An excellent article at More Books and Things discusses the startling trend of Calvinists beginning to embrace mystical practices such as contemplative prayer, taize, lectio divina, centering prayer, etc. Mystical Calvinists? An oxymoron, if ever there was one. Calvinists are supposed to be the solid ones, the ones holding the line on attacks against the Sola's.....right? Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? Okay, for anyone unclear on this:
Mysticism = the Opposite of Sola ScripturaBut in today's crazy, mixed-up world of postmodernism, syncretism and ecumenism, the Calvinists are letting down their guard. They're letting themselves be convinced that there is a type of mysticism that is not pagan, but is Christian, biblical and necessary for being close to God.
For those who don't know, Sola Scriptura was one of the rallying cries of the Reformation. It is the doctrine that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for Christian faith, and that Scripture alone contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.
Christian proponents of mysticism, however, are making the assertion that Scripture is not enough of a revelation from God. No, according to them, we've got to power down, get still and silent, and "hear" from God.
However, speaking as a former mystic/gnostic/hindu/buddhist/pagan, I can attest that the "powering down" thing that mystics do is not biblical. In Matthew, Jesus makes this cryptic statement: "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. ..." "Meaningless repetition" - does that not sound like mantra meditation?
As a New Age mystic in the 90's, I moved freely from religious system to religious system without difficulty. Why was I able to do this? Because syncretism is not just for Christians, silly rabbit! It was considered very tolerant and forward-thinking in the late 80's and 90's in New Age circles to take a little of this, a little of that, and craft for yourself a belief system that you could be comfortable with. But, no matter what religious system I found myself in, mysticism was always at the core.
Okay, let's think about why mysticism would be at the core of so many false religions. It must serve some purpose, after all. Well, my take on this, having participated in many different "flavors" of mysticism is that mysticism functions as a counterfeit Holy Spirit experience.
So - what is the true Holy Spirit and how does it function? All true Christians are indwelt with the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. When this happens, the Holy Spirit comes to live and dwell inside each newly born-again Christian until their time on this earth is over. The Holy Spirit has many functions, among them bringing conviction over sin and illuminating Scripture.
False religions do not have this indwelling of the Holy Spirit taking place within their adherents. So what's a Devil to do? Well, he'll just do what he's always done, and rather successfully at that: create some kind of counterfeit experience to mimic a real blessing given by God to true Christians.
So let's look at how mysticism functions. Practically speaking, how does Satan get people into a mystical state? Well, there are many different avenues he has given us for getting into this state. One of the most widely used practices is mantra meditation. This is done by using a repetitive device (repeating a word, focusing on breathing, singing or speaking a phrase over and over) until the mind is emptied and "parked." It's not driving, it's not in reverse, it's idling. It's parked. There are other ways, of course, such as staring at a candle or an image, drumming, whirling, dancing and taking mind-altering drugs. But for our purposes here, we're going to be looking mainly at mantra meditation, as this is what is flowing unchecked into once-solid churches.
In this meditative state, a person is still awake and somewhat aware but one's God-given boundaries are down. So what happens to a person in this state? Mantra meditation is so very seductive because it generates a very powerful, seemingly supernatural experience that can make one feel as if they are actually encountering "God." The first meditation I ever did at age 20 left me utterly convinced that I had experienced the presence of God. In hindsight, I believe that this encounter truly was supernatural. The Bible tells us that Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). So I ask you: would Satan be so bold as to actually pretend to be God? Of course he would. He's no gentleman. It's not like he would say to himself, "Well, that would be deceitful, I can't do that!" More like this: "That's deceitful - awesome!! I wonder how many times I could trick people into thinking they're encountering God before somebody starts to catch on?" And Satan was more than happy to give me an "experience" if it would turn me away from the one true God.
Something else happened during my first meditation that I didn’t realize until years later. I came out of that FIRST meditation session with an altered worldview. Now think about that. In the space of 20 minutes (because that's all the time it takes to do a meditation), my worldview shifted dramatically. Prior to this meditation experience, as far as I was concerned all spiritual choices were still "on the table" for me: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, paganism, gnosticism, etc. But after I had come out of that first meditation, the Christianity of the Bible was no longer on the table for me. Why? Because Christianity is the only religion with such unbending and exclusive truth claims. ("I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life....no-one comes to the Father but through Me.") And meditation counters this claim by generating an experience in which a person feels a profound sense of
Now. Let's look at the logical conclusions that practicing mystics MUST come to if they are staying true to their belief system: If I can experience God through meditation, then the cross has no meaning. And Jesus was a liar when He said that He was the only way to God.
Unfortunately, many Christians today are very innocent and naive about the dangers of the occultic realm (which is precisely where mantra meditation leads) because they have not been warned about it by their pastors and they have had no direct personal experience with it (and in this postmodern age, direct personal experience seems to trump everything). Yet, instead of (1) following the clear mandate of scripture on this and (2) listening to those of us who have had direct personal experience with the occult and who attempt to warn about how dangerous it is, many Christians today blindly follow their leaders into any and every new teaching (contemplative prayer, lectio divina, breath prayers, Jesus prayer, etc.). And those who sound the alarm are labeled as narrow-minded, intolerant, Pharisaical, and judgmental....not by the world, but by their fellow Christians!
Also, among professing Christians there is almost an attitude of, "Hey, I can't be deceived, I'm a Christian!" As if somehow just being a Christian renders one "deceit proof." But if this were true, then Jesus would not have given warning after warning for us to vigilantly guard against false teachers and false doctrine, and to take care that no one deceive us.
Christian mysticism is being taught in many seminaries today, including but not limited to the institutions listed below:
BelmontPopular Christian authors whose writings fill the shelves in Christian bookstores promote mysticism. Some of the most well-known authors are listed below:
Dallas Theological Seminary
Fuller Theological Seminary
Moody Bible Institute
John Brown University
Rick WarrenChristian mystical practices come in many different guises, including, but not limited to:
Laurie Beth Jones
Ruth Haley Barton
Spiritual FormationPromoters of Christian mysticism today say "Embrace the silence!" The Bible says, Test the spirits and flee from deception (I John 4:1), hold fast to what is true (1 Thess. 5:21) and don't assume immunity from deception (Matthew 24).
Walk To Emmaus
Fighting For The Faith Interview on Mysticism
John MacArthur on Spiritual Formation and Biblical Sanctification
What Is Mysticism?
Mysticism: Who Needs Crack?
The Dangers of Contemplative Prayer
What Is Mysticism? (5-Part Series by Dr. Gary Gilley) - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5
Mystical Youth Ministry
Biblical Silence vs. Mystical Silence
Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer?
The Origin of Contemplative Prayer (Apprising)