By Roger Oakland
Both the Old and New Testaments consist of numerous references that provide the guidelines required for a leader to be classified as a good shepherd. It makes sense that we would look to the Scriptures for guidance because the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and should be our ultimate authority when it comes to discussing this topic.
First, the Psalmist describes the Good Shepherd as the one who goes ahead of the flock to lead the sheep. He is a true leader always on the lookout for their safety.
Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalms 77:20)
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. (Psalms 78:52-53)
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us. (Psalms 80:1-2)
Second, a good shepherd is constantly aware of where his sheep are in relationship to himself and concerned about their well-being. He is always searching them out when they are lost or remaining behind and does all he can to bring them back to the flock.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. (Ezekiel 34:11-12)
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Luke 15: 4-6)
Third, a good shepherd shows tenderness for the weak, the ewes, and the young lambs. He attends those who are sick and in need of special care.
I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick. (Ezekiel 34:16)
And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die. Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir. (Genesis 33: 13-14)
So he [David] fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. (Psalms 78:72)
While many other characteristics of a good shepherd are found in the Bible, there is one more in particular I want to include. A good shepherd watches out for and protects his sheep from wild beasts or predators such as wolves that feed upon the sheep. The good shepherd will lay down his life to protect them with a strong dedication and commitment as we see here:
And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock . . .Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. (1 Samuel 17:34, 36)
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)
There is a connection between the term good shepherd and the well-known term pastor. While Christians have made this connection and given this title to leaders who stand behind pulpits, oftentimes these leaders are not being true to the biblical qualifications. Walking in the flesh (human nature) rather than the Spirit, these men are driven by man’s fallen nature which seeks power and attention thereby corrupting what it means to be a pastor. This, of course, has impacted Christianity throughout the ages, but over the past several decades the problem has accelerated to the point where we are now witnessing this present apostasy ravaging churches throughout the nations.
Addressing this topic is not easy nor will it be welcomed by many. Efforts to be helpful will be met by an avalanche of opposition. So many of today’s Christian leaders believe they are above reproach and should not be challenged. In fact, they find biblical correction useless and unnecessary, especially when headed down Apostasy Road. However, the Bible is clear that God has serious concerns about those who pervert the Word of God and lead the sheep astray. For such, serious consequences lie ahead.
Jeremiah’s warning to the spiritual leaders of his day is a good reminder for us today. Consider the similarities to what is happening at present:
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD. They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you. (Jeremiah 23: 16-17)
As in Jeremiah’s day, our modern-day prophets speak of peace and prosperity. But if they were truly speaking for the Lord, they would be preaching of repentance from sin and faith toward God as becomes apparent below:
For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it? Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly. I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. . . . Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal. (Jeremiah 23:18-25, 27)
The prophet Jeremiah concludes this passage with an urgent appeal to the shepherds of the land not to speak falsely but to proclaim the Word of the Lord. We have a powerful Gospel that needs to be proclaimed to an increasingly godless world, but the words of peace and prosperity we hear are only vanity, while God’s Word shall never return void:
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. (Jeremiah 23: 28-30)
While we have the Good Shepherd to follow—a Shepherd who is faithful and true—our own earthly shepherds and leaders should remember with soberness that leaders will be judged more strictly than others (James 3:1). It is a calling that should never be taken lightly.
(This is an excerpt from Roger Oakland’s new book, The Good Shepherd Calls)
Letter to the Editor: Brennan Manning Book Review by John Caddock Saved Me From Years of Wandering in the Wilderness
LTRP Note: This week, we received the following letter to the editor referring to a book review about Brennan Manning’s book, The Signature of Jesus. The review was written by John Caddock and was the first piece we ever read on the Internet refuting contemplative prayer shortly after we met Ray Yungen and read his then-unpublished manuscript A Time of Departing over fifteen years ago. This book review by Caddock has opened the eyes of many people and is still doing so today as this letter reveals. Below the letter is the full review. As with all our blog articles, you can print it freely. It is also available in booklet format for those needing that.
Dear John Caddock,
I am 65 year old Christian man who has run ahead of Jesus most of my Christian experience. Hence I feel the lack of instruction that my years should show.
I have a good friend who I can talk to about anything. He is a believer but has always seemed to have strange ideas about God. Long story short, after watching Brennan Manning and starting to run ahead of Jesus again, the Lord led me to your never-ending review [about Brennan Manning]
Thank you very much for this review; you saved me from who knows how many years of wandering in the wilderness.
I really can’t thank you enough.
God bless you and yours,
Brennan Manning’s “New Monks” & Their Dangerous Contemplative Monasticism
A review of The Signature of Jesus
By John Caddock
The Never-Ending Review
Little did I know when I began to read The Signature of Jesus, the time and effort that would be involved in understanding it. I am not a theologian by training. My background is in technical management in electronic component manufacturing. However, I stumbled onto something that I became convinced was very dangerous and little understood.
One reading was not enough for me to understand The Signature of Jesus. I found it was like reading a book in a foreign language. I read many new expressions like contemplative prayer, centering prayer, centering down, paschal spirituality, the discipline of the secret, contemplative spirituality, celebrating the darkness, practicing the presence, the interior life, inner integration, yielding to the Center, notional knowledge, spiritual masters, masters of the interior life, false self, and the Abba experience.1
I also encountered many writers I had never read before, including Kasemann, Burghardt, Merton, Van Breemen, Brueggemann, Moltmann, Nouwen, Küng, Steindl-Rast, Rahner, Kierkegaard, and Camus.
I had to read the book three separate times before I was confident that I understood what Manning was saying. I even read it a fourth time for good measure.
Reading this book led me to read a number of other books and articles by and about leading mystics/contemplatives. I learned about the heart of Manning’s message—centering prayer.
Ultimately, I felt I had to meet the man. I attended one conference he conducted. In addition, I purchased the tapes of another conference he conducted and pored over them. Manning conducted many speaking engagements for many years. He died in April 2013 at the age of 79.
Altogether, I spent hundreds of hours trying to understand what Manning was saying. Why did I do this? Well, I began this study because three Christian leaders whom I know endorsed Brennan Manning in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. These men are bright, well educated, experienced in ministry, and heads of major works. Yet, I had read a cautionary review of that book,2 and I wanted to read Manning for myself.
I continued the study because what I found frightened me and because I felt others needed to be warned. I came to the conclusion that the teachings of Brennan Manning are very dangerous.
There is a seductive quality to his writings. He reports grappling with and overcoming fear, guilt, and psychological hang-ups and difficulties, including alcoholism. He gives the impression that he had a very intimate relationship with God and that he had insight to a superspirituality. He regularly meditated and reports having many visions and encounters with God. He was an extremely gifted writer who was able to tug at the emotions of the reader while at the same time introducing ideas that the reader would immediately reject if they were not cloaked under this emotional blanket.
