If there is one thing we don’t hear much about from today’s Christian leaders and pastors, it is the importance of testing the spirits. The idea comes from the Bible in 1 John 4:1, which states:
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try [test] the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
This can relate both to the experiential and the doctrinal. With either, we need to remember that not every experience and not every doctrine is “of God” because indeed there are “many false prophets” in the world and in the “church” today, and there are many “voices” that are not from God.
“The Voice of Love”—Is There a Need to Test the Spirits?
The question of whether or not we need to test the spirits gets various answers depending on whom you are talking to and listening to. According to the Catholic mystic Basil Pennington in his classic book Centering Prayer (who, along with Thomas Keating and Thomas Merton, introduced “centering prayer” to the layperson), there is no need to test the spirits when in the state of “silence” induced by practicing contemplative meditation or centering prayer. Pennington stated:
Isn’t there a danger, if we leave off thinking and judging and just be quiet, that we might be opening not to God and his activity but to the activity of the evil spirits? St. John of the Cross brings out in his teaching that when we enter into contemplative prayer, we need have no fear of the deceptions of the Evil One, because he cannot touch us at that level of our being. . . . He cannot himself penetrate into our spiritual being. There is danger, a need for discernment, in active prayer, in which we are using our imagination and feelings, for he can influence these. But in Centering Prayer we ignore these faculties and simply let images and feelings float away. They do not affect our prayer, so the Evil One cannot touch it. We are engaged at a level that the Lord has made his own through grace and baptism. We are out of the Devil’s reach. Only God can penetrate this level of our being. So we are completely safe in contemplative prayer. (emphasis added, Centering Prayer, p. 227, Kindle edition)
So, in other words, according to Pennington, the enemy can get to us in regular prayer where our minds are actively engaged, but when we enter into the contemplative “sacred space” (i.e., stopping all thought and putting our minds into neutral by repeating a word or phrase or focusing on the breath), we have no danger of being influenced or touched by Satan. What Pennington is proposing is very scary because the objective, according to contemplative leaders, is to hear God’s voice (Keating says, “God’s first language is silence,” Intimacy With God, p. 153; and Brennan Manning calls it “the Voice of Love” The Signature of Jesus, p. 215). If we go by Pennington’s advice, we do not need to question this voice of love we hear during contemplative meditation (i.e., it will always be good and always from God).
Sarah Young’s Jesus—The Voice of God?
We know that Sarah Young is an advocate of contemplative prayer, so does she believe that these “messages” from “Jesus” in her best-selling book Jesus Calling do not need to be tested and are absolutely, without a doubt, from God (as Pennington believes)? Young never says that they do need to be tested. And from what we have observed for several years from church leaders and pastors, they don’t believe her messages from “Jesus” need to be tested either. Take a look at this list of endorsers of her book* (many names of which you will definitely know), and do you recall any of them saying to test the spirit that is in Jesus Calling?
Warren B. Smith discusses testing the spirits in his book, “Another Jesus” Calling:
There is no evidence that the spirits are being tested to see if Sarah Young’s best-selling messages are from the true Jesus Christ.
Given that Sarah Young’s “Jesus” is delivering messages that are being read around the world, it is imperative for readers to know if she is really hearing from the true Jesus Christ.
Scripture’s warning to believers to “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1) is nowhere to be found in Jesus Calling. To the contrary, when Sarah Young’s “Jesus” is quoted in Jesus Calling as saying, “You must learn to discern what is My voice and what is not,”1 he gives her some very dangerous counsel. With no mention of 1 Timothy 4:1’s warning about “seducing spirits,” he says, “Ask My Spirit to give you this discernment.”2 But if the “Jesus” that Sarah Young is listening to is not the true Jesus Christ, then this false “Christ” is instructing her to ask his spirit to tell her what is true and what is not. Consequently, instead of testing the spirit, she is asking and trusting the spirit that she should be testing. This can only lead to greater deception and confusion. This counsel by Sarah Young’s “Jesus” cleverly works to prevent the detection of a counterfeit “Jesus,” which obviously plays right into the hands of our spiritual Adversary. (pp. 53-54, “Another Jesus” Calling, 2nd ed.)
