Friday, September 16, 2005

The Growing Interest in Medieval Mysticism

There seems to be a rapidly growing interest in the writings of medieval mystics within the church today. This is especially true in the emerging church movement, but is becoming prevalent throughout evangelicalism. Basically, mysticism is an attempt to attain direct knowledge of God apart from objective truth and instead relying on subjective experience to acquire spiritual truth. Scripture speaks out against such speculative and subjective experiences as a basis for acquiring truth. (Colossians 2:18-19) Sometime in the future, I intend on posting more on the subject of mysticism and its infiltration into the church.

But this is going to become an issue of increasing concern as time goes by, as the church continues to move further away from Scriptural truth. I have noticed more and more that some are turning to the mystics of the medieval church for spiritual guidance. Some time ago, in a sermon my pastor was preaching, he gave reference to a book written by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Roman Catholic Monk entitled, “Practicing the Presence of God”. In the sermon, our pastor did not disclose the fact that Brother Lawrence was a Catholic monk. I remembered something about this book from a few years ago, but I had to research the information again. I then emailed my pastor warning him about the questionable teaching of the book (which is really based on medieval mysticism) and the doubts concerning Brother Lawrence’s conversion. Here is the content of the letter:

"I just wanted to comment on last Sunday’s sermon (Oct. 17). The content was good and the video presentation supported the message well.

However, I was troubled by your mention of Brother Lawrence’s writing, “The Practice of the Presence of God”. You mentioned Bro Lawrence’s writing TWICE as if to emphasize it in such a way as if you were trying to encourage people to read this book. What you failed to mention was that Brother Lawrence was a Roman Catholic Monk! I realize that salvation is not reliant upon what church one may attend, but it does depend on what one believes about Biblical saving faith.
I certainly appreciate Bro Lawrence’s attitude in his desire to commune with God, and his apparent departure from some of the more ritualistic aspects of the monastic lifestyle in the Roman Catholic Church. His desire to prayerfully commune with God continually is certainly commendable. However, his writings seem to lack sufficient Scriptural substance especially where Biblical salvation is concerned. I looked up some information on Brother Lawrence and found “The Practice of the Presence of God” online. There is nothing mentioned in the writing about Bro Lawrence coming to the realization that he was a sinner and needed to trust in the finished work of Christ for salvation. In fact, the following quote indicates more of a salvation by works philosophy.

“and that as he was conscious of his readiness to lay down
his life for the love of GOD, he had no apprehension of danger.
perfect resignation to GOD was a sure way to heaven
, a way in which
we had always sufficient light for our conduct.” (Emphasis Added)

“The Practice of the Presence of God”
Brother Lawrence

Contrary to what seems to be implied here, Jesus is the only sure way to heaven. I investigated a little further into information concerning his conversion. Here is what I found:

“In the winter seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he had received a high view of the Providence and Power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul. This view had perfectly set him loose from the world and kindled in him such a love for God that he could not tell whether it had increased in the more than forty years that he had lived since.”

As related by M. Beaufort

Even in this account of Brother Lawrence’s “conversion”, there is no mention of him coming to saving faith. There is no mention about him trusting in the finished work of Christ.

Unfortunately, it seems that Bro Lawrence embraced a mysticism that set aside the truths of Scripture. This is on par with other medieval “mystics” who did much of the same thing. It seems that these people, in the absence of Biblical truth and faced with the dead, dry Roman Catholic dogmas, were left to try to cling to anything that would fill the empty void that only God can fill. What is tragic is that there really is a mystical dimension to our relationship with Jesus Christ. There is a legitimate experience of being in the presence of God, but it is ALWAYS within the framework of Biblical truth. What is most disheartening is that the false experience can in many ways mimic the real thing, robbing the unwary seeker of that wonderful legitimate experience of God. What is really tragic is that at the end of life, the only thing that awaits those who do not experience genuine saving faith is a bleak eternity separated from God. I also have doubts about the late Mother Theresa’s so-called experiences as well. It seems that she too, embraced a false spirituality. Despite all her talk about prayer and compassion for people, judging by her writings, she still embraced the false teachings of Roman Catholicism. She was certainly a wonderful, compassionate person, whose life can teach us much about self-sacrifice and love for others. However, these qualities in and of them self, do not save anybody. I would also not recommend her writings to be read by evangelical Christians as sources of Scriptural truth.
I realize that we cannot judge what is actually in the heart of a person. I cannot look into the heart of anybody and determine if they are really saved or not. But we can and should, scrutinize their doctrine in light of Scripture.

Brother Lawrence’s writing has become another tool the Catholic Church uses to lure undiscerning people back into the Roman Catholic faith. Since his writing says nothing that would counter Roman Catholic doctrine, the Catholic Church can capitalize on the lure of the mystical attraction of publications such as “The Practice of the Presence of God”.
Observe the following website inviting the visitor back into the arms of the “Mother Church”!
(If you scroll or search to the bottom of the page under “Spirituality”, there is a section “Some excellent Catholic devotional works include”. There you will find “The Practice of the Presence of God” listed.)

These types of “mystical” writings have become a favorite of the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church. They serve their purpose well to present a type of spirituality that seems to mimic a genuine experience of Christianity and adds a little “spark” to the cold dead unbiblical doctrines of Catholicism.

We need to be cautious and exercise discernment. We need to be like the first century Bereans in Acts 17:11. We also need to keep in check our disenchantment with legalistic churches of the past. We must not allow our frustration with the legalism that unfortunately pervaded many of the fundamentalist churches to cause us to throw out the truth in exchange for something that seems like a refreshing change. Let’s not throw out the proverbial “baby with the bath water”. There are plenty of writings by solid Bible believing writers over the past 400+ years that provide excellent examples of abiding in Christ, yet are grounded in Scriptural truth. I am alarmed that we are beginning to ignore the solid history of evangelical Christianity in exchange for false medieval mysticism.

It seems that there is serious question as to whether or not Brother Lawrence embraced Biblical saving faith. I believe it is extremely dangerous to view any of his work as Scriptural authority and to recommend it others, regardless of how “spiritual” it may sound on the surface. "

This is not a time for Christians to just absorb whatever they are taught – as never should be the case – but this is a time where we, more than ever, need to be discerning and search the Scriptures diligently.

No comments: