A review of the Congress held at the Mosaic Church in Fairlands, Johannesburg (4 –5 September 2009)
Main speakers: Ron Martoia, Stephan Joubert, Johan Geyser, Trevor Hudson, Willem Nicol and Gys du Plessis
During the Break-out sessions the speakers were Willem Nicol, Gavin Sklar-Chik, Rex van Vuuren and Annemarie Paulin-Cambell
Huge wooden crosses draped with beautiful white, red or purple cloths have become one of the most fashionable accouterments in the Emergent Church’s places of worship. Its inescapable visibility on the elevated stages of their churches and congress venues may be an awe-inspiring reminder of Jesus Christ’s cruel sacrificial death more than 2000 years ago but sadly their teachings which is solidly embedded in contemplative spirituality impede and even out rightly shun the true meaning of His cross. At best it has become one of the many objects they use to facilitate and enhance their experiences of an altered state of consciousness during their contemplative or centered prayer binges. Before I venture into an evaluation of all the speakers’ contributions in the light of Scripture I would like to get down to the nitty-gritty of contemplative spirituality in my following introductory notes.
In the Presence of God?
What lies at the heart of contemplative spirituality? What inspires contemplatives in the Emergent Church to indulge in practices that have their origin in Eastern mysticism? Thomas a Kempis wrote that man will remain restless until he has been united with Christ (De Imitatione Christi, Book II, chapter 1) and others have maintained that man will remain restless until he finds rest in God. This is a sound biblical principle which we find beautifully expounded in the book of Jeremiah and in Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28.
Isaiah 48:22 There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked.
Isaiah 57:20, 21 But the wicked are like the troubled sea, for it cannot rest, and its waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.
Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.
Although the majority of people may deny it, man has been acutely aware of his separation from God (or a Higher Entity as some would like to refer to him, her or it) ever since the Fall. Had mankind not been so acutely aware of this separation religion as such would have been a complete obsolete. In fact, all religions with the exception of Christianity, are man’s own efforts to outmaneuver his separation from God. However, there is a vast difference in semantics between the biblical view of separation and that of the Eastern view thereof.
The biblical view simply says: “BEHOLD, THE Lord’s hand is not shortened at all, that it cannot save, nor His ear dull with deafness, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1, 2). It is evident that God wants to eliminate the separateness between Himself and wicked sinners but is unable to do so unless the cause of the separateness (sinfulness of man and his lost status) is effectively dealt with according to His standard and not ours.
The Eastern mystical view of separation from God is that there is actually no such thing as a separation. Any notion of a separation is merely an illusion caused by a lack of a deeper understanding and attitude which you can change by practicing eastern mystical disciplines of meditation and yoga. Your inevitable interconnectedness with God, and non-separateness from him, stems from the belief that “God is all and All is God, and since you are part of the All, you’re part of God.” Feelings of separateness are caused by wrong attitudes in regard to this belief. You simply need to adjust your attitude, turn to God, as it were, to see God benevolently waiting for your return and thus eradicate the illusionary separateness.
Yet another Eastern mystical view of separation from God is based on the assumption that when we see separations among people we also see a separation between ourselves and God. Only when everyone realizes that there is one God, one race and one prayer, asexplain, will there be peace to the human race.
God has never and will never accept any effort on the part of mankind to bridge the huge chasm between Him and us. His magnanimously holy standard, and His alone will suffice while all our own efforts to reach Him and to come into and dwell in His presence will inevitably lead to a presence that is not of God. Even the contemplative practitioners, such as Willem Nicol, admits in his book “Stem in die Stilte, p. 97” (“Voice in the Silence, p. 97”) that “evil spirits may speak to you while you wait on promptings.” Why would anyone in his right mind want to indulge in spiritual disciplines and practices that have the potential to bring you in touch with evil spirits? To say the least, it borders on insanity to yield to spiritual disciplines that have the potential of inviting evil spirits to speak to you.
That God cannot and will not accept our efforts to approach Him in his holy presence is already evident in die Old Testament when God commanded Moses:-
Exodus 20:25 And if you will make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone, for if you lift up a tool upon it you have polluted it.
