The contemplative prayer movement is rushing into the evangelical/Protestant church, gaining more momentum with each passing day. Lighthouse Trails has established the fact that this is becoming a significant movement. Just since the beginning of 2013, we have shown numerous examples of Christian organizations and denominations that are now accepting contemplative spirituality. Some of those we have documented this year so far are: The Assemblies of God General Council 1; Moody Bible Institute and Moody Radio 2; Christian Missionary & Alliance 3; LeTourneau University 4; Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) 5; John Piper (Desiring God) 6; Timothy Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian) 7; Nazarene universities 8; Radio Bible Class 9; Native American Bible College 10; and Cornerstone University 11.
What we are about to share in the following report has shaken us because the implications are that the evangelical church is succumbing to an apostate mystical revolution, and a growing number of today’s Christian leaders are party to it either by way of promotion or by way of apathy.
First, as we have frequently pointed out, the contemplative philosophy says that the silence makes one a better Christian (i.e., more mature, transformed, deeper walk with God, etc.). But we can say with surety that it does not make one a better Christian; rather, it breeds within the practitioner interspiritual and panentheistic seeds of deception. To be honest, if the silence did make one a better Christian, Lighthouse Trails wouldn’t have been created in the first place. If the contemplative ended up with a stronger, more solid view of the Christian faith – which is the Gospel – we wouldn’t be concerned. But we have shown repeatedly over the years that contemplative prayer is contrary to Scriptures and negates the need for the Cross. This mystical practice, rather than bringing about a turning to Jesus Christ through faith in Him, leads those participating to believe they are already united with God. The fact that contemplative teachers almost uniformly are sympathetic to interspirituality (all paths lead to God) and panentheism (God is in all), indicates that they are actually in touch with familiar spirits (demons) and not the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit would lead one to the preaching of the Cross and justification by Christ alone. But what the contemplative comes out with is everyone is connected to God. As we have shown time and again, through the writings of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, and many more contemplative advocates, this is what happens to their spiritual outlook.
As we explained in our May 22nd article, “Moody’s Pastors’ Conference Teaching Lectio Divina This Week” we have been warning Moody Bible Institute and Moody Radio (owned by MBI) for seven years. Moody has rejected our warnings, has refused to accept our free, non-obligatory copies of A Time of Departing and Faith Undone, and has continued to promote contemplative spirituality. When you consider the significant influence that Moody has always had in the church, this cannot be ignored. Moody Radio is one of the largest Christian radio networks in America with 36 owned and operated stations, over 1500 outlets, and over 400 affiliate stations. 1 Moody Bible Institute is considered one of the most trusted biblically-based schools in the nation, and Moody Publishers (also part of MBI), in existence for over 100 years, has given itself the motto “The Name You Can Trust.” So, undoubtedly, what they do and what they promote is going to make a difference in many many lives.
One of the long-standing Moody Radio programs is Midday Connection. Lighthouse Trails has addressed this program on a number of occasions because of the continued promotion of contemplative and emerging figures through interviews on the show. On Thursday, June 6th, 2013, a Lighthouse Trails reader informed us that on June 3rd on the Middday Connection radio program, Moody hosts Anita Lustrea (with Moody since 1984) and Melinda Schmidt discussed Lustrea’s recent graduation from the Christos Center for Spiritual Formation. According to the women’s discussion, Lustrea was awarded a 2-year Certificate in Spiritual Direction. On the program, Schmidt acknowledged that Lustrea would incorporate what she had learned over the past two years into Midday Connection, and Lustrea told the audience that Schmidt would be starting the same 2-year program this fall.
This is very significant and troubling news to learn. The Christos Center teaching team consists of several “spiritual directors” who have been trained at the interspiritual, panentheistic Shalem Institute in Washington, DC. The Christos Center emulates the same spiritual view and teaches the same mystical practices as Shalem. The 2-year certificate in Spiritual Direction that Anita Lustrea received this year (and Melinda Schmidt hopes to receive in 2 years) is taught by these Shalem-trained spiritual directors from Christos.
In a brochure, advertising the Christos Center’s 2-year Certificate in Spiritual Direction, we see the name of the program is “Tending the Holy – Preparation for the Ministry of Spiritual Direction.” According to this brochure, study areas include: the Desert Mothers/Fathers, Spanish Mystics, Centering Prayer, The Contemplative Life, Solitude and Silence, Meditation, and so forth. For those who don’t know, “Centering Prayer” is the trademark of Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, the two interspiritual panentheistic monks who have been instrumental in bringing mysticism to a broad audience.
