YWAM (Youth With a Mission), an evangelical missions organization (founded in 1960 by Loren Cunningham) that trains about 25,000 people every year for world-wide mission trips, has issued an announcement regarding its commitment to teaching contemplative prayer. On Saturday, a reader alerted Lighthouse Trails to a June 2018 YWAM promotional audio piece on the YWAM website promoting contemplative prayer practices. While Lighthouse Trails has known about YWAM’s propensity toward contemplative prayer for over a decade, this month’s promo is one of the more blatant ministry-wide efforts YWAM has taken in bringing the organization’s participants fully on board with the New Age/New Spirituality contemplative prayer movement. The promo begins:
Thank you for joining us this month as we take up “The Invitation” and join together with thousands of YWAMers from around the world as we pray and hear from God about Contemplative Prayer.1
It was in 2006 that Lighthouse Trails first alerted our readers to YWAM’s interest in contemplative prayer and the emergent church in an article titled, “Red Moon Rising: An Army for God with a “Violent Reaction.”2 That article revealed that YWAM had partnered with the UK contemplative group 24/7 Prayer with Pete Greig and his mystical boiler rooms that were becoming part of many churches’ youth programs.
Over the years, Lighthouse Trails has observed that YWAM has seen nothing wrong with contemplative spirituality. As we saw with other organizations that have gone in this direction, we witnessed YWAM changing their philosophy on how to do missions (what we call “the new missiology”). In Roger Oakland’s 2007 book on the emerging church, Faith Undone, Oakland states:
A May/June 2000 issue of Watchman’s Trumpet magazine explains what this new missiology really entails:
“Several international missions organizations, including Youth With a Mission (YWAM), are testing a new approach to missionary work in areas where Christianity is unwelcome. A March 24, 2000, Charisma News Service report said some missionaries are now making converts but are allowing them to “hold on to many of their traditional religious beliefs and practices” so as to refrain from offending others within their culture.”
The Charisma article in which Watchman’s Trumpet reports elaborates:
“’Messianic Muslims’ who continue to read the Koran, visit the mosque and say their daily prayers but accept Christ as their Savior, are the products of the strategy, which is being tried in several countries, according to Youth With a Mission (YWAM), one of the organizations involved.”
The Charisma story reports that a YWAM staff newsletter notes the new converts’ lifestyle changes (or lack thereof):
“They [the new converts] continued a life of following the Islamic requirements, including mosque attendance, fasting and Koranic reading, besides getting together as a fellowship of Muslims who acknowledge Christ as the source of God’s mercy for them.”
When one of the largest missionary societies (YWAM) becomes a proponent of the new missiology, telling converts they can remain in their own religious traditions, the disastrous results should be quite sobering for any discerning Christian.3
The reason it’s important to mention this section by Roger Oakland is because this new way of looking at missions (viewing it in more interspiritual terms) is one of the “fruits” of contemplative prayer. As Ray Yungen, who researched the contemplative prayer movement for over twenty years, often stated, when one begins practicing this mystical form of prayer, one’s views on the Cross, on salvation, and on God’s Word begin to be altered. In time, the contemplative practitioner begins to embrace a more panentheistic (God in all), interspiritual (all paths lead to God) view. This is why Lighthouse Trails keeps warning about contemplative prayer. We have been accused of being haters, dividers, bigots, and troublemakers because we do not let up. But when one realizes that practicing contemplative prayer puts a person in great spiritual danger, warning about it is actually an act of love, not hate, as some suppose.
Brennan Manning, a favorite contemplative of YWAM and other mission groups (such as Young Life), made the following revealing remarks in his popular book The Signature of Jesus:
[T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer.
[C]ontemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness . . . we must come to see reality differently.
Choose a single, sacred word . . . repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often.