He promises his readers that if they apply his teaching, they too will gain this same intimacy with God as well as freedom from fear, guilt, and psychological hang-ups and difficulties. This is very attractive. Manning’s prescription to achieve this is not by traditional prayer and the reading and application of the Bible. Rather, the means to this end is a mixture of Eastern mysticism, psychology, the New Age movement, liberation theology, Catholicism, and Protestantism. This mixture will not deliver intimacy with God. It no doubt will lead to special feelings and experiences. Those practicing Manning’s methods will likely feel closer to God. Ironically, in the process they will actually move away from Him as a result of a counterfeit spirituality.
Ordained a Franciscan priest, Manning earned degrees in philosophy and theology. He had training with a monastic order, which included seven months of isolation in a desert cave. Years later, after a collapse into alcoholism, he shifted direction and focused on writing and speaking. He became persona non grata among the Roman Catholic hierarchy as a result of his marriage in 1982. He began writing and speaking mainly to Protestant audiences.
What Is Contemplative Spirituality?
The Signature of Jesus is actually a primer on what Manning calls paschal spirituality, which is supposedly, but not actually, spirituality centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Another name for this, a more accurate one, is contemplative spirituality. Indeed, one entire chapter is a call to “Celebrate the Darkness,”3 and another teaches about centering prayer, an Eastern religion, mind-emptying meditation technique.4
Manning indicates that The Signature of Jesus is about radical discipleship and authentic faith. Radical discipleship sounds good. So does authentic faith. Unfortunately, the book isn’t about following Jesus Christ or having faith in Him. It is about following “the masters of the interior life.”5
In Manning’s view, many Christians have been raised in a devotional spirituality, which focuses “more on behavior than on consciousness; more on doing God’s will and performing the devotional acts that pleased Him than on experiencing God as God truly is.”6 Contemplative spirituality, on the other hand, “emphasize[s] the need for a change in consciousness, a new way of seeing God, others, self, and the world,”7 which leads to a deeper knowledge of God.
Thus, Manning sets up a battle between two views of the Christian life. One he paints as traditional, cold, intellectual, ritualistic, unemotional, unloving, uncaring, insensitive, unattractive, and obsessive. The other he presents as new, warm, free, emotional, loving, caring, sensitive, attractive, and liberating. While he acknowledges there is a place for Bible study and corporate worship, he argues that the key is “practicing the presence” through a special form of prayer we will discuss more fully later, centering prayer. Manning writes:
Herein lies the secret, I believe, of the inner life of Jesus. Christ’s communion with Abba in the inner sanctuary of His soul transformed his vision of reality, enabling him to perceive God’s love and care behind the complexities of life. Practicing the presence helps us to discern the providence of God at work, especially in those dark hours when the signature of Jesus is being traced in our flesh. (You may wish to try it right now. Lower the book, center down, and offer yourself to the indwelling Spirit of God.)8
Daily devotions consisting of Bible study, meditation, memorization, and traditional prayers are of limited importance in the contemplative spirituality of Manning. His substitute—a type of prayer derived from Eastern mysticism, is what is really important—Practice the presence—Center down—What is really needed is freeing the mind and having an existential experience with God.
The Origins of Contemplative Spirituality
This movement began in the Roman Catholic Church, where there has been an important shift over the last few decades. Devotional spirituality is a pejorative term coined by some within Roman Catholicism who reacted against the prewar, pre-Vatican II Church, with a devotion to saints, doctrine, frequent reception of the sacraments, and approved devotional practices.
Some Roman Catholics began to advocate the “new theology,”9 which Francis Schaeffer warned of in his classic The God Who is There. Schaeffer pointed to Hans Küng and Karl Rahner (both influential in shaping Manning’s views) and Teilhard de Chardin as the leading progressive thinkers who were following in the path of Heidegger, the existentialist philosopher. To the new theology or new spirituality, language is always a matter of personal interpretation, and therefore the language of the Bible can be used as a vehicle for continuous existential experiences. A given verse has thousands of different interpretations as each person has an encounter with God. Scripture now becomes a triggering device for mystical experiences rather than a source of sound doctrine.
Schaeffer warned that if the “progressives” consolidated their position within the Roman Catholic Church, they would have both its organization and linguistic continuity at their disposal. They would then be in the position of supplying society with an endless series of religiously motivated “arbitrary absolutes” applying any sociological or psychological theory at their discretion.
Schaeffer predicted that the new theology would lead to mysticism. Karl Rahner showed the truth in Schaeffer’s prediction when Rahner wrote, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he or she will not exist at all.”10
The New Monks
In The Signature of Jesus, Manning quotes Catholic saints, medieval mystics, and monks, including Charles de Foucauld, Francis De Sales, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Siena. The most frequently cited sources are part of the community of Roman Catholic clergy who are instrumental in promoting modern contemplative spirituality: Thomas Merton, Anthony De Mello, William Shannon, Henri Nouwen, Peter Van Breemen, William Reiser, David Steindl-Rast, and Basil Pennington. Although the word contemplation brings to mind a monastic life dedicated to pence and cloistered within the walls of the monastery, not so with these New Monks.11
The New Monks critique the current state of Christianity by arguing that since God is holy and is a “wholly other,” He cannot be defined by systems of doctrine. They maintain that western rationalism has crushed the knowledge of God and that we must return to a more intuitively received knowledge. We must move beyond the intellect, beyond doctrine, and beyond words to a deeper union with God. Their writings contain rather complex discussions on the nature of being and share common themes of universality, mystical union with God through contemplation (wordless “prayer”), social justice, and non-violence.
The New Monks maintain that all religions should immerse themselves in the myths of their tradition because there is power in the “collective unconscious”12 of the tradition to shape the experience of its followers. So, for the New Monk, the use of biblical language has great power within the Christian tradition. For example, the call to salvation13 is actually a call to a transformation of consciousness to be psychologically awakened to the unity and oneness of all creation. For the New Monks, all religions at their deepest mystical level use myth and symbol to say the same thing.
The New Monks believe we are born into a duality between self (the ego) and oneness (being). The ego is driven by fear of death and alienation and is the source of all suffering and woundedness. The fall, a mythical story, has a deeper more “universal truth,” which is intended to shed light on present human experience. We have fallen from oneness and harmony of paradise into alienation and a sense of separation. We must simply realize that the gulf that appears to separate “sinful” humanity from a righteous God has never existed; we are and always have been one with God. For the New Monks, this is God’s unconditional love and grace.
Thomas Merton, who is frequently cited by Manning, is the forerunner of the New Monks. Having accepted so much of the new theology, Merton remained involved in the Roman Catholic Church only by a thin affirmation of a God in Nature and a reverence for tradition. He popularized Jungian Psychotherapy in his writings about spiritual healing, agreeing with Jung’s mythic perspective of biblical doctrines.
