foster encouraged focused meditation on some aspect of creation as preparation for learning how to meditate on Scripture (24–25).
(3) An increased openness toward some aspects of EASTERN MEDITATION seen to be compatible with Christian meditation. THOMAS MERTON is the primary influence on this turn; the BUDDHIST practice of MINDFULNESS is seen as a way of becoming attentive to the present moment.
(4) A growing awareness of the neurological effects of meditation, with an interest in the therapeutic or cognitive, rather than purely spiritual, benefits it confers, with many therapies incorporating meditative practices.
 Hancock, M. (2011). Meditation. In G. G. Scorgie (Ed.), Dictionary of Christian spirituality (pp. 606–608). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
=> More specifically, does the Bible tell us, as Christians, to meditate? If so, how?
(2) What is Christian meditation? 
To answer this question, we may have to first understand what meditation is not.
Psalm 19:14 states, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” What, then, is Christian meditation, and how should Christians meditate? Unfortunately, the word “meditation” can carry the connotation of something mystical.
- For some, meditation is clearing the mind while sitting in an unusual position.
- For others, meditation is communing with the spirit world around us.
=> Concepts such as these most definitely do NOT characterize Christian meditation.
Christian meditation has NOTHING to do with practices that have EASTERN MYSTICISM as their foundation. Such practices include LECTIO DIVINA, TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION, and many forms of what is called CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER. These have at their core a DANGEROUS premise that we need to “hear God’s voice,” not through His Word, but through personal revelation through meditation. Some churches are filled with people who think they are hearing a “word from the Lord,” often contradicting one another and therefore causing endless divisions within the body of Christ. Christians are not to abandon God’s Word, which is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If the Bible is sufficient to thoroughly equip us for every good work, how could we think we need to seek a mystical experience instead of or in addition to it?
Christian meditation is to be solely on the Word of God and what it reveals about Him. David found this to be so, and he describes the man who is “blessed” as one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). True Christian meditation is an active thought process whereby we give ourselves to the study of the Word, praying over it and asking God to give us understanding by the Spirit, who has promised to lead us “into all truth” (John 16:13). Then we put this truth into practice, committing ourselves to the Scriptures as the rule for life and practice as we go about our daily activities. This causes spiritual growth and maturing in the things of God as we are taught by His Holy Spirit.
 Got Questions Ministries. (2002–2013). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
(3) Meditation after reading Scripture  is as critical as preparation before reading Scripture. One can read diligently, but the reading will bear no fruit if meditation does not follow. Reading may give some breadth, but only meditation and study will give depth. The difference between reading and meditation is like the difference between drifting in a boat and rowing toward a destination. “Meditation without reading is erroneous, and reading without meditation is barren.… Meditation makes that which we have read to be our own. He is blessed which meditates in the law day and night” (Psalm 1).”16
Meditation involves our MINDS and UNDERSTANDING, as well as our hearts and affections. To reach a sound and settled judgment on various truths, the mind must be brought to meditative understanding. Meditation, however, also “digests” this settled judgment and makes it work upon our affections. If our affections do not become involved, our sound meditative understanding will erode away. The Scriptures must be transfused through the entire texture of the soul.
16 Ibid., 393.
 Beeke, J. R. and L., Ray B. (2009). Chapter Seven: The Transforming Power of Scripture. In D. Kistler (Ed.), Sola Scriptura: The Protestant position on the Bible (p. 120). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.
As a check, let’s take one more look at an overview of mediation. Christian Research Institute states the following:
(4) CHRISTIAN MEDITATION- Summary
Meditation. Is meditation a non-Christian practice? Or is meditation something the Bible clearly encourages us to do?
CHRISTIAN MEDITATION- Self-Centered Motives
Many people view meditation as a means to develop their natural and psychic powers. In other cases, people practice meditation with the goal of self-relaxation. Whatever the case may be, the fact is, this kind of meditation — that is, EASTERN MEDITATION — is characterized by self-centered objectives. It employs techniques like concentrating on objects, exercising “controlled” breathing, and uttering mantras — all this with the purpose of emptying the mind of all kinds of distractions which supposedly will enable a person to reach an altered state of consciousness, a state of harmony with himself and the universe.
CHRISTIAN MEDITATION- No Blending with Eastern Mysticism
Eastern meditation is very dangerous, to say the least, because it draws people away from God by encouraging them to look inwardly to themselves rather than to God. Additionally, the kind of meditation we are talking about right now is intimately tied to Eastern philosophies which run counter to biblical teaching. Not only that, but the notion of emptying one’s mind opens up the possibility of demonic deception, manipulation, and yes, even possession.
