May 1, 2008

Say What?!

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the level of deception that many churches and church leaders have willfully fallen under in the past several years. Day after day my heart is burdened for revival and I am truly concerned for those that have fallen under this deception. After my recent post on "Center or Contemplative Prayer" I am aghast at what is occurring in most churches these days and the total disregard for Truth. This all seems very reminiscent of the Israelites and when they would intermingle pagan practices with that of the tabernacle. The end result was neither pleasing or honorable to God of such abominations.

What is occurring in the church with "Contemplative Prayer" is really no different than what we witness in the Old Testament. Paul specifically prohibits such activities on many occasions with the Gentile churches. To mix such pagan practices such as Hinduism or Buddhism with Christianity is really to defile the message and the power of the gospel.

Time after time I am amazed at how the church seems to think that they need to add something to the gospel message in order to somehow make it more powerful. Contemplative Prayer is really no different. Its the "Johnny-come-lately" of prayer methodology and is the "Next Big Thing" in evangelical circles. In recent decades, the church has lost faith in the power of the gospel to save humanity from sin and therefore have taken up the task of trying to dress it up in a new box and slap on a "New and Improved" slogan. We have truly forgotten that the gospel in of itself is what saves! Today, we have folks like Thomas Keating and Ruth Haley Barton as the great new marketers of Christian Spirituality! In reality they are nothing more than Charlatans!

Barton, Keating, Bell, and others have simply played into the hands of the Enemy. How so? Here is my take on all of this. One of Satan's biggest weapons within his arsenal of deceptive tactics is to get people not to live intelligently to the truth of scripture. In other words, I believe it is one of Satan's goals to get as many Christians not to think on the knowledge or wisdom of God's truth, and preventing that truth to transform their hearts. Rather, if he then can get them to focus on other things, say like Contemplative Prayer, they will ultimately focus on themselves or other things. This is why God detest when people bring in "other things" into their lives or churches that distract or take away our focus or attention from Him. To say our "thoughts" are the problem, is really to blame God with faulty design of the human mind and reasoning abilities. "Thoughts" in of themselves are not the enemy, but the condition of a person's heart! Did not God tell us to love HIM with all thy mind also? So to say that our "thoughts" are the problem when we pray is to say that God desires us to be nothing more than a mindless nitwit when we come to communicate to Him.

The thing is God has created us with a wonderfully created mind and ability to intellectualize. God truly desires that we continually focus our thoughts upon Him when we pray and throughout our day. God also desires conversation! How can he converse with us if our minds are empty or void or that we are chanting some "Sacred word" over and over again? Let me give you a true to life example to make my point:

Let's say you and I are going to have a conversation about airplanes and flying. Since I am a pilot and flight instructor, I know a little about flying and how airplanes work. So we meet up to have a discussion about the principles of flight and how they relate to an airplane. At the beginning of our conversation I immediately begin to chant "aileron, aileron, aileron, aileron, aileron" over and over again. I do this for let's say 10 minutes. After ten minutes or so are up I stop and I look over at you and ask you "So did I help you have a better understanding of flying?". I would imagine any sane or rational human being would immediately think I was some sort of fool or someone who is having some sort of mental episode.

Prayer is defined as communication between us and God. It is a time whereby we bring our petitions or thank fullness before God and God can at times speak to us through our time of prayer to Him. Logically this means there must exist a line or ability to communicate between the two parties. If we take the example I provide above, we can plainly see that if one of the two parties were communicating in a way that was mindless or in a way that was prohibitive to open communication, then lines of communication simply fail.

To maybe put it another way, let's say the tables are reversed and God communicates to US through the method of "Centering Prayer". Let's say during our quiet time God spoke to us but all He said was "Give, Give, Give, Give, Give, Give, Give Give, Give," over and over again. Now I would ask you, from this experience what exactly was God trying to communicate to you? Could you decipher from this repetitive chanting what He was asking of you? Could you discern intelligently that he wanted you to a) Give money to a missionary in India, (b) Give up Choclate Ice Cream for a year?.(c) Or was He simply asking you not to Give up on prayer for that lost family member? From this example we see the necessaity for good communications!

