Opinions on faith and life

Contemplative Spirituality

2008-01-25

In a conversation at the Women In Ministry blog, the topic started on a tangent about Contemplative Spirituality (CS), including the related terms “spiritual formation” and “emerging/emergent church”. We decided to pick it up here so it won’t be a distraction there. Please click on the word “conversation” in the first sentence to see what’s already been said.

Since then, some of the conversation went to email, and we will try to reconstruct that here, then continue with comments.

78 Comments

Charis

Cheryl said:

Paula has brought out that contemplative meditation is praying using a mantra (a word or phrase that is repeated over and over) and a silencing of the mind (emptying of the mind) by repeating the mantra. That isn’t a judgment. That is a definition. Now if that definition is wrong, and the authors that you read mean something different then that, you need to show what they actually mean by their actual words.

I think Biblical love will assume the best of another rather than the worst. Actually, I don’t recall much of any mention of contemplative prayer in the books I have read. Benner’s book touches lightly on centering prayer and quotes Merton a couple times. I haven’t read Foster’s book but I am assuming that he does not teach eastern mysticism! I assume that the perception of those who judge him is negatively biased by their interpretation of certain "trigger words". I choose to assume the best and not automatically believe accusations and judgments. Though some of these words may trigger "fear" its the fear that is the problem and the knee jerk lumping anyone who uses certain words into the most extreme camp. I think just about everything good that God wants for us is counterfeited by Satan. In the zeal to reject counterfeits, I think many will miss what the spirit is saying to the churches, and I think the devil wins with the divisiveness. He doesn’t have to snipe at Christians if we are sniping at each other. :(

Charis

Here are two quotes from Benner’s book "Sacred Companions" which refer to Merton and in which I find nothing sinister whatsoever. In fact, I think it is the truth. I know Merton is (was?) a catholic and if I recall correctly (IIRC) a "mystic".

quote: ---------------------------------------- If we are to become GREAT LOVERS we must return again and again to the GREAT LOVE of the GREAT LOVER. Thomas Merton reminds us that the root of Christian love is NOT the WILL to love but the FAITH TO BELIEVE one is deeply loved by GOD

quote: ---------------------------------------- our sinful and false ways of being are what we are to crucify...

Jesus knew who HE was before GOD and in GOD. HE could therefore resist temptations to live HIS life out of a false center based on possessions, actions, or the esteem of others

Merton suggests that at the core of our false ways of being there is always a sinful refusal to surrender to God’s will. ----------------------------------------

Charis

Here is a collection of all my Benner quotes (which was in an e-mail I sent to Cheryl. These are the things which really resonated with me out of his book. Again, all of this is good wholesome Christian material IMHO

http://claymines.blogspot.com/search/label/contemplative

Charis

Upon Cheryl’s suggestion that I do research on Merton’s views I replied: ~ Benner occasionally refers to Merton and has Merton’s book "Centering Prayer" listed in his bibliography. ~ I’m not sure it would be constructive for me to spend time researching Merton as I have never read anything by him nor am I attempting to be an apologist for him.. Actually I am not attempting to be an apologist for Rob Bell, Pat Robertson, Donald Miller, Foster, or Willard either. I just don’t agree with painting them as "heretical" and I think they all are making a positvie contribution to God’s Kingdom, which does not mean that I agree with everything they ever said or wrote.

Charis

That is all of my side of the e-mail conversation.

Paula Fether

Okay, we’ll wait for Cheryl then. I’ll wait till she’s caught up.

Cheryl

I was out all night and just back now. This is what I had written before:

My experience reading mystics has not been a positive one because I have seen good fruit since these mystics went off into deep error. However I am willing to look at why you believe the practice to be biblical. Merton is the grandfather of the practice apparently having resurrected it from much earlier mystics. It appears that everyone who teaches on "centering" or "contemplative" prayer goes back to Merton in some way. Was he God’s gift to the church? If so, it might be good to know what God did through him.

-------

Okay so the next thing I did was do a quick search of Thomas Merton. The first page I found was a wiki page on Merton.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton

It says: "A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist."

The next piece was eye-opening. It says: "Merton was also a proponent of inter-religious dialogue, engaging in spiritual dialogues with the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and D.T. Suzuki."

So Merton was working on inter-faith connections with Buddhists. It is interesting that Buddhists practice eastern meditation. The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist monk who works to spread Buddhism and the Buddhist form of eastern meditation.

Under the wiki search for "Thich Nhat Hanh we find that he is a Zen Buddhist Monk who "offers a practice of mindfulness adapted to Western sensibilities".

I didn’t know what "mindfulness" was so I clicked the link to see the definition of "Buddhist mindfulness" and it said it is a technique in which a person becomes intentionally aware of their thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It plays a central role in Buddhism..." This "mindfulness" is described as meditation (contemplative practice) and the practice is described as loosening and releasing attachment to thoughts "As one more closely observes inner reality, one finds that happiness is not exclusively a quality brought about by a change in outer circumstances, but rather by realizing happiness often starts with loosening and releasing attachment to thoughts, pre-dispositions, and "scripts"; thereby releasing "automatic" reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant situations or feelings."

The other link to Merton is his inter-faith work with D.T. Suzuki. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was a Zen Buddhist who also practiced eastern meditation and was an active Theosophist. D.T. Suzuki was an avid promoter of Mahayana Buddhism and Suzuki also took an interest in Christian mysticism and in some of the most significant mystics of the West. Buddhism is a worship of other gods so mixing it with Christianity is shocking to say the least.

