Some good news – BETH MOORE’s Facebook page removed the labyrinth that they had posted. I was told that there was a one in a million chance that she read my blog and soon afterward removed the labyrinth………
Speaking of labyrinths, I have found that in my local community, there are a couple of churches offering prayer and meditation experiences using their own labyrinths.
One site offers this as their description:
The labyrinth is an ancient, sacred symbol found in MANY RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS throughout the world. Today, modern pilgrims walk the labyrinth as one of many ways to pray and meditate. The winding path into the center and back out again is a metaphor for the journeys of life and faith. Unlike a maze, which has many paths and is a puzzle to solve, the labyrinth is a single path in and a single path out, and is designed to QUIET the MIND for prayer and MEDITATION.
Labyrinths predate Christianity by over 1,000 years. Let Us Reason ministries makes the following statements:
“The labyrinth has its origins in ancient pagan rituals, most famously at Knossos in ancient Crete, where one was located in the basement of a palace where the mythic man-eating Minotaur was said to roam. According to ancient lore, the hero Theseus journeyed through the labyrinth to slay the evil Minotaur. Theseus’ doubled-headed ax was called a ‘labrys,’ from which the word labyrinth was derived. Ceremonies re-enacting this myth as a ritual labyrinth walk are still performed today. Other labyrinths have been tied to fertility rites and goddess worship (M. Tooley, September 2000). Modern disciples of the labyrinth propose that ancient Christians used the labyrinth as a means of spiritual meditation. Scholars insist there is absolutely no evidence of labyrinth walking by Christians (M. Tooley, September 2000, Maze Craze. http://www.touchstonemag.com ).
So if these were practiced by other religions and cultures that are of a non Christian origin, what kind of value would they have to offer a Christian who is supposed to have all that he needs in Jesus Christ according to the Scripture?
We find the use of this design is put to smaller patterns that are a non-walk though spiritual practice. The patterns of the labyrinth are similar in design and conception to the mandalas of South Asian Buddhism, that are supposed to be physical representations of the spiritual realm designed to aid in meditation. Mandala means – circle: it is a circular design, which is used to focus in on and bring one into a meditative state. We are told that true meditation occurs when the physical brain has been calmed or neutralized, a mantra or a mandala is used to bring calmness so the mind is then freed and can then discover new truths it normally was not open to find.”
This is where the potential for influence can happen!
Does your church have a LABYRINTH yet?
No? Well, it is the latest thing that is seeping into the Christian Church across the country. Mostly more liberal mainline churches but Evangelicals are eager to dip their toes in as BETH MOORE recently illustrated on her facebook page.
So, why are LABYRINTHS popping up?
Some would say that times are changing. Others would say that what was once old is new again. I would like to say that at times Christians get easily distracted and can get caught up with the latest trends coming down the pike. Let’s face it, in my hometown, we have a Christian radio station whose lineup on the weekend consists of SNAKE-OIL salesmen that all have a similar sounding tag line – “Are you feeling more tired than before?” followed by “then you need to start taking our pills……just 24 pills a day…..call now and we will include a free bottle of these special pills just because we are concerned about your health….etc.”
While some Christians are not lured into these infomercials, others are gullible enough to quickly be swept away believing what they just heard on the radio is right for them. After all, if it is on a Christian radio station, it must be ok. Right?
Well, Labyrinths feel like this as we are increasingly seeing their use catch on within Christianity. At times the line “everybody is doing it” seems appropriate. Others attempt to be out ahead of the latest “religious” trend for whatever reason – I don’t know their heart so I will just leave it up to them.
The history of labyrinths is murky at best. Church history shows them to be popping up sometime during the Middle Ages within Roman Catholicism serving as a substitute for not being able to travel to the Jerusalem during the Crusades.
What Is a Prayer Labyrinth?
A labyrinth is a path which leads, via a circuitous route, to the center of an intricate design and back out again. A labyrinth’s route is unicursal; that is, it has only a single path. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is designed for ease of navigation, and it is impossible to get lost within one. (Got Questions Ministries)
Specifically, a prayer labyrinth is a labyrinth used to facilitate prayer, meditation, spiritual transformation, and/or global unity. The most famous prayer labyrinths today include:
- an ancient one in the cathedral of Chartres, France,
- another in the cathedral of Duomo di Siena, Tuscany; and
- two maintained by Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal church in San Francisco (picture) –
As stated above, the history of labyrinths is very sketchy and it is difficult to put together a definitive historical path. The Cathedral at Chartres originated in the Middle Ages.
While prayer labyrinths have been used in CATHOLIC cathedrals for centuries, the past decade has seen a resurgence in their popularity, especially within the EMERGENT CHURCH, among NEW AGE groups and NEO-PAGANS.
In some cases, it is believed that some labyrinths existed for over 3,500 years in various forms and various areas that included Crete, Egypt, Italy, Scandinavia and North America. Many of these were decidedly PAGAN in function – many were dedicated to a GODDESS and functioned in a PAGAN manner. Let me say again, many of these were PAGAN in origin.
Other examples include the Hopi Indians who saw the labyrinth as a symbol of MOTHER EARTH, and the hundreds of stone labyrinths along the Scandinavian shoreline were used as magic TRAPS for trolls and evil winds to ensure safe fishing.
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church used the labyrinth for its own purposes within its cathedrals. Within Catholicism, the labyrinth could symbolize several things: the hard and winding road to God, a MYSTICAL ascension to salvation and enlightenment, or even a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for those who could not make the actual journey. (Got Questions Ministries)
There has been a MODERN “rediscovery” of the labyrinth. Lauren Artress, Canon for Special Ministries at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, is widely credited with initiating the labyrinth movement in the United States in the 1990s. Marcia Montenegro, The Labyrinth: A Walk by Faith? (http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_Labyrinth.html)
Today, there are groups that use them in their churches – such as The Labyrinth Society and Veriditas, The World-Wide Labyrinth Project. According to these groups, the labyrinth is a “divine imprint,” a “MYSTICAL TRADITION,” a “SACRED PATH,” and a “sacred gateway.” The stated purpose of Veriditas is “to transform the Human Spirit,” using “the Labyrinth EXPERIENCE as a personal practice for healing and growth, a tool for community building, an agent for global peace and a metaphor for the blossoming of the Spirit in our lives” (from the official Veriditas website).
According to Veriditas, walking a prayer labyrinth involves 3 stages: purgation (releasing), illumination (receiving), and union (returning).
- Purgation occurs as one moves toward the center of the labyrinth. During this stage, one sheds the cares and distractions of life and opens his heart and mind.
