Christians mystically encountering God

 

breatheThe New Age continues to march boldly into the Church, and is being embraced by many a pastor and elder who maight not understand how it has cleverly been repackaged with a “Christian”-sounding exterior. From spiritual disciplines to meditation and yoga, researcher Marsha West covers the multitude of New Age signs to watch for. If you want to read more from Marsha, I strongly encourage you to sign up for her EMail Brigade Newsletter. Her article is well worth the read, and I am reposting it here with permission.

Christians Mystically Encountering God

For a couple of decades there has been a big push by numerous evangelical leaders to incorporate pagan practices into the visible Church. These unbiblical practices have their origins in Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, likewise the New Age movement. Roman Catholic Trappist Monks fully embraced Eastern religion’s pagan practices. Through the writings of Thomas Merton, Basil Pennington, William Menninger and Thomas Keating these practices have been introduced into mainline Protestant churches as well as independent, nondenominational, charismatic and Pentecostal churches.

Those who wish to develop a more meaningful prayer life are urged by popular evangelicals such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Rick Warren, John Ortberg, Ruth Haley Barton and Tony Campolo, just to name a few, to undertake a mystical prayer practice called The Silence.

How does one achieve The Silence? By practicing eastern-style mantra meditation aka Transcendental Meditation (TM).

What is the goal of TM? To gain “ultimate knowledge of God by a direct experience that bypasses the mind.”

What must one do to attain this sort of mind-altering experience? Settle into a quiet comfortable place and with eyes closed repeat a word or phrase from Scripture over and over until the thinking process shuts down to the point of silence…..and, low and behold, the practitioner will allegedly have an encounter with God in the spirit realm.

Our final goal is ‘union with God,’ which is a pure relationship where we see ‘nothing.’ (Source)

Wow. Sounds a bit New Age, doesn’t it? No doubt about it! And because it is New Age, why, pray tell, do shepherds of the flock not have a problem pushing this sort of practice on their sheep?

Undoubtedly many Christians have never heard of The Silence. Be that as it may, terms such as Contemplative prayer; centering prayer; lectio divina; Divine presence; sacred word; transformation/transforming union; listening prayer; soaking prayer; and breath prayer may ring a bell. But it matters not what term we use; what matters is that to pray The Silence is unbiblical.

Former New Ager Marcia Montenegro wrote an in depth essay on Contemplative Prayer (CP) entitled “Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer?” Marcia warns us that,

The influence of Buddhism and Hinduism on Contemplative Prayer … is apparent. Words such as “detachment,” “transformation,” “emptiness,” “enlightenment” and “awakening” swim in and out of the waters of these books. The use of such terms certainly mandates a closer inspection of what is being taught, despite the fact that contemplative prayer is presented as Christian practice.

Themes that one finds echoed in the CP movement include the notions that true prayer is: silent, beyond words, beyond thought, does away with the “false self,” triggers transformation of consciousness, and is an awakening. Suggested techniques often include breathing exercises, visualization, repetition of a word or phrase, and detachment from thinking. (Source)

Evangelical pastor Gary Gilley also tells us what to watch out for:

[C]ontemplative prayer is not the same as prayer defined biblically; “sacred reading” (also called lectio divina) of Scripture is not the same as Bible study; meditation (mystically encountering God) is not the same as knowing God and so forth. Many of the same terms are used, but as the classical liberals, and the more recent emergents, are fond of doing, they take our terms, including biblical ones, and give them new definitions and twists. (Source)

Spiritual Disciplines

Paul wrote, “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). This sort of training promotes Christlikeness. The ESV translates “train” as “discipline.” To “train yourself for godliness” means a call to holy living. It also means hard work. According to the John MacArthur Study Bible study notes, “train” is an athletic term “denoting the rigorous, self-sacrificing exercise an athlete undergoes. Spiritual self-discipline is the path to godly living.” Training such as this has been termed “spiritual exercises” or “spiritual disciplines.” As a result of “spiritual disciplines” many Christians now practice Contemplative Prayer. Many CP practitioners believe that they’re receiving direct revelations from God. “From years of studying mystics of all stripes,” says Ken Silva, “I can tell you their perceived revelations then trump the texts of Holy Scripture for them. In other words, rather than testing these experiences by God’s Word, now these (CP) practitioners … are instead using their feelings to interpret the Bible through what they think God is saying. I’m telling you, the tragic fact is, the mainstream of professing Christendom is rapidly devolving into all kinds of silly superstitions.” (Source)

Gospel Coalition’s D.A. Carson explains the spiritual disciplines thusly:

