The Emerging Church

Contemplative Spirituality

A dangerous unbiblical pagan practice has slithered into the church via the false teaching of contemplative spirituality. Its' has come into the protestant and evangelical church's via Roman Catholicism. It is practiced by many different groups that have little, if any, connection with Christianity.

In practice, contemplative spirituality is primarily centered on meditation where one quiets the mind, This type of meditation is not found in scriptures. Passages such as Joshua 1:8 and Ps 1:1-2; 119:15;  encourage us to meditate, with the focus of the meditation being the Word of God in an active mental posture.  

Contemplative spirituality-driven meditation focuses on nothing, quite literally. This meditation is done via the practice of centering prayer also called breath prayers, listening prayers and is said to bring one close to God.

The historical background concerning the spiritual discipline of 'centering prayer' grew out of the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers. John Cassian (c.360-c.430) made a pilgrimage to the desert to learn the ways of contemplative prayer … Cassian was deeply influenced by his time in the desert, and he wrote his book The Conferences about his conversations with the Desert Fathers to acquaint Western Christians with their teachings.[12, 14]"

According to Thomas Keating a Trappist monk (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance) and priest, known as one of architects of the modern Centering Prayer says the guidelines for practicing centering prayer are:

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. 2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within. 3. When engaged with your thoughts*, return ever-so gently to the sacred word. 4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. [15]

"Centering prayer can be found in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and has manage to infiltrate just about every denomination both protestant and evangelical and many Christian colleges which are including it as part of  their curriculum.  It often enters into churches under the following guises:

 Spiritual Formation - Spiritual Disciplines - Ancient Future - Contemplative Spirituality -  Taize - Centering Prayer - Lectio Divina - Jesus Prayer - Labyrinth - Walk To Emmaus " [10]

Contemplative spirituality also encourages the pursuit of a mystical experience with God. Mysticism is the belief that knowledge of God, spiritual truth, and ultimate reality can be gained through subjective experience. This emphasis on experiential knowledge erodes the authority of Scripture.

Advocates of contemplative prayer believe and teach that it is a necessary practice if one desires to become more like Christ. In claiming this, however, they often appeal to the practices of ancient Roman Catholic mystic monks rather than the Word of God. We know God according to His Word. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Richard Foster, a well-known promoter of contemplative prayer, warns that it is not for the novice…

“At the onset I need to give a word of warning, a little like the warning labels on medicine bottles. Contemplative prayer is not for the novice. I do not say this about other forms of prayer. All are welcome, regardless of proficiency or expertise, to enter freely into adoration and meditation and intercession and a host of other approaches to prayer. But contemplation is different. While we are all precious in the eyes of God, we are all not equally ready to listen to God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all embracing silence…

I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world, we do know … there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way!

… But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection…” (page 156 – 157, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home)

The 'Catholic Culture' website  notes the following similarities between 'Contemplative Prayer' and 'Transcendental Meditation'

What are the Similarities Between Contemplative Prayer(CP) and Transcendental Meditation(TM)?

Johnnette Benkovic has interviewed people on her show and in her book who have done both CP and TM. They claim it is basically the same. The only difference would be that in TM the mantras are names of Hindu gods, and in CP the sacred word is usually Jesus, God, peace, or love. Fr. Finbarr Flanagan, who was involved in both CP and TM says CP is TM in a Christian dress. He says Fr. Pennington has endorsed TM ". . .without hesitation."3 Let's look at the similarities:

1) Both CP and TM use a 20-minute meditation.

2) Both CP and TM use a mantra to erase all thoughts and feelings.

3) Both CP and TM teach that in this meditation you pick up vibrations.

4) Both CP and TM claim that this meditation will give you more peace and less tension.

5) Both CP and TM teach you how to reach a mental void or altered level of consciousness.

6) Both CP and TM have the common goal of finding your god-center.   [13]

"There is no Biblical reason or justification to believe that God adds additional teachings or truths or deepens our relationship with him through mystical experiences.  Instead, our faith and what we know about God and his revealing himself is based on the fact  that he does all of this  through  his word.[11] Biblical prayer for the believer in Christ is prayer where one engages the mind as well as the spirit. (1 Cor  14:14-15). Spiritual growth comes about through the word of God (2Pet 2:2). Directions for life is via the word of God (Ps 119:105).

Christian Research Network  say's the following concerning contemplative  spirituality:

As noted in the Spiritual Formation research article, the spiritual disciplines are rooted in unbiblical origins. In his book The Sacred Way, Emergent theologian Tony Jones acknowledges that “Centering Prayer grew out of the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers.”16 These Desert Fathers, however, did not appear until the third century AD, long after the time of Jesus and His Apostles.

Contemplative prayer presupposes that the Christian must seek outside of Scripture to hear all that God is saying, thus Scripture loses its position as the final, authoritative Word from God. The following quotes are from Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, respectively, who are both leading teachers of contemplative prayer:

Many discussions about hearing God’s voice speak of three points of reference, also called ‘three lights’ that we can consult in determining what God wants us to do. These are circumstances, impressions of the Spirit and passages from the Bible. When these three things point in the same direction, it is suggested that we be sure the direction they point is the one God intends for us.17

Only the Bible as a whole can be treated as the written Word of God…. In any case we must certainly go beyond, though never around, the words of the Bible to find out what God is speaking to us.18

Related Articles Contemplative Promoters

  Evangelical Leaders Promote New Age and Eastern Spiritual Practices
  Contemplative Prayer Or Terror?
  Some Contemplative Terms and What they Mean
  Centering Prayer
  Do Christian Leaders Understand The Contemplative Prayer Movement?
  Can mysticism lead to God?
  What is Contemplative Spirituality and Why is It Dangerous?

Yet, Scripture itself informs us of its sufficiency (2 Tim. 3:16–17), and of God’s final word and revelation to us in Christ (Heb. 1:1–2).

End Notes:

[11]  What is Contemplative Spirituality from "Got Question"  and  The Method of Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating used as a base for this section
[12]  Tony Jones, The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life [Grand Rapids: Youth Specialties and Zondervan, 2005], 70,
[14]  Saint John Cassian (ca. 360 – 433 C.E.) (Latin: Jo(h)annes Eremita Cassianus, Joannus Cassianus, or Joannes Massiliensis) is a Christian theologian celebrated in the Western and Eastern Churches for his mystical writings. He is known both as one of the "Scythian monks" and as one of the "Desert Fathers." - New World Encyclopedia
[15]  The Method of Centering Prayer