Saturday, March 6, 2010

Monvee: Mysticism For The Masses

Until recently in this country, we Christian Americans can be very thankful that the plague of mysticism that can become so deeply embedded into a culture - and in the churches - has really not been too much of a problem here.  While there has always been interest in the general population in the occult, this has mostly remained somewhat on the fringes. Seances. Madam Blavatsky. Theosophy. These are terms that typically have no meaning for the average Christian.  Because of solid preaching and the systematic training up of our children in proper doctrine that has gone on for generations in this country, we have been trained to be discerning, and have taken admonitions on this from Scripture very seriously:
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)
"Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.  Therefore, it is no great thing if his minsters also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness." (II Corinthians:14,15)
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times, some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." (I Timothy 4:1)
But while we did not have mysticism to contend with, we did have our own peculiar brand of "works righteousness," which is another deadly poison all its own.  Basically, "works righteousness" is a term used to describe the idea that someone gets their good standing in the eyes of the Lord from the good things that they do.  When someone's anxiety get ratcheted up because they think they're not doing enough for the Lord, this is an example of works righteousness; i.e., a person's "righteousness" (good standing in the eyes of the Lord) comes from the amount of "works" they do.  Righteousness from works...."works righteousness." This is a heresy, and orthodox Christians understand that their righteousness comes only from Christ and his finished work on the cross on their behalf.

Unfortunately, thanks to an entire generation of people - and now their children - being "undiscipled" under the teachings of the Purpose Driven Life movement, whole communities have been overtaken by the heresy of works righteousness through a catchy little phrase coined by pastor Rick Warren:  "deeds not creeds."  There is so much wrong with this clever little statement that it's hard to know where to begin, but in a nutshell, what this statement means is that our "creeds" (or doctrine) are not important as long as our "deeds" are godly.  And yes, it is right that as Christians we are godly in our deeds, but anyone can do good deeds and not be a Christian. Oprah. Mother Teresa. Ghandi. So simply looking at the "deeds" of a person's life does not prove that someone is a Christian.  Our orthodoxy has to be right.  And from right orthodoxy (creeds, doctrine) will flow right orthopraxy (deeds, actions, conduct).  Orthodoxy first, then orthopraxy.  Distinctly opposite from Rick Warren's mantra.

And yet, this catchy little phrase has been cheerfully and wholeheartedly embraced by the Christian community, and with that has come a wholesale throwing off of deep, systematic Bible study in favor of doing what Americans do best: rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.  After all, it's part of who we are as a culture.  We Americans are generally kind, generous, helpful, and hard-working.  When there are natural disasters around the world, the United States usually far outpaces all other countries in terms of providing relief, whether it is in terms of giving money or actually doing the hard physical work needed.  But I would submit that it is only because we have been a Christian nation that for generations was deeply rooted in doctrinal truths that we even have the capacity to be kind, generous, hard-working, quick to help.  Our orthopraxy has flowed out of our orthodoxy.  And I would submit also, sadly, that this kindness and generosity of spirit is all that remains, just a vestige of who we once were: a  nation built on God's truth that God providentially allowed to become great so that we could be used for the spreading of the gospel.

So Satan's first big deception in this country was built around this cheerful, peculiarly American work ethic, because after all, he's no dummy.  He knows that outright wickedness rarely works, and would certainly never work in a country so solidly biblical.  And so the first heresy to really take root in this country was works righteousness.  We began to be proud about, well, being American.  About our tough, hard-working, pioneering, conquering spirit.  After all, we tamed the wild west!  And along with this, Satan mixed in moralism to further quell the conscience, because even lost people can usually see the inherent value of living a moral life.  While a lost person may never embrace the gospel and become saved, that person may still embrace and see the value of the morals that God has given us: eschewing adultery so that a marriage and family will remain intact; eschewing covetousness, because of the discomfort and unrest that it brings; not succumbing to angry, even murderous, thoughts, knowing the consequences that will likely result.

But now there is a new, more deadly element, that Satan has managed to add to this already toxic brew:  occultic mysticism.  But how in the world could occultic mysticism - something generally associated with the far east, with swamis and yogis and such - how could this find its way into the churches?  How could such a thing happen?  Here's how: when pastors stopped taking seriously their responsibility before God (Mark 9:42) to protect their flocks, it became a season of anything goes.  Sometime in the mid 1980s, churches decided that being "seeker sensitive" was the way to go.  And thus, success began to be measured more by the number of seats filled than in members being trained in righteousness.  Resources were poured into plentiful parking, a well-paid worship band, and lattes to chat over afterwards.  Rather than being about preaching the gospel and discipleship, youth groups became centered around catering to kids' fleshly desires for fun-fun-fun.  And for both groups, doctrine went out the window, because lots of expensive and time-consuming polling showed - egads! - that lost people weren't all that interested in God and doctrine. So instead of preaching the gospel and taking people through systematic theology (bor - ing!), these "new, improved" churches were all about practical, life-enhancing sermonettes: Four Steps to a Better Marriage, Six Steps to Better Finances, How to Have Well-Behaved Kids, etc.  And thus an entire generation of parents and kids were biblically dumbed down because it had been decided that people wouldn't come to church unless there was something in it for them.  And this was how the pump was primed, as it were, for mysticism to flow in.

