New article by Brian Flynn-Mystics Misuse of Scripture
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By Brian Flynn Posted: 05/13/2006
Mystics Misuse of Scripture
Why contemplative prayer has no biblical support
One of the criticisms I often receive is that my opinion on contemplative spirituality is invalid because I am a former New Ager. The critique goes something like this: Flynn's experience with New Age practices has so colored his view that he cannot objectively weigh Christian contemplative prayer. Because of his background, anything that looks similar to his former practices he assumes must originate with non-Christian sources (eg. Hinduism). Therefore, my perspective is suspect and unworthy of consideration. That would be a legitimate critique if my opinion was solely based on my past experience with eastern forms of meditation, but it is not.
It was that very experience as a former New Ager which helped me recognize that contemplative prayer was simply transcendental meditation disguised as a Christian practice. The description and practice of contemplative prayer raised red flags immediately. However, in order to confirm my suspicions I did something too many supporters of contemplative spirituality are unwilling to do, I sought the Scriptures for guidance.
In my effort to really know the mind and will of God regarding the New Age and now contemplative, I have spent countless hours reading New Age authors who have manipulated Scripture for their own means. They often quote from the Bible out of context because the actual meaning of the verses they use wouldn't serve their purposes. I have scoured commentaries and sought the meaning of different verses by going back to the original Greek or Hebrew translations. When I applied the same criteria to Christian mystics, I found they were guilty of the same deceptions.
Listen to how Richard Foster has taken the word silence and twisted Scripture to fit his spirituality: "Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence. "For God alone my soul waits in silence," declares the Psalmist (Psalm. 62:1).
Does the word silence in this context mean silencing your thoughts? Let me share the context of the version he quotes: "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my defense and my fortress; I shall not be greatly moved." (Amplified Bible)
It is believed that David wrote this either when Saul's son Ish-Bosheth challenged him for the throne or during the time of Absalom's rebellion. In either case, it is clear that during this time of duress he writes about seeking solace in the Lord. He is asking for the Lord to rescue him. He leaned upon the Lord during this time for he knows that God is the Rock, the solid ground of our salvation. This biblical reference has no relation to David silencing his mind.
Psalm 46:10 is another passage often used to defend contemplative prayer, "Be still, and know that I am God." Below is the entire line in context:
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. (Psalm 46: 9-11)
Pastor Larry De Bruyn describes the phrase this way:
"Be still" (Hebrew, rapah) is used 46 times in the Old Testament with meanings everywhere from describing laziness to ordering relaxation. Though the majority of versions translate the injunction "Be still", other meanings are "Cease striving " (NASB), "Be quiet" (NCV), "Desist" (Young's), or "Calm down" (CEV). In no biblical usage or context does the Hebrew verb enjoin God's people to meditate or contemplate. Rather, believers are to rest and trust in God.
It is obvious that the phrase "be still" does not mean to still or quiet your mind. It simply means what it says—be patient and know that God is in charge. In other words, don't worry.
In her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Experiencing God's Transforming Presence, Ruth Haley Barton makes a biblical error immediately. She introduces the reader to her underlying theme, which she bases on the story of Elijah's flight from Jezebel where he meets the Lord at Mount Sinai. She references the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19: 11-13)
When Elijah heard what? A sound of sheer silence? That got him out to the entrance of the cave? This is a poor translation and no other Bible translates the phrase that way.
In the New American Standard Bible it states, "and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing."
In the New King James Version, it states, "And after the fire came a gentle whisper."
In Hebrew the term says, "The tone of a gentle blowing." That is what Elijah heard.
Ms. Barton uses this story to share with her readers that Elijah went to the mountains to seek silence and solitude and to talk to God. However, her misuse of Scripture would suggest either her ignorance or her desperation to prove that the Bible references contemplative prayer, when in fact, it does not.
How could one derive from this story any reference to silencing the mind in order to hear God speak? Who initiated the conversation with Elijah? It was the Lord. The Bible never describes Elijah performing a ritual to get God to speak to him. Rather it was the priests of Baal opposing Elijah who used a ritual of repetition (I Kings 18:26).
Interestingly enough, when I went to hear Father Thomas Keating (a contemporary of Thomas Merton), speak at a local church, he used the same Bible verse as Ms. Barton and the same translation. Do the contemplatives all read from the same Bible translations when it fits their needs?
Keating also proved his ignorance of Scripture by using Matthew 6:6 to support contemplative prayer: "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."
He claims that "inner room" means the inner sanctum of your mind. The phrase, inner room in Greek tameion, means "an inner chamber" or simply "inner room." It is certainly not a reference to the internal workings of the mind.
In the prior verse, Matthew 6:5 explains the context of the phrase: "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full."
Jesus was describing the practice of prayer, which the Pharisees loved to perform publicly. Rather than making prayer a matter between an individual and God, the Pharisees had turned it into an act to be seen by men again, to demonstrate their supposed righteousness. Their prayers were directed not to God but to other men. Jesus condemned such practices. Prayer should be addressed to your Father, who is unseen and who knows what you need (Matt. 6:8); it is not "to be seen by men."
Sorry Fr. Keating, no secret meaning here.
I could give other examples, but the point is Scripture clearly offers no support or description for contemplative prayer, and the contemplatives know it. By taking Scripture out of context, it is an admission on their part that the support for contemplative prayer does not exist. If contemplative prayer was scriptural, it would be described in such a fashion as to make no mistake about it. It isn't.
While it is absolutely certain no reference can be found anywhere in Scripture that supports the practice of mantra-style meditation (i.e., contemplative prayer), there is a reference that actually condemns it, and it is Jesus Christ who says it:
And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:7-8)
In order to really understand what Jesus meant when He said, "vain repetitions," let's take a look at the Greek language. The Greek meaning for "vain" is futile, folly, and fruitless. Many translations render the word as "meaningless. In Greek, the word "repetition" means to stammer, stutter, babble, or prattle (like a baby); it suggests the idea of repeating the same words or sounds over and over in a meaningless fashion. It is interesting, and I believe significant, to note how these two words reinforce each other with the idea of meaningless stammering or unmindful repetition of words.
When both of these words are combined, as Jesus intended them to be, they do not condemn our bringing petitions repeatedly to God, but rather they condemn a mindless, meaningless repetition of words or sounds. And yet how many times do we hear the contemplative advocates telling us to do the very thing that Jesus here has told us not to:
I meditated for hours on words, images, and sounds. I reached the point of being able to achieve alpha brain patterns.
Mike Perschon, freelance writer for Youth Specialties
T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer.
The third phase of contemplative prayer ... a supernatural trance state.
The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart. Henri Nouwen
Do not reflect on the meaning of the word; thinking and reflecting must cease, as all mystical writers insist. Willigis Jager, German Benedictine and Zen Master
Jesus told us not to use vain repetitions as Richard Foster does; as Henri Nouwen does; as Dallas Willard does; as Thomas Keating does. As all of the contemplatives and the heathen do. I may have been a New Ager once, but I am Bible believing Berean forever!
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