Nowadays spiritual disciplines may include Bible reading, meditation, worship, giving away money, fasting, solitude, fellowship, deeds of service, evangelism, almsgiving, creation care, journaling, missionary work, and more. It may include vows of celibacy, self-flagellation, and chanting mantras. In popular usage, some of these so-called spiritual disciplines are entirely divorced from any specific doctrine whatsoever, Christian or otherwise: they are merely a matter of technique. That is why people sometimes say, “For your doctrine, by all means commit yourselves to evangelical confessionalism. But when it comes to the spiritual disciplines, turn to Catholicism or perhaps Buddhism.” What is universally presupposed by the expression “spiritual discipline” is that such disciplines are intended to increase our spirituality. From a Christian perspective, however, it is simply not possible to increase one’s spirituality without possessing the Holy Spirit and submitting to his transforming instruction and power. Techniques are never neutral. They are invariably loaded with theological presuppositions, often unrecognized. (emphasis added) (Source)

As I said above, many Christians feel like something is missing from their prayer life and they long to “connect with God” in a more meaningful way. So they’ll do just about anything to “cultivate intimacy with God,” including unbiblical meditation. The irony is that they’ll attempt to defend an unbiblical practice by quoting Scripture. Take for example Joshua 1:8:

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Some Christians will argue that Joshua 1:8 shows that God approves of this mind emptying type of meditation. Wrong! The text is instructing us to meditate on God’s Word, not to empty our minds.

I’ll explain biblical mediation in a moment. But first let’s look at how Webster’s defines meditation:

The words Ponder, Meditate, Muse, and Ruminate are synonyms and mean to consider or examine attentively or deliberately. PONDER implies a careful weighing of a problem or, often, prolonged inconclusive thinking about a matter; MEDITATE implies a definite focusing of one’s thoughts on something as to understand it deeply; muse suggests a more or less focused daydreaming as in remembrance; RUMINATE implies going over the same matter in one’s thoughts again and again but suggests little of either purposive thinking or rapt absorption.

Now let’s look at Psalm 119 to see what the Bible teaches on meditation:

I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. (119:15).

Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes. (119:23)

Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works. (119:27)

My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes. (119:48)

See also: 119:78, 119:97, 119:99,119:148.

The Apostle Paul says the following:

Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. (2Tim 2:7)

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think [mediated] on these things. (Phil 4:8)

Could the Almighty have made the meaning of meditation any clearer? God has also made it abundantly clear that He forbids His people to indulge in any form of pagan idolatry. So practicing mystical mantra meditation is going against God! This alone should be enough to scare individuals away from this type of approach to prayer.

When it comes to pagan practices God leaves no room for doubt: Do it and die spiritually…even physically, as in King Saul’s case.

Yoga Meditation

Over the years I have dealt with “Christian yoga” in several of my columns. So I’ll briefly touch on it here for the simple reason that a large number of Christ followers have wholeheartedly embraced the Buddhist practice of yoga. Even churches offer yoga classes with a Christian spin on it! Not surprisingly, enterprising Christians head up successful yoga businesses such as “Holy Yoga,” “PraiseMoves and “Yahweh Yoga” (YY) just to name a few. YY’s website promises to “increase the kingdom of Jesus Christ by establishing, providing and maintaining a Christian yoga studio and teaching academy that honors God in all business and ministry endeavors. Yahweh Yoga seeks to…empower men and women to de-stress, to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and to improve their mind, body and spirit…”

It’s not a stretch to say that the language used to promote YY comes right out of the New Age handbook.

Here’s the bottom line. So-called Christian yoga has nothing in common with authentic Christianity. In fact, the Bible warns:

For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:8-11)

In one of my columns entitled Can A Pagan Practice Be “Christianized” I drew attention to the fact that:

Yoga is being marketed to mainline churches with the assurance of creating stress reduction, developing self-confidence, and improving concentration. It is also marketed to business and industry, athletes, senior citizens, students, teens and adolescents. Because of our fast paced life-style, who wouldn’t want to reduce stress? This is why yoga classes have become so popular.

Now here’s the main reason Christians should avoid yoga. Christian apologists John Ankerberg and John Weldon maintain that, “The basic premise of yoga theory is the fundamental unity of all existence: God, man, and all of creation are ultimately one divine reality.” To explain the basic premise, the authors quote from an editorial in the Yoga Journal:

“We are all aware that yoga means ‘union’ and that the practice of yoga unites body, breath, and mind, lower and higher energy centers and, ultimately self and God, or higher Self. But more broadly, yoga directs our attention to the unity or oneness that underlies our fragmented experiences and equally fragmented world. Family, friends, the Druze guerrilla in Lebanon, the great whale migrating north – all share the same essential [divine] nature.”

This quote alone should raise concerns among Christians but when looked at in light of Bible expositor John MacArthur’s comments extracted from a CNN Primetime interview where he was asked “Should Christians practice yoga,” it ought to be completely clear that Christians should not participate:

John MacArthur…wondered why Christians would want to “borrow a term that is part of a false religion” (that clashes with historic orthodox Christianity). MacArthur contends that Christians shouldn’t put themselves in weird physical positions, empty their minds, focus on him or herself, and try to find the “god within” as a way to relieve stress. “This is practicing a false religion,” he said rather pointedly. Then he boldly shared the gospel. He said in order to have a whole and complete life, Christians must go to the Word of God, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “The idea of Christianity is to fill your mind with biblical truth and focus on the God which is above you.”

We can be thankful that there are a few Christian leaders in America who are willing to stand up for the truth.

In conclusion, “Christian mysticism” has emerged from false religious systems. But instead of fleeing from magical mystical practices, scores of Christians have embraced them! The brethren must be warned that Scripture strictly forbids uniting with pagans and apostates. Moreover, those who profess Christ must be admonished not to participate in Contemplative Prayer or any sort of mantra meditation for the reason that spiritual harm can result from it.

Recommended Resources:

New Age Movement – On Solid Rock Resources

Contemplative Prayer – On Solid Rock Resources

Christian Yoga? – On Solid Rock Resources

© Marsha West

 

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Marsha West

 

Marsha West is a religious/political writer and owner of EmailBrigade.com. She is also the founder and editor of the Email Brigade News Report, a biweekly news resource for people of faith that is chock-full of critical news and information. Marsha is dedicated to restoring a more common sense approach to our nation’s governance by encouraging people to thoroughly understand the issues that impact American lives… (more)

 

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10 Responses to Christians mystically encountering God

  1. Mr Davis says:

    This movement gains in popularity because it really delivers a spiritual experience. True or false doesn't matter to those who circumvent God's word, only the connection to the spiritual realm matters.

    If this sounds like a drug addiction it is because it is hitting all the same triggers in the mind that the drugs do that by their nature are addicting.

    For any who want to know how to experience God more deeply preach the gospel of Christ in a hostile place out of meekness with a heart of Love and compassion for those who are perishing, and accepting whatever comes your way weather it seems good or bad knowing that even if you suffer for righteousness sake happy are you for in like manner also the prophets were treated who were before you. It is for our sanctification and the Body of Christ which we are a part, a member! Yield your members to righteousness!

    1 Peter 4:1-2, 2 Corinthians 1:1-10, Philippians 3:1-10

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  2. Darrell Whited says:

    Christian Churches are getting closer and closer to Rev. 16:14, spiritualism and demonic miracles, and 1 Tim. 3:1-3, the rise of the ocult, and 1 Cor. satans ability to appear as an angel of light. Pure Prophetic and true events that are markers for they day Christ is coming back to take us home.

    Final Events of Bible Prophecy
    1. Daniel 12: 4 Knowledge shall increase
    2. Matthew 24: 6-8 Wars and rumors of wars, disasters
    3. Revelation 11 Mans ability to destroy the earth
    4. 2 Timothy 3: 1-3 Lovers of self, moral decay
    5. Luke 17: 28-30 As in Lots day
    6. 1 Timothy 3: 1-3 The rise of the occult
    7. Matthew 24: 14 This gospel shall be preached
    8. Matthew 24: 21 Great tribulation
    ***************************************************************************
    1. Revelation 18: 1 Illumination of his glory
    2. Revelation 16: 14 Spiritualism and demonic miracles
    3. Matthew 24: 24 False prophets and false Christ
    4. 1 Corinthians Satan’s ability to appear as angel of light
    5. Revelation 14: 12 Patience of the saints
    ***************************************************************************
    1. Matthew 6: 24 Serving two masters
    2. Revelation 22: 11 He who is unjust (seal of God)
    3. Revelation 16: 1, 2 Plagues
    4. Revelation 12: 17 Enraged with the women
    ***************************************************************************
    1. Matthew 25: 6 Behold the bride groom cometh
    2. Revelation 1: 7 Every eye shall see him
    3. 1 Thess. 4: 16 Descend from heaven
    4. 1 Thess. 4: 17 Caught up in the clouds
    5. Jeremiah 25: 33 They shall be refuse on the ground
    Bible Lessons and Facts (Free)
    Discover Lessons http://www.vop.com or http://www.discoveronline.org
    Amazing Facts http://www.amazingfacts.org
    Amazing Discoveries http://www.amazingdiscoveries.org

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  3. Missy says:

    I agree that practicing yoga with goals of finding God, centering, etc. is not going to be a good thing, but what about those who simply do the stretches for no other reason than getting in shape? Who do not try to meditate or anything else but stretch?

