by Richard Bennett
Emerging Church Indoctrinates with Catholic Style Eastern Mysticism
“Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God”, declared the “Spirituality in America” feature article in the Aug. 29 - Sept. 5, 2005 issue of Newsweek.1 The article highlights the fact that America and much of the Western world are becoming more open to mysticism. A major factor in this is Rome's official policy, which in 1965 formally endorsed Hinduism and Buddhism. The Vatican officially states,
Purpose and Essence of Catholic Mysticism
Two months after the Vatican's monumental acceptance of pagan mysticism, another well-known papal document revealed the heart of Roman Catholic policy.
In order to promote the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of her role in the world, her talking point for dialogue with the Hindus and Buddhists is to affirm their ideas, specifically “an element of the divine” within mankind. If in man there were “an element of the divine”, mankind would be of the same order of being as God. Such teaching attempts to do away with the utter transcendence of God and the total depravity of man in his natural or unregenerate state. In a word, it is pantheism. The very first verse of the Bible proclaims, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”4 This is the epitome of the absolute distinction of God from all created things. The Lord God is revealed as unique and separate from His creation. The Creator and the creation are not the same. Were it not for the fact that this papal declaration of pantheism is now accepted and marketed by some modern Evangelicals, we might think that the Vatican statement was simply a seductive trapping of ecumenism packaged for Eastern paganism.
The True Basis for Fellowship with God
The doctrine of the Trinity and the Gospel are the basis of fellowship with God. Fellowship with God involves the whole of the grace and faith relationship with God on which the Gospel is based. Christians enjoy fellowship with God, which God Himself initiates, and at each stage, the Lord God is in control. The doctrine of the Trinity is the underpinning to both Christian faith and Christian experience. The glorious life of the Godhead is foundational to the Christian life. The Father, in the pages of Scripture, is revealed as the One who initiates the whole message of salvation. He is the one who has chosen a people, and He is the one who selected His Son to redeem and save them by means of His perfect life and sacrifice. The Gospel and Christian living depends wholly and completely on the nature of the Father when revealed as the God of love. The Christian experience depends entirely on Christ Jesus being full of grace and truth. The work of the Holy Spirit in Christian experience consists in communicating and making known to the believer the love of the Father and the grace of the Son. The Holy Spirit is the principal and fountain of all genuine Christian living. In this life, He is the controller and source of the communion we have with God. Fellowship with God is the excellent privilege of the Gospel. It is based on the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Due to a sinful nature, no man has any communion with God, “... they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”5 The Lord God is light; we are darkness. Light has no communion with darkness. He is Life, we are dead in trespasses and sins; there can be no accord between us. In the first place, the giving of grace is the only way into fellowship with God. God does not entrust grace to any technique or strategy of man but to Christ Jesus alone. Herein lies the root problem with the modern seeker-sensitive approach to the Christian faith. One must be in Christ before he can “... have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him [Christ Jesus].”6 For sinners to have fellowship with the infinitely all Holy God, there is the need for the direct work of Christ Jesus. This communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the very heart of the New Testament message. In the words of the Apostle, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all.”7 Thus, life of the Godhead and the Gospel of grace are foundational to the whole of Christian life. This vital message is not simply missing from the present day advocates of the Emerging Church movement; rather it is contradicted, inverted, and reversed at times in utterly blasphemous ways.
Mystic Syncretism Popularized for Youth
Tony Jones is the U.S. National Coordinator of Emergent-US and minister to youth at Colonial Church of Edina in Minnesota. He is a regular speaker at Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Conventions. Jones was also respected enough in his field to be one of the featured seminar presenters for the Zondervan National Pastors Conference in February 2006. The back cover of his 2003 book, Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality And Contemplative Practices In Youth Ministry, states that this book “is hands down the most comprehensive primer on the study and use of spiritual and contemplative practices for the benefit of your teenagers — and especially your own soul.”8 The book specifically targets youth ministers and pastors. Even Jones's recommendation of Meister Eckhardt's Collected Works as “a mystical treatise...with an emphasis on God's indwelling of humanity”9 is enough to forewarn a true Christian of the latent pantheism.