- Illumination occurs at the center of the labyrinth; this is the time to “receive what is there for you” through prayer and meditation.
- Union occurs as one exits the labyrinth and involves “joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world.”
The labyrinth developed in use as a spiritual and psychological tool. The common themes included the labyrinth were promoted as
- a way to APPROACH GOD
- a way to feel close to God
- to journey into the self
- BOTH Christians and non-Christians can use it
- New Age beliefs get mixed in with Christian beliefs
Proponents of prayer labyrinths speak of using the labyrinth to become enlightened, realigned with the universe, and increasingly empowered to know one’s Self and to accomplish the work of the soul.
Some, such as Dr. Lauren Artress, president of Veriditas, also speak of the “many levels of consciousness” which touch the worshiper in a labyrinth, including the consciousness that he is “one of those pilgrims walking in the early times. It feels like it’s from another time; it doesn’t feel like it’s in this life” (from an interview with Dr. Lauren Artress on the official Veriditas website).
Perhaps as a throwback to the old goddess worship, many prayer labyrinths contain feminine symbols in the center. Dr. Artress recognizes the symbolism and speaks freely of connecting with the “sacred feminine” in a labyrinth and of the need to view God as both a “he” and a “she.”
Are prayer labyrinths biblical? NO, they are not.
Not only are labyrinths never mentioned in the Bible, but they also conflict with several biblical principles of worship and prayer.
Items 1 – 5 are taken from – Got Questions Ministries. (2002–2013). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software. –
1) God seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24; Philippians 3:3; Psalm 29:2). Proponents of prayer labyrinths speak of “body worship” and the goal to employ all five senses in worship. But body worship is not a biblical concept. We live by faith, not by sight, and worship is not a sensuous, physical activity; worship is a matter of the heart, expressed in praise and service to God. For the New Testament believer, worship has nothing to do with external trappings such as lighting candles, kneeling at an altar, or walking in circles.
2) Prayer is not to become ritualistic (Matthew 6:5–8). Dr. Artress says that “ritual feeds the soul” and recommends repeated, regular trips through the labyrinth. If ritual were truly food for the soul, then the Pharisees of Jesus’ day should have been the best-fed souls alive—after all, their religious system abounded in ritual and tradition. Yet Jesus rebuked them on more than one occasion for the deadness and hypocrisy of their religion (Matthew 15:3; Mark 7:6–13).
3) Every believer has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Many who walk prayer labyrinths are seeking special insight, new revelation, or a discovery of “the God who’s within.” Such an emphasis on mysticism and esoteric knowledge comes dangerously close to Gnosticism and New Age thinking. The Christian has no need of mystical experience or extra-biblical revelation: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20).
4) God is near to all those who call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18; Acts 17:27). No ritual, including walking a labyrinth, can bring anyone any closer to God. Jesus is the way (John 14:6). Repentance and faith are what is required (Acts 20:21).
5) The Bible is sufficient to make the Christian holy, wise, and completely proficient for his work in this world (2 Timothy 3:15–17). To say that, in order to find real power, we must add mysticism or tradition to the Bible is to denigrate God’s Word and the Spirit’s work through it.
Historically, labyrinths were ROOTED in PAGANISM and incorporated by Catholicism. Now they are promoted by the Emergent Church and others who seek an open spirituality apart from the Bible. Paul’s warning to the church should suffice to keep us focused on Jesus and avoid empty ritual: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
So, BETH MOORE, using LABYRINTHS that are not discussed in the Bible and have PAGAN origins followed by an introduction in the church from ROMAN CATHOLICISM.
- Why are you doing this?
- What does this say about your view of the Bible and its authority over your spiritual life?
- Doesn’t God hold spiritual leaders, especially those in a teaching role, up to a higher standard in responsibility in what you teach others?
- What effect do your MYSTICAL teachings have on those who follow you?
‘Some of the information used in this article along with additional information about labyrinths can be found at the following web sites:
- Got Questions Ministries. (2002–2013). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
MORE ON BETH MOORE MYSTICISM
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
This posting will only cover the surface of the issues that are concerning. Beth Moore, a Southern Baptist who is influential with a wide range of evangelical women, has moved into the CONTEMPLATIVE and MYSTICAL side not only over the last several years but specifically now with her posting of a labyrinth on her Facebook page.
She is in well-known company with the likes of RICHARD FOSTER (Celebration of Discipline), DALLAS WILLARD, plus several others. In 2008, Fox Home Entertainment published her Be Still DVD. Shortly after its release, she had to address some concerns over its content and she actually issued a retraction dealing with issues relating to her DVD. But that was short-lived when followed up with a retraction of her retraction.
In a statement published on May 26, 2008, Moore’s Living Proof Ministries said: “We believe that once you view the Be Still video you will agree that there is no problem with its expression of Truth” (http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/bethmoorestatement.htm).
Lighthouse Trails issued the following discerning warning:
“In the DVD, there are countless enticements, references and comments that clearly show its affinity with contemplative spirituality. For instance, Richard Foster says that anyone can practice contemplative prayer and become a ‘portable sanctuary’ for God. This panentheistic view of God is very typical for contemplatives. … The underlying theme of the Be Still DVD is that we cannot truly know God or be intimate with Him without contemplative prayer and the state of silence that it produces.
While the DVD is vague and lacking in actual instruction on word or phrase repetition (which lies at the heart of contemplative prayer), it is really quite misleading. What they don’t tell you in the DVD is that this state of stillness or silence is, for the most part, achieved through some method such as mantra-like meditation. THE PURPOSE OF THE DVD, IN ESSENCE, IS NOT TO INSTRUCT YOU IN CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER BUT RATHER TO MAKE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY HUNGRY FOR IT. The DVD even promises that practicing the silence will heal your family problems. … THIS PROJECT IS AN INFOMERCIAL FOR CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE, and because of the huge advertising campaign that Fox Home Entertainment has launched, contemplative prayer could be potentially introduced into millions of homes around the world.
“[On the DVD Moore says], ‘… if we are not still before Him [God], we will never truly know to the depths of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness.’ … [But is] it not true that as believers we come to Him by grace, boldly to His throne, and we call Him our friend? No stillness, no mantra, no breath prayer, no rituals. Our personal relationship with Him is based on His faithfulness and His love and His offer that we have access to Him through the blood of Jesus Christ, and not on the basis of entering an altered state of consciousness or state of bliss or ecstasy as some call it” (“Beth Moore Gives Thumbs Up to Be Still DVD,” http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/bethmoorethumbsup.htm).
