Pastor Daryl Hilbert
I. INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM
A. Mystical Experience
1. No true believer will deny that experience or even, mystical experience, has a place in the Christian life.
2. For instance, the divine events that bring a sinner to salvation could be described as a mystical experience.
3. A mystical experience could be an evangelism tract that was picked up, or someone randomly entering a church out of desperation and hearing a gospel presentation, or even standing in line in a grocery store next to a believer. Other mystical experiences could be a definite answer to prayer, an unexpected provision, or a season of spiritual renewal.
4. Even some of our great hymns of the faith suggest a “mystic sweet communion” from “The Church’s One Foundation.”
5. However, these mystical experiences might rather be described as “God’s supernatural work in everyday life.”
B. Christian Mysticism
1. Christian Mysticism, on the other hand, differs in that the concept of Christianity is combined with Mysticism.
a) Mysticism (from the Greek mustikós, an initiate of a mystery religion, mustếria meaning “initiation”) is the pursuit of achieving communion, identity with, or conscious awareness of ultimate reality, the Other, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, or insight (Wikipedia.org).
b) Christian Mysticism … maintains that God dwells in all Christians and that they can experience God directly through belief in Jesus… [It] aspires to apprehend spiritual truths inaccessible through intellectual means, typically by emulation of Christ (Wikipedia.org).
3. The problem with both of these types of mysticism is that in order to have union with God (the Other or the Absolute), the intellect and divine revelation of the Scriptures must be abandoned.
a) Mysticism is the idea that direct knowledge of God or ultimate reality is achieved through personal, subjective intuition or experience apart from, or even contrary to, historical fact or objective divine revelation (MacArthur, John Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ, p. 181).
b) Mysticism is the belief that spiritual reality is perceived apart from the human intellect and natural senses. It looks for truth internally, weighing feelings, intuition, and other internal sensations more heavily than objective, observable, external data. Mysticism ultimately derives its authority from a self-actualized, self-authenticated light rising from within. Its source of truth is spontaneous feeling rather than objective fact (MacArthur, John Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ, p. 181).
c) In other words, in one degree or another, Christian Mysticism does not rely upon the Scriptures for its truth and spirituality, but rather upon one’s own feelings, impressions, and intuitions.
C. Gnostic Mysticism
1. Mysticism is also an ingredient of Gnosticism. A form of pre-Gnosticism was a false teaching circulating around the time of New Testament writings.
2. Paul addresses this pre-Gnosticism specifically in Colossians and by John likewise in 1, 2, 3 John.
3. There are at least three aspects of Gnosticism refuted in the epistle to the church at Colossae:
a) Material vs. Spirit
(1) The Gnostics gleaned from Greek Philosophy that the material was either imperfect or evil but that the spirit was perfect or good.
(2) Not only did they impugn earthly sanctification but the bodily resurrection of Christ as well.
(a) In order to refute Gnostic teaching, Paul emphasizes that Christ had a “fleshly body” (tō sṓmati tếs sarkós – “the body which possesses flesh,” Col 1:22). Some may have argued that Christ only looked or appeared human.
(b) In Col 2:9, Paul declares that Christ came in “bodily form” (sōmatikṓs – having a body, corporeal). Some, such as Cerinthus, believed that the human Jesus and the spirit Jesus united until the cross. John refuted Cerinthus directly (1Jn 4:2).
b) Mediating Demigods
(1) Since material was evil and spirit was good, there had to be intermediate demigods escalating to the Supreme Spirit.
(2) Therefore, Gnosticism did not view Christ as the sole mediator between God and man, nor could they conceive that He was deity.
(a) Col 1:20 states that through Christ’s agency (prep. diá with genitive – agency) as mediator, He reconciled man to Himself (cp. 1Ti 2:5). This, along with the expression “things on earth or things in heaven” rules out the concept of demigods.
(b) “Reconciled to Himself” (vs. 20) is a reference to Christ’s deity. In the previous verse Paul declares Christ’s full deity, “all the fullness” (Col 1:19).
(c) Col 2:9 Paul dispels any doubt that Christ has always possessed “all the fullness of deity.” Deity, theótes from theós (God, i.e. Godhead) means that Christ possessed all the attributes of God (cp. 1Jn 4:14-15).
c) Mystical Knowledge
(1) Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnṓsis, which means knowledge. The Gnostics believed they were an elite group that obtained a secret, inner, and mystical knowledge.