Merton traveled to Asia on a quest to redefine what being a monk entailed and found it in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. There he discovered great similarities between monastic contemplation and Eastern meditation and determined that they were both in touch with the same mystical source. He felt the emphasis on experience and inner transformation rather than doctrine would be the ecumenical meeting place between East and West.
Merton advocated moving the practice of contemplation from its marginal state of use by only the Catholic monks behind the cloistered walls to a broader use by the common man. Dedicated to civil rights, antiwar, and liberationist activism, he came to call his fellow activists “true monks.” In The Signature of Jesus, Manning precisely echoes the themes of contemplative spirituality. It appears his intention was to bring to Protestants what Thomas Merton brought to many Roman Catholics.
Contemplative Spirituality Promotes Universalism
Both the new theology and contemplative spirituality emphasize ecumenism. Hans Küng (whose book On Being Christian, Manning says is “the most powerful book other than Scripture that I have ever read,”)14 is the author of the document, “Declaration of a Global Ethic,” which personifies the push toward religious pluralism among progressives. The document, intended to be an agreement among the world’s religions, does not contain the word God, Küng explains “because including it would exclude all Buddhist and many faith groups with different views of God and the divine.”15 Most evangelicals are familiar with ecumenism within Christianity only. However, those who hold to the new theology and more explicitly those who hold to contemplative spirituality believe in an ecumenism that includes non-Christian religions and all “faith groups.” This is a logical step for those who divorce themselves from the Gospel of Scripture and who adopt the view that all are saved (universalism).
Since universalism has traditionally not appealed to many evangelicals, and Manning is attempting to reach them, he does not make blatant statements advocating it. He shows, however, that he is indeed a universalist in two ways.
First, the people whom Manning approvingly cites believe in universalism. David Steindl-Rast is a Roman Catholic priest who promotes contemplative theology. In a 1992 article, he said, “Envision the great religious traditions arranged on the circumference of a circle. At their mystical core they all say the same thing, but with different emphasis.”16 Manning cites him approvingly twice in The Signature of Jesus.17
The New Monks frequently use the term “unconditional love” to express universality. Their push to a beyond-words, beyond-thoughts meditation experience in order to fully experience a loving deity misses entirely that apart from faith in Christ for eternal life, there can be no adequate discussion of experiencing God’s love.
Matthew Fox, cited approvingly in Manning’s books Lion and Lamb18 and A Stranger to Self-Hatred,19 is an excommunicated Catholic priest and a contemplative. He gives us another example of the universalism of the contemplatives Manning cites:
God is a great underground river, and there are many wells into that river. There’s a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Christian well, a Goddess well, the Native wells—many wells that humans have dug to get into that river, but friends, there’s only one river; the living waters of wisdom. All of us have to go down a well today; we all have to do spiritual practice to find divinity. But whether your well be Buddhist, or Christian or Sufi or Jewish, when you do your work, you will come to the same source of wisdom.20
Merton says one can work within the Christian traditions but view universalism as the broader truth:
[The contemplative] has a unified vision and experience of the one truth shining out in all its various manifestations . . . He does not set these partial views up in opposition to each other, but unites them in a dialectic or an insight of complementarity.21
Second, Manning makes statements that imply universalism. For example, he says that contemplative spirituality “looks upon human nature as fallen but redeemed—flawed but, in essence, good.”22 For Manning, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ mean that all are redeemed. There is nothing to be done to gain the life of God. Everyone already has it:
He has a single, relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of Grace.23
Manning says that God loves “all.” He is not speaking here merely of the compassion God has for the world, which moved Him to send His Son to die for us (John 3:16). He is saying that God has already restored all people to a right relationship with Him. Notice that he first says “he loves us” and then “he loves all.” Clearly “us,” the first person plural pronoun, in this context includes everyone. Then, in the same context Manning goes on to say that “we have been restored to a right relationship with God.” “We” mentioned here is the same group as the “all” mentioned earlier. All have been restored to a right relationship with God. Manning wants us to overcome our psychological fog so that we can realize it. The Good News is that everyone is already saved. The biblical view that all are lost and that only when a person trusts Jesus Christ as Savior does he pass from death to life (John 5:24) is foreign to Manning and contemplatives.
The last chapter of The Signature of Jesus is all about a revelation, which Manning supposedly received from God about final judgment. The illustration mentions by name some of the most vile men of all time, including Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and Saddam Hussein, and implies that all of them, indeed all who have ever lived, will get into heaven.24
It should be noted, however, that there are statements in The Signature of Jesus and in the writings of other contemplatives that can be easily misconstrued to imply that there is salvation only for those who believe in Jesus. For example, Manning writes, “In any other great world religion it is unthinkable to address almighty God as ‘Abba.’” He then supports this point by approvingly quoting Peter Van Breemen:
Many devout Moslems, Buddhists, and Hinduists are generous and sincere in their search for God. Many have had profound mystical experiences. Yet in spite of their immeasurable spiritual depth, they seldom or never come to know God as their Father. Indeed, intimacy with Abba is one of the greatest treasures Jesus has brought us.25
It is important to realize that when contemplatives speak of knowing God as Father or Abba, they are not referring to regeneration. They are referring to achieving a level of intimacy with God, “intimacy with Abba.” They view all people as heaven bound. The issue for them is becoming a mystic whose experience of God transforms the life and hence the world. Their ultimate aim is to usher in a new world.
There are statements in The Signature of Jesus which could be misconstrued as well. He denounces “cheap grace”26 and says:
In the last analysis, faith is not the sum of our beliefs or a way of speaking or a way of thinking; it is a way of living and can be articulated adequately only in a living practice. To acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord is meaningful insofar as we try to live as he lived and to order our lives according to his values. We do not need to theorize about Jesus; we need to make him present in our time, our culture, and our circumstances. Only a true practice of our Christian faith can verify what we believe .27
However, Manning is not talking about salvation from Hell. He is speaking of deliverance from fear and shame. He is speaking here of coming into an intimate knowledge of God in one’s experience, not of how we gain eternal life through biblical salvation.
As mentioned above, the key to spirituality, according to Manning, is a special type of prayer, which he calls “contemplative prayer” or “centering prayer.” For the uninitiated, this may not seem ominous. It may sound like what God calls us to do in His Word. It is not. It is ominous. It is a practice derived from Eastern mysticism.