Contemplative Roman Catholics are becoming popular today especially among Evangelical youth. In Moore’s book When Godly People Do Ungodly Things (2002), Moore recommends contemplative Roman Catholics Brother Lawrence and Brennan Manning (died in 2013).
Beth Moore states that Manning’s contribution to our generation “may be a gift without parallel” (p. 72) and calls Ragamuffin Gospel “one of the most remarkable books” (p. 290). But, Manning theology is aberrant at best:
- She does not warn her readers that Manning never gives a clear testimony of salvation or a clear gospel in his writings,
- that he attends MASS regularly,
- that he believes it is wrong for churches to require that HOMOSEXUALS repent before they can be members,
- that he promotes the use of MANTRAS to create a THOUGHTLESS state of SILENT meditation,
- that he spent SIX months in ISOLATION in a CAVE and spends eight days each year in silent retreat under the direction of a Dominican nun,
- that he promotes the dangerous practice of VISUALIZATION,
- that he quotes very approvingly from NEW AGERS such as Beatrice Bruteau (who says, “We have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM … unlimited, absolute I AM”) and Matthew Fox (who says all religions lead to the same God), and
- that he believes in UNIVERSAL salvation, that everyone including Hitler will go to heaven. (For documentation see “A Biographical Catalog of Contemplative Mystics” in our new book Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Glue.)
Instead of issuing retraction after retraction, if Moore wants to not be associated with the contemplative movement, she could issue a statement renouncing Richard Foster and Brennan Manning along with other contemplatives they associate with.
Moore’s ecumenical meetings are attended by folks from many different denominations. Some believe it is because she “doesn’t get caught up in divisive doctrinal issues” and “steers clear of topics that could widen existing rifts between different streams in the body of Christ” (Charisma magazine, June 2003). This is the popular but unscriptural “positive-only” ecumenical philosophy that is so helpful to the furthering of end time apostasy.”
=> “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).
(Part 2) (I have not yet included all the references in
Ken Shigematsu comes across in his writings as someone who not pushing an agenda for the sake of being controversial. Rather, there seems to be a sincerity in his writings which I find very appealing and encouraging to read.
But, and it’s a big but, he inundates his writings with an appeal to mystics, monastics (Roman Catholicism), along with being critical of leaders such as Franklin Graham and his public stands on important social issues. In essence, he ends up siding with those who not only disagree with someone like Franklin Graham, but disagrees with the biblical position on those issues. No, he doesn’t come out and say that but rather he softens the implication by looking to not be viewed as disruptive to the community. Noble sounding but is it scriptural?
Let’s investigate this in more detail. In his article titled – How Meditation and Monotasking Help Me Live More Mindfully (from Image for Psychology & Spiritual Formation Shortreads), several items quickly jump out. Faithful followers of this blog will recognize several of these points including the use of words such as DEEP, CONTEMPLATIVE, MEDITATION, REPEATING YOUR WORDS (i.e. MANTRA), CONTROL YOUR BREATH, VISUALIZATION,…etc. See if you can identify any of these terms in SHIGEMATSU’s writing:
For me, paying attention and living CONTEMPLATIVELY don’t come naturally. I need the grace of God. I also need practices which make me more receptive to the grace of God, more aware of Christ’s presence around and within me.
One of the practices that I have found especially helpful is MEDITATION.
At some point in the morning, I typically sit down and take some DEEP BREATHS. Because I am easily distracted, I will often REPEAT a single word like “wait” or “Jesus” to help focus me.
=> MY NOTE: Tibetan Buddhism, being a more esoteric and mystical form of Buddhism, utilizes breath control and visualization to train the mind where it can focus on Sunyata, “the essential emptiness of the phenomenal world,” and reach states where “the sense of experience ceases to exist.“
Meditation, as taught and practiced today in the West, originates from practices and beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, the goal of meditation is to realize that one’s personal identity is a barrier to the truth that the real self is part of the divine godhead, which is ultimate reality.1
The MIND in both Hinduism & Buddhism is seen as part of the material body and therefore a BARRIER to spiritual enlightenment.2 Meditation is designed to BYPASS the MIND, using special breathing techniques.3 The ultimate goal is samadhi with no cognition, or absorption into a state of pure consciousness through disengaging the MIND and a loss of self-awareness and subject-object awareness4: “The mind which for so long stood between us and our true nature has been overcome.”5 One of the most common ways this is done is through various forms of yoga, including the popular hatha yoga taught in the West.6 “Though their means may differ, all yogic paths seek to transcend duality in union” so that one’s “mistaken belief in himself as a separate, unique individual apart from God will be overcome.”7 Exhaling the BREATH is “the surrender of our ego” and the move from attachment to “non-attachment.”8
This imported meditation is usually packaged as a way to relax or reduce stress. But this was never the purpose of meditation in its HINDU or BUDDHIST form. Sometimes taught with VISUALIZATION and BREATHING exercises, this “relaxation” exercise has many hidden dangers. The mind often goes into an ALTERED STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS, also known as a light TRANCE or HYPNOTIC state, during the meditation.9 The exercises are designed to bring this about. In such a state, rational judgment and discernment is suspended, and the mind is highly suggestible and open to any influences present. In one class the writer attended, a student who fell asleep was reprimanded because he would miss the “spiritual trip” intended by the exercise.
This state of mind is not the same as spontaneous daydreaming, quiet contemplation, or conscious, rational concentration. The euphoria or peace experienced by many at first is short-lived and deceptive. Instructors of these techniques who teach them as a spiritual discipline often warn students that psychic experiences and supernatural encounters are common, some of them frightening, and that the breathing techniques can be dangerous10. The effect for some people is similar to a drug trip. It is this state of mind during which one is supposed to contact guides from the spirit world.11
Ken Shigematsu goes on in the same article –
I set a timer on my watch (usually 12 minutes) so I am not thinking about the time (if the time starts to feel too short, I’ll add time or if it begins to feel too long, I will decrease the time). After I have meditated, I feel more relaxed, a little more focused and a little more aware of Jesus throughout the day.
Meditation to some people may seem like a weird waste of time, but it can help us become more aware of God and more mindful of our choices.
Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist who teaches at Stanford, describes how meditation actually changes our brain—and it doesn’t take a lifetime for our brain to experience this transformation. Dr. McGonigal cites a study which found that just three accumulated hours of meditation practice—or about 10 minutes a day for two to three weeks—led to improved attention and self-control. After 11 accumulated hours of meditation—about 10 minutes a day for just over two months—researchers could actually see increased neural connections in the regions of the brain important for avoiding distractions and controlling impulses. Magnetic resonance (MR) scans have shown that when people meditate, the gray matter in the brain associated with stress, anxiety, and depression shrinks.
