It will undoubtedly come as a shock for many Christians to realize that revered and well regarded pastor Billy Graham had strong ties to the Roman Catholic church, as well as some startling views on the exclusivity of Christ in salvation. Linking with Roman Catholics simply must not be done. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church teaches about God and Jesus and the Cross and Salvation, but they also add to the finished work of Christ on the Cross by requiring works of their adherents. This is no small thing. In the book of Galatians, Paul rebuked as Peter for allowing the Judaizers to add the "works" of circumcision and law-keeping as additional requirements for salvation.
“When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas (Peter) in front of them all, 'You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.'” (Galatians 2:14-16)
What the "circumcision party" did in this passage was heresy, but let's not just nod and embrace this truth as we read scripture without understanding that this same heresy is alive and well today. This heresy of Faith + Works is at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church and what it teaches, and this is why we must not link to them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather, the vast majority of them are as lost as lost can be, and need the life-giving truth of the gospel message. True, born again believers know that salvation comes by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. There is no additional work that can be added or must be done for salvation.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Now, does this mean that the Christian simply gets a Get Into Heaven free pass by claiming belief in Christ, and then will continue to live in unrepentant immorality? No, the books of James and Galatians (among others) address these fallacies of "decisional regeneration" and "easy believism." A true born again believer who is in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit will bear good fruit, will put away the sins of their former life, and will become more and more conformed to the image of Christ over time. But these actions will flow out of a heart overwhelmed with thankfulness at God's great mercy in salvation, and will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. A true born again believer does not grudgingly put away sin and do good works, as if drinking down bad medicine. Yes, there is a battle with the flesh, but it is a battle. Sin is never truly enjoyed by the regenerated Christian: it is fought against and agonized about and prayed over and repented of. Is this a sad, torturous existence, with the believer looking sadly back at his old "fun" life and doing what he "should" do instead? No, in fact it is a joy and an honor to strive to know God's precepts and pray for God's grace and enabling power to live a righteous life. It is not bad medicine grudgingly drunk down so as to get the benefit of heaven. Good works flow from a heart that is overjoyed to be reconciled to a high and holy God, and thankful for his Word which show us what a righteous life looks like that we might strive for that mark by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is sort of a nutshell view of the biblical view of salvation and the Christian's life, but this is not the Roman Catholic view of salvation, which comes through Faith in Jesus PLUS confession, going to mass, doing good works, etc., etc., etc.
Dr. Schuller: "Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?"
Dr. Graham: "Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time."
What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and they're going to be with us in heaven."
Dr. Schuller: "What I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?"
Dr. Graham: "Yes it is because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."
Dr. Schuller: "This is fantastic. I'm so thrilled to hear you say that. There's a wideness in God's mercy."
For those unaware of the latest brouhaha in Evangelicalism, let me first lay out the facts. Steven Furtick, megachurch pastor at Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, is currently hosting a revival which is running from January 11-22 and is promoted as "a 12 night worship experience to set the stage for 2012." The event is entitled "Code Orange" to indicate, according to Elevation Church's website, "a heightened sense of urgency....something significant is about to happen." The line-up of speakers for Code Orange includes Craig Groeschel, Jentezen Franklin, Matt Chandler, Christine Caine, Ed Young, Israel Houghton, Perry Noble, James MacDonald, T.D. Jakes, etc.
So Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Highland, Texas, and one of the invited speakers at Code Orange, stood up at Elevation Church and delivered what turned out to be a barn burner of a sermon. In his distinctive delivery style (that is to say, humble, loving, direct and at times laugh-out-loud funny), Chandler took aim at the kind of preaching that has been so aptly termed "Narcissistic Eisegeis," and at which Steven Furtick, and so many others in the seeker sensitive movement, excel.
"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:3-4
Narcissistic Eisegesis ("Narcigesis") = Forcing the Bible to mean something you already want it to mean by superimposing yourself into the meaning of the passage, rather than interpreting Scripture for what it means about God, and letting the Scripture simply speak for itself. Conversely, seeking to understand Scripture for what it reveals about God is known as Exegesis, and is also sometimes referred to as the "Literal" or "Grammatical-Historical" approach to interpreting Scripture. Example: The Narcissitic Eisegesis version of David and Goliath would be about you fighting your personal "giants" (i.e., problems, difficulties, setbacks, etc.). The Exegetical approach to interpreting David and Goliath would reveal, instead, an historical account of David's faith and God supernaturally intervening in an impossible situation for his own glory.
