Saturday, May 15, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5

And to quote the famous theologian and apologist Samuel L. Jackson from chapter three of the third book of Tarantino; “Well, allow me to retort…”

Let me first state that contrary to what some might think I’m not against people learning to get into the habit of daily praying or studying privately or corporately the Bible. I believe that if folks both prayed and read their Bibles with just modicum of regularity neither the Southeastern District nor the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod would be as confused and as divided as we currently seem to be.

It’s a plain fact that Saint Paul, an apostle of Christ, encourages us to both pray (see Rom 12, Col. 4, Eph 6 and numerous other passages.) and grow in Biblical knowledge so that we might not be deceived (see Eph 4 as well as 1 Peter 2 as being especially applicable!) by those who might offer us a “new” gospel. As Christians we need to pray and we need to read Scripture.

So, what’s my problem with the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop if I’m all for encouraging folks to read their Bibles and pray more? Why would I not want to be, as the presenter claimed on the first night, reintroduced to “prayer forms and spiritual disciplines that were lost” and thereby reclaim “our ancient heritage going all the way back to the New Testament”? It really comes down to three things: it’s Scripture, history, and the Lutheran Confessions. It is these three criteria that should guide us in determining if what is taught in the name of God is actually from God and to be embraced or not from God and therefore to be condemned and avoided. Let’s walk though each of the practices using the only the handout provided by the presenter and test each (not according to how Frank Gillespie wants things to be using his imagination or even his feelings) to see if there is a sufficiency of evidence to say that such practices were clearly taught, by Moses or the prophets or Jesus and His disciples, and were always practiced by the church catholic as well as the Lutheran reformers who made it clear that they wished to not create a new church but reform the Roman Catholic church who had burdened the peoples consciences with practices that were to merit God’s favor and propitiate his wrath. It’s a simple three-part test that should clear things up in a pretty short order. Let’s begin shall we?

Breathing prayer In the breathing prayer we are told that “You are “offering your body as a living sacrifice to God.” Dedicate your feelings about your body to God. Express to God your intention to know God’s love through your breath and body” and that “You may find it helpful to envision breathing in the Spirit of peace and light and breathing out the darkness, distractions, stress or dis-ease you are holding

Is there any place in either the Old or New Testament where it is explicitly taught that we breathe in the Holy Spirit and through such a technique we get to dedicate ourselves and our feelings to God? No. The handout lists Genesis 2:7 where God breaths life into Adam and John 20:22 when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples as the proof texts but in both of those cases it is one of the Persons of the Trinity doing the breathing and it is not said nor implied that as humans we take any action other than the passive reception of life and Spirit. In other words, God is running the verbs not us.

What about the historicity of the breathing prayer? No evidence was presented or referred to in the handout.

The Lutheran Confessions? Augsburg V after stating how the Holy Spirit is given (and that’s “Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments,” for those really not all that familiar with the Lutheran Confessions) condemns “the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” and therefore fails this part of our diagnostic. (Also, we could look at AC XXVII regarding monastic traditions and spiritual disciplines that had burdened the consciences’ of the people living under the tyranny medieval church but for the sake of brevity and since the Augsburg Confession is so precise and clear, I’ll only deal with that article in a future post if necessary based on the comments and discussion).

Conclusion on the breathing prayer? The breathing prayer should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Praying without words In Praying without words we were told that we should be praying bible stories though “holy imagination” and that we should pray images like stepping stones, forgiveness, healing.

The question that we must again ask is if there is any place in either the Old or New Testament where it is explicitly taught that we are to pray without words. While I do believe that a case could be made that we can pray a Bible story, running the words “holy imagination” through my computerized Bible yielded no hits, not one. The number of times that the handout uses the word imagination becomes troublesome when it comes to separating what is a valid prayer on a pericope from someone’s overactive imagination that seems holy because of warm fuzzy feelings. The Lord’s Prayer, using words as our Lord has instructed us, is missing in actions in our handout.

So is the prayer form of praying without words a historical practice according to the handout? The chief proponent of praying without words seems to be Ignatius Loyola who lived from 1491 to 1556 AD. Not exactly “going all the way back to the New Testament” is he? Ignatius Loyola is noted for founding the Jesuits in order to combat the Protestant reformation. A fine insight on Ignatius Loyola’s ability to differentiate objective truth versus holy imagination: Loyola's devotion to the Church can be summed up in Rule 13 of the Jesuits' "Rules for Thinking with the Church" by him: "I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it" The handbook neglected to tell us that Ignatius Loyola definitely not a friend of the reformation tradition.