There is a person named Andrew, who like me was easily distracted and also felt like a terrible meditator. An electrical engineer, he was convinced that the goal of meditation was to get rid of all thoughts and empty the mind. But even when he was trying to focus on his breathing, other thoughts leaked in. He was ready to give up on the practice because he wasn’t making progress as quickly as he expected, and felt he was wasting his time. But as he reflected on his experience, Andrew realized that even when he felt distracted during his 5 or 10 minutes of meditation, he was more focused on days he meditated than on days when he skipped it. He also realized that on the days he meditated, when he was just about to order something salty and deep-fried for lunch (he was trying to improve his diet), he was more likely to order something healthier. When he had a sarcastic comment on his lips and needed to pause and hold his tongue, on the days he meditated he found he was more likely to bite his tongue. And when he was distracted at work—which was often—he realized that on the days he meditated he was better able to refocus on his work and get back on track.
These changes may seem superficial, but if our goal is to experience God in our everything, then our eating choices, how we talk to other people, how we work really matter.
A simple practice of meditation helps me become more present to God in each part of my life.
Meditation not only helps improve my ability to concentrate, it helps me live a more focused life. Rather than serving as an antidote to multitasking, it can helps me monotask—to focus on just one thing at a time.
I have been inspired by the wisdom of the ZEN tradition to aim to do just one thing at a time. The Vietnamese ZEN master, Thich Nhat Hanh, says: “While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterward and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means that you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes.”
When I monotask, I aim not to just hurry through something to check it off my “to-do” list, but to actually be mindful and present while doing it, and then move on to the next thing. Walk from here to there. Type an email. Work on a budget. Eat an oat bar. Read. Talk to a friend. Cut the grass. Wash the dishes. Change a water filter. Read a story. Bathe our son.
Most of the time, I don’t live this way (I recently got a well-deserved ticket for talking on my smart phone while driving), but from time to time, when I consciously do just one thing at a time, it helps me be more fully present and aware of God. I start to feel like I am not merely a person who says my prayers but that my life itself is becoming a kind of prayer. Ultimately, meditation and the contemplative life is not about removing oneself from the world, but empowering us to become more fully present and responsive to it.
Truly, there are a number of words, phrases, sentence…etc.,(many are listed above) used by Ken Shigematsu that cause concern. The concern stems from the fact that these words and phrases come either directly from Eastern Mystical practices or at a minimum are not taught as normative in the Bible. When was the last time you practiced your breathing? Lived Contemplatively?
When altered states of conscientious are achieved, it leaves the participant highly susceptible to whatever thought comes to into the mind at this point. That is dangerous on many different levels.
More could be said. Simply stated, one has to question why a Pastor who has been trained in God’s word would combine practices from other religions in with Christianity. To me, that is a serious problem that conflicts with many passages of scripture. It can leave one open to influence from sources other than God when in these types of altered states.
Ken Shigematsu, author of God In My Everything – How An Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God.
Ken is the Senior Pastor of Tenth Church (C&MA) in Vancouver, BC, one of the largest and most diverse city-center churches in Canada. He is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal awarded to Canadians in recognition
for their outstanding contribution to the country. Before entering pastoral ministry, he worked for the Sony Corporation in Tokyo and draws on both EASTERN and western perspectives in his writing and speaking. Ken is the author of God in My Everything (Zondervan 2013).
Ken Shigematsu shows that a vibrant spiritual life is for all of us–not just those predisposed to SOLITUDE and reflection. The time-tested spiritual practice of the “rule of life” can bring you into a closer relationship with God. A personal rule of life fits almost any vocation or life situation and shifts with you as life changes.
Journey down this ancient pathway and learn to enjoy God as you draw closer to Christ.
Ken Shigematsu shows that SPIRTUAL FORMATION is more than just SOLITUDE and CONTEMPLATIVE reflections. SPIRITUAL FORMATION happens in the everyday, in each and every moment of life. For those caught up in the busyness of work, family, and church, it often feels like time with God is just another thing on a crowded “to-do’ list. Ken explains how the time-tested spiritual practice of the “rule of life” can help bring busy people into a closer relationship with God. He shows how a personal rule of life can fit almost any vocation or life situation.
In God in My Everything, you will discover how to create and practice a life-giving, sustainable RHYTHM in the midst of your demanding life. If you long for a DEEPER spirituality but often feel that the busyness of life makes a close relationship with God challenging—and, at times, seemingly impossible—this book is for you.
I commend the author for an appeal to challenges that most all of us face in life. I also respect his background coming from an Eastern perspective which reveals a different perspective on many different issues in life.
Ken is a pastor with the Christian & Missionary Alliance. It is important to not judge Ken Shigematsu’s motives beyond what he has revealed in his writings and speeches. This critique is focused on comparing his beliefs, teachings, books,….etc. to what is in God’s word regarding various areas of our lives. I’m sure if we looked at what Ken promotes from a biblical perspective, we could also demonstrate a number of biblical perspectives that he is promoting well.
With this strength also comes several concerns. Starting from the very beginning of his book in its title – “God In My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God” there is a sense that this book is not your standard Evangelical perspective. While some may applaud that perspective, there are several real concerns starting from the very beginning of the book. This is even shown in the book description as listed above. For someone who has followed this blog for quite a while now, they should quickly see some wording that raises red flags – requiring some additional biblical vetting on the message be conveyed in the book.
- A sampling of these phrases that should tip off these concerns include: EASTERN PERSPECTIVE, SOLITUDE, CONTEMPLATIVE, SPIRITUAL FORMATION, SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES, PRACTICE, going DEEP(ER), RHYTHM, ANCIENT PATHWAY, RULE OF LIFE….etc.
- Previous postings describe several of these which are commonly used in contemplative and mystical writings to convey concepts that have limited or no biblical justification for. At the risk of repeating myself too often, in some cases, the lack of biblical support is made up by having more similarities to other religions such as EASTERN MYSTICISM as well as ancient practices found in some of the Early Church Roman Catholicism which also followed MYSTICAL practices.
Starting from the beginning in Chapter 1, which is titled – “Monks, Samurai, and the Christian Life” forshadows the reader on the direction Ken will take in conveying his ideas. But even before we go down this path, there are several other red flags that one can identify as possible concerns. I used to repeat ad nauseam, the phrase – “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. While I still believe it to be true, technically speaking, the reality of today’s trends in “Christian books” have shown that in many cases today, you can judge a book by its cover.
