Orthodox Mysticism

by Mike Duran · 37 comments

So I had this dream. It was many years ago, but I still remember it quite vividly. It involved an elder in the church I was pastoring and dramatically chronicled his slow retreat from God. It was quite baffling at the time, for he and his family were spiritually solid and big parts of our church community. I shared it with them and we kind of laughed it off. In less than a decade after that dream, he’d divorced his wife and completely rejected Christianity.

This was not the only time I had what I’d describe as a prophetic dream.

Anyway, I shared that dream with a group of pastors once. One of the ministers became quite agitated. God no longer speaks prophetically, he said. We have the Word of God so we need not rely on dreams and visions. Even though the dream proved accurate, you should denounce further such experiences.

This was one of my first encounters with evangelicalism’s knee-jerk reaction to all things mystical.

That phrase — orthodox mysticism — probably sounds like an oxymoron to many evangelicals. For most of us, words like “meditation,” “mystic,” and “mysticism” bring to mind Eastern religions, not Christianity. Yes, Eastern and New Age religions are known for their mysticism; nevertheless, mysticism remains a vital part of our Christian heritage.

Scripture is full of mystical experiences which confound explanation:

  • Dreams
  • Visions
  • Apocalyptic warnings
  • Ecstatic utterances
  • Angelic encounters
  • Out of body experiences
  • Physical healings
  • Demonic confrontations
  • bodily resurrections
  • Miracles
  • Prophesy

Despite the proliferation of mystical experiences in Scripture, many segments of the Church categorically reject such experiences. Granted, many do so (conveniently?) by adopting a theological paradigm known as cessationism, which suggests that after the canon of Scripture was sealed, we no longer needed miracles to validate Christianity. I’m not here to debate cessationsism. I believe it’s a faulty interpretive grid.

This doesn’t mean I believe ALL mystical experiences are valid. I just think the line between orthodox and unorthodox mysticism is a lot finer that many Christians concede.

Now, I’ve gone on record as suggesting that the Church needs heresy hunters. Why? Because there’s such a thing as heresy! Nevertheless, the danger is in replacing discernment with formulas. Rather than conceding levels of personal experience that are not explainable, we force every personal experience into the same interpretive box.

Yoga is a good example.

Not a few believers think that Christians should NOT practice Yoga. Why? Because the practice has been tied to eastern mysticism and the occult:

Even though one may desire only the physical or exercise of yoga, you can see how dangerous a practice it really is.

…New-Age techniques almost always involve some form of meditation that is to bring you into a state of peace, enlightenment, open the door of physic knowledge, and can bring extraordinary power. But this power is an illusion of self-grandeur, it is occult, and very dangerous because the spirit you invite into your mind, is a demon or fallen angel.

In his commentary on “Christian yoga,” Pastor Mark Driscoll says,

“A faithful Christian can no more say they are practicing yoga for Jesus than they can say they are committing adultery for Jesus.”

(On the other hand are those proposing “Christian Yoga,” “Holy Yoga,” or “Scripture Yoga,” all seeking to integrate Christian content and discipline into the practice. Which may be equally misguided.)

Point is: Are any “techniques” anathema because they have been connected to occultism? Breathing techniques. Meditative postures. I mean, is the lotus position intrinsically evil because someone believes it “prepares the body for the occult changes that will arouse the coiled power (Kundalini) at the base of spine”? 

Listen, many religious, ascetic practices, are employed by occultists — prayer, fasting, meditation on a “sacred” text.

  • Just because  an occultist fasts or meditates does not make fasting or meditation evil.
  • Just because an occultist can experiences enlightenment, ecstatic utterance, or a vision does not make all such experiences evil.

All that to say, Scripture seems more concerned NOT to define and catalog every mystical experience, but to check every experience against the Gospel. The apostle Paul wrote:

“…even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8 NIV)

Mind you, this was a man who was knocked from his horse by a blinding light, heard the voice of God, and was suddenly converted (Acts 9). Later, Paul had “visions and revelations from the Lord” as well as an out-of-body experience in which he was caught up to “the third heaven” where he “heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell” (II Cor. 12:1-4). In the Scripture above, however, he downplays angelic visitations in favor of orthodoxy.

An angelic visitation is not nearly as important as the “gospel” said angel is selling.

