Friday, March 4, 2011

What Is Mysticism?

Posted by Christine Pack
Mysticism \ˈmis-tə-ˌsi-zəm\ - the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight.
Gary Gilley, pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois, in his very excellent series on mysticism, has written extensively about what exactly mysticism is, and why it must be rejected by those who hold to an orthodox view of Christianity (Mysticism - Part 1, Mysticism - Part 2, Mysticism - Part 3).

I'm writing this article as a former mystic, who was deeply, deeply deceived by mysticism for a number of years before God graciously opened my eyes and drew me out of it.  What I can attest to is that practitioners of mystical practices will generally end up having a panentheistic worldview (the belief that God is "in" all things), as opposed to the Christian worldview, which is that God created all things perfectly good, but that Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden separated man from God, and created a chasm that could not be crossed. But mystics of all religions claim to be able to cross this "divide" between God and man. In my own experiences with mysticism, the Christian worldview was seen as quaint, old-fashioned, and not a very "evolved" belief.  This is because, in the panentheistic worldview, if God is already "in" all things, then no separation exists between God and man, and thus the Christian worldview is rejected.

So practically speaking, we're going to look at how mysticism functions, and why it is so powerfully, and spiritually, deceptive. For starters, how does one enter into a mystical state? Well, there are many different techniques for this. 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." The mind is 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, virtually unchecked, into once-solid churches.

Once a person has used the technique to "park" the brain, he or she is still awake and somewhat aware but his or her 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 - fantastic!! I wonder how many times I can fool 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 I ever had 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 a "spiritual seeker,"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 a valid spiritual path for me. Why? Because Christianity is the only religion with such unbending and exclusive truth claims. ("I am the Way, the Truth, and the comes to the Father but through Me." - John 14:6, my emphasis) And meditation counters this claim by generating an experience in which a person feels a profound sense of interconnectedness and oneness with "all" that feels completely counter to the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. It feels like you have just had an encounter with God, that you have been in the presence of the Divine...only, you haven't.

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, if I can "cross the divide" through my own efforts, then the Cross of Calvary has no meaning. And Jesus was a liar when He said that He was the only way to God.  And the Bible was wrong where it says that without Christ we are dead in our sins and trespasses (no "divine inner spark" already living within each person). But it is here that a "Christian mystic" would attempt to use Genesis 1:26 as a proof text for "proving" that man is a being who contains within a divine inner spark.  Panentheists and mystics believe and teach that the 'divine inner spark bearer' (man) has "forgotten" about this divine inner spark and simply must awaken to this knowledge. And the tool used by man (the 'divine inner spark bearer') is meditation, which is used to help re-awaken man to this "knowledge" of "inner divinity.
"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8)
These panentheist beliefs fly in the face of the clear teaching of Scripture, which is that, since the Fall, our nature is now corrupt.  We do not need to awaken to our inner divinity (i.e., how 'good' we already are). Instead, we must awaken to the fact that we are wretched, depraved sinners, dead in our sins, without hope or merit, and we are rightfully under God's wrath for our rebellion against him. In this state, there is nothing we can do in our own strength or flesh to bridge this divide that exists between God and man. We need a Mediator. We need a Savior. And that Savior is Jesus Christ, who makes atonement for all sinners who repent of their sins and place their faith in his atoning death. It is then  - and only then- that access to God granted. These are some of the beliefs that comprise the historic, orthodox Christian faith, and they are completely contrary to the worldview of panentheism/mysticism, which teaches nothing of sin, nothing of God's righteous wrath against sinners, and nothing of our need for a Savior.

Unfortunately, many Christians today are very innocent and naive about what mysticism is, its core theology, and 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, Monvee, 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.  As a former mystic, I would caution anyone who would listen: promoters of Christian mysticism today say "Embrace the silence!" and will tell you that "the silence" is how you "hear from God." But the Bible says, test the spirits and flee from deception (I John 4:1), hold fast to what is true (1 Thess. 5:21), don't assume immunity from deception (Matthew 24), and that we "hear from God" by studying his Word (Heb 1:1-2).

photo credit: Joshua Berman via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

Mysticism: Who Needs Crack?