Both on the cover and inside the book, many of the references Ken Shigematsu uses come from a more liberal, progressive, “emerging church”, mystical perspective. Some examples include TONY CAMPOLO, PETE SCAZZERO, SHANE CLAIBORNE, JOHN ORTBERG.….etc. These names are easily recognizable to many. But, in each of these examples, these authors have demonstrated repeatedly their preference to trends coming from mystical practices instead of Scripture. It is also not uncommon that these teachers promote a SOCIAL GOSPEL instead of a biblical GOSPEL to those who unexpectantly follow through with what is being taught. These practices can draw a follower of Christ further from a close fellowship with God and into areas that are only found in Eastern & early Roman Catholic Mysticism.
One example of this comes with the word MEDITATION. As explained in previous postings, many today directly use and apply methods that come out of Eastern religions and are not taught in the Bible – breathing techniques, posture, repetition of a mantra, emptying the mind……etc. Some of these are used by Ken Shigematsu without question. A huge red flag!
The question many of you have may be – “So what?” While there are several dangers to doing these things, let me just say these techniques empty the mind. Once the mind is more focused (on “nothingness”), it allows the person to focus on whatever would then come into the mind next. Like TRANSCENDENTAL MEDIATION, a person can be influenced by whatever then affects that person during these meditations. If they are following after non-biblical practices to achieve this focus, it is not too difficult to see how demonic influences could start to affect the person’s walk.
Back to the first chapter, Ken introduces the reader to his promotion of a MONASTIC walk in his spiritual life. Monasticism is making huge inroads into Evangelicalism today. It is quite mind-boggling that the church has taken a turn in following after practices not prescribed by God’s word but in essence come from practices from other religions (i.e. Eastern) and ancient Roman Catholicism. This new NEO-MONASTICISM is a topic we will discuss in the future postings on Ken Shigematsu’s book – God In My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God“. It is an important topic to discuss and be made aware of with concerns of drawing people away from God and family.
“ORIGINS – Where Gaming Begins”….but I digress.
Is your church “doing SPIRITUAL FORMATION”?
Is your church promoting SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES?
These are some of the catch phrases EMERGING today within the church as more and more Christians become increasingly influenced by a CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM that has become popular within Evangelicalism over the last several years.
How people use these words and phrases may differ today but their origins can be traced – in some cases back to the EARLY CHURCH or in other cases to various MYSTICAL PHILOSOPHIES and EASTERN RELIGIONS. To properly understand their meaning, it is important to understand their original meaning and compare it to what is being promoted today.
For example – some will use the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION (& SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES) to describe what basically has been known as DISCIPLESHIP. A problem arises when the principles behind what we call SPIRITUAL FORMATION have little in common with what Scripture teaches and more in common with what was taught by some in the EARLY CHURCH.
Why is that a problem? A problem arises when the church looks to history and actually values man’s views higher than God’s word. (2 Timothy 3:16)
When a source other than the Bible is used to establish practices and define doctrine, this can be an invitation to do down a path over time that is simply not beneficial in our spiritual walk. This can lead people/church away from its primary mission (i.e. discipleship) and into other activities not specified in the Bible. In the example of SPIRITUAL FORMATION, some of these popular activities were performed during the EARLY CHURCH. This fact alone will convince some to hold these concepts on par with the Bible. When the “Early Church” is brought into a conversation, it seemingly conveys a status of authority that some will actually say is equivalent to Scripture. Others won’t actually go that far in saying that but in practice, they hold up the Early Church sometimes more so than they look to Scripture.
Therefore, as doctrine develops in the church, if is not rooted and grounded in the Bible, then the opportunity exists for all sorts of error and aberrant theology to develop. When you read through the Bible in both the OT and the NT, the people of God have repeatedly dealt with doctrinal errors and heresies. In fact, we are warned that as we approach the final days, the amount of false teaching will increase – 2 Peter 2:
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. …
Many things could be said in this passage in 2 Peter. But looking at a few of the main issues include the following.When we look to define SPIRITUAL FORMATION, some basic observations should be noted.
=> False teaching came from WITHIN the church.
=> False teaching came from WITHIN the leadership of the church
=> False teaching will be SECRETLY brought in.
=> False teaching will be DESTRUCTIVE.
=> DECEPTIVE words will be used.
=> TRUTH will be BLASPHEMED.
It may be no accident that concepts such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION have caught on among Bible colleges and seminaries. There is an intellectual elite side to the appeal of these practices even though the practices themselves tend to downplay intellect, knowledge, doctrine,….etc. So, with this in mind, let’s look at the MEANING and the ORIGINS of the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.
First, we don’t see this phrase used in the Bible. It is a simple fact but one that should be clearly noted when we decide to follow the associated teachings that spring forth from its inclusion in Christian practice. That doesn’t void its use in Christian practices and doctrine, (e.g. the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible but defines a core aspect of our faith found throughout Scripture) but it should cause you to look further at the principles being suggested to determine if they are biblically supported.
Second – If the phrase is largely dependent on historical traditions – then, obviously, we should investigate how these traditions developed and how they were used over time in the church. Again, we need to look at the core principles being suggested to determine if they are biblically supported.
So, how is this phrase used in Christianity today and where did it originate from historically”. In a previous posting, we looked at the recent history of SPIRITUAL FORMATION. Let’s look back further in history (and we won’t do this justice in this blog):
As we look back at the “Early Church“, one of the earliest sources to investigate is with Origen (A.D. 185-254). You may recall that Origen rejected the single meaning of a text of Scripture and adopted the Greek allegorical approach popular in secular mythological literature especially in the Alexandria, Egypt, region in which he lived.
This view taught that every passage of Scripture had various levels of meaning. It ranged from the literal, which was the simplest, to the allegorical, which was considered the most insightful. The allegorical is described using some of the same phraseology used today among contemplative spiritual formation proponents => allegorical was viewed as the DEEPER and RICHER form of biblical interpretation.
Origen and proponents searched for hidden, symbolic meanings within the biblical texts – but they were not necessarily the meaning intended by the author. The result of this approach was not an accurate understanding what the Scripture was saying but rather it opened up the reader to all kinds of aberrant interpretations.
Gary Gilley (from “Roots of the Spiritual Formation Movement”, Think on These Things Ministry) states that “this method was guided by personal imagination instead of informed study which of course led to all sorts of fanciful and, at times, heretical, interpretations”.