If we desire to KNOW God then we must be willing to place our thoughts specifically upon God. Not void out our minds altogether and conduct ourselves in some mindless paganistic mantra under the guise of Christianity! God desires to know our thoughts are upon Him and his ways! How does this occur? The Psalmist writes"

Psa 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; (24) And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.

Even David knew that the motivation of our HEART drives our thoughts. The issue here is not our thoughts, but what is driving or motivating those thoughts - OUR HEARTS! If your a person who is using contemplative prayer your a person who is really more about having an experience rather than changing your heart. You desire that God comes to YOU! Rather you humbling yourself and you COMING to GOD! Your more about the experiential and not the spiritual or the moral. Your about "Feeling" God rather than "Knowing" God! In the end "Centering Prayer" is not God Centered, but rather Man-Centered and is truly a "works" based form of spirituality! God is not at all interested in us coming to him with some vain repetitious prayer, but rather that we love Him with ALL of our HEART, ALL of they MIND and ALL thy Strength!

April 28, 2008

Off Center: The Danger of Centering Prayer

Its recently come to my attention that a new way of praying is sweeping across the pulpits of many of our churches. It seems that within the past year or so a practice that has not been seen or heard of since the 16th century is fast becoming all the rage in certain evangelical circles. In an age where it seems Christianity and other world religions are quickly blurring into one another, it is no surprise for many that this form of prayer is being quickly adopted into the modern day church.

Its called "Centering Prayer" or also known as "Contemplative Prayer". Its Latin term is called Lectio Divina, and was originally started by Catholic Mystics (ie. Madame Guyon, etc). If your unfamiliar with Christian or Catholic Mysticism it is essentially nothing new, but rather its simply Eastern Religion repackaged as being Christian. For example, many ancient mystics believed in repetitive chanting and solitude (monasticism) that would ultimately bring ones inner self literally into "Divine Union" or "at one with God", or as one mystic put it "being literally absorbed into God".

So just what is Centering or Contemplative Prayer? One proponent website had this to say:
"Contemplative Prayer is the normal development of the grace of baptism and the regular practice of Lectio Divina. We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Contemplative Prayer is the opening of mind and heart - our whole being - to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions. We open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing - closer than consciousness itself. Contemplative Prayer is a process of interior purification leading, if we consent, to divine union." - The Method of Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating.

One must be very careful to closely examine what it is actually being said here. On the onset it sounds really good, I mean who doesn't want to get closer to God? The author here however has made sure to say all the right things. But if we take a deeper look it soon becomes obvious there is something else at work here.

First, note knowledge of truth has very little to do with one drawing closer to God, but rather "inner purification" is through an experience and not a revelation of truth.

Let's look a little further to see what form of prayer is being taught and just where does its spiritual roots take us?

First, it should be noted that with any movement, there is a founder or one who is responsible for bringing an idea or philosophy to the forefront. For Centering Prayer, it is Father Thomas Keating. Keating is a Trappist Monk who during the 70's began to explore other ways or methods of prayer. As with most monastic monks or monasteries, long periods of silence or solitude is commonly practiced. But Keating began to take some very unorthodox, or shall I say unbiblical approaches to seeking out this "higher" level of prayer. Here is what Keating says began to influence him during is "journey":

    The historical roots of Centering Prayer reach back to St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, where I was abbot from 1961 to 1981. This was during the time of the first wave of the renewal of religious life after the Second Vatican Council, where many questions were raised for the first time and interreligious dialogue was encouraged by the Holy See. Several of us at Spencer became acquainted with groups from other spiritual traditions who resided in our area. We invited several spiritual teachers from the Eastern religions as well as some ecumenically skilled Catholic theologians to visit and speak with us. Fr. Thomas Merton was still alive at this time and writing extensively about his researches and exchanges in interreligious dialogue. He was one of the most articulate pioneers from the Christian side in the dialogue among world religions.

    In a similar spirit we entertained a Zen master who wished to visit our monastery. We invited him to speak to the community and later to give a sesshin (a week long intensive retreat). For nine years after that, he held sesshins once or twice a year at a nearby retreat house. During those years I had the privilege of making several sesshins with him. On the occasion of his first sesshin held in our monastery, he put on the Cistercian habit and ate with us in the refectory. We have a picture of him on his seventieth birthday eating a piece of cake while sitting in the half lotus position. [Spelling of sesshin in original]

    We were also exposed to the Hindu tradition through Transcendental Meditation. Paul Marechal, a former monk of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, A daughter monastery had become a TM teacher and offered to instruct us in the practice. Many in the community wanted to experience it.