Now, back to Elevation Church, Code Orange, and Matt Chandler's sermon. First of all, before the letters start, I am aware that Matt Chandler is affiliated with Acts 29, has contemplative authors on his site and has claimed audible words from God. I'm not putting a stamp of approval on any of that by posting Chandler's sermon. The church is in a big muddle today, and I truly do think that we're in the end times deception, such that even the elect might be deceived. But here's a thought: maybe part of that playing itself out is that some will appear to be slipping, but when push comes to shove, will stand up and preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. The desire, of course, is for the ones who appear to be slipping to demonstrate that their feet are firmly planted on the Rock of our Salvation - Christ - and it appears to me that Matt Chandler is demonstrating just that. Because really, for Chandler to go to Elevation Church and preach as he did? To stand up before thousands and thousands of people, knowing that his message would not be well received? That could not have been easy, and it demonstrates a fear of God, rather than a fear of man. So the sermon rocked, Christ was exalted, and man was humbled. I can only speak for myself, but I personally need sermons that pierce me and break me and make me lie down on the floor, repenting and crying, and also remind me of the only hope that I have, which is not that I can be great and conquer problems but that God is great and has made a way for wretched sinners (like me) to be reconciled to himself.
But now for the controversial part. Chandler's sermon was immediately pulled from the Code Orange rebroadcasts. This was pointed out by several Christian writers, including Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for Faith and Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries. Then, the sermon reappeared in subsequent rebroadcasts with a cryptic message from Elevation's graphic designer about a decision being made to "reformat the content" for the purpose of focusing "the broadcast on Jesus." So we'll let you be the judge. Matt Chandler's sermon is posted above, where you can listen to it in its entirety. Was this a sermon that should have been pulled because it did not focus on Jesus?
With all that in mind, my sister and I would like to answer to the charge that we're hatin' haters who just want to hate on people. So this post is written in an effort to show that neither one of us is out to "get" either Dr. Piper or Beth Moore.
First, Dr. Piper....
Dr. Piper is highly respected in the evangelical community, and for good reason. He has written scores of very biblical books and articles, he is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and is known for being a staunch protector and defender of the purity of the gospel. This is why his apparent veering from the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (or, the idea that we hear from God through Scripture alone) by his participation in a seemingly mystical practice and his website's outright endorsement of Lectio Divina is all the more distressing.
My sister, who came out of the same New Age mysticism that I did, has written before about there being a time, when she was a very new Christian, that John Piper's teaching actually helped her get free of mysticism. In fact, she credits this particular video as being instrumental in helping her understand the biblical model for prayer:
At about the two minute mark in the above video, John Piper makes the following statement which is just a wonderful teaching on the biblical practice of prayer:
John Piper: "(You might ask me) why don't you just say that (prayer), then, is communicating with God? That would be a little less awkward than 'intentionally conveying a message.' Why don't you just say, prayer is communicating with God? And here's the reason I tried that and rejected it. It's because it sounds when you say that like you mean you're communicating that way (pointing up to heaven) and He's communicating this way (pointing down to himself), and that's prayer. And that's not prayer. The Bible never calls God's communication to us 'prayer.' Never. And we get ourselves into a big muddle when we concoct phrases to that effect. Like his talking to us is a kind of prayer. It isn't."
"One of the saddest things to me is that John Piper actually helped me come out of my Christian mysticism. When I began realizing that a lot of what is called Christian teaching these days is just pagan practices sprinkled with Christian terminology and some Bible verses, I looked to the Bible and to good Bible teachers to help me answer two basic questions: How does God communicate with us? And what is prayer? It was some teaching by John Piper specifically on that second question that really helped me. He was very clear: prayer is us talking to God- it is not like a telephone conversation where I talk and then God talks. I came to the realization that God speaks to us through scripture. I could stop looking for signs and clues and hunches and feelings- I could just read God's Word and know that God was speaking clearly and openly to me. It was so freeing."