What is the Test?
In David Dombrowski’s article/booklet, Dear Pastor and Christian Leader: Have You Grown Careless About the Gospel?, he states:
Sometimes we are asked, what is the criteria for deciding whether or not a doctrine or practice is biblical or validates criticism? . . .
There is but one test that we have used consistently from the inception of Lighthouse Trails. The Book of Proverbs says: “A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight (Proverbs 11:1).
And again from Proverbs: “Divers weights are an abomination unto the Lord; and a false balance is not good (Proverbs 20:23).
It is interesting that Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, placed such emphasis on accurate scales. It is even more amazing that God would call false scales an abomination—amazing only until we realize that God is speaking of the spiritual—not just physical scales here.
So what we are looking for is a spiritual balancing scale—something that will reappear throughout the Bible—through the Old and New Testaments. There is such a scale, a consistent theme, which John refers to in his first epistle:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3)
Some Bible commentators have believed that John was referring here to a particular sect who denied that Jesus Christ actually came in a human body. If that is all John meant, then this passage is of little relevance to us today, because you will scarcely find anyone who does not believe that Jesus as a historical figure was a man who walked the Earth. But the name Jesus Christ in this passage is not a historical term; it is a name loaded with meaning —referring to Jesus as the Messiah, God come in the flesh, our Savior and Redeemer, who atoned for our sins. If we look at the context of 1 John 4, we can verify that this is what John is talking about because in it he says, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). In other words, John is saying here, I am referring to the Jesus I wrote about in my gospel— the Word made flesh who in the beginning was with God and was God (see John chapter 1).
This is the balancing scale we have been looking for. Just as all human history and our blessed hope hinges on what Jesus did on the Cross, so too we can weigh a doctrine or practice by whether or not it agrees with the fact that we are justified by faith alone through the atoning, redemptive work of Christ on the Cross. The question then is, does a particular doctrine or teaching agree with the Gospel the apostles all preached?
With this discerning tool in hand, if you stop to measure all of the world’s religions and systems, you will find that all of these are opposed to the Gospel. The natural man will not acknowledge the need for a Savior, consequently all of the world’s belief systems (except biblical Christianity) are works based—believing it is possible to earn our way into Heaven [or to become “Christ-like” through mysticism and “spiritual disciplines” which is is the foundation and thrust of Spiritual Formation/contemplative prayer]. But the Gospel says it is not possible. John knew all too well the contrariness of the natural man and the world’s belief systems. That is why in the same chapter of his epistle, he offers another test:
“[H]e that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:6)
In other words, John is saying that when the world rejects you for sharing the Gospel, it is because the Spirit of truth is not in them.
Whichever way you look at it, the Gospel is the fulcrum of our balance in discerning truth from error. When Lighthouse Trails Publishing began, this became, and has always been, our standard of truth and also the deciding factor as to whether something is significant enough to bring to the attention of our readers. We are careful not to get involved in issues in the church where the Gospel is not attacked or compromised; but when it is, we are compelled to speak up—because as believers in Christ, we are called to defend the Gospel.
A Moment of Truth With a Moment of Terror
It is definitely worth noting that contemplative pioneer, Richard Foster, had something very interesting to say about demons and contemplative prayer. In a round about way, it was a moment of truth for him because we have only heard him say it once. And it seems like a contradiction to Pennington’s advice (even though Foster got it wrong too as Roger Oakland explains below):
Proponents of contemplative prayer say the purpose of contemplative prayer is to tune in with God and hear His voice. However, Richard Foster claims that practitioners must use caution. He admits that in contemplative prayer “we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm” and that sometimes it is not the realm of God even though it is “supernatural.” He admits there are spiritual beings and that a prayer of protection should be said beforehand something to the effect of “All dark and evil spirits must now leave.” Where in Scripture do we find such a prayer? Where in witchcraft?
I wonder if all these Christians who now practice contemplative prayer are following Foster’s advice. Whether they are or not, they have put themselves in spiritual harm’s way. Nowhere in Scripture are we required to pray a prayer of protection before we pray. The fact that Foster recognizes contemplative prayer is dangerous and opens the door to the fallen spirit world is very revealing. What is this—praying to the God of the Bible but instead reaching demons? Maybe contemplative prayer should be renamed contemplative terror.