Do the Lutheran Confessions make a claim that praying without words is either a scriptural or historical practice that the reformers would approve of? Let’s stick with AC Vthe Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” and put this in the garbage where it belongs.

Conclusion on praying without words? The prayer form that is described as praying without words should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Journaling We are told that journaling is an ancient form of prayer in action where we can “express your desire to have a conversation with God” by writing both sides of a conversation with God and that “The left side is for your words; the right side is for God. You are the scribe for both.” Where does God’s side of the conversation come from? Thoughts, feelings, and dreams can be used to record this inspired conversation.

Once again we ask ourselves if journaling is “an ancient form of prayer in action” is explicitly taught in either the Old or New Testament or is it from somewhere else. My computerized Bible failed to register any hits in either the Old and New Testament for journaling no matter which translation I searched so the answer to our question is no.

Does journaling pass the historicity test? The handout says that journaling’s advocate or supporter is a gal by the name of Julian of Norwich who lived from 1342 to 1417 AD. Thirteen hundred years after the apostles doesn't really seem to meet the criteria of being “an ancient form of prayer in action” going all the way back to the New Testament does it now? Who is Julian of Norwich and what special insight can she impart to the church today if Scripture doesn’t seem to teach journaling? She was a mystic who claimed that while ill she had several visions of Jesus (which went away when she got better… I wonder why that was!) , “believed that sin was necessary in life because it brings one to self-knowledge”, “believed that it was inaccurate to speak of God granting forgiveness for sins because forgiving would mean that committing the sin was wrong”, and believed that God was a mother and that “that the maternal aspect of Christ was literal, not metaphoric; Christ is not like a mother, He is literally the mother”. Would anyone like to debate me whether or not Julian of Norwich is somebody we should be looking to for spirituality advise? I’ll take the position that her character and her false theology prevent us from taking her journaling idea seriously.

The Lutheran Confessions? AC Vthe Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” makes it clear that we shouldn’t be putting too much stock in journaling.

Conclusion on journaling? The prayer form that is described as journaling should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Dreams In the dreams portion of the handout we told to “Take one of the symbols and write down anything you might associate with that symbol (memories, feelings, attitudes, etc.). Repeat the process with other symbols as time allows”, record the dreams in a journal, and “circle the associations that have the most energy behind them or give you an “ah-hah” feeling.

Are dreams taught in either the Old or New Testament? Yes they are as the handout correctly points out. However, we need to ask if whether it taught that God revealed Himself or communicated to individuals or does our Lord promise to make Himself or His will known to all persons throughout all time? For example, God told Moses to stretch out his hand and part the Red Sea and Moses was able to lead Israel out of Egypt and away from pharaoh. But if I try to part the lake I like to kayak on in the summertime nothing happens because that which was given to Moses was not for me. Likewise, while dreams are prevalent in both the Old and New Testament they should not be considered a spiritual gift (Saint Paul certainly didn’t list dreams as a spiritual gift) meant for the church of all times and all places.

Does the teaching of dream work meet the historical test? The handout lists Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement, Tertullian, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, Ambrose, Augustine as people that had dreams where it is said that God communicated to them. That may be the case but does the handout doesn’t list any quotes in context from these Christians that would have us believe that they were journaling the “associations that have the most energy” or the ““ah-hah” feeling” brought on by a dream and attributing it to divine revelation.

For the Lutheran Confession test we can once again quote AC V condemning “the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” to anyone who wants us recording warm fuzzy feelings from our imaginations.

Conclusion on using dreams as a prayer form? The prayer form that is described as dreams should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Jesus Prayer In the Jesus prayer handout tells us to repeat continuously repeat ““Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” for five to fifteen minutes.

The one verse of Scripture for justifying such a practice is Mark 10:47 where blind Bartimaeus asked repeatedly to be healed by Jesus. The handout states that such a prayer form is a valid because “We take seriously that there is power in the Name of Jesus” while ignoring that it was not Bartimaeus prayer that healed but rather it was his faith, at least that’s what Jesus told him. Also, nowhere in the rest of the New Testament are we told to repeat this Jesus prayer by either Christ or His apostles.

