Regarding the Lighthouse Trails article, SPECIAL REPORT: Assemblies of God “Believe” Conference Makes Bold Move – Brings in Contemplative Key Player Ruth Haley Barton,” the General Superintendent of the AOG denomination, George O. Wood, has issued a response via e-email. Because this response has been sent out to an undisclosed number of people as a form letter, we consider this a public response; thus we are posting the entire response below. Dr. Wood has included a statement from “Dr. Jodi Detrick, chairperson for the Network for Women in Ministry, which is cohosting this gathering along with the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.” Lighthouse Trails will be preparing its own public response to Dr. Wood and to Dr. Detrick. However, at this time, we are only posting their letter. We will say this, however: Dr. Detrick has attempted to insert an ad hominem argument of Pentecostalism vs. non-Pentecostalism; Lighthouse Trails will not be engaging in that discussion as the true issue at hand is contemplative spirituality versus the Gospel and the authenticity of the Cross:
From the General Superintendent
Ruth Haley Barton is the scheduled speaker for the evening gathering for female ministers at General Council. Below is a statement from the Task Force for this event and Dr. Jodi Detrick, chairperson for the Network for Women in Ministry, which is cohosting this gathering along with the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Dr. Detrick is an ordained minister and a respected religion columnist for the Seattle Times. She is also the spouse of Dr. Don Detrick, who serves as Secretary-Treasurer of the Northwest District of the AG and is the current leader of the AG Secretary/Treasurer’s Fellowship, as well as a member of the General Presbytery. I trust the response that she and her Task Force has provided will be helpful.
George O. Wood
We have received your inquiry regarding the guest speaker for the credentialed women in ministry event at General Council 2013. A couple of websites attempt to discredit Ruth Haley Barton (along with Beth Moore, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Moody Bible Institute, Focus on the Family, and many others—several of the most effective ministries and Christ-like teachers of the Word and of the Christian life today). These websites (which as far as we can tell are by non-Pentecostals) generally do not report their qualifications to do “research” and condemn her ministry specialty, contemplative prayer, (along with spiritual formation and direction—two other well-recognized forms of in-depth discipleship) as a false version of Christianity, more akin to something practiced in Eastern religions. Therefore, we want to respond to the issues at the root of this misunderstanding.
As people of Pentecost, we believe in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, in a dynamic faith that can be experienced. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, we are called to share the Christ-life: to live like Jesus, to do the works of Jesus, and to know the Father as Jesus did—personally and intimately. One way to cultivate such intimacy is to quiet ourselves from all of the noise around (and within) us, and wait upon the Lord, in order to hear from Him. Such “tarrying” has a rich tradition within our Movement. Our early forebearers like Maria Woodworth-Etter and Smith Wigglesworth communed with the Lord like that, and as a result preached under a powerful anointing, while ministering with signs and wonders. The pursuit of communion with God through intimate, personal experience is a kind of spirituality that has been part of the Assemblies of God since the beginning, but sadly, the number of Christ-followers actually practicing it has declined over the years. Interestingly, today there is a growing hunger, even outside our Fellowship, for that kind of relationship and experience with God. Ruth Haley Barton is committed to helping people connect with Jesus Christ in a meaningful way, especially those who have been so busy serving Him that they’ve forgotten how important it is to really know Him, and to spend time with Him.
Sadly, some are saying that seeking the Lord in such a way equates with the practices of meditation and contemplation in Eastern religions. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and is an unfortunate and inaccurate identification. Eastern religions utilize pagan practices designed to empty one’s mind, thus opening oneself to the spirits of darkness. In fact, Satan often attempts to steal, copy, or distort Christian practices that have their origin in true faith. One can find false religions that practice prayer, fasting, forms of divine healing, visions, tongues, prophecies, and other things we, as Pentecostals hold dear. Even yet today, there are many that would accuse Pentecostals of being cultish mystics because we embrace the mysteries of a divine God who moves outside of our natural realm.