Mankind’s “tools” of whatever kind to build a humanly hewn altar in order to reach and enter into God’s magnanimously holy presence is defiled and polluted. The next question of course, is: what is it that pollutes our humanly hewn “altars?” There’s only a single answer to this question — our inherited self-centered old Adam nature. This nature, of which Paul wrote so extensively in Romans 7, has the natural inclination to think and believe it can please God by doing and accomplishing something good. This reminds me of what Ron Martoia said at the conference held at the Pierre van Ryneveld DRC on 28 August this year on the “goodness” of man. He said that the emergent church is in the business of making better humans which, of course, implies that all of humanity is already good and that we only need to make them better. That’s not what the Gospel teaches, and by the way this is the Gospel Ron Martoia, Stephan Joubert, Nelus Niemandt and all their emergent buddies claim to proclaim. Jesus, whom they also claim to follow, said that no one is good but God. It not only means that God alone is one hundred percent good but also that He is the only One who is able to judge righteously between good and “good.” Now wait a second, you may want to argue, shouldn’t that be between good and bad or good and evil? Nope! God is the only One who can judge righteously between good and “good.” Many things seem to be good in our estimation because it works. Anything that has the desired effect and accomplishes what we anticipate it to do, is good. Pragmatism has done more harm to our societies than anything else because it inspired us to develop the warped idea that, like Robin Hood, we may steal from the rich to give to the poor because it is the “good” thing to do.
There is a continued and concerted global effort to validate and corroborate the “goodness” of paranormal and “spiritual” experiences induced by meditation and contemplative disciplines such as contemplative or centering prayer through science. The entire field of quantum physics is focused on bridging the gap between the paranormal and science. Some very interesting research has already been done on the human brain to prove that man’s perceptions and ideas of God and who He is, is mapped in his brain. In their book, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman wrote the following on page 10 :-
One of the main purposes of this book is to help readers expand their understanding and appreciation of spiritual practices and experiences. In fact, religious beliefs are vastly more complex and diverse than public opinion polls show. From a neurological perspective, God is a perception and an experience that is constantly changing and evolving in the human brain, and this implies that America’s spiritual landscape is virtually impossible to deﬁne. You can’t nail God down for good or for bad. And you can’t intuit a person’s innermost values based upon their creed or the church they choose to attend. If more people realized that everyone was talking about something fundamentally personal and different, perhaps a degree of distrust would fall away. (Emphasis added) [Thomas says: Only the Christian fundamentalists fundamentally different way of thinking and talking is way off base because it is intolerably anti the fundamentally personal and different views of other religions. Therefore it should be fundamentally marginalized.]
To survive in a pluralistic society, we must evolve our spirituality and our secularity, integrating religion and science in a way that can beneﬁcial to all. But to do this we must overhaul antiquated religious notions that interfere with the religious freedoms of others. Most important, we will need to devise innovative ways to promote peaceful co-operation between people, especially between those who hold different religious views. In this respect, scientists, psychologists, sociologists, theologians, and politicians must forge new cooperative alliances in order to improve our global interactions with others. (Emphasis added)
The spiritual practices and experiences to which they refer are all related to meditation and contemplative exercises. In fact, their entire approach is based on the assumption that “God” can change your mind for the better (the word Ron Martoia and other contemplatives use is the biblical “metanoia” but in a completely and fundamentally different way. I will elaborate on his use of the word in a later comment) through contemplative exercises. On pages 6 and 7 the two authors explain in more detail the alleged benefits of contemplative disciplines.
Along with my research staff at the University of Pennsylvania and the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, we are currently studying Sikhs, Suﬁs, yoga practitioners, and advanced meditators to map the neurochemical changes caused by spiritual and religious practices. Our research has led us to the following conclusions:
- Each part of the brain constructs a different perception of God.
- Every human brain assembles its perceptions of God in uniquely different ways, thus giving God different qualities of meaning and value.
- Spiritual practices, even when stripped of religious beliefs, enhance the neural functioning of the brain in ways that improve physical and emotional health.
- Intense, long- term contemplation of God and other spiritual values appears to permanently change the structure of those parts of the brain that control our moods, give rise to our conscious notions of self, and shape our sensory perceptions of the world.
- Contemplative practices strengthen a speciﬁc neurological circuit that generates peacefulness, social awareness, and compassion for others. (Emphasis added).
In a nutshell it means that the changing of your brain through spiritual contemplative disciplines such as contemplative and centering prayer or meditation is a very powerful tool to change the world, simply because it produces and enhances like-mindedness, but it is a like-mindedness (unity) that contradicts the unity the Bible teaches. Sadly, however, this is a very far cry from Jesus Christ’s command to go into all the world, make disciples of the nations and to teach them to observe everything He taught us. The emergent contemplatives have an enormous problem with this particular way in making followers of Christ. Oh yes! they have nothing against making men followers of Christ (Jesus Christ who?) but the offence of His cross must be removed from people’s brains. It is steeped in rigid doctrines and as such hampers man in his contemplative endeavours to achieve peacefulness, social awareness and compassion amongst all peoples and their great variety of spiritualities. An observant New Age adherent made the following interesting remark on his site.
Personally I really love the sciences exploring spirituality. Walderman and his co author on the book Andrew Newberg go deep into the kind of territory that could potentially begin to unify our understanding of some of the aspects of religion and spirituality from a non dogmatic or ideolagized view. That is of course from the perspective of their own scientific ideology. Within it though there is a clear intent to explore and explain within the parameters of psychology and neuroscience. (Emphasis added)
The contemplatives’ main purpose is to uproot every form of fundamentalism (particularly Christian fundamentalism that clings to rigid biblical doctrines and dogmas) and to use and promote mysticism as the crossing bridge of ultimate boundaries.
Wayne Teasdale sums up the crossing of boundaries through mystical practices as follows on the site called “Council of Spiritual Practices”
Interspirituality is a term to describe the breaking-down of the barriers that have separated the religions for millennia. It is also the crossing-over and the sharing in the spiritual, aesthetic, moral and psychological treasures that exist in the different traditions of spirituality living within the world religions. The deepest level of sharing is in and through one another’s mystical wisdom, whether teachings, insights, methods of spiritual practice, and their fruits, The mystical life, in its maturity, is characteristically, naturally, even organically interspiritual because of the inner freedom and liberation the mystical Journey ignites in the depths of the person. It frees us from the obstacles within us that would hold us back from that generosity and willingness to partake from the mystical springs of other traditions. To drink this precious nectar requires openness and a capacity to assimilate the depth experience of these venerable traditions. More and more it is becoming common for individuals to cross over the frontiers of their own faith into the land of another or others. So much so is this the case that we can speak of this new millennial period as the Interspiritual Age. This development is momentous news for the human family because up until this point humankind has been divided, segregated into spiritual ghettos. Out of this separation has come so much misunderstanding and thousands of wars sparked by mutual suspicion, isolation, competition and hostility.
The Interspiritual Age promises to melt away the old barriers, and with them, the old antagonisms. This is one reason why it should be nurtured and encouraged. Interspirituality opens the way to friendship among members of differing faiths. Friendship creates bonds of community between and among the religions through their members, and community’ represents a shift from the old competitive, antagonistic model to a new opportunity, a new paradigm of relationship that seeks to meet on common ground.
If the mystical experience of other traditions is genuine and if it is on the same level as Christian contemplation in its fullness in the transforming union, the spiritual marriage between God the soul, then one implication is that Christianity does not have a monopoly on wisdom as it relates to the nature of the Divine. Christian theological formulations do not exhaust the infinite reality and subtlety of the Divine nature. This means that we can learn from the inner experience of other forms of spirituality. Christianity’s understanding of God is not complete in this sense, nor is the experience and understanding of the other traditions complete without the Christian contribution. Buddhism, for example, needs the insight on the Divine, an insight won from thousands of years of mystical consciousness. Complementarity is thus the direction toward which the mystical leads us. In this way, humankind can cross the boundaries to reach the further shore of our eternal homeland.
The moment Christians begin to partake in the dangerous disciplines of contemplative or centering prayer (also called “Christian meditation) a paradigm shift “emerges” in their brains that leads them to believe that the Christian faith does not have a monopoly on divine truth. It is for this very reason that distinguished and well-respected people like Stephan Joubert and many others as well as church communities such as Mosaic Church, e-Church, e-Kerk and many other emerging DRC churches can say without the slightest compunction that truth can be found in other religions such a Buddhism and even atheism.
We are indeed living in perilous times when, as Paul succinctly stated, men will have the form of godliness but will deny the power of the Gospel. What is the power of the Gospel?— to gaze intently at huge crosses or candles with the purpose of bringing on mystical experiences that induce euphoric feelings of happiness, contentedness, peace, compassion, love and an interconnectedness between all religious persuasions? Certainly not! The power of the Gospel is the cross of Christ and His cross alone. Most sadly, the Mosaic Church and the Moreleta Park Dutch Reformed Church are not following the way of the cross but that of Cain which is a Christ-less, cross-less and blood-less religion. (Hebrews 9:22). Their leadership is misleading multitudes into a mystical world of contemplation, believing that they are leading them into the very presence of God but, in fact, are being led astray from the One Who died for them on the cross and Who said: “If the world [including the religions of the world] hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you (John 15:18).
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the story and message of the cross is sheer absurdity and folly to those who are perishing and on their way to perdition, but to us who are being saved it is the [manifestation of] the power of God.
My intention with this post is to bring those who have been deceived back to the Word of God and Jesus Christ who warned: “Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.” (Luke 21:8)