Another interesting link is this discussion of the movement of "mindfulness" to the west: "Although mindfulness has its origins in Buddhism, it is also advocated in the West by teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, who have jointly been attributed with playing a significant role in bringing the practice to a new audience. Mindfulness is also attracting increasing interest among western clinical psychologists and psychiatrists as a non-pharmacological means of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depressive mood states."

What caught my eye was "western clinical psychologists and psychiatrists" were practicing this "mindfulness". I did a search for "David Benner" and I found out that he is one of these psychologists.

"All persons are . . . spiritual beings," says Hamilton psychologist David Benner, author of Care of Souls and director of the Institute for Psychospiritual Health. "To describe someone as spiritual and someone else as not is to describe their differing awareness of and response to the deep striving for self-transcendence . . . integration and identity."

I found out that David Benner is a New Ager who promotes contemplative meditation or "mindfulness".

We need to have a good look at the quotes that Charis brings up, but doing a first run at my own first-hand research on Merton and Benner can have no doubt at all that they are attached to eastern mysticism. The question then is whether we can "marry" eastern mysticism with Christianity. My first thought is the scripture that says:

2Co 6:14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2Co 6:15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 2Co 6:16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 2Co 6:17 "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 2Co 6:18 "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty.

If we are not to be bound together with unbelievers, can we bind together the practices of unbelievers (eastern mysticism) and worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

That is the question, my dear sisters. Thoughts?

Well I am off to bed. It has been a long day but a good day and my head is filled with all the research that I have done. I have read a few things here and there from other people’s research but I have never done it first hand myself.

Paula Fether

Charis, I’m going to try and combine my responses in this one post to major points made so far. Hopefully it won’t come across as anything but my feeble attempt at getting to the heart of the issue.

I think Biblical love will assume the best of another rather than the worst.

"Assuming the best" cannot mean "never question", or we’d fall prey to "every wind of doctrine". This is the issue: some see a clash between love and discernment, between the Spirit and the Word. The Bible never makes this clash between the two. The Spirit and the Word are not enemies but two sides of the same coin. One keeps us from the cold-bloodedness of the Pharisees, and the other keeps us from error. They are meant to work together.

So when we say someone is teaching falsehood, we are not "assuming the worst" or being cold, but discerning. Only if the doctrine is right can we know whether the teacher is a Christian brother or sister, or whether they have backslidden. God gave us his written Word to keep us from deception. It would be most unloving to never warn someone who is in danger, especially if that someone is also leading others into danger.

...I am assuming that he does not teach eastern mysticism!

Assuming is dangerous. We can’t leave such important issues to guessing or hoping; we must test the teachings and see if they are Biblical or not. Likewise, assuming "that the perception of those who judge him is negatively biased" is equally dangerous, because it "assumes the worst" about people exercising discernment. Why is it wrong to assume the worst about Foster for example, but not about those who disagree with him?

Discernment, testing the spirits, is not fear but wisdom. Let me quote a respected Christian teacher of the not-too-distant past, A. W. Tozer:

Many tender-minded Christians fear to sin against love by daring to inquire into anything that comes wearing the cloak of Christianity and breathing the name of Jesus. They dare not examine the credentials of the latest prophet to hit their town lest they be guilty of rejecting something which may be of God. They timidly remember how the Pharisees refused to accept Christ when He came, and they do not want to be caught in the same snare, so they either reserve judgment or shut their eyes and accept everything without question.

This is supposed to indicate a high degree of spirituality. But in sober fact it indicates no such thing. It may indeed be evidence of the absence of the Holy Spirit. Gullibility is not synonymous with spirituality. Faith is not a mental habit leading its possessor to open his mouth and swallow everything that has about it the color of the supernatural. Faith keeps its heart open to whatever is of God, and rejects everything that is not of God, however wonderful it may be. Try the spirits is a command of the Holy Spirit to the Church.

We may sin as certainly by approving the spurious as by rejecting the genuine. And the current habit of refusing to take sides is not the way to avoid the question. To appraise things with a heart of love and then to act on the results is an obligation resting upon every Christian in the world. And the more as we see the day approaching.

(Source)

I looked at the link you gave, and I have to disagree at the wholesomeness of many of them. For example, "sin is ultimately a refusal to believe that what GOD wants is my happiness and fulfillment." The Bible defines sin as rebellion against God’s will. And God is not primarily focused on our happiness and fulfillment, but in our character. Happiness and fulfillment come as a result of obedience to his teachings. When Merton is said to suggest that it is ultimately "a sinful refusal to surrender to God’s will", we must remember that he thinks God’s will is first of all for us to be happy.

When I read "Respect is the foundation of dialogue, and Christians have a unique resource for offering it: eyes of faith that allow us to see those we encounter as deeply loved by God and bearing HIS image", I have to ask whether the person to be dialogued with is a believer or not. I can dialogue with believers, but not unbelievers; I can respect truth, but not error. To dialogue with falsehood is to compromise truth.

Cheryl mentioned a very important point in all this: the methods or practices by which these teachers attain what they’ve been talking about. The Bible knows nothing of special postures, practices, positions, preparations, or prescriptions for "attaining" that which comes freely to all who have the Spirit as a free gift. Christian spiritual growth is a gradual releasing of our own will to God’s, and that is a thinking process. What the mystics do instead is empty the mind of rational thought. So we need to ask anyone claiming to be Christian if one must do certain things or empty the mind in any way, or bypass normal thought. Those would indicate pagan mysticism.

I googled "how to do contemplative prayer" and looked at the first link that came up (Source; note that the site is Lutheran). The flags started to fly when I read "Do not allow your thoughts or feelings to get in the way." The rest of that paragraph (#2 under Centering Prayer), and all that follows, is pure Hindu mysticism.

