Wednesday, December 17, 2014

God Came Near

Posted by Christine Pack (originally published 12/10/10)


Christmas was always my guilty pleasure every year as a New Ager. My wiccan-pagan-hindu friends would give me a hard time for putting up a tree and decorating, and not having the "strength of my convictions." But I just always loved the gaiety of the season: the parties, the food, the sparkle, the fun, the decorating. And it seemed so hopeful at heart, this idea that God could have actually come into the world. Impossible, of course, but hopeful.


Once I was born again, of course, Christmas became the most wondrous time of year to me because it was TRUE......God did step into humanity, piercing the veil between the natural and the supernatural, but even more than that, He did it so that wretched men and women could be reconciled to a high and holy God.  Amazing!

Soli Deo Gloria.

photo credit: HikingArtist.com via photopin cc


 Additional Resources 

To Christmas or Not To Christmas.....That Is the Question (Sola Sisters)

Christmas and Christian Liberty (Sola Sisters)

Christmas is Just A Christianized Pagan Celebration? Not So Fast..... (Sola Sisters)

The Glory of Jesus (Sola Sisters)

Christmas Prophecies Fulfilled (Grace To You)

How Christmas Solves The Prophetic Puzzle (Grace To You)

Is There Anything Inherently Sinful or Dangerous in Delebrating Christmas? (Grace To You)

Should Christians Have Christmas Trees? (Grace To You)

The Attack on Christmas (Answers in Genesis)


 4 Part Series by Dr. Richard P. Bucher 

Christmas Is Not Pagan, Part 1 , Overview

Christmas Is Not Pagan, Part 2, Answering the Argument: "Christmas is obviously pagan because there is neither Biblical command nor precedent for celebrating Christ's birth."

Christmas Is Not Pagan, Part 3, Answering the Argument: "The first Christians never observed the celebration of Christ's birth until emperor Constantine in 313 AD officially tolerated Christians."

Christmas Is Not Pagan, Part 4, Answering the Argument:  "The date of Christmas (December 25), and its many customs all come from pagan sources. Therefore Christmas is pagan."


 Resources Specifically Refuting the Errors of Alexander Hislop 

Myths From Hislop: A Call To Examine Facts (Marcia Montenegro, CANA)

Exposé of Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons (UK Apologetics)


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mark Driscoll: A Timeline of His Downfall

Posted by Christine Pack


 A Timeline of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill  

Below is a brief timeline of Mars Hill history. This timeline is by no means comprehensive, but merely gives a brief overview of some of what has taken place in the former megachurch Mars Hill under Mark Driscoll. I consider three of the events below to be pivotal moments, and which taken together were the events that caused Christians outside of Mars Hill to sit up and start asking questions about Driscoll. I have highlighted the date of those events in red:

April 1996 Mark Driscoll founds Mars Hill church in the Seattle, WA area with Leif Moi and Mike Gunn

September 29-30, 2006 Mark Driscoll, still a relatively unknown pastor, is introduced to the world by respected pastor John Piper at Piper's 2006 Desiring God conference at which Dr. Piper highlights Driscoll as one of his keynote speakers (as of November 2014, Dr. Piper insists he has no regrets in befriending Mark Driscoll, characterizes Driscoll as a good teacher despite "mistakes that Mark may have made" or instances in which "he might have walked out of step with the truth" - transcript of that interview here)

October 2007 Mark Driscoll moves to change the by-laws of Mars Hill church; the change would consolidate power with Driscoll and a smaller group of elders handpicked by Driscoll.  Two highly respected elders (Paul Petry and Bent Meyer) at Mars Hill resist this change, and are fired when they try to hold Driscoll accountable.

2006 - 2012 - Mark Driscoll, who earned a degree in Communications at Washington State University and is an effective speaker with an aggressive, edgy style, skyrockets in popularity. During this time:
▪ Under Driscoll's leadership, Mars Hill is one of the first churches to go "multi-site," in which a pastor's sermons are piped in via video screen. 
▪ Driscoll writes several books and is a highly sought after speaker at Christian conferences 
▪ Driscoll founds The Resurgence (a Christian resources organization), co-founds The Gospel Coalition (a Christian parachurch organization of prominent Christian leaders), and co-founds Acts 29 (a church planting organization)
January 25, 2012 Driscoll hosts an event entitled Elephant Room 2 (the first one having been the year prior) in which he features Oneness Pentecostal teacher TD Jakes, who holds to an unbiblical, non-Trinitarian view of Father, Son and Holy SpiritJakes is also a prosperity/Word of Faith teacher who is known for his lively ability to $hakedown the flock for ca$hPastor Chris Rosebrough, an outspoken critic of syncretism and ecumenical alliances, attempts to attend the ER2 event, having paid and registered for it online, but is charged with arrest at the door if he enters the building where the event was taking place. Several Christian writers begin asking questions about why Driscoll, an evangelical Christian, would affirm heretic TD Jakes as a Christian brother at this event (herehereherehereherehere, and here). This event proves to be a pivotal point, after which concerns about Driscoll begin to grow as more and more eyes are on him.

