The 101 of Contemplative Prayer

Richard Haas, a watchman over at Empowered By Christ, shares this today, and I think it is something you definitely want to consider:


The 101 of Contemplative Prayer
Reprinted via Empowered By Christ


There is a movement within modern Christianity today to mainstream and bring in an unbiblical and unorthodoxical method of prayer Called Contemplative or Centering Prayer. Many evangelical churches today are innocently participating in this not so innocent method of prayer. Many good Christian brothers and sisters in the Lord are being unknowingly seduced into a world of mysticism with this method of prayer. This form of prayer goes by many different names and using many different disguises to hide its ugly poison dart such as; Lectio Divina, Christian Yoga, Centering Prayer, Prayer labyrinths and of course Contemplative Prayer. While prayer is always a good thing and something that every Christian should strive to do daily, we must keep in remembrance that the Jesus has already given us a method of prayer in Matthew 6:9 He teaches us how to pray to our Father in Heaven. We don’t need a NEW or BETTER way to pray to God or in this case we don’t need a way to pray to God that is based on mysticism and the occult. Some of the teachers today that are promoting the use of Contemplative prayer are Richard Foster, Rick Warren, and James Manning to name a few. 

So what is Contemplative Prayer or Centering Prayer?  Contemplative prayer or Centering Prayer is a form of Christian mysticism. As you will read below Contemplative Prayer or Centering Prayer roots are anything but Christian.  The word for Contemplative Prayer is derived from the Greek term theoria (θεωρία).[1] In this form of prayer distinct vocal prayer (recitation of words) and from meditation in the strict sense (a form of mental prayer, also called methodical prayer, based on discursive reflection on various considerations)[2] The first appearance of something approximating contemplative prayer arises in the 4th century writings of the monk St. John Cassian, (a Catholic mystic) who wrote of a practice he learned from the Desert Fathers. Cassian’s writings remained influential until the medieval era, when monastic practice shifted from a mystical orientation to Scholasticism. It can be plausibly argued that contemplation was (one of) the earliest meditational or devotional practice of Christian monasticism, being later supplanted in dominance by the scholastic theologians, with only a minimal interest in contemplation. 

After the monastic era (Catholic mysticism) in our more modern times Contemplative Prayer found its influence from the eastern religions. A Trappist monk and influential writer Thomas Merton who was strongly influenced by Buddhist meditation particularly by the style found in Buddhist teaching of Zen. He was a lifetime friend of Buddhist meditation master and Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh

Today in the United States contemplative prayer can be traced back to Chogyam Trungpa who founded Shambhala Buddhism in the United States and was also an acquaintance of the current Dalai Lama. His theology attempted to unify existentialism with the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith and Protestant theology. This is what now today has become know as the modern day Christian Existentialism movement started by Kierkegaardian. 

As you can see from this brief overview of the origins of the contemplative Prayer movement it is anything but rooted in  bible or Christianity. Instead it is steeply ingrained with monastic practices and eastern pagan religious practices and teachings. 

With the history of Contemplative Pray exposed what does this movement teach? The purpose of contemplative prayer or Centering Prayer is quite simple. It is to enter an altered state of consciousness in order to find “one’s true self” in an attempt to find God. You will look long and hard to find this teaching in the bible because it’s not there. We are never instructed to in the Word of God to enter into and altered state of consciousness. You will find that we are told to do the opposite. In Romans 12:12 we are told to take every thought captive. This is quite a different teaching than what is being taught in Contemplative Prayer.  

One of Contemplative Prayers basic tenants in its underlining belief is that “one’s true self”, man is basically good. This teaching is contrary to what the Bible teaches and denies the doctrine of original sin. Proponents of contemplative prayer teach that all human beings have a divine center and that all, not just born again believers, should practice contemplative prayer. This teaching that every person has a “divine center” is rooted in eastern pagan religious practices such as Buddhism and is found nowhere in the Bible. 

Over all in the practice of Christian Contemplative Prayer one is opening the mind and heart to the whole being to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions, whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, thinking, feeling and choosing; even closer than consciousness itself. The root of all prayer is interior silence (which is the same teaching found in Buddhism.) Though we think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words, this is only one expression. Contemplative Prayer is a prayer of silence, an experience of God’s presence as the ground in which our being is rooted, the Source from whom our life emerges at every moment. The very teaching style and thought processes that are being portrayed in the methods within Christian Contemplative Prayer are the same methods and practices that can be found being taught in Buddhism and the art of Zen along with other eastern religions.

The very concept of Completive Prayer and its introduction in to Christianity is aloof and runs contrary to the basic tents of the Christian faith. Those that are practicing this method of prayer are not praying to the God of Christianity but a different god.   Over time this movement as crept into American Christianity very slowly at first but now it can be seen in churches everywhere in many different forms. These forms come in many hidden methods from churches that support the use of books like Rick Warrens Purpose Driven Life to churches that use prayer labyrinths. A more broad and outright form of Completive Prayer that is being out rightly used is called Lectio Divina (see our article.) 

With the church being so inundated with this NEW method of unbiblical prayer what is a true follower of Christ to do? The answer is quite simple. Read your bible and pray the way Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9. We don’t need a NEW formula or method to pray to our Father. What we need to do is to follow the Word of God and take our prayers back to the Scriptures and follow them. 

[1] ^ a b William Johnston, The Inner Eye of Love: Mysticism and Religion (Harper Collins 2004 ISBN 0-8232-1777-9), p. 24

[2]  “The Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2721)



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13 Responses to The 101 of Contemplative Prayer

  1. Steve says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I have run into this teaching at some of the churches I have attended. Thank you for sharing this and informing people of this dangerous movement. I like your site and this person's site both seem to really have a lot a current and informative materials on them both.