[E]nter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.4
Lighthouse Trails believes that this “Voice of Love” reached during contemplative prayer is not the voice of God at all, but rather it is from the same source as that reached during Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and New Age meditation. As most mystics teach, the methods are the same, and the results are the same. Consider this by occultist Richard Kirby from his book The Mission of Mysticism:
The meditation of advanced occultists [New Agers] is identical with the prayer of advanced mystics [contemplatives]: it is no accident that both traditions use the same word for the highest reaches of their respective activities—contemplation.5
The YWAM audio promotional on contemplative prayer continues:
In this edition of The Invitation, we invite you to consider what we can learn from the contemplative tradition of the global Church, and why contemplative practices might be a helpful balance to our busy, activity-oriented lives.
Steve Cochrane, one of YWAM’s leaders, spoke of his own journey into contemplative practices. “In the past decade, I’ve been on a more focused pilgrimage to listen to what Spirit is saying from a diversity of those that have walked the road before in deeper devotion to Christ.” As Steve says, the work of “friends from the past” teaches us to sink down into the presence of God in the midst of our active lives.6
Contemplatives believe that in order for us to really hear the voice of God, we must remove all mental distractions and thoughts. Since the brain is always active and thoughts cannot be stopped, we need a method to “still the mind” (i.e., put it into neutral, so to speak). How can we do that? Through a mantric-like practice (repeating a word or phrase until we can get our minds into an altered state). When YWAM leader Steve Cochrane talks about “friends from the past” who teach us how to “sink down into the presence of God,” he is speaking of the mystics. Cochrane, who works with the University of the Nations, is the author of the 2017 book, Many Monks Across the Sea: Church of the East Monastic Mission in Ninth-Century Asia. One of the books Cochrane mentions in his bibliography is Merton and Sufism. In A Time of Departing, Ray Yungen describes a story from Merton and Sufism where Thomas Merton is talking to a Sufi teacher (an Islamic mystic) about Merton’s desire for unity between Christians and Muslims. The Sufi teacher tells Merton that doctrines such as salvation through the atonement ( the Cross) keep that unity from happening. Merton agrees but suggests that unity can take place at the mystical level where such beliefs of “little value” can be ignored. Merton stated:
Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs differ, I think that controversy [of the Cross] 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 [than the Cross] is the sharing of the experience of divine light . . . It is here that the area of fruitful dialogue exists between Christianity and Islam.7
For Merton, the “fruitful dialogue” that can be obtained (through mysticism) between Christians and Muslims was more important than preaching the Gospel that proclaims salvation through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
The YWAM audio continues:
Over recent years, a significant number of us in the YWAM family have, like Steve, been growing more familiar with contemplative practices. . . . Since around the third century the people of God have been engaging in practices that we now call Contemplative . . . A few of these contemplative practices involve: breath prayers, which consist of praying a short phrase with your in- and your out-breath; lectio devina [divina], which is a meditative way of reading short passages of scripture; and silent prayer such as Centering Prayer.8
What is YWAM’s hope? To see everyone who is involved with YWAM practice contemplative prayer:
If you only have a few moments to pray, ask the Lord to convict each of our students and workers to experience God in deeper ways through contemplative methods.9
If you know someone who is working with YWAM, please ask that person to read this article and to reconsider working in an organization that believes mystical practices are the path to hearing God’s voice. As born-again believers, we have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, neither of which direct us to repeat a word or phrase or focus on the breath to be led by God. God is much greater than that, and He can lead us faithfully without any help from teachings that lead people AWAY from the Cross rather than to it.
3. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone: the emerging church—a new reformation or an end-time deception (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2007), p. 175; citing 1) “Youth with a Mission Experiments with New, Unscriptural Missions Strategy” (Foundation, Watchman’s Trumpet, May – June 2000, http://www.feasite.org/WTrumpet/fbcwt004.htm#Youth%20With), p. 39 and 2) Andy Butcher, “Radical Missionary Approach Produces ‘Messianic Muslims’ Retaining Islamic Identity” (Charisma News Service, March 24, 2000, http://web.archive.org/web/20010818051517/www.charismanew s.com/news.cgi?a=285&t=news.html).
4. Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1996, Revised Edition), p. 212-218
5. Richard Kirby, The Mission of Mysticism (London, UK: SPCK, 1979), p. 7.
7. From Ray Yungen in A Time of Departing (pp. 59-60) citing from Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 109.
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