I went down a few links and found The History of Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Keating, a well-known "father" quoted by many who promote CP as Christian. The first thing I saw was his appeal "to appreciate the values that are present in the teachings of the other great religions of the world." This is obvious heresy. Christians are to bring truth to those other religions, not accept their teachings. He continues by saying outright that this is eastern religious practice from their "masters".

Then I noted that in the second paragraph he begins with "The revival of mystical theology...". There it is in black and white, "mystical theology". He says "John of the Cross says that all one has to do in this state is to remain at peace, not try to think,", another proof of the unbiblical nature of this practice.

Lastly, I went to Youth Specialties (which is associated with the Mennonites) and saw more of the same, including deep breathing (part and parcel of Hindu mindless meditation), lectio divina, and labyrinths.

I’m sorry, Charis, but there is no other way to say it: these people are false teachers, their practices are pagan and mystical, and they are very deceptive. If you do none of these things, please don’t use their terminology. Even so, I see in your writings a reluctance to believe something could be wrong with this. Please take a serious look at the great difference between their teachings and the Bible. Search the scriptures for anyone at all practicing these techniques. King David, who was called "a man after God’s own heart", sought God’s presence by thinking about his laws and decrees, by considering God’s deeds, by expressing his desire to obey. There is no hint of centering, silencing the mind of all thought ("be still" is a call to listen to God, not what these teachers do), etc., but filling our minds with understanding about God and his will. If that’s all you’re doing, then please drop these false teachers and stop listening to their siren song. It is evil and we don’t want to see you deceived.

There is comfort, safety, peace, and love in the presence of God, but only Jesus shows us how to get there. Listen only to Him. Please.

Charis

The Bible knows nothing of special postures, practices, positions, preparations, or prescriptions for “attaining” that which comes freely to all who have the Spirit as a free gift. Christian spiritual growth is a gradual releasing of our own will to God’s, and that is a thinking process. What the mystics do instead is empty the mind of rational thought. So we need to ask anyone claiming to be Christian if one must do certain things or empty the mind in any way, or bypass normal thought. Those would indicate pagan mysticism.

So, would you say that salvation is not available to someone who is severely mentally handicapped? ~ I disagree. ~ I don’t believe that fellowship with God is only with the mind. I commune with God in my heart and my spirit. I also use the gift of prayer tongues, which is perhaps counterfeited by these "mantras" you mention, but it does not make prayer tongues unbiblical. ~ I know of a woman who had a stroke which completely took away her ability to speak what was in her mind. But she could still (volitionally- ie using her will) pray in tongues. That says to me that tongues comes out of the spirit, not just the mind. ~

Charis

The first thing I saw was his appeal “to appreciate the values that are present in the teachings of the other great religions of the world.” This is obvious heresy. Christians are to bring truth to those other religions, not accept their teachings.

Well, I agree with him that we should "appreciate the values that are present in the teachings of other religions". And that does not mean I agree with the wrong teachings of those religions, nor does it mean that I would not seek to bring the light and truth of the gospel to bear. ~ Paul quotes their own religion (Act 17) and quotes their own poet about Cretans, and says that he will "become a Jew to the Jew and a Greek to the Greek in order that he may WIN them". Is he saying he will convert to their religion? Absolutely not! But he will be respectful of them, and he demonstrates using their writings and beliefs as a springboard into his gospel presentation.

Charis

“All persons are . . . spiritual beings,” says Hamilton psychologist David Benner, author of Care of Souls and director of the Institute for Psychospiritual Health. “To describe someone as spiritual and someone else as not is to describe their differing awareness of and response to the deep striving for self-transcendence . . . integration and identity.”

What Benner said there sounds absolutely no different to me than Augustine(?) saying that all people have a God shaped vacuum. It sounds to me like he is being a shrink to the shrinks and using their terminology to express spiritual truth.

Paula Fether

So, would you say that salvation is not available to someone who is severely mentally handicapped? ... I don’t believe that fellowship with God is only with the mind. I commune with God in my heart and my spirit. I also use the gift of prayer tongues, which is perhaps counterfeited by these “mantras” you mention, but it does not make prayer tongues unbiblical.

No, God doesn’t require of us something we aren’t capable of. If someone is incapable of willful sin, they will be saved. But if someone is capable of willful sin and they reject the gospel, they will not be saved.

I never said that fellowship with God is only with the mind. I said we use our minds to know and comprehend God and his Word, and when we accept it, we can have fellowship with him. And I didn’t mention "tongues" at all. Tongues are not the repetitive mystical practice that seeks to empty the mind. Tongues do not require an empty mind. They are not at all related to the topic of contemplative prayer.

Well, I agree with him that we should “appreciate the values that are present in the teachings of other religions”.

I disagree completely. Every value we need is found in the Bible. The values of false religions cannot help us.

Paul quotes their own religion (Act 17) and quotes their own poet about Cretans, and says that he will “become a Jew to the Jew and a Greek to the Greek in order that he may WIN them”. Is he saying he will convert to their religion? Absolutely not! But he will be respectful of them, and he demonstrates using their writings and beliefs as a springboard into his gospel presentation.

Relating to people to communicate a truth is something Jesus did as well. But he never tried to learn from them, or adopt their wisdom or practices. Paul’s statement has been abused many times in an effort to promote universalism or ecumenism, but the context tells us he’s just finding ways to get the gospel to people, not to become like them or learn from them. Neither Jesus nor any Biblical writers indicated any kind of "respect" for other religions or their "wisdom". Springboard, yes; learn and respect, no.

Charis

For example, “sin is ultimately a refusal to believe that what GOD wants is my happiness and fulfillment.” The Bible defines sin as rebellion against God’s will. And God is not primarily focused on our happiness and fulfillment, but in our character. Happiness and fulfillment come as a result of obedience to his teachings.

