5 Christian Mysticism – Part 2

“Christian” mysticism replaces the conviction and certainty that we can have in God’s Word with a subjective personal experience.  Recall that “mysticism,” as defined by Merriam-Webster.com, is “The belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight).”[1] The specific aspects of mysticism that we are considering in this book rely upon methods and practices which not only cannot be found in Scripture, but which often directly contradict the principles of Scripture. This is the pinnacle of spiritual deception. Recall that one of our litmus tests for identifying the spirit of antichrist is that this spirit is a liar and a deceiver (2 John 1:7). Moreover, this spirit denies the authority of God’s Word (1 John 5:10–12). Any practice which places personal experience above the certainty of God’s Word is necessarily governed by the spirit of antichrist. As such, it cannot deepen one’s relationship with God or strengthen one’s faith.

 

In his book Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will To Discern, Dr. John MacArthur does a great job of expressing how mysticism does not improve one’s faith; rather, it inevitably leads Christians into a reckless form of faith:

Mysticism is the idea that spiritual reality is found by looking inward. Mysticism is perfectly suited for religious existentialism; indeed, it is its inevitable consequence. The mystic disdains rational understanding and seeks truth instead through the feelings, the imagination, personal visions, inner voices, private illumination, or other purely subjective means. Objective truth becomes practically superfluous.

Mystical experiences are therefore self-authenticating; that is, they are not subject to any form of objective verification. They are unique to the person who experiences them. Since they do not arise from or depend upon any rational process, they are invulnerable to any refutation by rational means.

Arthur L. Johnson writes,

The experience convinces the mystic in such a way, and to such a degree, that [he] simply cannot doubt its value and the correctness of what he believes it “says.”

. . . In its crudest form this position says that believing something to be so makes it so. The idea is that ultimate reality is purely mental; therefore one is able to create whatever reality one wishes. Thus the mystic “creates” truth through his experience. In a less extreme form, the view seems to be that there are “alternate realities,” one as real as another, and that these “break in upon” the mystic in his experiences. Whatever form is taken, the criterion of truth is again a purely private and subjective experience that provides no means of verification and no safeguard against error. Nevertheless, it is seen by the mystic as being above question by others.

The practical result of all this is that it is nearly impossible to reason with any convinced mystic. Such people are generally beyond the reach of reason.

Mysticism is therefore antithetical to discernment. It is an extreme form of reckless faith.

Mysticism is the great melting pot into which neo-orthodoxy, the charismatic movement, anti-intellectual evangelicals, and even some segments of Roman Catholicism have been synthesized. It has produced movements like the Third Wave (a neo-charismatic movement with excessive emphasis on signs, wonders, and personal prophecies); Renovaré (an organization that blends teachings from monasticism, ancient Catholic mysticism, Eastern religion, and other mystical traditions); the spiritual warfare movement (which seeks to engage demonic powers in direct confrontation); and the modern prophecy movement (which encourages believers to seek private, extrabiblical revelation directly from God). The influx of mysticism has also opened evangelicalism to New-Age concepts like subliminal thought-control, inner healing, communication with angels, channeling, dream analysis, positive confession, and a host of other therapies and practices coming directly from occult and Eastern religions. The face of evangelicalism has changed so dramatically in the past twenty years that what is called evangelicalism today is beginning to resemble what used to be called neo-orthodoxy. If anything, some segments of contemporary evangelicalism are even more subjective in their approach to truth than neo-orthodoxy ever was.

It could be argued that evangelicalism never successfully resisted neo-orthodoxy. Twenty years ago evangelicals took a heroic stand against neo-orthodox influences on the issue of biblical inerrancy. But whatever victory was gained in that battle is now being sacrificed on the altar of mysticism. Mysticism renders biblical inerrancy irrelevant. After all, if the highest truth is subjective and comes from within us, then it doesn’t ultimately matter if the specifics of Scripture are true or not. If the content of faith is not the real issue, what does it really matter if the Bible has errors or not?

In other words, neo-orthodoxy attacked the objective inspiration of Scripture. Evangelical mysticism attacks the objective interpretation of Scripture. The practical effect is the same. By embracing existential relativism, evangelicals are forfeiting the very riches they fought so hard to protect. If we can gain meaningful guidance from characters who appear in our fantasies, why should we bother ourselves with what the Bible says? If we are going to disregard or even reject the biblical verdict against homosexuality, what difference does it make if the historical and factual matter revealed in Scripture is accurate or inaccurate? If personal prophecies, visions, dreams, and angelic beings are available to give us up-to-the-minute spiritual direction—“fresh revelation” as it is often called—who cares if Scripture is without error in the whole or in the parts?

Mysticism further nullifies Scripture by pointing people away from the sure Word of God as the only reliable object of faith. Warning of the dangers of mysticism, Schaeffer wrote,

Probably the best way to describe this concept of modern theology is to say that it is faith in faith, rather than faith directed to an object which is actually there. . . . A modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its “size” as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward. . . . Faith is introverted, because it has no certain object . . . it is rationally not open to discussion. This position, I would suggest, is actually a greater despair and darkness than the position of those modern men who commit suicide.

The faith of mysticism is an illusion. “Truth that is true for me” is irrelevant to anyone else, because it lacks any objective basis. Ultimately, therefore, existential faith is impotent to lift anyone above the level of despair. All it can do is seek more experiences and more feelings. Multitudes are trapped in the desperate cycle of feeding off one experience while zealously seeking the next. Such people have no real concept of truth; they just believe. Theirs is a reckless faith.[2]

 

Rather than safe-guard the Christian from this reckless form of faith, many pastors and churches are actively promoting mystical techniques. Consequently, Christians are being initiated into mysticism in droves. To consider each of these mystical techniques would be an exercise in futility. Instead, let us consider several of the key areas of contemplative mysticism which the modern Christian church has found so appealing.

 

Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer is the practice of using relaxation techniques and repetition to empty the mind in order to connect with the presence of God within one’s self. Within the Christian church today, there are many synonyms for “contemplative prayer.” Some of these synonyms include “meditative prayer,” “centering prayer,” “soaking prayer,” “prayer of listening,” “prayer of the heart,” “prayer of faith,” “prayer of simplicity,” “pure prayer,” and “Christian meditation.” Regardless of what one calls it, this is, in essence, the ancient practice of transcendental meditation. According to the editor of New Age Journal, in his New Age treatise titled As Above, So Below:

Those who have practiced Transcendental Meditation may be surprised to learn that Christianity has its own time-honored form of mantra meditation. The technique, called Centering Prayer, draws on the spiritual exercises of the Desert Fathers, the English devotional classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, and the famous Jesus Prayer practiced by the Eastern Christian tradition.[3]

 

In his book Spiritual Friend, Tilden Edwards writes about contemplative prayer, referring to it as a mystical stream:

This mystical stream is the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality … It is no accident that the most active frontier between Christian and Eastern religions today is between contemplative Christian monks and their Eastern equivalents. Some forms of Eastern meditation informally have been incorporated or adapted into the practice of many Christian monks, and increasingly by other Christians.[4]

It is interesting to notice here that Mr. Edwards states that contemplative prayer is a bridge, not to God, but to “Far Eastern spirituality.” Tilden Edwards admits that contemplative prayer is equivalent to the Eastern practice of transcendental meditation, and that it is the primary method being used to introduce Eastern mysticism into Christian churches.

 

Embedded in the forward to William Johnston’s book The Mystical Way is the observation:

The twentieth century, which has seen so many revolutions, is now witnessing the rise of a new mysticism within Christianity. . . . For the new mysticism has learned much from the great religions of Asia. It has felt the impact of yoga and Zen and the monasticism of Tibet. It pays attention to posture and breathing; it knows about the music of the mantra and the silence of samadhi.[5]

(In Hinduism, the Samadhi is spiritual enlightenment.) Furthermore, according to a 1992 Newsweek article titled “Talking to God:”

The techniques [Herbert] Benson teaches—silence, appropriate body posture and, above all, emptying the mind through repetition of prayer—have been the practices of mystics in all the great world religions. And they form the basis on which most modern spiritual directors guide those who want to draw closer to God.[6]

 

Contemplative prayer is deeply rooted in the mystical. There is nothing decidedly Christian about this practice. Aside from a difference in vocabulary, there is virtually no distinction between it and the Eastern spiritual practice of transcendental meditation.

