Posted by: judy | March 4, 2009

What is ‘Contemplative Spirituality’ & ‘Spiritual Formation’?

Contemplative Spirituality: a belief system that uses ancient mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness (the silence) and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but often wrapped in Christian terminology; the premise of contemplative spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all). Often referred to as ‘meditation’.

Spiritual Formation: a movement that has provided a platform and a channel through which contemplative prayer is entering the church. Find spiritual formation being used, and in nearly every case you will find contemplative spirituality. In fact, contemplative spirituality is the heartbeat of the spiritual formation movement. 

More information at Lighthouse Trails Research along with a listing of ministries involved in Contemplative Spirituality & Spiritual Formation.

 

 

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Responses

  1. God’s Peace and blessings to you. With all due respect, these deffinitions are not terribly accurate.
    To say that these are occult practices “wrapped in Christian terminology” discredits the fact that contemplative practice was in the very foundations of Christianity and Jesus’s teaching. Jesus himself, like John the Baptist, was an ascetic Jew. Furthermor, spiritual formation and spiritual direction is an ancient practice in Christianity. It is not a new movement that has just sprung up in the past century.
    This is not something that the emerging church invented. It has been within the Church from the start. By trying to slander and malign the practice here and use it as a scape goat, you are cutting off an ancient practice that brings the experience of God to his people.
    I do not see what grounds you have here to denounce one’s experience or the workings of the Holy Spirit. I would encourage you to look farther into Church history and see what the very spiritual foundations actually were that Jesus and his early disciples taught.
    Again, God’s Peace to you.
    Br. Kenneth

  2. Thank you for visiting and leaving your thoughts. It is our deepest desire to speak Truth according to Scripture so others might be freed from the invasive deception that is penetrating the Christian faith.

    As you rightly point out ‘ancient practices’ of contemplative spirituality have been around for centuries and the emerging church is just packaging and distributing them.

    I am sure you are familiar with Arius in the 4th Century who for many reasons was able to muster a strong following for his false doctrine, especially among women — so history reports.

    Arius believed that the Son of God was Son by virture of his adoption NOT his essence. God adopted Jesus as His son becuase Jesus responded obediently (his experience) to God’s will — he earned divine salvation. Arius insisted that man’s salvation is achieved by our attachment to this obedient human who paved the way to heaven. This doctrine is NOT supported by Scripture and only found in the history of man’s traditions.

    Of course there are many others who contributed and initiated false doctrines and they are alive and well today — masquerading as christian.

    So it is simple to denounce these practices because the essence of the Christian faith is not man’s experience but it is found solely in the essence of Jesus Christ.

  3. Brother Kenneth,

    I visited your website, ‘The Order of Saint Anthony the Great’, and read your thoughts on ‘silence’. You say:

    “It is in silence that we find the true battle ground of our souls. It is in silence that we find a true need for God in our lives. It is in silence that we find and experience God and His loving presence. And only when we quiet our hearts and fall fully into that silence can we hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us.”

    Would you please offer Scripture to support these declarations on ‘silence’ and ‘experience’?

    Thanks!
    Yvonne

  4. Dear Judy and Yvonne,

    Thank you both for responding. Discussion of this topic is very important for our Church and the Body of Christ and I appreciate you both engaging in this discussion.

    First, to Judy’s response. I am familiar with Arius and the subsequent controversy of the Arian heresy that split Christianity for centuries. The main crux of Arian doctrine is that there was a time before Jesus was begotten by the Father, who was not begotten, in which Jesus did not therefore exist. Subsequently, the issue became whether they were equal or if Jesus was subordinate under the Father. In the end, the controversy came down to Jesus as homoousios (same substance) or homoiousios (similar substance) as compared to the Father. This was a major controversy running through the early Church. Indeed, there were areas where the Arians outnumbered the Orthodox. There were Emperors, Empresses, bishops and numerous other leaders who were followers of the Arian doctrines. Nonetheless, Arianism was eventually purged from the Church by majority vote at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

    It is incorrect, even impossible, to claim that Arianism was defeated because it was not supported by Scripture as you say. For one thing, the Scripture which I am sure you are citing (the canonical New Testament), hadn’t even been determined by the time the First Council of Nicaea was convened. Second, the argument between the supremacy or equality of the Son to the Father was fueled on both sides by interpretation of Scripture. For instance, there were those that cited the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus at Baptism as the instance of God’s adoption of Jesus. It was the very interpretation of Scripture that led to the controversy.

    Of course it’s easy now to point to the beginning of the Gospel of John that explicitly illustrates the Word being Jesus as existing before time began with God and was there at the time of creation. But the Gospel of John wasn’t solidified as Canon until well after Arius’ time. There were numerous priests, bishops and even archbishops and patriarchs that did not use the Gospel of John.