Manning writes, “The task of contemplative prayer is to help me achieve the conscious awareness of the unconditionally loving God dwelling within me.”28 He also says, “What masters of the interior life recommend is the discipline of ‘centering down’ throughout the day.”29
Manning attempts to head off the charge that centering prayer comes from Eastern mysticism and the New Age movement by saying:
A simple method of contemplative prayer (often called “centering prayer” in our time and anchored in the Western Christian tradition of John Cassian and the desert fathers, and not, as some think, in Eastern mysticism or New age philosophy) has four steps.30
He instructs the reader in the practice of centering prayer, which is a type of contemplative wordless “prayer” a technique that involves breathing exercises and the chanting of a sacred word or phrase. Manning begins “the first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer”!31 What biblical support is there for this idea?
The second step, according to Manning, is to “without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word [or phrase] inwardly, slowly, and often.”32 Once again, where is the biblical support for this practice? None is cited, because none exists.
The third step concerns what to do when inevitable distractions come. The answer is to “simply return to listening to your sacred word . . . gently return to your sacred word.”33
Finally, “after a twenty-minute period of prayer [which Manning recommends twice daily] conclude with the Lord’s Prayer, a favorite psalm, or some spontaneous words of praise and thanks.”34 While he doesn’t say how long this concluding recitation or spontaneous words might last, it seems he only expects this to be a minute or two, since the Lord’s Prayer and most of the Psalms are short and easy to read in a minute or so. This concluding recitation seems to be an afterthought, something put in to make the “prayer” seem Christian. Yet even this fourth part is biblically suspect. Jesus said, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do” (Matthew 6:7). Any routine prayer repeated each prayer session will soon fall into the category of “vain repetition,” even if it is Scripture. The Lord’s Prayer is a sample of the way we should pray that Jesus gave when He said “use not vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7).
The instruction utilizes odd jargon such as the “false self” and “crucifixion of the ego” and a curious mix of spiritual and psychological terms. To understand his language, one would need to have a more candid overview of centering prayer.35
Chapter seven is titled “Celebrate the Darkness” (a title that is decidedly not only unbiblical, but even anti-biblical; darkness is always presented negatively in Scripture (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:8, 11; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5-10). Manning, quoting atonement rejector, Alan Jones, writes “the ego has to break; and this breaking is like entering into a great darkness. Without such a struggle and affliction, there can be no movement in love.”36 He goes on:
With the ego purged and the heart purified through the trials of the dark night, the interior life of an authentic disciple is a hidden, invisible affair. Today it appears that God is calling many ordinary Christians into this rhythm of loss and gain. The hunger I encounter across the land for silence, solitude, and centering prayer is the Spirit of Christ calling us from the shallows to the deep.37
In centering prayer, the word sin becomes a religious word attached to a method of psychological therapy, and the biblical presentation of true moral guilt is omitted.38 It is a system completely open to the manipulation of the inventors who feel the liberty to use the biblical language any way they see fit. Manning attempts to give it the validity of tradition by saying that it has been rooted in Catholic monastic practices since the 5th century.
The result of this mystical practice is that the practitioner becomes less interested in objective spiritual knowledge found in the Bible and more interested in the subjective experience, which is found through centering prayer. This may account for the antagonistic attitude toward traditional forms of faith. Manning speaks of “several local churches [he has] visited, [in which] religiosity has pushed Jesus to the margins of real life and plunged people into preoccupation with their own personal salvation.”39 Of course, centering prayer requires no interest whatsoever in one’s own personal salvation since it presupposes that all are already saved. That is what we discover when we “center down.” Manning’s attitude toward the Bible seems to be markedly different from anyone who has a high regard for it as the very Word of God:
I am deeply distressed by what I can only call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word—bibliolatry. God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.40
In The Signature of Jesus, Manning rarely cites Scripture. Why should he, when the truly important knowledge of God comes from his experience of centering down and not from the Bible? Remember “God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book.” While Manning would acknowledge that some elementary truths of God can be found by reading the Bible, intimate knowledge of God only comes through centering prayer.41
Manning speaks much of God’s grace and love but these precious biblical concepts are actually replaced by vague notions of wholeness through an eastern religious meditation technique, Centering Prayer. Many contemplatives assert that this constitutes the spiritual journey and is the same process as integrating the conscious with the unconscious as described by Jungian psychotherapy. Manning has reinterpreted some of the most crucial biblical truths such as sin and forgiveness. The irony is that a clear biblical Gospel, if believed to be true, will produce assurance that has truly profound psychological benefits. There is no place for centering prayer in discipleship. Meditation is to be on God’s Word, not on nothingness.
Contemplative spirituality is dangerous. Christian leaders should warn their people about it. Those who are interested in a comprehensive biblical understanding of true biblical spirituality and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be warned that Brennan Manning traveled on a wholly other path and took countless people with him.
To order John Caddock’s review in booklet format, click here.
1. Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996 edition). See pp. 209-27, 218, 94, 115-36, 185-96, 216, 137-58, 58-59, 58, 94, 94, 170, 102, 111, 112, 30, 29, 219, 94, 224, 224, 231, 65, and 168 respectively.
2 Reviewed by Robert N. Wilkin in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1994, pp. 74-75.
3. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 131-150. Manning tells of literally sitting in a dark room with one solitary spotlight shining on a crucifix (p. 46): “Prostrate on the floor, I whisper, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ over and over.”
4. Ibid., pp. 195-212
5. Ibid., p. 89.
6. Ibid., p. 201.
8. Ibid., p. 90.
9. Schaeffer seems to have used the term broadly to avoid clumsiness in his discussion of how modern shifts in philosophies have effected theology. The expression “new theology,” as Schaeffer uses it, encompasses neo-orthodoxy, strongly rationalistic liberal theology, theologies following Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, and theologies following in the footsteps of the religious existentialism of Heidegger. Since Manning and the contemplatives drink from all of these fountains, I have used this expression.
10. John B. Healey, “The Journey Within” (America, February 19, 1994).
11. I coined this term since these priests promote mysticism for the common man through the use of their interpretation of monastic ideas and meditation. For them every man should be a mystic and every man should be a true monk. A “true monk” is a social activist.
12. This term is from Carl Jung, whose teaching is highly influential to the New Monks. Manning also favorably cites him in The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 173 (2005 ed.) and Abba’s Child, p. 44 (2002 ed.). Jung, a psychologist who was a disciple of Freud, believed one could become whole by integrating the unconscious with the conscious; however, this process requires embracing the darkness of the unconscious. Jung was known to even use occultic techniques to facilitate this.
13. A further example of how biblical language and themes are distorted by the New Monks is found in the writings of Alan Jones (who calls the doctrine of the atonement a vile doctrine in his book Reimagining Christianity), favorably cited by Manning in The Signature of Jesus, pp. 14, 132, 141, 184 and in Abba’s Child, p. 55.
14. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 153.