(a) Gnosticism as a philosophy refers to a related body of teachings stressing the acquisition of “Gnosis” or inner knowledge. The knowledge sought is not strictly intellectual, but mystical…This Gnosis is the inner and esoteric mystical knowledge of ultimate reality. It discloses the spark of divinity within, thought to be obscured by ignorance, convention, and mere exoteric religiosity (Groothuis, Douglas, Revealing the New Age Jesus, pg. 74).
(b) Paul argues in Colossians that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (gnṓsis) are hidden in Christ (Col 2:3). Such knowledge is not obtained by mystical means but through the revelation in the Scriptures.
(c) The knowledge in Christ gives the believer a “full” or “true” knowledge (epígnōsis – intensive use of gnṓsis - Col 1:9, 10; 2:2; 3:10).
(d) Through the true knowledge in Christ from the Scriptures a believer:
(i) Has the knowledge of God’s will (Col 1:9).
(ii) Has the knowledge of how to walk in a worthy manner (Col 1:10).
(iii) Has the knowledge of the riches of His glory (Col 1:27).
(iv) Has the knowledge to become more like Christ (Col 3:10).
(2) Paul’s purpose in writing was so that no believer would be “taken captive (sul – plundered * agō – and lead away, i.e. brainwashed) by man’s philosophical arguments. Such arguments are based on falsehoods, man-made ideas, and worldly principles, not according to Christ (Col 2:8).
(a) Given the size of the contemporary church, the neo-gnosticism of today poses a more far-reaching threat than its first-century predecessor. Moreover, the leaders of the early church were united in their opposition to the gnostic heresy. Sadly, that is not true today (MacArthur, John Jr.,Our Sufficiency in Christ, p. 181).
II. EXAMPLES OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM
1. At one time, Dionysius was believed to be a convert of the apostle Paul (“Dionysius the Areopagite,” Ac 17:34). However, later scholarship ascertained that he was probably a pseudonymous writer from the 5th century.
2. His writings and theology were apophatic (Negative Theology…”what God is not“) and mystical in man’s illumination of God.
a) The soul must lose the inhibitions of the senses and of reason. God is beyond the intellect, beyond goodness itself, and it is through unknowing, and the discarding of human concepts, that the soul returns to God and is united with the “ray of divine darkness” (Moynahan, Brian, The Faith, pg. 270).
B. Bernard of Clairvaux
1. Typical of mystical literature, the mystical writings of Bernard of Clairvaux (12th cent) changed the Song of Solomon into an erotic love story between God and man.
2. At the moment of the mystical experience of union with God, a believer is “kissed with the kisses of His mouth.”
C. St. John of the Cross
1. St. John of the Cross was a Carmelite priest (religious order of monks found on Mt. Caramel, known for their contemplative prayer) in the 16th century. He authored the mystically coined term, “dark night of the soul,” in a poem and commentary of the same name.
2. In his poem and commentary, St. John depicts the mystical development of the stages of the soul’s union with God. The “dark night of the soul” represents the mystical purification of the material and physical desires and senses. In addition, it describes the ten steps on the ladder of mystical love and union with God.
3. St. John of the Cross also spoke of their mystical experience in romantic and sensual terms.
4. Pastor Gary Gilley, in his article entitled, “Mysticism,” writes that St. John, describes the union [with God] in terms of spiritual betrothal, where the soul, conceived of as feminine, is married to Christ as the bridegroom.
5. Christian mystics today still use the term the “dark night of the soul” in their mystical purgation of the soul in order to achieve a mystical union with God.
D. Ignatius Loyola
1. Ignatius Loyola (16th cent) was the author of “Spiritual Exercises” which were ritualistic meditations, contemplative prayers, fastings, and various mental exercises in order to achieve spiritual illumination. The exercises were to be carried out over a period of 28-30 days.
2. Ignatius Loyola founded what was called the “Society of Jesus”, who were especially known for the mystical practice of “contemplative prayer. Contemplative Prayer (also known as “centering prayer” or “breath prayer”) is not the normal idea of prayer in the Bible. Rather, it is the mainstay of ancient and modern mystics by which they are able to experience oneness with God.
E. Other Ancient Christian Mystics
1. Other Christian mystics, holding to these or other similar views would include, St. Francis of Assisi (13th cent), Meister Eckhart (14th cent), Juliana of Norwich and Thomas à Kempis (15th cent), Teresa of Ávila (16th cent), George Fox (17th cent), Madame Guyon (18th Cent), and Thomas Merton (d. 1968) and Agnes Sanford (d. 1982).
F. Evelyn Underhill
1. A more contemporary Christian mystic would be Evelyn Underhill who authored the book Mysticism, A Study of the nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness.