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  4. Marie says:

    Many Christians have strongly promoted yoga to me as a way to balance our minds, bodies, and souls. I thought it was rather strange knowing that yoga came from the East and we, as born again believers have the Word of God to teach us what is best for our minds, bodies, and souls. Since these women were rather forceful in their demeanor concerning yoga, a huge red flag was raised in the pit of my soul. So I began a long process of researching this practice, asking the question "Why are Christians promoting yoga, a practice that came from the East?"

    What I discovered with the help of Caryl Martriciana, founder of Caryl Productions, was this….yoga is a form of worship to the Hindu gods and is totally antithesis to Jesus Christ. The stretching positions, or asanas as they call them. are designed to be bodily poses of worship to their gods, even without the meditation part of the program. Why would you want to worship pagan gods with your body doing a "cobra or dog" pose? And the poses combined with the meditation are designed to instigate a kundalini uprising within the human body so you can become "one" with Hindu deities. I discovered that yoga is designed to prepare you for eternal death; yoga is a dying process, but we know as Christians, that God's Word and Jesus Alone, prepares us for eternal life with Him.

    Yoga, in every way, shape, and form, is the exact opposite of our God of the Bible and should never be practiced or promoted by the true Body of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Head of all that we are, not pagan religions.

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  5. Marie says:

    I want to add another word of caution. One of my neighbors who belongs to the charismatic arm of religion, who faithfully practices yoga and recommends it highly, ended up with strong back pains and was bed ridden for a year and a half having her family take care of her…..she still has health issues to this day, but is now on her feet.

    I want to highly recommend that you research the "kundalini" phenomenon which is a demonic by-product of yoga before you decide to sign up for a class. I had the same "kundalini" awakening at an Assembly of God church during a "revival" service from an attending lying signs and wonders preacher. Anotherwords, I encountered a demonic experience losing full control of my body to another entity. It was frightening.
    And what is even more disturbing is that many born again Christians actually have been led (lied too) believe this is from God. You will not find this practice in our Bibles.

    Please, do not engage in yoga. Exercise is wonderful, but NOT yoga.

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  6. don everson says:

    if a true believer knows their Bible. then they will know "false" doctrine when they hear it!

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  7. Justyn says:

    This author has a deeply flawed understanding of these meditative practices.

    It's my view that modern, Western evangelical Christianity is operating on about 3% of what being "Christ-like" is supposed to look like. I don't have to cite divorce rates, among many other stats to prove my point, hopefully.

    Part of the irrational paranoia of these "mystical practices" comes from a terrible lack of education. And just because someone in the bible didn't list out a technique doesn't mean we should auto-reject it.

    I have found these practices have completely transformed my relationship with God and others. What this author doesn't understand is that these systems of meditation have a simple premise – that our minds are fallen and sinful. By getting "past" the mind, we can really start to connect with God without the constant monologue of our mind and start to HEAR God – not just tell Him our problems.

    It's such a simple practice that ANYBODY can experience briefly by stopping and listening to the room or space they're in – breathing deeply and becoming aware of the affects in your body of a deep breath – becoming aware of the air on your skin.

    Those moments are "awakening": like when you tune into what someone is saying in front of you but just missed the first part of what they were saying. When you "awaken", you all of a sudden become aware of the moment you're in. Your brain is running its constant, monologue, but

    "Contemplative prayer", as this author refers to it, is simply the practice of getting away from your own agenda and fallen mind and letting the Holy Spirit communicate with you far more efficiently. Everybody has a different way of getting into that state of awareness. Some people meditate with a mantra, some just sit still and become aware of their surroundings and tune into what the Holy Spirit is doing around them, and others have their own way.

    So what is the alternative. Can this author tell me exactly how I am supposed to pray and connect with God? Of course not! Like everything else, our relationship with God is deeply personal. We see various models in the scriptures of prayer and meditation.

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  8. lyn says:

    Contemplative prayer is defined by Michael Houdmann of gotquestionsdotorg…

    Contemplative prayer begins with “centering prayer,” a meditative practice where the practitioner focuses on a word and repeats that word over and over for the duration of the exercise. The purpose is to clear one’s mind of outside concerns so that God’s voice may be more easily heard. After the centering prayer, the practitioner is to sit still, listen for direct guidance from God, and feel His presence.