No testimony of salvation in Christ Jesus
In neither of his two books, Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality And Contemplative Practices In Youth Ministry (2003) and The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life (2005), does Jones present the Gospel. Like so many leaders in the Emergent Church, his personal testimony is not of being a convicted sinner without hope before the all Holy God and in that conviction coming to Christ as the only Savior. Rather, in Chapter 1, “The Quest for God”, Jones' testimony shows that in 2005 he is still fumbling in the darkness of unbelief.
This sad testimony is of a man who is not “in Christ”, and yet he is one of the leading lights of the Emergent Church movement in making and disseminating materials for youth pastors and youth groups.
Of his growing up in a Protestant church, he says, “I'd say there was one word that summed up my religious life: obligation.”11 Predictably, he fell away from his pattern of obligatory prayer, Bible reading, and “quiet time”, but felt guilt ridden about it. His solution:
His travels took him to round the clock prayer vigils and to Dublin, Ireland, to Catholic priest Alan McGuickian and the staff at the Jesuit Communication Centre. He “voraciously read” Roman Catholic mystics and spoke with individuals who were Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox. Nowhere does he mention any indepth study of the Bible nor of searching after the great truths of Scripture. In this way, his searching is reminiscent of Ignatius of Loyola13 and it is noteworthy that he recommends the disciplines of the founder of the Jesuits to youth pastors and youths to learn and practice. What is clear from his statements is that “obligation” remains major in his understanding of what it means to be a Christian — but what becomes equally clear is that he has no dependable knowledge of God from God. That is, he has no knowledge of God through the Bible as revelation by His Spirit. Because Jones does not hold to the Bible alone as giving truthful knowledge of God, God Himself remains a truth undefined. Thus Jones is free to define his own god and to fulfill his obligation to this god of his own making.
Thus by making Roman Catholic and Greek tradition his current standard, he is able to fulfill what he sees as his obligation in a supposedly time-honored and acceptable way through these old, mostly Roman Catholic mystical exercises. Yet clearly before the All Holy God, he is still an alien and a stranger to saving grace in Christ Jesus.
Jones's definition of “Christian” needs careful attention. In The Sacred Way, he states,
What is missing in Jones's definition of following Jesus more closely is any conviction of sin and therefore any need for a Savior. Without the conviction of sin one does not have life in Christ Jesus. The Lord declared that the Holy Spirit “will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”14 Conviction is the Spirit's work; He does it effectually, and none but He can open the mind and heart of a sinner to saving faith. Jones appears to be totally unaware of this, for he says nothing about the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, or about the Holy Spirit's role of conviction. Jones is not a “follower of Jesus” in any biblical sense since his god is not the All Holy God of the Bible. His “Jesus”, therefore, is not the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible.
“A zeal of God, but not according to knowledge”
Jones does state, however, that he feels “that the road to inner peace and connection with our Creator is through Jesus.”15 But at the same time he also says, “the point of these practices is to draw me into a deeper relationship with the Christian God.” While recommending these mystical practices, he clearly states that he really cannot say why he has found them so helpful and does not know why they work, but that they do work. Then he states,
For Jones, as with Catholic and Greek mystics, conviction by the Holy Spirit through the written Word has become irrelevant because they do not believe that God has revealed true propositional knowledge about Himself through the Scripture alone. They have neglected His call, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow...”17. Rather than engaging their minds over the issue of their sin and need for perfect righteousness before the All Holy God, they seek a subjective meeting with God through spiritual exercises — practices that do not engage the mind according to biblical truth as presented in the written Word. When this so-called union is purportedly experienced, a sense of spiritual fulfillment is felt. This subjective experience (called “enlightenment”) is an attempt to replace Christ Jesus the Lord as the only way to communicate with God. Thus Jones's above statement is a formal denial of the Lord. Fallen man cannot communicate with God other than through Christ Jesus, who is the only Mediator, the only way. Christ Jesus' own declaration puts to death all subjective mystical experiences as means of reaching the Father, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”18 The Lord Jesus Christ is the All Holy God's loving, and only, answer to every man's sin and need of perfect righteousness.