One of the teachers for the Christos 2-year certificate program is Joann Nesser, who is also the founder of the Christos Center and holds a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Shalem Institute. Nesser is also a member of Spiritual Directors International and served on the SDI Coordinating Council for 6 of the early formative years. (source) If you have followed Lighthouse Trails for a while, you will be familiar with the name Spiritual Directors International. In fact, the organization is mentioned in Ray Yungen’s A Time of Departing. On page 41, Yungen states:
One of the objectives of SDI is “Tending the holy around the world and across traditions.” A 2008 membership list showed 652 Episcopalians, 239 Presbyterians, 239 Methodists, 175 Lutherans, and a whopping 2,386 Roman Catholics; counting another forty or so “traditions,” the total was 6648. To show the nature of just what they mean by “across traditions,” the list included Buddhist, Gnostic Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Siddha Yoga, and even Pagan/Wiccan.*
This term “tending the holy” may have originated in 1992, when Mercy Sister Suzanne Toolan composed a song for SDI titled “Tending the Holy.” Toolan is a prominent spokesperson for the music and prayer of the Taizé ecumenical/interfaith community from France. “Tending the Holy” is also the title of a 2003 book written by Norvene Vest, a book that was part of the Spiritual Directors International series. Vest is a founding member of the Center for Christian Spirituality-West and “a feminist theologian, emphasizing embodied, relational theology and images of the divine feminine” (the goddess within) (source). The full title of the SDI book is Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across the Traditions. When it says “across the traditions,” it means across all the world’s religious traditions. The book is filled with quotes by and references to mystics from the world’s largest religions (e.g., Swami Muktananda, Swami Rama, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Sri Chinmoy, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi). Thus “tending the holy” infers that the holy (or God) is in all the various religions (i.e., interspirituality). Thus, you can understand how troubling it is to see that Christos Center has adopted the term “tending the holy” for their 2 year program on supposed Christian spiritual direction, and Moody’s Anita Lustrea has participated in this, hoping to pass on what she has learned to Moody listeners.
In Joann Nesser’s book, Contemplative Prayer: Praying When the Well Runs Dry, she describes her journey into contemplative spirituality, which started first by meeting a woman who “converted to Hinduism” (Preface) whose meditation attracted Nesser. Nesser said, as so many contemplatives do, that her own faith in God was void of a relationship with Him. She found her answer first in a book by contemplative mystics and then at a Catholic retreat center. Almost without exception, contemplative teachers talk about a spiritual dryness they have. Rather than finding true and lasting fulfillment in receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and becoming born-again of the Spirit of God, they turn to mystical experiences, believing these are connecting them to God. This is what Nesser was led into. She began teaching others what she had learned:
After many years of attending silent retreats and practicing my own prayer, I like to say I accidentally began to lead retreats on prayer and became a spiritual director. Fearing I might be leading people astray, I sought out, and was blessed to find, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. Shalem gave me the space and encouragement for my own deepening as well as the grounding I needed for leading others (Kindle Locations 74-76).
Nesser, who is currently one of the Henri Nouwen Society spiritual directors, echoes the panentheistic mystics, such as Thomas Merton, when she states: “We are all dwelling places of God” (Contemplative Prayer; Kindle Location 294). When she says this, she doesn’t mean all Christians; she means all humanity as Henri Nouwen also believed.
The point we want to make here is that Anita Lustrea has received teaching and mentoring from those who are given over to beliefs that are more in line with New Age/Eastern mysticism than with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t believe this is a sensationalistic or extreme statement as we have been able to clearly show over the last 11 years in ministry that the panentheistic and interspiritual roots of the contemplative prayer movement do not line up with the biblical message of the Gospel.
As a case in point to show that Anita Lustrea has absorbed the essence of her contemplative teachers, on June 3rd on Lustrea’s blog, she wrote an article titled “Walking the Labyrinth” encouraging the use of labyrinths. The labyrinth is a maze-like structure that has pagan roots and is today used primarily in contemplative settings (see Carl Teichrib’s excellent article on labyrinths). Even prior to Lustrea beginning the Christos program, she was drawn to contemplative: in at least one Midday Connection program, Lustrea had contemplative author Adele Ahlberg Calhoun as a guest speaker, and Lustrea talks about Calhoun in her own book, What Women Tell Me. Lustrea tells how she met Calhoun during a course called “Growing Your Soul” and how Calhoun taught her some of the contemplative “spiritual disciplines” (p. 125). In a Lighthouse Trails article, “’Spiritual Disciplines Handbook’ – Christian Organizations, Seminaries, and Ministry Leaders Incorporate This Mystical Primer into Christian Education,” we show the heavy mystical propensities of Calhoun. We stated:
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun is a primer on contemplative mysticism, bursting with contemplative meditation instruction along with references and quotes by some of the movement’s most prolific mystics on the scene today. It’s a book one might expect to find on the shelves of a Catholic monastery, a New Age bookstore, or in an emerging church coffee house.