March 29, 2012 - Driscoll resigns from The Gospel Coalition (TGC)

Mark Driscoll at Strange Fire
October 18, 2013 Mark Driscoll stages a bizarre publicity stunt at the Strange Fire conference that backfires on him after security personnel treat Driscoll far more graciously than he apparently anticipated. He leaves the event and begins broadcasting on social media the lie that security personnel had confiscated his materials. In reality, he had handed them over as "a gift" (his words). Video surfaces later that documents the encounter, and shows that Driscoll lied.

November 21, 2013 Christian talk show host Janet Mefferd interviews Driscoll, and asks him about plagiarism in his newly released book A Call To Resurgence. Mefferd, in preparation for her interview with Driscoll (who is making the rounds on talk shows promoting his new book), had read Driscoll's book prior to her interview with him, and had discovered several instances of plagiarism. Janet came under heavy fire for asking Driscoll these questions, and her show producer ended up resigning in the midst of it.

November 23, 2103 Dr. Paul David Tripp, a well regarded biblical counselor, joins the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (BoAA), a board set up ostensibly to bring accountability to the Mars Hill governance

March 6, 2014 - Pastor Chris Rosebrough of Fighting For the Faith radio reports that Mark Driscoll bought his way onto the New York Times Bestseller List "through anonymous third parties"Warren Throckmorton of Patheos publishes the contract that was in place for artificially inflating book sales for Driscoll's book Real Marriage.

July 30, 2014 - Dr. Paul David Tripp resigns from the Mars Hill BoAAlater calls Mars Hill "the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with"

August 1, 2014 -  More allegations of plagiarism by Driscoll emerge. Warren Throckmorton of Patheos publishes a chart that documents plagiarism in seven books authored by Driscoll.

August 8, 2014 As Driscoll comes increasingly under scrutiny, with some of his actions being called into question by former Acts 29 pastors, the board of Acts 29 removes Mark Driscoll, the man who co-founded the Acts 29 organization, from membership, (video here). Former Acts 29 co-founder Ron Wheeler goes public with concerns about Mark Driscoll (Wheeler's entire open letter to Driscoll here)

August 13, 2014 NPR (National Public Radio), a secular media outlet, reports that Lifeway Christian Stores have halted sales of Driscoll's newest book (A Call To Resurgence) due to Driscoll's having been "accused of plagiarizing sections of the book and artificially inflating his book sales by bulk-buying copies."

August 21, 2014 - Twenty one former Mars Hill pastors bring formal charges against Mark Driscoll, alleging bullying, abuse of power

August 24, 2014 Mark Driscoll steps down for 6 week timeout while Mars Hill Board of Accountability (BoA) reviews charges against him

August 28, 2014 Nine elders at Mars Hill call for a change in Mars Hill by-laws that had been illegally changed by Driscoll in 2007, call for Driscoll to submit to plan for discipline/restoration

October 6, 2014 - All nine elders calling for by-laws change/discipline are gone, having either resigned or been fired

March 2014 - Present - Former Mars Hill pastors, one after the other, begin publicly confessing their sins of bullying, spiritual abuse and/or standing by while such behaviors were taking place during their tenures at Mars Hill (Repentant Pastor website)

October 15, 2014 - Mark Driscoll resigns from Mars Hill church, defiantly claiming however that he is not "disqualified from future ministry"

October 19, 2014 It is revealed that Mars Hill elders were going to discipline Mark Driscoll, who then resigned rather than be disciplined (listen beginning at the 37 min mark) (Patheos article by Warren Throckmorton here)

Robert Morris welcomes
Mark Driscoll at Gateway Conference
October 20, 2014 Gateway Word of Faith pastor Robert Morris welcomes Mark Driscoll onto the stage one week after Driscoll's resignation even though Driscoll has fled the discipline process at Mars Hill, and still has not repented and sought forgiveness of those he has abused  (video of Mark Driscoll's appearance with Robert Morris can be seen here)

October 31, 2014 - It is announced that Mars Hill will officially dissolve

November 9, 2014 Driscoll is reported to be considering a return to public ministry, with the help of Word of Faith pastor Robert Morris; former members and elders say he still has not sought to be reconciled to them through the Matthew 18 process


As noted, this is not an exhaustive article. For a more comprehensive timeline, please see our article Documenting the Problems with Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll (under Additional Resources, below), as well as Warren Throckmorton's posts at Patheos.


