Did Papa Miss Out On Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer?

It seems that time does change things.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.

My father, affectionately called ‘Papa’ by all eight of us, was a Nazarene minister in New England since the early 1960’s.  Before that, he was a minister back in the Cape Verde Islands, pastoring in almost all of the main islands.  He was a Roman Catholic as a young man.  He was born again in São Vicente in 1930 under the ministry of Pastor João Dias, the first Nazarene missionary to the islands, and quit his job in 1937 to work full time in the ministry.  He used to travel all over, often on muleback, sometimes in small jeeps, crossing the high hills and mountains to reach small far away towns to preach the gospel.  He was a passionate preacher.  He was plain spoken, and preached simple but powerful sermons on the forgiveness of Jesus Christ for our sins.  He spent much time translating many Wesleyan songs into Portuguese.  He had a beautiful tenor voice and was called “the singing pastor”.  He retired in the early 1980’s after pastoring the church in Rumford, RI, for over 10 years, and passed away in September of 2006.  And I can’t forget to mention his saint of a wife, Constanca, who passed away a few years before he did.  You can read a short bio on him here.

My father’s theology was very basic orthodox Christian doctrine.  He preached the gospel of repentance of sins and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and he preached holiness as something Christians should strive for.  He had only a few weapons in his arsenal in the battle against Satan: prayer, the Bible, and the power of the Holy Spirit in his lifebut that seemed to be all he needed.  His belief in the Bible as completely trustworthy in all things was without question. He was a prayer warrior. We often had regular prayer time in our home, and he would read from the scriptures, give us a lesson, and then we would get on our knees and spend time in prayer.  When I was in my teens, I remember hearing him pray at night or early in the morning, often for over an hour.  He prayed for everyone.  He always encouraged us to read the Bible every day.  It seemed that this simple preacher who preached so effectively to bring people to Christ, did not need any more than what he had: the Word of God, prayer, and the Holy Spirit to guide him.

So these are my questions: Did my father miss out on some vital things in all the years he served the Lord?  Could it be that he lacked some necessary tools that would have made him more complete as a Christian?  Is it possible that if he had some other tools in his possession, he would have been a better pastor, and would have served others more effectively?  Here is where lectio divina and other contemplative spirituality practices comes in.

If my father ever heard of lectio divina, he never told me about it, and I’m sure it was not told to any of my siblings as well.  It’s possible he knew about it.  After all, he used to be a Roman Catholic, and Roman Catholic history is steeped with the use of lectio divina.  So, what is lectio divina?

A full explanation of it can be found at my reformednazarene blog.  In summary, lectio divina is another form of contemplative prayer.  Contemplative prayer is a mystical prayer practice that leads one into the “silence” but in actuality leads away from God.  The purpose of contemplative prayer is to enter an altered state of consciousness in order to find one’s true self, thus finding God. This true self relates to the belief that man is basically good. Proponents of contemplative prayer teach that all human beings have a divine center and that all, not just born again believers, should practice contemplative prayer. [1]

Back in the early 60’s and into the 80’s during my dad’s ministry, we never heard of lectio divina being promoted in the Nazarene denomination.  Now, all of a sudden, we are seeing practices such as lectio divina, centering prayer, and the use of prayer labyrinths, both in Nazarene universities (Trevecca Nazarene University for instance)  and in churches.  Contemplative spirituality courses, or spiritual formation,  are also now the rage.  Universities are now promoting new courses and majors for degrees to specialize as a Spiritual Director.  What is that? A spiritual director appears to mimic the role of an eastern religious guru who tries to affect the spirituality of others in either one-on-one or small group settings. [2]

I recently have been going back and forth with Bob Hunter, one of the administrators of the Facebook group that was created to oppose my Concerned Nazarenes Facebook group.  Here are a few quotes from his introductory piece on contemplative prayer (his quotes in bold, my comments in red)

Quote: “Contemplative spirituality is historically rooted in Christianity. The tradition reaches back to the desert Fathers who prayed the Church through many trials and much persecution.”
The Desert Fathers originated much of this, and my point is, so what?  Some historically rooted practices that have lasted hundreds of years doesn’t make them valid. (Several of the early church fathers were ‘off’ in some of their teachings as well.) These mystical works-based practices were rejected by the Protestant Reformation because they were not scripturally founded or based, but were the inventions of men trying to communicate with God in their own man-ordained method.