 

The term “contemplative prayer” is deceiving because it implies that one is thinking deeply while praying. Such an idea naturally resonates with the Christian given that Scripture repeatedly exhorts the Christian to meditate upon the precepts of God’s Word. The Hebrew word for “meditate” used in such passages as Psalm 77:11–12 and 119:15 means “to muse”*[7] or “to ponder.”*[8] In other words, the Biblical term for “meditation” means to think deeply upon something. However, contemplative prayer teaches that we must empty our minds and stop our thoughts in order to experience God. Jan Johnson has written a book advocating contemplative prayer called When the Soul Listens. In it she writes, “Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God’s presence, and it makes you better able to hear God’s voice correcting, guiding, and directing you.”[9]

 

In the context of contemplative prayer, to still one’s thoughts is intended to mean an emptying of one’s thoughts. This is what Jan Johnson advocates in her book When the Soul Listens. Quoting the contemplative classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, she writes:

“In the beginning, it is usual to feel nothing except a naked intent toward God in the depths of your being. If you strive to fix your love on God, forgetting all else, which is the work of contemplation, I am confident that God in his goodness will bring you to a deep experience of himself.” If you’re a person who has relied on yourself a great deal to know what’s going on, this unknowing will be unnerving.[10]

She then proceeds to recommend James Borst’s steps to contemplative prayer in his book A Method of Contemplative Prayer, “Let go of thoughts, relax, and maintain silence.”[11] She even suggests using the mantra “I am here” to empty the mind.

 

Often mantras are used to numb the mind. Constant repetition of a word or phrase—whether audible or mental—disengages the brain and induces a form of hypnosis. Jan Johnson writes, “The repetition can in fact be soothing and very freeing, helping us, as Nouwen says, ‘to empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God.’” In The Cloud of Unknowing, the author writes:

[T]ake just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two, for the shorter it is, the better it is in agreement with this exercise of the spirit. Such a one is the word “God” or the word “love.” … With this word you are to beat upon this cloud and this darkness above you. With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting, so that if any thought should press upon you and ask you what you would have, answer it with no other word but with this one.[12]

 

The particular word or phrase is meaningless. The same results can be achieved with any word or phrase regardless of how spiritual or secular it may be. In fact, the practitioner should not even think about the word or phrase being used as it is merely a tool to empty the mind. Contemplative prayer teacher and Zen Master Willigis Jager writes in Contemplation: A Christian Path, “Do not reflect on the meaning of the word; thinking and reflecting must cease, as all mystical writers insist. Simply ‘sound’ the word silently, letting go of all feelings and thoughts.”[13]

 

As is evidenced in When the Soul Listens, a foundational book upon which most advocates of contemplative prayer rely and frequently quote is The Cloud of Unknowing. In a sense, it is the Bible of contemplative prayer. According to this book:

Thought cannot comprehend God. And so, I prefer to abandon all I can know, choosing rather to love him whom I cannot know. Though we cannot know him, we can love him. By love he may be touched and embraced, never by thought. Of course, we do well at times to ponder God’s majesty or kindness for the insight these meditations may bring. But in the real contemplative work you must set all this aside and cover it over with a cloud of forgetting. … It is inevitable that ideas will arise in your mind and try to distract you in a thousand ways. … Don’t be surprised if your thoughts seem holy and valuable for prayer. Probably you will find yourself thinking about the wonderful qualities of Jesus, his sweetness, his love, his graciousness, his mercy. But if you pay attention to these ideas they will gain what they wanted of you, and will go on chattering until they divert you even more to the thought of his passion. Then will come ideas about his great kindness, and if you keep listening they will be delighted. Soon you will be thinking about your sinful life and perhaps in this connection you will recall some place where you have lived in the past, until suddenly, before you know it, your mind is completely scattered.

And yet they were not bad thoughts. … But a person who has long pondered these things must eventually leave them behind beneath a cloud of forgetting if he hopes to pierce the cloud of unknowing that lies between him and his God. … And as it is wrong for a person who sits in meditation to be thinking about the things he has done or will do regardless how good and worthwhile they may be in themselves, likewise it is wrong for a person who ought to be busy with the contemplative work in the darkness of the cloud of unknowing to let ideas about God, his wonderful gifts, his kindness, or his works distract him from attentiveness to God himself. It is beside the point to say that they are good thoughts full of comfort and delight. They have no place here!

This is why I urge you to dismiss every clever or subtle thought no matter how holy or valuable. Cover it over with a thick cloud of forgetting because in this life only love can touch God as he is in himself, never knowledge. … Therefore, firmly reject all clear ideas however pious or delightful.[14]

 

In contemplative prayer, it is necessary to stop thinking and to forget what one knows in order to experience God. By rejecting all clear thoughts, one can experience God in a way which supersedes all else. The unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing teaches that neither Scripture, nor preaching, nor other forms of prayer, nor worship, nor anything else can compare to the experience of, or benefit the believer to the extent that contemplative prayer can:

Therefore, firmly reject all clear ideas however pious or delightful. For I tell you this, one loving blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do. And you are more blessed to experience the interior affection of this love within the darkness of the cloud of unknowing than to contemplate the angles and saints or to hear the mirth and melody of their heavenly festival.

Does this surprise you? That is only because you have not experienced it for yourself. For when you do, as I certainly believe you will with God’s grace, you will understand.[15]

This is heresy! The Cloud of Unknowing has set contemplative prayer above all else in the life of a believer. However, the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15–17 that the Bible is God’s chief tool for perfecting and equipping the saints:

[A]nd how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

 

Anything which sets itself above the Word of God cannot be from God. Rather, it belongs to the spirit of antichrist (1 John 5:10–12). Contemplative prayer requires that the Bible be first set aside. In order to empty one’s mind, he must displace all doctrine and prior revelation from God. However, this is opposed to David’s example which is provided in Psalm 119:16, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” Acts 13:22 informs us that God considered David to be a man after His own heart. Likewise, contemplative prayer is opposed to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to Titus that he adhere to uncorrupt doctrine in all things. In order to accomplish this, Titus had to always keep in his mind what is true doctrine. Titus 2:7 says, “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,” (KJV).*[16]

 

The setting aside of Scripture is a prerequisite for contemplative prayer. Furthermore, proponents of contemplative prayer have placed it above the Bible in both its efficacy and its authority. As such, we have no option but to conclude that contemplative prayer is a tactic which is used by the spirit of antichrist to fool the well-intentioned Christian. At this point, it is important that we keep in mind 1 Corinthians 10:21 which says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”

 

It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. In contrast to Tilden Edward’s declaration, “What makes something Christian is not its source, but its intent …,”[17] a person’s intention is not sufficient to please the Lord. God demands that we also follow His directives as revealed in Scripture.

 

Never does God instruct the Christian to disengage his mind. Instead, a sound mind is a gift from God which is granted to all Christians according to 2 Timothy 1:7, “[F]or God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” In order to be self-controlled, one must also be in control of his own mind and emotions. It is impossible to be self-controlled when one’s mind is empty and devoid of all reason. God advocates reasoning. This is why He says in Isaiah 1:18a“Come now, and let us reason together.” Likewise, God repeatedly commands His people to exhort others which is something that requires an engaged mind in order to both recall and convey truth to others (1 Tim. 6:22 Tim. 4:2Tit. 2:62:15Heb. 3:13). In fact, the ability to properly exhort others is a requirement for those who would oversee God’s church according to Titus 1:9, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

 

As we have already seen, the Biblical understanding of meditation is one of deep thought. It can only be accomplished when the mind is actively involved. David, a man after God’s own heart according to Acts 13:22, provides us with an example of the kind of meditation that pleases the Lord. In Psalm 63:6 he says that his meditation will include remembrance, “[W]hen I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;” This is a stark contrast to the teaching in The Cloud of Unknowing that remembrance of God’s grace, His kindness, the passion of Christ, or the sins from which He has saved us are distractions which can only hinder and prevent proper meditation.

 

Elsewhere, David reaffirms the truth that Biblical meditation requires a mind which is actively engaged and which is thinking upon not only God, but also His revealed Word. Psalm 119 says:

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. … Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. … Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. … Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. … I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. … Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.*[18]

 

Additionally, Joshua exhorted the Israelites in Joshua 1:8 to continually meditate upon God’s Word in order that they might know how to apply it to their lives, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

 

Any form of meditation which is not centered on the Bible cannot be of God. This is because the entire Bible directs us to Jesus and teaches us of God’s love and of how to have a right relationship with God. Hebrews 10:7 says, “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

 

Never does God endorse contemplative prayer. When teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus did not teach breathing exercises, mantras, and the beauty of silence. Jesus taught them to speak. According to Luke 11:1–2, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’  And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.’” (emphasis added) The very fact that Jesus taught that prayer involves our talking to God negates every book and teaching that advocates entering into the silence as an effective prayer method.