CHRISTIAN MEDITATION- Meditation the Christian Way
Now, we have to be careful not to write off meditation itself simply because it’s practiced by Eastern mystics. Keep in mind that the Bible in no uncertain terms encourages us to meditate on God’s law day and night (Josh. 1:8)! However, biblical meditation doesn’t involve looking within ourselves or emptying our minds for selfish reasons. Rather, it urges believers to contemplate and deeply reflect God’s Person and faithfulness — not only that, it also calls us to look to His Word (Psa. 119), and His creation (Psa. 19, 104). In fact, Christian meditation calls us to look upward and outward to God so that our minds may be filled with godly wisdom and insight, and so that our hearts may be filled with comfort, happiness, and joy. To echo the opening words of the Book of Psalms: “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psa. 1:1-2 NIV). And remember, there is a quantum difference between getting into the Word of God and getting the Word into you — so let me encourage you to hide God’s Word in your heart.
=> This concludes the brief summary of meditation. There is more that could be said – so God willing, another posting will follow soon. For now, it is my hope that your focus is on God and His word.
CALVIN & MONASTICISM
The scope of monasticism is much greater than I realized. This posting will not cover this topic in any way completely. But there are several perspectives that we will at least move quickly over to expose you to various aspects of monasticism – both historically and renewed interests that we are seeing in Christianity today.
Monastic traditions from Roman Catholicism (RC) with its CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM are showing up in mainstream Evangelical Churches. These trends have been introduced from several sources including popular authors and teachers such as the Quaker mystic RICHARD FOSTER, DALLAS WILLARD, BRENNAN MANNING…etc. Under the guise of SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES and SPIRITUAL FORMATION, a mystical approach to CONTEMPLATIVE MEDITATION that actually initiates an altered state of consciousness that is virtually identical to those practiced in Eastern religions such as ZEN BUDDHISM and the transcendental meditation of HINDUISM. Other popular Evangelicals are participating and leading the charge such as RICK WARREN and KAY WARREN. (K. Silva, John Calvin on Monastic Vows i.e. Spiritual Disciplines)
As we looked at Monasticism, in the previous postings, you may recall that it is primarily an institutionalized religious practice or movement whose members attempt to live by a rule that requires works that go beyond those of either the laity or the ordinary spiritual leaders of their religions. Commonly CELIBATE and universally ASCETIC, the monastic individual separates himself or herself from society either by living as a HERMIT or anchorite (religious recluse) or by joining a COMMUNITY (coenobium) of others who profess similar intentions. First applied to Christian groups in antiquity, the term monasticism is now used to denote similar, though not identical, practices in religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Daoism.
Historically, some people left cities and civilization to go live a life as hermits in seclusion away from people (usually in a desert). This trend began after Constantine made Christianity legal (i.e. no more persecutions). Some early church saints felt that this would soften Christianity and they wanted to show their diligence to God by living a life of solitude that included more ascetic (and mystical) practices to demonstrate their sacrificial duty to God while being on the front lines in confronting Satan. Eventually, even though in isolation for the most part, limited community engagement developed with other monks and local communities and monasteries were established. Early desert communities were in Egypt and parts of the Middle East. Some contact developed with other cultures by being located close to trade routes from the Far East into cities like Alexandria, Egypt. Some belie
ve this may have started interaction between Roman Catholic monks and other monks from Eastern religions. Even today, some common reasons used for this interaction usually include issues such as the common practice of meditation used by those in the East and within Christianity. The reasoning goes something like this – “why not learn off of each other and share traditions associated with meditation?” What developed over time was not necessarily mediation as outlined in the Bible. Biblical meditation includes rational concepts focused on God’s word. Unlike Eastern meditation, which includes more mystical concepts such as emptying your mind of any thoughts.
Characteristics of monastic traditions include CONTEMPLATIVE spirituality, centering prayer, silence & solitude along with other practices including TAIZE, LECTIO DIVINA, CHANTING, TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION, and many forms of what is called CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER. These practices involve clearing out your mind of any thoughts (including thoughts about God) and moving away from rational and objective practices such as studying God’s word and instead relying on more intuitive rationalization experiences that may have no basis in Scripture. In fact, similar practices can be found in EASTERN religions. This may not be by accident since some of the early monastic locations were close to trading routes through areas such as Egypt and the city of Alexandria. At these important waypoints, there were interaction and trade between those from the East and those from the West. The ultimate goal of these mystical traditions is to grow in INTIMACY with God by being unified with Him. This mystical approach is said by these proponents to be inside each of us throughout the world. A natural outcome of this type of INTUITIVE path is UNIVERSALISM.
