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Mysticism Article Discussion

Part Two

This discussion is continued from Mysticism Article Discussion - Part One. Once again, my comments to which the e-mailer is responding to are in purple and enclosed in double "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. The e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in single "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

Exchange Three

>Thanks again for your reply (it was the biggest e-mail I ever got). <

I guess I did get a little long winded on that one! I will try to keep my responses to your comments briefer this time.

>>Part of our class assignment was to read various mystic's writings, like St. John of the Cross, Franciss of Assisi, and other many others. So I am familiar with such writings. What first struck me about the writings was there was no mention of the writer's salvation experience. Nowhere did they talk about when they realize they were sinners that needed a Savior, and that it was only through faith in Jesus Christ they could be saved.<<

>I agree, I have not read anything at all by Assisi. St John makes it plainly clear more than once, that what he was talking about does not concern those who are young in the faith, but those who are "called" (not choose for themselves) into the deeper "Union of love" with God ..in fact it is not even a "way" or "method" that he talks about. What he seems to be saying is "Some or all of what I have experienced is what such a person called will experience."<

I really don't see any Biblical support for the idea that some are "called" to a "deeper" relationship with God than others. God gives different gifts to different people and calls people into different kinds of ministries (1Cor 12:4-11). But I don't see the idea of some being called into different "levels" of a relationship with Him. All Christians are to "grow" in their relationship with God. Admittedly this will occur at different rates and different Christians will grow to different degrees.

>Believe me the most disconcerting thing is not WHAT he experienced but the way in which he describes it without hesitation or indistinctness. The way he interprets The Song of Solomon as a loving relationship between the believer and Christ in "canticle..." is unequalled by any other Christian literature I have read. I only wish somebody would dare to examine it and take it apart, thus far nobody seems to want or indeed seems to be able to.<

Personally I have always found the allegorical interpretation of The Song of Solomon to be highly suspect. Taken literally, the book is about romantic, sexual, marital love. And I see no reason not to take it that way.

IMO, the reason the allegorical interpretation developed was because the ascetic elements in the Catholic church became so strong, including the idea that being celibate was more "spiritual" than being married, that a book like the Song, celebrating marital love, simply couldn't be taken literally.

But Biblically, I don't believe there is any basis for saying celibacy is "better" than being married. Each has it's plus and minuses, spiritually and otherwise. So I really don't think much of any commentary on the Song of Solomon that takes in any way other than as referring to romantic love.

>As for his Salvation experience I might try and find it if it exists. It would seem to me though to be astounding and preposterous that he could have written what he did if he didn't know Jesus personally.<

Maybe; maybe not. I will leave it up to God to decide who is saved and who is not. But salvation is so important, for oneself and others, I simply can't see writing a whole lot on spirituality without it being mentioned at some point.

>I too cant accept the Catholic churches idea of works added to Grace as part of Salvation (though some tell me it isn't like that), I also have trouble with "immersion" as you mention below. Nonetheless we must tread carefully, if we start to say that because they expressed a wrong understanding of their own Salvation, that therefore all subsequent "possible" encounters they may have had or believed they had with God are therefore without merit and can be disregarded. Ultimately God decides in which way he will touch people not us.<

As for the Catholic doctrine on salvation, that would require a whole discussion in itself. Suffice it to say, whatever the "official" teaching, the average Catholic often understands it as salvation by grace plus works.

That said, I will stand by my opinion that if someone is wrong on the most fundamental question of what one must do to be saved then it brings the rest of their spiritual ideas into question.

>>I asked the teacher about it. Demarhest's response was, "They don't mention anything about salvation because they are far beyond that experience." I found this "explanation" very unsatisfactory. One one never gets "beyond" salvation.<<

>Again I agree, it sounds dangerous to say one gets "beyond" salvation as the memory of our salvation experience keeps us humble and thankful before God. But then there are many Christians who never go further THAN the salvation experience and therefore do not produce much fruit in their life. They are still drinking milk when they should be eating meat :)

What I think Demarhest is trying to say is that both Assisi and St John both had full time "Ministries" and John at least was working with discipleship in a very fundamental way with People who had already committed themselves to God for some years.<

Possibly true; but as I said, there were statements in at least Assisi's writings that contradicted the idea of salvation by grace.