 

Some people try to counter this argument by referring to Psalm 46:10 which says, “‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’” According to them, this verse supports the contemplative prayer method of entering into the silence. However, this verse is not advocating mental stillness. This verse is a reminder to God’s people of Israel that He remains their refuge amid calamity. It looks ahead to the return of Christ on the Day of the Lord and declares that God alone will accomplish everything listed in Psalm 46. God’s people need do nothing because God will have risen as their defender and protector.

 

To rend Psalm 46:10 from its immediate context and then present it as evidence that Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11 was insufficient is disingenuous at best. Jesus could not have been any more clear in Luke 11. Prayer is a conversation with God. None of the sentences in Jesus’ model prayer repeat themselves. In fact, Jesus taught against vain repetitions in Matthew 6:7, “‘And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.’” After commanding that His people not use vain repetitions, Jesus proceeded to offer the same model prayer found in Luke 11. Matthew 6:9–13 says, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”

 

Body Prayers

Body prayers have taken the church by storm. According to a 2013 Patheos article titled “The essential practice of Body Prayer,” “A body prayer is any prayer that incorporates movement. It can be as simple as taking a walk with the intention that your every step be a prayer.”[19] As seemingly innocuous as body prayers may be, many of the most common forms trace their origins to Christian mystics who were attempting to induce a transcendental meditative state of mind and to Occult practices.

 

1) Prayer Labyrinth

“Primarily jump-started by a UK-based Christian movement in alternative spiritual expressions and by an influential San Francisco cathedral, denominations around the world are embracing labyrinths as a viable part of the ‘spiritual journey.’”[20] The labyrinth is an ancient occult practice that uses a circuitous path to facilitate meditation. According to St. Boniface Episcopal Church’s explanation of their labyrinth in the courtyard:

The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many cultures around the world. Labyrinth designs were found on pottery, tablets and tiles [that] date as far back as 4000 years. Many patterns are based on spirals from nature. In Native American culture it is called the Medicine Wheel and Man in the Maze. The Celts described it as the Never Ending Circle. It is also called the Kabala in mystical Judaism. One feature they all share is that they have one path which winds in a circuitous way to the center.[21]

Likewise, according to the Glendale United Methodist Church’s website:

The Labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. By walking a replica of the Chartres labyrinth, laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition that is insisting to be reborn.[22]

 

The labyrinth has always maintained a position of prominence among pagan traditions. In ancient Greece, labyrinths were even imprinted onto the back of coins whose faces bore the image of the Greek gods Zeus, Apollo, and Athena.[23] Today the labyrinth remains an important element in pagan rituals. Websites devoted to witchcraft and goddess worship offer many items which contain the image of the labyrinth. One such site exhorts its visitors to “use these wonderful labyrinths for meditation, focus, spellwork, aid in healing …”[24] Another site offers a Chartres Labyrinth pendant. According to the description, “This Labyrinth is from the spectacular Chartres Cathedral, now replicated around the world in backyards and public places everywhere. The Labyrinth connects us with the earth energies and helps us to ground and focus.”[25] Still another site offers a pewter bowl with an image of the Chartres Labyrinth engraved within it. The description of this bowl reads:

Chartres Labyrinth ritual bowl can be used for incense, salt, water and scrying. This hand poured and finished pewter bowl displays the Chartres Labyrinth ( the path of man ). The image is often found laid out in stone at ancient sites world wide, and is often used in ritual for an initiatory rite, or as a rite of passage into adult hood. It is the symbol of Grounding and Awakening to the earth energy’s and [their] good influence.[26]

 

Notice that one of the recommended uses for the pewter bowl containing the Charters Labyrinth engraving is scrying.  Scrying is a decidedly pagan and Occult practice. According to Scrying Mirror:

Scrying is the ancient act of divination for the purpose of clairvoyance. It is usually achieved by concentrating on or staring (gazing) at an object having a shiny surface until a vision appears. Scrying is one of the earliest forms of Divination in recorded history, appearing in China in 3000 BC, Egypt in 2500 BC, and Ancient Greece around 2000BC.[27]

 

Despite the pagan and mystical nature of the labyrinth, today’s Christians are flocking to it. Never mind God’s command not to mimic the ways of the pagans in Deuteronomy 18:9, “‘When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.’” Jill Geoffrion, a “certified labyrinth facilitator” and author of such books as Christian Prayer and Labyrinths and Praying the Labyrinth, writes:

We are currently in a period of historic labyrinth revival. Churches, retreat centers and Christian camps are placing these prayer tools inside and outside. Christians all over the world are installing labyrinths in their yards and gardens. Many are using the labyrinths as a ministry tool, bringing portable versions to prisons, national denominational conferences and church group meetings. It is conservatively estimated that there are over 5,000 labyrinths in the United States alone. God is blessing the use of the labyrinth; many are being drawn closer to Jesus, experiencing healing and gaining spiritual clarity as they pray on its path.[28]*[29]

 

Prayer labyrinths are particularly popular among youth ministries. Even Youth Specialties—one of the largest evangelical youth ministry suppliers, serving more than 80,000 youth workers—has begun promoting contemplative spirituality and prayer labyrinths.[30][31][32]

 

The prayer labyrinth is not something that is embraced merely by the fringe elements within Christianity. Neither is it something which is relegated to ecumenical groups. This practice can be found within nearly every Christian denomination. Even some Baptist churches have begun to employ the prayer labyrinth.

 

In his 2006 article “Unwinding the Labyrinth: A Christian walk away from God,” Brian Flynn described the prayer labyrinth as “essentially contemplative prayer while walking.”[33] It is a meditative tool which is geared toward those who struggle to control their minds while remaining in a sitting position. According to Veriditas, an organization “dedicated to inspiring personal and planetary change and renewal through the labyrinth experience,”[34] “Many people have trouble with traditional meditation postures, which require sitting still for long periods. Walking the labyrinth literally circumvents this, by creating an easy method of focusing. Following a simple path, with many turns but no decisions, allows the mind to concentrate in a meditative state.”[35]

 

Similar to contemplative prayer, a key element of the prayer labyrinth is the quieting of the mind to induce a meditative state. A Canon of Grace Cathedral and author of the book which was instrumental in launching The Labyrinth Movement, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool, Dr. Lauren Artress, says, “Labyrinths are currently being used world-wide as a way to quiet the mind, find balance, and encourage meditation, insight and celebration. They are open to all people as a non-denominational, cross-cultural tool of well-being.”[36] She also writes:

There are many ways to pray. And each world religion whether it be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu has slightly different variations. However, there is a common core that unites these traditions: The mind has to quiet, the heart hopefully opens and we can listen to and respond from the deepest inner most part of ourselves that knows Wisdom.[37]

 

According to the Grace Cathedral website, the labyrinth is “A profound meditation tool, a metaphor for the spiritual path, a feminist Christian icon, a symbol of Mary or even all Christianity, even perhaps an almost cult-like centerpiece of a movement – the labyrinth is, most everyone can agree, a powerful inspiration.” And according to their guidelines for the walk, in order to experience this profound meditation tool, “Quiet your mind and become aware of your breath.”

 

Given the prayer labyrinth’s parallels to contemplative prayer, it is not surprising to discover that its goal is to facilitate the suppression of the analytical mind and of sound doctrine in order to allow one’s intuition to provide a pathway to God. According to a promotional website for the Breemie Labyrinth in the United Kingdom, “The labyrinth is an archetypal spiritual tool, found across many times and cultures. While a maze is a left-brain, rational puzzle, the labyrinth involves the right side of the brain, and helps us access our intuition, providing a portal to the Divine.”[38]

 

In short, the prayer labyrinth is a pursuit of God through ritual means. It is a meditative tool used to suppress the analytical mind in pursuit of a spiritual experience. Done correctly, practitioners of all faiths can successfully receive such an experience.