Quote: “The Biblical Basis for this practice is deeply rooted in the Psalms where King David clearly practiced a life of contemplative prayer.”
Not the way you imagine it, and not the way contemplative prayer is defined today, with it’s roots in transcendental meditation.  David always prayed to God intelligently, with his mind active and thinking, and in the manner in which Jesus taught us how to pray.  There is no basis in the Bible for praying in ways that are used today by contemplatives, which ultimately is to enter into a state of altered consciousness.

Quote: “Perhaps the book of Hebrews best describes the intent of contemplative prayer for the Christian: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Heb. 12:2″
This scripture passage says nothing close to what contemplatives practice today.  It is not a good reference at all and is taken out of context.

Quote: “David said, “Be still and know that I am God.” Contemplative prayer is Biblical because it is rooted deeply in the Psalms and reinforced throughout scripture through the act of meditation.”

“Be still” is the most used, and badly taken out of context scripture passage, as an excuse for contemplative prayer.  Anyone reading it in full context, especially the preceding verses, will understand that it means anything but contemplative prayer.  It is a call for us to “take it easy”, “don’t worry”, God is on control.  It is not a call to contemplative prayer practices that are rooted in Eastern mysticism. This is why we must read a passage in the context of the verses before and after, to get the full meaning of what it is saying.  This connection fails miserably for the contemplatives.

I could continue on, but the questions to end here are these: Why was my father not trained in these systems back in his time?  Was there a sudden enlightenment in the minds of seminary professors while reading the scriptures, that showed them that lectio divina was the new way to go if you want to be a complete Christian?  Was my father cheated out of this great opportunity to grow and learn as a Christian?  Why were our leaders so irresponsible, as to not introduce these practices to my father and so many other dedicated pastors and preachers?  The answer is, they were not irresponsible, because these practices have no foundation whatsoever in scripture!

So the fact of the matter is, they did not need these things.  In fact, did you know that prayer labyrinths can be traced back to ancient pagan religions, including Greek mythology?  Why are they being used by university students and churches then?  Why are contemplative prayer practices such as lectio divina being used, when they are essentially “Christianized” forms of Eastern mysticism, or transcendental meditation?  It does not matter that these things have a long history.  If they are not biblical, we should not welcome them.  If they are from pagan sources, we are warned against that in the Bible!

So my father did have all that he needed.  He had the Bible, which is sufficient in itself for all that we need for our salvation, and for our Christian living.  He lacked nothing for his life, because he had the Word of God to guide him.  That perfect book, to which is referred by such giants as John Wesley as a book that is an all sufficient and infallible Word of God.  So the challenges are these: Will the Church of the Nazarene continue to make a move towards introducing these practices and at least make a big announcement of it?  Will the leaders continue to slowly bring it in under the radar of most Nazarenes, a little at a time?  Or will we make a commitment go back to Biblical fundamentals, and trust only in Jesus, and the Word of God that is given through us in the Bible?  Which shall it be?  How many of you reading have never heard of lectio divina being used in the Nazarene church?  Or prayer labyrinths?  It’s all in the Nazarene denomination now, and the question is, how long will it be before it reaches you?  And if it does, do you really need it to become more of a Christian than you have been in the last 20 or 30 or even 70 years of your Christian life?

I know what my choice is.  I pray that at General Assembly, that the leadership will say, in a loud voice, that we will dedicate ourselves to going back to the very same Biblical basics that Rev. Ilidio Silva firmly believed in, trusted, and lived by, and nothing else.

We need to be taught and fed the Bread of Life to grow in Christian maturity, not led down man-made paths to mystic experiences in which God has never ordained.