2. Initially an agnostic with an interest in Neo-Platonism, she eventually became an Anglo-Catholic with strong leanings toward mysticism.
3. Underhill’s idea of mysticism was,
a) 1) mysticism is practical, not theoretical, (2) mysticism is an entirely spiritual activity, (3) The business and method of mysticism is love, (4) and mysticism entails a definite psychological experience (wikipedia.com).
b) … At the time, and still today, the subject is associated with the occult, magic, secret rites, and fanaticism, while she knew the mystics throughout history to be the world’s spiritual pioneers (wikipedia.com).
4. Evelyn Underhill outlined five stages for entering into “the way,” (oneness with God):
a) Awakening of Self – understanding the soul’s true nature and purpose.
b) Purgation of Self – stripping all material and physical things from the soul.
c) Illumination – mystical, not intellectual process of understanding the eternal.
d) Dark Night of the Soul – process of life’s removal of everything but God.
e) Union – mystical and ecstatic oneness with God’s incomprehensible light.
5. Though there may be differences, these stages are universally accepted as the stages of Christian Mysticism.
G. Richard Foster
1. A Quaker, Richard Foster, has authored one of the most influential books on Christian Mysticism called Celebration of Discipline. The book was written in 1978 and has sold over a million copies. It was named by Christianity Today as one of the top ten books of the twentieth century.
2. The book promotes the inward disciplines of Christian Mysticism such as prayer, fasting, meditation, and study in the Christian life. It includes the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service, and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
3. In one sense, these disciplines seem no different from the disciplines for which the average evangelical Christian strives. However, Foster’s goals and meanings are completely different from those of the average evangelical.
a) For instance, typical of Christian Mystic literature, Foster’s goal is the mystical union of oneness with God,
As we did this, over time we began experiencing that “sweet sinking into Deity” Madame Guyon speaks of. It, very honestly, had much the same feel and smell as the experiences I had been reading about in the Devotional Masters (Foster, Richard, Celebration of Discipline, pg. xv).
b) These disciplines are not intellectual but are the keys to a mystical experience.
(1) The desperate need today is not for greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people (ibid. pg. 1).
(2) The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm (ibid.).
c) Furthermore, these are the same disciplines uses by the Christian mystics (Devotional Masters) listed above. Foster applauds and quotes them all.
(1) [The Disciplines] are not classical merely because they are ancient, although they have been practiced by sincere people over the centuries. The Disciplines are classical because they are central to experiential Christianity. In one form or another all of the devotional masters have affirmed the necessity of the Disciplines (ibid.).
III. COMPONENTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM
A. Contemplative Prayer
1. When believers hear the word “prayer,” they instantly have an affinity toward the word. After all, prayer is the believer’s communication with God. It would not even be wrong to say that the believer fellowships with God through prayer.
2. Evidently, Christian Mysticism is not content with the biblical idea of prayer and practices what is called Contemplative Prayer.
3. For the Christian mystic, the emphasis is on the word “contemplative.” In the book, Mysticism, Georgia Harkness explains, “among the church fathers [mystics], ‘contemplation’ was the usual term to designate what was later to be called mystical experience” (pg. 25). So contemplative prayer is a means to gain a mystical experience.
4. Contemplative Prayer is not a practice of thinking; but rather it is a practice to empty the mind. Gary Gilley comments,
a) through contemplative prayer the person is to empty his mind (detach) then fill it with imaginative experiences with Christ (attach) who we will find in the silence of our souls, resulting in God becoming the source of our words and actions. Sounds attractive to many, even if no such teaching is found in Scripture (“Mysticism,” Part 3).
5. Some of the methods for contemplative prayer have their roots in Eastern religions. Gary Thomas’ explanation of the technique for contemplative prayer is akin to TM or yoga.
a) Choose a word (Jesus or Father, for example) as a focus for contemplative prayer. Repeat the word silently in your mind for a set amount of time (say, twenty minutes) until your heart seems to be repeating the word by itself, just as naturally and involuntarily as breathing. But centering prayer is a contemplative act in which you don’t do anything; you’re simply resting in the presence of God (Cited in James Sundquist, Who’s Driving the Purpose Driven Church?, Bethany, OK: Rock Salt Publishing, 2004, p. 93).
6. In fact, some Christian mystics do not believe that contemplative prayer has anything at all to do with prayer to God,
a) The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God in prayer…. Contemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness…we must come to see reality differently (Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus).