Likewise, mysticism that espouses or leads one to a false gospel is unorthodox mysticism. Techniques are neutral. Dreams may or may not be “of God.” Prophecies should not be treated “with contempt,” but should be “tested” (I Thess. 5:20-21). Enlightenment may be induced by the Spirit or simply a chemical reaction. Either way, it’s the end product of ones belief — their “gospel” — that determines the orthodoxy of their experiences.

All that to say, there’s a finer line between orthodox and unorthodox mysticism than we often admit. It is far easier just to brand ALL yoga or ALL visions or ALL dreams as unbiblical, rather than sifting through each experience, taking time to see its fruit, and allowing someone leeway to experience God differently than us.

Denouncing ALL mystical experiences as heresy may, in itself, be heretical.

We do well to judge visions, experiences, ecstasies, etc. However, automatically branding ALL mystical experiences as categorically evil is equally misguided.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Margaret December 10, 2012 at 9:40 AM

As a Christian who has been given three visions of future events and who has dealt with and seen demons twice, I agree with these points: such experiences can and do still happen in the Christian life; we need to allow other Christians “leeway to experience God differently than us”; and it is imperative we view said experiences in light of the Biblical message in order to determine authorship and alignment with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Good thoughts and post, Mike.

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Dave Jacobs December 10, 2012 at 9:55 AM

Great article Mike. I just had to calm down one of my readers when they saw that I had just finished a book with the word “mysticism” in it. They wanted to know why I would read something like that. When I asked them if they were familiar with Christian mysticism they said no. Mysticism, mystical-experience, and mystic, are all different things but related. These words have been ruined, for some, because non-Christian religions use them too.

Most Christians could not define mysticism, mystic, or mystical-experience in a Christian context. I have an untested theory as to why many Christians get nervous when they see these three words. Mystic sounds like magic which means witchcraft which means Harry Potter which no serious Christian should ever read for fear of being infected by demons.

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Melissa Ortega December 10, 2012 at 10:20 AM

You’re a brave man. So was Chesterton, who reminded Christians in his own Orthodox book that Christianity is more of a mystical than tangible, physical experience.

Personally, I think there is a great irony in a believer who tells others not to practice yoga – because they could accidentally stand in this specific figure 8 position that unlocks a secret demon box in their back unleashing all the fury of hell – for being too “mystical.” I find it ironic because belief in such a possibility smacks of mystic superstition rather than Biblical grounding. Look, I’ve stuck my leg out like this probably fifty times and, still, no demon!

In the other court, I find the argument for cessastion to be faulty on the basis that “miracles” have NEVER been required to validate Christianity – not really. And the definition of “miracle” in that context is often too specific. People who say this usually mean miracles “this big” but in reality will claim to see the supernatural hand of God at work in their lives on a regular basis. I find that inconsistent with the previous claim but also with what we know of God’s nature. He is extravagent in His Love for us, and sometimes He loves to remind His children of that. Sometimes He gives for the sake of giving, not because he expects something in return – which is ultimately what I believe cessation doctrine unintentionally contradicts.

It is the nature of God to be Himself, and who He is is supernatural.

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Jessica Thomas December 10, 2012 at 10:49 AM

On the subject of yoga, I used to do a bit myself, but when I read more about the faith origins of the practice, I stopped doing it, and rid my house of the book I was learning from. Do I think posing this way or that will lead to demon possession? No, it’s just stretching. God invented stretching, satan stole it. That being said, per my own conscience I no longer felt right promoting it, especially with two small boys in the house, to which I am trying to teach discernment. Now when I hear of a Christian doing yoga, I cringe. Why? Because satan tried (and it still trying) to steal stretching like he has tried to steal a multitude of other things, and quite frankly, it p!sses me off.

I also follow a sugar addict’s recovery plan that advocates daily meditation to raise healthy brain chemicals, and I haven’t instituted it because every time I reconsider, I get p!ssed off again. Some might say I have anger issues, and that I need to try some yoga or meditation, but I’m convinced that I should rather wait to see what God is trying to teach me. I know He is my #1 health advocate…

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Melissa Ortega December 10, 2012 at 1:53 PM

I have done yoga but – and many others can say this with me – I didn’t do any meditation. Twenty years ago this statement may have been impossible, but now there are plenty of yoga classes that don’t teach you anything beyond “lay there and stop stressing out for a minute” at the end of three hours of stretching. For people with certain medical conditions, yoga (and yes, pilates!), is a literal life-saver, so it’s really hard for me to hear Christians shoot someone down for doing it strictly because it has been used for ill in other places. They actually cut people off from a physical therapy that can greatly improve their medical condition without asking any responsible questions.

