Saturday, December 8, 2007

Contemplative Christianity

I've been reading about a New Age movement within Christianity to introduce some Eastern practices into it, such as Sufism, Gnosticism, contemplative prayer, etc. Anything to do with reaching that "higher state of consciousness" and harnessing that power which God intended all of us to have, such as the teachings of Karlfried Graf Durckheim, Gurdjeff, the Fourth Way, etc. and I've watched youtube videos of this.

Well, I think this is all very dangerous. These are attempts at taking away the biblical aspect of Christianity and replacing it with many forms of Eastern Mysticism. They hone in on this belief that we all would like to be possessors of some "secret power" or have intimate knowledge that nobody else does. I've tried to leave my thoughts in the comments section of the youtube videos I've watched, but guess what??? I'm being censored.

From what I can see, it appears that these individuals have studied some aspects of Orthodoxy, not all, have interviewed priests, and so called "mystics," without really referring to any of the teachings of Chrysostom, St Basil or modern teachings of Bishop Ware, and molded it to fit into their own Eastern philosophical value system and then repackaged it as a "new" approach to God.

That sends a HUGE red flag that something is very wrong with this picture, and for me, is a slap in the face of Orthodoxy. Why do these people not want to be questioned about their practices? Is it wrong to ask them to point to biblical references for their teachings? Apparently so. These individuals have very trancelike voices, ones that pull you in and are very adept at getting you to lay down all of your objections to anything. This is where the danger comes in. If you have ever listened to any of Warren Jeffs videos or transcripts from his "Light of Life" series for the FLDS, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Now FLDS is not the same as what I'm discussing today, but the intent of Warren Jeffs is the same as these new esoteric teachers: to break you down and reprogram your thinking.

Let me give an example. One of the anonymous comments I found online was this:

"On watching the video, I became aware that I was seeing nothing, I went into an altered state of consciousness as only your voice I could hear. entranced. The spirit of love and wisdon certainly use you as channel of love and hope.
You are blessed."

Many of these Eastern teachings also use the origins of Christianity, with the Eastern/Western split as the cause for why we should embrace this "new view" of God, and as an Orthodox catechumen, I have to be very careful and dissect what these messages have truly hidden under them.

The following is an article I found on The Conservative Voice about these issues.

Gnosticism, Contemplative Prayer and Other "Christian Traditions"
March 31, 2007 03:23 PM EST
by Marsha West

Christians are being exhorted to put their minds on hold through meditation and take a step into the supernatural realm. Is it biblical to connect with the supernatural realm? In an interview with Emergent leader Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI, he made the following comment: “Central to the Christian tradition, for thousands of years, have been disciplines of meditation, reflection, silence, and breathing. It was understood that to be a healthy person, to be fully connected with God, and fully centered you would spend significant parts of your day in silence–breathing, meditating–praying allowing the Spirit of God to transform you and touch you.” So ordinary people spent significant parts of their day in silence, meditating?

Even if it were true, nowhere in the Bible are God’s people encouraged to stop using their minds and to connect with the supernatural world. Believers are to worship God with their heart, strength, mind and soul. In an altered state of consciousness the mind is not engaged, it’s blank!

For over two thousand years (not “thousands of years”) Christians have followed a whole host of unbiblical practices that God regards evil. But that hasn’t stopped untold numbers from participating. Example: Even though God forbids fortune telling (divination) countless people, including Christians, have visited mediums to “look into the future.”

For more than five thousand years meditation has been practiced by Eastern religions and has become mainstream in Western culture. It is true, as Bell says, that Christian’s have been practicing meditation for centuries. Christian meditation came about when monks began reading the Bible slowly. As they read, they would ponder the deeper meaning of each verse. This is called "divine reading" or lectio divina. As a result of their Scripture meditation the monks found themselves spontaneously praying. Their prayer would move them to a wordless focus on God. They called this “wordless love for God” contemplation. More on contemplative prayer in a moment.

Lacking a biblical worldview and an understanding of Scripture is the main reason Christians are dipping into the forbidden waters of Eastern meditation to “know the unknowable.”