I agree with you that the word "happiness" is not quite accurate. I think joy, fulfillment, satisfaction would have been better. I clipped "happiness" out of the quote which I e-mailed to Cheryl because I anticipated this objection. ~ I don’t see Benner’s teaching as any different than Beth Moore, who quotes CS Lewis’s like mindedness on this point: I am a Christian hedonist ~ Jesus offers abundant life :)

Paula Fether

CS Lewis wasn’t exactly the epitome of doctrinal purity either. From biographies I’ve read, we can seriously wonder whether he ever really understood the concept of faith in Jesus alone. He is a good example of "a little yeast" mixed in with truth, such that people can be led astray. I think "Christian hedonist" is an oxymoron.

But even replacing "happiness" with "joy..." doesn’t solve the problem. It still isn’t what God is after. He wants to build our character, so that the happiness/joy that comes as a result is much deeper and real.

Anyway, the difference between us on this is how we view truth and error. It’s much like the evolutionist argument that "Since we share 98% of our genes with monkeys, we must have a common ancestor." What they don’t realize is that we also share 50% of our genes with bananas! But their error is in looking at the similarities instead of the differences. That (alleged) 2% of genetic difference is HUGE; it’s much more significant than the similarities. Likewise, the differences between Biblical doctrine and the "wisdom" of the mystics is also huge; the similarities don’t matter.

Charis

And I didn’t mention “tongues” at all. Tongues are not the repetitive mystical practice that seeks to empty the mind. Tongues do not require an empty mind. They are not at all related to the topic of contemplative prayer.

I am not so sure of that. This mantra stuff is a counterfeit of Satan. The real thing is allowing the Holy Spirit to flow. I just don’t buy that Foster, Benner, etc are telling people to practice hindu mantras. I hear them encouraging people to develop their inner life, communion with God through resting in HIS presence, through the indwelling HOLY Spirit!

This is not a new thing that came from Merton. I have read some of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. IIRC he was a monk in the early 15th century. I posted a quote: The Love of Solitude

Paula Fether

Again, the issue is not the similarities but the differences. If anyone teaches that the Bible doesn’t tell us everything we need to know, e.g. methods or practices to enter an altered state, they are teaching falsehood.

The authors you mentioned have to be tested. If they never talk about these mystical methods or contradict the Bible, then that’s fine. But don’t just read the parts that sound good; read everything they teach, and only then will you be able to say they don’t teach people to practice hindu mantras.

No, mysticism and falsehood are not new. But that doesn’t make them harmless. Monks from centuries after Christ are no more guaranteed to be doctrinally sound than the "wolves" the NT talks about who were trying to subvert the church as soon as it was born.

I trust Jesus, Paul, John, Peter... not Merton, Augustine, Lewis, or monks.

Paula Fether

And I’m going to see if I can find a way to get these silly comment boxes to put space between paragraphs!

Charis

CS Lewis wasn’t exactly the epitome of doctrinal purity either. From biographies I’ve read, we can seriously wonder whether he ever really understood the concept of faith in Jesus alone. He is a good example of “a little yeast” mixed in with truth, such that people can be led astray. ...

Anyway, the difference between us on this is how we view truth and error.

OK. I can see that. You seem to be a "perfectionist". If you see anything with which you disagree, then you distrust everything that person has to offer. ~ I choose to read and listen and take what is good and leave the rest. ~ I don’t think anyone is perfect and I believe God understands that. Like I said (on Cheryl’s blog?) if I analyzed your pastor’s sermons for absolute doctrinal accuracy I’m sure I could find a way to paint him in a negative light. I choose to consider what what they say, not take their word as gospel, but test, pray, seek the Lord... and I think that God wants His people to develop their inner life of communion and intimacy with Him. I think it is sorely lacking among Christians... and the book I read by Benner presents an antidote to that lack ~ Gamaliel was wise. He said "For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

Paula Fether

OK. I can see that. You seem to be a “perfectionist”. If you see anything with which you disagree, then you distrust everything that person has to offer.

Charis, what does "holiness" mean as it relates to God Himself? It means perfection. It means complete intolerance of evil. It means no compromise. People aren’t perfect, but God’s Word is, and anything that contradicts it has to be discarded, especially if it copies the false religions’ practices or "wisdom".

"What is good" is in the Bible, why filter it through others who mix truth with error? What are they telling you that God hasn’t?

I’ve heard literally thousands of sermons, and I’ve joked that of the hundreds of believers I’ve met online, I only know of one I agree with completely. But here’s the point once again: they don’t teach what is contrary to the Bible or try to mix it with pagan religion. We can disagree on worship style, music, dress, eternal security, predestination, and cessationism. But not the gospel, and not the Bible’s very clear forbidding of copying the nations around us.

Yes, time will tell the whole truth about every one of us, and these false teachers will be exposed for the heretics they are.

Charis

But don’t just read the parts that sound good; read everything they teach, and only then will you be able to say they don’t teach people to practice hindu mantras.

God has not called me to do that. It just sounds absolutely paralyzing to have to sift every single thing a person ever said in order to judge his worthiness to be heard. ~ Frankly I am positive that I can find something in each of the books I have read which I believe is wrong. But that doesn’t mean I think they are heretics. I am wrong a lot too. And I still have a relationship with God and He still loves me despite my human frailty. ~ I suppose one solution would be to stop reading anything but the Bible (because I agree with you that is THE ONE completely trustworthy book- in its original autographs- ie translations can be really untrustworthy at points) ~ But I think God still speaks through His imperfect vessels... ~ which reminds me of a quote on the cover of a book I am presently working through quite thoroughly "God’s Word to Women" Quote: "The church which silences women will be found to silence the Holy Spirit" ... Which quote applies to marriage too. The husband who will not listen to correction from his wife will be found to silence the Holy Spirit. ... You see, Paula, I am quite accustomed to not being listened to because I am female and because I am imperfect... neither of which will change... and because bad and evil motivations are attributed to me (which is untrue and still stings until I can grow in ONLY needing God’s approval not man’s). ... ~ For me, its a "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" issue. I will listen to others even though they are imperfect. I won’t always agree, but I will listen. And I will try my best to avoid assuming their motivations are bad and evil. Only God knows their hearts.