Some of these practices have been seeping into the Evangelical Church more recently as Christians seemingly are excited to try the latest popular trends working its way through Christian groups.
Some basic questions need to be asked. First, when Christians follow after these monastic practices, what basis from Scripture are they using to justify their use? Why are some Evangelicals seeking to add practices historically associated with Roman Catholicism to their own practices? What are some of the dangers involved in doing so?
Historically, let’s look now at how some of the Reformers viewed monasticism.
(A.) JOHN CALVIN made mention of these monastic characteristics as practiced by monks in the RC Church. Take note of the type of language used in describing this monastic practice –
“IT is indeed deplorable that the Church, whose freedom was purchased by the inestimable price of Christ’s blood, should have been thus oppressed by a cruel tyranny, and almost buried under a huge mass of TRADITIONS; but, at the same time, the private infatuation of each individual shows, that not without just cause has so much power been given from above to Satan and his ministers.
MONKS place the principal part of their holiness in idleness. For if you take away their idleness, where will that CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE by which they glory that they excel all others, and make a near approach to the angels?… [I]nstead of Christians, we hear some called BENEDICTINES, others Franciscans, others Dominicans, and so called, that while they affect to be distinguished from the common body of Christians, they proudly substitute these names for a religious profession…
This much is certain, that there is no order of men more polluted by all kinds of vicious turpitude; nowhere do faction, hatred, party-spirit, and intrigue, more prevail… It is fine to philosophise in SECLUSION, far away from the intercourse of society; but it ill accords with Christian meekness for any one, as if in hatred of the human race, to fly to the wilderness and to SOLITUDE, and at the same time desert the duties which the Lord has especially commanded.
Were we to grant that there was nothing worse in that profession, there is certainly no small evil in its having introduced a useless and perilous example into the Church. Now, then, let us see the nature of the vows by which the MONKS of the present day are initiated into this famous order. First, as their intention is to institute a NEW and FICTITIOUS WORSHIP with a view to GAIN FAVOUR with God, I conclude from what has been said above, that everything which they vow is abomination to God.
Secondly, I hold that as they frame their own mode of life at pleasure, without any regard to the calling of God, or to his approbation, the attempt is rash and unlawful; because their conscience has no ground on which it can support itself before God; and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).
Moreover, I maintain that in astricting themselves to many perverse and impious modes of worship, such as are exhibited in MODERN MONASTICISM, they consecrate themselves not to God but to the devil. For why should the prophets have been permitted to say that the Israelites sacrificed their sons to devils and not to God (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37), merely because they had corrupted the true worship of God by profane ceremonies; and we not be permitted to say the same thing of MONKS who, along with the cowl, cover themselves with the net of a thousand impious SUPERSTITIONS? (http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/calvin-institutes-christianity/book4/chapter-13.html)
(B.) SCRIPTURE’S WARNINGS
Let’s take a look at a few verses from the Bible. As Evangelicals include monastic characteristics such as silence, solitude, asceticism….etc., it is not uncommon that leaders, pastors, seminary professors….etc., to step out further and spend times of seclusion and solitude at the local monastery. Spending time alone in MONASTERIES is for periods of isolated prayer and developing greater intimacy with God. What is concerning is that even though these times are promoted as being in isolation, it is not uncommon to hear stories of these leaders spending time with monks from the monastery learning more about contemplative practices.
23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23 ESV)
There is so much in Colossians 2 that identifies our fullness can only be found in Christ plus nothing else. It will be well worth your time to read all of Colossians 2. With Roman Catholicism (RC), there are several requirements put upon man in order to achieve salvation. Some of these include examples such as ASCETICISM – which brings to mind an image of monks living a life of sacrifice, servitude, and works based motivation for gaining God’s grace.
The Colossian church was exposed to teaching that said that Christians need Christ plus other things. Colossians 2, states – It was these “other things” which elevates you. When you read all of Colossians 2, Paul identifies several of these other things:
- Christ plus PHILOSOPHY – added human wisdom to the reality of Christ.