7. Biblical prayer has nothing in common with mystical practices and experiences.
a) In biblical prayer, we are able to come into the presence of the Lord but not through a mystical experience or mantra. Rather our entrance is based on the atoning work of the cross and our purpose is to receive God’s mercy and grace (He 4:16).
b) In biblical prayer, we are not to be mindless, but very much aware that time is growing short and we must look soberly at our testimonies (1Pe 4:7).
c) In biblical prayer, the believer is not seeking nirvana, but seeking God to have an impact on his life and those around him (Ja 5:16; Co 4:2).
d) In biblical prayer, the believer can experience peace, but it is peace as a result of bringing life’s worries and requests to God (Phil 4:6-7). Even Jesus prayed in his high priestly prayer in Jn 17:15, I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.
e) In biblical prayer, the believer prays through the Spirit (Jude 1:20; Ep 6:18), with the spirit and the mind (1Co 14:15), and without ceasing (1Th 5:17).
f) In biblical prayer, the believer praises God’s attributes and works (Ps 19:1; 150:1), in addition to confessing his sin to God (1Jn 1:9).
8. It is safe to say then that even though the mystics use the word “prayer” in “contemplative prayer,” they are not contemplating the biblical term or practice of prayer.
1. The idea of meditation is so closely linked to the idea of contemplative prayer that some Christian mystics use them interchangeably.
a) [We] must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings, all of the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well. They tell us of exciting possibilities for new life and freedom. They call us to the adventure, to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 1980, p. 13).
2. Simply stated, contemplative prayer is meditation and is often called meditation. In addition, the same process of detachment and attachment are implied in meditation.
a) This term is for learning to “center down,” or what the contemplatives of the Middle Ages called “recollection.” It is a time to become still, to enter into the recreating silence, to allow the fragmentation of the mind to become centered (ibid., p. 24).
(1) Miles Stanford explains the source for Foster’s terms,
(a) The term “center down” is a New Age reference to remaining absolutely still in mind and body, focusing on the silence of the universe–what Dr. Foster calls “the re-creating silence”–more New Age terminology (Stanford, RENOVARÉ Mystical and Occult Spirituality).
b) Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 15).
3. We have already touched on the idea of emptying one’s mind under “Contemplative Prayer.” The question before us is with what are we to fill our empty minds.
4. Christian mystics say that we are to fill our minds with our imaginations and astral projections.
a) The inner world of meditation is most easily gained through the door of imagination. We fail to appreciate its tremendous power. The imagination is stronger than the conceptual thought and stronger than the will. In the West, our tendency to deify the merits of rationalism–and it does have merit–has caused us to ignore the value of imagination (ibid., pg. 22).
b) As you enter the story, not as a passive observer but as an active participant, remember that since Jesus lives in the Eternal Now and is not bound by time, this even in the past is a living present-time experience for him. Hence you can actually encounter the living Christ in the event, be addressed by his voice and be touched by his healing power. It can be more than an exercise of the imagination; it can be a genuine confrontation. Jesus Christ will actually come to you (ibid., pg. 25).
c) In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body…Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Do not be disappointed if no words come; like good friends, you are silently enjoying the company of each other…When it is time for you to leave, audibly thank the Lord for his goodness and return to the earth. Walk joyfully back along the path until you return home full of new life and energy (ibid., pg. 27).
(1) Note (Miles Stanford): The editors have deleted this portion from later editions of the book, and well they might. But it remains a part of Dr. Foster’s belief and teaching.
5. Christian mystics say that we are to fill our minds with the God within.
a) In Christian mysticism one empties the mind in order to become one with God, who is found by the way, in ourselves (it is important to keep in mind Meister Eckhart’s divine spark found within the soul of each human being). Foster quotes a number of mystics to describe this experience. For example there is Russian mystic Theophan the Recluse who said, “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing, within you” (ibid., pg. 19).
6. Other Christian mystics say we are to fill our minds with revelations and messages from God.
a) “Christian meditation, very simply is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word,” Foster tells us (ibid., pg. 14).
b) This is no slip of the pen. Foster is not advocating listening to the voice of God in the written revelation of God. He is not even equating “his word” with the Bible. He is speaking of hearing God’s voice outside of the Scriptures, and obeying that revelation. This is one of the greatest dangers of mysticism (Gilley, “Mysticism,” Part 2).
c) Winfried Corduan, in Mysticism, an Evangelical Option?, explains the serious danger of this facet of Christian Mysticism,
(1) [Christian] Mysticism, both ancient and modern is chocked full of supposed revelations from God. As a matter of fact, this is the draw – God will personally meet you in the center of your soul and communicate to you matters far beyond anything found in Scripture (p. 120).
