QUESTION: I have expressed my concerns about a Spiritual Formation Retreat to be conducted at the Catholic Benedictine Abbey in Mt. Angel, OR, in January 2012 for Oregon Christian Convention events. I spoke to the pastor organizing the event about New Age mystical experiences now being taught to Christians seeking a deeper relationship with God. I asked him why he promoted this, because its origins are from ungodly, even occultic, sources. He said that he liked the liturgies, the architecture lending to a sense of awe/worship/peace. He also said that New Age proponents "hi-jacked" the contemplative prayer practices from the early church fathers. I asked him what church fathers he was referring to, since I knew that none of the apostles had taught this in the Scriptures. He named Origen, Tertulles, Augustine, and a few others whom I don't recall. My question is: who copied whom? Where can I find the documented history for this?
RESPONSE: Having recently visited the Mount Angel Catholic Benedictine Abbey, I can say this: The building is an imposing, towering structure, identical in pattern to ancient cathedrals—but it is a fresh, clean facility unstained by centuries of European smokestacks. There were painted arches that stretched heavenward, breathtaking stained glass, stations of the cross, and five massive, elaborate altars up front, all with ornate statuary.
The building is certainly impressive as a work of man, but as a work of the flesh, it profits nothing spiritually. Furthermore, the "worship" that takes place within is an abomination before God. Every Roman Catholic Cathedral—however simple or ornate—is in reality a pagan temple that celebrates perpetual human sacrifice, the worship of Mary as co-mediatrix, occult ritualism, and idols in nearly every nook and cranny. So although such edifices are amazingly artistic and architecturally impressive, all that they reflect is contrary to God's Word (Eph:5:6-11, 2 Cor 6:14-17).
The pastor is simply wrong in saying that New Age proponents "hijacked" these practices. The so-called "Church Fathers," more specifically, the "Desert Fathers," either hijacked the occult practices from eastern mystical religions or got them directly from seducing spirits or doctrines of demons (1 Tm 4:1).
By resorting to the "Church Fathers," one abandons the sure foundation of Scripture, forgetting Paul's warning that, "after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). Paul and the other writers of the New Testament gave us God's Word rather than the mixed teachings of the "Church Fathers." It is to the Scriptures that we must look, especially since Paul warned that in his time there were already false brethren who would do damage to the body of Christ.
Basing anything upon the "Church Fathers" exchanges the "more sure word of prophecy" for the shifting sands of human opinion. Consequently, though some of the "Church Fathers" may have advocated contemplative prayer practices, the question remains, "What do the Scriptures say":
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.(Joshua:1:8)
Scriptural meditation is an objective practice. It is simply thinking through God's Word for the purpose of understanding. Contemplative meditation, which has been derived from Eastern mystical meditation, is a process of mind clearing, i.e., thoughtlessness, that opens the mind to external spiritual content (much of which is filled with doctrines of demons). Contemplative meditation could not be more opposed to biblical truth.
We need to take heed to Paul's admonition to "prove [test] all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thes 5:21). Testing by the unfailing Word of God (2 Tm 2:15) is the theme throughout Scripture.