Was Paul a Mystic?

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Mysticism, The New Spirituality

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
—The Apostle Paul, Colossians 2:8

Introduction
Although defying exact definition because the practices and experiences of mystics are so various and mysterious, one dictionary defines mysticism as, “the doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation and love.” [1] Note that in contrast to God revealing Himself in Scripture, mystical truth is individually, intimately, and immediately intuited through spiritual experiences.

In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James identified four main characteristics of mystical experience: first, ineffability; second, noetic quality; third, transiency; and fourth, passivity. [2] James also notes that absorption, fusion, or union of the individual into the Absolute, or deity, is “the great mystic achievement.” He adds, “In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.” [3] On this point, James apparently suggested a fifth characteristic of mysticism—absorption.

There are those who speak of “Christian mysticism” and assert that the apostle Paul was a mystic. [4] From his epistles, they cite his experience, that of going to Paradise, and his condition, that of being “in Christ,” as evidences of his mysticism. For this reason, it is incumbent upon Bible believers to understand what Paul was saying about his experiences.

To determine if Paul was a mystic, analysis shall be offered regarding the incident of his being carried to “the third heaven,” and his state of being “in Christ.” The apostle’s experience and spiritual state shall be evaluated according to William James’ five characteristics of mystical experiences to determine whether or not Paul was a mystic. We note first the two primary New Testament references causing some to deduce that the apostle was a mystic.
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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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“My Proof of Heaven”: A Review and Theological Commentary

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Mysticism, Spiritual Discernment, The New Spirituality

The “Conversion” of a Skeptic?

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” Jesus, John 14:1-4, KJV

Recently, Newsweek magazine flaunted a cover title HEAVEN IS REAL, with the subtitle, A Doctor’s Experience of the Afterlife. [1] The experiencer of Heaven is Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who has taught at, among other academic institutions, Harvard Medical School. In other words, he’s familiar with the intricacies and workings of the human brain. As a scientist, Alexander confesses he did not believe in near-death (NDE) or out-of-the-body (OBE) experiences for he “believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-the-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death,” but when he experienced one, his worldview shifted. [2]

Consciousness beyond Cortex
Four years ago, Dr. Alexander contracted a rare bacterial infection that penetrated his cerebrospinal fluid and began to eat away his brain, causing “the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion” to shut down. [3] For seven days he lay comatose with his “higher-order brain function totally offline.” [4] Just as his attending physicians were weighing options of whether or not to continue treatment, Alexander relates that his “eyes popped open” and he returned to consciousness. During the days when he was physically brain dead, Dr. Alexander testifies that his “conscious, [his] inner self—was alive and well.” He states:

While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility. [5]

Alexander’s experience might be explained by paraphrasing a description of death given to us by the Apostle Paul; and that is, to be absent from the body is to remain in consciousness. [6]

The Shift
Later he adds concerning the shift that altered his view of reality: “The universe as I experienced it in my coma is—I have come to see with both shock and joy—the same one that both Einstein and Jesus were speaking of in their (very) different ways.” [7] Alexander relates that the universe, as he views it, consists of a quantum reality of unity (Einstein) and love (Jesus). Dr. Alexander has become a believer in an afterlife.
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Getting “Higher” on God (A Sequel)

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemporary Church, Mysticism

Opiates and the “Experience” of Rave Worship [1]

“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 5:18-21

Introduction
Scores of architecturally significant churches dot the landscape of the Australian city of Adelaide, structures that were built to last and perhaps bear testimony to a Christian influence in that part of the world. Upon visiting that city last year (September 24-25, 2011), my initial impression was perhaps like that of the Apostle Paul when he was in Athens and said, “Men of Athens [Adelaide], I observe that you are very religious in all respects” (Acts 17:22).

Under the auspices of Christian Witness Ministries and with Philip Powell the director of CWM, the Lord gave me the opportunity of ministry with The Street Church, a small Bible fellowship of committed Christians in Adelaide. The church is led by the Corneloup brothers, Sam and Caleb, the former who came to the Lord out of a life of crime. In many ways the fellowship encouraged my spirit with the presence of many young people. For the seminars, the church rented The German Club in the downtown area in that city.

With some of the members of The Street Church, I had my first opportunity at “street preaching” at Rundle Mall, an open air shopping area in the heart of Adelaide. [2] As an American with a distinct “Michigander” accent, people passed by, briefly stopped to listen, and then went their way. Because The Street Church regularly engaged in the activity, secular authorities tried to muzzle the preachers by passing laws against them. But in the name of “free speech,” and because of the legal knowledge of Caleb Corneloup, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the street preachers. If other secular groups espousing a radical ideology were allotted the legal right of public assembly to express their views, then why not The Street Church?

The whirlwind weekend of ministry passed by quickly, and before I knew it, the time arrived for me to get to the airport on Saturday evening in order to catch a flight to Melbourne so that I could connect to another flight to Wellington, New Zealand, the next morning. (For a week, I was scheduled to preach in various cities throughout the north island.)

HEAVEN!
My driver, a young man from The Street Church, drove me to the Adelaide airport. During that ride and upon leaving the city proper, we drove by one of the beautiful church structures in that city. From the outside, the church appeared no different from the other church buildings with the exception of a large banner that brazenly hung across the steeple and over the entrance of the historic building. On that banner was painted one word: HEAVEN. I turned to my driver and asked him, “Is the name of that church HEAVEN? He answered, “Yes!” and then proceeded to inform me that the church was the one he used to attend before he became a believer in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I asked him what kind of church it was. He informed me it was a “rave” church. Well, not knowing what a rave church was for not ever having heard of such a church before, I questioned him further about what it was. He told me that in their gatherings the worshippers played loud and raucous music, danced, did drugs and partied (And who knows what else?).

Needs based Worship
After his description of “rave” worship, I thought to myself . . . Is this where adapting worship to fulfill the “thrills and chills” sought by seeker audiences, where tweaking the worship style to fit the mood of the culture and the needs of congregants will lead? Worship that resembles the atmosphere of Israel’s partying before the “Golden Bull” when “the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:1-35; *6); clamorous worship that to Joshua sounded like war was going on in the camp (Exodus 32:17). Is this what results when so-called worship becomes sourced in “the wants” of peoples’ bodies and brains (i.e., the Bible calls them “the lusts of the flesh,” i.e., Greek epithumias sarkos)?
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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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No Pass for Campolo’s Impasse

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Mysticism

A Critical Review of Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling’s book, God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007): 210 pages, notes, index.

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 3:2-3, NASB

Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling have recently co-authored a book titled, The God of Intimacy and Action. The “intimacy” to which they refer is experiencing closeness to God by engaging ancient spiritual and mystical practices, while the “action” refers to evangelism and advocacy of causes on behalf of the less fortunate in society. In the authors’ view, mystical intimacy stimulates and facilitates Christian advocacy. Private spiritual experiences enhance public societal engagement. Through practicing spiritual disciplines of ancient Catholicism, mystical experiences, according to the authors’ thesis, become essential for and foundational to the engagement of social justice for all. As to the possible downside of mystical intimacy, the authors seemingly write of “action” to mute criticism that engaging in mystical practices leads devotees, as typically has been the case, to disengage from society and retreat into monasteries. According to the authors, mystical experiences should not have that effect.
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The Music and the Mystical

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Mysticism

On music’s native ability to engender “religious” experiences.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Colossians 3:16, KJV

Music engenders mystical experiences. This can be discerned from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera containing the song The Music of the Night. The lyrics read:

Night time sharpens heightens each sensation / Darkness wakes and stirs imagination / Silently the senses abandon their defenses / Helpless to resist the notes I write / For I compose the music of the night / Softly, deftly music shall caress you / Hear it, feel it secretly possess you / Open up your mind let your fantasies unwind in this darkness which you know you cannot fight / the darkness of the music of the night. [1]

Subject to the individual impulses, tastes and delights of consumers and composers, there is much about music that is creative, experiential and ethereal. But as every genre from military marches to love songs indicate, music possesses a mysterious, if not occult, power to sway the soul. The only question for Christian believers becomes, do their musical preferences, acquisitions and experiences hinder or facilitate the Holy Spirit’s work in their souls? (See Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16.)
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Here a “Christ,” There a “Christ,” Everywhere a “Christ-Christ”!

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Mysticism

What would Jesus think (WWJT) about “the shift” to christ-consciousness?

Throughout this inter-advent age–the time between Jesus’ Incarnation and Second Coming, or Parousia–Jesus and John warned that false prophets would arise preaching the doctrine of replacement christs (Matthew 24:5, 23-24; 1 John 2:18). As Jesus’ coming draws nearer, and as pictured by the image of Messiah’s birth pangs, we can expect that oracular announcements of anti-christs by the false prophets will multiply and proliferate. Some of these false messiahs will even work deceptive “signs and wonders” (Mark 13:8, 21-22). During this age Jesus warned:

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not” (Matthew 24:23-26, KJV).
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Religious Excitements

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemporary Church, Mysticism

The Sights, Sounds, and Spectacles of Spurious Spirituality.

We reject all shameful and underhanded methods. We do not try to trick anyone, and we do not distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know that. The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:2, NLT

Along with other Americans, I am a sports fan, especially of football and basketball. I grew up loving, playing, and watching both sports, especially basketball. After shoveling the snow off his driveway in the dead of winter, for hours at a time I used to shoot the round ball at a goal attached to my neighbor’s garage. During cold and snowy winter months, my father would drive me to Godwin Field House to watch our local semi-pro team, the Grand Rapids (Michigan) “Tackers,” play on Saturday evenings. (In that day, my hometown was known as the furniture capital of the world; hence the name “Tackers.”). Although the players were not nationally known, watching big and skilled men play a finesse game was an awesome experience for a young boy. In my late teens, I regularly played pick-up games on public courts around the city. Because I was more force than finesse, I earned the nickname “junk man.” Today, as a half-season ticket holder of the Indiana Pacers, I still enjoy watching the biggest-best athletes in the world compete in the NBA.
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