    Ultimately that is the rhetorical fallacy of sola scriptura: it is a plea to an authority that did not even exist for all of Christian history. The first example that we have of the listed 27 canonical texts is from Athanasius in 367 – that’s well over 300 years after the death of Jesus. What led the Church and Christians for those first 300 years?

    The oral tradition that was eventually written down and human experience of God (i.e. Holy Spirit).

    The Bible does not automatically supersede human experience. After all, the Bible speaks of the people speaking in tongues when they are baptized in the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts and the letters of Paul describe the human experience. The experience came first, then the Scripture describing it. You would have it the other way round in which the Scripture prescribes human experience. This greatly limits God who, being well beyond our understanding and human limits, does not have to be bound by man’s written dictation.

    This brings up the theological fallacy of sola scriptura: it idolizes the Bible above God. To say that God can only act as He is described in the Bible limits the limitless. You are saying that God’s ability to interact with His faithful and His creation is superseded by the Bible. You are worshipping Scripture, with all its problems and internal contradictions, as perfect and above God. That is putting an idol before God.

    This is not to say that Scripture is useless, entirely flawed and should be thrown out. It is not an either or scenario. Scripture can provide inspiration. It can provide background. It can provide us with a rich history and testimony of early Christians who came before us. If used correctly, I can even give us the early teachings and sayings of Jesus the Christ.

    One such saying ascribed to Jesus would be “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13). Jesus said the Spirit will come to us, to guide us, because what Jesus was offering was a major shift in their world. And keep in mind that he said the Spirit will guide you, not Scripture. And this Spirit is not something that just happened to the Apostles and then left again. It is the Spirit that Jesus left with us all so that we may be guided by and in the essence of Christ.

    So to your last comment that the “essence of Christian faith is not man’s experience but is found solely in the essence of Jesus Christ,” I fail to see why these are antitheses of each other. The essence of Jesus Christ fuels and directs man’s experience. Man’s experience when centered and free of ego is of the very essence of Jesus Christ. Even Paul talks about some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – those gifts also being an experience of man here on earth. He also points out that you should not begrudge others that experience God differently. We are all different parts of the same Body of Christ.

    There were contemplatives and mystics in Judaism that were referenced and documented in the very Jewish Scriptures that Jesus read and quoted. Likewise, Jesus himself led by example as an ascetic, in fasting and being with God alone in the wilderness just as John the Baptist did.

    This brings me to Yvonne’s request for Scripture. Again I will preface this by pointing out that should God choose, God does not need to work within the bounds of Scripture. To expect and even demand that God should is blasphemy against the One that is Almighty. After all, had God been constrained by Scripture as it is present at a given time, then the mystery of the incarnation would never have happened. Still, from Scripture, we can first follow Jesus’ example to fast and be alone with God. The basic practice of silence once we are alone is the understanding that nothing we have to say can ever be as important as what God has to say. Therefore, when we are alone with God, it is best to keep silent and listen rather than occupy ourselves with our own egos and desires. Paul died daily to sin, as he describes it. That is dying to our wants and allowing ourselves to follow the guidance of God the Holy Spirit. In Greek, as it appears in the New Testament, this is kenoo or kenosis, literally “emptying oneself.” This is what Jesus did, and what we are implored to do in emulation of Jesus. (Philippians).

    To go even farther back into Scripture with which Jesus would be familiar, let us read from the great poetical work, The Book of Psalms: “For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation… For God alone my soul in silence waits, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62). Or perhaps from the Lamentations of Jeremiah: “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it” (Lamentations 3:25-28).

    On a side note, there is still another flaw with you trying to hold scripture up as the sole perfect teacher. For scripture says “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (1 Timothy, 2:11-12). By the fact that we are discussing here, I can only assume that you do not follow this. If that is the case, you show by your action that Scripture is not the ultimate authority, but rather your experience and understanding of God to supersede it.

    Perhaps it is not too much to pray that someday you can experience the intimate experience of God that I have when I sit in silence. But also understand that God works differently for different people. You may find that experience without having to still yourself. But the experience when it happens is undeniable, because it is the very Love that Jesus described. It is a Love that does not allow you hate or condemn other people out of fear, hatred or insecurity.

    From what I gather in your blog, you are set to condemn the “emergent church.” Because the current emergent church is using contemplative spirituality, you are vilifying the practice out of hand and trying to warp what it is as well as its use within the Church for the past 2000 years. You try to lump Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating in with the emergent church when neither of them were part of that movement’s conception. Both were firmly rooted in their faith traditions. In all honesty, Christianity allows for a whole lot more room and differences than you are allowing it here.