15. John R. Coyne, Jr., “Ultimate Reality in Chicago” (National Review, October 4, 1993).
16. David Steindl-Rast, “Heroic Virtue” (Gnosis, Summer, 1992).
17. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 196, 199.
18. Lion and Lamb (p. 135).
19. A Stranger to Self-Hatred (pp. 113, 124).
20. Matthew Fox, “In honor of Dr. Howard Thurman” (Creation Spirituality, Spring 1997, http://creationspiritualitymag.org/wp-content/uploads/1997/02/vol-13-howard-thurman.pdf). (Fox believes that the “second coming” of the Cosmic Christ, an awakening to mysticism, will usher in a global renaissance that can heal Mother Earth and save her by changing human hearts and ways.)
21. Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1965), pp. 207-208.
22. The Signature of Jesus op. cit., p. 118 (this is italicized in original).
23. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 2005 ed.), p. 20. See also his approving citation on the previous page of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s suggestion that God will accept into heaven sinners of every stripe (drunkards, weaklings, vile beings), including those who have taken the mark of the beast. The latter is a direct contradiction of Revelation 14:9-11. The former is only true of those who have been washed in the blood of Christ by faith. Yet Dostoevsky and Manning put no qualifier on which sinners get into heaven. All go to heaven.
24. In a 1995 sermon given at Greenbelt Seminars in Sheffield, England, titled “In Bed with God” (what kind of title is this!), Manning says, “Do you see why the revelation of Jesus on the nature of God is so revolutionary? [Do you see] why no Christian can ever say one form of prayer is not as good as another or one religion is not as good as another?” If all religions are equally good, then universalism must be true.
25. The Signature of Jesus, p. 158. Manning indicates that our “mission” is “building the new heavens and the new earth under the signature of Jesus” (p. 180). While this is a startling claim for those who know the biblical promise that it is God who will introduce the new heavens and the new earth (e.g., Rev 21:1ff.), it is consistent with the emphasis of contemplatives.
26. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., pp. 112, 121, 134, 172.
27. Ibid., p. 33.
28. Ibid., p. 197.
29. Ibid., p. 89.
30. Ibid., p. 203.
31. Ibid., p. 198.
32. Ibid., p. 204.
35. To understand how the contemplatives view these terms, read Cynthia Bourgeault’s article “From Woundedness to Union” (Gnosis, Winter 1995, pp. 41-45).
36. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 139.
37. Ibid., p. 142.
38. Manning gives us better insight into the contemplatives’ view of sin in his book Abba’s Child (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002 ed.), pp. 153-154.
39. The Signature of Jesus, op. cit., p. 178.
40. Ibid., p. 174.
41. In his first chapters of an earlier book, Gentle Revolutionaries, Manning indicates that we all have seven “centers,” three bad (security, sensation, and power) and four good (love, acceptance, self awareness, and unitive). The unitive center is the “highest level of consciousness” (p. 104). None of this, of course, is found in the Bible. It is all consistent with centering prayer and contemplative spirituality, neither of which depends on being anchored in the Word.
To order John Caddock’s review in booklet format, click here.
LTRP Note: This short article might be disturbing to read, but what is being described here is happening now in the church. Please take heed and pray for discernment as you listen to Christian speakers and read their books. The links below this article are to articles that substantiate what Lynn Lusby Pratt is saying.
By Lynn Lusby Pratt
About a decade ago, I became aware of the new wave of false teaching entering the church. One aspect of that teaching hinted that our experience with Jesus was (should be?) sexual. (Christians who use a mantra, as in contemplative prayer, and go into an altered state of consciousness sometimes have erotic experiences, which they mistakenly believe to be “union” with God/Jesus.) There was new interest in/promotion of the “bridal mysticism” of medieval nuns like Teresa of Avila: “Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain . . . and a spell of strangulation . . . swoon-like weakness . . .” There were quotes in Christian books, like Tony Campolo saying, “There is nothing wrong . . . with eroticism in worship.” And Ann Voskamp: “Mystical union. . . . God as Husband in sacred wedlock, bound together, body and soul. . . . To know him the way Adam knew Eve. Spirit skin to spirit skin . . .” [One Thousand Gifts, p. 217]. Ken Wilson: “I was having feelings of connection with the divine . . . [that] reminded me very much of the amorous feelings I have for my wife” [Mystically Wired, p. 27].
You may not have connected the dots, but go back to the Old Testament (and general history) as a reminder that pagan religions typically include sexual ritual. And when believers in God step away from God’s path, it inevitably trends toward an “anything goes” sexual culture. There are loads of Scripture warnings against following pagan practices (ex: Deuteronomy 12:30-32)—not to mention any number of explanations of failures to obey those warnings (ex: 1 Kings 14:22-24). And 2 Kings 23:7 says that the quarters of shrine prostitutes were actually “in the temple of the Lord”!
Well, those people were idiots, right? We in the church would never be tricked into that sort of thing.
But see, you and/or your small group are almost surely using books written by people who are on that path, or who at least are being influenced by such people. (You can partly discern a writer’s spiritual family tree by looking at who is quoted in the endnotes.) The average Christian probably reads quotes like those above and brushes them aside with, “Oh, surely it doesn’t mean THAT!” But people engaged in mystical practice DO mean that.
And so we come to the next level, with such ideas now being even more openly promoted. There’s a new book coming out called Tantric Jesus: The Erotic Heart of Early Christianity. (Tantrism is sex magic. Look it up.) The sales pitch is that this “wisdom” of Jesus resonates with the “tantric yogas of India and Tibet.” This thing is so blasphemous against the Lord, I can’t even bring myself to give a sample quotation. The U.S. secular culture is already far along the “anything goes” sexual path. The church will follow a la the Jewish religious leaders of the OT—that’s how it works—unless we have the savvy to recognize that “What’s next—temple prostitutes?” could become more than just a wisecrack.
What to do? We must examine, with discernment, the teachings of the spiritual mentors we’re following. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them,” Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 4:16) who was working in Ephesus, the HQ of the sometimes-erotic worship of the goddess Artemis. Let’s read the Old Testament and take a hard look at what happens when believers don’t stay on alert. Then we’ll be equipped to expose false teaching when we find it, instead of overlooking/endorsing it.
“Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth is hailed by many as the best modern book on Christian spirituality with millions of copies sold since its original publication in 1978.”—Publisher description
LTRP Note: Keep in mind three things as you read this article: 1) a strong link exists between Thomas Merton and the evangelical church, and that link is Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline); 2) Richard Foster once said Thomas Merton “stands as one of the greatest twentieth-century embodiments of spiritual life as a journey”(1); 3) the current “Spiritual Formation” movement within Christianity was spawned by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, and both men were ignited by Thomas Merton.
As you read this account of Thomas Merton, know that this same spiritual outlook that is described below has entered the church in no small way. Maybe it’s time you ask your pastor, “What do you think about Richard Foster and Celebration of Discipline?”