 

2) Breath Prayers

The original intent behind all forms of body prayers is to disengage the mind. Breath prayers are no exception. This is why John Talbot writes in Come to the Quiet: The Principles of Christian Meditation, “I began practicing meditation, specifically breath prayer, once again.”[39]

 

Essentially, a breath prayer is a word or a short phrase which can be said within a single breath. This is then used as a tool to empty the mind, as Richard Foster notes in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home:

Commenting on breath prayers, Theophane the Recluse notes, “Thoughts continue to jostle in your head like misquitos. To stop this jostling, you must bind the mind with one thought, or the thought of One only. An aid to this is a short prayer, which helps the mind to become simple and unified.”[40]

In other words, whenever the mind becomes active, the breath prayer is used to “bind the mind.”

 

In his book Sadhana, former Director of the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counseling Anthony De Mello teaches how breath prayers can be used to attain the transcendental state of mind that we discussed in the section dealing with contemplative prayer:

If you would attain to this state and draw close to this mystical darkness and begin to communicate with God through this Heart that mystics speak of, the first thing you may have to do is find some means for silencing the mind. … All you can do is silence your discursive mind: abstain from all thoughts and words while you are at prayer and leave the Heart to develop by itself.

To silence the mind is an extremely difficult task. How hard it is to keep the mind from thinking, thinking, thinking, forever thinking, forever producing thoughts in a never-ending stream. Our Hindu masters in India have a saying: one thorn is removed by another. By this they mean that you will be wise to use one thought to rid yourself of all other thoughts that crowd into your mind. One thought, one image, one phrase or sentence or word that your mind can be made to fasten on. For to consciously attempt to keep the mind in a thoughtless state, in a void, is to attempt the impossible. The mind must have something to occupy it. Well, then, give it something with which to occupy itself—but just one thing. An image of the Saviour that you gaze on lovingly and to which you return each time you are distracted; an ejaculation that you keep repeating ceaselessly to prevent the mind from wandering.[41]

 

A further means of encouraging this meditative state is to match the prayer with the act of breathing. Part of the phrase is prayed as the individual inhales, and the remainder as he exhales. John Talbot explains this in his book Come to the Quiet: The Principles of Christian Meditation, using the popular Jesus Prayer as an illustration:

One of the tools for praying ceaselessly is to unite the Jesus Prayer with the breath. Hesychia continues, “attentiveness is the heart’s stillness, unbroken by any thought. In this stillness, the heart breathes and invokes, endlessly and without ceasing, only Jesus Christ.” … The Fathers are clear about the method of uniting the Jesus Prayer with the breath. In their work Directions to Hesychasts, Saints Calistas and Ignatius say, “Sitting down in your cell, collect your mind, lead into the path of the breath along which the air enters in, constrain it into the heart together with the inhaled air, and keep it there…do not leave it silent and idle; instead give it the following prayer: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’”[42]

 

Despite the fact that breath prayers are believed to have originated among the mystic Desert Fathers of Catholicism, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship promotes the practice of breath prayers. This is an influential organization among Baptist churches. According to their website:

CBF consists of individuals, approximately 1,800 affiliated churches, regional fellowships and ministry partners seeking to be the presence of Christ. Based in Atlanta, CBF partners with 15 theological schools, 18 autonomous state and regional organizations and more than 150 ministry organizations worldwide, …[43]

On their website, they provide a detailed explanation of how to conduct breath prayers. A portion of this reads:

Spend a few moments in silence. Relax. Imagine Jesus standing before you, asking, “What do you want? What do you seek from me?” Respond with the first thing that comes to your mind. Write this down. Next, choose your favorite name for God (such as Father, Jesus, Lord, Abba, Holy One, etc.) and write it down. Now write a short sentence prayer that combines your favorite name for God with your answer to Jesus’ question. For example, “Lord Jesus, give me peace”; “Jesus, help me to love”; “Father, give me courage.”

Ideally, your breath prayer should be 6–12 syllables. After you have chosen or created a breath prayer, make a goal to remain in God’s abiding presence as you begin saying your prayer. Ponder the meaning and beauty of the words you are saying. Slowly say the first part of the prayer as you breathe in. Then slowly say the last part of the prayer as you exhale. There is no hurry or rush.[44]

 

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s teaching on breath prayers is largely adapted from Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart and the book The Way of Pilgrimage: An Adventure in Spiritual Formation for the Next Generation: Leader’s Guide by Sally Chambers, Gavin Richardson, and Jonathan Norman. Recall that “spiritual formation” is another title for “contemplative prayer.” Also recall that Thomas Keating is one of the chief proponents of contemplative prayer. Clearly these breath prayers are closely linked with contemplative prayer. Therefore, even if they have the appearance of being harmless—or possibly beneficial—they are inherently linked with a practice that is ultimately motivated by the spirit of antichrist. This may be difficult for some people to discern. Fortunately, John Talbot, Richard Foster, and Anthony De Mello have provided us with a glimpse into the darker nature behind this method of praying.

 

The most famous of all breath prayers is known as the Jesus Prayer. In its most ancient and simple form, it consists of repeating the name “Jesus” with every breath. In another form, it consists of repeating, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”[45] According to Orthodox Wiki:

In the Orthodox tradition the prayer is said or prayed repeatedly, often with the aid of a prayer rope. It may be accompanied by prostrations and the sign of the cross. … Monastics often have long sessions praying this prayer many hundreds of times each night as part of their discipline, and through the guidance of an elder, its practitioner’s ultimate goal is to “internalize” the prayer, so that one is praying unceasingly there-by accomplishing Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).[46]

 

Constant repetition is an integral aspect of this prayer method. Referencing Tony Jones’ book The Sacred Way, David Cloud writes, “Ancient monastic contemplative manuals suggest that this be repeated from 3,000 to 12,000 times a day.”[47] Furthermore, in his book The Way of the Mystics, John Talbot admits that another integral aspect of this prayer is that it not be contemplated by the mind:

Trying to mentally grasp the meaning of each word of the prayer as we pray it would be mentally confusing. This would be a distraction from prayer. Rather, the full meaning of the Jesus Prayer is best grasped when intuited on the level of spirit beyond the senses, the emotions, or the mind.[48]

John Talbot further expounds in Come to the Quiet:

[G]o into the heights of contemplation beyond all concepts and knowledge. In this, the words serve as a tool to keep one at the prayer in a disciplined way. But to truly enter into the prayer of the heart, which is the purpose of the prayer, one must travel beyond the knowable meaning of the words to a simple intuition that includes, yet surpasses, their objective and subjective realities, into reality itself.[49]

 

We can be certain that the Apostle Paul did not intend his readers to understand his teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to mean that they should endeavor to reach a point where they continually repeat the same phrase whether consciously or unconsciously. We know this because Jesus commanded us in Matthew 6:7 to avoid mindless repetition, “‘And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

 

Steady repetition of any word or phrase naturally numbs the mind. Thus, the repetition of the same phrase twelve thousand times—or even two hundred times—inevitably leads to mindless—or empty—repetition. Moreover, the ultimate goal of internally repeating the prayer apart from the conscious mind is by definition a mindless act. Regardless of one’s intentions, and regardless of how spiritual it may appear, this practice is in direct contradiction to Scripture.

 

3) “Christian” Yoga

Jonas Masetti, a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, writes in Satsanga Online:

The word yoga is used in its origin to refer to the necessary preparation for the study of the scriptures and ultimately self-knowledge. In the Vedas, it generally appears ranking the word “mind”, making the distinction between the scattered, emotionally disconnected or out of control mind against the focused, integrated, and objective mind. Hence, we have the word “yoga”, which is the set of activities that make this integration with the mind, and the word “yogi” to describe one who desires self-knowledge and adopts the lifestyle of the scriptures that constitute these practices—yoga.[50]

 

This once foreign practice and worldview has now been assimilated by Americans. Lesley Alderman comments in her book Alternative Medicine: Your Guide to Stress Relief, Healing, Nutrition, and More:

Hard to believe now, but yoga was once considered heretical, and even dangerous. As recently as a century ago, yogis in America were viewed with suspicion; some were actually thrown in jail. Today, though, most gyms offer it, many public schools teach it, and a growing number of doctors prescribe it . . . It may have taken 5,000 years, but yoga has arrived.[51]

 

