Category Archives: Mysticism

Calvin’s Repudiation Of Personal Revelations

Discernment BibleIn writing about the Reformers each Tuesday, I’ve sought to emphasize their commitment to God’s Word. Present-day evangelicals, for reasons I don’t fully understand, have moved away from the idea of relying on Scripture as the sole means of hearing from the Lord, and instead pursue mystical experiences of direct communication with Him. The Reformers would have found such expectations puzzling.

John Calvin, as a matter of fact, directly refuted the concept of God speaking to anyone apart from His Word. Consider the following quotation of Calvin’s writing on the topic of Scripture’s authority:

Since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the Scriptures are the only record in which God has been pleased to consign His truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognized unless they are believed to have come from heaven as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them.

As far as Calvin was concerned, the thought of God speaking in any way other than Scripture shouldn’t even be entertained. He insisted that the Lord had spoken with full authority in His Word, and therefore believers could trust that written record of His truth.

But Calvin didn’t stop there in his repudiation of personal revelations. With boldness that would make a modern discernment blogger blush, he unapologetically equated the practice with outright heresy!

The fanaticism which discards the Scripture, under the pretense of resorting to immediate revelations is subversive of every principle of Christianity. For when they boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency is always to bury the Word of God so they may make room for their own falsehoods.

I doubt John Calvin would show much tolerance in a room full of 21st Century evangelical women off-handedly talking about things they believe God told them. But then, he lived in an age that cherished the Bible, having seen the Roman Catholic Church persecute (and often execute) men and women for simply owning a Bible in their own language. He valued Scripture too much to see its authority supplanted by claims of personal words from the Lord.

According to Calvin, such personal words “buried” the Word of God. Hadn’t the Reformers just excavated that same Word of God that had been buried under Roman Catholic tradition and papal authority for centuries leading up to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses? Why, in so short a time, would Calvin acquiesce to anyone allowing Scripture to then undergo a second burial? And wouldn’t a burial under something as subjective as personal mysticism (which might easily be attributed to too much wine or not enough sleep) be even worse?

Calvin’s words elevating Scripture over personal spiritual experience must echo through our minds today. Like so many aspects of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, they must remind us to treasure the Bible as God’s Word — His only Word — to His people. They must remind us not to bury such a incomparable treasure under the filthy vestiges of subjective experience.

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Perspectives In Titus: Purity Polluted

Titus 1 15&16Fasten your seatbelts, ladies. Today we’ll finish Chapter 1 of Titus, so we’ll go a bit longer than we usually do. Verses 15 and 16 are really rich, though, so I want to take time to go over them carefully. Let’s begin by reading them in their immediate context.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:10-16 (ESV)

In verses 15 and 16, Paul continues his description of the false teachers in Crete by elaborating on their corrupt personalities. He begins by affirming that all created things are intrinsically pure. Remember that many of the false teachers in Crete tried to impose Old Testament Jewish law on the Gentile converts, and therefore most likely would have taught that certain food were unclean.

Paul argues that God created all things pure. As a result, those who have been purified through the blood of Christ Jesus regard everything as pure. Such people feel perfect liberty to enjoy whatever the Lord places before them. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 expands on this point by saying that “doctrines of demons” lead false teachers to demand abstinence from certain foods and from marriage.

Barnes wisely cautions against using this verse as a license for sin, arguing that it primarily refers to food. He reminds us of Paul’s injunction in Colossians 2:16  not to let anyone judge  us in regard to rituals.

Paul goes on to explain that nothing is pure to them because their very minds and consciences are defiled.  To those defiled by the sin of false doctrine, everything is corrupted by their pride and self-indulgence. Their supposed devotion to God’s Law actually covers up their internal wickedness. Therefore, nothing is pure for them; they pollute everything by their evil natures.

Moving to verse 16, we see exactly why Paul declares false teachers to be impure, False teachers, though claiming to know the Lord, have a false testimony. In fact, as false teachers they often claim to have special revelation from God. But Paul insists that they actually deny Him by their works of self-indulgence (see verses 10-12) and their works of teaching legalistic salvation. Their conduct exposes them as false converts.