 Additional Resources 

Documenting the Problems with Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll [UPDATED]

Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll Resigns, Claims He Is Not "Disqualified From Future Ministry"
Thoughts On Driscoll and The Biblical Qualifications For A Pastor

John Piper and Mark Driscoll: Lessons Not Learned? (Pyromaniacs)

What John Piper Said When He Finally Addressed the Issue of Mark Driscoll......What We Wish He Had Said Instead

Pastor Chris Rosebrough Deconstructs Robert Morris's "Blessed Life" Teaching, Part 1 and Part 2

Christmas & Christian Liberty

Posted by Sola Sisters
"One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind." (Romans 14:5)
"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day." (Colossians 2:16)
photo credit: Dustin J McClure via photopin cc
If at Christmas time, a Christian is going into profound debt in order to acquire things they don't need (and which will all burn up in the end anyway), or is being gluttonous with food, or is training their children in the love of the world and things of the world, that would be sinful. But not all Christians who celebrate Christmas do so in that way. There are plenty of Christians who are in awe that God was made flesh, and who celebrate Christmas with great joy, giving God and our Savior glory all along the way, thanking and praising our Lord for the blessings of special gatherings and delicious food and Christmas carols and the beauty of decorated trees and sparkly lights.

As believers, we are commanded to pray for wisdom, and we are expected to exercise God-given wisdom and make judgments on all manner of things, including the celebration (or not) of festivals and special days (Rom 14:5, Col 2:16). Let us not look with disdain upon one another, regardless of what choice we make in this area. Here's what that looks like: the one who celebrates the Lord's birth should not look with disdain or judgment on those who don't, but neither should the one who chooses not to celebrate Christmas look with disdain or superiority on the one who does. Peace.


 Additional Resources 

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? (Dr. John MacArthur, GTY)

The Best Gift I Can Give Christian Christmas Haters
 (Cripplegate)

God Came Near (Sola Sisters)

The Glory of Jesus (Sola Sisters)

Should We Have A Christmas Tree? (Got Questions?)

Christian Christmas Grinches (Kevin DeYoung)

Christmas is Just A Christianized Pagan Celebration? Not So Fast..... (Sola Sisters)

Exposé of Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons (UK Apologetics)





Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Glory of Jesus

Posted by Christine Pack (originally published 12/6/11)

When I was growing up, the church my family attended organized many activities for celebrating Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Our church was large enough to boast several opera trained singers and even a few musicians who were members of our city's world-class symphony; excellent Christmas programs were always offered up by the choir director. There was a magnificent tree in the main hall that the ladies of the church put up each year that was splendidly decorated with beautiful, carefully crafted hand-made ornaments, a labor of love that had taken several years to complete. There were sing-alongs, bonfires, food and clothing drives to help the poor, and of course, the Christmas play.

But when I think back to the actual theology taught to me about Jesus by this church, I am sad to say that I remember an overemphasis upon Jesus' humanity, and an under-emphasis of his Deity. Jesus was taught as a good teacher and a good man, a man who lived a life so virtuous that we should strive to model our own lives after it. The crucifixion was taught as the ultimate act of Jesus identifying with mankind in his suffering. All in all, this church presented what I now regard as a very "small" view of Jesus. Yes, Jesus did live as a man, He did live a very good and virtuous life, and He did identify with mankind. We should, by God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, seek to honor the Lord with our lives. But that is not the entire story. There is more....so much more!

A few nights ago, my sons and I were watching The Nativity Story (my all time favorite Christmas movie ever-ever-ever). My boys are now at ages where their questions have become very deep and very challenging. While watching this movie about Jesus' first Incarnation, one of them was prompted to ask about Jesus' second coming. What a glorious thought! I began to tell them about the oft-neglected book of Revelation, which is the only book in the Bible that gives a very specific promise to those who study this book:
"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near." Rev 1:3
According to Revelation, someday Jesus will come back in might and glory, to judge all the earth. He will not be Jesus "meek and mild," as He was the first time He came to earth......He will be glorious, and his magnificence and Deity will be unveiled for all the world to see!