There are those today (e.g. Emerging Church proponents) who recommend reading material from Origen himself. I came across this from a men’s small group leader at my church who wanted to drop reading the Bible and instead read through the works of Origen for a period of time. Someone asked me of my opinion and I stated that while there may be a time and place for reading the works of Origen, replacing the Bible in a small group setting is not the time and place for it. Unknown to the leader, Origen taught a number of heresies such as UNIVERSALISM and PRE-EXISTENCE of SOULS. I don’t think that is the type of material we should be focusing on instead of the Bible.
An author, who is supportive of Origen’s views, wrote, “Almost all Christian spiritual and ascetic literature, ever since, has been indebted to Origen’s foundational architecture of Christian MYSTICISM.”
2b) DESERT FATHERS
Next up on the scene were the DESERT FATHERS. After Emperor Constantine’s conversion and the established the church as the state religion in 312-313 A.D., the persecutions of Christians were no longer carried out by the state. As a result, some saw the struggle against evil being minimized when Constantine took power. Becuase of this, (“man” in his infinite wisdom (not)), some felt the need to carry on the struggle resisting evil and left their places of comfort in society and fled to the desert to take up an ASCETIC life in battling evil. Many became isolated hermits while some formed local communities in the dessert. In a somewhat ironic shift in thinking, today we find Evangelicals going after the writings of those Desert Fathers and applying them to their walk today. (see item number #4 below)
The desert fathers followed in Origen’s footsteps. Gerald L. Sittser, “The Desert Fathers,” p. 199, states –
Their overall approach to the Bible seems—and, in fact, is—foreign to the modern age. They jumped from text to text, as if by free association, making connections that would appear odd to us, and they interpreted the Bible allegorically, which gives the impression that their interpretation is informed more by fanciful imagination than by careful exegesis.
Gary Gilley states that
“this approach to Scripture ultimately led to numerous schools of spirituality (ways of living out the gospel) such as Augustinian, Dominican, Benedictine, Ignatian and so forth. But ultimately they all had one thing in common, the so-called tripartite division of spiritual life. The sine qua non of this three-fold division consists of purgation, illumination, and union and is found in ALL forms of MYSTICISM, not just Christianized forms.”
Greg Peters defines these terms:
The purgative way consists in one’s active cleansing and is aided by spiritual exercises and ascetic practices, through the cultivation of humility and by practicing the virtues. Further advancement is made with the assistance of meditation, prayer and contemplation. The illuminative way is characterized by further meditation, prayer and contemplation, combined with the reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, additional spiritual exercises and a devotion to the Virgin Mary. The unitive way involves the exercising of proper Christian love until one experiences or achieves MYSTICAL UNION with God as Trinity. Greg Peters, “Spiritual Theology, ibid, p. 82, (cf. pp. 188-189).
MYSTICISM – Gary Gilley goes on to summarize –
- PURGATION = emptying oneself not only of sin but of passion, desire and even of intellectual thought.
- ILLUMINATION = is what takes place when the Lord fills the emptiness of our souls and minds with extrabiblical knowledge and experience
- UNION = is that mystical contact with God that cannot be rationally described, only experienced.
It is a bit beyond the scope of this posting to give too much more detail on these aspects of mysticism. But, some general conclusions can easily be identified with characteristics we see in even among Evangelicals today:
- An important goal in MYSTICISM is the belief that we can ALL achieve a UNION with God.
- We become like Christ by practicing SPIRITUAL EXERCISES/DISCIPLINES.
- RATIONAL (intellect) is downplayed while extra-biblical EXPERIENCE in encouraged.
The implications of these include the belief (by some) that the UNION achieved with God is available and achievable by all people (not just Christians). What comes to mind are false teachings such as UNIVERSALISM. A quote found in a popular book promoting a mystical view:
“… any and all active contemplation on your part is also just preparation for bringing you to a passive state. They are preparations. They are not the end. They are a way to the end. The end is union with God” (Guyon, Experiencing Union with God through Inner Prayer).
=> David Cloud states that – “This is a pagan concept that has no basis in Scripture. The believer is a child of God, but he is not absorbed into God and does not partake of his divine essence. Only Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, can say that He is one with and of the same essence with God. Christ alone dwells in the light “which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:15). In Revelation 22:3, in the New Heaven and New Earth, the Bible says that God is still God and “his servants shall serve him.” God is God, and though the believer is His child through Christ, he is not God and never will be. When 1 Peter 1:4 speaks of being a “partaker of the divine nature,” it refers to partaking of God’s moral qualities, which is what the Bible means when it speaks of man as made in the image of God. Adam was made in God’s image morally, as an upright being, but Adam was not God. 1 Peter 1:4 refers to the same thing as Ephesians 4:24, “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” and as Colossians 3:10, “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” www.wayoflife.org
SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES (silence, solitude, chanting, meditation….etc.) may sound like a constructive description, but some of the disciplines include items that are not biblical. In fact, some of the disciplines are mirror images of practices within Eastern Mysticism and other Eastern religious and New Age beliefs.
=> Keep in mind, these fall under the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.
As discussed above, during the first two centuries of church history persecution and martyrdom were not uncommon. Many Christians suffered because the church stood against the corrupt world system and the devil. The martyrs became the heroes of the faith. These folks, willingly made the ultimate sacrifice for Christ. That changed in 312 A.D. with the legalization of Christianity by Constantine. Some viewed the change as a watering down of the Christian faith. Martyrdom became a thing of the past, and Christians were asking who would become the spiritual heroes of this new generation?
Hermits and monks who later became known as the desert fathers and mothers were the ones who stepped out of their life of relative comfort. D. Cloud states that “They originally moved to the deserts of Egypt, and to similar areas, because it was their belief that Satan still ruled there and they sought battle with him as Christians had battled him during times of persecution. And in the face of a softening approach to the Christian life they wanted to demonstrate dedication. As their reputations grew, the desert fathers and mothers became the Christian heroes of their day. Many flooded to the deserts to see these living martyrs, to perhaps learn from them, and some to join them.”
What developed were many misguided attempts to show the dedication of the hermits and monks. Extreme forms of asceticism included fasting, days & nights without sleep, celibacy, poverty, loneliness….etc. It was under these extreme, self-induced physical conditions that some of these folks began to claim visions and revelations from the Lord.
