Thursday, April 08, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1

A bit ago I attended a Prayer and Spiritual Formation workshop put on by my district; the SED. When the class was over I was even more concerned about the direction of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod than I was ever before. This post will be the first in a series of posts on the class. I haven’t decided how many posts to write just yet because there is just so much material that I could spend years on this topic alone. Spending that much time on one topic would bore me to tears and that isn’t something I would look forward to. We’ll see how it all plays out…

According to the presenter the purpose of the workshop was “to reintroduce prayer forms and spiritual disciplines that were lost”[2:47] and that we’d be in our time together experiencing and “reclaiming our ancient heritage going way back, right to the New Testament” The presenter lamented the fact that most pastors (and the laity emulating their pastors out of ignorance) only knew how to pray by talking to God and said that he hoped that we would “experiment” and use some of the prayer forms introduced. He also stated that he would be willing to make suggestions as to where we should go as a congregation and that he has worked with over 45 congregations as well as working with several districts other than the LCMS.

He also made a very big deal about the fact that we should bring our Bibles if we didn’t that first night. This turned out to be quite remarkable as the number of Bible verses (usually what verses were quoted were single verses and not whole passages so the attendees could read the verses in context) could have fit on a Post-It note, but hey, whatever gets folks reading their Bibles…

We started the workshop with what was called the “Breathing Prayer” so we could prepare ourselves for the “inflowing of the Holy Spirit.” We did this so that we could “present our bodies as living sacrifices before God” and lessen the distractions interfering with our prayer. After a short chat on making sure we were properly relieving our stress by maybe stretching we were instructed to take deep breaths and pay particular attention to our breathing as we would in a meditation class down at the YMCA (my words not his). While breathing we were told to "visualize breathing in light (life) and exhaling the darkness (death)". (It should be noted that all through the class the terms light and life and darkness and death were used interchangeably) The thought was expanded and we were told “breathing in light, and that for us is the light of the Holy Spirit, we’re going to invite the Spirit into our hearts by breathing in the Spirit and slowly breathing out darkness which can be anything in your life that brings you pain or hurt or distraction or anything for you that could be darkness… ” [14:07]

Yep, we were told to invite in the Holy Spirit by breathing Him in.

After hearing a story of the presenter’s prayer warrior grandmother who had a special channel to God we were assured that we weren’t going to be dealing with any new age spirituality but rather a Biblical spirituality. To his credit the presenter started in Genesis and gave the reason why our prayer is different since man’s fall due to sin even if the sin wasn’t brought up or mentioned per se.

The presenter proceeded to make a case that the greatest prayer of the Jewish people is the shema which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The case that was made is that Deuteronomy 6:4 tells us that we need to stop speaking and start listening when we pray. The practice of silence we were told is the beginning of our understanding and acceptance of a relationship with God who wishes to communicate with us through our “imaginations, feelings, and dreams”.

We were informed that the disciples asked Jesus [1:22:15] to teach them to pray because they knew something was missing from their prayer lives. I’m not sure what translation the instructor was using at the time but apparently Jesus said “here’s an example” when teaching the disciples to pray what we call the Lord’s Prayer. As far as I’m concerned there is a big difference between “when you pray, say:…” and “here’s an example…”

We were also told that we can now access these lost or hidden prayer forms of the early church so that we might have a better relationship with God. The presenter stated that the reason for the decline in the mainline denominations was due to lack of “Spirit filled prayer”. So what should we be doing? Why would we need these new prayer forms and why would we not look to praying the way Jesus taught us to pray? The presenter stated the following:

Think about it; Jesus died, He rises from the dead, He’s here for forty days on this earth, and then He leaves. And he told them “here’s what I want you to do, go back to the room and pray.” They do it!

Now go back… Now He’s entrusted the whole ministry to about hundred and twenty people. Think about that; the world’s gotta be conquered with this faith through these hundred and twenty people. Who are they? Twelve, or at least eleven of them that are left spent three years with Him, but, ok, at least a hundred and twenty at least are in the upper room and they’re praying.

So they pray, day one, and nothing happens. I wonder if some them aren’t saying “I wonder if we are praying the right way? Maybe we need to pray a little different.” So they prayed the next day, nothing happens. So they prayed the next day, nothing happens. So about the third day I imagined that Peter said “Folks, it’s time to set some goals! We got a mission statement, I don’t know what we are going to do with it but let’s set some obtainable measurable goals, smart goals. Let’s get this thing down so that we….. but they didn’t put it down because there’s a place for that. But they prayed, they prayed, and they prayed ten days and I wonder what would happen if they hadn’t done that; would we be here today? God has a plan, He trusted them. So, ten days go by and they’re praying and it’s in the middle of their praying that, when the tongues of fire, I mean things are happening. They didn’t expect this, this isn’t what they asked for; they got much better that what they probably asked for. All of a sudden and their preaching languages that hadn’t even studied, people understanding them and three thousand people converted; right there! That was only the beginning…

After discussing the missions in India that have people converted by the thousands by experiencing a miracle first and then by hearing about by Jesus “just like they did in the early church” (the presenter made a case that people growing back fingers that had been lost is not at all uncommon and is something that the folks in India are used to seeing. More on healing prayers in the next post…) the presenter continued in teaching us that a good practice that we might want to consider starting is highlighting our Bibles every time we come across a passage that focuses on healing. The presenter said he never knew there was so much healing going on in the Bible until he started doing this. I guess then that our seminaries are not teaching, nor are our laity expecting our clergypersons to have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures?

Before I go any further let me say that I’ve know great pastors who did in fact graduate seminary (both seminaries; Concordia Seminary in St. Louis AND Concordia Theological Seminary further north in Fort Wayne) and are now pastors who have a superb knowledge of both Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. In addition, I’ve spent more time in CTS classrooms than many of the distance education students have and I can say with absolute certainty that seminarians are required to have a better understanding of Scripture and our Confessions than was evident at the class on spiritual formation! If you are a pastor in the LCMS and you don’t know that there is a boatload of healing in both the Old and New Testaments; it’s not because you weren’t required to know it before you were placed in your first parish. If you are a pastor and you just discovered healing in the Bible… it’s because you don’t read the Bible. And, a quick Frank fact; you probably should start reading your Bible before you start teaching classes on spiritual formation and get called out by slack jawed yokels who don’t have a masters of divinity.

The presenter then wrapped the night up by giving us a preview of the next day’s schedule and highlighting that we would learn to “experience” the Lectio Divina; a method of praying that goes all the way back to the desert fathers and others that the church mysteriously forgotten or ignored.

The best way to describe the first night is lots of talk of us and our looking inward and outward for God and lots of talk of the Spirit. The thing that was most glaring was the lack of talk of a Jesus who is the object of our faith and who forms the model of our prayers in the giving of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus never ran the verbs in our conversations but rather He was only on the periphery of any prayer if at all and then only in an experiential sense.

When I left my head was spinning. More on the day two in the next post…

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 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7


Anonymous said...


What you learned from the presenter is an ancient form of breathing and meditation that is found in eastern religions. In fact, when I practiced Qigong (an ancient Chinese practice to cultivate the "energies" within) we had a practice exactly like that you described and we called it "Tortoise Breathing".

The exercise calls upon the practicioner to visualize "chi" (energy) entering into the abdomen with each inhale. Upon exhaling one could visualize "blockages" to "chi" being removed on the exhale.

I will be blunt. You were exposed to a practice rooted in the demonic. These practices haven't been forgotten by the Church, because they aren't part of the practice of the Church and never have been. These practices have been popularized amongst evangelicals and RC by men like Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating, both RC priests and who were heavily influenced by Buddhist meditation practices they adopted and "Christianized".

These "Christianized" Buddhist practices are also quite popular amongst Charismatics such as Nicky Gumbel who like to talk about breating in the Holy Spirit like one inhales cigar smoke.