Revelation 1:14 describes Jesus as having eyes like blazing fire....but these are the same eyes that looked with compassionate tenderness upon the diseased and crippled before He reached forth to heal them.

Revelation 1:15 says that his voice had the sound of many rushing waters, like a mighty ocean....but this is the same voice that spoke to the dead Lazarus and bid him to live and come forth.

Revelation 19:12 says that when He returns, He will have many crowns upon his head......but this is the same head that once wore a painful crown of thorns as Jesus did when He was mocked and tortured on his way to the Cross.

Revelation 1:15 says that his feet are like "bronze glowing in a furnace," while Revelation 19:15 says that his feet will tread the winepress of the Lord's fury against all unrighteousness......but these are the same feet that were nailed to a Roman cross as Jesus willingly gave his life as a ransom for many.

Revelation 19:15 also says that out of his mouth comes a sharp sword which He will use in judgment to strike down the nations....but this is also the mouth that spoke the words "It is finished" after He had suffered the agonies of hell for the undeserving and the unrighteous.


Jesus did become flesh and dwell among us, but He also was and is the righteous Judge of all the earth.......and someday He will return! Are you ready to meet the Lord? What stops you from running to the Savior and falling at his feet? Today can be the day of salvation....run to Jesus! He bids you come to him. He is just and holy and pure.....but He is also filled with mercy and love for you. He has made a way for you to be saved. Will you go to him today?
"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life." (Revelation 22:17)
photo credit: (ノಥ益ಥ)ノ uɐp~ via photopin cc


 Additional Resources 

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? (Dr. John MacArthur, GTY)

God Came Near (Sola Sisters)

The Glory of Jesus (Sola Sisters)

Should We Have A Christmas Tree? (Got Questions?)

Christian Christmas Grinches (Kevin DeYoung)

Christmas is Just A Christianized Pagan Celebration? Not So Fast..... (Sola Sisters)

Exposé of Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons (UK Apologetics)





Thursday, December 4, 2014

To Christmas or Not To Christmas.....That Is The Question

Posted by Christine Pack (originally published 12/22/13)


I love celebrating Christmas! As a former New Ager, I have written before about my guilty secret of celebrating Christmas every year as a non-believer, even during the decade in which I was immersed in New Age and eastern beliefs. To the dismay of my New Age friends (palm readers, tarot card readers, psychics, reiki practitioners, etc.), every year at Christmas time, I put up a tree, decorated my house, sang Christmas carols, and endured the teasing of my more "enlightened" New Age friends who had long since cast off the traditional beliefs associated with their Judeo-Christian upbringings. And along with them, I never could quite understand why I chose to participate in celebrating Christmas. It certainly was not because I self identified in any way as a Christian (I did not). For those years of my life, my worldview was a mixed bag of New Age/New Thought mixed with eastern teachings, including reincarnation. But the idea of Christmas always seemed so hopeful to me at heart, the idea that a sovereign creator God could or would actually choose to dwell with mankind as one of us, even if I believed it wasn't true. Imagine my delight, then, as a born again Christian when I came to realize that it WAS true after all: God did become flesh, and He did dwell among us. And He did it out of his great and wondrous love for us, as part of his plan of redemption. Amazing! Obviously, Christmas took on a whole new flavor for me after that.

I still have a deep love for Christmas today, and the idea of celebrating our Savior, God in the flesh, coming to earth. Each year as a believer, it is with great joy that I embrace the Christmas season (earlier and earlier each season, my husband would hasten to point out). And while I recognize that for some, the Christmas season is one big frazzled rush, I really love the joy and sparkle and decorating and busyness of the Christmas season. My sons are still at home with us, and I like being able to advantage of the many opportunities I have to point them toward the joy of knowing and remembering and dwelling on God's goodness in providing a Savior for us, in whatever ways I can. For instance, I take great pleasure in cooking special foods that we have only at Christmas time, because I can use this as an object lesson to point my boys to God's goodness in giving us special, delicious dishes that we can look forward to and enjoy only during the Christmas season. A little taste of heaven to come, is how I frame it.

The songs we sing during the Christmas season are also a great opportunity we can use as a springboard for broaching the subject with our lost loved ones of how it is that man is reconciled to God (and WHY he needs to be reconciled to God in the first place). After all, so many of our Christmas carols are just loaded with doctrine that tell the story of Redemption in just a few verses.....and we ALL know those songs, even the lost! Christmas carols are played over and over and over all season long at Target, at the mall, at the grocery store, at Wal-Mart......they're everywhere! We go around humming and whistling these familiar tunes, many of us remembering them from our childhood. And yet, only Christians can actually explain to the lost what these songs mean.
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

(from Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

(from O Holy Night
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy!