Even the Christian church has embraced yoga. Not only have numerous churches endorsed the practice of yoga, but many even offer their own yoga classes. Some forms of “Christian” yoga include: Yahweh Yoga, Holy Yoga, Christ-Centered Yoga, New Day Yoga, Trinity Yoga, Yoga Devotion, Grounded in Yoga, Be Still Yoga, Atoning Yoga, Extending Grace, etc.[52] For some, “Christian” yoga is a kind of body prayer. In a 2013 Patheos article titled “The essential practice of Body Prayer,” Teresa Blythe writes, “The most popular form of body prayer today is yoga. Combining breath and movement with the intention of connecting with the source of life is a powerful form of prayer.”[53]

 

Not every Christian who practices yoga does so as a form of body prayer. Many participate merely for the health benefits. However, former occultist, Johanna Michaelsen, writes in her book Lambs to the Slaughter:

You cannot separate the exercises from the philosophy. … The movements themselves become a form of meditation. The continued practice of the exercises will, whether you … intend it or not, eventually influence you toward an Eastern/mystical perspective. That is what it is meant to do! … There is, by definition, no such thing as “neutral” Yoga.[54]

This sentiment is echoed by yoga teacher and authority, Beryl Birch, in the Yoga Journal article “Not All Yoga Is Created Equal,” “Americans are usually drawn to yoga as a way to keep fit at first, but the idea behind the physical practice of yoga is to encourage a deeper mind-body awareness.”[55]

 

Any practice which merges physical stretches with spiritual well-being is necessarily more than an exercise program. Of course, many Christian yoga programs have capitalized on the spiritual elements of yoga. For example, Outstretched states on its website:

This Christian approach to yoga simply allows us to combine these two essential goals: becoming physically healthy and spiritually healthy. We become more spiritually healthy through the yoga practice by calming our minds and quieting ourselves to the point that we can tune out the world’s frequency and tune into God’s frequency.

Being quiet with God allows us to create enough psychological and spiritual space that God can truly create an inner sanctuary in us. Being quiet enough to hear our Lord’s voice is not optional—it’s essential for growth.[56]

 

Before continuing, it is important to note that the above statement is false. Never in Scripture are we told to calm our minds for spiritual growth and health. Quite the contrary! We are told to engage our minds in Scripture and to learn sound doctrine for spiritual growth and health (1 Peter 2:2).*[57]

 

Yoga was popularized in the West primarily by the British rock and roll group The Beatles, and the Hippies’ pursuit of non-drug induced psychedelic experiences.[58] The use of yoga techniques to achieve transcendental meditation intrigued an entire generation. Today, the spiritual and psychedelic nature of yoga has been deemphasized. Instead, yoga is presented as a medically-proven exercise and stress management program. Yoga Journal reports:

As studies continue to reveal yoga’s many health benefits, this centuries-old Eastern philosophy is fast becoming the new fitness soul mate for workout enthusiasts. Contemporary devotees range from high-powered execs trying to keep hearts beating on a healthy note to image-conscious Hollywood stars striving for sleek physiques. Even prominent athletes are adding yoga to their training regime to develop balanced, injury-free muscles and spines.[59]

 

According to a 2012 “Yoga in America” marketing study, “8.7 percent of U.S. adults, or 20.4 million people, practice yoga. Of current non-practitioners, 44.4 percent of Americans call themselves ‘aspirational yogis’—people who are interested in trying yoga.”[60] This is an increase of 29% from the previous study in 2008. “In addition, practitioners spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media. The previous estimate from the 2008 study was $5.7 billion.”[61] Yoga is a big business in America, and it has produced countless variations of the primary yoga techniques. In fact, to help decipher these variations, YogaTrail offers a yoga style guide which lists forty-four different types of yoga.*[62]

 

So what exactly is yoga? In his article “Yoga: Exercise or Religion?” Brad Scott provides us with the definitions of notable East-Indian teachers:

First, we must consult Patanjali, the systemizer of yoga (ca. A.D. 150), and other credible East-Indian teachers. Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras (I.2), says, “Yoga is the restraining of the mind-stuff (chitta) from taking various forms (vrittis).” Swami Yogananda, one of the most respected gurus to arrive in America (1920), termed yoga the “science of mind control.” “Yoga,” he wrote, “is a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevents all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit.” In the same book, he further clarifies this definition: “yoga, ‘union,’ science of uniting the individual soul with the Cosmic Spirit.” Swami Vivekananda, the first bona fide swami to preach in the West (1893), expands still further on this orthodox definition in his commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: “The yogi proposes to himself no less a task than to master the whole universe, to control the whole of nature.”[63]

 

Regardless of its variations, yoga is a set of activities which facilitate union with God “by means of various time-tested practices-of the finite ‘jiva’ (transitory self) with the infinite ‘Atman’ or ‘Brahman’ (eternal Self).”[64] Ananda Sangha Worldwide describes it in this way, “Yoga means union with God, or, union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit.”[65]

 

Simply put, yoga is intended to be a religious practice. It was never intended to be an exercise program. Jennifer Cook writes in Yoga Journal, “Initially, the sole purpose of practicing yoga was to experience spiritual enlightenment.”[66] Additionally, author of Yoga: The Truth Behind the Posture, Dr. George Alexander, has said, “There is no Hinduism without yoga, and there is no yoga without Hinduism because yoga is a part and parcel of Hinduism. So you cannot really separate the yoga from Hinduism.”[67]

 

When approaching the subject of yoga, it is imperative that one recognize its nature. Yoga was designed to be a religious tool. All of the stretches and breathing exercises are intended to channel one’s energies through the body’s spiritual centers known as “chakras,” gradually pushing it further up the spine until it reaches the seventh chakra which is believed to be located between the eyes. When the energy is properly channeled into this seventh spiritual center, the practitioner experiences enlightenment as his transitory self is united with his eternal self. This process of channeling energy is also known as “kundalini power.” Noted psychiatrist and co-founder of the Kundalini Clinic, Dr. Lee Sannella, writes in his book The Kundalini Experience: Psychosis or Transcendence:

According to this [tantric] Indian tradition, the kundalini is a type of energy—a “power” or “force” (shakti)—that is held to rest in a dormant, or potential, state in the human body. Its location is generally specified as being at the base of the spine. When this energy is galvanized, “awakened,” [which is done during Yoga], it rushes upward along the central axis of the human body, or along the spinal, to the crown of the head. Occasionally, it is thought to go even beyond the head. Upon arriving there, the kundalini is said to give rise to the mystical state of consciousness, which is indescribably blissful and in which all awareness of duality [separation] ceases.[68]

 

Dave Fetcho, formerly of the Ananda Marga Yoga Society, has said:

Physical yoga, according to its classical definitions, is inheritably and functionally incapable of being separated from Eastern religious metaphysics. The Western practitioner who attempts to do so is operating in ignorance and danger, from the yogi’s viewpoint, as well as from the Christian’s.[69]

Furthermore, professor Subhas Tiwari of the Hindu University of America writes in an article titled “Yoga Renamed is Still Hindu: I challenge Attempts to Snatch Yoga from its Roots”:

In the past few months I have received several calls from journalists around the country seeking my views on the question of whether the newly minted “Christian Yoga” is really yoga.

My response is, “The simple, immutable fact is that yoga originated from the Vedic or Hindu culture. Its techniques were not adopted by Hinduism, but originated from it.” … The effort to separate yoga from Hinduism must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised. … Efforts to separate yoga from its spiritual center reveal ignorance of the goal of yoga. … [I]t was intended by the Vedic seers as an instrument which can lead one to apprehend the Absolute, Ultimate Reality, called the Brahman Reality, or God. If this attempt to co-opt yoga into their own tradition continues, in several decades of incessantly spinning the untruth as truth through re-labelings such as “Christian yoga,” who will know that yoga is—or was—part of Hindu culture?[70]

 

There can be no uniting of Christianity with Hinduism’s yoga. Second Corinthians 6:14 commands, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Also, 1 Corinthians 10:21 says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” Furthermore, God forbids His people from adapting pagan practices such as yoga in Deuteronomy 18:9, “‘When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.”

 

Much could be said regarding specific perils inherent in uniting Christianity with the decidedly pagan practice of yoga. Simply adjusting the vocabulary cannot sanctify a practice whose very essence is pagan spirituality and self-enlightenment.