Contemporary Christianity is following “every wind of doctrine.” Believers are listening to what their “itching ears want to hear.” Regrettably, their itching ears are tuned to neo-gnostic heresy. One of the obstacles the Apostles faced were false teachers, the Gnostics being the most prevalent of the bunch. Gnosticism was condemned as a heresy in the first century church. Here’s the crux of Gnosticism:

“Christian Gnosticism is the belief that one must have a "gnosis" (from Greek "Gnosko," to know) or inner knowledge which is mystical knowledge obtained only after one has been properly initiated. Only a few can possess this mystical knowledge, limiting the number of those "in the know". … Gnosticism today seems to provide a lot of the form and color for the New Age portrait of Jesus where Jesus is seen as the illumined Illuminator: one who serves as a cosmic catalyst for others' awakening. As such it is as false and heretical as the Gnosticism of the first century and needs to be roundly condemned for the heresy that it is.” [1]

Most of us think it’s cool to have inside information. Makes one feel important. Even special. Who wouldn’t want to cultivate a special experience with God that no one else has? Sadly, Christians involve themselves in New Age practices like yoga meditation so they’ll “be in the know.” You say, “My church isn’t into any of that New Age stuff.” No, but you’ll read about the New Age stuff in books purchased in your local or online Christian bookstore. You’ll also see an abundance of false teaching on Christian blogs all over the Internet. Or you’ll hear name it and claim it prosperity preachers on TV acting as if the Almighty is actually whispering into their ear as they impart their false teaching to millions of viewers.
You can’t even escape Gnostic heresy in modern Christian music. You could be singing it in church! Listen to the lyrics of so-called worship songs and be amazed! And be sickened.

Last, but not least, the Oprah Winfrey Show is rife with Gnosticism. Those who tune into Oprah’s program (a number of gullible Christians do) will hear her guest’s share their esoteric mystical experiences.

It’s all about experience. “The Gnostics thought that one must directly experience the spirit to learn the truth, this being apart from the word. Stepping over into the supernatural, experience becomes the teacher and gives them real knowledge. What was and is now being taught is spirit to spirit communication that is completely outside the Biblical revelation given by the apostles.” [2]

This fits liberal “Christianity” to a tee. The Word of God is out of date so experience becomes the teacher. In his essay “What are we talking about?” DA Carson points out that some leaders in the Emergent Church movement claim “changing times demand that fresh questions be asked of Scripture, and then fresh answers will be heard. What was an appropriate use of Scripture under modernism is no longer an appropriate use of Scripture under postmodernism.” This is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater! But I digress.

The “knower” believes that the masses are not in possession of spiritual knowledge, and only the truly “enlightened” can experience God. Thus the reintroduction of contemplative, aka centering, prayer into the Church. How is centering prayer different from biblical prayer? Centering prayer is a meditative practice where the focus is on having a mystical experience with God. Individuals choose a sacred word or symbol (such as God, Jesus, Father) and repeat it over and over during the twenty-minute exercise. Sitting comfortably in a meditative posture, with back straight and eyes closed, the sacred word is introduced as the symbol of consent to God's presence within. Should outside thoughts emerge in your mind, you must return “ever-so-gently” to your sacred word. At the end of your prayer time you’re to remain in silence with eyes closed for a few minutes. Sounds like a good way to relax, doesn’t it? Trouble is, contemplative prayer has no Scriptural support whatsoever. Moreover, it’s the exact opposite of how the Bible instructs believers to pray. Read the prayer of Jesus in Luke 11:1-4 below. [3]

“In that day you will no longer ask me anything,” said Jesus to the apostles. “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).

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6, NLT).; “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Col. 4:12).

Biblical prayer advocates engaging your mind, even wrestling in your mind, as did Epaphras, not emptying your mind! Yet Pastor Rob Bell encourages Zachary Lind to do just that. Following is a snippet of an interview Lind did with Bell. (For clarity I edited out phrases like “like,” “you know” and “I mean.”):

Interviewer Lind: … the book you recommended to me a few weeks ago [by] Richard Rohr…talked about contemplative prayer … [I read] half of the book and still don’t really know what his definition of that is. But he starts getting into it. And he says … you have to at least sit … past 20 minutes.

Bell: Yeah, yes.

Lind: It takes a certain amount of time before you’re sort of selfish things get aired out. Like you might be all about you for 20 minutes, but then after that it’s like, you’re kind of a blank slate. You know…

Bell: Uh-huh.