Yoga can be weird and practiced in the wrong way and really really creepy absent from the guidance of God. So can Christianity.

As some old song used to say, it’s time to take back what the devil has stolen – not by saying no one can have it at all anymore – but by redeeming it, restoring it, and giving it back to God.

If Christians who decry yoga and any type of symbolic mysticsm (meaning anything symbolic which has been used for pagan/demonic practices) they would have to stop celebrating Christmas, Easter (Ishtar), etc., take down the steeples from their churches, remove all crosses (used as mystic talismans), and stop listening to all music (which is an emotional, meditative art capable of all sorts of evil). The list could go on.

Oh, and Mike Duran should stop dreaming immediately. It was a dream that produced the Twilight series, hence dreaming must be a severely twisted practice that should be stopped immediately!

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Katherine Coble December 10, 2012 at 3:44 PM

Just an aside: if you are uncomfortable with the spiritual aspects of yoga, I highly recommend Pilates. Same general workout without the possible controversy.

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Mike Duran December 11, 2012 at 5:08 AM

Melissa, re: Cessationism — It seems to argue from experience (or lack of experience) to Scripture, rather than the opposite way. Which is why there are NO solid proof texts for the expiration of miracles and spiritual phenomena. The Cessationists I’ve met begin with resistance to Pentecostalism and/or mystical experience and use that to construct a worldview.

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Melissa Ortega December 12, 2012 at 7:40 AM

I completely agree with this. And so many faulty doctrines (which exist in every church cluster) usually stem from a similar preexistent notion into which Scripture is then squeezed to fit.

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Jessica Thomas December 10, 2012 at 10:35 AM

(Forgive my moment of self promotion, but) I recently wrote this on the topic because I’ve been wrestling with it myself: http://jessicathomasink.com/blog/faith/sacred-versus-mystical/

I like the title of your blog post. I’ve been trying to determine if there is a such thing as “orthodox mysticism” as you put it. I fully believe God still speaks to us and works in supernatural ways, and that denying this potentially leads to a spiritual desert in the life of a Christian.

You say “technique” doesn’t matter, but if that’s true then why did Jesus take the time to teach people how to pray, a specifically stated not to pray like the pagans do?

Also, why would a book written by a Catholic mystic who advocates “centering prayer” have to include a disclaimer at the beginning of his book warning the reader that such practices can be dangerous spiritually?

I fully agree that a person has to test supernatual experiences against scripture. Some are real, some are counterfeit. But, honestly, do you think the average Christian in America knows how to do that? I’d say not, because as you say, the line is fine and therefore easy to cross over without realizing it, as I’ve done myself many times.

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Mike Duran December 11, 2012 at 5:36 AM

Jessica — “You say “technique” doesn’t matter, but if that’s true then why did Jesus take the time to teach people how to pray, a specifically stated not to pray like the pagans do?”

Mike — Jesus’ entire teaching on prayer (and spiritual disciplines in general) has to do w/ heart, not external formula. The pagans’ motives (wanting to be seen by men) is what Jesus condemns, not a specific technique. “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” — Matt. 6:1. It is performing acts of righteousness “to be seen” that makes for “bad praying.” Also, you’d agree that the Lord’s Prayer is not a formula but a pattern for prayer. Simply repeating the words like an incantation is not what He had in mind.

Jessica — “Also, why would a book written by a Catholic mystic who advocates “centering prayer” have to include a disclaimer at the beginning of his book warning the reader that such practices can be dangerous spiritually?”

Mike — Did it “have to include a disclaimer”? Actually, I think it lends credibility to the author who acknowledges the need for discernment. In a way, any spiritual activity should include a disclaimer because it opens us up to the unseen. In fact, some folks who oppose mysticism in general also caution about the use of the “religious imagination.” Take a look at THIS POST which cautions against the overuse of imagination in writing Fantasy fiction! Point is: Even using your imagination should “include a disclaimer.” At what point your using imagination becomes “unorthodox” is another story. All that to say, I’m not advocating “centering prayer.” I don’t know anything about it. I just think whenever we venture into the realm of imagination or spiritual seeking, we should exercise discernment.