Historically, the spiritual practices of which Jones writes came from and flourished under the monastic system. These mystical practices went hand in hand with the ascetical practices that prevailed in Egypt and over the East. The fundamental principle behind them was the philosophy that the flesh was the seat of evil, and, consequently to meet God one must first mortify the body and at the same time engage in spiritual rituals whereby man can find God.
Past apostasy comes alive in the present
In Soul Shaper, Tony Jones advocates sixteen “ancient-future” spiritual tools or disciplines such as “The Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, Silence and Solitude, Stations of the Cross, Centering Prayer, The Ignatian Examen, and the Labyrinth”. Assuming that the Roman Catholic-Evangelical split over the Gospel is a thing of the past, Jones begins defining his “postmodern” approach to youth ministry by combining aspects of what he sees as common spirituality in Evangelicalism, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions along with Eastern religious practices gleaned from Buddhism and Hinduism. Tony Jones's involvement with youth ministry and leaders of youth ministry is particularly dangerous. This is because of his use of obscure heretical practices from Papal Rome, which he then passes off on the unsuspecting as if he has rediscovered a long hidden spiritual treasure for a “postmodern” Christianity. His major goal is to make his very Roman Catholic view of the “past come alive in the present”19 — something Bible believers should consider carefully, especially regarding his very young audience.
What is so hazardous is that most youth ministers are not familiar enough with the history of the Christian Church to recognize that Jones is selling them a bill of spiritually bankrupt goods. Moreover, pastors within the mainstream of the Evangelical church are also being taught these practices at such places as Zondervan National Pastors Conference 2006. Regrettably, Tony Jones misleads pastors and youth when he writes of “the saints of the Christian church who have over the past two millennia labored at practicing and perfecting these disciplines.”20 He also states, “One of the things you may have to leave at the front cover is denominational bigotry. A lot of the practices herein will seem very `Catholic' or very `Eastern Orthodox,' and if you aren't from one of those traditions, remember this: before 1054 we were all Catholic/Orthodox! That's right — for the first half of Christian history, there was one church, and most of the practices in this book are from that time.”21 Jones is not drawing from genuine Christian history before 1054. Clearly, he has taken his history from the apostate Roman Catholic Church, conveniently forgetting the Vaudois, the Waldenses, the Paulicians, the Albigenses, the Spanish believers, and many others who in the first eleven centuries never followed the mystic practices the papacy has consistently promoted since the Dark Ages.
The Catholic mystic, Thomas à Kempis (1380 — 1471) has had a primary influence upon Tony Jones. Each chapter in Soul Shaper opens with a quote from Kempis. In fact Jones writes, “Thomas à Kempis has guided us throughout our exploration of ancient spiritual practices” (p. 254). In commenting on his book, Jones says, “This book is long on history and theology” (p. 19). The history and theology he presents, however, have a distinct and singular Roman Catholic bias. His section of recommended reading is a virtual all-star roster of mystics of mostly Roman Catholic vintage. Among those he encourages youth ministers to read are “Ignatius of Loyola, Catherine of Siena, Henri Nouwen, John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, Theresa of Lisieux and George Fox.” (pp. 252, 253)
More developed and lethal mystic syncretism
The Gospel message is open, plain and straightforward. Tony Jones's message, however, in his 2005 book The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life is even more artful and disguised than his Soul Shaper book. In The Sacred Way, Jones advocates the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and such mystical and Roman Catholic practices as the Labyrinth, Centering Prayer, the Stations of the Cross and the Jesus Prayer. The dishonest substitution of Roman Catholic mystical methods for the straightforward proclamation of the Gospel of grace and fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the spiritual black hole into which Tony Jones is leading his readers.
The operating principle of Tony Jones's mystical philosophy is his endorsement of the humanistic message and technique of Ignatius of Loyola. Here Jones emphasizes the Jesuit founder's use of visualization and human choice in order to overcome evil and to be the person one wants to be. Thus in Chapter 8 of Soul Shaper, “The Ignatian Examen”, Jones declares,
This is openly and unmistakably to place oneself in what the Lord classified as, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” in contrast to, “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”22 Man's own election, or his choice of his own destiny, is manifestly presented as the starting point of what is alleged to be Christian salvation. This is in stark opposition to the Apostle Paul's statement that salvation is by “the election of grace”. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.”23 Salvation and fellowship with God is by His gracious or merciful choosing, that is, election; and not by any maneuver of man.