And in fact, after Cathy made this comment on a recent blog post, in reflecting back I also remembered how she had labored over this issue with me when I was a new Christian and she was discipling me. She really worked to help me understand this strange new concept of how it is that God communicates with us. It was extremely freeing for me as well, having come out of mysticism, where you're always trying to figure out out if the sign/nudge/dream/vision/impression/etc. that you received was really from God. It was just, open up your Bible and read. Really? Really. So freeing. So unmystical. Not to mention, so biblical.
Now for Beth Moore....
"Thank you God, that you are trustworthy. Thank you that you promise to make our paths straight. Please help us to acknowledge you in all our ways."
This is the prayer that my 10 year old son prayed this morning during Bible study, based on principles for praying that I taught him. I learned these principles for prayer from a Bible study by Beth Moore (Praying God's Word), one of the first Bible studies I ever took. Before the class had begun,I remember being so curious about what was meant by the title of the book: how could one "pray God's word?" What did that mean? Now remember, I had come out of New Age Hinduism and paganism. There is no concept of a personal God in the New Age. In the New Age, there are lots and lots and lots of techniques from lots of different cultures that are used as a means to get to "God" - so there is some understanding of there being a "God" out there. But it's not a biblical understanding of God: that God is not only transcendent but He is also personal. God is a God who not only hears the prayers of his people, but He also has the power to answer them. He is a God who not only intimately and deeply cherishes his people, but He also disciplines them if need be, as a loving parent would discipline his children. These are just completely foreign concepts about God for New Agers. The New Age "God" is an impersonal essence, or energy, or vibration, and somehow, people find ways to tap into this God for the usual things (power, love, success); or, they access or experience this "God," through various mystical practices.
So with this as my background, I went into the Praying God's Word Bible study by Beth Moore, and I was just completely undone when I came to an understanding that the God of the universes would not only allow us, but want us to pray directly to him, to come boldly before the Throne of grace, and into his very presence. The class consisted of each member being given an acrylic holder that contained a large number of small index cards on which Scripture was written. We were taught to read the Scripture, dwell on the passage for a few minutes, and then pray the Scripture back to God. Seems pretty remedial doesn't it? But this was an entirely new concept to me, so much so that in the middle of one class, I was so overcome with joy about knowing, finally knowing really and truly, how to speak to God, that I began to cry. So for that study alone, I have tremendous goodwill toward Beth Moore. To this day, I pray using the principles for prayer as taught to me in that class, and have now taught these principles to my own children. And that is why I'm deeply, deeply grieved to have watched Beth Moore slowly become more and mystical in both her manner of speech and her teaching over time.
So back to the Passion 2012 conference. If you happen to click on the Passion 2012 graphic at the top of this post, you will see a tagline that says:
I would submit, in fact, that 18-25 year olds of today are already far too experiential and subjective in their worldview. They need to be re-trained to understand, as John Piper has taught so eloquently in the past, that biblical prayer is "intentionally conveying a message to God," not praying, and then listening for God's audible answer back to us.
May we all strive to be more biblical in how we approach God, remembering that He detests mystical practices, and continually seek to conform our prayer life as closely as possible to the biblical model for what that should be.
A few days ago, the Christian research and discernment community was awash in the alarming news that Desiring God's website had published a post endorsing a mystical form of prayer developed by cloistered Roman Catholic monks called "Lectio Divina." Social network sites Facebook and Twitter were covered up with discussion about this. Discernment site Apprising published several articles about it. Christian radio host Chris Rosebrough devoted an entire show to the topic. Other radio shows discussed this topic, even if only briefly. And then something great happened: the reference to Lectio Divina was removed from the article, and this entry was left in its place:
Update: Formerly I listed Lectio Divina as a third system for prayer. I've since removed it for the confusion it has caused. We do not endorse contemplative spirituality. The main point I'd like to recommend is using the text of Scripture as an organizer for our prayers — prayers that are exegetically faithful and gospel rich. I'm sorry for introducing the category.(online source)
I really, really, really hope and pray that John Piper, Desiring God, Bethlehem Baptist Church, et al, will truly awaken to the dangers of Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism. With that in mind, and putting the best construction on the updated entry at Desiring God regarding contemplative spirituality, I've made this very brief post pointing out that there are still books by Contemplative Spirituality Mystics being endorsed at Dr. Piper's church. Maybe they just need to be made aware of who the players are in Contemplative Spirituality Mysticism.