>>At one point in my class, we had a Catholic priest come in to "teach" us more about Catholic spirituality. I found his teaching very troubling also. First off, he repeatedly mentioned about "being saved at baptism." Now this was at least an explanation as to why the Catholic mystics did not discuss their salvation experiences: they all believed they were saved when they were baptized as infants.<<

>Yes I take your point ..I wonder if privately they all actually believed this, most of the Catholic "mystics" found themselves in serious trouble with the Church authorities at one time or another for some purported breach of established doctrine.<

True; Guyon was declared a "heretic" if I remember correctly.

>>As I said, it was a Baptist seminary. So I found it very strange that someone should be brought in to teach a class that believed in baptismal regeneration of infants! Moreover, personally, I had long since rejected such concepts as being unbiblical.<<

>Yes I would agree, that whatever view one had on baptism, it would seem that one should make a conscious choice at an age where one is able to think for ones self, to ask Jesus in as lord of ones life. I think the Catholic church has no excuse at all on this matter.<


>>Furthermore, this same priest led the class through a "visualization" exercise. I was the only one who did not participate. I found the whole idea rather suspect.<<

>Well we fill our minds with so much that ISN'T God that for me visualization of Jesus is fine. As St Paul says, to keep our thoughts on whatever is beautiful, whatever is good and true etc. I cant think of anyone more beautiful than Jesus :)<

The whole question of "visualization" could get a little too complex to cover here.

>>After the Catholic priest left, I asked the teacher flat out why he had a Catholic priest promoting baptismal regeneration come to speak at a Baptist seminary. His response was there really was no disagreement between the two! He said Catholic baptism and later confirmation was simply the same as Baptists "dedicating" their infants and later being baptized.<<

>Most Protestants say confirmation isn't "dedication" because Catholics already believe they were saved as babies. I have heard this discussion many times and felt very uneasy about the whole thing ..the arguments always end up being legalistic and from neither side do I hear much about the importance of one actually having love for God.<

The issue isn't legalism but what constitutes salvation. Catholic confirmation assumes the person is already saved from having been baptized. And many, many Catholics believe they are saved on that basis, regardless of what their life or relationship with God is otherwise.

>>I can see some parallels there. But some very important differences. Most of all, Baptists do not believe in baptismal regeneration! No Baptist who understand his theology at all believes he is saved because he was immersed!<<

>But then one cant be saved without being immersed and confessing Jesus as ones savior, according to the NT. But then in other places it says if one calls upon the name of the Lord one will be saved. I haven't thought much about baptism except of the Holy Spirit. Hopefully Baptists believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit? What about someone who confesses Jesus as savior and wants to love and serve him but didn't get baptized in water ...are they saved or unsaved? these are some issues that confuse me a little.<

On this point we definitely disagree. And this would be another entire discussion. Suffice it to say here, I do NOT believe one must be baptized to be saved. I discuss this subject in my Scripture Study on Baptism. It is located at: Questions on Baptism.

As for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that again would be an entire discussion in itself. But very briefly, my position is that ALL Christians are baptized by the Holy Spirit when they are saved (1Cor 12:13). Yes, additional "fillings" of the Spirit can happen thereafter and throughout one's Christian life (Eph 5:18). These will enable one for a particular service or bring someone into a deeper relationship with God. But there is no fundamental change in one's relationship to God or the Holy Sprit after salvation.

>>It was after that class that I complained to the dean of students. I asked the simple question of why Catholic mysticism was being taught at a conservative Baptist seminary?<<

>He he, I agree its amazing and actually its good otherwise you would all end up living a very insular existence :)<

>>He replied that the seminary tried to stay "open" to different viewpoints on spirituality.<<

>Well I see it as a responsibility to be at least open to try and understand what it is that others believe who name the name of Jesus.<

>>But it wasn't just me who was concerned about what was being taught. One of Dr. Demarhest's colleges was Dr. Gordon Lewis. In fact, at the time the two of them were collaborating on a three-volume systematic theology work titled, Integrative Theology. The final volume was in the works at that time. Dr. Lewis was very concerned about what was being taught by Demarhest.<<

>Yes; but Demarhest was not trying to say "...this is valid doctrine which you must believe to be a Christian" so why should you worry? Many Bible schools around the world ...even ones more conservative than the Baptists study beliefs of other religions or denominations.<

Yes, I do believe it is important to understand the beliefs of other Christian denominations and even of non-Christian religions. But, there is a big different between informing students of these beliefs and promoting them. And the latter is what Demarhest's class was doing.

