The Modern New Age Church
The New Age movement has manifested itself in many different ways. Its adherents have successfully seduced nearly all religious elements of modern society. The repackaged teachings and practices of Hindus, Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Jewish and Muslim mystics, has found its way into traditional Charismatic and Pentecostal denominations. The mixture of these New Age mystical teachings into the modern church has leavened it to the extent that the church no longer recognizes its dangers and instead teaches and practices them.
In order to properly understand mysticism, we need to define it and explain how it was introduced to unsuspecting believers and was unnoticeable while cloaked in Christian terminology. “Mysticism” is derived from the Greek μυω, which means “I conceal,” and its derivative, μυστικός, mystikos, meaning “an initiate.” However, μυώ, when used as a verb, has received a different meaning in the Greek language wherein it is still used. Its primary meanings are “induct” and “initiate.” Its secondary meanings include: “introduce, make someone aware of something, train, familiarize, and give first experience of something.”
The related form of the verb, μυέω (mueó or myéō) appears in the New Testament. According to Strong’s Concordance, it properly means “shutting the eyes and mouth to experience mystery.” Its figurative meaning is to be initiated into the “mystery revelation.” The meaning derives from the initiatory rites of the pagan mysteries. Also in the New Testament, we find the related noun μυστήριον mustérion or mysterion, the root word of the English term mystery. The term means “anything hidden,” a mystery or secret, of which initiation is necessary. In the New Testament, it takes on the meaning of the counsels of God, once hidden but now revealed in the gospel, and epistles. An example of this is found in Colossians 1:26: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.”
In today’s modern church, use of mysticism can refer to a religious or a spiritual experience. New Christians and young disciples are being reintroduced to ancient practices like contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina (divine reading), and walking labyrinths as ways to get closer to God or communicate with Him.
The practice of Lectio Divina comes from the ancient Roman Catholic monks who borrowed it from the Eastern religions. These individuals are called the desert foxes or fathers and mothers of the desert. Lectio Divina initiates practice the ancient method of slowly reading the Scriptures in a repetitive manner. It is not done to gain understanding and knowledge of the Scriptures, but rather a technique to open one’s mind as to what God is telling the person through the text. It is used to cultivate the ability to listen deeply, with “the ear of our hearts,” as spoken by Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Roman Catholic order of Monks. Another explanation of how Lectio Divina works is, the practitioner is not to concentrate on what the passage says, but instead listens constantly for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow speaks to the practitioner. In other words, it becomes a mantra. The Hindus believe that the gods speak to them when they meditate in this manner.
True believers are to properly meditate on the Scriptures. The emphasis is to understand the meaning of the words and what is being said by God in His Word. And then, take what it says and means, and apply it to our lives. The Holy Spirit will help the believer understand the true mystery of God now revealed to the church—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is now ascended and seated at the right hand of God and ever lives to make intercession for the saints.
Contemplative prayer is also known as centering, listening, or breath prayer, and it is another mystical practice that the modern church has embraced and incorporated into its liturgy. This practice is widely used in the occult, but it is now dressed in Christian terminology and taught in Christian circles. The danger of this practice is that its roots are found in contemplative spirituality. The concept of pantheism—God is all; worship that tolerates all gods—is at the core if this demonic exercise. In reality, this is not prayer at all. The definition of contemplation is: To look at attentively and thoughtfully; to consider carefully and at length; to ponder; to view with consideration. Contemplative prayer practitioners are taught to do exactly the opposite. The goal of contemplative prayer is to curtail one’s thought process and totally center one’s mind on God—not by conscience thought but simply by feeling God within. They call this stillness “resting in God.” The real objective is to get one beyond thinking and understanding and into the realm of experiencing. In other words, contemplative prayer that promotes emptying of the mind and suspending all critical thinking is not prayer at all. We may go on to say that our once functioning brains now tell us that as long as we feel right about something, it has to be okay, right? A new culture of thinking of gratifying self is consumed with feeling intimacy rather than faith in what God has already spoken. This new mystical generation cares less and less about what the Lord Himself has spoken and cares more on having an experience to be satisfied in feelings only.
In his book Open Mind, Open Heart, Thomas Keating, abbot of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, wrote, “All thoughts pass if you wait long enough.” Eventually, the practitioner reaches a state of pure consciousness in which the thinking process is suspended. Keating goes on to say, “As you go down deeper, you may reach a place where the sacred word disappears altogether and there are no thoughts. This is often experienced as a suspension of consciousness, a space.”
This kind of emptying is practiced by Buddhists. Many modern books have been written from the influence of Buddhist teaching. One example is the book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, which is believed by many to follow the teachings of Thomas Merton. Merton wrote more than seventy books dealing with spirituality, social justice and quiet pacifism. He was a promoter of interfaith understanding and of using Eastern religious contemplative prayers to become more spiritual. Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, introduced the church world to the beliefs and practices of the medieval mystics, and by doing so, changed the biblical understanding of spirituality. He went so far as to declare that the “masters of the interior life,” as he called the ancient mystics, were the only ones who had discovered the true path to spiritual growth.
Spread of Contemplative Prayer
Contemplative prayer has spread throughout the many strains of the modern church growth movement. To the Evangelicals, Rick Warren, author of the book, The Purpose Driven Life promotes breath prayers. He claims that Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and others have “underscored” the importance of building Christians and establishing personal spiritual disciplines.
Leaders and schools of many religious denominations include many books and teachings of Roman Catholic mystics in their studies. A research study in the year 2000 found that in the Golden Gate Theological Seminary in San Francisco, most of the required reading materials for the course “Classics of Church Devotion” are books on Roman Catholic authors. Book titles included: Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits (disciplines of the Jesuits were taught to the German Schutzstaffel (SS) by Heinrich Himmler); and New Seeds of Contemplation by Merton, a Roman Catholic convert from Anglicanism.
The New Age spirituality has one premier long-term goal: to find common ground through a mystical experience. One experience in which everyone can feel God and therefore unite mankind as being the manifestation of God on earth.