Gary Gilley states that –
“these were passed down orally by their followers and then recorded in books to be spread throughout the Christian community. These writings became the basis for new forms of spiritualties that continue to have an impact on the church to this day. Those in the Spiritual Formation Movement today look continually to this group, which they call spiritual masters and physicians of the soul, for insights into a deeper life with God. The roots of spiritual formation are planted in the desert fathers and mothers of the second to sixth centuries.”
However to these early formers of mystical and ascetic spirituality must be added a number of others who mostly appeared in the Medieval Era, an era variously pegged as from 325 (the council of Nicaea) to 604 (the death of Pope Gregory the Great) and ending from 1453 (the fall of Constantinople to the Turks) to 1517 (Luther posting his “Ninety-Five Theses”). Developers and promoters of these forms of Christianity included Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Bonaventure (1217-1274), Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), Pseudo-Dionysius (c. 500), and Thomas á Kempis (1380-1471), to name a few. Around the time of the Reformation a number of efforts were made by Rome to draw those who had adopted Reformational theology back to the Catholic Church. This Counter-Reformation was led in part by those who supported mystical and ascetic views and insights. This same group popularized their ideas by means of their own experiences, supposed visions and writings. St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) were among the luminaries.
Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) is somewhat representative of this latter group. She was a nun in Norwich, England, who was locked in a cell that was attached to a church and lived there in seclusion (such women were called anchoresses). These cells or anchor holds would have a window that looked into the church so the individual could participate in the worship services. There would also be another window in which to receive food and water. While living in this condition, and at a time of extreme sickness, Julian claimed that she received 16 “showings” (revelations) on May 8, 1373, when she was 30 years old. These showings are held in high regard by the mystics and became somewhat of a pattern for the visions of others, which became increasingly common during this era.”
Consistent throughout the history of the mystical and ascetic spiritualties, including those promoting spiritual formation today, has been the four-fold hermeneutical approach to Scripture attempting to follow the three stage pathway to spirituality (purgation, illumination, union), as well as openness to extrabiblical visions, revelations, traditions and practices. It is the acceptance of these three foundational premises that has enabled this branch of heretical Christianity to survive and flourish.
While these stories are more common within Roman Catholic circles, today, we are seeing many Evangelicals being caught up with these practices. Many Evangelicals are reading books about these historic figures and mimicking the practices they used which originated from the mystical and ascetic life of the hermits living in the deserts. Relatively strong evangelicals are willing to drop their safeguards and minimize the clear teaching of Scripture in order to glean from these mystics what they believe will be spiritual insights. This is true even as these evangelicals are aware that the theological foundation of this system of spirituality is often corrupt to the core.
Gilley discusses this –
“One of the most interesting and puzzling examples of this is Dr. Bruce Demarest, former professor of theology at Denver Seminary for more than thirty years. Demarest is a man who has studied and taught evangelical theology for virtually his entire life and recognizes true heresy when he sees it. In writing the chapter “Reading Catholic Spirituality” in the book Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics, Demarest expresses deep appreciation for what he has learned from Roman Catholics concerning spiritual life. Yet he knows full well that the spiritual masters that he promotes and the teachings of Rome are in serious doctrinal error. He identifies a number of these himself: Catholic spiritual writers placed church tradition on par with Scripture and used faulty hermeneutics; they believed in papal supremacy and infallibility; they had a low view of the fall and human sinfulness; they did not call clearly for conversion; they did not believe in justification by faith alone; they believed in a redemptive role for Mary; they prayed to Mary and the saints; they practiced severe asceticism; they promoted unbiblical mysticism; and they were, and are, a pathway to Eastern religions. Fred Sanders, another author who is supportive of who many call the spiritual masters and their classics, nevertheless admits, “These nonevangelical traditions may hold the gospel itself in stewardship, but they are messing it up, and a messed-up gospel is not the gospel; its result is dysangel, not evangel; bad news, not good.” 
Many of these are core doctrines of the faith. To simply follow after them and substitute them in the place of Scripture and orthodox historic church practice is a serious change that many Evangelicals are misunderstanding in their rush to jump into these practices. In essence, these new Spiritual Disciplines fall into their own form of a WORKS mentality which looks to achieve based on disciplines that are engaged and practiced in their walk.
=> The positions taken by the “spiritual masters” and the Church of Rome place them outside the realm of biblical Christianity and in some cases demonstrate a clear rejection of the gospel.
Is your church involved in SPIRITUAL FORMATION? As we have seen, there are several indicators showing that may be the case. Is your church promoting the writings of the Desert Fathers and from the Early Church (e.g. is your Sunday School class reading from Origen or Teresa of Avila, St.John of the Cross….etc.)? Do you see and hear terms such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION being used over biblical descriptions such as DISCIPLESHIP?
REVIEW: In our the previous postings on SPIRITUAL FORMATION, we have
- looked at several different definitions of Spiritual Formation from various perspectives.
- looked at the history of how Spiritual Formation entered into mainstream Evangelical churches mainly from Roman Catholic sources but also influenced from with many similarities found in Eastern religions.
- looked at how some have mis-interpreted commonly used passages in the Bible to justify their meaning of related practices under the umbrella of Spiritual Formation.
=> Common phrases such as “Be STILL and know…..etc.” (Ps. 46:10) have been mis-interpreted by many people historically up through today. As a result, there are several so-called Spiritual Disciplines such as SOLITUDE, STILLNESS and SILENCE that have evolved from these mistaken interpretations. They have spawned many practices that have more in common with other mystical religions from the East. We see a similarity in historic ancient Roman Catholic mystical practices from the time of the early church through the Middle Ages. Roman Catholicism has a long history of people who proclaimed God’ word.
Looking more in detail at the origins and meaning of Spiritual Formation, we can see other sources for this information –
The Christian Research Network* states:
Despite assertions that the spiritual disciplines are “God-ordained,”13 they are in fact derived from the practices of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mystics.14 These practices are contrary to the biblical theology fought for in the Reformation.
Gary Gilley asks:
Do we, as believers in Sola Scriptura, take our marching orders from the written Word, or do we look to the ‘white spaces’ in Scripture to determine how we live?15
In other words, are we to turn to mystical, subjective ascetic practices, or do we rely upon the objective truth of God’s Word?