In her book, Calhoun acknowledges that a number of mantric-style meditation advocates have influenced her:
I would be remiss not to mention the spiritual tutors that I know only through books: Dorothy Bass, Eugene Peterson, Gerald May [Shalem], M. Basil Pennington, Phyllis Tickle . . . Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr . . . Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, St. Benedict, Julian of Norwich and many more. Their ideas, voices and examples have shaped my own words and experience of the disciplines. (Acknowledgment’s page)
How does someone with Calhoun’s propensities end up on a Moody Radio program? And where are the Christian leaders in all this? Do they realize that a mystical anti-Gospel spirituality has come into the church? Do they realize it has come into one of the most well-respected prolific ministries out there today? If they do realize it, do they understand the primary effect of it undermines the Gospel? We took a look on Moody Radio’s website at their ministry “affiliations.” Of those affiliations, they state:
The ministry of Moody Radio isn’t an island. It takes many partnerships to make this ministry happen. Our relationships with other organizations are strategic, and without them this ministry would never reach to the areas it does.(emphasis added)
We were surprised to see the large number of these “other organizations” that help keep Moody going. The list included many of today’s most popular Christian leaders: Focus on the Family, David Jeremiah, the late Chuck Colson, Tony Evans, Chuck Swindoll, Martin DeHaan (Radio Bible), Beth Moore, and Erwin Lutzer to name some. Worth noting, a large number of these affiliates (not all) have been the topic of Lighthouse Trails articles because of their promotion of contemplative spirituality. We find that disheartening. It’s as if the contemplative issue (i.e., mystical meditation) is not a worthwhile or relevant topic to even bring to the table!) And yet, as a LT Special Report in 2010 showed, even Christianity Today (who just also happens to be CP proponents) acknowledged that there was a controversy with contemplative prayer. In that report we stated:
In the August 2010 cover story of Christianity Today, the magazine has brought out two things that the major Christian media has thus far ignored – one, that Beth Moore, described as “the most popular Bible teacher in America” by CT is a proponent of contemplative prayer, and two, that there is a debate over whether contemplative meditation is of Eastern religious origin or not. This Lighthouse Trails special report will look at . . . the vital question as to whether contemplative prayer is indeed rooted in Eastern mysticism.
Christianity Today hit the nail right on the head when it informed its readers that: “Critics argue that contemplative prayer is rooted in Eastern mysticism and thus not a practice that Christians should engage in.”
Lighthouse Trails is one of those unnamed “critics.” And while the majority of Christian leaders are either promoting contemplative spirituality or just ignoring the issue altogether, our sense of urgency only heightens. Now, please listen to the following:
There is a term, which is called “Integral Spirituality.” It was coined by Thomas Keating. It’s also a term that is used by Buddhist-meditation figure, Ken Wilber. Basically, integral spirituality is the idea that the conscious, subconscious, and superconscious all unite together (through meditation) in order for a person to supposedly awaken to his true self or inner divinity. This is the essence of New Age/New Spirituality thinking, and it is the antithesis of the message of the Cross. You may be wondering how this ties with our current story. For more than 20 years, Keating and other like-minded people came together in what became known as the Snowmass Interreligious Conferences or Snowmass Dialogues. These gatherings were documented in a book titled The Common Heart: an experience of interreligious dialogue. The foreword of the book is by Ken Wilber, and the introduction is by Keating. In another book titled Spirituality, Contemplation, and Transformation, it discusses the Snowmass meetings. According to this book, a woman named Jeannette Bakke was one of a dozen organizing participants in the Snowmass Conferences in 2003. Please hear this: the work that Keating and Wilber are immersed in is about as interspiritual, panentheistic, and universalist as you are going to find. Jeannette Bakke is one of the teachers at the Christos “Tending the Holy” 2-year Certificate of Spiritual Direction program! Can you see the seriousness of what is going on here? Women listening to Moody’s Midday Connection are going to be receiving spiritual “insights” from a woman who has been taught by Bakke and others like her! This is the theme of the Christos Center.
With these heavy things in mind, consider this closing statement by Ray Yungen.
The rise of centering (contemplative) prayer is causing many churches to become agents of transformation. Those who practice it tend to embrace a one-world-religion idea. One of the main proponents of centering prayer, Basil Pennington, had this revelation:
“It is my sense, from having meditated with persons from many different traditions, that in the silence we experience a deep unity. When we go beyond the portals of the rational mind into the experience, there is only one God to be experienced. . . . I think it has been the common experience of all persons of good will that when we sit together Centering we experience a solidarity that seems to cut through all our philosophical and theological differences.” (emphasis mine)
In this context, we may compare all the world’s religions to a dairy herd. Each cow may look different on the outside, but the milk would all be the same. The different religious groups would maintain their own separate identities, but a universal spiritual practice would bind them together—not so much a one-world church as a one-world spirituality.
Episcopal priest and New Age leader Matthew Fox explains what he calls “deep ecumenism”:
“Without mysticism there will be no “deep ecumenism,” no unleashing of the power of wisdom from all the world’s religious traditions. Without this I am convinced there will never be global peace or justice since the human race needs spiritual depths and disciplines, celebrations and rituals, to awaken its better selves. The promise of ecumenism, the coming together of religions, has been thwarted because world religions have not been relating at the level of mysticism.”
Fox believes that all world religions will eventually be bound together by the “Cosmic Christ” principle, which is another term for the higher self.
As incredible as this may sound, it appears to be happening now. The New Age is embedded in American religious culture far deeper and broader than many people imagine. If your concept of the New Age is simply astrology, tarot cards, or reincarnation, then you could easily miss the real New Age as it pulses through the religious current. If mystical prayer continues its advance, then we could one day see, perhaps sooner than we expect, many Christian churches becoming conduits of New Age thought to their membership.
*Information taken from the Spiritual Directors International website—”Demographics of our Learning Community.”