LTRP Note: The following are excerpts from a posting Voice of the Martyrs has issued in response to our recent article: “Concern Expressed Over Voice of the Martyrs Article on Mystic Madame Jeanne Guyon.” Please read our comments below this email.
. . . The November 2010 issue of the VOM newsletter included a short article on Madame Jeanne Guyon. It was part of a series we call “Hidden Stones” that seeks to educate VOM readers about the history of Christian persecution and bring to light some of our brothers and sisters who sacrificed much to follow Christ’s call. We want to honor these heroes of the faith, and we want to encourage our readers with their testimonies, just as we seek to encourage readers with the testimonies of today’s persecuted believers.
One of the challenges of telling the stories of past Christian martyrs is trying to explain and help our readers—living in the United States in 2010—understand the context in which past generations of Christians lived. While today we have numerous translations of the Bible and warehouses full of books to explain any theological question we may ask, Christians of earlier times didn’t have such luxuries. It is impossible to judge a Christian in such circumstances purely through the lens of 2010 American Christianity.
We have received several letters and online criticisms for printing a story about Madame Guyon. Some object to her being a Catholic, while others object to her being a “mystic” or her practice of “quietism” or some other of her beliefs or writings. Our article states:
Madame Guyon practiced a philosophy called “Quietism,” which teaches that spiritual perfection can be attained when self is lost in the contemplation of God.
There are those among our readers who object to the practice of “contemplation.” Perhaps a more charitable view would see Guyon, in her efforts to quiet herself and focus only on God . . . Guyon believed in constant prayer, following Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17). Guyon wrote, in one of her poems, “There was a period when I chose, A time and place for prayer…But now I seek that constant prayer, An inward stillness known…” . . .
Our purpose in publishing this article was to challenge American Christians to live for Christ, even if doing so costs them something. Our intent and desire was not to promote “quietism” or any form of “mysticism,” just as previous articles about Anabaptists, Quakers, Non-conformists, Montanists and others have not been intended to promote their particular theological teachings, but rather their example of costly faithfulness to Christ. . . .
In e-mails VOM Reader Services sent to numerous concerned supporters over this issue, it states that Madame Guyon “encouraged Bible reading.” However, in the VOM article featuring Guyon, there was no mention of Bible reading. The focus was on Guyon’s prayer methods, which clearly were contemplative (i.e., mystical) and are referred to in the VOM article.
Secondly, the VOM statement “Today we have the luxury of criticizing her with our more perfect knowledge of Christ’s way,” we find very troubling. Whether the VOM Readers Services personnel intended this or not, this is what we call Spiritual Evolution. By this we mean the belief that Christianity is evolving, and the way Christians were in Guyon’s day are much less perfect than our understanding is today. This Spiritual Evolution goes so far as to suggest that we today have evolved into far more spiritual beings than those back in Old and New Testament days, and the Bible, while a very nice poetic and beautiful book (see Phyllis Tickle), cannot be used as some kind of authority or absolute Word of God because it has actually become outdated. Of course, if this were true, that we have “more perfect knowledge of Christ’s way” than Guyon, then the apostle Paul (and other Bible writers) would be even less perfect in their understanding than Guyon!
We believe that there are those within Voice of the Martyrs who do not adhere to Spiritual Evolution OR contemplative mysticism. But we also believe there are those there that may be leaning in this direction. This is a serious problem, and we pray that Tom White, president of Voice of the Martyrs, will consider these things.