 

Lectio Divina

An increasingly popular prayer method today comes from the Benedictine and Cistercian monks and is known as “spiritual reading,” or “lectio divina.”[71] “In Benedictine tradition, spiritual reading is referred to by its Latin title, lectio divina.[72] This title is Latin for “sacred reading.”[73] According to Wikipedia:

The roots of Scriptural reflection and interpretation go back to Origen in the 3rd century, after whom St. Ambrose taught them to St. Augustine. The monastic practice of Lectio Divina was first established in the 6th century by Saint Benedict and was then formalized as a 4 step process by the Carthusian monk, Guigo II, in the 12th century. In the 20th century, the constitution Dei Verbum of Pope Paul VI recommended Lectio Divina for the general public. Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of Lectio Divina in the 21st century.[74]

 

Using Guigo II’s four steps of lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio, in the practice of lectio divina, the practitioner experiences God’s Word. The focus is not on knowledge and understanding of the text. Rather, this prayer method is a formula which is used to contact God. According to The Lectio Divina Homepage, “Ordinarily lectio is confined to the slow perusal of sacred Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments; it is undertaken not with the intention of gaining information but of using the texts as an aide to contact the living God.”[75] Likewise, Friar Luke Dysinger explains that a “VERY ANCIENT art, practiced at one time by all Christians, is the technique known as lectio divina – a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God.”[76]

 

Like every other form of contemplative mysticism, lectio divina endeavors to bypass the rational brain in pursuit of establishing a direct connection and experience with God. Lectio divina is merely another means of accomplishing the unbiblical, and even anti-Christ, practice of contemplative prayer. In fact, in his book Intimacy with God, Thomas Keating expresses concern that the popular literature on lectio divina is obscuring this truth:

The basic meditative practice of Benedictine and Cistercian monks is Lectio Divina, a way of reading the Scripture with a deepening prayerful attentiveness that moves toward contemplation. I had noticed over the years that the practice itself had become obscured because of the plethora of reading material now available under the general heading of Lectio Divina. The original practice had expanded from the attentive reading of Scripture or commentaries by the early Fathers of the Church to include spiritual reading in the broadest sense of the word. In the process, the emphasis had shifted from deepening one’s prayer to intellectual stimulation. Meanwhile, prayer itself had become so rigidly dichotomized—discursive meditation, affective prayer, and the multiplication of devout aspirations—that the inherent tendency of Lectio Divina to move toward contemplation had been lost. Contemplation was regarded as an exceptional gift, not as the normal flowering of Lectio Divina and Christian prayer.[77]

 

In an article titled “The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina,” Thomas Keating describes Guigo II’s four steps and explains the true nature of Lectio Divina:

The classical practice of Lectio Divina can be divided into two forms: the monastic and the scholastic. The scholastic form divides the process into stages or steps in a hierarchical pattern. Following the reading of a passage of scripture, the first step was to allow a phrase or word to arise out of the text and to focus on it. This was called Lectio. The second was the reflective part, pondering upon the words of the sacred text, and was called meditatio “meditation.” The spontaneous movement of the will in response to these reflections was called oratio, “affective prayer.” And as these reflections and acts of will simplified, one moved from time to time to a state of resting in the presence of God, and that was called contemplatio “contemplation.” This way of doing Lectio Divina developed in the Middle Ages at the beginning of the scholastic period with its tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual life and to rely on rational analysis in theology to the virtual exclusion of personal experience.

The monastic form of Lectio Divina is a more ancient method and was practiced by the Mothers and Fathers of the Desert and later in monasteries both East and West. It is oriented more toward contemplative prayer than the scholastic form, especially when the latter developed into what we call today discursive meditation, conceived as moving from one thought to another or as one stage in a series of steps. … In the monastic way of doing Lectio Divina we listen to how God is addressing us in a particular text of scripture. From this perspective there are no stages, ladders or steps in Lectio Divina, but rather there are four moments along the circumference of a circle. All the moments of the circle are joined to each other in a horizontal and interrelated pattern as well as to the center, which is the Spirit of God speaking to us through the text and in our hearts. To pay attention to any one of the four “moments” is to be in direct relationship to all the others. In this perspective, one may begin one’s prayer at any “moment” along the circle, as well as moving easily from one “moment” to another, according to the inspiration of the Spirit.[78]

 

Today there is much confusion regarding the nature and intent of lectio divina. As Thomas Keating laments, this has given rise to many variations and reinventions of the practice. To help distinguish between the true method of lectio divina and its aberrations, Thomas Keating provides some points of clarification in his article titled “The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina”:

The classical practice of Lectio Divina—the prayerful reading of the Bible, the book Christians believe to be divinely inspired—is being rediscovered and renewed in our time. At the same time a number of ways of practicing it have sprung up leading to a certain confusion regarding its relationship to the distinct practice of Centering Prayer. A few distinctions may be helpful.

First of all, we need to distinguish Lectio Divina from Bible study, which is very useful at another time and provides a solid conceptual background for the practice of Lectio Divina.

Secondly, Lectio Divina is not the same as reading the scriptures for the purpose of private edification, encouragement, or getting acquainted with the many-sided aspects of revelation, and especially with Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. Lectio Divina is rather a way or formula for furthering these objectives.

Thirdly, Lectio Divina is not the same as spiritual reading, which moves beyond the exclusive reading of sacred scripture to include other spiritual books such as the lives and writings of the saints.

Finally, Lectio Divina is not the same as praying the scriptures in common, a contemporary development that is sometimes identified with Lectio Divina. … Praying the scriptures in common might well be regarded as a kind of “Liturgy of Lectio Divina” or even better, as a kind of shared “Liturgy of the Word.” With some variations, it usually goes like this: A passage is read out loud three or four times followed by two or three minutes of silence. After each reading the participants apply themselves inwardly to the text in specified ways. After the first reading, they become aware of a word or phrase. After the second they reflect about the meaning or significance of the text. After the third reading, they respond in spontaneous prayer. After the fourth reading, they simply rest in God’s presence and after a period of silence, those who wish are invited to do a brief faith sharing on the text. In some cases there is a brief sharing after the third or fourth reading and period of silence.[79]

 

Much of what is practiced today among Evangelical, Baptist, and Reformed Christians is what Thomas Keating refers to as “Liturgy of Lectio Divina.” It is not true to the nature and purpose of lectio divina. Instead, it appears to be an attempt to redeem the practice. Nevertheless, this “redeemed” form of lectio divina is still unbiblical. At the very least, it is an effort to compel God to speak to us on our own terms.

 

Mysticism is deceptive. At its heart, mysticism denies the authority of Scripture. As such, it belongs to the spirit of antichrist. It teaches that truth is relative because truth can be based upon subjective personal experiences. Once again, “mysticism” according to Merriam-Webster.com is, “The belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight).”[80]

 

Too many Christians today are being encouraged to seek God’s truth and guidance for their lives through mystical experiences instead of through the Bible and Biblical prayer. I like how Pastor John MacArthur expresses the thinking behind this mystical movement within Christianity:

[T]he Bible itself is not objectively the Word of God, but it becomes the Word of God when it speaks to me individually. In neo-orthodoxy, that same subjectivism is imposed on all the doctrines of historic Christianity. Familiar terms are used, but are redefined or employed in a way that is purposely vague—not to convey objective meaning, but to communicate a subjective symbolism. After all, any ‘truth’ theological terms convey is unique to the person who exercises faith. What the Bible means becomes unimportant. What it means to me is the relevant issue. All of this resoundingly echoes Kierkegaard’s concept of “truth that is true for me.”[81]

 

By removing the Bible as our objective standard for truth, it becomes little more than other mystical guide-books such as The Kabala, the Vedas, and the Tipitaka. In his book Velvet Elvis, founder and former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church Rob Bell writes, “Is the Bible the best that God can do? With God being so massive and awe-inspiring and full of truth, why is his book capable of so much confusion? Why did God do it this way? Where does one go in trying to make sense of what the Bible even is, let alone what it says?”[82]

 

Despite the opinion of Rob Bell and other Christian mystics, the truth of the Bible is not subjective or open to personal interpretation. The Apostle Peter teaches in 2 Peter 1:15–21 that the truth of God’s Word trumps all personal experience because it is free from personal interpretation:

And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

 

Peter references his personal experience with God. While on the Mount of Transfiguration, he saw Jesus transformed into His future glory (Mark 9:1–13). He also witnessed Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. Furthermore, he heard the voice of God declare Jesus to be His Son. Nevertheless, the Apostle Peter does not present these personal experiences as evidence of the gospel and doctrines that he has been preaching. Instead, Peter declares that there is a more sure reason to believe these things. That reason is prophecy. It is the speaking forth of God’s Word which has today been compiled into what we know as “the Bible.” The Apostle Peter teaches that the Bible is a more certain foundation for determining truth because it came directly from God, and it bypassed human interpretation in its transmission.