You see, in the flurry of all these people being drawn in with plentiful church activities and Christianized self-help tools, there was a problem: people weren't being saved because the gospel wasn't being preached. So now you've got all these churches filled mostly with lost people who now are deceived into thinking they are Christians because they're going to church, listening to "sermons," singing Christian songs...and yet, they're unregenerated because they've never heard the life-giving truth of the gospel. But the leadership seemed not to be aware that instead of feeding sheep, they were simply amusing goats, as Charles Spurgeon once so aptly put it.  And now there was still the matter of the conscience needing to be dealt with.  Because remember, we're talking about largely unregenerate groups of people here, who, instead of having a true sense of righteousness that comes from repentance and faith in Christ, have got a counterfeit sense of righteousness being generated by doing good works and moralism.

And as far quelling one's God given conscience, works righteousness and moralism will only go so far.  The "works" of going to church, making sure the kids are plugged into a youth group, dutifully listening to sermons, going to Sunday school, and so on, will not ever give enough of a sense of righteousness for people to truly know they are saved.  Satan knows this.  That is why he seized his opportunity to bring in the deadly poison of mysticism. Why so deadly?  Because along with the false sense of righteousness generated by doing "works," this mysticism further deceives by generating a very powerful - but false - sense of having connected with God.  A counterfeit Holy Spirit experience.  Talk about a one-two punch.  But, very few people today are even able to recognize this mysticism for what it is because it sounds good and spiritual and "churchy." Jesus Prayer. Contemplative Prayer. Centering Prayer. Spiritual Formation.  What could possibly be wrong with things like this?  After all - Jesus, he's our guy, right?  And Christians are supposed to pray, right? We want to be more spiritual of course, and isn't there something in the Bible about Christ being formed in us?  These must be good things....right?

They are not good things - but they are about to sweep across this country like a tsunami.  If your church hasn't already been infected with these practices, they probably will be soon.  There is a new "product" called Monvee that is being launched right now in churches all across America.  Monvee, which bills itself as "the future of Spiritual Formation," is being brought to us by Leadership Network, the same poll-taking, finger-to-the-air group that brought us purpose driven, seeker sensitive churches.  Leadership Network,  headed up by Bob Buford and Tom Wilson, has partnered with well-known author John Ortberg to bring us Monvee, which I have termed Mysticism for the Masses.  Seeming to recognize the spiritual vapidness that was the end result of the watered down teaching of the purpose driven movement, Leadership Network has developed Monvee as a product that is designed to help people grow spiritually.  Monvee promises to use "personalized online assessment" tools to craft programs of "Spiritual Formation" for its participants. Spiritual Formation is a series of disciplines designed to aid in spiritual development, and is generally thought to be Christian because these disciplines were formed centuries ago by monks in Catholic monasteries. There's just one problem here, but it's a biggie: these Catholic monks, who were known as the Desert Fathers, cloistered themselves in the Middle East and Egypt; and, because of their close proximity to eastern cultures, ended up being heavily influenced by paganism to the point of grafting pagan practices into their prayers, chiefly, mantra meditation.  So in essence, these "spiritual disciplines" that are part of Monvee's "Spiritual Formation" programs are classic, eastern occultic practices that have simply been "Christianized" with a sprinkling of the magic pixie dust of Christian terminology.  But make no mistake, these practices are occultic.

Here are some of the most commonly used terms and practices:
So a lack of biblical training coupled with the "churchiness" of these terms has made everyone think these things were okay to do.  And yet, nothing could have been further from the truth.  All of these things have their origins in the occult.   All of these things teach and promote some type of occultic meditation. Think I'm wrong?  Look them all up and see how they're done, then look up transcendental meditation, trance channeling, spirit guides, new age meditation, and self-hypnosis, and you will see for yourself that the technique given for reaching "God" is exactly the same.  Exactly the same.  Before being saved, I did this type of meditation probably thousands of time. This is how it goes: corral the mind using some type of "device" (breathing, chanting, using a mantra, looking at a candle or image, etc.), enter into an alpha level brain wave state, and listen to "God."  Now, the reason I put "God" in quotes there is because if a person follows this methodology, it won't be God they're listening to.  It will be something....but it won't be God.  It will more than likely "feel" spiritual....but only because Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light.