7. The Bible does speak of meditation but it is not the same as the meditation of the Eastern religions.
a) Biblical mediation is not an exercise of emptying the mind or entering into an experience. Rather it is saturating the believer’s mind with the thoughts and ways of God from His word (Isa 55:8-11; Col 3:16).
b) The word meditation (hagah – to moan, growl, utter, speak, or muse. It could be onomatopoetically described as, “hmmm.”) means the mental process of memorizing, mulling over, thinking through the principles of God’s word. The purpose of meditating on the Scriptures is to grasp the Scripture’s intended meaning, contextual interpretation, and make correct applications for obedience.
c) Biblical mediation is finding and obeying the principles in God’s Word (Pr 2:1-2). In fact, praying and studying are a part of the process (Pr 2:3-4). The result is not a mystical experience but the acquiring and applying of God’s wisdom found in the Scriptures (Pr 2:5-6).
d) Biblical meditation is a continuous daily involvement of the mind upon the principles in God’s Word (Ps 1:2; Jos 1:8; Ps 119:23, 78, 97), God ways (Ps 119:15), and God’s works (Ps 119:27; 143:5; 145:5).
e) Biblical meditation produces numerous spiritual benefits for the believer:
(1) Wisdom (Ps 119:98).
(2) Insight (Ps 119:99-100).
(3) Understanding of God’s will (Ps 119:105; Ep 5:17).
(4) Restraint from sin (Ps 119:11, 101).
(5) Spiritual fruit (Jn 15:7).
1. For Foster, spirituality and sanctification are all about the “disciplines.” When he speaks of “discipline,” he is not referring to the character quality of discipline, which the believer must have to read his Bible, pray, attend church, and serve in ministry. Rather, Foster’s “disciplines” are a series of twelve disciplines, which transport an individual into a mystical experience with God and increase spirituality.
a) … twelve disciplines in three groups: the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and the corporate disciplines of confession (meaning accountability), worship, guidance, and celebration (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 113).
b) The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transfiguration of the person. They aim to replace old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits (ibid., p. 62).
c) [Speaking of Foster’s disciplines, Eugene Petersen writes on the cover of Celebration of Discipline]… it is only by and through these practices that the true path to spiritual growth can be found.
2. Foster’s disciplines are comprised of repetitious mantras, mystical encounters, and mystical revelations. Foster believes the mere repetition of mystic mantras, even if not believed, will bring about transformation.
a) We must realize that sheer repetition without even understanding what is being repeated does affect the inner mind. Ingrained habits of thought can be formed by repetition alone, thus changing behavior. This is one reason why so many forms of spirituality emphasize the regular rehearsal of the deeds of God. This is also the rationale behind psychocybernetics, which trains the individual to repeat certain affirmations regularly (for example, I love myself unconditionally) (ibid., 64-65).
b) It is not even important that the person believe what he or she is repeating, only that it be repeated. The inner mind is thus trained and will eventually respond by modifying behavior to conform to the affirmation. This principle has, of course, been known for centuries but only recently has it received scientific confirmation (ibid., pp. 64,65).
3. We have already dealt with Foster’s first two disciplines; “contemplative prayer” and/or “meditation.”
a) Next Foster promotes an unbiblical and extrabiblical teaching on “fasting.”
(1) Fasting is the third, and as might be expected, his instructions on fasting are purely extrabiblical (Gilley, “Mysticism,” Part 2).
(2) Our human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting help keeps them in their proper channels (ibid., pg. 70).
b) He continues with the inward discipline of “study,” not the Scriptures per se, but of the “masters of meditation.”
(1) The new reader of Foster might expect that he would direct us to the study of Scripture as the primary means of spiritual growth. But Foster has broader ideas (Gilley, “Mysticism,” Part 2).
(2) At last, we think he will turn to the Word, and he does, for two paragraphs, before rushing off to recommend reading the Medieval mystical classics (ibid.).
c) There are also outward disciplines of “simplicity,” which is anything but the simple life and is certainly not biblical.
(1) Extreme mystic Thomas Kelly tells us that simplicity allows us to live out of “The Divine Center” (whatever that is), and existentialist Kierkegaard claimed it led to holiness (ibid.).
(2) In attempting to find a Biblical base for his view, Foster makes the Old Testament civil laws a pattern for New Testament Christianity, and manages to misinterpret virtually every scriptural passage he uses (although he scores points on seeking the kingdom of God first) (ibid.).
d) Not only is there simplicity, but there is “solitude.” Again, it is not the definition we would think and it is not the peace of God described in the Bible either.