In other words, in my "Christianity and the Cults" class we studied Mormonism, even had a Mormon "elder" come in and talk to the class. But the purpose was so we could better understand Mormonism so that we could refute its teachings and reach out to those deceived by Mormonism. The teacher was in no way trying to convert any of the students to Mormonism!

But Demarhest was definitely promoting and trying to lead the students into accepting the teachings of "mystics" and and utilizing "mystical" techniques in their Christian lives.

>>But back to the actually teachings of the Catholic mystics, giving the above, they were basing their spirituality on the belief they were saved when they had water poured on their heads as infants. Moreover, knowing the "semi-pelegian" attitude of Catholicism, it would seem the statements by Assisi and others were probably because of they felt need to "maintain" their salvation by their good works.<<

>There are quite a few Christians outside of Catholicism today who seem to practice the same thing without actually confessing they are doing it.<

True; but that has no bearing on the question of whether it is appropriate or not.

>>Now it "just happened" that at this time I had begun my "journey" into Calvinism. I discuss this "journey" in my two-part article, Study of Acts 13:48.<<

>I will check it out.<

>>Next to reading the Bible, I have found reading such writings by people like Owens, Edwards, Henry, Gurnell, and the like to be the best way to focus my mind on God. Currently I am reading a book containing sermons by C.H. Spurgeon. I took it with me to a local park recently. Laying in the woods and reading such a book is really a spiritual experience.<<

>I also read a great book by a puritan John Carnock I think his name was ...inspiring work.<

You might be thinking of Stephen Charnock. His most famous writing is a two-volume, very detailed set on the attributes of God. But I'm not sure of what else he wrote. Or it could be someone else entirely. There are a lot of Reformed/ Puritan writers.

>>The "apostles' doctrine" is contained in the Scriptures. So Bible study is first and foremost<<

>Yes I know and I need a lot more of it. The apostles didn't have the Bible as we have it today, also I have read the "word" of God as meaning something more than text printed on paper, the word as a "attribute" of the Person of God. (sorry a little bit of mysticism crept in there :)<

The Bible the apostles would have been using would have been the OT writings. And very early in the history of the Church, the writings of the Apostles and their associates became accepted as Scripture alongside the OT (1Tim 5:18; 2Pet 3:15).

As for "word" referring to more than just the written word, in some contexts, yes, it refers to the Person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1). But that is not what is being referred to in Acts 2:42.

>>Second is "fellowship." Communing with other Christians is vital to Christian growth.<<

>I don't have as much of that as I need, its a priority issue for me at the moment.<

>>The "breaking of bread" might be a reference to the Lord's Supper. So this could be taken as referring to going to church and partaking of the ordinance of communion. Or, it could just be referring to communal meals, thus emphasizing the idea of fellowship.<<

>No Jesus told us very clearly, that we should take communion in remembrance of him. (do Baptists have some problem with communion?)<

No argument whatsoever about the importance of communion. The only question is whether that is what is being referred to in Acts 2:42. In other words, to say communion is important is true; but to use Acts 2:42 as a "proof-text" for the practice might be a case of "orthodox but not exegetical" as it was put at my seminary.

The passage could be referring to communion; but maybe not. That was simply my point. But whether Acts 2:42 is referring to it or not, you are correct that communion is an important aspect of spirituality. Baptists have no "problem" with that idea. Of course, there are many disagreements as to the exact nature of the "elements" - but again, that would be another discussion entirely!

>>Third is "prayers." So praying is essential. As to what is appropriate prayer, it most definitely is not mindless repetition of one phrase or prayer as is often done in mysticism.<<

>Yes I would agree prayer is more than that, and can take and should take many forms.<

>>The prayer itself is Biblical (see Luke 18:13). But repeating it over and over again is not.<<

>Personally I wouldn't pray like that ...I might say it a couple of times but not hours on end. Many Christians don't like this repetitive praying as it reminds them of the Hindu meditation technique using a Mantra, a word or phrase repeated over and over again. The idea being that the "mind" is stilled from a multiplicity of thought.