Bethlehem Baptist Church has the following books by Contemplative Spirituality Mystics available for study:
UPDATE: As of Tuesday, January 10, 2012, the Desiring God article in which the Roman Catholic mystical practice of Lectio Divina was promoted has been changed. Notes author Jonathan Parnell:
"Formerly I listed Lectio Divina as a third system for prayer. I've since removed it for the confusion it has caused. We do not endorse contemplative spirituality. The main point I'd like to recommend is using the text of Scripture as an organizer for our prayers — prayers that are exegetically faithful and gospel rich. I'm sorry for introducing the category."
While I appreciate the quick response by Desiring God (due in some part, I'm sure, to the ensuing uproar), John Piper still recommends resources by contemplative mystics on his church website. So yes, the Lectio Divina article teaching mysticism was pulled, but other concerning items that promote mysticism remain.
This post should be filed under the category of "Very, Very Sad."
While it could be hoped that Kenneth Boa means nothing more than deeply contemplating Scripture (as Scripture commands), sadly, he makes it clear in one of his articles that, when discussing the practice "Contemplative Prayer," he is not merely talking about deeply and mindfully contemplating God's Word (as many Christians might think this term means). No, what he is pointing his readers toward is how to enter into an altered state of consciousness not for the purpose of learning mindfully about God, but to instead have some kind of subjective impression or experience of God. This is mysticism.
Nowhere in Scripture are we taught that we have to get really silent and "listen" for God to speak to us, or, wait silently for God to "shape" us in some mystical way. Yes, the Holy Spirit guides us, and yes, there is some mystery about how this happens, but we have to go by Scripture. Jesus taught:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Mark 12:30 (my emphasis)
"But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit." Jude 1:20
"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." Ephesians 6:18 (my emphasis)
We are to pray in the Spirit, staying mindfully alert. This is the Christian practice of prayer, and it stands in direct contrast to the pagan practice of "mystical prayer," which is to empty one's mind and go into an altered state of consciousness, sometimes called an Alpha state. Scripture doesn't teach going into an altered state of consciousness so that we can get some kind of mystical message from God. However, pagans of all stripes DO engage in this mind emptying practice.
First let me start with explaining why a person is unable to learn mindfully about God in an altered state of consciousness: it is because the mind, after following the techniques encouraged by Kenneth Boa (and now the Desiring God's website), is now in a controlled, light hypnotic trance. These techniques enable people to go into a state in which they are neither fully awake, nor fully asleep....they are somewhere in the middle. They are in an Alpha state. But in this state (well known throughout the occult world, incidentally), the mind is parked. It's in neutral. It can only receive information, much like a radio receiver, and is unable to critically process data. And as mentioned above, mystics throughout the ages have always had "culturally personalized" techniques for achieving this state of mindlessness:
ADDED NOTE 1/10/2012: My sister made a very good comment in the comment section below about there being a time as a new Christian, for her, when John Piper's teaching actually helped her get free of mysticism (because she came out of the same New Age mysticism that I did). And she's right: there was a time when John Piper did not teach these things. Here was her comment:
"One of the saddest things to me is that John Piper actually helped me come out of my Christian mysticism. When I began realizing that a lot of what is called Christian teaching these days is just pagan practices sprinkled with Christian terminology and some Bible verses, I looked to the the Bible and to good Bible teaches to help me answer two basic questions: How does God communicate with us? And what is prayer? It was some teaching by John Piper specifically on that second question that really helped me. He was very clear: prayer is us talking to God- it is not like a telephone conversation where I talk and then God talks. He said God speaks to us through scripture. I could stop looking for signs and clues and hunches and feelings- I could just read God's Word and know that God was speaking clearly and openly to me. It was so freeing."
And in fact, after Cathy commented, in reflecting back I also remembered how she had labored over this issue with me when I was a new Christian and she was discipling me. She really worked to help me understand this strange new concept of how it is that God communicates with us. It was extremely freeing for me as well, having come out of mysticism, where you're always trying to figure out if the sign/nudge/dream/vision/impression/etc. that you received was really from God. It was just, open up your Bible and read. Really? Really. So freeing. So unmystical. Not to mention, so biblical.