There’s no shortage of teaching and perspectives on prayer today in the “Christian” world. As they have for centuries, people who “feel far from God” continue to seek more “spiritual” experiences, and as such fall into dangerous, demonic deceptions.
One such devilish device is the perversion of biblical prayer through the practice known in “Christian” circles as contemplative or centering prayer. As has been noted multiple times on this site, the practice of contemplative prayer has come into the evangelical world via the Roman Catholic Church, and it is no different than the meditation practiced by Eastern religions.
As such, it is decidedly not a practice in which a born-again believer should engage. Contemplative prayer takes many names and forms, yet all strive for the same end result: to empty one’s mind and enter an altered state of consciousness in an effort to “hear” from God. The differences and dangers of this are summed up rather succinctly in the David Cloud article, “Silence vs. The Silence:”
There is a vast difference between biblical contemplation and the Roman Catholic contemplative prayer that is sweeping through evangelicalism. It is the difference between “silence” and “the silence.”
The silence of biblical contemplation refers simply to a quiet place in which the soul can effectively seek the Lord. In Scripture it is called seeking the Lord (Psalm 105:3; Isaiah 55:6), waiting on the Lord (Psalm 69:6), meditating on the Lord (Psalm 104:34), meditating on God’s Word (Psalm 1:2). In these times, when most of us use computers and smart phones and our waking hours are filled to the brim with distracting busyness, it is important to have daily periods of silence for spiritual devotion. During these times we don’t sit with an empty mind and DO NOTHING; rather we open the Bible and read and meditate on it and we pray IN WORDS to God the Father through Jesus Christ the one Mediator by the wisdom and direction of the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, “THE silence” of contemplative prayer refers to pursuing God beyond the Bible, beyond thinking. It refers to putting aside thoughts through mechanisms such as mantras.
It has been popularized by contemplative gurus such as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard and is promoted by many evangelical leaders today, including Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Max Lucado, Ed Young, Gary Thomas, Philip Yancy, Lee Strobel, and Charles Stanley. (See “Evangelicals Turning to Roman Catholic Contemplative Spirituality” at the Way of Life web site.)
Harry Plantinga, director of Christian Classics Ethereal Library, describes contemplative prayer as follows: “As I was growing up, my church experience seemed somewhat heady to me–concerned more about correct belief than about actually loving God. Whether or not that was a correct perception, I wanted more. I wanted not just to know about God, I wanted to know God … Christian mysticism addresses that longing of the heart. … Webster defines mysticism as ‘the doctrine that it is possible to achieve communion with God through contemplation and love WITHOUT THE MEDIUM OF HUMAN REASON.’ That definition captures what I have in mind by the term” (CCEL Times, April 1, 2008).
In his pursuit of contemplative mysticism, Plantinga promotes Roman Catholic mystic writings such as The Cloud of Unknowing. This book, which came out of the darkness of Roman Catholic monasticism, encourages the use of a mantra to drive away conscious thoughts with the objective of entering into an experiential communion with God in “the nothingness.” The Cloud of Unknowing says:
“… dismiss every clever or subtle thought no matter how holy or valuable. Cover it over with a thick cloud of forgetting because in this life only love can touch God as he is in himself, never knowledge” (chapter 8, pp. 59, 60).
“Focus your attention on a simple word such as sin or God … and WITHOUT THE INTERVENTION OF ANALYTICAL THOUGHT allow yourself to experience directly the reality it signifies” (chapter 36, p. 94).
“For in this darkness we experience an intuitive understanding of everything material and spiritual without giving special attention to anything in particular” (chapter 68).
Richard Foster, one of the most prominent gurus of contemplative mysticism, says repetitious prayers such as breath prayers “BIND THE MIND” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 124).
This is not biblical meditation; it is a dangerous recipe for demonic delusion. We must seek God through faith, and faith comes only by God’s Word.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
If we try to know and “experience” God beyond the pages of Scripture, beyond the teaching of the Bible, we are walking in disobedience and unbelief and are setting ourselves up for spiritual deception from the hands of the one who appears as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
The late Roman Catholic-Buddhist Thomas Merton, one of the most influential contemplative writers, described his own delusion in these frightful words: “In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is” (Merton, The New Seeds of Contemplation).
Contemplative practices such as the Jesus Prayer, visualizing prayer, breath prayer, and centering prayer are exceedingly dangerous. Many who practice these things end up believing in a pagan concept of God such as pantheism (God is everything) and panentheism (God is in everything). Through these practices people typically become increasingly ecumenical and interfaith in thinking.