- Today, that equates to a body of beliefs and practices commonly found in LIBERALISM, NEO-ORTHODOXY, MODERNISM. (John MacArthur)
- It starts out with Christ, but it’s Christ plus human wisdom, human reason, human logic, human philosophy….etc.
- Paul warns them in Colossians 2:8 – “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world”
=> BUT, our fullness is in Christ. Christ is sufficient. We should not let anyone say you must have Christ plus their philosophy, or perform in an ascetic manner to earn God’s favor.
- You not only needed Christ plus human wisdom to be spiritual, but you needed Christ plus legalism. Verse 16, he says again, “Let no man therefore judge you in food or drink or in respect of a feast day, a new moon, or a Sabbath.” Don’t let anybody determine how spiritual you are by the number of rituals you keep
- => In other words, don’t let anybody evaluate your spirituality on the basis of the RITUALS that you keep because, in verse 17, “Those are a shadow of the things to come, but that which is to come is Christ and He is here.” So it isn’t Christ plus philosophy, and it isn’t Christ plus legalism.
“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)
- Thirdly, Colossian church were saying that it was Christ plus MYSTICAL experiences – MYSTICISM. Look at verse 18. He further says, “Don’t let these false teachers beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility –“ it really means a false humility “ – that comes from worshiping angels and having visions.” Now, the Greek text says, “…intruding into things which he ‘hath’ seen.” The word “not” should not be there.
And then, he says there’s even ASCETICISM – asceticism being self-denial, a MONASTIC kind of life, a MONASTIC kind of life, going into a hermit existence, and he talks about that from verse 20 to 23, the people, the kind of earthly religion, “the rudiments of the world,” again, that same phrase, meaning the basics of human religion which say, “Touch not; taste not; handle not,” and it goes on to talk about the fact that you neglect the body at the end of verse 23, and so forth.
And here is like flagellation, and anything you do to deprive your body, this is asceticism, monkish kind of life, monastic, self-denial, deprivation. But the point is this: There have always been, since Colossians 2, and all through the church, and there always will be, people who want to say that having Jesus Christ through His marvelous act of salvation is not enough. You’ve got to do “this” to get it all.
A look into the future trends –
(C.) THE NEW MONASTICISM
George Grant states that –
By the thirteenth century, the West’s idealistic wars against a fearsome Islamic threat had failed ignobly; its stagnating economy had cast a pall of depression across the once prosperous and thriving land; its national and political leaders revealed in pomp, circumstance, and internecine rivalry while their subjects cowered in poverty, fear, and injustice; and the church’s spiritual authority was marred by the flaming vices of perversity, carnality, and avarice. No wonder, then, that even the most pious men tended to press into brash, adventurous superstition or retreat into timid, monkish isolation.
Sound familiar? It should. High medievalism, for all its obvious differences, is so like our present circumstances that historian Margaret Tuchman’s famous description, “A Distant Mirror,” may be more apt than ever. Indeed, the rise of a “New Monastic Movement” among young, urban, evangelical hipsters in recent days is a reminder to us that we are not so different from our barely remembered ancestors as we might suppose. But as understandable as this impulse to run for cover in this time of uncertainty, distrust, and crumbling cultural stability might be, it is hardly a Scriptural response.
A genuinely integrated Christian view regarding life and work must be cognizant of both perspectives regarding the world—and treat them with equal weight. It must be engaged in the world. It must be unengaged in worldliness. It must somehow correlate spiritual concerns with temporal concerns. It must coalesce heavenly hope and landed life. It must coordinate heartfelt faith and down-to-earth practice.
The only way we can do that is to bring our faith right into the thick of our mess of a world. As appealing as a retreat into some monastic sanctuary might seem to us during these wearying days in which we live, it is hardly a biblical alternative. And while there are innumerable commendable aspects of the “New Monastic Movement”—including concern for justice issues, care for the poor, sacrificial stewardship, and covenant community—its high ideals are best pursued as we engage the world, as we “go … and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [he has] commanded [us]” (Matt. 28:19–20).
For nearly two millennia, many Christians have chosen to express their piety through ascetic living. Though the roots of monasticism existed long before, the sixth-century monk Benedict of Nursia is considered to be the founding father of the medieval monastic movements. Benedict’s charter, known as the Benedictine Rule, outlined key principles of holiness and self-denial for communities of monks and nuns who were committed to the values of poverty, chastity, and obedience to God. However, later generations did not always show the same degree of commitment and devotion as their predecessors. In response, certain influential leaders responded to corruption and decline by calling for a return to Benedict’s rigid standards. While returning to the rigor of the past, these leaders also envisioned new ways for monks to carry out their mission within a changing world.