Paul makes a play on words by calling them detestable, since they teach Old Testament regulations of foods that were detestable under ceremonial law. Essentially, the Lord regards false teachers, rather than mere foods, detestable.

Furthermore, these false teachers were disobedient to God in both their sinful lifestyles and their spreading of perverse doctrine. Their disobedience made them unfit for any good work. In other words, worthless.

Barnes reminds us that the disobedient lifestyles of the Cretans,  coupled with the false teachers trying to add Mosaic law to the Gospel, motivated Paul’s concern that Titus appoint men of godly character to serve as elders. As we proceed to Chapter 2 next week, we’ll see Paul’s strategy of dealing with the problems in Crete.

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Saturday Sampler: March 19 — March 25

Flower SamplerContinuing her series in Growing 4 Life, Leslie A. writes Learn to Discern: Who Do You Follow? She raises several important points that women should seriously consider as we pray to develop our discernment .

Unbelief doesn’t need one more miracle says Jennifer at One Hired Late in the Day. I’d been considering writing a similar article, but I really couldn’t improve on hers. If you want a solid explanation of the doctrine of justification, Jennifer’s blog post certainly gives it clearly.

“Authentic” seems to be the latest buzzword among evangelicals. In Has “Be Authentic” Replaced “Be Holy”? Rebekah Womble explains what postmodern people mean by authenticity, contrasting their understanding of the characteristic with the holiness that Christ calls us to practice.

Dinitatians typically believe in the Father and the Son, but not the Holy Spirit. In his blog post, Are Cessationists Dinitatians? Eric Davis of The Cripplegate refutes the popular notion that non-Charismatics don’t believe in the Holy Spirit. I love his list of 20 things Cessationists believe about the Holy Spirit.

Do you sometimes wonder what you should pray in praying for your pastor? Steve Altroggie, blogging on The Blazing Center, enumerates 8 Prayers You Should Regularly Pray For Your Pastor to offer us good direction in the matter.

John Ellis’ article, How NOT to Argue Online in adayinhiscourt convicted me. But it also encouraged me in arguing my case in ways that honor the Lord .

Responding to one of Beth Moore’s recent Tweets, Elizabeth Prata writes How does the Holy Spirit lead us? in her blog, The End Time. Her essay is lengthy, admittedly (and perhaps could have been broken into two separate ones), but her point is so crucial to Christian women that I strongly recommend it as essential reading.

In Don’t Get Your Theology from Movies, Michelle Lesley explains why even Movie Subscription Services that advertise themselves as Christian fail at helping us negotiate life’s issues. I’ve never seen anyone address this matter quite this comprehensively before, but Michelle does an excellent job.

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Promise From God Or Baptized Divination?

Arriving at the conference, I enjoyed the anticipation. The year before, I’d met Shane (not his real name). Shane and I shared an interest in ex-gay ministry as well as ministry to people living with AIDS, but we also both enjoyed writing. During the year leading up to this conference, he initiated a lively correspondence, often sending me samples of the book he had started writing about how God prepared Christians for marriage. Of course, he’d won my heart.
My attendant/roommate and I entered our dorm room to find a tiny scroll, artfully tied with a green ribbon, placed on each of our pillows. She unrolled mine for me, revealing “A Scripture Promise For The Week.”

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. ~~Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

I knew (intellectually) that I should resist the urge to interpret the “Scripture Promise” as assurance that my long history of romantic disappointment had ended, but Shane did things that week (and afterward) to further kindle my hopes. I’ll spare you the messy details of how my history with Shane played out, and  say only that the “new thing” in verse 19 had absolutely nothing to do with my romantic desires.

