Mysticism is defined in many different ways and the whole concept of the ideology is of becoming one with God. They believe that this union is attained by inner thoughts and experiences and that this cannot come about by rational, intellectual means such as the Holy Spirit illuminating the Scriptures to the repentant, believing sinner that accepts the atonement of the blood of Jesus as the only way one can have the understanding of spiritual matters. They emphasize the “deep things” of God and elevate experience above absolute truth of the Word of God. They feel that their thoughts and impressions mentally are the inner voice of God speaking to them when in actuality these are their own impressions and not in line with the scriptures. Much of this is actually the occult and a very fine line entering into the demonic spirit realm, forbidden in Scripture.
The Mystic has three main categories – panenthenic - that part of the collective unconscious which invades the conscious mind; monistic - where an individual is merged into the “impersonal All,” and theistic belief in which people are merged into the absolute, which they believe is God, but obviously isn’t.
These practices vary within different false religions, such as, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, New Age, and so on. The ultimate aim of the Mystic is becoming one with God. I will introduce many different ways they believe they attain this and because of the complexity of this subject, I will focus on the main areas practiced in the modern day so-called Christian Church and expose the dangers of practicing these means.
The very core of this false doctrine is the practice of meditation and contemplative prayer.
Contemplative Prayer begins with detachment and moves on to the stage of illumination, at which time a person can supposedly receive some type of communication from God. In “Sanctuary of the Soul,” Richard Foster, a theologian and author in the Quaker tradition, states we can hear God’s voice, not audibly (at least not as a norm) but as “an inward whisper, a deep speaking into the heart, an interior knowing.” Foster assures us that many characters in the Bible had this experience including Moses and Elijah. However, in reading biblical accounts we will see that when men and women in God’s Word heard from God or angels, they heard audible voices, not an “inward whisper.”
In this same book, Foster offers three basic steps for Contemplative Prayer: recollection, beholding and listening. He defines these as follows:
1) Recollection – letting go of all competing distractions, even good ones, until one has become truly present at his/her location. This can be done by focusing on a name, word or phrase.
2) Beholding the Lord – “An inward steady gaze of the heart upon God, the divine Center…The soul, ushered into the Holy Place, is transfixed by what he/she sees.” During this phase some have experienced intense heat around their hearts; others speak in tongues.
3) The prayer of listening – in this step God speaks to people and they enjoy His full presence.
In addition to Richard Foster’s promotion of Contemplative Prayer (also known as Centering or Listening Prayer), three Roman Catholic monks – Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington– have greatly influenced the popularity of this practice.
Centering Prayer was developed as a response to the Vatican II invitation to revive the contemplative teachings of early Christianity and present them in updated formats. Centering prayer is a name that Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington applied to an ancient form of Christian prayer that is principally rooted in a 14th century work called “The Cloud of Unknowing” and in the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. These two monks came up with a new name for something quite ancient, because they wanted to attract a multitude of people, especially young people, who were leaving Catholicism in order to find mysticism in eastern religions.
Continuing with the methodology of Contemplative Prayer, themes that one finds echoed in this movement include the notions that true prayer is: silent, beyond words, beyond thought, does away with the "false self," triggers transformation of consciousness, and is an awakening. Suggested techniques often include breathing exercises, visualization, and detachment from thinking. Here are two quotes which emphasize silence: "God's first language is silence" according to Thomas Keating in “Open Mind, Open Heart.” Richard Foster states in his book, “Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home,” that "Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence."
As we see from the quotes above, silence is assumed to be God's "language." This seems contradictory since language usually involves the use of words, or at least symbols. Where did this idea come from? Some contemplatives quote Ps. 62:5, "My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him." This is from the NASB translation and the King James does not use the word silence. Additionally, the passage is about depending on God for refuge and salvation, and is not instructing how to pray. So, here is one scripture which is misapplied.