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Jessica Thomas December 11, 2012 at 6:46 AM

Mike, I haven’t had the chance to research the following site or the author, but what he is saying resonates with me. The only part I object to really, is the reference to the rosary and the virgin Mary. (I can’t condone worship or praying to Mary.)

http://catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0005.html

The following paragraph struck me, and I think it explains why I very much don’t like your assertion that technique doesn’t matter. I think it gives Christians the false notion that they can “try anything” and be safe. Using one’s imagination or quietly contemplating the beauty of God’s creation (for instance) is different. The fact that I myself (born the decade after the 60′s) have confusion in this matter and am (at a ripening age) having to carefully sort out what is true prayer versus conterfeit and potentially dangerous is evidence that there is confusion in the overall culture.

I also agree with this author, that the confusion is increasing as the babies of 60′s babies have babies and so forth. Thus those who are able to discern between Godly methods versus wordly methods have a responsibility to be very clear about the distinctions.

“Some of those who promote centering prayer employ questionable practices. For exampIe, I first experienced centering prayer during a retreat whose announced topic and method had nothing to do with it. Without explanation, the director conducted us into centering prayer. At first I followed the instructions, but, not liking the feel of it, I made the decision to ignore the instructions. The retreat master, even by secular standards, acted unethically in not giving us an understanding and choice in the matter. “

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Jill December 10, 2012 at 10:44 AM

I wonder if Mark Driscoll celebrates Easter or encourages others to do so. Easter is a fine example of syncretism that we use in our worship of God, which is, as far as I know, what God forbids. Most people doing yoga on a mat are not doing it for the purposes of worship. It’s really a lot more shallow than that–”Hold that pose! Think what your butt will look like when you’re done!” And I thought Driscoll was in favor of women attempting to be sex kittens until the day they drop because that’s what life and marriage are all about!

All silliness aside, I’m with you. I see no reason for God’s power, nor his communication with his people, to have subsided at any point. I don’t believe dreams, visions, angelic visitation, or prophecy have vanished. But we need to be discerning about it. Mysticism is attractive because it gives us glimpses into the spiritual world that many of us are desperate for. Hence, it can be a tool of deception.

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Melissa Ortega December 10, 2012 at 1:58 PM

Indeed. Apart from God, all things are dangerous. With God, we need fear nothing. To me, the fact that God preserved His written Word as an ultimate measure means that there were going to be unseen things occurring for a very long time which would require measurement. It also means that unseen things would continue to occur which didn’t measure up.

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Jill December 10, 2012 at 11:33 AM

I just wanted to add one more thing–why did we think we could force God to go through the Enlightenment? Did we honestly think we had changed God’s nature along with ours? This is something I’ve been pondering for a long time, while wondering why emotions and spiritual matters seem to have been disposed of, in favor of dry rationalism. Why are Christians mocked when they have emotional moments with God? Why are emotions no longer an aspect of truth? A sad, but powerful example of this would be the rational breaking down of transubstantiation. Must the wine be reversed into grape juice, and the bread into meaningless dough that doesn’t actually bear the spirit of our Saviour? Must we trade the saving waters of Baptism for hucksters who believe we should have laughing ceremonies instead? Why can’t we even have those sacraments that Christ offered us without turning them into logical, but symbolic representations?

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Gloria Repp December 10, 2012 at 11:44 AM

:)) Thanks, Jill.

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D.M. Dutcher December 10, 2012 at 1:05 PM

The issue of the real presence isn’t emotional, it’s the theological ramifications from it. It’s not just the feeling and emotional connection when you take mass, it’s the fact that it works grace on you, and that my communion is invalid because it’s not done in the Church established by Jesus through Peter. You can also be denied communion, and prevented from that union entirely, and the threat of that goes a long way to explaining the state of the eucharistic churches today.

If protestants deny this, it’s really only because it was the only way they could survive. As moderns, I don’t think we understand the profound nature of excommunication from the Church,which is the flip side of the emotional power of the sacraments. If you are a Christian who is divorced, you cannot remarry, ever. Or you can be completely denied the host, and if you’ve remarried after you did, you need to stop sleeping with your current husband, period. That’s adultery, and that all flows from the idea of giving marriage sacramental (grace-working) qualities. It’s a really rough thing, and that’s kind of why I’m a rationalist I guess. The road of emotion and the theology that springs from it can be a harsher mistress than one thinks.

