In the past two articles I have asserted that New Age spirituality has infiltrated the Evangelical Church. This study will continue to trace exactly how we have gotten to this point.
Although the loss of the Church’s first love led to numerous issues within the young church, the slide towards mystical practices took a number of years. Many of the unbiblical practices grew out of the desert years of the Church. I use the term “desert years” for two reasons. First, the Church, for the most part, had abandoned the Apostles’ doctrine, which led to a drought of God’s truth throughout. Secondly, it reflects the introduction of the mystical practices brought about by a group of Catholic monks, identified as the desert fathers, who chose to retreat to the deserts to seek a deeper connection with, and understanding of God. This was the result of the decline in the Church’s dependence on the Apostles’ doctrine.
B.K. Kuiper, in discussing the causes of deterioration of the Church addresses the origination of monasticism. He describes how, following Constantine’s granting freedom to practice the Christian religion, “thousands of heathen flocked into the Church without having become true Christians. A flood of worldliness engulfed the Church. It was overwhelmed and could not handle the situation.” As can easily be imagined, the influx of unsaved heathen produced an array of problems as “[t]hey took their heathen ideas along with them into the Church.” Kuiper observed how many of the heathen practices were eventually Christianized, and adopted by the Church. Therefore, just as many heathen lands had monks, “[b]efore long many Christians became monks and nuns.” The roots of many of the mystical practices stem from these desert fathers. Sleep deprivation, extreme fasting together produced hallucinations, which were equated with spiritual growth. These practices received renewed attention during the Catholic Counter Reformation beginning in A.D. 1545. Many of these practices, including solitude, and contemplative prayer, or meditation techniques that so closely mimic Eastern, or Hindu practices that they are practically identical, have become the focus of modern New Age spiritual practices within the Church of the twenty-first century.
The introduction of the aforementioned practices began in earnest around 1978 with the publication of a book entitled Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Foster is one of the major human forces behind the push of New Age spirituality in the Church, which began with this massively popular book. His writing illustrates how the proverbial camel was able to get its nose under the tent of the Christian Church. His writing sounds so deep and spiritual; at least to the non-discerning ear.
Foster insists that spiritual disciplines are absolutely necessary for the spiritual growth of believers. These disciplines are numerous, and varied. Some, at least by name, are biblical. Most, by name or practice, are not. Case in point is Foster’s teaching concerning the practice of meditation. He describes the meditative practice of the Middle Ages identified as “re-collection,” or called “centering down” by the Quakers. Emphasis is placed on hand positioning, palms down (turning over your concerns to God), palms up (desiring to receive from God) as symbolic gestures. This is but one of the four forms of meditation that Foster promotes, none of which are biblical. In Scripture, the idea of meditation is presented in two Hebrew words each one carrying the meaning of speaking to oneself, in particular, repeating the word of the Lord over to oneself with for the purpose of understanding and obeying. Foster pays lip service to this idea at the outset, and abandons it completely later in the chapter on meditation.
Other modern mystical teachers, like Doug Pagitt, also focus on body posture:
As you begin to pray, close your eyes. Then inhale and exhale with deep breaths. Put your hands in a comfortable position, consider turning both hands palms up. Notice the tension in your head – and let it go as you take in a deep breath – and then exhale. Notice the tension in your shoulders and let it go, again by breathing in and then out. Notice the tension in your stomach and let it go. Move down your body doing the same.
Rob Bell focuses on the breath as something recognized as Divine by our ancestors.
The question may arise, then, as to what is so wrong about these practices. First, and most important, is that they are not Scriptural. Meditation in Scripture is directed towards understanding, and putting into practice, the words, commandments, and precepts of God. Prayer is prescribed in Scripture, but the only official word as to how the practice is to be conducted is given by the Lord Himself to the disciples (Matt. 6:5-13; Lk. 11:2-4), and there is no mention of hand positions, physical postures, or breathing techniques. Secondly, what is displayed in the practices prescribed by these men are in direct violation of God’s word. For instance,
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”(which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Col. 2:20-23)
The meditation, and prayer practices promoted by Foster, Pagitt, and Bell, as well as many of their contemporary’s, are products of man, as Paul wrote: “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.” (Col. 2:8)
Finally, the practical outcome of these practices serves as the topic of these latest posts; the introduction of New Age spirituality to the unsuspecting people of God. Unfortunately, the people in our pews often lack the discernment to identify the errors. These so-called teachers are false prophets leading the people of God away from Him. The situation reminds me of James message to those who would be teachers, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1)
To be continued….
- B. K. Kuiper, The Church in History (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), 44.
- Ibid., 45.
- Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 30, accessed at http://www.goyourownway.org/GOYOUROWNWAY/DOCUMENTS/VETERANS/PENDING/Celebration%20of%20Discipline%202%20PER%20PAGE.pdf, Nov. 15, 2016.
- Ibid., 30-31.
- Doug Pagitt and Kathryn Prill, Body Prayer, (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2005), found at http://www.submergingchurch.com/2012/04/20/doug-pagitts-body-prayer/, accessed Nov. 15, 2016.
- Rob Bell, from the sermon, “The Theology of Breathing,” found at http://www.submergingchurch.com/2012/04/20/doug-pagitts-body-prayer/, accessed Nov. 15, 2016.