 

Personal experience is always subject to personal interpretation. Any method which emphasizes spiritual growth or enlightenment through combining Scripture with personal and subjective interpretation is unbiblical. Similarly, any method which emphasizes spiritual growth or enlightenment through bypassing Scripture in search of a personal and subjective experience is unbiblical. Each of these mystical methods addressed above are unbiblical because they elevate personal experience above the objective truth of Scripture.

 

2 Timothy 3:16 teaches that the Bible contains all the truth that we need to correctly serve and honor God. It is sufficient. We do not need to combine Scripture with some mystical method in order to properly receive and understand what we are reading. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to pursue the principles of contemplative spirituality. Instead, the Bible is the standard for truth by which men will be judged (John 12:48). God will not judge men based upon any revelation received outside of Scripture. There is only one revelation that we are expected to know and follow, and this revelation is the Bible.

 

Never does God encourage His people to stop thinking. On the contrary, Solomon warns us to guard our hearts in Proverbs 4:23. We cannot do this when we disengage our minds and stop discerning between truth and error. The way that we guard our heart includes remembering the Bible’s instructions according to Proverbs 4:20–23, and 26:

My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. … Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.

 

Rather than tell us to place a cloud of unknowing and forgetting over our minds, we are told to remember God’s instructions and to ponder them in relation to our lives. We are to test every spirit, according to 1 John 4:1, to determine whether it is from God or from Satan, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We cannot test a spirit if we are not thinking. God does not desire that we disengage our minds in order that we might better commune with Him. This is why the Apostle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 14:14–15 that we should pray and worship with our spirits and with our minds, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” God is not pleased by worship which does not engage the mind.

 

Jesus never taught contemplative prayer. Jesus never taught that prayer is seeking silence before God. Rather, when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He began by saying, “When you pray, say …” Prayer is us talking to God. According to Jesus’ example, we talk to God in the same way that we talk to anyone else (Luke 11:1–4).

 

When we want to hear God talk to us, we turn to the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16–17). The Holy Spirit teaches us by bringing to our remembrance what Christ has already said (John 14:26). Note that this is different from what lectio divina teaches. Lectio divina teaches that God speaks to us as we read His Word; however, careful study of this practice reveals that the intent behind this teaching is that God speaks new revelation to us as we read His Word. Lectio divina is a false teaching. God does not give us new revelation; God reminds us and teaches us to understand the truths and principles already revealed in His Word.

 

Jesus never taught contemplative prayer. He did not teach breath prayers and mantras. At its core, mantras and breath prayers—such as the Jesus Prayer—teach prayer through repetition. However, Jesus taught us to avoid vain repetitions in Matthew 6:7“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (KJV).*[83] The heathens practiced mantra prayers. Jesus taught that we should not copy the heathen method of praying.

 

God commands His people not to learn the way of the heathen. Jeremiah 10:2 says, “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen,” (KJV).*[84] Earlier we considered Tilden Edwards’ statement that, “This mystical stream [contemplative prayer] is the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality”[85] Tilden Edwards is admitting that mysticism—or contemplative spirituality—is the church learning the ways of the heathen. Ray Yungen observes:

A Christian is supposed to evangelize those from Eastern religions, present them with the gospel rather than assimilate their mystical insights. That’s what the great commission was all about. That is what the crux of our opposition is all about. As a movement, those who practice contemplative prayer, on the whole, tend to develop spiritual kinship to Eastern religions, especially Buddhism.[86]

 

Through analogy, the Apostle Paul teaches in Galatians 5:9 that a little bit of sin which is allowed to enter the church unresisted will, over time, corrupt the entire church. It doesn’t take a lot of error to produce dramatic changes and results. As an illustration, rat poison is 99.995% good food for a rat. Only .005% is poison, yet it is enough to kill the rat.[87] Bible teachers who teach a lot of good truth but introduce Christians to these pagan doctrines and to authors and teachers who promote these pagan doctrines are introducing leaven into the church. At the very least, these false teachings need to be refuted. Romans 16:17 teaches that we are to mark those who cause divisions and controversy by denying sound doctrine and introducing leaven into the church, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”

 

Nothing good comes from replacing truth with error. The error will ultimately negate and undermine the effects of the truth that is being taught. We are not told to accept the good stuff that they teach and reject the error. We are to completely avoid them. This is, in part, to protect ourselves because repetitive exposure to error leads to a de-sensitization and ultimately can lead to acceptance of that error. This avoidance is also in part to protect those who are not discerning enough to distinguish the truth from the error.

 

Separating from a fellow Christian does not mean that we become his enemy. Everything we do must be done in love (1 Cor. 16:14). We must be careful that our refutation of the teaching does not slide into personal attacks against the individual. Too often Christians bolster their arguments by maligning the individual. Provided this individual is a fellow Christian, when we do this we are furthering the cause of the Devil who acts as the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:9–10).

 

Jesus provides us with an example of how we ought to respond to religious false teaching in Matthew 23 and Luke 12:1. In these passages, Jesus identified the false teachers. Likewise, we need to call out groups and movements—which may include the names of those who are influential within these movements—so that people know specifically what to avoid. After all, how are the sheep to avoid wolves if they don’t know who the wolves are? Also, Jesus identified their false teaching. We too need to be able to identify what these individuals are teaching and show from Scripture why it is false. Jesus called for the people to separate themselves from the works of the false teachers. Sometimes separation is necessary. Additionally, Jesus was filled with passion. We should be passionate about the truth. False teaching should upset us. It is not unloving to be passionate and forceful when taking a stand against false teaching provided that it is done in a spirit of love and accuracy. When a child is about to step into the street in front of an oncoming car, we are very passionate and forceful in our warning to the child. This is an act of love. Refuting error and promoting the truth is also an act of protective love. Protecting people from spiritual danger is an act of love. Our forcefulness and confidence is derived from the authority and certainty of Scripture.

 

In America, we have access to countless Christian resources. If a resource or a teacher introduces false teaching or controversy, then it is easy for us to look for another resource or teacher. In our efforts to learn, we do not need to use a resource which requires that we sift through the good and the bad when there are so many wonderful resources available to us. Why should we walk a controversial line when there is an abundance of sound resources available? When it comes to our souls, it is better to be safe than to be forever sorry. Eternal rewards are at stake.

 

The water in a toilet will satisfy the thirst of a thirsty man, but that is not sufficient reason for him to drink from the toilet bowl when there is a water faucet next to the toilet. Christians should have nothing to do with the contemplative spirituality movement. At its core, this movement is nothing less than mysticism which denies the supremacy of Scripture in pursuit of extra-biblical revelations from God. This is the spirit of antichrist. This is the uniting of Eastern pagan spirituality with Christianity. Nowhere in Scripture can we find teachings or principles which encourage us to embrace contemplative spirituality. In fact, Scripture directly refutes the core elements of the contemplative spirituality movement.

 

We should be very careful about exposing ourselves to mystical teachings through reading books by popular Christian leaders who slip these mystical doctrines in between sound teaching. Remember that, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). For most Christians, it is probably best that we completely avoid the books and teachings of those who strongly adhere to and advocate these mystical practices. A suggested starting list of individuals to avoid should include:

  • Thomas Merton
  • Richard Foster
  • Henri Nouwen
  • George Fox
  • Thomas Kelly
  • Soren Kierkegaard
  • Jurgen Moltmann
  • Carl Jung
  • Eugene Peterson
  • Ruth Haley Barton
  • Brennan Manning
  • Sue Monk Kidd
  • St. John of the Cross
  • Ignatius of Loyola
  • The Desert Fathers