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Jill December 10, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Are you honestly equating emotionalism with legalism? Christ clearly decried legalism. He did NOT deny his people their God-given emotions. He upheld the dignity of those who demonstrated their emotional states in worship, as with the woman who poured costly oil at his feet. Go ahead–worship in a rational way if that’s what you choose. As for the God I worship, he isn’t a creation of the Enlightenment, and he defies all my attempts at reducing him to logical schemes, methods, and symbols. And I thank him for that because I’m sick of being ruled by my hyper-logical mind.

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D.M. Dutcher December 10, 2012 at 4:25 PM

No, I’m not saying that emotionalism is bad in itself. You wondered why the idea of transubstantiation was broken down, and I’m saying its because of the theology behind it. It was not some desire to be free from the emotions of surrender to Christ, but because the theology of it had and still has some massive implications to it. You can’t believe in the Real Presence without accepting other things.

As for emotionalism, I’m actually one of those people who saw the laughing revivals first hand. I’m an ex Word of Faith person, and I’m probably one of the few people who post here that has spoken in tongues. I’ve been in the lines of people that have gone up for healing, and seen them “slain by the spirit.” I know I come across as hyper-rationalist, but I’ve known the power of the emotional experience of God in praise, and a lot of the excesses of that same movement. I don’t think it’s bad at all, but chasing after it can really be dangerous.

My old church lost a lot of people because many believers were really chasing the emotional high they got from worship, or the gifts of the spirit from the laying on of hands. It’s like the rest of Christianity: a narrow balancing act between two extremes.

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Jill December 10, 2012 at 5:59 PM

You’re wrong about being the only one. I’ve spoken in tongues and been part of slaying in the spirit and all the rest. That is why I know that chasing rationalism is very dangerous. We lost a lot at the Reformation, especially post Luther, and now we chase spiritual and emotional moments that are highly irrational because we’re too rational to believe in the sacraments that Christ gave us. We’re left filling the gaps in other ways.

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D.M. Dutcher December 11, 2012 at 12:02 AM

Not much I can say to that. Some of us simply cannot accept the sacraments without assenting to the theology behind it, and concerning the visible churches that issue them. The kind of mysticism that derives from that needs to accept that authority as well to work, so apart from converting to the RCC or Orthodox church, that avenue really isn’t open to us. It’s a bigger argument than I could ever address.

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Jill December 11, 2012 at 10:04 AM

I don’t think anyone needs to convert to anything in order to bring meaning back to the sacraments. That a church can trace itself back to Peter has nothing to do with the sacraments–that’s a different argument altogether. I’m not RC or Orthodox, but Lutheran. But, again, that’s beside the point. The sacraments were gifts from Christ to his people.

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Mike Duran December 11, 2012 at 6:26 AM

D.M., it’s interesting that you mention the “laughing revivals.” I attended several at John Wimber’s Vineyard. Like you, I’ve stood in line for healing, baptism of the Spirit, and have received the gift of tongues. I am fairly well-versed in Charismatic theology and experience. And actually, it’s that experience (and its more extreme ends), that has drawn me back toward a slightly more rationalist approach. Now, I probably land in the middle between heresy hunter and mystic. Weird, huh? As I see it, there’s some genuinely whacko stuff on the Charismatic fringes. But swinging to the opposite extreme and denying it all seems equally reactionary.

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Jim Hamlett December 11, 2012 at 9:31 AM

Couldn’t agree with you more, Mike. Someone here has already pointed out that God is supernatural. So why should it be out of the question to experience him in supernatural ways? But, like you, I think each experience must be examined in the light of Scripture. God will remain true to his revelation of himself. It is Satan who is the great deceiver.

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D.M. Dutcher December 11, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Yeah, I don’t mean to sound like they never happen. I just think experience shows they are rare, and that seeking after them generally doesn’t work. It’s His timing, not ours.

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Melissa Ortega December 12, 2012 at 7:48 AM

I think the rarity has less to do with God’s willingness or even purpose in using the gifts of the Spirit, and more to do with the fact that humans historically seek the experience rather than God himself. He tells us to covet gifts, but to seek Him. There are things that flow naturally out of a relationship with God (“seek ye first the Kingdom and all these things shall be added”). Unfortunately, we tend to be more infatuated with what we see than what we don’t see. We all have a bit of Simon the Sorcerer in us.

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Kessie December 10, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Hey, there’s always Pilates if Yoga’s too weird. They both do the same kind of stretching, but Pilates has less meditation (depending on the instructor).

