Who Goes There?

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality, Spiritual Discernment

Encountering voices in contemplative prayer . . .

“We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
—The Apostle John, 1 John 4:6, NASB

Introduction
Through practicing the discipline of solitude and silence, contemplative spiritualists hope to hear God personally speak to them. As one nationally known personality stated on the Be Still DVD, “intimacy automatically breeds revelation.” [1]  But if a voice speaks, there is some question regarding its identity. Therefore in the video’s same segment, “Fear of Silence,” Richard Foster offers advice about how to discern who might communicate in the stillness. He said:

Learning to distinguish the voice of God . . . from just human voices within us . . . comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. Satan pushes and condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference. [2]

Though there could be others, Richard Foster admits to a cacophony of possible voices that might speak: first, human voices within and without (a source that could involve hearing oneself speak, in which case, contemplators would be listening to themselves); second, the voice of Satan or demons; and third, God’s voice.

Who’s Voice?
In order to determine whose voice might be speaking, Foster provides criteria. If the voice is positive and reaffirming, then the voice is God’s. If however the voice is negative and that like a bully who “pushes and condemns,” then the voice must be that of Satan. To discern whether or not the voice is human, Foster offers no advice.

So if the voice is human, one is left wondering, why go into a meditative trance to hear yourself or another human speak? After all, in the normal concourse of life people talk to themselves and listen to others all the time, unless contemplators feel so isolated and alone, or unless in accord with the eastern monistic worldview, meditators believe they are gods so that when they listen to their voice, they are listening to god’s!
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Haunted Souls

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality, Mysticism

From Meditation into Hallucinations

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Emphasis Added, 1 Peter 5:8, NASB

As borrowed from the eastern mystical religions, meditative or contemplative spirituality—the operation of which involves engaging in ascetic practices and retreating into solitude (getting alone with God) and silence (remaining quiet before God)—has emerged among evangelical Christians as a popular way to experience God’s love and receive revelations from Him, for intimacy breeds communication. [1] Interestingly, this discovery among evangelicals about how to find “spirituality” now parallels the “mindfulness” revolution taking place in secular society.

By shucking their ever-present cell phones, tabloids, I-pods and other distractions, increasing numbers of people from all walks of life—athletes, educators, corporate execs and workers, politicians, government workers and members of the military—attempt to “de-stress” their lives by attending “mindfulness” retreats where under the direction of spiritual tutors, they learn to meditate with the hope they will discover “a new consciousness” to help them cope with life. [2] To promote “mindfully” working, playing, parenting, test taking, and even going to war, the practice of meditation is rising in America. Based on the increase of its popularity over the last decade, it’s estimated that in the near future more than 27 million American adults will engage in meditation. [3] To cope, they contemplate.

But amidst the rising popularity of this mindfulness revolution, a dark secret lurks in the background. One advocate of “Christian” contemplation, the Quaker Richard Foster, recommends meditation as a means for developing a deeper spirituality. But as to its practice, he also issues a disclaimer (Mark this quotation!):

I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance . . . there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! [4]

Though a significant majority of non-Christian meditators report benefits derived from the activity, some indicate that the exercise does not invariably promote psychological wellness. [5]

So it would be well for any would-be meditators, Christian or otherwise, to consider what could happen to their minds if they engage the practice. Meditation can go mad. Examples where this has happened, both modern and ancient, are known. We begin with reports from a rehab center which focuses on helping people restore the soundness of mind they possessed before they began to meditate.
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On Theosis, or Divinization

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality, Mysticism

What does it mean to be “partakers of the divine nature”?

For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (emphasis added) – 2 Peter 1:4, NASB.

Introduction

As defined by the Orthodox Church, deification (theosis) postulates that a Christian can become subjected to

God’s full and perfect penetration . . . in which [state of being] the operations and energies of human nature cease, having been replaced by the Divine Operations and Energies. [1]

Though it has been part of “the spirituality” of the Orthodox Church for centuries, belief in divinization or theosis is emerging amongst today’s evangelicals.

Over two decades ago, Al Dager noted a trend among some Charismatics:

But we are now hearing from prominent teachers in the Christian media that man was created with a divine nature which was lost due to the introduction of sin. By being born again by the Spirit of God we lose our sin nature and regain our divine nature. [2]

Greg Boyd, who advocates both open theism and contemplative spirituality, forthrightly states:

We no longer have a “sinful nature”. [3]

To this point (though personally I do not believe he believes in deification), John MacArthur has written that early believers “were little Christs,” because they were first called Christiani at Antioch (i.e., “belonging to the party of,” Acts 11:26). [4] Though Jesus warned of “false Christs,” neither He nor His apostles called believers “little Christs” (Matthew 24:24; cf. 1 John 2:18).