(from God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)
In those verses above, you can see the eternal problem of man laid out very simply in just a few words: man with a sin debt he cannot pay, and a holy God, to whom man is accountable, stepping into history with a plan of Redemption. How simple is it to turn to someone in the store next to you and say, Aren't these Christmas carols so beautiful! Do you know the meaning of the one you are humming? I can tell you about it......

Having said all this, I have noticed in recent weeks what seems to now be an annual occurrence of Christians-shouldn't-celebrate-Christmas-because-it's-a-pagan-holiday commentary online. So to address that topic head on, I would like to first say that I would never urge a brother or sister to go against their conscience if they felt that celebrating Christmas was wrong or sinful. I don't disdain my brothers or sisters who don't have a comfort level with such celebrations, nor do I feel somehow superior in my freedom. But what I would like to point out is that a lot of this fear over celebrating Christmas (and oftentimes Easter, too) comes from misinformation attributed to an historian named Alexander Hislop. We've posted before about the myths associated with Hislop which you can read about here, myths that were formed from his own biases, and which were not actually rooted in historical data. And I would therefore urge, with all gentleness and kindness, for my fellow Christians to think this issue through biblically, historically and truthfully. After all, God is the author of ALL truth, isn't He? So truth matters.
"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!' When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them." (Luke 2:8-20)
"And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh." (Matthew 2:11)
I would also like to ask for my Christian friends who are not comfortable with celebrating Christmas not to disdain those of us who do enjoy celebrating the birth of our Savior. After all, the gospel accounts of Luke and Matthew DO tell of Jesus' birth being proclaimed, angels singing his praises, shepherds rushing to see him, and wise men bringing him gifts some time later. So for Christmas, I feel freedom and great joy in:
......proclaiming his birth (often using Christmas as a springboard to talk about how God has sent a Savior who died for sinners);
......singing his praises;
.....dwelling on the fact that one day I will bodily be in his presence, just as those who rushed to his side that day were in his presence; and
.....exchanging gifts with my loved ones as a way of remembering the greatest Gift of all time, our Savior, who was given to us by God out of his great loving-kindness.
So again: I would never urge Christians to go against their consciences and celebrate a holiday or festival they aren't comfortable with. BUT, for those who look forward to Christmas each year so that they can celebrate the birth of their Savior (even though no-one knows the actual date of Jesus' birth), yet who have heard that they are sinning against God if they love celebrating Christmas, please read the articles linked below, and feel freedom to reclaim your joy in Christmas.
"As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.......Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God." (Romans 14:1-6, 10) 
"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day." (Colossians 2:16)

 Additional Resources 

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? (Dr. John MacArthur, GTY)

The Best Gift I Can Give Christian Christmas Haters (Cripplegate)

God Came Near (Sola Sisters)

The Glory of Jesus (Sola Sisters)

Christmas Is Just a Christianized Pagan Holiday? Not So Fast..... (Sola Sisters)

Should We Have A Christmas Tree? (Got Questions?)

Do Some Christian Traditions Have Pagan Origins? (Got Questions?)

Christian Christmas Grinches (Kevin DeYoung)


 Resources Refuting the Errors of Alexander Hislop 

Myths From Hislop: A Call To Examine Facts (Marcia Montenegro, CANA)

Exposé of Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons (UK Apologetics)





What Is Spiritual Formation?

Posted by Christine Pack (originally published 10-25-10)