St John makes it crystal clear, that to advance in the love and knowledge of God, one should give up external forms used for meditation such as words, looking at relics, statues etc, icons or any other physical forms because one becomes attached to them.

He also says those with feeble faith need "sensible" things to attach their minds to, and to remove such things from them might cause them to stumble. (yet another example of his insight)<

I would agree with "St. John" that one should not depend on physical forms for prayer; but I would probably be a little more "forceful" in saying it is important for a person to be "weaned" off of their use.

>>Appropriate prayer can be understood by studying the various prayers in the Bible (see, for example, Daniel 9, Nehemiah 9, Matt 7:5-13; John 17; and various places in Paul's epistles).<<

>Actually the only prayer God cares about is prayer from the heart to him in humility and love or from a contrite broken heart with faith. He will NOT accept any other kind at all! Simply just speaking to him as a friend is also prayer, thinking of him is also Prayer. I don't accept the definition of Prayer as being limited to the speaking of words.<

Agreed that prayer must be from the heart (i.e., inner self) and not just an empty form. But it is instructive to study the prayers of the Bible to see how Biblical characters expressed their "hearts" to God.

>>the Reformed viewpoint includes the idea of "eternal security" or better "the perseverance of the saints" (the "P" in the Calvinistic acronym "TULIP.")<<

>Gods nature is such that he offers unconditional acceptance to those who believe in his son. As far as salvation goes, St Paul mentions many times that those who keep committing sins they know are wrong will not enter the Kingdom of God, but if they should turn away from sin they will be grafted in again. Personally I cant allow myself the luxury of believing "once saved always saved" . ..I don't know whether its true and I see it might be misused as a license to commit all kinds of terrible unchristian behavior.<

This would again be an entire discussion in itself. I will just say here it is a "straw man" argument to describe the doctrine of eternal security as "once save always saved" and to say it gives a person the "license" to sin.

The doctrine actually states that a true believer will persevere in the way of holiness until glorification. This is not to say a true Christian will not commit an act of sin; but it does say that a true Christian cannot continue in sin (the Greek text uses the present tense indicating ongoing action in 1John 3:9).

Whenever people who are truly born again sin, the Holy Sprit will "convict" them and lead them to repentance and back to the way of righteousness. If someone can sin without the Holy Spirit convicting them, then they are not born again (Heb 12:3-11).

For more on eternal security and other aspects of Calvinism, see my articles on the subjects. They are listed at: Calvinism (Reformed Theology).

>>And finally, as I was going through my file cabinets, I came across a list of "Recommended Reading on Christian Spirituality" I had made up a while ago.<<

>I will check it out<

>You are welcome to post any of my emails anywhere you wish.<

Thank you. I will post our first two discussions and this one. I think these three exchanges will cover this subject as well as can be in an e-mail exchange.

>I would like to sum up where I have arrived at. I find myself agreeing with a lot you have said, it is sound Christian doctrine. I do not think I could ever become a Catholic if it meant adhering to all they believe or are told to believe :)<

Yes, it does seem that we agree on some points but not on others: but that's usually the case. And agreed about Catholicism. I was raised Catholic; left it when I was 18 and don't see myself ever returning to it.

>I do not believe that God has abandoned the Catholic church and withheld his gifts and graces from them either. I do not believe a Christian has to read any of the mystics at all to grow in the knowledge of God. As far as the writings of Guyon and the other mystics are concerned do I believe or know they are right about every single thing they said? NO I don't, neither do I see what they propose can be considered as a "way" or "path" to God in its own right outside or independent of basic NT doctrine. I would even plead with a Christian NOT to study any of the mystics if they didn't have the peace of God while reading them or felt disturbed in someway.

What I do believe is that what some of what the mystics are saying is there is a possibility for a very deep love relationship with Christ within. It seems to me they are pointing to something, pointing to how God responds to those who are willing to offer all of themselves to his service in love. If I would list some points that would seem to make their testimony plausible I would list the following.

1. Nowhere do they say one should disobey the authority God has placed over a Christian. In fact the opposite is true, they say since it is in Gods hands, God determines their walk and that to disobey the authority one is under is proof that one isn't ready for such a walk. This is a very strong point, its saying that one might have to stop for the rest of ones life practicing this path if one is told too. This to me suggests that wicked spiritual powers got the door slammed in their face, in one of the areas they like to attack a Christian, namely the area of humility and obedience.<

The question of authority is a complicated one that is easily abused. But that again would be an entire discussion in itself.