Bob DeWaay contends:
The Bible nowhere describes an inward journey to explore the realm of the spirit. God chose to reveal the truth about spiritual reality through His ordained, Spirit-inspired, biblical writers.16
UNBIBLICAL VIEW OF MAN’S CONDITION
Spiritual formation teaches that man possesses innate goodness, but that his fallen state of sin is a result of “deprivation” or “spiritual starvation.” Thus, the disciplines help to feed, mature and grow man’s spirituality. In his Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard states:
The evil that we do in our present condition is a reflection of a weakness caused by spiritual starvation. When Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was not just being generous to his killers; he was expressing the facts of the case. They really did not know what they were doing. As St. Augustine so clearly saw, the deranged condition of humankind is not, at bottom, a positive fact, but a deprivation. It is one that results in vast positive evils, of course, yet depravity is no less a horror because it stems from a deficiency, and people are no less responsible for it and its consequences.17
INVENTED PRACTICES MADE BINDING UPON CHRISTIANS
Spiritual disciplines are not commanded in Scripture. To impose practices not commanded in Scripture as necessary for spiritual maturity is to undermine and deny the sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
In spite of the absence of an explicit command in Scripture to practice these disciplines, leaders like Dallas Willard continue to assert their necessity:
The disciplines are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken, to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order. They enable us more and more to live in a power that is, strictly speaking, beyond us, deriving from the spiritual realm itself, as we “yield ourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God,” as Romans 6:13 puts it.
The necessity for such disciplines comes from the very nature of the self in the image of God, discussed earlier. Once the individual has through divine initiative become alive to God and his Kingdom, the extent of integration of his or her total being into that Kingdom order significantly depends upon the individual’s initiative.18
Though Dallas Willard admits that the Bible does not command that these disciplines be followed, he nevertheless argues that they were practiced among members of the early church. Bob DeWaay summarizes Willard’s argument regarding Paul’s silence as being that he “did not write about the spiritual disciplines because everyone was practicing them.”19 He further states:
Spiritual disciplines are man-made, amorphous, and not revealed in the Bible; they assume that one is saved by grace and perfected by works.”20
The Apostle Paul writes against such ascetic practices. In Col. 2:20–23, Paul rebukes the idea of relying on fleshly practices to grow in holiness. Gal. 3:3 reads: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected in the flesh?”
Though proponents like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard claim that spiritual formation has been practiced since the early days of the church, Foster admits that the term “spiritual formation” did not appear in evangelical vocabulary until he ushered it into the mainstream in the 1970s with The Celebration of Discipline:
By now enough water has gone under the Christian Spiritual Formation bridge that we can give some assessment of where we have come and what yet needs to be done. When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. And more.”21
POSSIBILITY OF REAL SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES NOT FROM GOD
Richard Foster himself has offered warnings when it comes to practicing some of the disciplines. In regard to the practice of contemplative prayer, which is a type of meditation, Foster, in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, writes:
I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on that, there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way!….
…But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.22
When seeking to “hear from God,” there is no biblical guidance as to how one may determine exactly who or what is communicating. Foster himself notes that not only could one be deceived by Satan, but one may also mistake one’s own imagination or “human voices” for the voice of God.
Learning to distinguish the voice of God…from just human voices within us…comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. Satan pushes and condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference.23
Though Foster provides criteria for determining just who or what is speaking, there is no biblical support for the specifications he provides. He implies that God will always speak in a positive manner, yet there are multiple instances in Scripture when God speaks negatively to His people. About Foster’s comments in the above-referenced Be Still DVD, Pastor Larry DeBruyn writes:
Assuming that God speaks Soul to soul today, what if Foster’s paradigm for determining “the voice” were reversed; that the negative voice is God’s, and the positive is Satan’s? It happened that way in the Garden. God warned Adam and Eve that for disobedience to God, “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17), but Satan reassuringly told Adam and Eve, “You surely shall not die!” (Genesis 3:4). The point is that when engaging meditative spirituality, the contemplator can never be certain who will speak, and as a consequence, the experience can become the spawning ground for myriads of flashy ideas based solely upon, “he heard this,” or “she heard that.” And at that juncture, Christians and the church will have turned aside “to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4).24
Deception is rampant, and unbiblical, mystical practices may offer people an actual spiritual experience, though not one that originates from the true and living God. To ignore the boundaries of Scripture is to open oneself up to danger.
In addition to Foster descriptions and warnings about these related SILENCE and MEDIATION,…..etc. and various types of CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, Dr. Rod Whitacre from Trinity School of Ministry in Contemplative Prayer: A Brief Introduction, states (with my highlights added):
DANGER can arise if we practice the more extreme forms of physical control found in some forms of contemplative prayer. A gentle attention to the breath is not a danger, but more intensive forms of control of the breath or the beating of the heart can interfere with these functions and cause damage. Such practices should be avoided unless one has a competent guide.
Another form of DANGER occurs if we let our mind go blank, rather than focusing on the Lord. Such a condition can open us to demonic suggestion.
Sometimes people try to practice contemplative forms of prayer, but in fact they only daydream. Instead of an alert concentration on God, they simply let their minds roam among various thoughts and feelings, with perhaps a vague sense of God in the background. Such woolgathering is not the Prayer of the Heart and can have the negative effect of making us more vague and fuzzy in the rest of our life.
Since contemplative forms of prayer can be DISTURBING or even DANGEROUS, it is often recommended that we have a spiritual director, or at least a close friend who is sympathetic with such prayer with whom to share something of what we are experiencing. However, if we avoid excessive interference with our breathing and heartbeat, and if we focus on the Lord, asking for His guidance and protection, there need be no danger. The regular reading of Scripture and participation in Christian community, especially worship, are further safeguards.
Along with these practical DANGERS, there are also potential theological DANGERS. Those who seek to simply attend to God’s Presence as such, with no thoughts of any sort, are practicing an ancient and valuable form of Christian prayer, but such prayer can run the RISK of seeking a God beyond God, like some of the ancient Gnostics, and denying the Incarnation. We can guard against this DANGER by putting our contemplative prayer in the context of lectio divina, the meditative reading of Scripture.
Similarly, such forms of prayer can promote unmediated God-mysticism. The focus of the New Testament, however, is the Presence of God mediated to us in Jesus, the divine/human Son. Indeed, St. John seems to consciously reject unmediated God- mysticism, insisting that no one has seen God apart from Christ (e.g., John 1.18). The writings of John Main contain much help in understanding the role of Christ and the Holy Spirit in contemplative prayer.
There is so much to be said about these comments, but for now, I will just focus on the fact that a contemplative prayer advocate spends a great deal of time explaining the DANGER of contemplative forms of prayers. He makes it sound casually…….alarming and scary. This is how the Richard Foster describes the dangers associated with these practices.
=> The question becomes WHY are we suggesting to pursue a practice that comes with this type of DANGER? Does Scripture give us these stark warnings when we pray?
To be continued.