These are very dangerous practices and should be avoided.

Dan at Necessary Roughness said...

Keep up the good reporting; this is absolutely heinous.

Elephantschild said...

My "creepy" alarms go off all over the place over stuff like this.

Just astonishing that it's being portrayed as a good thing.

Frank Gillespie said...

Jim, I agree with you and I will offer critique in a later post. Right now I'm just trying to report what happened...

Frank Gillespie said...

Elephantschild, "Just astonishing that it's being portrayed as a good thing"

Not only are these practices being portrayed as a good, they are being held up as practices that have Apostolic origins but were “lost”.

Steve Martin said...

This is where the Old Adam likes to hang the place where the self, and experience are the focus.

The self, and experience are THE PROBLEM.

Consecutive Odds said...

Frank, Stuff like that is going on in the LCMS church my husband and I are leaving (we're currently quizzing the pastor of the Confessional Lutheran Church we're attending). Could you specify where the teachings are coming from, i.e. the Charles Kraft of Fuller Sem teachings? Also, I haven't heard anyone use Deut. 18 in refuting some of these practices; is that chapter applicable?

Anonymous said...

Cultivating Qigong is in the Bible. It is what Jesus did, when he breathed on his disciples with "chi" energy:

"Then he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'"

The disciples probably took it in like cigar smoke.

Scott Diekmann said...

Thank you for posting this Frank. I've been very interested in these presentations, so I'm glad you're reporting (better phrased "exposing") them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for filling us with this light from your article. Until your next article I'll have to breathe out the darkness.

From what you experienced, it sounds like you have more than enough darkness to breath out.

I'll stick to Christian prayer, thank you. The important thing is whom the object of our prayer is.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with praying in such a manner that visual images are allowed to be in the mind. That was the big icon controversy that was fought in the early church. Luther was against the iconoclasts of his day. Nor is there a problem with breathing and using that as an spiritual illustration of the Word of God breathing into your soul. This is a bunch of "chicken little" comments that keep "confessional" Lutherans from being more catholic in our spiritual formation.

Anonymous said...

"The important thing is whom the object of our prayer is."

Rik, I think I understand your point here, but more than the object of our prayer is important. Korah and his sons (see Numbers 16)learned the hard way that getting the object of their prayer right was not all that was important. We can't expect to use eastern mediation with a "Christian" mantra and think because the object of our meditation is alright, then the practice is OK with our Lord, too.

Frank Gillespie said...


I can only speculate as to where this stuff is coming from but if I were a betting man I would bet a mean paycheck that this is the LCMS doing it’s very best to emulate the emergent church movement. Why do I say that? I say that because of the speakers that the LCMS invites to lecture on how to attract and retain members and specifically youth. Also, the actual practices and doctrines that are being taught by these “spiritual leaders” (I put that in quotes because the presenter stated that 12 men and women in my district have been trained by groups outside the LCMS to lead spiritual development apart and separate, and I would argue above, the office of pastor as spiritual directors) mirror almost perfectly those practices and doctrines of emergent leaders.

Concerning Deut. 18, verses 9-12 are 100% applicable! But, these spiritual leaders are teaching that revelation from and about God using “our imaginations, feelings from the heart, and sensing or intuition” are from the Christian heart therefore Deut. 18 would not apply.

If this first post frustrates you, wait until you hear the converstion we had when the presenter sat down to eat with me for lunch; of the seventy-five seats in the room, he sat with me and asked me what I thought of things. No joke

Frank Gillespie said...

Anon, the “chicken little” practices that were promoted in the workshop called for us to pray and have a relationship with God by using our imagination, our feelings, and other methods championed by Roman Catholic and desert mystics were condemned by the Lutheran reformers in our confessions. It was this Roman monastic system and these methods that we condemned in our confessions that the presenter seeks to bring back. Read AC V, XV and XXVII before trying to make the claim that we can know or experience the Lord in any other manner than He has chosen to give us.