Conversely, Christian contemplative prayer is a biblical spiritual discipline with a goal of focusing one’s attention on God in order to thoroughly fill one’s heart and mind with Christ and His Word. Following biblical instruction to “meditate on God’s word day and night,” and to “be still and know that He is God,” such activity has been practiced by Pentecostals for centuries. This is reminiscent of an old hymn that reminded believers to “turn your eyes upon Jesus” so that the “things of earth may grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
Some have inaccurately reported that Ruth Barton teaches the use of only three words as the sum of all prayer. This is a misrepresentation of her encouragement to find a simple, personal prayer to say to God when one is entering into a time of silence and listening in His presence. This act of listening in quietness is only one narrow aspect of prayer life but one that is often greatly neglected, to our loss. Of course we are to pour our hearts out in fervent prayer and intercession, and also to shout with praise. But it is also important to cultivate stillness; using a simple prayer (not as a mantra, as some have implied) to call our hearts back from stray thoughts and distractions is the goal in Mrs. Barton’s instructions on how to “be still and know that He is God.” Pentecostal Christians often pray and sing repetitive words. In our weekly church services, we hear the words, “Hallelujah. Thank You, Jesus.” repeated often in sincere prayer. We sing and pray “Come Holy Spirit, I need Thee,” and mean it from our hearts. The Psalms are full of prayers that use repetition as a way to honor God and to focus on Him. Every time people say the Lord’s Prayer, they are repeating a “prescribed prayer” that our Lord told us to pray. In Matthew 6:7, Jesus was very intentional with His use of words when He told his disciples ‘not to use vain repetition as the heathen do.’
Our prayers are not to be vain, useless words repeated without thought. He also said the heathen thought they would be heard for their “much speaking” but obviously He did not mean that every long, extended time of heartfelt prayer is prohibited. We must be careful not to condemn our brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to Scripture and are being used mightily by God, even though, on the surface, it looks somewhat different than we are accustomed to.
One other caution we would be wise to heed is not to judge a person’s current theology or spiritual vitality based solely on secondary associations or those whom they may have studied under in the past. Acts 7:22 says, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” In Acts 22:3, Paul said, “I studied under Gamaliel…” God chose to include this academic background about these men in His Word. Both of them had those influences in their history that we would certainly deem questionable, at best, but they went on to embrace different beliefs as they encountered the living God in a personal way. In the bio on her website, Mrs. Barton includes these important words: “The breadth of Ruth’s study and learning in a variety of settings contributes to the strength of her teaching and writing. While she values all that she has gained from the teachers and institutions in which she has studied, this does not imply endorsement of everything taught in these environments. Ruth’s teaching and writing have been most profoundly shaped by her commitment to “examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so.” (Acts 17:11)” Here is the link to her statement of faith and it would helpful to read what she believes and adheres to, in her own words, and not from other sources: http://www.transformingcenter.org/in/about/what-we-believe.shtml.
Further, it is unwise to jump to conclusions that since Speaker A, once quoted Speaker B, who then quoted secular speaker C – that therefore Speaker A and Speaker C are in the same boat with one another. The Apostle Paul quoted pagan poets in Acts 17, but that did not mean he was a pagan. And, interestingly, his quotation was not even used in a negative context meant to disprove that pagan poet. In fact, he used what the pagan poet had said to make a case for God’s truth.
We want to assure those with concerns that there is not even the smallest part of us that embraces any form of eastern religion or the New Age movement’s teachings and practices. We are a group of Spirit-filled women, all volunteers, who prayerfully met together and considered who might bring something valuable to our event at General Council. Scripture exhorts us that we will know a tree by the fruit it bears. Countless AG people, and credentialed leaders, have testified to drawing much closer to the Lord as a result of Ruth’s books and teachings. We have personally talked with those who were on the verge of dropping out of ministry until they read, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership,” her book based on the life of Moses. Ruth was chosen by our credentialed women in ministry committee because so many of them have come to appreciate her message of setting aside all the busyness and noise to focus on Jesus, and quietly wait upon the Lord. It’s really no wonder that the enemy would like to keep this message from being heard. He would prefer that Christian leaders remain too busy to stop their activity, wait on God, and hear from Him. It is our prayer that God will use this event to continue to draw women closer to Him and to help our female ministers fulfill their calling with longevity, spiritual health, and an even greater anointing of the Holy Spirit.
The Task Force for the Women in Ministry-AGTS Event at General Council
Jodi Detrick, Chairperson for the Network for Women in Ministry