Paula Fether

God has not called me to do that.

That’s why some of us are here, to do the job of discernment. Will you trust our spiritual gift of discernment? I know how you feel about not being listened to; people don’t listen to me either. I give evidence, quote scripture, but to no avail. It’s very discouraging and demoralizing to have one’s gift ignored by fellow believers.

I thought I explained why the false teachers are false, and how they differ from true teachers who just disagree on minor issues.

Charis

I have the gift of discernment too. And you are going by what others have said, You haven’t read Benner for yourself. You are lumping him in with heretics. I discern that he is a Christian, not a heretic. ~ As for Foster, I’ll be sure to read that one at some point too. I suspect I will come to the same conclusion- that his is a Christian, not a heretic. ~ I think books like "the Left Behind" series are the dangerous ones because they are so incredibly popular and they "materialize" everything, make it all about the physical world instead of the the spiritual realm and the inner man, and they give Christians a false sense of security, lull them to sleep thinking that the warfare is bye and bye rather than a present reality within each one of us.

Paula Fether

I did my own research, Charis. I even did some more with that google search and gave links so you could check the context. If you have the gift of discernment, then why did you say God hasn’t called you to "read everything they teach"? How can discernment be done without being thorough? It isn’t enough to assert that you think someone is not a heretic, you need to prove that he has not taught falsehood.

As for "Left Behind", which isn’t any more popular than contemplative spirituality, it’s just fiction and isn’t passing itself off as religious truth. And you painted the authors with a very broad brush, yet balk when we quote your authors in context and point to specific false teachings.

I see a double standard here, Charis. You want me to ignore the danger in your authors’ writings but are quick to dismiss those who disagree with them. You want me to assume the best about your authors but you assume the worst about others.

Who would you call a false teacher? Where is the line between saved and not saved? If someone can teach a blend of Christianity and mysticism, is that something that honors God, and can we benefit from them?

Satan is not going to hold up a sign and announce that he is deceiving people. He covers lies in Christian-sounding ideas and lures us to wander away from truth. He tells us "you will not die" and "you can be like God". He gets us to believe God hasn’t told us everything, that we need to look elsewhere and try things God never told us about.

The gift of discernment is more than analysis of teachings, it’s "smelling a dragon", and this contemplative spirituality stinks really bad. It isn’t just my opinion of false teachings, and it’s more than analysis of doctrine, it’s a sense of danger, a spiritual warning.

All I can do is warn and explain, and I’ve told you what I can. I can’t make you listen, but the truth is here if you’ll give it a chance. I don’t know how else to say what I’ve been saying.

Charis

I wouldn’t call Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye false teachers nor heretics. I don’t think the (ostensibly "biblical") premise upon which the umpteen book series is founded is correct. So, they build a tower on the interpretation of a few verses.

I very much dislike certain Christian marriage books for the same flaw, building a tower of babel on a verse or two.

And the "women must be silent" crew... again building a tower of babel on a few verses...

I disagree with all of the above "teachers" but I don’t brand them heretics, nor set up websites to oppose them. Basically I try to keep my mouth shut on areas where I disagree. If you look at all my blogs, I avoid attacking and accusing any group, book, etc. I stick with posting and commenting upon things I have learned. As far as what I don’t agree with... I might be right, and I might be wrong and I know that God is capable of defending Himself.

Lin

Charis, I can totally relate to where you are coming from. I was steeped in this stuff for years. I was gleaning all the good stuff from everyone. I had all Rob Bell tapes, books, sermons, Donald Miller, Desert Fathers, etc. I worked in a well known seeker mega where it was ’program’ and ’author’ of the week...every week. We read everythihng except scritpure.

Something happened I won’t go into here but I left there and started studying scripture in depth in context to find out why so many who are calling themselves Christians don’t act like what we would think Christians should be.

I was stunned at what I read in scripture. I started studying Greek, etc. I can remember one week, I read ACTS 17x in a row.

The first thing I wanted to do was to get on a roof top and start shouting at people going into church that they had never really heard the full gospel. I am serious. Few have. We are very busy with everything else, marriage, children, gettig out of debt, contemplative prayer, etc...but the Gospel? No.

I had spent the former 16 years doing topical fluffy Bible studies like Beth Moore, PDL, you name it. And I was so spiritually ignorant it was apalling. Thankfully, I had a discernment filter because my mom was very godly and had taught me the true gospel as a child. I drifted away from that in my 20’s to join the cool hip church with all the programs but Biblically ignorant teachers!

False teaching is so subtle that if we do not know the real thing, we are easily led astray. Millions are.

To recognize a counterfeit, we have to know the real thing. I am not talking about every single secondary doctrine but the essentials we must know deeply.

The absolute biggest shocker for me was to read in scripture that God hates. Yes, He does. Another shocker was to read that WE do not choose God. None of us are capable of choosing God. Thinking otherwise has led to the elevation of mankind over God in sublte ways and the teaching of abundant life being physical when it is really spiritual.

These scriptures really changed my life: Matthew 7 (many who are professing Christians will NOT be saved. God allows the wheat and tares to grow together and will sort in the end)

Hebrews 10: If we know the truth yet continue to sin...there is no sacrifice. We negate the cross. Dangerous stuff.