The handout’s historical case for the Jesus prayer seems to be Eastern Orthodox Christian monastics, or by the other name have for these chaps: the Desert Fathers, five centuries after the New Testament church and the anonymous 19th century Russian author of The Way Of The Pilgrim. If the best that we can do is the 5th or 19th century, I fail to see where the case is made that the Jesus prayer is “going all the way back to the New Testament

The Lutheran Confessions don’t directly address folks using the Christ’s name as a mantra and the handout doesn’t state what the Jesus prayer is supposed to accomplish so it’s hard to say what the reformers would say exactly to this particular practice attributed to Eastern Orthodox monastics (Desert Fathers) and anonymous Russian authors outside of what the confessions address concerning matters of monastic vows and how they impacted the peoples ideas of what merited grace and propitiated wrath.

Conclusion on the Jesus prayer? The prayer form that is described as the Jesus prayer should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Healing Prayer With the healing prayer the handout makes the case that healing is part of Jesus Great Commission (Matthew 28) and that the Church, if she is to remain faithful to that commission should be able to do everything that Christ did as an act of obedience; including healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out of demons. The handout quoting Francis MacNutt’s book “Healing” states “The test of orthodoxy is not doctrine alone, for doctrine remains incomplete unless it is accompanied by the power to make doctrine come true.

Is healing prayer a prayer form that can be supported by scripture? Well, prayer is certainly all through Scripture as is the healing of the sick. Just like dreams, healing is not a gift that is given out universally so it’s troubling to read the handout claim “Lutherans have emphasized true doctrine or “explanation and proclamation,” almost to the exclusion of an experience of God and His powerful Spirit.” Does standing for sound doctrine automatically mean that Lutherans don’t pray for healing or experience joy if one of us is healed be it the Lord’s will? Certainly not and the handout has set a false dichotomy that pits those who hear Saint Paul in 2 Tim 3:16,17 say All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work with those who have not had an experiential event that involves healing! Lutherans have traditionally prayed the Lord’s Prayer (which was completely avoided throughout the workshop) and said “Thy will be done” in faith knowing that healing is not always going to occur.

What about the historical case for healing prayer and healing as ““signs” of the Kingdom of God”? The handout would have us believe that “the primary means of conversion was not preaching, but healing and exorcism” according to the unquoted church fathers Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Cyprian, as well as Tertullian. The problem with the statement goes back to Scripture and Saint Paul writing to the church in Rome and declaring that “so, faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” in Rom 10:17 and not by healings, exorcisms, or any other miracle. It’s the word of God that grew Christ’s church then and the Word is what grows the church this very day! Certainly Christians throughout history have prayed as we are welcomed by our Lord to do but to suggest that Christians only seem “to associate "salvation" with saving souls for the afterlife” after the Black Plague during the Middle Ages, as the handout does, shows a remarkably uneducated understanding of not only Christian history but world history as well. It would serve anyone making such claims to actually read the church fathers said concerning healing and the prayers for healing and not what laicized Roman priests imagine the church fathers said.

The Lutheran confessions don’t speak specially to the issue of people praying a healing prayer but the reformers didn’t have people running around implying that if Jesus healed people, exorcized demons, and raise people from the dead then, if we really are a bible believing church, we should do even greater things than the Crucified and Risen Lord. The confessions do remind the Christian that our Lord desires each of us to call on Him whether we are on our deathbed and dying or in good health. In the Small Catechism we are taught that the forth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread, means we pray for our health and even the health of our neighbors as well. (The Large Catechism goes into this in great detail and is a wonderful read that I would recommend to anyone not all that familiar with the Lutheran Confessions) In both the morning and evening prayer we commend our bodies, our health to the Lord.

Conclusion on the healing prayer? The prayer form that is described as the healing prayer should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Lectio Divina In the Lectio Divina we are told to read a text and listen for the word or phrase that is touching our heart, repeating it silently within ourselves while not concerning ourselves with the literal meaning. Then we read it again, taking time to reflect and allowing our imagination to unfold while paying attention to the images, thoughts, feelings, and memories that are stirred in us. We read it a third time, listening for where God might be calling us (a change, new direction, area that needs some work) at this time in our life. “How are you being invited by God to respond?” we ask ourselves. After holding this in our heart we then take time to rest in silence.