Lind: You’re kind of ready to intake anything. He talks a lot in that book about a beginners mind and … being kind of like a child and coming up to Jesus, and really just ready to be written on. And … maybe I’m wrong but I kind of feel like from what I hear … there’s a lot of that going on …

Bell: Yeah, well you have to essentially discipline your life around forming the depths, and that takes just phenomenal discipline that I don’t even pretend to have. [4]

At this point the conversation drifts away from contemplative prayer. Note that Bell gave no warning with regard to the dangers of meditation even though Lind admits that he’s ready to take anything, “Ready to be written on.” Written on by whom? The Bible warns of deceiving spirits! “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9-10).

After listening to the interview what you will come away with is that Rob Bell is leading Christians into dangerous Eastern religious beliefs and rituals. Convinced they’re having an esoteric experience with “God,” many Christians are actually embracing Hinduism.

(Let me just put that quote in again from before from the anonymous poster so you can see again what this is all about:

"On watching the video, I became aware that I was seeing nothing, I went into an altered state of consciousness as only your voice I could hear. entranced. The spirit of love and wisdon certainly use you as channel of love and hope.
You are blessed.")

Puts it all into perspective, yes?

Biblical prayer is comprehendible communication with God. Prayer is not an esoteric, yoga meditation. Granted, many contemplatives are ignorant of the true nature of meditation—but such ignorance is inexcusable and indefensible! The truth about the dangers of meditation is readily available in books and on the Internet.

Contemplative spirituality, like Gnosticism, promotes pursuing a magical mystical experience with “God.” Overlooked are passages such as Joshua 1:8: "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." This command is from God! He wants His people to meditate on Scripture; He doesn’t want them emptying their minds.

Leaders in the Emergent movement have succeeded in persuading those who practice centering prayer to put aside God’s Word and focus on a blank wall! Will practicing Eastern mysticism really help to open you up to a greater spiritual experience with God, or just the opposite? Since God opposes mysticism in any form, perhaps contemplatives are really experiencing visits from demonic spirits. Meditate on that! In 1 Cor. 2:15-18 Paul informs us that we have “the mind of Christ.” In Romans 12:2 he reminds us that God’s people are not to kowtow to this world, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In the words of William Hendrickson, "Even if we or a holy angel must be the object of God's righteous curse, were any of us to preach a gospel contrary to the one we humans previously preached to you, then all the more divine wrath must be poured out on those self-appointed nobodies who are now making themselves guilty of this crime."

Here are some things I found in this particular research:

- Rejection or alteration of the doctrine of Biblical Inspiration 2 Tim. 3:16
- Special in-depth Knowledge - False cultist often claim they have the truth which has been
suppressed by apostate Christianity. (It is important for cultists to “set themselves apart” from
other religions.) 2 Peter 1:20
- False understanding of Redemption - The Blood atonement is either rejected or nullified.
Heb. 9:14
- False understanding of Retribution - False cultists often reject hell, eternal punishment,
and the conscious state of the dead. Luke. 16:23,24
- An Allegorical System of Interpretation, Sometimes cultists do this while claiming they are
literal interpreters of the Bible. Mat. 5:18, John 10:35, Luke. 21:32
- Messianic Leadership - Many false cultists have their own messiahs or divinely chosen
leaders. Luke. 21:8
- A Re-definition of generally accepted Christian Terms. Cultists do this in order to hide the
true nature of their teaching. 1 Tim 6:3, Rom 16:18, 2 Tim. 2:14

This last one was the big one for me, especially when I tried to post comments.

So beware, all you Orthodox and other Christians. This New Age movement is probably spreading into your parish and ministry areas and you may not even realize what is happening because they are so adept at hypnotizing you and making it all sound good.
Remember these questions:

1) What does this teacher say about Jesus?
2) Does this teacher preach the gospel?
3) Does this teacher exhibit character qualities that glorify the Lord?

A believer who has read the activities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:16-17 will immediately question any doctrine that denies the Trinity. Therefore, “step one” is to study the Bible and judge all teaching by what the scripture says.


Carl said...