1 John: The whole book. We must examine ourselves to see if we are really in the faith. We sin but our relationship to sin totally changes when our hearts are regenerated. We hate what God hates and we love what God loves

This is going to sound negative to many but I think it is discerning. Whatever I read that is written by mere men (Isaiah 2:22) I read looking for any false teaching. I do not trust anymore carte blanche. I do the same wiht sermons which is why I will only attend a church that for the most part exposits. It is almost impossible to be a Berean when the pastor is all over the place and proof texts every sermon. I must guard my heart.

If you look back, historically, there has always been some ’new thing’ spiritually. Of course, they are just the same stuff repackaged. Some Gnostics believed that God was hidden and John writes in 1 John that God is NOT hidden but is light. But if we are saved, we will be walking in that light.

I urge you to do what I did. Get rid of all the books and just focus on scripture in context and really study it. It is the most joyous thing I do.

Why be like this? I think Paula would agree that we are to contend for the faith. (Jude). If we see or hear false teaching, we are to defend the truth. We are accountable.

Charis

Actually, I put together one of my blogs in response to a Christian marriage book which I feel is extremely destructive and speaks lies and death to women and marriages. It might as well be called "how to enable your husband into hell" manual. ~ But I won’t tell you what book, nor name the author ~ And I think God has impressed upon me that even that extremely destructive material (put out by prominent and respected Christian leaders with a huge following) has its purpose in HIS economy. It will push people into pain and spiritual oppression and death... so hard... that they will reach the end of themselves and have no place to turn but to Him. ~ God is not wringing His hands over the terrible teaching and the gullible followers. HE is ready and waiting to embrace them and help them to pick up the pieces of their lives after they made a mess sufficient enough to realize their emptiness.

Charis

Where is the line between saved and not saved?

Whew, I am so incredibly relieved!!! THAT job is taken :p Thanks be to GOD! ~ I have to admit there were a few times that I wished I was God and could send out lightning bolts... but you and I and everyone else can breathe a big corporate sigh of relief that I’m not :D ~ Let go and let God is so much easier than carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Paula Fether

Yes, and as I said, whether someone is a false teacher or not depends on whether they add or subtract from the gospel or teach things that are contrary to clear Biblical doctrine, such as mysticism, witchcraft, idolatry, etc. While many Christians do have appalling theology with sometimes disastrous consequences, it’s still not an attack on the gospel or the Bible.

The fact is, the contemplative prayer teachers are promoting the mysticism of false religions, with identical techniques and terminology and a Christian sugar-coating.

My point in comparing "Left Behind" and the contemplative teachers is only to ask why you call the first "dangerous" but not the second. Why non-heretics are dangerous but false teachers are not, is something you’ll have to figure out, because it makes no sense to me.

Would you call what the OT prophets did "attack and accuse"? How about Paul when he called the legalizing-Jews "dogs"? He named names when it came to false teachers, and never tried to dialog with them. Jesus called the Pharisees all sorts of nasty things, right to their faces and in front of other people. He was kind to the humble and "sick", but never to the "snakes". The trick is to know which is which, and that takes discernment.

I am a guardian. I watch for danger and sound the warning when I see it coming. It’s my mission, my ministry, my job. If it is branded "attack and accuse", so be it, because I answer to God and want to be found faithful. A faithful shepherd knows sheep from wolves, and knows which ones to protect and which to beat off. The c.p. teachers are wolves.

Paula Fether

THAT job is taken :p

We are commanded to spread the gospel. How can you do this if you don’t know where the line is drawn?

I’m not saying we know anyone’s heart, but only that we are all expected to know the Way and show it to the lost. If you don’t know where the line is drawn, then of course you can’t tell what a false teaching is.

Charis

It isn’t enough to assert that you think someone is not a heretic, you need to prove that he has not taught falsehood.

I don’t have the time nor inclination to read everything written by each of the authors whose books I have read. And- like I said- I can find things I disagree with in every book I have ever read. The ones which I post clips from speak life to me, spiritual life, they bear good fruit. I don’t post clips from the books that speak death (and I have read them). ~ Personally, I don’t want to be guilty of divisiveness, reviling, or slander. (It hurts to be slandered. Its another "do unto others" principle of mine)

Paula Fether

How do you reconcile "do unto others" with how Jesus treated the Pharisees then? (I know how I do, but how do you?) Why was Jesus so mad at them for adding their traditions to the Torah? If Jesus and Paul are our examples, who told us to live like they did and follow their ways, how do you follow their treatment of false teachers?

Paula Fether

Hi lin! Thanks for joining the discussion.

Charis

"We are commanded to spread the gospel."
~ Gospel= good news :D ~ "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." ~ I try to do that. Some authors have spoken life to me at a very deep deep level on the journey of going deeper with the Lord, being set free from bondage, oppression, and spiritual blindness. I post quotes from such authors. ~ My discernment is very sensitive to what speaks life and what speaks death. Everyone has a mix of truth and error, but some authors take the truth, quote God’s Word, and twist it in such a way as to produce death. Some authors promote doctrines which are quite repulsive to me personally but their works still speaks LIFE! ~ eg I find the Eldredges’ books very healing and life giving... (despite their belief that headship = authority, a doctrine with which I disagree)

Lin

"And- like I said- I can find things I disagree with in every book I have ever read. The ones which I post clips from speak life to me, spiritual life, they bear good fruit. I don’t post clips from the books that speak death (and I have read them)."