>2. They say no satisfaction for the "flesh" is to be expected, in fact suffering is what produces the purest of love, so those who fear loss of reputation and status and other "worldly" goods will not progress far. This does not seem attractive to those of a self centered nature.<

Agreed in part. But I would disagree with a self-imposed asceticism. The gifts that God gives us can and should be enjoyed (1Tim 4:1-5).

>3. They almost all experienced being told to terminate their meditation for a season to attend to outward duties. Furthermore they say there can never be an excuse to neglect the duties of whatever ones situation and responsibilities are in this life.<

It is good that they say as such. However, in the history of asceticism and monasticism, many a person has left behind their "worldly" duties like supporting their families to live lives of solitude and poverty. Such actions are completely unbiblical (1Tim 5:8).

>4. The goal of what they propose is intended to produce utter dependence on God and total selfless love toward others.<

Two very worthwhile goals, even if I may disagree with their methodology.

>I agree that the actual method of prayer they propose might not be acceptable to many Christians, but the goal they wish to arrive at I.E. "A Union of Love with God" a deep personal dependent relationship with and in God is not only Biblical ..it is the heart of the plan of God for us all. I will end with a little quote from "Final Steps in Christian Maturity" by Guyon:

"There is something you must remember: Love prepares His own way. No one else can prepare the way for the Lord except the Lord himself. He prepares your heart and leads your heart from fullness to fullness. He is the one who enlarges and as he enlarges he fills" (pg. 72).


Thanks for the discussion. It has been interesting. I will close by saying this discussion shows how various aspects of Christian doctrine and practice are interrelated. We easily could have gotten off of the subject of spirituality and into discussions on baptism, communion, and other subjects.

What that shows is what one believes about one area of the Christian life affects another. That is why is is very important to study all aspects of the Christian faith. It is also important to try to integrate all that one believes into a coherent Christian world and life view.

I try to do that on my site. It is why I address so many different topics. And, hopefully, if one reads through my articles on different subjects they will not be seen to contradict each other but to blend into a coherent whole.

Appendix: Lexicons on "Heart"

Below is information copied from the three lexicons on my BibleWorks program that discuss the figurative meaning of the Greek word kardia, generally translated as "heart."

heart, inner self; mind; will, desire, intention; interior (of the earth) (UBS Dictionary).

inner self - a figurative extension of meaning of kardia 'heart,' (not occurring in the NT in its literal sense) the causative source of a person's psychological life in its various aspects, but with special emphasis upon thoughts - 'heart, inner self, mind' (Louw and Nida).

heart; in the NT, the inner self (1) viewed as the seat of physical vitality (AC 14.17); (2) viewed as the innermost man, the source and seat of functions of soul and spirit in the emotional life (AC 2.26), the volitional life (2C 9.7), the rational life (AC 7.23); (3) viewed as the human dwelling place of heavenly beings and powers (RO 5.5; 2C 1.22; EP 3.17); (4) fig. of the depths of the earth interior, center (MT 12.40) (Friberg).

For a follow-up to the above discussion, see Meditative Prayer.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

All Scripture verses from: New King James Version (NKJV). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1982. Verses copied from: Lardian PalmBible. Copyright 1998 by Craig Rairdin. All rights reserved. Portions Copyright 1998 by Jeff Wheeler. All rights reserved.

Friberg, Timothy and Barbara. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Copyright 1994. As found on BibleWorks™ for Windows™. Copyright 1992-1999 BibleWorks, L.C.C. Big Fork, MT: Hermeneutika. Programmed by Michael S. Bushell and Michael D. Tan.

Liddell-Scott Greek English Lexicon (Abridged). Public Domain. As found on BibleWorks™ for Windows™.

Louw, Johannes and Eugene Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon. New York: United Bible Societies, 1988. And second edition, Copyright 1998 as found on BibleWorks™ for Windows™.

Newman, Barclay M. Jr. A Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Copyright 1971 by United Bible Societies and 1993 by Deutsche Biblelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), Sttugart. As found on BibleWorks™ for Windows™.

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