That memory comes to mind as I think about the narcissism in contemporary evangelical circles. Interestingly, when I read Isaiah 43 during my Quiet Time all these years later, I keep its historical context, as well as its prophetic intent in mind. Isaiah prophesied about two events: the Jews’ release from the Babylonian Captivity and (ultimately) the Messianic kingdom. Back in that dorm room during the conference, I turned that broad promise to Israel and the Church about God’s glorious plan for His collective people into a horoscope-like prediction tailored to my  selfish aspirations.

Most present-day evangelicals play similar games with God’s Word, I’m sorry to say. To a very large extent, pastors, teachers and   Christian books encourage us to privatize God’s Word into personal promises that spin far away from God’s main point. Yes, He guides us through Scripture’s principles–even in terms of selecting a spouse–but He most certainly doesn’t want us  wrenching fragments out of context as if the  Bible lends itself to some sort of baptized divination.

As I’ve been reading through the Old Testament these past few years, the Holy Spirit has shown me that I must read it at face  value rather than digging around for personal intimations. I may learn from His dealings with Israel, particularly as  I see my rebellion as a mirror image of theirs. I may see His call to holiness and apply it. But when  I make His promises to them for His kingdom into allegories about my personal fulfillment, I err. And I forget that Scripture revolves around Him!

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How On Earth Could Yoga Violate The First Commandment?

LotusBlogging about yoga, and so-called Christian yoga in particular, intimidates me. So many people (including one close friend of mine) feel that I really don’t understand the ability to practice yoga’s physical exercises without getting involved in the spiritual aspects like meditation. As a result, I pressure myself to write blog posts absolutely dripping with documentation. I assume that that practice gives me credibility.

It should.

But it rarely does.

I’ve learned that most evangelicals who engage in yoga simply aren’t interested in having anyone challenge them on this matter. They may not express open hostility toward me (some have, admittedly), but they certainly don’t take my point of view seriously enough to read the articles I present to them. One friend did read them and thankfully withdrew from her yoga class, but most give me a metaphorical pat on the head in silent acknowledgment that I don’t understand the subject as well as they do.

In response to their obvious condescension, I’ve collected several online articles explaining the various reasons that Christians should stay away from yoga. In anticipation of this essay, I looked at a few of them, hoping for a few quotes that would help make my case that yoga violates the First Commandment.

And God spoke all these words, saying,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me. ~~Exodus 20:1-3 (ESV)

Did you know that every yoga pose represents worship to a Hindu deity? I must document this claim, even though all my research repeatedly verifies it as fact. Marcia Montenegro of Christian Answers for the New Age writes:

The Yoga most practiced by Christians is Hatha Yoga. The poses themselves are often depictions of Hindu deities, and the hand positions mimic the hand positions seen on the statues of Hindu gods. These hand positions are called mudras and are thought to help manipulate and channel prana, a supposed divine force or breath of the universe.(Source)

This quote, added to similar quotes from a variety of Christian and Hindu articles I’ve read about yoga over the past 11 years, affirms that yoga can’t be separated from its Hindu origins.

In opposition to those who try to separate the physical aspect of yoga from its Hindu foundation, the Hindu Wisdom website states otherwise:

Yoga is an integral part of the Hindu religion. There is a saying: “There is no Yoga without Hinduism and no Hinduism without Yoga.” The country of origin of Yoga is undoubtedly India, where for many hundreds of years it has been a part of man’s activities directed towards higher spiritual achievements. The Yoga Philosophy is peculiar to the Hindus, and no trace of it is found in any other nation, ancient or modern. It was the fruit of the highest intellectual and spiritual development. The history of Yoga is long and ancient. The earliest Vedic texts, the Brahmanas, bear witness to the existence of ascetic practices (tapas) and the vedic Samhitas contain some references, to ascetics, namely the Munis or Kesins and the Vratyas.

Now, I may be no more than an aging housewife with only a Bachelors degree in English Literature, but I beg you to consider the possibility that I’ve actually done my homework on whether or not Christians should practice yoga. Before you dismiss my concerns, do some research of your own. And ask yourself if practicing a form of Hindu worship allows you to obey the First Commandment.