The New Monks
John Caddock in Brennan Manning’s “New Monks” & Their Dangerous Contemplative Monasticismstates states that
…..in The Signature of Jesus, Brennan Manning quotes Catholic saints, medieval mystics, and monks, including Charles de Foucauld, Francis De Sales, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Siena. The most frequently cited sources are part of the community of Roman Catholic clergy who are instrumental in promoting modern contemplative spirituality: THOMAS MERTON, Anthony De Mello, William Shannon, HENRI NOUWEN, Peter Van Breemen, William Reiser, David Steindl-Rast, and BASIL PENNINGTON. Although the word contemplation brings to mind a monastic life dedicated to pence and cloistered within the walls of the monastery, not so with these New Monks.
The New Monks critique the current state of Christianity by arguing that since God is holy and is a “wholly other,” He cannot be defined by systems of doctrine. They maintain that western rationalism has crushed the knowledge of God and that we must return to a more intuitively received knowledge. We must move beyond the intellect, beyond doctrine, and beyond words to a DEEPER union with God. Their writings contain rather complex discussions on the nature of being and share common themes of universality, mystical union with God through contemplation (wordless “prayer”), social justice, and non-violence.
The New Monks maintain that ALL RELIGIONS should immerse themselves in the MYTHS of their TRADITIONS because there is power in the “collective unconscious” of the TRADITION to shape the EXPERIENCE of its followers. So, for the New Monk, the use of biblical language has great power within the Christian tradition. For example, the call to salvation is actually a call to a transformation of consciousness to be psychologically awakened to the UNITY and ONENESS of ALL CREATION. For the New Monks, all religions at their deepest mystical level use myth and symbol to say the same thing.
The New Monks believe we are born into a DUALITY between self (the ego) and ONENESS (being). The ego is driven by fear of death and alienation and is the source of all suffering and woundedness. The fall, a mythical story, has a deeper more “universal truth,” which is intended to shed light on present human experience. We have fallen from oneness and harmony of paradise into alienation and a sense of separation. We must simply realize that the gulf that appears to separate “sinful” humanity from a righteous God has never existed; we are and always have been one with God. For the New Monks, this is God’s unconditional love and grace.
THOMAS MERTON, who is frequently cited by Manning, is the forerunner of the New Monks. Having accepted so much of the new theology, Merton remained involved in the Roman Catholic Church only by a thin affirmation of a God in Nature and a reverence for tradition. He popularized JUNGIAN Psychotherapy in his writings about spiritual healing, agreeing with Jung’s mythic perspective of biblical doctrines.
Merton traveled to Asia on a quest to redefine what being a monk entailed and found it in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. There he discovered great similarities between monastic contemplation and Eastern meditation and determined that they were both in touch with the same mystical source. He felt the emphasis on experience and inner transformation rather than doctrine would be the ecumenical meeting place between East and West.
Merton advocated moving the practice of contemplation from its marginal state of use by only the Catholic monks behind the cloistered walls to a broader use by the common man. Dedicated to civil rights, antiwar, and liberationist activism, he came to call his fellow activists “true monks.” In The Signature of Jesus, Manning precisely echoes the themes of contemplative spirituality. It appears his intention was to bring to Protestants what Thomas Merton brought to many Roman Catholics.
Legalism and the Conscience: 1 John 2:1-2
Legalism is best disguised when it takes up residence in our consciences. From there it can taunt us, urging us to do better and try harder in our feeble fallen existence.
Such guilt-riddled consciences long to be soothed. Invariably, false religion steps into that void, offering a system of works. Man-made religions are particularly appealing to burdened sinners desperate to silence the cries of their consciences.
Roman Catholicism is a great example. We’ve already pointed out their codified denials of salvation by grace alone. On top of that, however, Catholic dogma also affirms works- righteousness through their doctrine of penance:
Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.”  Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1459.
In his book, The Gospel According to Rome, James McCarthy explains how penance is implemented and enforced among Roman Catholics: “To assist the person in making reparation for his sin, the priest imposes an act of penance. It is selected to be ‘in keeping with the nature of the crimes and the ability of the penitents.’”  James G. McCarthy, The Gospel According to Rome (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), 79. Prior to his conversion, Martin Luther was deemed by his Catholic peers to be a penitent with a lot of “ability.” As a result, he suffered egregiously under the weight of Roman Catholic penance.
