Monday, August 27, 2007

Prove It

Earlier this month I was a guest blogger over at Camp on This with an article titled "Contemplate" This:...the mantra of the new age is now considered Christian? In a nutshell, the article is on contemplative prayer and how new age/eastern mystic spiritual discipline has found a home within some mainstream evangelical circles, even among many who profess they believe in sola Scriptura.

It was recently brought to my attention, that this blogger wants proof. Part of what he said:

"Well, umm, Carla, PROVE IT. You did a great job of standing up for Sola Scriptura. You, or anyone else reading this post, shouldn't have any issues with showing me that contemplative prayer isn't scriptural. But all I read in that post is a lot of bluster and no bite. Which is why most blogs aren't worth crap, by the way, and why most bloggers, although they fancy themselves as the "new generation" of journalists and theologians, are nothing of the kind."
Well, its a fair question and I'll make every effort to prove from the Scriptures why I say what I do. Although to be clear, I don't fancy myself a journalist (or an apologist), but I do believe that all Christians are and should be theologians in the strictest sense of the word - meaning we ought to be busy diligently studying the character and attributes of God, through His word.

I wont go into the long definition of sola Scriptura again, but I will say that it essentially means that the Scriptures, God's holy, inerrant, inspired word is the sole infallible rule for our faith and practice as Christian people. For a more comprehensive introduction to this teaching, I highly recommend James White's Scripture Alone. For a deeper look, I would have to recommend Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Vols. 1-3 by William Webster & David T. King.

The groundwork has to be laid here in that you have to understand not only what sola Scriptura means (and what it doesn't mean), but you also have to know what contemplative prayer is, where it came from, and what the Bible says about our prayer life in practice, and how in a more general way that Christians are not to be engaging in the empty, religious rituals like the pagans do.

First up, contemplative prayer. It's actually quite easy to get a good understanding of what this is, since it's become so popular in the last decade or so. There are no shortages of books & websites telling you exactly how to begin & practice this spiritual discipline that is hyped to bring you closer to God. Here's one list of contemplative exercises:

Contemplate Jesus. Intentionally place yourself in the presence of God. Become quiet. Express to God your intention to rest in his love. Use your imagination: you may want to picture yourself leaning on Jesus’ breast as John did or sitting at Jesus’ feet as Mary did or kneeling before Jesus as other desperate people before you have. Be with Jesus. (When thoughts and distractions interrupt, gently return to Jesus. Begin again and again.) What is it like to receive God’s gift of new beginnings? Palms down, palms up. Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor and your hands on your lap. Breathe deeply and relax. Intentionally place yourself in the presence of Jesus. Turn your palms down and begin to drop your cares, worries, agendas and expectations into Jesus’ hands. Let go of all that is heavy or burdensome. Relax. Breathe deeply. When you have given your cares to Jesus, turn your palms up on your knees. Open your hands to receive God’s presence, word and love. Listen. When you feel prompted to end, tell the Lord what it is like for you to simply be with him. - source: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun - Spiritual Disciplines Handbook - Practices That Transform Us

You'll notice in this example there is special attention given to physical posture, visualization and breathing techniques. If you know anything at all about the eastern mystic practice of meditation, you'll see the parallels immediately. These are techniques to become one with your inner deity/Supersoul/Higher Self. No, I am not making that up.

It is (I believe) rather important to note that in the link above to Calhoun's book, you'll also find listed among "further resources" on contemplative practices, a book called Becoming Christ by Brian C. Taylor. You can read his bio here, and excerpts from Becoming Christ here. It is no surprise to me that Taylor is a graduate of the Shalem Institute. It is also no surprise to note that Taylor likens Christian (?) contemplative prayer to the ladder scenario. You should find this interesting (emphasis mine):

"The process of linking oneself with the Supreme is called yoga. It may be compared to a ladder for attaining the topmost spiritual realization. This ladder begins from the lowest material condition of the living entity and rises up to perfect self-realization in pure spiritual life. According to various elevations, different parts of the ladder are known by different names. But all in all, the complete ladder is called yoga and may be divided into three parts, namely jnana-yoga, dhyänayoga and bhakti-yoga. The beginning of the ladder is called the yogärurukñu stage, and the highest rung is called yogärüòha." (source)

In addition, Calhoun recommends The Cloud of Unknowing - author unknown. Read this editorial review from amazon.com (emphasis mine):

"This is William Johnston's summary of the message of The Cloud of Unknowing. Nobody knows who wrote the book, or exactly where he lived, or whether he was a member of a religious order, or even, really, whether he was part of any church at all. The text first appeared in Middle English in the 14th century, and it has inspired generations of mystical searchers (from St. John of the Cross to Teilhard de Chardin). The mysterious conditions of its composition, however, focus the reader's attention squarely on the book's message--an almost Zen rendering of Christianity, which has a great deal to teach our querulous, doctrine-obsessed churches: "And so I urge you," the author writes, "go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest." --Michael Joseph Gross

Interesting, no? Going after the experience and leaving sound Biblical doctrine behind is exactly the point. There are countless resources on contemplative prayer & contemplative spiritual disciplines out there. I would strongly encourage you to read some of them to get a better understanding of what it is and where it comes from. From everything I have read on it over the years, it is nothing more than eastern mystic ritual, repackaged and sold under a Jesus banner. Sold to Christians who are eager to have a deeper spiritual experience and who are just as eager to ignore the source and/or make an attempt to justify the practice because you're focusing on Jesus.