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Saturday Sampler: February 26 — March 4

cross-sampler-02Commenting on something she read in The New York Times, Elizabeth Prata has an essay in  The End Time discussing Practical magic’s resurgence that I believe is worth your attention.

In Learn to Discern: The Corruption of Christianity (the latest in a series in Growing 4 Life), Leslie A. shares an essay by her brother,  Pastor Dean. Dean examines six popular trends which have dangerously weakened the visible church.

Once again, Rebekah Womble knocks it out of the park on her blog, Wise In His Eyes. This time, I recommend her blog post, Women, Don’t Feed on Fluff for its Scriptural guidelines on discerning whether an author or teacher is worth our time (and money).

As Reformed Christians commemorate this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we must consider the differences between us and Roman Catholics. Blogging for The Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge asks Which Jesus does your Roman Catholic friend believe in? This post offers helpful guidelines for witnessing to Catholic friends and family.

Michael J. Krueger has been writing a series for Canon Fodder. His latest installment, Taking Back Christianese #8: “It’s Not My Place to Judge Someone Else”, takes on the common misapplication of Matthew 7:1.

Lisa Morris of Conforming to the Truth cautions us about The Upside Down Truth About Quick Bible Devotions. Ladies, we can do better.

Are you observing Lent this year? If so, Michelle Lesley lists 40 Things to Give Up for Lent as an encouragement to think Biblically about the season. If you wonder why (after writing so strongly against observing Lent Tuesday) I’ve included her article on this Saturday Sampler, read what she has to say.

Even through Brian Lee’s article, Repent of Lent: How Spiritual Disciplines Can Be Bad For Your Soul, appeared in The Federalist three years ago, it raises points about the practice that mustn’t be overlooked. Perhaps this is the most Biblical treatment of Lent I’ve read so far.

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Should Evangelicals Observe Lent?

img_4045I know I said we’d talk more about Peter Waldo today, but since then it dawned on me that Lent begins tomorrow. What a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the necessity of the Protestant Reformation.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed evangelicals (including some I know personally) talking about giving up things for Lent. This trend disturbs me, and all the more as I learn the history of the Reformation. I can’t understand why those who have been liberated from the legalism of Catholicism would willingly return to one of its rituals, thinking that a forty day fast would somehow impress God.

As I mentioned in my latest Saturday Sampler, The Cripplegate ran Jesse Johnson’s article on Lent last Wednesday. If you haven’t read it yet. I implore you to at least read the section on the history of the tradition. Johnson explains how a tradition that began as a way to prepare new Christians for baptism degenerated into false spirituality at best and hollow ritual at worst.

Like most Roman Catholic rituals, observing Lent focuses on human works. Penance, fasting and almsgiving enable one to attain greater sanctification, thus becoming yet another means of making oneself acceptable to God. By performing these rites during the six weeks leading up to Easter, one supposedly draws closer to God because of these sacrificial acts of self-denial. The emphasis, as usual, falls on human effort rather than on the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.

Some would argue that Lent teaches us how to practice self-denial. Giving up Facebook, for example, shows us how to die to our addiction to social media. Lent, they insist, helps us develop self-control, therefore making us more godly. Interestingly, the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, cautioning them against outward displays of self-righteousness.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. ~~Colossians 2:20-23 (ESV)

Certainly, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that Christians should exercise, but it’s a result of salvation rather than a means to it. The Reformers all insisted on returning to the Biblical doctrine that faith alone justifies a person. Lent returns us to a system that the Reformers fought long and hard against. It takes our eyes off the finished work of Christ, bringing us back to man-made religion.

As evangelicals, we must honor the efforts of the Reformers, who extricated us from the legalism of Catholicism. Reverting to the demands of Catholic rituals disregards both the Reformation and (of more serious consequence) the Gospel itself. Dying to self for the Lord is so much more (and so much different) than giving up Facebook or rich food for forty days each year. Please don’t sacrifice your freedom in Christ simply to follow a tradition of human origin.

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