Again, MacArthur’s inference that God “was right inside” the pagan philosophers at Mars Hill is troubling. [5] God is right inside believers only! The Apostle Paul wrote: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9; cf. John 3:3, 7).

Yet if scriptural precedent exists for the Christian to attain unto divinity,

The only biblical text which seems to bear directly on deification is II Peter 1:4, where the destiny of Christian believers is described as becoming “partakers of the divine nature”. [6]

Dager too noted that the man-becomes-god teaching “is based upon a theosophical interpretation of II Peter 1:4 . . .” [7]

So the question becomes, does Peter’s reference to partaking of the divine nature support the teaching that in this life a Christian can become deified? On the face of it, Peter might appear to be teaching that possibility. But upon a deeper investigation of the text, he does not.
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When You Pray, Say . . .

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality, The New Spirituality

Contemplative Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.” 1 Corinthians 14:14-15a, KJV

Between contemplative spirituality and biblical Christianity there reside watershed distinctions between first, the definition, and then, the practice of prayer. Simply stated, prayer is talking to God. In speaking to God, believers are free to disclose their hearts’ deepest longings and vexations to Him, including their feelings, fears, secrets, sins, praises, petitions, doubts, complaints, thanksgiving, troubles, and more–the prayers of Jesus and the saints in the Bible providing example.

In openness and integrity of soul, our conversation with the Father, however limited by human language and self-interest, is mediated by Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, to the personal God who hears, sympathizes, and understands when by faith, and sometimes amidst life’s sorest trials, His children talk to Him (See Ephesians 6:18; 1 John 2:1; Romans 8:15, 26-27.). As the author of Hebrews encourages us,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Within evangelicalism, the contemplative prayer movement is affecting this mediated understanding of prayer. The narrator in the Be Still DVD states that, “Contemplation is different from other types of Christian prayer.” In explaining how this form of prayer differs from traditional prayer, Richard Foster says, “Contemplative prayer is listening prayer. It is attentiveness . . . It’s being all ears to what the Father has to say to us. He then quotes Nicholas Grou who requested, “O divine master, teach me this mute language which says so much.”[1] In this manner of praying, the communication that transpires is unmediated. Contemplatives feel themselves to be contacting God directly. There is no need for the advocacy of Jesus Christ, or intercession by the Holy Spirit. The desired communication is soul to Soul, the human with the Divine.
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Impressions Ineffable . . .

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality, Contemporary Church

The Mysticism “Lite” of Rick Warren [1]

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-13, NASB

Before dealing with the idea that God gives “impressions,” let me confess that I am not per se opposed to them. Like A.J. Gordon (1836-1985), founder of Gordon College, I believe the Holy Spirit of God “may beget within us emotions too deep for expression, as when ‘The Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’ (Rom. 8:26).” [2]

Regarding the Spirit restricting Paul and Timothy to preach in Asia and Bithynia, Wayne Grudem writes: “The Holy Spirit must . . . have communicated his direct guidance to them in some specific way, whether through words heard audibly or in the mind, or through strong subjective impressions of a lack of the Holy Spirit’s presence and blessing as they attempted to travel to these different areas.” [3] On the point of the Spirit’s subjective impression upon Paul not to go to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7), we can note the impression became objective when in a vision a man appeared unto Paul “and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). A subjective impression, if indeed there was one, was confirmed by an objective word. This incident in Paul’s ministry illustrates that believers are “taught by the Spirit” who combines “spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13, NASB).

So we Christian believers should know the Holy Spirit can speak to us. Therefore, we need to be careful (metaphorically speaking) not to throw the “spiritual baby” out with the mystical bath (By using this figure, I am not suggesting there’s any sense in which mysticism, soft or hard, cleans spirituality up. In fact, the reverse is the case.) But absent the Spirit’s authentication by the Word of Scripture, thoughts can be self-originated, and it becomes vacuous to mystically confess, The Lord told me . . . Well, maybe He did, or maybe He didn’t. Who knows . . . all of which leads me to address Rick Warren’s idea that God speaks to people via impressions. [4]
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Hush!—Whispers at Willow Creek

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality

A review of Bill Hybels’ book, “The Power of a Whisper”.

Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010) 260 pages, appendixes, notes. The back cover dust jacket bears the following promo: Learn to Hear from Heaven as You Navigate Life on Earth.

How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” Psalm 119:103-104, KJV.

Sixteen years ago a psychologist noted our culture’s shift to mystical spirituality, a shift which involved people hearing “a distinct ‘inner voice’,” a voice that from time to time gives “the listener advice and counsel.” [1] Perhaps the Christian shibboleth The Lord told me . . ., evidences the shift. But amazingly, what characterized the mysticism of the New Age/New Consciousness movement fifteen years ago is now emerging amongst mainstream evangelicals. In their attempt to keep in step with the culture and in the process becoming culturized (Contra Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15-17.), the phenomenon of hearing God speak in a personal way has become quite chic in pan-evangelical Christendom. [2]
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Posture to Apostasy

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality

Can yogic practices be integrated with the Christian faith?

Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord. For Thou [O Lord] hast abandoned Thy people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with influences from the east . . .” Isaiah 2:5-6, NASB

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet . . .” Rudyard Kipling’s words accent the difference between eastern and western spirituality, between Hinduism and Christianity. But the two, “the twain” as it were, are now meeting via yogic practices promoted in various places of worship and activities of spirituality. Take, for example, one Jewish synagogue. The weekly Shabbat services of Congregation Beth-El Zedek have included such activities as “Torah Yoga,” which asks congregants to “stretch and take deep breaths” as the Torah is read, or when as worshippers enter the synagogue, they are “welcomed by Torah meditations set to drums and chanting.” [1] But Jews are not alone in adopting yogic postures and practices.
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On Spiritual Formation

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality

No formation without regeneration.

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you . . .” Paul, Galatians 4:19, NASB

Within evangelical movement, especially on the part of the emerging church, we hear a lot of talk about “spiritual formation.” [1] The difference I have with the spiritual formation movement is not regarding the destination—Paul wrote that Christians need to grow-up “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)—but over the journey, how emerging evangelicals are proposing we get there. As the Holy Spirit incorporates Christ within and among believers, He sets Christ-likeness as the objective for every believer because that is the very meaning of the name, “Christian.”

The problem with so many evangelicals today is that they are not Christ-like. [2] Three decades of “pop worship,” with its emphasis upon entertainment at the expense of edification from God’s Word, has led to spiritual-emptiness. “Happy church” has not made for a holy church, and the deficiency has provided a spiritual climate in which spiritual directors, spiritual formation, and spiritual disciplines have emerged. As evangelicals experientially embrace the mystery of faith in our postmodern era, emphasis upon spiritual formation is becoming the vogue in churches, Christian universities, Bible colleges and seminaries.

Recently, I listened to a pastor explain to his congregation why they were not an emerging church. [3] In his conversation—they no longer call it preaching—he referenced Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:19 to justify employing methods of spiritual formation. The text reads: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you . . . for I am perplexed about you” (Italics mine, Galatians 4:19-20). Connect the dots—formed . . . formation. On this basis, the pastor assumed Paul to have been a kind of spiritual director who promoted spiritual disciplines to affect spiritual formation. The pastor’s  assumption caused me to look at the biblical text to see whether Paul was promoting such an approach to spirituality. Ironically, what I discovered was opposite from what this pastor inferred the text to say. But first some background . . .
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Move Over Pastors

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality

Spiritual Director: A New Gift from an Ancient Tree.

To the church, the victorious and ascended Lord Jesus Christ “gave . . . some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming . . .” Ephesians 4:11-14, NASB

Regardless of what you might think of the operation of spiritual gifts–whether all of them, some of them, or none of them are operative today–we should be aware of the new spiritual gift on the block; the gift of “spiritual director.” As one spiritual director remarks, “I continue to be amazed at the richness of this gift to the church, whether it is experienced individually or in groups.” [1] But just what is this gift?
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Did Jesus Teach the Deity of Humanity?

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality

Investigating the intent of Jesus’ statement, “You are gods.”

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” Jesus, John 10:34, KJV

Mystic, New Age, cultic and Word of Faith spiritualists commonly assume that in the essence of their being they are divine, that either they are or can become gods. [1] By employing The Third Eye for example, mystics attempt to contemplate into the consciousness of their divine nature. One Norwegian website explains:

During deep meditation, the single or spiritual eye becomes visible within the central part of the forehead. This omniscient eye is variously referred to in scriptures as the third eye . . .” [2]

The website asserts that the Lord is in heaven. But where is heaven? How can heaven be found? “Gliding inside oneself in the right way should ‘work wonders’,” the university explains. How can someone “glide within” to discover heaven within where the Lord dwells? By meditating upon the assumption that you are “the image of God inside yourself.” In a spirit of self-hype, members of the Word of Faith movement also claim themselves to be little gods who can self-create what they want out of life. To assert their divinity, both movements employ the statement of Jesus where He asked the Jews, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?” (John 10:34).

When in John 10:34 He told the Jews “You are gods,” did Jesus mean to say that persons possess an essential divinity awaiting their discovery by taking a meditative journey into “inner space”? To support their claim that man is or can become God, teachers of the “man-is-god” doctrine have seized upon words that Jesus intended only for the Jews, ignored their original intent and arrogantly applied them to their own being. Without conscripting Jesus words to make them conform to any  preconception of what we might want them to say, what did Jesus really mean when He said to the Jews, “You are gods“? [3]
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