By Ray Yungen
What Martin Luther King was to the civil rights movement and what Henry Ford was to the automobile, Thomas Merton is to contemplative prayer. Although this prayer movement existed centuries before he came along, Merton, a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, took it out of its monastic setting and made it available to, and popular with, the masses. I personally have been researching Thomas Merton and the contemplative prayer movement for over 20 years, and for me, hands down, Thomas Merton has influenced the Christian mystical movement more than any person of recent decades.
Merton penned one of the most classic descriptions of contemplative spirituality I have ever come across. He explained:
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . . now I realize what we all are. . . . If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. . . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth. . . . This little point . . . is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody. 2 (emphasis mine)
This panentheistic (i.e., God in everyone) view is similar to the occultic definition of the higher self.
In order to understand Merton’s connection to mystical occultism, we need first to understand a sect of the Muslim world—the Sufis, who are the mystics of Islam. They chant the name of Allah as a mantra, go into meditative trances, and experience God in everything. A prominent Catholic audiotape company promotes a series of cassettes Merton did on Sufism. It explains:
Merton loved and shared a deep spiritual kinship with the Sufis, the spiritual teachers and mystics of Islam. Here he shares their profound spirituality.3
To further show Merton’s “spiritual kinship” with Sufism, in a letter to a Sufi Master, Merton disclosed, “My prayer tends very much to what you call fana.”4 So what is fana? The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult defines it as “the act of merging with the Divine Oneness”5 (meaning all is one and all is God).
Merton saw the Sufi concept of fana as being a catalyst for Muslim unity with Christianity despite the obvious doctrinal differences. In a dialogue with a Sufi leader, Merton asked about the Muslim concept of salvation. The master wrote back stating:
Islam inculcates individual responsibility for one’s actions and does not subscribe to the doctrine of atonement or the theory of redemption.6 (emphasis added)
To Merton, of course, this meant little because he believed that fana and contemplation were the same thing. He responded:
Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs [the atonement]differ, I think that controversy is of little value because it takes us away from the spiritual realities into the realm of words and ideas . . . in words there are apt to be infinite complexities and subtleties which are beyond resolution. . . . But much more important is the sharing of the experience of divine light . . . It is here that the area of fruitful dialogue exists between Christianity and Islam.7 (emphasis mine)
Merton himself underlined that point when he told a group of contemplative women:
I’m deeply impregnated with Sufism.8
And he elaborated elsewhere:
Asia, Zen, Islam, etc., all these things come together in my life. It would be madness for me to attempt to create a monastic life for myself by excluding all these. I would be less a monk.9 (emphasis mine)
When we evaluate Merton’s mystical worldview, it clearly resonates with what technically would be considered traditional New Age thought. This is an inescapable fact!
Merton’s mystical experiences ultimately made him a kindred spirit and co-mystic with those in Eastern religions because his insights were identical to their insights. At an interfaith conference in Thailand, he stated:
I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian [mystical] traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions.10
Please understand that contemplative prayer alone was the catalyst for such theological views. One of Merton’s biographers made this very clear when he explained:
If one wants to understand Merton’s going to the East it is important to understand that it was his rootedness in his own faith tradition [Catholicism] that gave him the spiritual equipment [contemplative prayer] he needed to grasp the way of wisdom that is proper to the East.11
This was the ripe fruit of the Desert Fathers, the ancient monks who borrowed mystical methods from Eastern religion, which altered their understanding of God. This is what one gets from contemplative prayer. There is no other way to put it. It does not take being a scholar to see the logic in this.
(This is an excerpt from Ray Yungen’s book, A Time of Departing.)
1. Richard Foster, Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion (InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 84.
2. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.
3. Credence Cassettes magazine, Winter/Lent, 1998, p. 24.
4. M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Merton, My Brother (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996), p. 115, citing from The Hidden Ground of Love), pp. 63-64.
5. Nevill Drury, The Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1985), p. 85.
6. Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 109.
7. Ibid., p. 110.
8. Ibid., p. 69.
9. Ibid., p. 41.
10. William Shannon, Silent Lamp, The Thomas Merton Story (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), p. 276.
11. Ibid., p. 281.
Boy Scouts’ Rulings Put Boys at Risk (and “Letter to the Molester” and “What Being Molested Cost Me”)
LTRP Note: For 15 years, Lighthouse Trails has had the motto “Bringing light to areas of darkness.” One of those areas (which we call our Sensitive Issues) is bringing to light the reality of child sexual abuse. We believe that the sexual molestation of children is part of what we call “the Death Religion,” which includes evolution, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, mysticism, pedophilia, and antisemitism. All of these lead to one place – death, and the author of death is our adversary, Satan. We have published three books thus far on this topic: The Color of Pain (by Gregory Reid), Laughter Calls Me (by Catherine Brown), and Seducers Among Our Children (by Sergeant Patrick Crough) and carry a number of other resources like these.
Over the past couple years, the Boy Scouts of America have passed resolutions allowing practicing homosexuals (and now transgenders) to actively lead and/or participate in the clubs. What the organization has done is put countless young boys in harm’s way. We believe it is just a matter of time before our society says it is not a crime to engage in sexual activity with a child. With every world empire in history that came to that resolution, it was the last resolution they ever made. After that, their empire ended.
The following two excerpts by Greg Reid from his book The Color of Pain illustrates what happens to a young boy when he is molested. Greg writes from personal experience. While some may find it difficult to read such an account, it is wrong to bury our heads in the sand and pretend this is not really happening to boys and girls across this nation. And the Boy Scouts have now made it possible for that epidemic to grow bigger than ever.
As Patrick Crough says in his book, adults are supposed to be the shepherd’s of children. We have a responsibility to watch over and protect them.
“Letter to the Molester”
By Greg Reid
To Whoever You Are:
Your name doesn’t matter, for to me, you were just a stranger in a Volkswagen who gave me a ride. And to you, I was just a number, a cute fourteen-year-old anonymous kid, one of God knows how many.
I think about it a lot. Even though you weren’t the first to molest me, you probably did more damage than most. At fourteen, I was just beginning to explore my sexuality, and I was vulnerable. All my sexual antennas were active, but then you knew that, didn’t you? That’s why you picked kids like me. We were easy prey; we were little enough to feel scared and overpowered by you, old enough to sexually respond to what you did.
I hated you, and I have forgiven you. Because to not forgive you meant I always lived for you, thought about you, lived in the darkness of what you did and longed for vengeance. Five years after you raped me, I saw you while I was driving, and pressed the accelerator to the floor to kill you. You were still driving the same Volkswagen. Only God’s grace pulled back my foot and let you live. And then I knew that you bound me still. And so I forgave not because it was rational but because it was killing me, not because you deserve it but because I needed to let it go. Forgive means “give forth” and so I gave back the chains you put me in. I don’t hate you anymore. I feel nothing at all, but sadness, for what you took from me—that I can never reclaim my adolescence.