It is rather a Zen Buddhist concept that truth is beyond words (this is also a Taoist view; Zen's roots are in Taoism and Buddhism). Zen teaches that truth must be realized as one practices sitting meditation, cultivating an empty mind by letting go of thoughts so that rational thinking is transcended. According to Zen, Buddha's "real message remained always unspoken, and was such that, when words attempted to express it, they made it seem as if it were nothing at all."
A popular Bible passage used to advocate silent meditation as prayer is Ps. 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God." However, this is being taken out of context. A study of this Psalm shows this is actually a rebuke from God to those striving against Him. Praying silently, or thinking on a passage of scripture in silence, is normal, but silence should not be regarded as superior to words; nor does the Bible give any support to the notion that the "language of God" is silence. Simply trying to be quiet is not prayer, and there is no biblical basis for the belief that real prayer is wordless.
A writer for Youth Specialties, an organization devoted to youth ministries, states that his interest in Contemplative Prayer began by reading Richard Foster, and later, mystics like Teresa of Avila. He built a prayer room and reports: "In that space I lit candles, burned incense, hung rosaries, and listened to tapes of Benedictine monks. I meditated for hours on words, images, and sounds. I reached the point of being able to achieve alpha brain patterns, the state in which dreams occur, while still awake and meditating." This, of course, sounds like going into an altered state of consciousness, and has to be described as new age meditation. And, in fact, the purpose of Eastern and New Age meditation is to go beyond the mind because the belief is that the mind is a barrier to spiritual enlightenment. No true believer will seek such experiences.
In the Bible, meditation on God or on the words of God is never presented as an exercise without thinking. Many of the words translated as "meditation" in the Bible are words meaning to muse, ponder, utter, or make a sound. Most of these words are in Psalms where the psalmist is praising the precepts and words of God and affirming that these are what we should learn, obey, and think upon. This is definitely not leaving ordinary thinking for another level of consciousness.
Merton, Keating, Pennington, and sometimes Foster, suggest repeating a word or phrase such as Jesus, Lord, Father, Friend, during Contemplative Prayer. This can be repeated aloud or "deep within," or used as a word to return to when one becomes aware of anything else. Pennington advises, "Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas." However, this is obviously not a practice found in the Bible. We are specifically told not to use vain repetitions in Matthew 6:7.
In Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, and sometimes in New Age meditation, a word, called a mantra, is given to the meditator to repeat. This is often the name of a deity, or sometimes a phrase meaning, "I am That," "Not this, not that," or simply, "I am." The purpose of this mantra is self-purification, and to become open to spiritual truths. Repeating a word or phrase over and over is also one of the tools of self-hypnosis. Many of the terms used by Contemplative Prayer teachers are the same terms used in hypnosis and in Eastern/New Age teachings (i.e., "shift in consciousness, "pure consciousness," "emptying the mind," "creating a space," "go beyond thought," etc.).
If Christians are going to follow any models of prayer they should be from the Bible, particularly the New Testament. Some key passages include: Matt. 5:43-45 (pray for our enemies); Matt. 6:6 (do not draw attention to yourself); Matt. 6:9-13 (the model prayer); Matt. 9:38 (pray for God to send laborers into His harvest); Matt. 21:22 and James 1:6 (pray in faith); Lk. 18:1-8 (pray/petition without giving up); ask in the name of Christ (John 16:23-24); Rom. 8:25-27 (the Holy Spirit petitions on our behalf when we do not know how to pray); 1 Cor. 14:15 (pray with the spirit and with the mind); 1 Thess. 5:17 (pray without ceasing - not mindlessly, but having an attitude of prayer in all things); and James 5:14-16 (pray for the sick). Our prayers are to make use of words and thought.
Nowhere in the Bible is prayer described as a technique or a way to go beyond thinking. Creating a whole theology of prayer apart from the Bible is absolutely dangerous, precisely because we are entering an area where each person’s truth is based on experience, and therefore, an area where we can be deceived. Contemplative Prayer instructors tell us that prayer is listening to and having "divine union" with God, but the Bible presents prayer as words and thoughts. Contemplative Prayer tells us to focus inward, but the Bible admonishes us to focus outward on the Lord. An evaluation of Contemplative Prayer reveals it to be a combination of New Age and Eastern-tinged techniques and concepts that exist outside the Bible.