    Although this might sound like an innocent exercise, this type of prayer has no scriptural support whatsoever. In fact, it is just the opposite of how prayer is defined in the Bible. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6). “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:23-24). These verses and others clearly portray prayer as being comprehendible communication with God, not an esoteric, mystical meditation.

    Contemplative prayer, by design, focuses on having a mystical experience with God. Mysticism, however, is purely subjective, and does not rely upon truth or fact. Yet the Word of God has been given to us for the very purpose of basing our faith, and our lives, on Truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). What we know about God is based on fact; trusting in experiential knowledge over the biblical record takes a person outside of the standard that is the Bible.

    Contemplative prayer is no different than the meditative exercises used in Eastern religions and New Age cults. Its most vocal supporters embrace an open spirituality among adherents from all religions, promoting the idea that salvation is gained by many paths, even though Christ Himself stated that salvation comes only through Him (John 14:6). Contemplative prayer, as practiced in the modern prayer movement, is in opposition to biblical Christianity and should definitely be avoided.

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  9. lyn says:

    Christ taught us how to pray with the model prayer, the 'Lord's prayer'; A.W. Pink goes into detail about this model prayer at pbministriesdotorg/books/pink/Lords_Prayer/

    Like

  10. kangaroop says:

    I stumbled upon this blog, and it is obviously from a while back, so I don't know whether it is fruitful to respond, but I will.

    The author is well-intentioned, I think, and has important truths in here about certain things that are dangerous and unbiblical. However, I can tell that she has not researched all the practices she mentions fully because she makes many generalizations and incomplete descriptions. Have you actually read Foster's chapters on Prayer and Meditation in Celebration of Discipline? Have you actually read Willard's Spirit of the Disciplines in full? These works are not "New Age" and actually warn about some of the same concerns you mention. Foster draws clear distinctions between Eastern goals of an empty mind, and Christian meditation which empties the mind of self-centered thoughts and filling of the mind with things of God ("set your mind on things above, not on things that are on earth…" Col. 3:2).

    The author's explanation of Biblical meditation is really insufficient. Better exegesis here would help for more truthful delineation between godly and ungodly forms of meditation (a delineation that I agree should be set forth). One Hebrew word translated "meditation" in English literally means "mutter." This is not a very "western" practice, but it is Biblical and helpful… if we mutter a short phrase over and over (yes, I'm sorry this sounds like Eastern chanting, but that doesn't mean it's derived from there), it is more firmly rooted in our memories and we chew on it until our minds can digest it more.

    As for contemplative prayer/silence, it is not about nothingness, but about tuning in to hear God (through His word –lectio divina–which is not INTENDED to be study, but listening to God's word, through fellow Christians, and through conversation with God)…surely the author does not think prayer is strictly speaking with no listening on our parts! (Psalm 3:4)

    The disciplines are just habits that Jesus and the "disciples" (same root word as disciplines) practiced. You quote someone saying only by "submitting to his transforming instruction and power" can we grow. The spiritual disciplines (such as praying, studying, worshiping) are exactly ways of submitting to the Spirit! Again, if you actually read Dallas Willard or others who promote spiritual disciplines you will find clear explanations that these are not an end in themselves or a form of godliness, but a means to an end, a way to spend time with Jesus as the disciples did, a means of grace by which we submit our bodies and minds to the transformational power of the Holy Spirit. How can someone find fault with the activities listed? Do you have other suggestions of how we are supposed to submit to the Holy Spirit and receive transformation?

    I believe the reason this topic is difficult to discuss (and the reason so many harmful practices are very, very close to the right ones, but have small, significant differences) is because Satan would like to confuse us. He loves to make the wrong just a hair different than something wonderful, so that we are tripped up, either to choose the wrong OR to avoid the right because of inability to distinguish the fine points. Yes, sometimes poor practices are borrowed from untrue religions and cause harm (so much evidence in the Old Testament!), but sometimes wonderful practices can be similar to distorted forms in other religions, and it doesn't mean the Christian form is off-limits simply because someone else does it wrongly.

    To the author: please in your zeal to stay true to God, do not confuse those who are for us with those against us. Some of the authors you discredit are extremely orthodox in their doctrine and faithful to the gospel. The practices they promote are helping Christians stay connected to the life-giving Vine, and misrepresenting them in this blog is harmful to all its branches.

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