Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from Christianity Today, November 1, 2005, with the headline: “New Journeys on Well-Worn Paths. Rick Crocker wanted to go home. Two weeks into his sabbatical at a monastery in Pecos, New Mexico, Crocker felt uncomfortable. This was a strange place for a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor from Erie, Pennsylvania, to find himself. And the schedule of fixed hour of prayer five times a day felt strange. Crocker considered calling it quits until a conversation with another retreatant convinced the pastor he was out of his element, but still in God’s plan. He’s glad he stayed. One of the instructors, Bruce Demarest, is a professor at Denver Seminary who had studied spiritual direction there at Pecos, Crocker said. ‘To spend the time with someone who was thoroughly evangelical in the environment of Benedictine spirituality, or et labora prayer and work with monks and nuns with a charismatic bent, was thoroughly refreshing.’ Six weeks among them changed the way Crocker views spiritual formation. ‘We evangelicals tend to act like nothing existed in church history prior to the Reformation. While this isn’t our tradition and we don’t agree in all areas of theology and doctrine, there are many things of great value that we can draw from these wells,’ and Crocker is not alone in his view. In the nearly 30 years since Richard Foster wrote the classic Celebration of Discipline, the study of the spiritual practices of the pre-Reformation church has enjoyed a growing audience.
“To many Protestants at the time, it seemed the Quaker theologian practically invented the disciplines until his exhortations to solitude, fasting, contemplation, and the like fueled the study of the Desert Father’s aesthetics and monastics, whose teachings were mostly the domain of Catholic spirituality. ‘A lot of Protestants have discovered we kind of threw the baby out with the bath water in the Reformation in terms of practices,’ said Presbyterian minister Marjorie Thompson, director for the Pathway Center for Spiritual Leadership. ‘Now we’re coming back and re-discovering them, and turning to our Catholic sisters and brothers, because they are the ones with the expertise.’
“So Protestants in increasing numbers are bringing the classic disciplines into their spiritual practice. Bible-only Baptists are finding Lent, exuberant Pentecostals are employing silence, staid Episcopalians are walking labyrinths, Free churches are following lectio divina, and iconoclastic evangelicals everywhere are bringing art back into the sanctuary. Why, after five centuries of stripped-down, theologically precise worship and three decades of rhythm-driven contemporary relevance, are silence and stained glass cool again?”
Tom: Dave, one of the ironies of this is they’re throwing off rhythm-driven, contemporary relevance, according to what this article just stated, and going back to Catholic mysticism as though one were a wonderful replacement of the other. I mean, these are two sides of a very spiritually destructive coin here.
Dave: Well, Tom, it’s amazing, and you’ve dealt with it in our newsletter, the emerging church where they use the icons, and they’ve got prayer stations, and so forth. But Richard Foster, as this article points out, has played a huge part in this, and I met with Richard Foster years ago, tried to discuss this with him, but we didn’t get anywhere. But, for example, in his book Celebration of Discipline—I think it’s around page 14, somewhere around there—he quotes…John in Revelation says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a voice,” and so forth.
And he says, “Could it be that John knew some techniques for getting in touch with God? And these techniques have been lost, and we need to revive them again.” John did not know some technique for getting in touch with God. It was not through a technique that he got in touch with the Lord and received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the last book in the Bible. That is blasphemy to even suggest that!
And then he goes into this whole thing about the Desert Fathers; he leads you into visualization, which is one of the fastest ways of getting into the occult. It’s the way the witch doctors, shamans contact their spirit guides, and so forth. So we are being drawn into, not back into—it talks about the church before the Reformation. Well, the church before the Reformation, they’re not telling you, was an evangelical church that had nothing to do with Rome, and they were literally slaughtered by the millions because they wouldn’t give their allegiance to the Pope, okay? But that’s all covered up, and they talk as though the Catholic Church before the Reformation was the true church. Well then, what was the Reformation all about, okay?
But the problem, Tom, is we’re being led into occultism, and this is exactly what Richard Foster teaches. Now we have the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible, all this thing about spiritual formation…
Tom: As you know, Dave, I grew up Roman Catholic; we had most of these things. Saint Ignatius, the one who founded the Jesuits, he revived this, and it’s pure occultism. In the spiritual exercises, he has you visualize Jesus almost like The Passion of the Christ, only it was in your mind that you were going to visualize Jesus on the cross, and so on…
Dave: Or as a carpenter, in the shop or whatever, as a child.
Tom: So this is a great concern for us because, although it has a sense of being more spiritual—it’s certainly appealing to the flesh—but it is, again, pure occultism.
Dave: Now, what is wrong with occultism? Well, occultism is using any technique to get in touch with God, supposedly, to reach into the spirit world.
Tom: Right, it’s divination, which the Bible condemns.
Tom: So it’s continually shocking to me as a former Catholic to see now the evangelical church. They were young evangelicals who led me to Christ, brought me out of the bondage that I was in in Roman Catholicism. Now I see the evangelical church—Dave, this mentions Bruce Demarest, and also Richard Foster.
Dave: Bruce Demarest is a professor at Denver Seminary.
Tom: And we have these who should know better. I mean, they understand history; they should understand church history, how it’s in the early history that we got away from the Word of God, and how the Roman Catholic Church developed.
Dave: Right, and there were those who did not do that, and they never had any association with Rome. They were not called Protestants, they were simply evangelical Christians, and Rome killed them.