Here is some information on additional “Christian” leaders who promote contemplative prayer.
James Goll - Heavily involved in the prophetic movement, he regularly appears on Patricia King’s and Sid Roth’s programs. He allegedly has had nine straight days of angelic visitations. Additionally, he asserts that Jesus appeared to him and taught him how to heal people. He claims to have a seer anointing. In an article entitled, “Three Stages of Prayer We Must Learn” dated May 9, 2016, we read these statements: “I have found that the most direct road to greater intimacy with God has come through the practice or discipline of an almost lost art in the fast-paced church of today—something called contemplative prayer. More than a decade ago, this type of prayer came to my attention through some experiences God ordained, and since that time it has become one of the central features of my walk with God. When I first began to practice it, I spent one full year reading only the Bible and the writings of the earliest Christian leaders, commonly known as the "desert fathers." Contemplative prayer is an ancient Christian practice that has not been widely known or practiced in many evangelical and charismatic ranks, but I believe the Spirit of God is restoring it to the broader body of Christ in our day.”
Bill Hybels - The Pastor of Willowcreek Community Church which has three weekend services averaging 26,000 attendees, making it one of the largest churches in the United States. Hybels founded this church in 1975 and he is currently the senior pastor. The non-denominational church is located in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Illinois. Hybels’ son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, is also the Worship Pastor at the church and he refers to a Jesuit priest as his spiritual director. In September of 2015, Niequist began an experiment on Sunday evenings called The Practice which is a gathering where the participants immerse themselves “in God’s dream for humanity, practice the historic disciplines that align (them) with His dream, and carry each other along the way.” Niequist teaches about “unforced rhythms of grace,” in which people learn to align their rhythm with God’s rhythm, practice contemplative prayer methods like Lectio Divina, and learn from a Catholic priest.
Max Lucado - Founder of UpWords, which is an inspirational one-minute message heard in over fourteen hundred radio markets around the world. He is a best-selling Christian author and writer and preacher at Oak Hills Church (formerly the Oak Hills Church of Christ) in San Antonio, Texas. He was a speaker on the instructional DVD on Contemplative Prayer, titled “Be Still” which includes Richard Foster.
Beth Moore - Founder of Living Proof Ministries for women. She is an author, conference speaker, and appears on James Robison’s “Life Today” program every Wednesday. She was also a speaker on the instructional DVD on Contemplative Prayer, titled “Be Still” which includes Richard Foster.
Chuck Swindoll - An evangelical pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher. He founded Insight for Living, headquartered in Plano, Texas, which airs a radio program of the same name on more than 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. He is currently senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, in Frisco, Texas. One of his books called: “So, You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There” mentions the silence many times and quotes from Richard Foster.
Tony Campolo - An emergent church leader who has recently announced his support of gay marriage. He has admitted to using “Jesus” as a “mantra” to clear his mind and to get himself into an altered state of consciousness. This is a statement from his book, “Letters to a Young Evangelical” - “The constant repetition of his name clears my head of everything but the awareness of his presence. By driving back all other concerns I am able to create what the ancient Celtic Christians called “the thin place.” The thin place is that spiritual condition wherein separation between self and God becomes so thin that God is able to break through and envelop the soul.”
Rick Warren – Pastor of Saddleback church in Lake Forest, California, and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” which has sold over 35 million copies. On p. 89 of this book he encourages people to practice “breath prayers” by repeating words and phrases over and over in a mantra-style prayer, a practice used centuries ago by the group of mystical monks known as the Desert Fathers.
Article entitled “Do Christian Leaders Understand the Contemplative Prayer Movement?”
Article entitled “Contemplating Contemplative Prayer: Is It Really Prayer?”
Lighthouse Trails articles on Contemplative Prayer