Jones also teaches gross idolatry. He promotes images that are forbidden by the Lord, implying that God's holy presence is to be seen in the icon. Like Brian McLaren, he makes his position known by quoting others who hold the same position without ever presenting the biblical position. In The Sacred Way, he quotes an Eastern Orthodox woman who says,
Rather than exposing this sentimental notion of an icon as a substitute for conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, leading to repentance and salvation in Christ alone, Jones uses this “castle-in-the-air” to soften his audience to the use of icons. He then builds his case for idolatry citing Catholic legends and modern Catholics as his authority because although he does not say so, he has found it necessary to bring in his own mediator, the form of which is an icon. He states,
This is exactly the issue in Exodus 32 when Aaron made a golden calf for the worship of Holy God. They surmised that they were not worshipping the calf; rather they were using it to worship Holy God. Their worship was supposedly going through the image to God. Exodus 20:4-5 specifically forbids the making of these images, a reminder that is much needed today. Because he claims that we are in the postmodern age, which de facto means post-Gospel, and has rationalized by legend and Catholic tradition that icons are acceptable, he counsels,
Thus Tony Jones, turning his back on conviction of sin through the preaching of the Word of God, endorses forbidden images as being good for a person's spiritual life; but the Lord God says those who use such images hate him, and He will visit their iniquity upon them to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:4-6).
In the Epilogue to his two books, in the sections called “Developing a Rule of Life”, Jones urges his readers to place their faith in the religious exercises,
His final platitude is simply on the level of feeling,
To all this, the Lord thunders through His Word, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?”27 One would have to say that the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice in Wonderland has more to offer. The notions that Jones advances are merely the inventions of men and are certainly not by divine revelation of the Bible. They are but proud conceits from the Roman Catholic tradition “intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”28 These traditional Catholic practices that Jones so warmly promotes may have an appearance of spirituality but they have been found throughout history, and even again in our own day, simply to deceive by leading into pride and sin. In effect, Jones disclaims Christ as the only Mediator between God and man. One of the greatest denigrations of Christ Jesus is to attempt to interject some other mediator between God and His creation; and Jones has done this unashamedly. Yet as Jones has already shown in his own case, when men let go of the knowledge of Christ Jesus as the only Mediator, they become entrapped within the traditions of men and the bankruptcy of worldly spirituality. Jones makes mystical exercises seem so worthy that by endorsing Catholic mysticism, idolatry and fleshly devotions, he can easily bewitch those who read or try to implement his teaching. The relic-artifacts of Catholicism, presented by Jones as appropriate to the postmodern period, are absolutely opposed to biblical truth. The Lord God's command is that believers are to be “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”29
Communion with God is a participation in eternal life by grace through faith. Such communion is not achieved by imagination, visualizations, solitude, or mystical formulas. False teachers such Tony Jones and Brian McLaren have attempted to supplant the Gospel by seducing multitudes with doctrines that can damn their souls for all eternity. Christ Jesus the Lord warned that, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”30 The present day Emerging Church movement is full of deceitful “contemplative practices”. Only by taking heed to the counsel of the Lord can His followers escape ruin. The danger of the Emerging Church's type of spirituality is that it replaces the certainty of the written Word with subjective experiences. Jones and other leaders of the movement teach that “spiritual practices” can bring an awareness of God wherein morality and keeping the commandments of God are not mentioned. True coming to God is by trusting on the perfect life and sacrifice of Christ that includes repentance and forsaking of sin. If Evangelicals follow the teachings of Jones, it will inevitably lead to asceticism and immorality, a fact of prior church history, by those who practiced such things. Christ Jesus proclaims in His Word “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear... take heed what ye hear.”31 Not only are we to hold to the Gospel, but also the Lord commands us to give due regard to what we hear. To be true to the Lord, we must be perceptive to what is happening and diligent to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”32
Richard Bennett of “Berean Beacon”
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