Professing Protestants, Practicing Catholics (www.gtw.org)
All true Protestants gladly join with Martin Luther in proclaiming the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ—completely apart from any human effort. Even so, the harsh practices of his former monastery often linger in our cloistered consciences.
To be sure, most Christians find the Catholic doctrine of penance to be abhorrent. Nonetheless, many are inwardly self-flagellated by their guilt-riddled consciences. They know their right standing with God hinges on Christ’s atoning work, yet still consider it to be a fragile reconciliation—one that’s on a perpetual knife edge. God may have adopted them as His children, but they still live in constant fear of being disowned if they commit a big enough sin. For this reason, many churches are full of Protestants who think and act like Catholics.
It may have been imperceptible to my Christian friends, but my mind was racked with legalistic guilt and fear. Worse still, I actually thought my mental penance demonstrated great humility and righteousness. But living under that kind of pressure isn’t a form of piety, nor does it reflect a low view of self. Rather, it reveals unbelief concerning God’s Word and a low view of Christ in His role as our heavenly Advocate:
Travis Allen writes in an article, Brothers, We are Not Monks –
Any sane person would consider the monastic life to be something like a prison sentence. But busy pastors often straddle the line of sanity—to them, a monastery can sound like a five-star getaway. Quiet. Reading. Study. Contemplation. Meditation. Routine. Predictability. Compared to some of the inglorious and often thankless work of shepherding people, taking the monk’s cowl can seem pretty appealing.
The problem is, it’s just a bit unrealistic. More within reach is to find a better, more acceptable, even admirable way to “retreat into the monastery.” Some pastors want to follow a different “leading of the Lord”—take on more oversight, join a leadership think tank, teach courses at a college or seminary, write articles and books, ascend to a ministry of “wider influence”—almost anything is preferable to the nitty-gritty of pastoral work.
None of that is necessarily wrong. Some pastors are doing those things in addition to shepherding the flock of God. They work hard and ought to be honored for it. On the other hand, some men need to get out of pastoral ministry. They simply don’t belong there in the first place.
But it’s important to recognize that pastoral ministry, theology, and practical Christian growth must be connected to the local church. If it’s disconnected from the local church—divorced from shepherding the flock of God—then it’s not God’s design for the edification and growth of Christ’s church. Monasteries, in whatever form, are not part of the plan.
What is part of the plan is the regular, routine, mundane stuff of life lived, raw and honest, with other believers in the context of the local church. The plan has to do with the joys and sorrows, the pleasures and pains, of normal human relationships.
Our theology—our study of God—teaches us never to be remote or aloof; we are to be intimately connected to the day-to-day lives of other people. We are to bring our theology out of the neat, clean, sterile environment of a classroom, and into the gritty, messy, real work of shepherding sheep. No room for that in a monastic cell.
Just look at Jesus. John 1:14-18 says Jesus tabernacled among us in full humanity to make the Father known to us (i.e., to teach us theology proper). Though He is our “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14), He didn’t teach us about God from that lofty vantage. He came close enough “to sympathize with our weaknesses,” to be “tempted in all things as we are” (“yet without sin,” Hebrews 4:15). That’s the stuff of pastoral ministry, taught by “the Chief Shepherd” Himself (1 Peter 5:4).
From a practical perspective on monasticism, one must also raise the question about Roman Catholicism priesthood in general. Several problems come to mind:
- Living a life of solitude – is it biblical?
- Restricting oneself from marriage – is that healthy over the long-term?
- Have a works-based focus instead of a focus on God’s grace.
This posting won’t do this topic justice – so many more issues could be included. But let me conclude with several questions that come to mind.
- EVANGELICALS, why are we reverting back to a monastic spirituality that focuses on items that don’t reflect who we are as born-again Christians? They don’t reflect the freedom and liberty we have in Christ by God’s GRACE. We are introducing TRADITIONS, following after ICONS, engaging in practices that have their foundation in MYSTICISM and early ROMAN CATHOLICISM.
- While a respect for the reverence of certain aspects of our faith may be noble, following after TRADITIONS, MAN-MADE THEOLOGY and MYSTICAL CHURCH PRACTICES such as LECTIO DIVINA, SPIRITUAL FORMATION, ASH WEDNESDAY observance, STATIONS OF THE CROSS, MYSTICAL MEDITATION which shares little from Scripture and yet shares more from Eastern Mysticism.