What do you mean by speak life or speak death? Doesn’t only ’truth’ of scripture speak eternal life? ~ "Personally, I don’t want to be guilty of divisiveness, reviling, or slander. (It hurts to be slandered. Its another “do unto others” principle of mine)"

Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace. He told us that families would be split apart over the Gospel. There is only ONE unity and it is a unity in the truth of the Gospel. We are to live or die upon that truth.

I came out from a church where they teach unity of relationships and that means that people are more concerned with relationships than they are the truth of scriptures and it is breeding tons of false teaching because no one will speak out. They just leave because if they question in love the teaching of the leaders they are branded divisive. There is no slander when it comes to defending the truth of scriptures. I can only imagine how easy it will be for the anti Christ with all these professing Christians saying they cannot call out or even question false teaching becuase it is slander or gossip against another professing Christian. We are seeing this used everywhere. Oh, and Matthew 18, too, for questioning public teaching which does not fit the passage at all.

We have it so backwards.

It is working. No one wants to be called a slanderer or a gossip.

Charis

God allows the wheat and tares to grow together and will sort in the end

Yep, and I’m glad that is HIS job. :) ~ Lin I don’t find Beth Moore "fluff" in the least. I really like her studies and her heart. I feel kindred with her spirit. ~ and I can identify with your journey of learning not to trust man, but the LORD and HIS Word! I spend a great deal of time digging into the Word. I have one blog with quotes, and two other much longer ones and more consistently updated ones which are essentially Bible Studies. ~ only I journeyed OUT of what I consider legalistic Pharisaical churches which were quenching my spirit and into a church where the full gospel is preached and spiritual gifts are accepted.

Cheryl

Hi guys,

I am sorry that I have been out of commission for awhile. I am going to pop back and forth as I can because this conversation very much interests me. ~ I also admit that I haven’t had time to read all that has gone on here although the skimming I did shows that much has been discussed. This is the heart of true biblical conversation between "brothers" in Christ. We can debate passionately and still continue to talk with respect and love. ~ There are a couple of things that I want to say before I pop out again. I will go back and read every word. I just am so pressed for time right now.

~ The first thing that I believe is important is the ability to question. Often we are taught that we are to listen and swallow everything that people teach us without question. That is the "nice" way to act but it can cause a lot of problems because we are expected to test everything especially that which is of spiritual importance. For 16 years I hosted a support group for ex-JW’s. I listened to their life stories and I offered a shoulder to cry on and I cared about them passionately. I also taught them the truth of God’s word to replace the error that they had been taught in the Watchtower. Members of other aberrant groups were come and go to listen and learn and come to an understanding of the mind-control that they had come from.

~ I remember well one girl who came from the old Herbert Armstrong group. Her church The Worldwide Church of God was going through some major changes (I believe it is the only group that has ever been documented to have progressed from a bonafide cult group to a bible believing church) and her parents had left the church not wanting to follow the changes that were happening. She had been raised in that group and knew nothing else but to blindly follow whatever the group taught. She told me that she didn’t even know who she was as a person because her personality was shaped by the groups doctrine and now that she had left with her parents she had no foundation left to figure out who she was or what she believed since everything had been spoon fed to her before.

~ I remember one meeting when I had been teaching about the reliability of the scriptures and she looked at me and said out loud that she wasn’t even sure if she could trust me and what I said. I was ecstatic. I told her that this was so good to hear. You see one of the first thing that a former cult member needs to learn is that they not blindly accept teaching. They must put it to the test. Once a person has first learned the benefit of distrust, then they can learn how to put everything to the biblical test and then and only then will they be on their way to finding truth.

~ The second thing that I believe is important to say is that everything must have a solid foundation. If we are going to look at the writings of Benner or Merton, we must look beyond the surface. We must look to the foundation of what they teach. If the foundation is strong, then what is built on the foundation will survive.

~ Think of it this way....if you knew that a big earthquake was coming would you seek refuge in a building that had a foundation that was visibly crumbling? Someone may say that the doors of the building are shiny and new. That’s great, but will the doors survive the earthquake if the foundation is weakened?

~ In my ministry as an apologist I have tried very hard to bypass the shiny doors and the smart-looking windows. I want to go to the "meat" of the issue by inspecting the foundation. Jesus is my example in this and I fully trust him 100%. He said: ~ Luk 6:49 "But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great."

~ The foundation that we build on (act on...put our works into...value and trust) must be solid. There are many who will come in Jesus’ name. What is their foundation and will it survive the coming test? ~ As far as Benner’s foundation, it is not hidden. He has openly made his foundation known. I think it would be worthwhile to inspect that foundation because if it is trustworthy it WILL stand the test. What is truth will survive and can be built on.

~ Sorry, guys, but I have to run again. Sheesh, honestly I feel like a bouncing ball these days. I love these respectful discussions and the apologist in me loves the research. I just am pulled in several directions right now so I will pop out but I will be back.

~ Charis, know for certain that your views are worthy of being heard and you are valued!

~ Okay I am outta here for now.... :)

Cheryl

Oops, just one popping back for one question or a self-test to see if I have to make these little notations ~ to get a space or if Paul fixed that.

Test, test

Charis

What do you mean by speak life or speak death?

MY words can build up or tear down. I can take scripture and beat someone up and spiritually abuse them with it, or I can take scripture and bring truth, life, grace to someone. ~ It doesn’t mean I don’t correct others or confront sin. How did Jesus correct the woman caught in adultery in John 8? ~ If I read a book and I feel it tearing me down and twisting scriptures to speak condemnation... I refer to that as speaking death. ~ Eph 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen ~ Deut 30:19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life,

Cheryl

Ah, yes, good job, Paula for adding spaces.

Paula Fether

Charis, tell us what the gospel is that you’re spreading. What would you tell people the essentials are for getting saved?