I’ve experienced too many odd things in my own life to discount the mystical. I’ve had lots of de-ja-vu that came true years later. I dreamed about being in a room with two extra brothers years before they were born. Every house we’ve lived in, I’ve dreamed of the layout and furniture arrangement years earlier. It’s all silly, inconsequential kinds of things. But the veil between our world and eternity is thin, and science doesn’t explain everything.

But you’re right about testing the spirits. I’ve read lots of books about a fairly normal Christian who had a “vision” of some “angel” preaching a different gospel, and the person went off and started a cult. I don’t put a lot of stock in dreams for that reason. The Bible comes first. There’s more than enough weirdness in the Bible to account for any amount of mysticism you please. *points at the major and minor prophets*

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Katherine Coble December 10, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Oops, Kessie! I’m sorry that I commented before reading yours. ;)

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D.M. Dutcher December 10, 2012 at 12:17 PM

The problem is that your average mystic thinks they can evoke spiritual things like that through technique, and that is dangerous because it ignores the fact that God is the source of these things. Paul wasn’t sitting in Kundalini position or moving his hands over beads as he prayed for six hours on the road-God struck him when he was least expecting. God also struck for His purposes, not at Paul’s demand.

A danger also in certain techniques is that they can obliterate the self through wearing it down and repetition, and can lead to harmful things. An interesting article I found describes “India Syndrome,” a condition where young seekers of enlightenment who go to India and wind up triggering full-on psychotic breaks due to isolation, culture shock, and the heavy demands of mystical experience. Some even die. For Christians, there’s also the worry that opening ourselves up through that kind of self-obliteration can invite demonic activity.

I don’t think there’s much issue in people doing certain techniques for exercise. Satan’s not going to come and possess your kid because he does Aikido once a week, or because you do yoga now and then on the Wii fit. But most mystical practices are designed to obliterate the self or reduce its defenses in order to make the individual spiritually receptive to direct experience of God, and using them hardcore to chase after that is incredibly dangerous because we cannot evoke God-He acts according to His will. More likely than not we’d evoke our own feelings, some guru’s philosophy, or in worst, rare cases, madness or possession.

So while I agree with you Mike that it’s foolish to expect miracles to cease, mysticism as an aspect of the Christian faith is not a thing we should chase. We can only evaluate experiences by the scripture easily when we aren’t in one, and even when it strikes us out of the blue, it can be hard to discern it. Trying to do so after exhausted, isolated, or alone from serious mystical preparation is near impossible in my opinion.

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Katherine Coble December 10, 2012 at 3:54 PM

I think you are making the mistake a lot of Christians make when they conflate “mysticism” with “Eastern Religion” and “New Age”

I’m a mystic. I don’t speak in tongues. I don’t meditate or chant or have any rituals whatsoever. I’m a mystic because I believe in a GodMan who rose from the dead, who opened the door to allow me direct conversation with God, who gives me a portion of God as a shield, companion and interpreter.

I talk with God. I hear God. I see God. I have ridden with angels.

It is an insult and a denial of the awesome majesty of the God Who Humbled Himself to Open The Door if we refuse to honour that Mystery.

The great thing about Christianity is not that it is apart from Mysticism. It is that through Y’shua Ben Ysef we have a redeemed access to God fully unfettered by Man’s recipes.

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D.M. Dutcher December 10, 2012 at 5:40 PM

I don’t see that as mystic, I see it as a healthy faith. All religion is at some sense mystical then, because it’s not a philosophy like platonism.

What I mean that there is a certain aspect of religious thought, and yes it includes Christianity, that focuses on ritual to either evoke a lot of the behaviors Mike mentions, or break down the self in order to gain better experience of God or self-destruction to model more of Him. When you pray the rosary, that’s being a mystic. A monk lives his life according to rules and rituals to achieve this, and it’s a very intensive schedule. Ascetic is derived from athlete, and in the same way they train. It’s also as dangerous: a monk will be the first to tell you how much spiritual hazard that life has to it.

I’m just saying that it’s dangerous to use technique to try to evoke miracles, or even a deeper surrender to God. Again, I do agree with Mike that miracles still happen, and that the forms aren’t always bad in themselves. They can be healthy for exercise, or to clear stress briefly, or for the enjoyment of moving your body. I’m just wary when they are used for spiritual means, even Christian ones. The most extreme example I can think of are the pillar saints-the Stylites. They are christian mystics who went a bit too far.