    Exposure to these traditions, as well as conversations with visitors to our monastery who had benefited from them, naturally raised many questions in my mind as I tried to harmonize the wisdom of the East with the contemplative tradition on Christianity that I had been studying and trying to practice for thirty years.

Keating goes on to say this about "Eastern religions" and how they can help Christians become "closer to God":

We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible… Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices, especially where they have been initiated by reliable teachers and have a solidly developed Christian faith to find inner form and meaning to the resulting experiences”. (Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, Finding Grace at the Center. pp. 5-6)
Any Christian who has an inkling of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them should immediately be alarmed by these types of statements. But just what does Centering Prayer involve? What does one do in order to obtain this "Centering" of oneself? Keating goes onto explain just what one must do to enter into this state of drawing closer to God:

"Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within." (cf. Open Mind, Open Heart, chap. 5) The sacred word expresses our intention to be in God's presence and to yield to the divine action. The sacred word should be chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable for us. Examples: Lord, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Shalom Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period, for that would be to start thinking again. A simple inward gaze upon God may be more suitable for some persons than the sacred word. In this case, one consents to God's presence and action by turning inwardly toward God as if gazing upon him. The same guidelines apply to the sacred gaze as to the sacred word."
Keating goes on to explain further:

"Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within." By "sitting comfortably" is meant relatively comfortably; not so comfortably that we encourage sleep, but sitting comfortably enough to avoid thinking about the discomfort of our bodies during this time of prayer. Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight. If we fall asleep, we continue the prayer for a few minutes upon awakening if we can spare the time. Praying in this way after a main meal encourages drowsiness. Better to wait an hour at least before Centering Prayer. Praying in this way just before retiring may disturb one's sleep pattern. We close our eyes to let go of what is going on around and within us. We introduce the sacred word inwardly and as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.
NOTE: This is no different than the practice of Transcendental Meditation whereby one chants a "Mantra" over and over or as in this case a "Sacred Word". The bible specifically warns believers not to pray repetitive prayers or senseless mumbling. When we look at how Jesus taught his disciples to pray was there any mention of "sacred words" or to enter themselves into a trance like state repeating the scriptures over and over again?

Of course many will say that Keating is at the extreme end of this movement and surely this has not reached the evangelical ranks. But as with many false doctrines and beliefs they are not satisfied until that have spoiled the entire well. Many mainstream Christian leaders have adopted this Eastern Religion into their Christian Leadership Trainings and even retreat centers.

For example, one well noted Christian author and teacher Ruth Haley Barton has become one of the leading experts on Evangelical Centering Prayer and has even opened up her own Christian Retreat Center, The Transforming Center, to teach countless other Christian Pastor and Worship Leaders this heresy. Barton is fast becoming one of the most renowned Contemplative Prayer "Guide" in recent years. On her website she notes the method of how one enters into a alter-state of solitude:

1.Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence
and action within. [Examples: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Listen, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Yes.]

2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

3. When engaged with your thoughts*, return ever-so gently to the sacred word.

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of
minutes. [ *Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections]
Again, the intent of Centering Prayer is to eventually reach the point where the person is not engaged in their thoughts as they arrive on their stream of consciousness. The point here is to have an "experience" and not a renewing of your mind with Truth as Paul speaks of whereby we are using our God-given abilities to reason and know the Truth through God's word,teachings, and Holy Spirit.

Finally, what is astounding in all of this is none of this is ever mentioned in scripture. But yet why is this no surprise. It seems many in this movement are forgetting one important element and that is knowledge of the truth. Jesus said "The Truth shall set you free" - not some altered state of mind or Transcendental Meditation. It would seem this is again another subversion from people knowing the gospel or knowing God truly with the mind God gave us. Jesus told the woman at the well that "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24). Again Jesus spoke against this very thing in the Gospel of Matthew whereby he says:

" But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him". (Matthew 6:6-8)

Again I truly believe that we are in desperate times friends, when pastors and ministers have traded the truth for a lie and light for darkness. It is my prayer and my hope that many will trun from this perversion of God's word and His Truth!

"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him." (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)