  1. “Mysticism,” Merriam-Webster.com.
  2. MacArthur, Reckless Faith, 27–30.
  3. Miller, As Above, So Below, 52.
  4. Edwards, Spiritual Friend, 18–19.
  5. Johnston, The Mystical Way, “Forward.”
  6. Woodward, “Talking to God,” 44.
  7. Hagah, derived from hagiyg, meaning “meditation, musing.” (Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, #H1897, 32.)
  8. Siyach, meaning “to meditate, to ponder, to muse.” (Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, #H7878, 152.)
  9. Johnson, When the Soul Listens,” 16.
  10. James Borst, A Method of Contemplative Prayer, Source: Johnson, When the Soul Listens, 120.
  11. James Borst, A Method of Contemplative Prayer, Source: Johnson, When the Soul Listens, 121.
  12. Cloud of Unknowing, 26–27.
  13. Jager, Contemplation: A Christian Path, p. 31.
  14. Cloud of Unknowing, 46–47, 51–52.
  15. Ibid, 52.
  16. Titus 2:7 (ESV) says, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” Both the ESV and the KJV are acceptable translations. The definition of the Greek word didaskalia is “doctrine, learning, teaching.” Furthermore, “doctrine” means “teaching.” (Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, #G1319, 28)
  17. Edwards, Living in the Presence, 18.
  18. Psalm 119:15, 18, 23–24, 27, 93, and 97.
  19. Blythe, “The essential practice of Body Prayer.”
  20. Teichrib. “The Labyrinth Journey: Walking the Path to Fulfillment?”
  21. “About Labyrinths.”
  22. “Guided Walk Through the Labyrinth.”
  23. Alan Tattersall, “Researching The Labyrinth – Full Version.”
  24. Ibid.
  25. Goddess Gift, “Chartres Labyrinth Pendant.”
  26. Lilitu’s Books and Music, “Chalices, Goblets and Bowls.”
  27. Scrying Mirror, “What is Scrying?”
  28. Teichrib. “The Labyrinth Journey: Walking the Path to Fulfillment?”
  29. “I must admit her pronouncement sounds appealing. But this particular statement by Geoffrion doesn’t paint the whole picture. On her labyrinth prayer website, Geoffrion offers suggested prayers for different labyrinth events. In dedicating a new labyrinth, she suggests that those in attendance form a circle on the pattern and extend ‘the energy that is in our hearts and minds through their hands towards the labyrinth.’ Following this exercise is a meditative time where each person physically lays hands on the labyrinth and calls forth ‘the image of a loved one walking this labyrinth and receiving what is needed.’ After more ‘imaging,’ she recommends this responsive prayer: ‘Community: We dedicate this labyrinth to spiritual awakening and reawakening. One: With hearts extending in many directions, Let us pray Sacred Sustainer, Way to wholeness, Creator of possibilities, Supporter of change, Forgiving Releaser, Freedom, Honesty, Wisdom, Hope, Joy we thank You for the beautiful spiritual tool on which we are standing’ Geoffrion suggests other reflective meditations for the labyrinth, including short prayers from the ‘Christian Tradition,’ ‘Egyptian Tradition,’ ‘Hindu Tradition,’ and ‘Sufi Tradition.’” (Teichrib, “The Labyrinth Journey: Walking the Path to Fulfillment?”)
  30. McMahon, “Please Contemplate This.”
  31. Yaconelli, “Spirituality and Youth Ministry: What Are We Doing?”
  32. Perschon, “Contemplative Prayer Practices.”
  33. Flynn, “Unwinding the Labyrinth: A Christian walk away from God.”
  34. Veriditas, “Home.”
  35. Veriditas, “Frequently Asked Questions.”
  36. Lauren Artress, “A Recognized Cultural Creative.”
  37. Flynn, “Unwinding the Labyrinth: A Christian walk away from God.”
  38. Teichrib, “The Labyrinth Journey: Walking the Path to Fulfillment?.”
  39. Talbot, Come to the Quiet, 8.
  40. Foster, Prayer, 124.
  41. De Mello, Sadhana, 32–33.
  42. Talbot, Come to the Quiet, 174–176.
  43. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “About Us.”
  44. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “Breath Prayer.”
  45. Orthodox Wiki, “Jesus Prayer.”
  46. Ibid.
  47. Cloud, “Thomas Merton: The Catholic Buddhist Mystic.”
  48. John Talbot, The Way of the Mistics, 192, Source: Cloud, What Is the Emerging Church?, 126.
  49. Talbot, Come to the Quiet, 176.
  50. Masetti, “How many types of Yoga.”
  51. Lesley Alderman, Alternative Medicine: Your Guide to Stress Relief, Healing, Nutrition, and More, (New York: TIME Books, 2012), 62, Source: Lawson, “New Print Booklet Tract: YOGA and Christianity – Are They Compatible?.”
  52. Lawson, “New Print Booklet Tract: YOGA and Christianity – Are They Compatible?.”
  53. Blythe, “The essential practice of Body Prayer.”
  54. Johanna Michaelsen, Like Lambs to the Slaughter, 93–95, Source: “YOGA – Just Exercise or a Hindu Religion?”
  55. Cook, “Not All Yoga Is Created Equal.”
  56. Outstretched, “Our Philosophy.”
  57. The pure spiritual milk referenced in 2 Peter 2:2 is the pure basic doctrines of God’s Word. We know this because spiritual milk is defined as the basic doctrines in Hebrews 5:12, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,”
  58. Matrisciana, Yoga Uncoiled: From East to West.
  59. Cook, “Not All Yoga Is Created Equal.”
  60. “Yoga in America Study 2012.”
  61. Ibid.
  62. Aerial Yoga, Acro yoga, Alignement, Ananda Yoga, Anusara Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Baptiste Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Children’s Yoga, Core Strength Yoga, Corporate Yoga, Dru Yoga, Family Yoga, Forrest Yoga, Flow, Gentles Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Hot Yoga, Integral Yoga, Ishta Yoga, Ivengar Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Meditation, Men’s Yoga, Mom and Baby Yoga, Mysore Style, Nude Yoga, Prenatal Yoga, Power Yoga, Purna Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Satyananda Yoga, Scaravelli Yoga, Senior Yoga, Shadow Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, Special Needs Yoga, Svaroopa Yoga, Viniyoga, Vinyasa Flow, Women’s Yoga, Yin Yoga (“Yoga Styles Guide.”)
  63. Brad Scott, “Yoga: Exercise or Religion?” The Watchman Expositor 18, no. 2 (2001), Source: Scott, “Yoga: Exercise or Religion?”
  64. Ibid.
  65. “What is Yoga?”
  66. Cook, “Not All Yoga Is Created Equal.”
  67. Matrisciana, Yoga Uncoiled: From East to West.
  68. Lee Sannella, The Kundalini Experience: Psychosis or Transcendence, (Lower Lake: Integral Publishing, 1987, Revised 1992), 25, Source: Lawson, “New Print Booklet Tract: YOGA and Christianity – Are They Compatible?”
  69. Dave Fetcho, “Yoga,” Spiritual Counterfeits Project, (Berkley, 1978), Source: John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1996), 600–602, Source: Ankerberg, “Yoga – Theory and Practice.”
  70. Tiwari, “Yoga Renamed is Still Hindu: I challenge Attempts to Snatch Yoga from its Roots.”
  71. Keating, Intimacy with God, “Chapter 1: Origins of Centering Prayer.”
  72. Thompson, Soul Feast, 24.
  73. Lectio Divina Homepage, “Welcome.”
  74. Wikipedia, “Lectio Divina.”
  75. Lectio Divina Homepage, “Welcome.”
  76. Wolf Tracks Blog, “Lectio Divina: Leading Sheep to a New Level of Consciousness.”
  77. Keating, Intimacy with God, “Chapter 1: Origins of Centering Prayer.”
  78. Keating, “The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina.”
  79. Ibid.
  80. “Mysticism,” Merriam-Webster.com.
  81. MacArthur, Reckless Faith, 26.
  82. Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis.
  83. Matthew 6:7 (ESV) says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” The author chose to use the KJV translation of this passage for the sake of clarity in establishing his point. The KJV translation does not change the meaning of this passage because the Gentiles were heathens. They were foreigners who did not know the God of Israel and who practiced mantra prayers. As such, they were, indeed, heathens who repeated (heaped) empty (vain) phrases upon one another in their prayers.
  84. Jeremiah 10:2 (ESV) says, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them,’” The author chose to use the KJV translation of this passage for the sake of clarity in establishing his point. The KJV use of the term “heathens” is an acceptable translation of the word “nations” in this verse because the foreign (Gentile) nations did not follow after the God of Israel. As such, they were, indeed, heathens. God’s command was intended to prevent Israel from learning the spiritual depravities of these foreign nations.
  85. Edwards, Spiritual Friend, 18–19.
  86. “Thomas Merton – Contemplative, Mystic, Panentheist.”
  87. Wikipedia, “Rodenticide.”

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