The question then begs, where is any of this type of practice found in Scripture, as it pertains to believers in communion with our Heavenly Father? Simply put, it's not there. It isn't a Christian practice, and that's why it's not there. There are however numerous examples given to us in Scripture on how to pray, who to pray to, why to pray and the results of prayer. In none of these examples though, will you ever find Biblical precedent for focusing on your breathing techniques, to visualize leaning on Jesus or sitting at His feet. Nor will you ever find the teaching in Scripture that contemplative prayer is a way to work your way up a ladder to eventually link-in with the Supreme. This isn't even Christian or Biblical language, it comes straight from the eastern pagan religions, where the very practice itself comes from.

The Lord's Prayer in the Bible is a wonderful example of how Jesus prayed. You will never find in the Bible that He sat a certain way, focused His breathing, visualized anything, or any of that. When Jesus taught us to pray He began by telling us who to pray to, and what kind of attitude we should have when we pray. His focus was the state of our heart before our Heavenly Father, not the physical or mystical experience we might have or have heightened by particular physical techniques. You really have to ask yourself, if Jesus never mentioned it, why do men do it? If Jesus didn't do it, never mentioned it, and it cannot be found anywhere in Scripture (and it can't), then it certainly was not something He wanted us doing. If He wanted us to do these things, you can be sure they would have been included in Scripture along with every other aspect of Christian conduct, character, and practice. Yet they are glaringly absent from the inspired word of God.

As far as physical posture goes when praying, the Bible has examples of bowing, standing, kneeling, and prostrate on the face. But the physical posture of the way you pray has everything to do with humbling yourself before a Holy God. However the Bible does give examples of conditions for successful prayer and it has everything to do with the state of your heart:

• Contrite - Psalm 51:17
• Whole heartedness - Jeremiah 29:13
• In faith - Mark 11:24
• In righteousness - James 5:16
• In obedience - 1John 3:22

In none of those examples, will you find attaining a spiritual high, nirvana, or becoming one with the Supreme (and leaving doctrine behind, as suggested by the writer of The Cloud of Unknowing, as recommended by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun) the goal, but rather the goal is to submit your whole heart to God and with contrition, in faith, in righteousness and in obediance and with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. The peace that Philippians 4:6 speaks of that will be yours to keep your hearts and minds when you do this, is not the mystical, contemplative high that is mentioned above. That peace comes from submission to God's will and knowing your place before Him, taking comfort in the fact of His sovereignty over all things, and being reassured of His providential hand in the lives of His people. In contemplative prayer, Christians who practice this will tell you that the goal is also to be at peace with God and receive His love and rest, but the very source where this originates says something very different:

Connecting to God or Samadhi
This is the last stage when all external and internal matters slip into oblivion. It is a stage envisaging the destruction of all mental activity. According to Ayurveda, sense organs confer their subjects to the mind, which turns to the soul. In the stage of Samadhi, the relation between the soul and the mind is destroyed and the soul connects with God. Thus the highest stage of concentration is reached, which is the ultimate goal of Yoga. In this stage, self-awareness disappears. During Dharana, there is very little mental distraction. During Dhyana, the frequency of self-awareness decreases, and in the final stage of Samadhi, the soul is weaned away from all types of distraction and self-awareness. The Atma (soul) combines or connects with the Paramatma (Supersoul or God). It is at this stage that manacquires psychic abilities and attains supreme knowledge. The Yogi or the person develops various supernatural powers known as siddhi. Thus the eight steps of Yoga culminate in the state of samadhi." (source)

If you're still not convinced that so-called Christian contemplative prayer comes directly from eastern mystic religions, I would strongly encourage you to study as much as you can on the very methods and practices of both, and see for yourself how they line up perfectly - only the names of deities have been changed to make one more palatable for professing Christians. The methods and the rituals are almost identical. I would suggest you read the example here again of "Christian contemplative prayer" as described by Calhoun, and then read the entire article at the above cited source on the steps to attaining Samadhi.

In conclusion, I would like to address the comment I made at COT when I said that you cannot endorse eastern mystic religious practices and claim sola Scriptura at the same time. Either you dont really know what sola Scriptura means, or you have been deceived by the promoters of contemplative prayer to believe that it's okay.

Once you study up on where these things come from, it should be abundantly clear that Christians have no place whatsoever practicing the rituals of other religions, or rituals that have no mention or support in Scripture at all. What's more, is that if you truly believe in sola Scriptura you understand that it means the Scriptures are our sole authority on such matters, and what they teach supercedes whatever man or man-made religion has to offer. There is man's way, then there is the way according to the infallible, inspired written word of God. It's either one or the other.

I hope in addressing this again, I've been able to answer the question as to "why" CP is wrong. I realize that someone else could have (and likely has) done a better job, and that while I am certainly not an expert on eastern mysticism, there is enough reading material online for even a novice to do an ample amount of research and compare these things against the holy word of God.