“Nor is there a problem with breathing and using that as an spiritual illustration of the Word of God breathing into your soul” This was not just a spiritual illustration because we were told that we WOULD be breathing in the Holy Spirit.

Can you point me to one clear passage in Scripture (in context!) that teaches through our prayer we can breath in the Holy Spirit? Can you also point to one passage in Scripture where it is clearly taught that we can know God though our imaginations, feeling, or through sensing Him apart from the revelatory activity afforded through the Scriptures?

I’m sorry but human imagination on prayer does not trump Scripture. If you think adherence to medieval and fifth century mysticism makes us “more catholic in our spiritual formation” then you have no understanding of what confessional Lutherism is and I seriously wonder if you truly know what the church is.

Furthermore, even my, (or is it our?) church body has condemned these very practices in numerous documents put out by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations. So, for you to be right; the authors of our confessions, the LCMS stated doctrinal documents, and I all have to be wrong in the historic uderstanding of what prayer is and how we are able to experience and know God. I like those odds…

Dawn K said...

Thanks for posting this, Frank. This is quite disturbing on so many different levels...

Anonymous said...

I sent an e-mail to the InfoCenter at the LCMS with a question about the new prayer practice during Communion. First is the response I received to my e-mail. My letter is at the end of this letter.
When my pastor returned from this conference,he did a 5 week sermon series on prayer which included a Prayer and Anointing Service.
Then he decided to do another 5 weeks of sermons on prayer.
During this period is when this new practice began that is noted in the e-mail correspondence below.
Remember first below is their response. My e-mail questions are at the end of this comment.
Sent: 3/5/2010 2:40:46 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: FW: Prayer Workshop in accordance with LCMS confessions?

Dear Friend in Christ,

Thank you for your inquiry, forwarded to our office.

We would suggest first of all, that since the President of the LCMS’s Texas District (where the workshop occurred) was a major presenter, you contact President Hennings regarding your specific questions. We are confident that he would be pleased to provide you with information and clarify any questions you may have.

Regarding your specific inquiries it may be helpful to note the following in general. First, it is not contrary to LCMS practice for congregations to use laypersons (e.g., elders) in the distribution of the sacrament. There is historical precedent for this in the church. You may want to review question 13 at the end of the CTCR’s 1983 report on Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper, where the Commission answers in the affirmative (with some qualifying counsel) the question, “Can a qualified male assist with the distribution of the elements in the service of Holy Communion?” ( Second, you may want to contact one of our seminaries for its policy on the propriety of vicars consecrating the elements. It is our understanding that the seminaries advise against this practice, except in certain special circumstances and in keeping with certain provisions. Finally, since the validity of the sacrament depends on the Word of God, and not on the administrant, communicants need not doubt that through this means God gives the forgiveness of sins. That is to say, the question you have asked relates to proper church order, not to the validity of the Sacrament itself (provided, of course, that the Words of Institution are used in the consecration of the elements, which is a matter of divine institution)

We hope that these brief comments are helpful to you.

CTCR staff

From: Grimm, Diane On Behalf Of LCMS Church Info Center
Sent: Thursday, February 11, 2010 10:44 AM
To: ''
Subject: RE: Prayer Workshop in accordance with LCMS confessions?

Serving Him and you! Until next time,

Diane Grimm

LCMS Church Information Center


From: []
Sent: Thursday, February 11, 2010 10:23 AM
To: LCMS Church Info Center
Subject: Check out Reclaim

Click here: Reclaim

Dear Diane,

I would like to know if this Prayer Workshop was in accordance with the LCMS confessions?

The most questionable section is that of Pastor Steve Stutz.
My pastor and a team which included an associate pastor,an elder, his wife and the senior pastors wife.

Since attending that conference/workshop the pastors of my church no longer distribute the Sacraments after consecrating the Sacraments. They invite communicants to stop and kneel at the prayer rail and they and elders will "pray a prayer of blessing" up them.

The elders and lay ministers do the distribution of the Sacraments. It is a large church so there are 4 sets of elders during the distribution.