- Many Evangelical Christians specifically LEFT Roman Catholicism for exactly these same reasons.
=> The further we move from the Bible, the easier it is for error to creep into the Church.
It is becoming more and more routine that Evangelicals (EV) are seeking out new practices and following after doctrine that even a short time ago would not have been accepted within the Evangelical community. Unfortunately, some of these trends include characteristics that range from legalism, ritualism, holding tradition in a higher view than the Bible…etc. Movements such as the Emerging Church comprised in many cases of younger adults who were turned off by the church growth movement and its baggage of perceived insincerity with minimal involvement in the Social Gospel, instead now has turned towards more traditional and historical forms of Christianity. This includes some of the early church mystical approach to spirituality which is new and unknown to most Evangelicals today. Yet, many join the bandwagon effect thinking that they are pursuing “deep”, personal, fellowship with God by participating in these practices. The problem is many of these practices don’t emanate from Scripture and share similarities with other religions such as Eastern Mysticism.
In short, much of this is related to the popularity of going back to the early church or a more liturgical church environment and mixing in various aspects of MONASTIC practices with common EV practices.
The IRONY is that many EV Christians today came out of Roman Catholicism (RC) because of it’s overemphasis of these same characteristics. Trying to introduce the Evangelical Church to rituals really cuts against the grain of what Evangelicalism represents.
For example, some EV churches are participating in Ash Wednesday services including the gesture of placing ashes on foreheads. Some churches now include praying the rosary and performing the stations of the cross. Some churches are introducing more liturgical forms of worship ranging from simply reciting an early church creed to lighting candles. Popular authors over the last few years seemingly outdo each other in focusing on church practices not associated with Evangelical churches. Is this wrong?
Obviously, Evangelical churches “haven’t arrived” – so no church is perfect. Let me explain the differences between EV and RC churches from a personal perspective. For me, some of the main reasons for leaving RC included the lack of any message challenging me to accept Christ as savior for my sins; the lack of emphasis on God’s word – the Bible; the contradictions in Scripture versus church practice; the overemphasis on rituals and the seemingly minimal effect of the church on the people who attend. This last point can be a characteristic of any church from any denomination, but for me, it played a role in my decision.
My initial religious indoctrination as a Roman Catholic was CCD classes. But these classes usually was very light on God’s word and they were boring with minimum practical benefit. I remember going to confession and being told by the priest to say several “Hail Marys” and several “Our Fathers” as my penance for my sins. My mother told me stories of her childhood in Italy included time spent living with nuns as a part of her education. She is both quick to say how she cherished those times for many different reasons but she also is quick to state how stuck in tradition Catholics are and how much they tend to be focused on anything but God’s word.
At the time, I visited Protestant churches and was quick to see and experience the change. God’s word was preached and each of us was encouraged to study and live our life based on God’s word. People were challenged to make a decision about Christ – gone was the assumption that just because you were a part of a certain denomination implies that you are saved (e.g. Roman Catholicism). EV churches were not known for ritualism and traditions were minimal. Instead of a strict reverent atmosphere in church, EV churches usually was more open to a more joyful atmosphere. It was a stark difference between the silence and reverence of a RC service. There was fellowship and edification taking place. There was a sense of liberty and freedom as our eyes were focused more on God and less on our own efforts in our attempt to please God or be right with God.
Doctrinally, some of the key differences between the EV church and RC churches include the liberty and freedom that we have in Christ. EV churches tend to focus more on God’s grace and RC churches having a more works related approach with more reliance on priests and rituals instead of going directly to God and His word. Evangelicalism is known for an emphasis on the Bible, growing through discipleship, participating in missions both in your local community and across the world.
But as stated above, today, some EV churches are sporting new trends including a fresh look to monastic practices of the early RC church. Movements such as the EMERGING CHURCH have moved further away from God’s word by incorporating an approach that seeks to include monastic practices from RC. For example, there is a common practice of spending extended periods of time alone in silence and solitude. It is not uncommon that this time alone is spent in a RC monastery. And, there are many stories of RC clergy and monks influencing people to live a lifestyle either symbolically or in actuality closer to a monastic walk than a historical EV walk.
In Part 3, we will look at what the monastic characteristics are and ask – why are some EV Christians moving in this direction yet staying within the EV Church?