Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mystical Experiences

A Substitute for True Spirituality

God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him
must worship Him in spirit and in Truth.

(John 4:24, emphasis added)
IHOP's mystical young adult conference[1]

Mysticism is a substitute for true spirituality, true Christianity. True Christianity is rooted in Truth, the Gospel of Salvation: Jesus is "the Way, the Truth, the Life" (John 14:6). Mysticism seeks God another way, not through the Cross of Christ: "For this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). 

The irony about the rise of mystical practices in today's postmodern church is that in people's endeavors to attain a heightened spirituality they rely upon methods of the flesh that induce mental and emotional "highs." Indulging in either sensual excesses of the flesh (loud music, strobe lights, e.g.) or deprivations of the flesh (extended fastings, rituals, e.g.), "produce[s] a kind of activity in the mind... which is merely giving loose to the imagination and emotions, as they follow out a wild train of incoherent thought, or are agitated by impulses of spontaneous and ungoverned feeling."[2] This heightened state of "communion" with the spirit world results in a "infelt consciousness of [God's] perpetual presence," which can result in receiving "new revelation."[3]

“People who are attracted to mysticism usually assume that what is hidden in God is other than what is revealed, or that it is deeper or more interesting or spiritually nourishing.”[4]

St. Maracius, desert father
Thus many who practice pietistic mysticism in the church today adopt an attitude of prideful elitism. They believe their zealous faith is superior to yours because they engage in actions that evoke religious feelings, passions, imaginations, sensations, visions, and experiences of hearing or seeing God (including seeing the dead or visiting heaven) -- even performing signs and wonders. Through these hyper-spiritual methodologies new theologies are more readily adopted. People's belief systems are easily susceptible to change when they have encountered mind-bending experiences.
Nadia Bolz-Weber[6]

Similarly there are other popular currents in evangelicaldom that flaunt behaviors that are shocking, edgy, sensual, even foul-mouthed. Again, these activities of the flesh are pushing the envelope, serving as a method of propaganda for the adoption of a new theology in which "God" becomes permissive and nonjudgmental.

In all this fleshly-minded activity God is downgraded to a deity made in the likeness of man. And the redemptive Gospel of Christ crucified is nowhere to be seen nor heard. "Superstition, not content with crowding the brain with imaginary figments, spread[s] its darkening mists over the Deity himself."[5]

Was Paul A Mystic?
Pastor Larry DeBruyn has observed, "There are those who speak of 'Christian mysticism' and assert that the apostle Paul was a mystic." He addresses this topic in an article "Was Paul A Mystic?" which has just been updated and posted in its entirety on his website Guarding His Flock. In 2008 we first published Pastor Larry's online in 4 parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.  This insightful apologetic clearly distinguishes biblical spirituality from mysticism that is derived from mystery religions and their practices.

In his article Pastor Larry explained the various forms of "works" that have risen in popularity in the new mysticism:
In separating Christianity from the mystery religions... the apostle, “viewed communion with God as an act of divine grace, coming not by any spiritual exercises, but by God’s self-revelation (Gal. 1:16).” In other words, spirituality based upon reaction to revelation is of a different sort than spirituality conjured up through the practices and disciplines of the mystical way. The former is initiated by God, and based upon “faith,” while the latter is initiated by man, and based upon “works.”

The contemplative spirituality promoted by and amongst evangelicals today belongs to the acting, or proactive, category of mysticism. Spiritual directors advise using various spiritual disciplines or techniques—solitude and silence, fasting, walking prayer labyrinths, Taizé worship, spiritual retreats, lectio divina (reading sacred things), journaling, religious pilgrimages, and so on—to initiate intimacy and revelatory encounters with God. But... Paul did not embrace such a works model of spirituality. If practices (i.e., means of grace) are engaged in to promote spiritual growth, then they ought to find precedent in the revealed Word of God (i.e., prayer, Scripture reading and study, singing spiritual songs, witnessing, fellowshipping with the saints, and observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table). If methods of spiritual growth are not sourced in the Bible, but are of human invention, then Paul’s question to the Galatians seems appropriate. He asked them, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). Paul’s paradigm of spirituality focused upon grace. He gave no advice for experiencing spirituality via works of the mystic way.

Continue reading Pastor Larry's article in its entirety here: http://guardinghisflock.com/2015/09/26/was-paul-a-mystic/ 

See also the articles "Altered States: A Different Gate," “On Theosis, Or Divinization” and "The Present of His Presence" which examine related issues.

1. See http://www.ihopkc.org/onething/ and notice Francis Chan speaking alongside Mike Bickle: http://www.ihopkc.org/onething/speakers-worship-leaders/ Also read: "The PASSION of the PRESENCE & the Purpose of the Passion":
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Part 6   
2. H.H. Milman, The History of Christianity, (New York: Harper & Bros., 1844), pp. 422-424. Milman was writing about the early desert fathers and their Gnosticism.
3. Ibid.
4. David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland:  The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994): 132. Cited by Pastor Larry DeBruyn in his article "Was Paul A Mystic?" http://guardinghisflock.com/2015/09/26/was-paul-a-mystic/#more-2990  
5. Milman, p. 428.
6. See Tim Challies review of Nadia Bolz-Weber published today, 9/29/15, where he conveniently illustrates a point made in this article: http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/accidental-saints