I do pray for you for repentance, if possible. And if not, for imprisonment, not to punish you (for you must loath your every breath) but to stop you. Because if you raped me, I wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last.
I pray for all the kids you raped like me. You cannot know what you took, what you destroyed. The walking wounded see your face, feel your evil touch, and blame themselves.
I wish I could tell them it wasn’t them. You knew exactly how it’s done. They were powerless, and paralyzed, and afraid.
They probably still are.
“What Being Molested Cost Me”
By Greg Reid
The cost to a kid who gets molested is higher than most people know. It’s too easy to minimize the damage by saying, “It’s just one of those things,” or “Get over it.” Sexual violation is a violent thing even when it’s not violent.
It takes so much inside. After many years, I’ve taken notice of the losses (much of which has been healed and restored), and I want to tell you about it so you’ll know.
It cost me my childhood. Repeated molestation blocked my memories, and what I did remember was covered with a haze of physical illness, stalking fear, repeat nightmares, and deep loneliness.
It cost me my ability to trust. I resented authority and feared adults so much I wouldn’t go anyplace like a public rest room or swimming pool locker room because I’d get sick from the fear of what might happen.
It cost me my ability to be spontaneous. I kept such rigid control over my emotions, my body and my mind, that I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t play, and being around kids who could made me feel sullen, angry, depressed, alone, left out.
It cost me my sanity. Shortly after the initial abuses, I was in a complete emotional dead zone; and one night, as I sat alone in a chair, my mind filled with filth and blasphemy, and tears streamed down my face, because I loved God and I couldn’t stop this mental rape, and I just snapped after several days of this, and I started cursing, and smoking, and drinking, and I told God to give up on me because I was evil.
I was eleven.
It cost me my education potential. I was a brilliant child. Being molested cost me my ability to think without confusion, trance outs, and frustration. I couldn’t concentrate. I could have been a straight A Valedictorian. Instead, by the time I finished High School, I was taking four basic classes and barely passed.
It cost me my identity. Being molested created such sexual and emotional confusion that I was an old man before I was fifteen and still a boy at thirty. I felt numb and removed, like I was not there, just a piece of property for others to use and discard.
It cost me my adolescence. Being molested made me afraid of adults, men, women, crowds, public places, challenges, fights and almost everything else including being scared to death I was gay and scared of all my emotions including anger and joy. I couldn’t date, I didn’t go to the prom, and alcohol was my only “friend.” Being a kid is screwed up and scary enough, but I carried enough guilt and fear to take down ten normal adults.
It cost me time. Being molested started me running, and I ran and kept going until I crashed in my late twenties, and then it cost me time in recovering, facing hard truth, and healing.
It cost me family. Being molested crippled my heart enough to destroy any potential marriage or children.
God has restored most of what was taken, and more. But you need to know being molested is not a “get over it” thing. It’s an evil robber whose damage goes deep and keeps taking until we can face it and start to heal.
Silence: Movie Promotes Contemplative Spirituality and Sanctions Apostasy But Gets Backing By Christian Groups
By Cedric Fisher
Silence is the latest movie by Martin Scorsese, who also produced The Last Temptation of Christ. I have read several reviews by professing Christians who are recommending it without reservations. Additionally, the Dove Foundation awarded the movie 4 out of 5 doves. Charisma News asks, “Is Martin Scorsese’s Silence Prophetic?” CBN also presented a rave review. Christianity Today titled its review, “Scorsese’s Silence Asks What It Really Costs to Follow Jesus.”
Another review in CT is titled, “Silence Review: Hollywood’s Gift To The Church That Might Just Save Your Faith.” And what is the message of Silence that might save your life? The message of the movie is antithetical to true faith.
The title of Lumindeo’s review of the movie is “Silence—A Christian’s Contemplative Guide.”1 In the “About” section of the Lumindeo website, it is described as “a network created by and for passionate followers of Jesus Christ.” If Lumindeo consists of passionate followers of Jesus Christ, why don’t they know that Christianity never grew in apostasy, but always in persecution and martyrdom?
Crosswalk likewise implies that it is a Christian-themed film with the statement, “Theologians, look no further: this movie is jam-packed with spiritual themes.”2 Spiritual themes, perhaps, but Christian themes? Not by any stretch. Crosswalk reveals a misunderstanding of true Christianity in the following statement. Click here for footnotes and to continue reading.
By Harry Ironside
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1·3)
I. THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH
IN VIEW of the exhortation of our text above, we naturally raise the question, What is the vocation wherewith we are called? And that leads us to turn to various portions of the New Testament to consider what the Spirit of God has been pleased to reveal concerning that marvelous society to which every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has been joined by the Holy Spirit.
What is the church? How do we become members of the church? What are our responsibilities as belonging to the church? What is the destiny of the church of God?
I want to be very elementary and shall begin at the beginning by turning to the first place in the New Testament, where we read of the church—Matthew 16. Here, immediately after Peter’s remarkable confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” we read:
[A]nd Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven, and I say also unto thee that thou art Peter [thou art a piece of rock] and upon this rock [I take it this rock refers to the blessed truth that Christ is the Son of God] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:17-18)
Notice, “I will build My church.” Observe, our Lord Jesus Christ did not here speak of something that was in the process of building. He did not say, “I am building My church,” or “I have been building My church,” as though it had been in course of construction either throughout the centuries before Christ came into the world or during the time He was on earth as man, but He spoke of the building of the church as something still in the future.
The gates of hell [that is, the gates of the unseen world] shall not prevail against it.
I get great encouragement from that statement of my Lord, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church that Jesus builds. Sometimes people are very pessimistic regarding the future of the church. They see atheism and unbelief rolling in like a flood and the cults and isms appearing like mushrooms, and they are afraid that the true faith of the church of God will be overthrown by all these things, but we have the assurance of the Lord Jesus Christ that so long as the church of God shall remain in this scene, it will remain undefeated.
An army does not take the gates of the city out to war with it, and the church does not sit on a hill and the gates of hell surround her, but the church of God is a conquering spiritual army carrying on a battle against the powers of hell, and they shall not prevail against her. A right-thinking man does not shut his eyes to the signs of the times and will not be ignorant of Satan’s devices, but he knows that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world, and the church of Jesus Christ will not retire from the scene a defeated company.
Here Christ called it “My church” for the first time. He was not speaking of any separate company. He was not speaking of any particular sect or denomination. He was speaking of the aggregate of the redeemed in this time of grace and called them “My church.”