One does not have to choose between knowing about God and knowing God personally. GOD IS KNOWN IN CHRIST THROUGH HIS WORD. The study of the Bible is not an end in itself and should never be a mere dry intellectual exercise; it is the means whereby we know God and this is something we grow in year by year as long as we don’t lose our first love.
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4). (Online Source, HT: The Beardsley Ministry)
One such form of contemplative prayer that is directly derived from the Roman Catholic Church is known as Lectio Divina. Note the following definition of contemplative prayer as acknowledged by the Contemplative Center for Mind in Society (a decidedly non-Christian website):
Centering Prayer is drawn from ancient prayer practices of the Christian contemplative heritage, notably the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert, Lectio Divina (praying the scriptures), The Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. It was distilled into a simple method of prayer in the 1970’s by three Trappist monks, Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating at the Trappist Abbey, St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.
Centering Prayer is a method which prepares us to receive the gift of God’s presence. It consists of responding to the Spirit of Christ by consenting to God’s presence and action within. It furthers the development of contemplative prayer by quieting our faculties to cooperate with the gift of God’s presence. (Online Source)
Notice that it is readily acknowledged that this practice was delivered to Christianity by the Roman Catholics. We ought to be all the more concerned, then, when we realize that trusted Christian ministries are actually promoting this unbiblical practice. Yesterday, I was alerted by my friend Ken Silva of the following article, posted on December 31, 2011 at the Desiring God website. For those who are unaware, Desiring God is the ministry of John Piper. This post offers the reader several different “systems for praying”in the new year. At the end of the list, we see the following, listed as a viable method of prayer for the Christian:
Lectio Divina Kenneth Boa,Conformed to His Image, (Zondervan, 2001), 96-97.The ancient art of lectio divina, or sacred reading, was introduced to the West by the Eastern desert father John Cassian early in the fifth century.It consists of four elements.
- Lectio (reading). Select a very short text and ingest it by reading it several times. I normally choose a verse or a brief passage from the chapters I read from the Old and New Testaments in my morning Bible reading.
- Meditatio (meditation). Take a few minutes to relfect on the words and phrases in the text you have read. Ponder the passage by asking questions and using your imagination.
- Oratio (prayer). Having internalized the passage, offer it back to God in the form of personalized prayer.
- Contemplatio (contemplation). For the most of us, this will be the most difficult part, since it consists of silence and yieldedness in the presence of God. Comtemplation is the fruit of the dialogue of the first three elements; it is the communion that is born out of our reception of divine truth in our minds and hearts.
(Online Source, emphasis mine)
For the record, “Eastern desert father John Cassian” was a Roman Catholic monk. Friends, this is not how how our Lord taught us to pray. Quite the contrary, Jesus taught us the following:
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Sadly, Lectio Divina is not just being promoted on the Desiring God website. No, this past week it was put into practice by over 40,000 people as they gathered for the Passion 2012 conference. Courtesy of Apprising Ministries, what follows are clips from Session 5 of the Passion 2012 conference as teachers John Piper, Beth Moore, Louie Giglio and others each took turns reading from the book of Ephesians. After each reading, the entire stadium was asked to “be still” as all waited to “hear” from Jesus.
Here you see Beth Moore:
Here you see John Piper:
Finally, to close the session, Passion founder Louie Giglio stood and declared the following:
How many of you heard the voice of God speak specifically, clearly, directly, and personally, to you? Can you just put a hand up? I’d like you to share it. Can you put a hand up for a minute?
Just want you to look around; that’s people saying, “God Almighty (pause) the Maker of heaven (pause) the one Who’s sitting on the only throne (pause) that’s not under threat (long pause, audience cheers)—He spoke to me. He spoke to me.”
“God spoke to me.” (long pause) Don’t let the voice of the darkness, tell you that you are not (pause) worth (pause) that God would not speak to you. (pause) Don’t let him tell you, you don’t matter. (pause) God spoke to you.
When did Protestant leaders begin to teach that we have the Bible “plus” anything? God has spoken, dear ones. He has graciously, clearly, and perfectly spoken in His Word. We have no need to be still and wait for His voice. He has not stuttered. He has not stammered. He has not whispered. If you want to hear from God Almighty, open your Bible and read.
The original appears complete with a comments section for you to weigh in on the discussion right here.
BETH MOORE AND JOHN PIPER LEAD LECTIO-DIVINA LITE AT PASSION 2012 (Apprising Ministries)
WHAT JOHN PIPER AND JIM WALLIS HAVE IN COMMON AND WHY THE POPE WILL BE DELIGHTED (Apprising Ministries)
JOHN PIPER ENCOURAGING LECTIO DIVINA (Sola Sisters)