While I recognize that the graphic that accompanies this article is shocking, it was used intentionally and purposefully to illustrate the dangers of Spiritual Formation, the Trojan Horse through which Contemplative Spirituality, a "Christianized" form of mysticism, is flooding into our churches today. Contemplative Spirituality is primarily coming into the church through the teachings associated with Spiritual Formation (also known as Spiritual Disciplines). But make no mistake: Contemplative Spirituality is a mind-altering practice that is as spiritually dangerous as a drug. And much like a drug addict, the Spiritual Formation addict will have to keep coming back to the contemplative practice for "hits," continually seeking the elusive spiritual highs once attained from the practice, but which can no longer be found. You think I'm exaggerating? Don't take my word for it: Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Merton once compared Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism (CSM) to the same powerful experience generated by mind-altering drugs.
"Isn't it a pity that people are going into LSD to have spiritual experiences, when we have a tradition in the Church [contemplative prayer] which no one knows anything about?" (Thomas Merton, from  a letter he wrote to fellow mystic Matthew Fox)
Now, you might be wondering why the opinion of a deceased Roman Catholic mystic on an obscure sounding practice should matter to us today. It is for this reason: Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism, as noted above, is literally flooding into today's churches through practices that have positive sounding names, like "Spiritual Formation" and "Spiritual Disciplines." Spiritual Formation is being promoted in many of today's evangelical churches as a way for Christians to draw closer to God. Christian leaders who are teaching Spiritual Formation often understand that the word "mysticism" has a negative, eastern connotation, and try to draw a distinction between "bad" (eastern) mysticism and "good" (Christian) mysticism. Obviously, to those pleading this case, "bad" mysticism would be occultic, and eastern in origin. But "good" mysticism (like Spiritual Formation, say its proponents) would be a type of mysticism that is Christian, biblical, and necessary for spiritual development. They make this distinction between "good" and "bad" mysticism based on a quote by the founder of the Spiritual Formation movement, Richard Foster, who said in his 1978 book Celebration of Discipline that:
"Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind. Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind"(Celebration of Discipline, p 20).
The problem is that the Bible makes no such distinction between "good" and "bad" mysticism, which is a form of occultism. In fact, Spiritual Formation teaches the same "technique" for corralling and emptying the mind as that employed in eastern mantra meditation. To be clear, let me restate this: the technique used for silencing the mind in Spiritual Formation is identical to classic occultic meditation practices taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, wicca, paganism, etc. The technique goes something like this: find a quiet spot to sit or lie down, breathe deeply, and begin to focus on something for the purpose of stilling your thoughts. (The "something" can literally be almost anything: a candle, a word, a phrase, repetitive music, drumming, one's own breath, etc.) After about 20 minutes of practicing this technique, which is simple to do, a person will enter into an altered state of consciousness. In this altered state of consciousness, the mind is no longer active and critically engaged, and able to assess data. In this state, the mind is passive, its God-given barriers down; it is able only to receive information, much like a radio receiver. Mystics from all faith traditions the world over often report ecstatic experiences of becoming yoked to some spiritual energy, leaving them feeling refreshed, energized, and peaceful after engaging in their mystical practices.

So exactly how does this pagan practice manifest itself in Christian churches today? It looks something like this: instead of repeating a Buddhist mantra or the name of a false god, the Christian practitioner of Spiritual Formation would use something like the Jesus Prayer.....
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner."
or they might repeat a short Scripture.....
"Be still and know that I am God."
or they might simply repeat one name.....
"Jesus" or "Yahweh"
But it is not the words or phrases themselves in so-called Spiritual Formation that somehow magically switches the dial from being "occultic" to being "Christian." Nor does the intention of the practictioner somehow magically protect one from danger. The words or phrases used are completely irrelevant.....they are merely the device by which one corrals one's thoughts for the purpose of entering into an altered state of consciousness (among those who would claim to be "Christian mystics," this altered state of consciousness is known by many different names: "the Silence," "practicing the presence of God," "the cloud of unknowing," etc.)

But the God of the Bible is very specific about how we are to "draw closer" to Him, and it is not through using techniques for the purpose of entering into an altered state of consciousness. True born again believers draw close to God through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10) and through the means of grace as taught by Scripture. And yet most religions outside of Christianity have some version of mysticism that they practice for the specific purpose of drawing close to God. So the question must be asked: if these faith traditions are outside of Christ, are they getting to God? We know the answer to that, and it is obviously, no, they aren't getting to God. We may not be getting much in the way of deep doctrinal teaching in our churches today, but we at least know that much, right? We know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no-one comes to the Father but by him. However, we also know from the testimonies of mystics that they are experiencing something, so what is it? It is a "counterfeit Holy Spirit experience" which "feels" very real and very spiritual. In fact, what they're experiencing is spiritual.....only, it is not from God.

As a former mystic, the biggest blind spot I see in today's Christian culture is almost an innocence about spiritual deception, a thinking that as Christians we can't be deceived. A belief that if, spiritually speaking, something were "off" about a teaching or practice, somehow we would just "know" it because it would "feel wrong." But even more than that, there also seems to be this idea that only we, as Christians, have true spiritual experiences, that somehow these mystics must not be having "real" experiences, that it's all smoke and mirrors. This is absolutely not true. What these mystics are experiencing is real, and it is spiritual, and mystics wouldn't have been doing these things for centuries if they weren't connecting to.....something. But God, in his loving-kindness and mercy, has graciously given us many warnings so that we would know how to defend ourselves against spiritual deception. We are warned that Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). We are told that we must test all things (1 John 4:1), because none of us are beyond being deceived.

