Guest blog by Carla Rolfe
This is not going to win me any popularity points, but that is not my primary concern. I care much more about biblical truth than falling in with the evangelical trend du jour.
It used to be that if you discovered a reformed/Calvinistic/sovereign grace website you could pretty much recommend that site to others without having read every word on the site. It used to be a given, in most cases, that if a person held to the sovereignty of God in the affairs of men (i.e. Psalm 139), that they were promoting solid resources on their sites.
This is NOT the Case Anymore
More and more all the time I notice websites that are promoting and endorsing the very same authors, speakers, churches, books, seminars or conferences that are also embracing or promoting new age/eastern mystic "theology." This is just garbage; you heard me correctly, garbage. Contemplative/centering/breath prayers, mantras, labyrinths, mood altering-worship enhancing music or visuals or scents, etc. does not represent biblical Christianity. "Contemplative spirituality" represented as Christian is quite frankly... unthinkable. Yet, there are people sounding this warning that this movement is spreading quickly into all kinds of churches... Why it is making major inroads into evangelical circles these days and even being endorsed by evangelical leaders is the concern and theme of this article.
Are We Ready to Listen?
With those who biblically and boldly try to confront this issue, have we unwittingly written them off as crackpots who see demons behind every bush or embrace them who are simply trying to apply the biblical mandate of "test all things; cling to that which is good"? (1 Thess. 5:21). Do we continue to make excuses and say things like "well, let's not go overboard, because they're quite solid in other areas". Granted, some of the churches and ministries embracing this new Contemplative Spirituality may be biblically solid in other areas. But in my way of thinking this is all the more reason to exhort them away from the eastern mystic influences, rather than pacify them and give them the false idea that CS "is okay". And it's most certainly not okay.
Time and time again I see glowing recommendations for some of the leaders of this movement; such people as Richard Foster, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson and Thomas Merton - just to name a few. It's not as if folks who endorse these men are ignorant of what they held/hold to. They DO know and they endorse them anyway. That's the kicker. They see NOTHING wrong with endorsing those who embraced teachers for themselves that were either heavily involved in the occult, or Hinduism, or all kinds of other unbiblical "spiritual disciplines".
What does surprise me is that many of the websites and blogs I see out there that are promoting these guys (and gals - make no mistake, there are just as many contemplative women "leaders" out there as there are men) are sites that at the same time, strongly promote Sola Scriptura.
Question: let's back up the truck there: how can one endorse eastern mystic religious practices and defend Sola Scriptura at the same time?
Answer: YOU CAN'T. But they do; and many do it by saying "oh there's nothing wrong with this, it's been around for centuries, it's a good thing". Leprosy has been around for centuries too, but I wouldn't want it. Being "ancient" means nothing, if it's wrong.
What Sola Scriptura Really Means
The Cambridge Declaration
Sola Scriptura: The Erosion of Authority
Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church's life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture . Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God . Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.
I fully agree with those statements; and more so now than when it was written in 1996 and signed by the executive council. The "Christian culture" of our day has nearly obliterated Sola Scriptura right off the evangelical map. Anymore, saying one affirms Sola Scriptura seems to be an empty claim. Just a nice thing to say in order to affirm in the eyes of others that you're orthodox in your theology.
Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth. Biblical truth is indispensable to the church's understanding, nurture and discipline.
Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliches, promises and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God's truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God's provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preacher's opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.
The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture . Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God's grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.
Thesis One: Sola Scriptura
We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation,which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian's conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.
who long to just "feel" our God,
but to know our God (Phil. 3:7-11).
Embracing authors who teach us all about chanting ourselves mantra-style into numbing our brains into silence so that we can attain some spiritual level of communication with God - unfortunateley appears to be acceptable in some evangelical circles today. This falls square into the category of personal spiritual experience and cannot be justified by one verse or one passage of Scripture at all. Nowhere is this "spiritual discpline" or "contemplative spirituality" to be found in the Bible; especially as it pertains to prayer. But hey, it's assisting me to achieve "a deeper relationship" with God, so it can't be wrong... right? Um... no, Very wrong.
To give a very real example of just how pervasive this is among "mainstream" Christian websites, let's use a very popular Christian book site: Christian Book Distributors. Truth be told, I love CBD. For selection and price I haven't found a better source for our homeschool books over the last 8 years I've been a homeschool teacher. With that said, take a walk over there and type in "contemplative" in the search box. No less than 166 to choose from. Do the homework: look at the titles; notice the authors; and then test it with Scripture.
Among the top 10 bestsellers at CBD is "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us" By Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. At the publisher's site
The Need for Discernment
The fact is, the local church is changing, and it's NOT all for the good. Unbiblical practices are being endorsed and taught and those who stand up and speak out for biblical discernment on this issue are being mocked, ridiculed, or just written off as someone who doesn't understand where the church is going and why these things are all part of a "personal transformational journey".
Personal spiritual experiences and disciplines must line up with the teachings of Scripture. If they do not, they must be rejected. And most importantly, the diligent student of the Word must ask themselves why they're participating in such things that cannot be supported by the written word of God (Acts 17:9-11; 2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17; 4:1-5; Titus 1:9). In addition, such experiences and disciplines can certainly feel fulfilling and exhilarating AND they might even make you feel more spiritual. If they don't line up with God's Word, one must consider that such things are not of God at all, but another spiritual realm that Christians have no place dabbling in.
More from the Cambridge Declaration
A Call To Repentance & ReformationThe Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asks all Christians to give consideration to implementing this Declaration in the church's worship, ministry, policies, life and evangelism.
The faithfulness of the evangelical church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present. Earlier in this century, evangelical churches sustained a remarkable missionary endeavor, and built many religious institutions to serve the cause of biblical truth and Christ's kingdom. That was a time when Christian behavior and expectations were markedly different from those in the culture. Today they often are not. The evangelical world today is losing its biblical fidelity, moral compass and missionary zeal.
We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the "gospels" of our secular culture, which are no gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure to adequately tell others about God's saving work in Jesus Christ.
We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God's Word in the matters discussed in this Declaration. This includes those who declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, who claim that those who reject Christ in this life will be annihilated rather than endure the just judgment of God through eternal suffering, or who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.
For Christ's sake. Amen.
I couldn't agree with this more.