Can a case from Scripture be made that the Lectio Divina is a prayer form from “our ancient heritage going all the way back to the New Testament”? Is there any place in Scripture where it is clearly taught that we should read verses that move us and allow images, thoughts, feelings, and memories to guide our meditations while not concerned with the literal meaning of what we are reading? Does Moses or the prophets tell us to follow this formula in the Old Testament? Does Jesus or His apostles tell us anywhere to not get hung up on what the Scriptures say but rather that we should trust that we can hear the Spirit speak to us though our imagination? If you guessed no then you know your Bible pretty good.

Can the Lectio Divina pass the historicity test? Well, that depends which Lectio Divina you’re referring to. The Lectio Divina promoted by the workshop is from the Roman Catholic monastic system which isn’t going all the way back to the Apostolic era as the presenter kept promising us that we’d return to. The handout rightfully accredits the Lectio Divina to Benedict of Nursia (the handout lists him as St. Benedict but I’ll have to look that one up later as I can’t find a good reference that Benedict is considered a saint outside of Roman Catholicism in any of the Lutheran books in my library…) who lived from 480 to 547 A.D., the father the western monastic system that had it’s hand in corrupting nearly everything spiritual by making grace something to be worked out through poverty, celibacy, and obedience in addition to the manual labor of monks of the Benedict’s order. There is a very short section that states Martin Luther practiced a form of the Lectio Divina. However… the handout, to its credit, correctly points out that Dr. Luther’s practice of Lectio Divina was a very different discipline and not the Lectio Divina of Benedictine monks that was promoted in the workshop. Dr. Luther knew darned well the damage that could be done practicing spirituality through imaginations and feelings because he endured the hell of the Roman monastic system. Isn’t it more that a bit strange that the form that Martin Luther practiced is but a paragraph tacked on the end of a two-page section like an afterthought?

For the Lutheran confession portion of our diagnostic we bring up AC V again which condemns “the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” because handout keeps trying to get us to look inward for some revelation and not explicitly Scripture alone. Revelation is always extra nos or outside ourselves and to keep telling folks to look inside themselves betrays those who would teach otherwise as not understanding concupiscence or how broken we are thanks to original sin.

Conclusion on the Lectio Divina? The discipline that is described as the Lectio Divina should not be taught as the handout presents it. If the handout had tried to even remotely be Lutheran and used Dr. Luther’s form of the Lectio Divina there would be something there to grab onto but the workshop just didn’t gravitate to the reformers or their confessions instead relying on mystics and the like.

So was there any part of the class that did pass the Scriptural, historical, and Confession test. Sure there was! The workshop was nearly dead on when it taught the church catholic’s practices of private confession and absolution as well as fasting. Both of these were practices that have both scriptural and historical precedence and our confessions acknowledge this. It was these two practices that had the longest sections in our handout and both were supported with numerous verses and passages from Scripture (and in context as well!) and the Lutheran Confessions and did not have to quote some desert mystic or Roman Catholic monastic moonbat to make the case that such practices are historical in nature. Both practices are good and salutary and have a long tradition going back to Old Testament and New Testament in the case of fasting and the New Testament in the case of confession and absolution as such practice was commanded by Christ Himself.

In the next post I’ll answer some questions that I keep getting as well as addressing the proverbial elephant in the room that had some advising me to not post anything about the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop

Update: I forgot to include a link to the handout used in the workshop when I put up the post. I did intend to include the link because it seems that some have questioned whether or not I was being truthful and accurate in my reporting of what was said and presented at the workshop. As I have said before, I took extraordinary measures to insure that what I said was factual and could be verified. Here is the link to the handout that was given to us at the beginning of the workshop.

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your diligence in this project to bring out into the public square what is being taught in workshops within the LCMS. How do these teachings get into the LCMS when there is no Scriptural basis and our Confessions teach against these imaginations and practices?????
This type of blog enables the laity,pastors and workers in the church to be aware of what is being introduced into their congregations.
Be it via the pastor or laity or the various workers in the church.
That is why the Bible warns us in:
2 Peter 2:1
[ False Teachers and Their Destruction ] But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.
Thanks again Frank for alerting us of what is being brought into the LCMS Churches.
Claudia Kuiper

Anonymous said...

Frank, I truly appreciate your hard work in writing this series of "eye opening" articles. I am sometimes baffled over why Lutherans would even bother with the Contemplative movement when we darn well know that God only wants to deal with us through His means of grace.

Regarding Lectio Divina you did a great job explaining it. Over at Scott Diekmann's site "Sound Witness" is this excellent article on Lectio written by Rev. Jeffrey Ware. He points out, as you did, that Luther was certainly exposed to the monastic teaching of Lectio and he rejected it's monastic form. Luther instead proposes Lectio as Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio, according to Dr. John Klening who is quoted in the paper I link above as writing, "In contrast to this rather manipulative method, Luther proposed an evangelical pattern of spirituality as reception rather than self-promotion. This involved three things: prayer (oratio), meditation (meditation), and temptation (tentatio). All three revolved around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s word" (see link above for source).

A large point to be made is that Luther drops the mystical contemplatio (contemplation) of Lectio Divina altogether, since it falsely treats prayer as a spiritual ladder one can climb upon to reach God in ever expanding heights of contemplation.

I also want to make a comment on the presenter's teaching of "automatic writing". If God is moving the hand and speaking, and we are writing down His words, then hasn't the presenter abandoned sola scriptura? Indeed he has and Contemplative prayer/Spiritual Formation exercises fit nicely with a theology that rejects the teaching of scriptures alone. In this view, God not only speaks through scriptures, but he can speak through dreams, altered states of consciousness, and other people having similar experiences. Yes, in fact, God could speak through a Pope. Isn't that what this teaching begins to boil down to? That is, making ourselves "little Popes" through whom God declares His teachings?

Jim Pierce

Frank Gillespie said...

Jim, Thanks for the quote from Dr. Klienig, I’ll use that one in a little bit…

The way I look at it, it’s sorta a slight of hand if we tell people that Dr. Luther’s practice was “slightly different” and do not inform them how his version was different from the monastic technique or version endorsed by the workshop. I had a bit of cringe factor when Ignatius Loyola was referred to several times as a contemporary of Luther and someone worth listening to. Was he a contemporary of Luther? Sure, but the class wasn’t told that he opposed Luther and the other reformers and tried to destroy them in the mid fifteen hundreds. I have to wonder what would the folks in the class think if they knew the theological positions of the people held up as those we should emulate?

Kelly Klages said...

To clarify a couple things...

Did they make a point to cover private confession/absolution in the workshop, but simply failed to defend what they'd just taught when the woman's comments of opposition came up-- causing you to comment, etc? (Rereading the post.)

And... am I to understand that there were (at least) two anonymous critics of the previous post, one who refused to believe you were telling the truth, and a second who was well aware of the truth of your reporting but disapproved of your broadcasting it? If that's the case... what do you have to say about your accusations of slander, Anon #1? (This is just one reason Anon comments bug me... at LEAST come up with some sort of handle so we can differentiate people.)

Frank Gillespie said...

Kelly, I thought the material on confession and absolution was pretty good even if I would have worded things differently in parts of the handout. There were two professional church workers at the workshop and both affirmed the practice as historical and conforming to Scripture and the confessions. I think the presenter simply didn’t want to get into an argument with the women who made it clear that this was something that she was strongly opposed to and not something she would ever expose her children to.

I’ll cut the presenter a bit of slack (not for what he said i.e.: there’s no right or wrong if you believe the practice is instituted by Jesus or not) here only in that he was trying to move forward with the material. I once spoke to an LWML group about my journey from athiesm to the Christianity and soft peddled on a key issue of what it meant to be a confessional Lutheran. This was shortly after I returned to the faith and didn’t want any conflict with the respected women of my new church home. One of the women however called me out and admonished me… as she should of. I’ve seen pastors and laypersons both try to sugarcoat an important doctrinal matter to avoid conflict and I’ve done it myself.

I was just glad that something recognizable as Lutheran was in the workshop at all.

Kelly Klages said...

It's all good. Just trying to determine what you'd said in earlier posts.

The private C&A section was surprisingly good, wasn't it.

Anonymous said...

I was looking to see it there were any more,"comments" on the blog and noticed that you added a link to the, WORKSHOP HANDOUT. I am making a copy so that I can check it out!!!!!!
Thanks again for all your efforts to inform us about what's you experienced and heard at the workshop!
Claudia Kuiper

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you for making this known.

I have recently stumbled on "Contemplative Prayer" and am doing a personal study on how it is being used in Protestant denominations.

As a former LCMS teacher, I knew there were problems in certain districts of the synod.

I didn't expect that things had gotten this far out of hand.

I wish all Lutherans could see as clearly as you that this is beyond wrong.

This practice is happening in every main line Protestant church.

We are, indeed, living in interesting days.

God's blessings...