Thank you,

LCMS member

Anonymous said...

Let’s face everbody, the Gospel writer who goes by the name of John was just a flat out heretic. The historic Jesus would have never have breathed on his disciples and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.” God works through the Word of Scripture alone and not a bunch of hot air. That Gospel writer, that goes by the name of John, was probably a Gnostic that was influenced by Eastern religions from India.

Frank Gillespie said...

Anonymous, sorry you are wrong. If that is what you really believe then you neither know history nor do you have the slightest idea of what Scripture clearly says in both the original language or a reputable translation into English. John wrote AGAINST the Gnostics, that is a plain fact. To think otherwise is just as foolish as thinking we, through our prayer forms, can breathe in the Holy Spirit like nasal decongestant.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to hear more about the prayer practices that were presented in this workshop.
I want to be prepared for what to expect that may be coming to a church near you and me!

Anonymous said...

I attended a similar workshop about 1 1/2 years ago with the SED but ours, thankfully, was only 1 day. I was very uncomfortable with most of it. Years ago, I dabbled in New Age concepts and I recognized much of what we were being offered as prayer as not Christian but pagan. I will not participate in such a gathering again.

Freida said...

I wasn't aware of the many ripples and depth to this story until I surfed here through Google! Great job.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jim,
I appreciate your thoughtful and thorough examination of this problem. I know exactly who you speak of and was put in full alarm mode when I heard him speaking of these practices at a planning meeting we had for our congregation. I approached him after the second day of our meetings to express my concerns, but was quickly dismissed as not understanding the biblical basis for these practices. I also followed up with several e-mails after reading what he had posted on the SED website to further express my concerns and try to understand his position. When I then brought up these concerns to my pastor, he said while he may not agree with this approach, he would not discourage this Reverend from those practices if they enriched his spiritual journey. I attempted to make contact with the SED President but gave up in my efforts from severe discouragement and feeling it to be a lost cause...until now. We recently had the Reverend come and he was supposed to deliver a sermon that ended up being more like an SED presentation encouraging spiritual formation. I was so unsettled in my spirit by the end of the service that I could not stay in the sanctuary a moment longer. I felt like the Holy Spirit was grieved and I was as well. I left in tears, only to find the Reverend waiting to approach me afterward. I smiled, shook his hand, and said I was fine. I did not want to be in his presence any longer than was absolutely necessary. He is supposed to be leading the men's retreat for our church and has repeatedly expressed a desire to teach us how to pray in these ways. I pray for his eyes to be opened and for the district to see this deception for what it is. Thank you for the hard work and effort you have given to expose the truth about these things.

Frank Gillespie said...


I'm Frank not Jim. Are you addressing Jim Pierce who has posted several comments?

Where are you at if you are able to say?

To be honest, I don't think the SED is open to being corrected on this very serious matter. I was told by an employee of the SED this: "Prayer and spiritual formation practices are here to stay in the LCMS. If you don't like it, than you really ought to consider leaving the Lutheran Church, and joining up with the Fundamentalists; they would be more aligned to your way of seeing things."

When a district employee tells you to leave the church for defending Biblical and Lutheran doctrines against the heresies of what I would classify as medieval age mysticism, I dont things are going to change much at the district offices. The best thing we can do is pray for them and publicly call them to repentance.

Thank you for your comment. I certainly understand your frustration.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I meant to address you in my concerns regarding Rev. Umbach and the SED's endorsement of these practices. I am very alarmed at the response you received from the District employee concerning this. I am making one final attempt with our congregation to look into this matter further before permitting Rev. Umbach from presenting on prayer at the Men's Retreat. Like you, I will continue to pray for the SED President, Rev. Umbach, and all those who either directly or indirectly promote and endorse these harmful practices. God bless you for sharing your account and standing up for Truth.

Anonymous said...

One more thing...I am in Fairfax, VA. Rev. Umbach presented at a planning meeting for our church in spring of 2010.