  2. Matthew LeMay says:

    Amy– you are way off course on this one. This time you have actually proven yourself to be a full-on heretic.

    Contemplative prayer is actually older than the 4th century and older than the Bible itself. It is not unorthodox, nor is it new.

    "Bible-based" Christianity is only as old as Martin Luther. Luther was the one who stripped Mysticism and the Blessed Mother from the religion, and now you are saying that Contemplative Prayer is a new and un-Orthodox? It is the oldest Christianity in the world.

    You are the Liberal and the Heretic. May God have mercy on you.


    • Amy Spreeman says:

      Matthew, we do not allow name-calling in our ministry. I don't mind you disagreeing with this article I posted (written by someone else, by the way), but I am pretty intolerant when it comes to nastiness.


    • Cindy says:

      Dear Matthew, I encourage you to look further into this topic in the Lord's Word.

      Here is an excellent resource on this topic:

      [Jhn 4:23-24 KJV] 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth.


  3. Matthew LeMay says:

    By the way, Chogyam Trungpa has NOTHING to do with Contemplative Prayer–That doesn't even make sense.


  4. Matt Lemay says:

    The medieval tradition of contemplative prayer never died. Chogyam Trungpa was not an existentialist nor did he invent anything Christian. Thomas Merton did study Zen, but that has nothing to do with Theoria, which is still practiced today.


  5. Andre says:

    Matthew, your expert opinion is based on…?


  6. This is really unhelpful and misleading. The bible tells us to meditate and think on God and his word dozens of times. Contemplative prayer has a history in Christian tradition going back to its earliest days. A rejection of contemplative prayer is actually a break with and rejection of Christian teaching. It is interesting that in modern times discussions and experiences shared by those engaging in the millenia-long practice of Christian meditation have discovered that their methods and experiences are virtually identical to buddhist meditation practices – only Christian meditation is directed to God. But the fact is that this is a practice which was "discovered" by two groups of people, completely independantly of each other. We ought not allow that fact to somehow taint or discredit the very ancient practice of contemplative prayer. Rather this should be seen as evidence of the fact that this sort of meditation and its benefits are woven into our very being. It's like a tool, given to us by God which can can discover rather than something we've made up or created for ourselves. It is unfortunate that this ancient practice which we are instructed to engage in by the bible is the subject of this sort of a-historical fear mongering.


    • Consider "ancient." These "fathers" were the three monks who traveled to the far East to absorb religious practices of pagans, and brought these practices back into the church. Are Christians really to absorb the mystical experiential practices of these monks who dabbled in Buddhism? Yes, meditate on the Word, but that's NOT what is meant by "Contemplative Prayer," which encompasses the Soaking Prayer, Breath Prayers, Lectio Divina, etc.


    • Cindy says:

      Rebecca, I encourage you to look further into this topic in the Lord's Word.

      Here is an excellent resource on this topic:

      [Jhn 4:23-24 KJV] 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth.


    • Donna Borden says:

      It is not in the bible. The apostles didn't teach it. How can you miss that? Not in the teachings if Christ…read your New Testament! Solo Scriptura!


  7. lyn says:


    Perhaps it would be beneficial to look at the roots of contemplative prayer. This short article is very informative on that very issue christiananswersforthenewage DOT org/Articles_ContemplativePrayer1 DOT html

    Let's look into the biblical definition of meditation, as used in Psalm 119:15, ' I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways.' Meditate here is from the Hebrew word 'śı̂yach' and is defined by Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew definitions as 'to meditate, consider, put forth thoughts'. Clearly, to meditate on God's word does not mean one empties the mind or that one waits to hear the voice of God, it is a taking in of the word, and using your mind to consider, to mull over, what you've read. Here is some commentary from theologian John Gill, "In his own mind; revolve them in his thoughts; consider well the nature, excellency, usefulness, and importance of them, and the obligations he lay under to observe them."

    Here is an excellent definition of meditation by Boice, "Meditation is recalling what we have committed to memory and then turning it over and over in our minds to see the fullest implications and applications of the truth." (Boice)

    Meditation is a thought pondering process by which we take what we have read and ponder, consider in our minds all that we have taken in. It brings understanding, for example, reading on the attributes of God, i.e., His holiness, His mercy, etc., this leads to a right understanding of who God is.


  8. Saunsea says:

    I've always been fascinated with words and how we construe their meanings as they evolve through cultures, viewpoints, and backgrounds. "Contemplation" and "prayer" and thus the joining of these two words into "contemplative prayer" only present "dangers" when we attach them to a certain movement. I'm big on researching definitions, etymologies, etc. and so when I hear "contemplative prayer" I don't necessarily attach it to particular practices of particular groups. To me, practicing "contemplative prayer" is as simple as what many Christians commonly call having a "quiet time." Or, a time to simply "be still and know that I am God."

    I started an online community called Contemplation Center where people share thoughts of contemplation to deepen relationships. I don't use the word "Contemplation" with an agenda of specific practices.

    Instead of emboldening the hijacking of words with/by movements, why don't we work to reclaim their use with their proper meanings, without adding conceptions to them. For example, the word "equality" is excellent and Paul wrote about the desire for equality within communities. However, today the word seems to be nearly totally wrapped up with the gay-marriage issue (just search for "equality" on google to see what I mean).

    Also, "mysticism" seems to initiate attack from many in the Christian community. Perhaps because the word has become associated with new age movement? However, an examination of what "mysticism" means, is exactly what Jesus said and who he is. If we believe we have a relationship with Christ, and relationship with God, that is mysticism.

    “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." is essentially the definition of "mysticism."

    Thank you for sharing this thought-inspiring post 🙂


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