So how do we "test all things?" What is our measure for testing? Is it our own hearts, our own emotions? In today's culture, we have a tendency to "test" things through our thoughts and feelings ("I didn't have a peace about it"). No, we must not do that, for we know that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked above all things (Jer 17:9). Scripture is our standard for testing all things, Scripture is what we must use in determining whether or not something is acceptable to God.

Let's look at one of the most powerful biblical warnings there is against incorporating pagan practices into our worship of God. Spiritual Formation, which is a blending of Christian terminology and occultic mysticism, is very similar to what the Israelites did in Exodus 32 in the story of the golden calf. What most people don't realize is that this well-known incident wasn't about straight up paganism. No, this story records how God's chosen people blended together (1) what they had been taught to do by God with (2) pagan practices that were familiar to them from their years of captivity in Egypt. They knew about altars and making offerings to God. And they knew about pagan animal worship from their exposure to Egyptian culture. When Moses delayed returning to the people from atop the mountain where he was speaking with God, the people decided to create their own tangible way of worshiping God. So they set up an altar, added a little Egyptian flavor in the form of cow worship, and called it a festival for the Lord:
"When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” " (Exodus 32:5)
And God saw this, and was very pleased?  Not exactly.  This is what the Bible records:
"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'  'I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.'"  (Exodus 32:7-10, my emphasis)
God was not pleased - and only Moses' intercession on their behalf saved them from being completely destroyed by God. As if that weren't a clear enough warning against mixing pagan worship practices with worship of God, we are also warned in Deuteronomy against spiritual syncretism:
"The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.' You must not worship the LORD your God in their way..." (Deut, 12:29-31a, my emphasis)
God is quite clear on how we are to worship and approach him - and it is not through blending our worship of him with pagan practices. But this is exactly what Spiritual Formation is: a blending of Christian terminology with occultic mysticism, and calling it Christian. I recognize that it is very popular in today's global, syncretized culture to meld different things together. We are most certainly an experience-driven culture, always seeking the fresh, exciting, "new" thing. And we also like our smorgasbord religions, with a little of this, a little of that. But we have clear mandates from Scripture about how we are to worship and approach God.  We are to be set apart from the world - not syncretized with it - so that God's truth will shine like a beacon in the darkness.

If you know anyone who is being drawn into the deceptive practices of Christian mysticism, Spiritual Formation, and Contemplative Prayer, please warn them. These things look spiritual and sound spiritual, but they are occultic and will lead into a dangerous spiritual realm. We must be diligent to guard our hearts and minds: after all, it is the Lord's honor and glory which are at stake. When we become just as pagan as the world, how is God revealed, exalted and glorified? And not only must He be rightly exalted, it is mockery to blend worldly pagan practices into our worship of Him. The Lord will not be mocked, and He will discipline those He loves:
"When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it." (Exodus 32:19-20)
If you yourself have done these things at the leading of your pastor or church group, I urge you to repent so that you do not find yourself drinking ground calf juice - or whatever the modern equivalent of that judgment might look like today. Innocence concerning the "pagan-ness" of a practice will not protect a believer, especially when it comes to the area of the occult. This is Satan's domain, and we must flee from it. Those "ecstatic experiences" reported by mystics of other faith traditions? Having once been a mystic myself, I can attest that the mystical experiences may start out this way, but if continued, will lead to a very dark place.  The Bible speaks about those who practice occultism as starting out seeking knowledge, but ending up in a place of distress, darkness and anguish:
"And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness." (Isaiah 8:22)
My heart is broken for those who have been led into these unbiblical practices through church leadership, but it is never too late to fall at the foot of the Cross. The Lord is mighty to forgive and restore.

photo credit: jp512 via photopin cc

photo credit: daveblume via photo pin cc


 Additional Resources 

Mysticism: A Counterfeit Holy Spirit (Sola Sisters)

Interview With A Former Mystic (Sola Sisters)

What Is Contemplative Prayer? (Christine Narloch)

Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer? (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

Out Of Your Mind: Meditation and Visualization (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

Meditation and Psalm 46:10 ("Be still and know that I am God.") (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

The "Be Still" DVD Featuring Beth Moore: An Ode To Silence (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

The Labyrinth: A Walk By Faith? (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