Now let us look further: there were saints of God in the world from the beginning, right down to the time Jesus uttered these words. In a sense, these saints constituted churches. Stephen spoke of the people in the wilderness as a church, an assembly, but we must distinguish between any such companies and that unique company that Christ called “My church.” This church of which He spoke could not come into being until He had died on the Cross, had been raised from the dead, was received up into glory, and sent the Spirit down into the earth, which He did at Pentecost.
Matthew 18 records the next place Christ spoke of the church, and this time it is about discipline in the church, and it would apply just as well to the congregation of Israel. He used the word “church” here in a narrower sense than He did in chapter 16. He spoke of trespass:
[I]f thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone-if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more . . . if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church. (Matthew 18:15, 17)
This is not very often done now. The command is to tell it to the called out company, not to the whole world. The church here is not the aggregate of all the redeemed but a local company in any given place. We are not able to tell it to the whole church of Jesus, but, meeting with a company of believers in a given place, which company of Christian people is an assembly of saints, we should go to them and bring the matter before them, and they will act on behalf of their glorified Lord.
There is not one other word regarding the church in Matthew.
II. THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST
The apostle Paul was the one chosen of God to unfold the teaching of the church as the body of Christ in the largest way. He was not the only one to whom this truth was revealed, but he received the largest revelation (see Ephesians 3:1-6). Paul did not write by consultation with other believers, not even with the original twelve, but he received his message as a direct revelation from Christ. The word rendered “mystery” here means, not something peculiarly difficult and mystical, but a sacred secret. The mystery Paul speaks of is something not found in the Old Testament, not proclaimed by the former prophets; it is something new. It was revealed to a body of holy apostles and prophets. In God’s due time, it was opened up to the other members of the apostolic band and those associated with, them. It is the special truth of what God is doing in this age, taking people from among the Jews and Gentiles and uniting them by the Spirit’s baptism into one body. Into what body? The body that had been formed on the Day of Pentecost.
There was no other body into which the Gentiles could be brought.
“That the Gentiles should be made fellow heirs.” Fellow heirs with whom? Those Jews who were already converted. They entered into partnership with the Jews. Paul said, “whereof I was made a minister [of this].” It was to tell the Gentiles who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ that they are no longer strangers and foreigners to the covenant promises of God but are made fellow citizens with the Jews of the household of God.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:8)
I like the humility of Paul. What a lowly place this mighty man of God was willing to take!
The implication is clear: the Gospel had already been preached among the Jews and many had believed, and now in a special sense it was given to him to go out and proclaim it among the Gentiles that they might enter into the same testimony and have the same blessing.
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.(Ephesians 3:10)
This is unto angelic hosts, unfallen beings, who look on redeemed men and women and learn the riches of Christ.
Here are saints on earth, since the Cross and Pentecost—many Jews, others Gentiles, come to the same common ground, God meeting them all as sinners approaching Him through the redeeming blood of Christ, which are cleansed from every stain, given a new life and nature, and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit Himself, and then everyone is linked up by the Spirit with their risen, glorified Head in Heaven; and so intimate is that union that they are as close to Him as the members of my body are to each other.
The principalities and powers looking down on the world and seeing the work of God here, that is, grace picking up sinful Jews and Gentiles and making them one in Christ, are the angels who glorify God for the work He is doing, and they learn the wisdom of God. This is what God is doing now. This body relationship is spoken of in Ephesians 4:
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
There you have this corporate union with Christ. He is the Head, and every believer is occupying some place in that body.
I do not know what part of the body I am. The members of my physical body do not know what part they are. The consciousness is in the head; so with the spiritual body, the consciousness is in the Head up yonder, and He knows what each one is placed there for. My brethren, what a wonderful thing it is for each member to be in good working order! If one member of our body is not functioning right, the whole body suffers, and so Scripture says of Christ’s body, if one member suffers all the members suffer with it, and if one be honored, all the members rejoice together. If you are not going on with God and living for Him, if your life is not a godly life, you are like some member of the body out of order and failing to function. If you are living for God and walking with God, you may not be conscious of it, but you are a help and blessing to all the other members.
III. THE CHURCH AS A BUILDING
We are not only pictured in this wonderful epistle as members of the body of Christ, but in Ephesians 2, we are pictured as each one part of a building. Here we have our heavenly citizenship. Here is a new household:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Believers constitute that spiritual house.
Notice how he used the word “fitly.” In chapter 4, “fitly joined together,” and in chapter 2, “fitly framed together.”
A master builder is very careful that every stone fits properly, that every board is properly fitted together; otherwise the beauty and perhaps the safety is marred. It is the work of the Spirit of God to fitly frame the building together. Peter speaks of us as lively stones come to the Living Stone and thus are builded together into an house of God.
IV. THE CHURCH AS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
Ephesians 5:22-27, 30, 32:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish . . . For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones . . . This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Here, he has changed the figure. You do not sanctify and cleanse your body to present it to yourself; it is part of you. He has changed the figure from the body to the bride, and I dare say as he penned these words, he thought of Hosea when he was commanded by God to do something that was most repugnant, to illustrate God’s dealings with Israel, and typically the Lord’s dealing with the church. He had to go to the slave market to buy his wife, and the Spirit pointed her out. She was vile, filthy, contaminated, and a slave, but he took her and cleansed and clothed her, and presented her to himself, and yet she was not faithful to him, and he had to buy her back again. This is a picture of Israel. She is called the bride of God, and later on the wife. These are just symbols. Christ has to cleanse the church in order to present her to Himself a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle. It is a figure of a wife presented to her husband.
[W]e are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.
This reminds us that when Adam received Eve, he said, “she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Paul is now quoting (in verse 31) from Genesis. Paul is here telling us that the mystery of marriage illustrates the relationship between Christ and the church.
We have seen the church then as a redeemed company, as the body of Christ, as a glorious building in which the Spirit of God dwells, and as the bride soon to be presented to the Lamb, Who died to redeem her. That in itself speaks of her destiny.
V. THE CALLING OF THE CHURCH
What, then, is the calling of the church of God?
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4- 7)
Sitting in heavenly places does not mean we are now sitting together “with” Christ Jesus.
Now we are sitting “in” Christ, not “with.” “With” Christ will be our happy portion by and by when Christ comes and takes us home, that in the ages to come He may show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. Show means that He might exhibit. The church, then, called out of sin and darkness, redeemed to God with the precious Blood of Christ, and linked to the Head with the Spirit, will be one with Christ throughout all the ages to come, and so whatever experiences our Lord may be called upon to go through we shall go through with Him. We shall reign with Him and be with Him when He is all and in all. Our portion will be with Him through all eternity.
Let us, therefore, walk worthy of the calling wherewith we are called.
(You may read more by Harry Ironside at www.harryironside.com.)