If these churches had been concentrating on teaching biblical truth rather than filling up their buildings, they would have been teaching that we already have a Mediator who grants us access to God.  No-one - and I mean no-one - is granted direct access to God without mediation.  There are plenty of examples of this in the Old Testament.  Uzzah, who reached out his hand to steady the ark as the oxen carrying it stumbled, was struck dead on the spot.  Wow, that seems a little harsh, someone might say.  But that's exactly the problem.  Uzzah, you see, not rightly understanding God's holiness, presumed that his own hand which was reaching out to stop the ark from falling was less filthy than the dirt the ark was about to touch.  Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, brought a type of offering to the Lord that was not what He had commanded.  They too were destroyed by God's wrath: the Lord consumed them with fire where they stood. Again...harsh? Well, not if you understand that when God teaches us how to approach him, he means what he says. We don't get to make up our own rules about how we come to him, as Aaron's sons were presumptuous enough to have done.

When I first began to grasp the indescribable holiness of God as a new Christian, my brain just had a hard time computing the data.  Eventually, I settled on a very imperfect analogy: God as an immutable law of physics: He simply is what He is, like gravity, and you don't rail against His nature, in the same way that we don't get mad about gravity being what it is, we simply accept it and live our lives accordingly.  Or like oil and water, they simply don't mix together, in the same way that God's holiness and man's sinfulness are incompatible, they don't mix.  With oil and water, we don't get mad about this, we simply observe this to be a fact.  You see, God's unmediated presence is a consuming fire.  We MUST have a Mediator, or we will perish.  This was why God would not show his face to Moses when Moses pleaded with him to let him see his face.  Did God not love Moses?  Yes, he did - the Bible tells us that God and Moses spoke often, as friend to friend.  What God knew - and Moses did not - was that direct access to holiness that blindingly pure would destroy him.  God said no because he loved was for Moses' own protection. 
Mysticism \ˈmis-tə-ˌsi-zəm\ - the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight.
Throughout recorded history, humans have worked very hard at gaining access to God's presence through their own devices, on their own terms.  That's exactly what mysticism is - an attempt to gain access to God through one's own means.  That's why every false religion - at least the ones I've researched - have some type of mysticism at their core.  And this is precisely what makes Christianity so distinctively different: we are given access to the one true God, but it is only through the means of God's choosing.  God chose his Son, who having lived a sinless life was able to make atonement for us and who also - here's the amazing part - gave us his own righteousness so that when God looked upon us, he would see the righteousness of Christ instead of our own wretched sinfulness.  We would be "hidden" in Christ, our sins covered, and therefore safe in the presence of God. ("Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee!")

So.  You've got a once solid, Christian nation that slowly began to drift toward works righteousness and moralism.  That's bad enough, but when you add in the mysticism, you've got the missing ingredient that renders Satan's new potion completely toxic.  Remember the problem of works righteousness not being able to deal with the conscience very effectively?  Well, occultic mysticism closes the gap in this way: occultic meditation WILL give a person a supernatural experience.  Now, it's a demonic supernatural experience, but nonetheless it is supernatural.  And what do we know about Satan?  Among other things, we know that he is a supernatural being, he's a liar, and he prowls the earth like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Does he sound like a gentleman?  No - he will not announce himself at the door and state his intention to deceive.  And mysticism is one of his favorite stomping grounds. This alpha brain wave state that a person enters into during meditation?  This is the same, highly suggestible state that a person enters during hypnosis.  Many of us have seen the shows where a hypnotist will put his subject under and then tell him something silly - "There are orange balloons stuck all over your body" - and then everyone laughs at seeing the poor fellow swat at things that aren't really there.  Well, for Satan, it's no laughing matter, and he is deadly serious about deception.  He hates us, the creatures made in God's image.  He can't get to God, goes his reasoning, but maybe he can manage to destroy some of us along the way.  Once he gets any of us into this altered state of consciousness, with our God-given barriers down, and our minds primed for deception, will he tell us the truth, that instead of reaching God this way we will be led us into a dark, demonic, dangerous realm?  Will he remind us of the many biblical admonitions to flee from this type of divination?  Well - what do you think?

If you know anyone who has done any of the practices mentioned above, I urge you to warn them that these things are not Christian.  And don't take my word for it - do the research for yourself.  The truth is that we have only one Mediator who grants us access to God - and He is Jesus (1 Tim 2:5).  And Jesus tells us that when we pray, we are not to babble endlessly like the pagans, who "think they will be heard for their many words (Matt. 6:7)."  Does this not sound eerily like mantra meditation?  He tells us that we are to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), meaning, when our spiritual lives grows cold, we are to hold fast to what we know to be true, instead of seeking some kind of postmodern whipped up experience to help us "feel" more spiritual.  I've never been so acutely aware of living during a time when "experience" has come to be the end-all and be-all for determining truth.  I pray that the Lord will deliver this postmodern generation from looking to their fickle and foolish feelings as a way to validate truth.  May we instead remember this sober admonition:  "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9), and may we hold fast to the Lord and to the truth we find in Scripture.

 Additional Resources 

What Is Mysticism?

John Ortberg: You Don't Just Become Holier...You Become "You-ier!"

Leadership Network: Product Line Defects 

Roman Catholic Monastic Mysticism 

Mysticism: A Counterfeit Holy Spirit

Fighting For The Faith Interview