While Foster has said repeatedly that contemplative prayer is for everyone, he contradicts himself when he says it is only for a select group and not for the “novice.” He says not everyone is ready and equipped to listen to God’s voice through the “all embracing silence.”
This is amazing. Foster admits that contemplative prayer is dangerous and will possibly take the participant into demonic realms, but he gives a disclaimer saying not everyone is ready for it. My question is, who is ready, and how will they know they are ready? What about all the young people in the emerging church movement? Are they ready? Or are they going into demonic altered states of consciousness completely unaware? Given Foster’s admission of the danger, he does great damage when he [contradicts himself and] says: “We should all, without shame, enroll in the school of contemplative prayer.”
Foster’s implication that some contemplative prayer is safe is terribly mistaken. No contemplative prayer is biblical or safe—even the most mature of the Christian mystical leaders proved susceptible to its demonic pull. Thomas Merton at the end of his life said he wanted to be the best Buddhist he could be. Henri Nouwen at the end of his life said all paths lead to God. This was the spiritual “fruit” of their lives after years of practicing mystical prayer.
[In relation to mysticism and contemplative prayer], the real question is whether or not the realm of the silence is God’s realm or Satan’s (i.e., light or darkness). The Bible tells us that Satan is very deceptive, and what can often look good is not good at all:
“And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15) (Taken from Roger Oakland’s booklet, Richard Foster’s Contemplative Prayer or Contemplative Terror?)
Mike Oppenheimer has this to say about Foster’s prayer of protection:
Asking God to protect us as we enter into a place He does not ever tell us to go is testing God. Not a good position to put oneself in considering the ramifications. (source)
Oppenheimer makes a good point. And sad to say, given the fact that much of today’s Christianity is becoming immersed in that place Richard Foster calls them to, in essence, the church is testing God but not testing the spirits. Again, scary—as well as tragic.
In his book, A Time of Departing, Ray Yungen shows clearly that the silence reached during contemplative meditation is the same as that state reached during New Age or occultic meditation. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence Yungen presents is a quote by Richard Kirby, author of The Mission of Mysticism (Kirby is an occultist) where Kirby states:
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. (p. 7)
Yungen provides us with another powerful example. He recounts:
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.” (emphasis added)
To Merton, of course, this meant little because he believed that fana [the esoteric state reached during Sufi meditation] and contemplation were the same thing. Merton responded:
“Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs differ, I think that controversy [atonement and redemption] 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 [God in all] . . . It is here that the area of fruitful dialogue exists between Christianity and Islam. (emphasis mine, A Time of Departing, pp. 59-60)
The names we have mentioned in this article have all been given a welcoming pass into today’s evangelical church with virtually no testing or challenging. And whether it is Basil Pennington’s statement that we are completely safe in the meditative state, Sarah Young’s untested “messages” from “Jesus,” Richard Foster’s advice to pray for protection against demons while doing contemplative prayer, Henri Nouwen’s “Voice of Love,” or Thomas Merton’s belief that meditation can unite us all because it will help us to dismiss doctrines such as the atonement, it becomes evident that the church has been duped into thinking all is well, and there is no need to test the spirits. It is our belief that this negligence is disobedience to God when we consider that entering the esoteric realm is forbidden in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:10-12), forbidden by Jesus (Matthew 6:7-9), and forbidden by our test in 1 John chapter 4, where the Gospel has been ignored, forsaken, and ultimately trampled upon. And that is truly a tragedy of enormous proportions.
*Sometime in late 2018 or early 2019, the endorsement page on the Jesus Calling website was removed. Lighthouse Trails editors e-mailed HarperCollins and asked what happened to the endorsement page. We were told it was down temporarily for re-designing but would be put back up. To date, that page is still missing, but we have heard of no Christian leader from the endorsement page who has spoken up warning about Jesus Calling or retracting his or her endorsement. The link we provided above is an archived link from December 2018.
(photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)