(1) Instead of a nice chapter on the importance of breaking free from the noise and distractions of our world and focusing on God and His Word, we enter into the mystical world of Medieval Catholicism, Quakerism, and Eastern mystics. Quotes flow from Merton, Teresa of Ávila, John Woolman, George Fox, and St. John of the Cross. Terms like “The Divine Center,” “The Divine Opening,” and “the dark night of the soul,” dominate. It is here that we are taught to keep a journal as we “listen to the thunder of God’s silence” (ibid., p. 108).
e) Foster teaches that we need “submission.” By “submission,” we might think of obedience to God’s will or God-given authorities. But remember, this is Christian Mysticism.
(1) The next discipline is “submission,” and it is in this chapter that we receive our heaviest dose of psychobabble, including: “self-fulfillment,” “self-actualization,” “loving ourselves,” and mutual submission within marriage (ibid.).
f) The final outward discipline is “service.” It is service to mysticism and not Christianity.
(1) “True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside. We serve out of whispered promptings, divine urgings” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 128).
(2) “The strictest daily discipline is necessary to hold these passions in check. The flesh must learn the painful lesson that it has no rights of its own. It is the work of hidden service that will accomplish this self-abasement” (ibid., p. 131).
g) Foster goes on to teach his “corporate disciplines.” The first corporate discipline is “confession.” Roman Catholic mystics support Roman Catholic ideas.
(1) The first corporate discipline is that of confession; and we are not surprised to discover that Foster supports the position of the Roman Catholic Church, complete with penance and absolution (pp. 146-149) (Gilley, “Mysticism,” Part 2).
(2) [Once, when receiving the confession of a lady she] … “looked at me and ‘saw’ superimposed upon my eyes the eyes of Another who conveyed to her a love and acceptance that released her to unburden her heart” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 155).
h) Next is “worship.” Worship is a major part of our Christian life. However, misguided worship is also a part of the misguided Christianity in our day.
(1) “[worship] …is a breaking into the Shekinah of God, or better yet, being invaded by the Shekinah of God…We have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit…[And] it all begins as we enter the Shekinah of the heart” (ibid., pp. 158-162).
(2) “if Jesus is our Leader, miracles should be expected to occur in worship. Healing, both inward and outward, will be the rule, not the exception” (ibid., p. 165).
(3) Such services will have prophecies and words of knowledge (ibid., p. 165).
(4) “The mightiest stirring of praise in the twentieth century has been the charismatic movement. Through it God has breathed new life and vitality into millions” (ibid., p. 168).
(5) “Our rational faculties alone are inadequate…That is one reason for the spiritual gift of tongues. It helps us to move beyond mere rational worship into a more inward communion with the Father. Our outward mind may not know what is being said, but our inward spirit understands. Spirit touches spirit” (ibid., p. 169).
(6) “Many…are having a deep and profound experience of an Emmanuel of the Spirit — God with us; a knowledge that in the power of the Spirit Jesus has come to guide his people himself; an experience of his leading that is as definite and as immediate as the cloud by day and the pillar by night” (ibid., p. 175).
i) The final discipline is “celebration.”
(1) Foster brings everything together with his last discipline, that of celebration. Here we are to express joy in all that we have learned thus far in the book, even participation in “holy laughter” on occasion (p. 198) (Gilley, “Mysticism,” Part 2).
4. However, sanctification in the Bible does not come through these mystic disciplines. In fact, the Bible has much to say about sanctification.
a) Make no misunderstanding, prayer, Bible study, and service are disciplines that do aid in our sanctification. The problem is that Foster’s ideas of prayer, Bible study, and service are different from biblical prayer, Bible study, and service.
b) Also, Foster places the entire responsibility and credit for sanctification on his disciplines.
c) Biblical sanctification is ultimately a divine work and is understood in three aspects: Positional Sanctification, Present Sanctification, and Future Sanctification.
d) Positional Sanctification is the divine act of the Holy Spirit who places the believer in Christ, justified and secure (1Co 1:2; 6:11; He 10:10, 14).
e) Future Sanctification is the divine act of God who will make the believer eternally perfect in heaven and he will never have to wrestle with the sin nature again (1Co 15:49; Phil 3:21; 1Jn 3:2).
f) Present Sanctification is the process whereby God is bringing the believer to spiritual maturity in this life (1Jn 3:3; Phil 1:6; Rom 8:29).
g) It is during Present Sanctification that we see God has enabled the believer to be part of the sanctification process.