Interesting post. I do think it's important for orthodox (with both big and small "O") Christians to keep in mind that there is a valid, scriptural, Christ-centered tradition of contemplative spirituality in the church, as exemplified by such towering teachers as Dionysius the Areopagite, Gregory Palamas, Maximus Confessor, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing. Not all contemporary teachers of contemplative prayer are new age wolves in disguise. In fact, one excellent book that goes a long way toward patiently differentiating the distinctions between orthodox and heterodox forms of Christian contemplation is Centering Prayer and the Healing of the Unconscious by Murchadh O'Madagain.
I work at a (Catholic) monastery bookstore and I've come to see that people (of all denominations) are desperate for times of peace and quiet and silence in their lives. I think the church has to address this very human hunger in ways that are Christ-centered, meaningful and wholesome — and grounded in scripture and tradition — or else we will continue to lose souls to the gnostic confusion of the new age (and not all of those souls we lose to gnosticism will stop attending church).

Many blessings,

The Website of Unknowing

Swordsandlace said...

Carl, thanks for your post.

There is a deep well in Orthodoxy that many people have not tapped yet, which is why I made this posting. Because it is so new to America, Christians that are interested in Orthodoxy must know to go to the right sources for their information and not to someone who claims to understand Orthodoxy but is not Orthodox themselves. If someone is interested in the true path of Orthodoxy they should first read the writings of the Bible, St John Chrysostom, the Didache, etc. and see a priest. Becoming Orthodox is not something one can just "do" overnight, as I'm sure you know. Whenever I've asked any priest for guidance, these texts are where I'm led, and not to someone else who claims to understand Orthodox but isn't, speaks about Eastern Mysticism, and then tries to integrate Orthodoxy into metaphysical and fourth way teachings. There's nothing wrong with meditating on the Lord, as long as you don't let yourself become a blank space to be written on and therefore be drawn away from God. This is clearly against Orthodox teachings. The icons of saints and all of the external things are there to keep us grounded in Christ at all times, and to take away from that is against the Church's teachings. We are in sad times in this country, and people do want something bright in their lives. I believe Orthodoxy can provide a lot of those answers for them. But we have to understand that the central message is that Christ suffered for us, and that it's not about just reaching some different level of self awareness or consciousness.

Swordsandlace said...

I continue to post on this individual's videos and asking him to refer to the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the Bible, Christ dying for our sins, the teachings of the Orthodox Church Fathers (Chrysostom, Basil, etc.) and I keep getting censored. I can't help but draw from logic that there is something else going on here. My instincts are telling me that this person is a false teacher and not a true follower and teacher of Christ.

Swordsandlace said...

To illustrate this, the maker of the video (in this case the pastor condoning these esoteric teachings) will not allow ratings or automatic comments to his videos. This I find very fishy, so I conducted an experiment. If I post comments that agree with his point of view, these get approved immediately and posted within a few hours. The ones I post asking for further clarification on Orthodoxy and Christ's paying for our sins on the cross are completely ignored. This tells me that he is only interested in those that agree with him and not willing to be challenged on anything other than his own teachings, and yes, I do have a serious problem with people who do that and this leads me to believe that he is not very sincere in promoting Christ as Savior but rather as just a mere man who was a "good teacher." He leaves out key elements in the very basic tenet of Christianity.

Laticia said...

Oprah's 4 interviews with Jill Bolte Taylor were the first that Oprah did after Eckhart Tolle and they take everything Tolle talks about to another level. Oprah's copy of Jill's book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT, was dog-eared and all marked up and kept reading from it the way she read from A New Earth and recommended it highly.

Oprah's recommendation was enough for me. I read My Stroke of Insight and I loved it too. This story is as inspiring as The Last Lecture or Tuesdays with Morrie - and even better, it has a Happy Ending!

I bought the book on Amazon because they have it for 40% off retail and they also had an amazing interview with Dr Taylor that I haven't seen anywhere else - Here is the Amazon link:

Swordsandlace said...

Unfortunately, Oprah Winfrey is being drawn further and further away from the true teachings of Christianity and I am losing a lot of respect for her because of that. I've received several spam emails into this particular topic asking me to post book reviews by Oprah. As of today I am disallowing all comments in that regard. You'll need to go someplace else to push her book list.