Lecture and Meditation Session Led By Roman Catholic Trappist Monk Thomas Keating (Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia Montenegro)

What Is New Age Eschatology? (Herescope, Sarah Leslie)

Conversations With (an Occult) God - a critique of Neale Donald Walsche (Crossroad, Berit Kjos)

Conversations With (an Occult) God - quotes from Neal Donald Walshe's books (Crossroad, Berit Kjos)

Can Mysticism Lead To God? (Christian Answers)

Barbara Marx Hubbard - What does she believe? (Stand Up For The Truth)

What Is Mysticism? (Sola Sisters)

What Is Mysticism? (5-Part Series by Pastor Gary Gilley) - Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5

Mystical Youth Ministry (Southern View Chapel, Pastor Gary Gilley)

Rob Bell Recommends New Age teacher Ken Wilber to His Readers (Crossroad, Berit Kjos)

How We Are Sanctified: The Means of Grace (Bob DeWaay, Critical Issues Commentary)

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Christmas time and that can only mean one thing: the Hebrew Roots folks are busy telling Christians they are sinning if they celebrate Christmas

Posted by Christine Pack


The Hebrew Roots folks are out in force again this Christmas season, attempting to convince Christians that they are sinning against God by celebrating Christmas.* Sorry, but I'm going to have to whip out my can of Luke on them for that. After all, if the gospel accounts record Jesus' birth being proclaimed, angels singing his praises, shepherds rushing to see him, and wise men bringing him gifts some time later, why should we not, as Christians, also have the freedom to:
......proclaim his birth (using Christmas as a springboard to talk about how God has sent a Savior who died for sinners); 
......sing his praises; 
.....dwell on the fact that one day we will bodily be in his presence, just as those who rushed to his side that day were in his presence; and 
.....exchange gifts with my loved ones as a way of remembering the greatest Gift of all time, our Savior, who was given to us by God out of his great loving-kindness.
* Please note that I respect the right of my Christian brothers and sisters who choose not to celebrate Christmas. And just as I do not look upon them with disdain, neither should they look upon me with disdain [Col 2:16]. Christians can and should thoughtfully and prayerfully wrestle through these issues and come to their own convictions.....but that is a separate issue from the Hebrew Roots thing. What I am specifically addressing here is Christians who have felt burdened under the wrong (but widely disseminated) teachings that Christmas is a paganized celebration. These teachings almost always find their root in errors taught by historian Alexander Hislop in his book "The Two Babylons," errors which have been picked up and widely repeated over the years since the book was first published in 1858. Christian writer Ralph Woodrow has written that he once believed these views taught by Hislop to be true, to the point of publishing his own book in the same vein as Hislop's entitled "Babylon Mystery Religion," However, after continuing to research, Woodrow came to understand where Hislop went wrong, and to his credit, Woodrow has since withdrawn that book (a bestseller for him), and has made a public statement explaining the errors of Hislop's original book. BUT, having said all that, I would never urge another believer to go against his or her own conscience, for as the well-known Reformer Martin Luther once said, "To go against conscience is neither right nor safe."

***********
"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!' When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them." (Luke 2:8-20) 
"And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh." (Matthew 2:11)
For a brief overview of the Hebrew Roots Movement and the theological problems associated with it, go here - Addressing the Hebrew Roots/Sacred Name Movement. Additional resources can be found below.


 Additional Resources 

A Biblical discussion of the errors of the Hebrew Roots Movement (Echo Zoe)

The Attack on Christmas (Answers in Genesis)

To Christmas or Not To Christmas.....That Is the Question (Sola Sisters)

God Came Near (Sola Sisters)

The Glory of Jesus (Sola Sisters)



 4 Part Series by Dr. Richard P. Bucher 

Christmas Is Not Pagan, Part 1 , Overview

Christmas Is Not Pagan, Part 2, Answering the Argument: "Christmas is obviously pagan because there is neither Biblical command nor precedent for celebrating Christ's birth."

Christmas Is Not Pagan, Part 3, Answering the Argument: "The first Christians never observed the celebration of Christ's birth until emperor Constantine in 313 AD officially tolerated Christians."

Christmas Is Not Pagan, Part 4, Answering the Argument:  "The date of Christmas (December 25), and its many customs all come from pagan sources. Therefore Christmas is pagan."


 Resources Specifically Refuting the Errors of Alexander Hislop 

Myths From Hislop: A Call To Examine Facts (Marcia Montenegro, CANA)

Exposé of Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons (UK Apologetics)