(1) However, even though man has a part, it is based on the work God has done and is doing (Phil 2:12-13; 2Pe 1:4).
(2) The believer still battles with the sin principle (flesh), but he does so as a new creature in Christ (2Co 5:17), resurrected with Christ (Ro 6:1-4), puts the flesh to death (Col 3:8-10), and walks by the power of the Spirit (Ro 8:4; Gal 5:16).
(3) Sanctification comes not from mystical disciplines but by trusting in what God has done for the believer positionally in Christ. Furthermore, the believer is sanctified as he trusts in God’s spiritual provision and obeys His Word in the power of the Spirit (Jn 17:17).
1. The Labyrinth (labúrinthos) began in Greek mythology when Daedalus built a maze-like structure for King Minos of Crete. Its purpose was to hold the Minotaur (a half-man, half-bull creature), which was eventually killed by the Athenian Theseus.
2. Today however, both scholar and spiritualist will argue that the Labyrinth is not a puzzling maze but a path to find one’s way.
a) The labyrinth is not a maze. There are no tricks to it and no dead ends. It has a single circuitous path that winds into the center. The person walking it uses the same path to return and the entrance then becomes the exit. The path is in full view, which allows a person to be quiet and focus internally (Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, “Guidelines for Walking the Labyrinth”; http://veriditas.org; see also http://www.gracecathedral.org).
3. In fact, according to Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, Executive Director of Veriditas™, the World-Wide Labyrinth Project, is a tool for healing, spiritual awareness, and global peace.
a) The work of Veriditas centers around the Labyrinth Experience as a personal practice for healing and growth, a tool for community building, an agent for global peace and a metaphor for life (Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, “Welcome to Veriditas”).
b) There are many ways to describe a labyrinth. It is a path of prayer, a walking meditation, a crucible of change, a watering hole for the spirit and a mirror of the soul (Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, “Guidelines for Walking the Labyrinth”).
4. Even though Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress is associated with Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal Church in San Francisco, she readily admits that the Labyrinth is not strictly a Christian exercise.
a) The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many cultures around the world. Labyrinth designs were found on pottery, tablets and tiles 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 (Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, “About Labyrinths,” http://www.gracecathedral.org).
b) The patterns of the labyrinth are similar in design and conception to the mandalas of South Asian Buddhism, which are physical representations of the spiritual realm designed to aid in meditation. Labyrinths blend their visual symbolism with the process of walking, which is similar to the Japanese Zen practice of kinhin, literally “walking meditation,” where all of the attention is focused on the process of each step, one foot in front of the other, and the breath is controlled and regulated. Both of these techniques are used in Buddhist meditation, which combines the elements of calming and insight into the single goal of samadhi, or “awareness.”
5. The purpose of the Labyrinth is to capture a mystical experience in self-actualization.
a) There are three stages to walking the labyrinth: Purgation, Illumination, and Union.
b) Purgation is the first part of the path where the details of everyday life are shed, and the mind is made open.
c) Illumination is the time spent in the center of the labyrinth, quietly praying and receiving whatever wisdom is forthcoming.
d) Union occurs as the path is reworked, preparing to reenter the world and actualize the new sense of self, or knowledge gained in the labyrinth (Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichment/features/fea_19981120_f_p03.shtml).
6. What does all that mean for the average Labyrinth-goer?
a) It’s very much a tool for helping me find focus,” says Brad Squires, an East Bay massage therapist who uses the labyrinths on a regular basis. “It seems to rattle all the disturbances and busyness out of your brain, rattle all the static away and lets you…slow down and tune in to a more humane kind of rhythm. It’s best just to surrender and allow the labyrinth to give you whatever the labyrinth will give you. Just be accepting to whatever might come forth.” This opening up is the key to clearing space within the mind, allowing yourself to experience whatever emotions or thoughts surface during each labyrinth experience (ibid.).
b) One walker draws the connection to the larger questions of “Where am I going, who am I in relation to the spiritual world, who am I in relation to a larger creative being?” (ibid.).
c) Stories of angels or spirits are common as well. Renee Gibbons, a long time labyrinth walker, relates the story of her first experience on the labyrinth: “When I got to the center of the labyrinth, I got a really strong message that said ‘send an angel to your sister Fiona.’ My sister Fiona had not spoken to me for four or five years at that time.” After sending a gift to her sister, she waited. Although a miraculous new relationship did not develop, she says, “I saw that a lot of my resentments dropped when I did that (ibid.).