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Jessica Thomas December 10, 2012 at 7:39 PM

“The problem is that your average mystic thinks they can evoke spiritual things like that through technique, and that is dangerous because it ignores the fact that God is the source of these things. Paul wasn’t sitting in Kundalini position or moving his hands over beads as he prayed for six hours on the road-God struck him when he was least expecting. God also struck for His purposes, not at Paul’s demand.”

Yes, to me this is the important distinction. A person trying to achieve an experience versus a person struck by God unexpectedly. It’s a lie from the evil one that we should have to “do” or “feel” anything to know God or be in His presence. This chasing after the experience can become a self-serving distraction, as well as spiritually draining.

I come at this as a person who has suffered through depression, going through years (and presently as well) where my ability to experience the full depth of my own emotions was (is) broken… (Thank you Prozac, but it sure beats the alternative.) When I finally accepted that God is there whether or not I “feel” him or not, it was a huge burden off of my shoulders. If I had continued to chase the mystical experience to try and fix what was broken, I would have just beat myself into the ground. So, needless to say, for me, knowing I don’t require any sort of feeling or emotion to know I am spiritually “okay” is very freeing.

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D.M. Dutcher December 11, 2012 at 12:20 AM

Well said. It’s really exhausting, always worrying about whether or not its always your fault, that there’s something in you that if only you could change, God would come down and make everything right. definitely a great relief to be free from that crushing stone.

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Bobby B December 10, 2012 at 1:31 PM

I think spiritual gifts, spirit activity, miracles, etc. are the places of Christianity that demand maturity and wisdom, as it’s so easy to go off the rails. My Mom has seen angels, and a friend of hers has seen demons, but neither discuss it unless you ask, and even then they don’t explode into some melodramatic story. They just say what happened, and there you go. You can judge a lot by the person’s character, but even then it can be hard. I guess it really just points to the fact that spiritual power is real and uncontrollable. I’ve heard one missionary say if revival really broke out, most pastors would try to stop it, as mass revivals almost always get out of control as the Spirit of God breaks out over the people.

As God should be: Beautiful, wonderful…but unexplainable and uncontrollable

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Joel Q December 10, 2012 at 3:54 PM

God gave us a Spirit to relate to spiritual things, like the Holy Spirit. If some Christians want to say it’s bad mysticism and we should not use our Spirit, well, they are terribly missing out.
JQ

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Katherine Coble December 10, 2012 at 3:56 PM

Amen and amen

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Thea December 12, 2012 at 12:36 AM

I know someone who’s a Cessationist. We had a conversation after my first time ever seeing people get miraculously healed and she told me that the healing had come from Satan, because “It couldn’t have come from God”. It made me think of the time when Jesus addressed the Pharisees when they accused him of casting out demons using the power of Satan:

“If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26, NIV)

Along with that, I know someone who was demon possessed, and she had experiences that, on the surface, bore striking similarities to mystical experiences others (including myself) have had from God. But they were like straw trying to stand up to the wind when their substance was checked against Scripture.

The thing about demons is that A) they can’t fool a clear mind and B) they have no power over those in whom Christ dwells. Their arguments only hold if you agree not to look at them too closely and, because the power and authority of Jesus is in us, not only are they incapable of touching us without our specific permission, we can also tell them to bugger off and they have no choice but to listen and obey.

I used to have terrifying nightmares, not because of what happened in the dreams, but because of a creeping fear that would come in and try to paralyze me, and I also used to feel the presence of demons trying to terrify me when I was getting ready to go to bed. But, once I realized that I could speak to them with Jesus’ authority, I did. I told them to go away and that they weren’t allowed to do anything to me or around me ever again. And I haven’t had those things happen to me since. In fact, the only time after that when I had an experience involving demons, they couldn’t touch me. I had a force field around me, and they were completely powerless to go through it. And, really, the only reason that that experience lasted more than two seconds was because I didn’t realize what was going on until afterwards. If I *had* realized, I would have stopped it right then and there and moved on to something more constructive.

Which is my very long way of saying this: Yes, there are mystical experiences caused by both God and demons. But, if we’ve got God in us, the demons can’t do crap to us. I’m not worried about them in the slightest. If I’m opening myself up to spiritual forces, then it’s only those from God. Everyone else is very well aware that they’re not welcome.

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drago December 20, 2012 at 7:50 PM

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