How do you tell truth from falsehood? Seeing what the teachers of cont. prayer said about learning from other religions, can you agree that that’s a false teaching?

What does the Bible say about false teachers, and what examples does it give us on how to deal with them?

Charis

How do you reconcile “do unto others” with how Jesus treated the Pharisees then? (I know how I do, but how do you?) Why was Jesus so mad at them for adding their traditions to the Torah? If Jesus and Paul are our examples, who told us to live like they did and follow their ways, how do you follow their treatment of false teachers?

Paul had a relationship with all of the false teachers he confronted, didn’t he? And Jesus had the distinct advantage of knowing their heart motivations. ~ In a case like Cheryl and Matt- he has sinned against her and she has a responsiblility, a Christian duty to address that sin. ~ if my child was going off into a false doctrine, I would feel responsible to provide correction for my child. ~ If you met with Benner in person, if you could ask him his views, see his demeanor, see the fruits, talk with his wife and people who know him.... then you might be qualified to confront anything you still see as false doctrine.

Charis

I think one can tell a great deal about another Christian by whether they are teachable and take responsibility when they have screwed up (which we all do on occasion). ~ Pharisaism is not exclusive to the first century church. :(

Paula Fether

Paul had a relationship with all of the false teachers he confronted, didn’t he? And Jesus had the distinct advantage of knowing their heart motivations.

I seriously doubt Paul had a "relationship" with people he called "dogs". Do you know of an instance where he tried to dialog with any false teacher? Did he tell anyone else to dialog with false teachers?

Jesus also told us to follow him. He modeled the perfect human life devoted to God. Are we to pick and choose which of his examples to follow? And it doesn’t take divine insight to know what kind of hearts the Pharisees had.

If Benner has written what he believes, and what he wrote is against the Bible, then no, I don’t have to personally meet him to have the right (really, the duty) to confront him.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians to tell them to throw out a man living in sin, who he only heard about from others. There is no indication he ever met the guy.

"Test everything. Hold on to the good." 1 Thes. 5:21

Charis

Then confronting him is confronting him, and should be done privately, IMHO. I suspect he might be able to explain and clarify the things which are triggering you. ~ OTH, I think it would be perfectly appropriate for you to set up a site where you teach truth about the things you have studied and understand as an antidote to what you consider "bad teaching". ~ I much prefer that approach over dragging someone out to publicly criticize and condemn their work when I really don’t know their heart. I think the public contempt and condemnation of fellow believers is divisive and a poor reflection of how Jesus behaved. The Bible provides instruction on loving avenues of correcting. ~ (PS. BTW I’m still thinking about your "pharisee" question from an earlier post. I’ll come back to that after giving it some thought)

Lin

"I much prefer that approach over dragging someone out to publicly criticize and condemn their work when I really don’t know their heart. I think the public contempt and condemnation of fellow believers is divisive and a poor reflection of how Jesus behaved. The Bible provides instruction on loving avenues of correcting."

Knowing motives or a person’s heart makes no difference. We are told to look at fruit. Good fruit will not take away or add to scripture.

Disagreeing with public teaching is NOT contempt for the person but many are trying to make it look that way, unfortuantly. It is NOT a private matter when the teaching is public through books, sermons, etc. Disagreement with false teaching is always divisive. There is no way around that yet we must confront with tears in our eyes.

If it were not our duty to confront false teaching then I wonder why the Epistles were written because they are full of dealing wiht false teachers! If it is not our duty to try to bring back the ONE erring sheep, then why is it in scripture? We have specific instructions on dealing with both.

I praise God for my fellow sisters that confront me in love. They love me enough to want to keep me from possible eternal damnation.

Cheryl

Hi Charis,

You ask some very good questions about sin and confronting sin. You said:

"In a case like Cheryl and Matt- he has sinned against her and she has a responsiblility, a Christian duty to address that sin."

Yes, I think we do have a duty to confront sin when someone sins against us. I happen to believe that this is a very loving thing to do. The reason is because it gives a person the chance to repent and turn around.

Matt’s sin against me was public. What I chose to do was to confront him privately about it. I emailed him and showed him his error and he blew me off. I emailed him again with the audio files to prove that it was his invention that he was claiming as my own teaching. He again blew me off. I then brought my Pastor to be a witness. He not only knows me but he has heard all the audio files where Matt bore false witness against me. Matt is still not admitting to doing any wrong although he told his radio audience that I *claim* that I don’t teach the error that he said I do. So he still has not repented of his sin.

But is this the only way that one is to go public by going through all the steps of private rebuke first? Since Paul rebuked Peter publicly without going to him in private and since Peter’s sin was a serious public sin, the bible sets a precedent for cases when one does not need to go to the person first before going public.

Someone like myself who has put teachings on DVD into the public realm is in a different position than an ordinary teacher that teaches your bible study. If my teaching was a heresy then those who could correct me are perfectly within their biblical rights to correct me in a public manner. The public must know about the error. It isn’t good enough to just correct the teacher who has taught false teaching. Does that make sense?

If my teaching was false (and I am only using me as an example because I will not be offended and because no one yet has been able to refute the material in WIM) then just correcting me wouldn’t touch the thousands of people who already have purchased my DVD set. When one makes this correction public, the correction will reach the people who need to see it.

I think the question is not whether we have a right to publicly challenge someone’s teaching. The real question should be whether the teaching that needs to be corrected is based on unbiblical spirituality or not. This is where research and testing come to the forefront.

More in a bit.

Cheryl

In my research on David Benner, I came across a key piece of information regarding how David Benner teaches people to read scripture. It is called lectio divina and it is a spiritualized way of reading the bible.

Charis, I don’t know if you are familiar with this term or not, but it is an ancient way of reading that forsakes the normative way of reading s