    At the least, I pray that you will not continue to condemn a practice and experience of God that has been in the Church since its beginning, that you do not condemn another’s experience of the Loving God, and that you allow others to explore their Christian faith tradition in all that it has to offer. God’s Peace to you both, my sisters in Christ.

  5. Well, Kenneth, the various N.T. books were circulating in the Church long before Nicea and were already considered “scripture.” (2 Pet. 3:16) All Nicea did was confirm as canonical that which the individual assemblies had already considered as canonical for over 200 years.

    Sola Scriptura does not idolize the Bible. It accepts the Bible as the Word of God that was established long before the Romanists began corrupting the faith. If teachings do not align with what God has already revealed, then it is not to be accepted. Your acceptance of further revelation beyond the Scripture is the same thing Mormons, J.W. Christian Science, SDA and all other cults do.

    Your claims of contemplative meditation being used by Jesus and the disciples is pure eisegesis. you claim Jesus and the apostles were ascetics, but that is not in Scripture either.

    As a Romanist, you have to accept a lot of things that are unscriptural because you consider the Pope as God’s representative on earth. Non-Romanists do not, because there is no Scritptural warrant for it. I will not insult you by giving you the reasons we who are not Romanists believe this because I am sure you are familiar with all the arguments.

    The whole mystical practices, now entering the emergent apostasy/heresy (depending on the individual assembly or teacher) as “Ancient Future Faith,” has not been with the church from the beginning – it was only brought in during later centuries. It has much more in common with gnosticism than with Christianity.

  6. Brother Kenneth,

    Considering the length of your response, I will focus my comments to the section dealing with Scripture references that I requested.

    You said:

    “To go even farther back into Scripture with which Jesus would be familiar, let us read from the great poetical work, The Book of Psalms: “For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation… For God alone my soul in silence waits, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62).

    If I understand your point correctly, you are suggesting that the ‘silence’ of which David speaks is justification for ‘silence’ in contemplative prayer.

    The context in which David wrote this Psalm, however, is not prayer, but the Salvation of God in which David is expressing his confidence and trust. He is not speaking of prayer at all. Therefore, your proof text is unsubstantiated.

    The next Scripture you offered is from Jeremiah’s Lamentations. You quoted ch.3 vv. 25-28:

    “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it”

    Considering the context, Jeremiah is in anguish over the sufferings of his people because of their sin against God and His judgment. He is expressing hope in the ‘salvation of the LORD.’ The focus is NOT on the ‘silence’; but rather, waiting for God’s timing in saving His people.

    Again, it is clear that your proof text falls short of being supportive of the idea ‘contemplative prayer’ as defined above.

    I am NOT trying to discredit the notion of being silent when someone prays. I usually do not pray out loud when I am having my personal devotions. However, when someone promotes the ‘silence’ as ’emptying your mind’ as defined in the post above, then there is NO Scriptural support for it. This ‘contemplative prayer’ is nothing more than transcendental meditation which is from Hinduism and was NEVER practiced by Jesus or His disciples.

    If Jesus wanted us to pray in this way, I’m confident that he would have modeled it or explained it to us. In fact, in the Gospels, Luke quotes Jesus as saying,

    ‘When you pray, SAY…'”

    …no ‘silence’ taught there. (emphasis mine)

    As for your ‘side note’, you say:

    “On a side note, there is still another flaw with you trying to hold scripture up as the sole perfect teacher. For scripture says “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (1 Timothy, 2:11-12). By the fact that we are discussing here, I can only assume that you do not follow this. If that is the case, you show by your action that Scripture is not the ultimate authority, but rather your experience and understanding of God to supersede it.”

    This is another example of where you take scripture out of context. Paul is teaching Timothy about church order. Since I am sitting in my easy chair in my family room as I work on this blog, I consider it a conversation/discussion, not a church service.

    In addition, ad hominem attacks, such as that one, serve no purpose in adding to the discussion, so please refrain from using them in the future or your comments will not be allowed.

    May I recommend two excellent resources for understanding the dangers of contemplative prayer and spiritual formation? Faith Undone by Roger Oakland and A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen are fantastic books that will help you understand the biblical response to these ‘ancient practices’.

    Paul tells us that ‘we do not wrestles against flesh and blood’ (Eph. 6:12), therefore it is my prayer that the Lord will guide you into HIS TRUTH.

    Blessings,
    Yvonne

  7. Well said, Yvonne!

  8. I suspect that the spirituality/religion distinction has been overdrawn, particularly in the modern context where the two blur. I have just posted on it. In case you are interested, here is the link. http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/spirituality-and-religion-a-false-dichotomy/


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