d) Renee Gibbons has also used the labyrinth as part of her healing process after being diagnosed with breast cancer. As a support to more traditional modes of treatment, she found a strong source of strength in the walking of the labyrinth: “I was going to do the mechanical things, but I knew that I had to have other things to complement that to pull through. So I used that, I walked the labyrinth as part of my healing. That was medicine for me (ibid.).
e) Renee has also found solace on the labyrinth in times of death and loss. During her cancer treatment she was walking the labyrinth frequently, and one night “a friend of mine who was suffering with AIDS came into my mind, and I had a strong presentiment that I had to get him on the labyrinth that night, that he was going to die.” She describes the struggles they had to get him there at midnight, and then continues: “We pushed him around the labyrinth in his wheelchair. It was an incredible experience. We sang as we were walking around and said our goodbyes to him (ibid.).
7. It is amazing to see how many pictures of Labyrinths are posted on the Internet. Admittedly, some of the photography is spectacular. At the same time, it is frightening to see the Labyrinth’s popularity explosion among church-goers and evangelicals.
a) A Google search of “labyrinth” and “church” brings a total of 2,860,000 hits.
b) Not only is the Emergent Church an advocate of the Labyrinth, but so are Christian organizations like, “Youth for Christ,” “Youth Specialties,” “Intervarsity Christian Fellowship,” “National Pastors Convention,” and various Christian publishing companies.
c) At the 2004 National Pastors Convention, a Labyrinth was open from 7am – 10:30pm. From 8:30am – 9:15am, Pastors could have their choice of “Contemplative Morning Prayer Exercises” or “Sustainable Life Forum: Stretching and Yoga.”
d) Guest speakers included Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball (both Emergent Church leaders), Rick Warren, and Howard Hendricks.
e) Gary Gilley, in his “Mysticism,” Part 4, writes, Sadly I have heard of very conservative Bible Colleges offering labyrinth walks to their students, and can only hope that their leadership is ignorant of the true purpose behind the labyrinth (which is why we publish these papers).
8. I would venture to say that no matter what state you live in, you have Labyrinths in your state and quite possibly within one hour drive or less (Wyoming – Buffalo, Casper, Cheyenne, Dubois, and Belle Fourche, SD).
IV. CONCLUSION TO CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM
A. Christian Mysticism and Pagan Religions
1. When it comes to Christian Mysticism, we are not talking about a slight offshoot of Christianity. Rather, Christian Mysticism is more closely aligned with Pagan and New Age religions. Perhaps that sounds like a harsh statement, but it is a truth that the proponents of Christian Mysticism readily admit. Here are numerous quotes from Christian Mystics themselves (many of which are quoted by Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Disciplines).
a) Thomas Merton: I think I couldn’t understand Christian teaching the way I do if it were not in the light of Buddhism.
b) Henri Nouwen wrote that his solitude and the solitude of his Buddhist friends, would, “greet each other and support each other.“
c) Basil Pennington: 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.
d) Morton Kelsey: You can find most of the New Age practices in the depth of Christianity.
e) Tilden Edwards: This mystical stream [contemplative prayer] is the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality.
f) Alice Bailey (famous occult prophetess who coined the term New Age): It is, of course, easy to find many passages which link the way of the Christian Knower [mystic] with that of his brother in the East. They bear witness to the same efficacy of method.
B. No Such Thing as Progressing Revelation
1. If Foster’s disciplines are the means to spirituality and sanctification, why are they not mentioned in the Bible.
2. Should we assume that Paul did not know about these disciplines? Should we also assume that thanks to Foster and his mystic mentors we can now finally move our spiritual lives farther than Paul took us?
3. On the contrary, the spiritual truths that Paul gave us, he gave under the inspiration of God, the Holy Spirit. They and they alone, are the exact and only spiritual truths prescribed for believers. Therefore, God has given us spiritual truths and we are not to look for more or progressing revelation.
C. Celebrate the Discipline of the Word of Truth
1. Somehow, we have it in our minds than unless we are having a mystical and emotional experience, we have not had a true experience with God. It is not only dangerous but also erroneous to look for something more than is recorded in the Scriptures. For too long, many believers have regarded the Scriptures as an optional source of truth rather than “the” source of truth. The Scriptures alone have everything the believer needs for life and godliness (2Pe 1:3).
2. There are disciplines in the Christian life, but our primary discipline is to study the Word of Truth so that we do not create false and unbiblical disciplines, no matter how it makes us feel. It is time to celebrate the discipline of the Word of Truth.
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