I just finished reading Sacred Life, a book for youth that is available through Barefoot Ministries, the youth arm of the Nazarene Publishing House. This is the first review of two books from Barefoot Ministries, the other being Sacred Space. My conclusion after reading them: I do not recommend them, and I am appalled that the Nazarene Publishing House allows these books to be promoted to our Nazarene youth, or any Christian for that matter.
The book is broken up into chapters that talk about: the Jesus Prayer (and the use of the prayer rope), lectio divina, confessions, praying scripture, solitude/meditation, Imago Dei, journaling, the Roman Catholic priest St. Ignatius and his methods, and pilgrimages. (Among the pigrimages that are recommended is the Taizé community in France, a popular center for contemplative, Eastern-oriented, interspiritual practices).
In the introduction to Sacred Life, I find the following quote of interest:
- “Not all of these practices will work for each person. If one does not connect with you, try another. In time, you will find two or more that will fit well with you.”
The Bible-prescribed discipline of prayer will always work if a person is praying with a sincere heart to God. So the specific disciplines described in the book are not guaranteed to work, but rather depend on the person? That does not sound like something God would give us, a method of prayer or worship that will “connect” for some, but not others?
The first chapter talks about the General Examen of Conscience, a part of a collection of a work by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, which supposedly helps us apply spiritual disciplines in our daily life in order to get closer to God. The instructions give guided steps on how to do this. This work is becoming ever more popular within the evangelical spiritual formation movement.
What the book fails to tell us is that Ignatius was a mystic, and he practiced mysticism.
Tony Campolo says of him: “The methods of praying employed by the likes of Ignatius have become precious to me. With the help of some Catholic saints, my prayer life has deepened.” Campolo is an ultra-liberal evangelical who supports the emergent church and contemplative spirituality practices; he also likes to repeat the name of Jesus over and over again every morning for as long as 15 minutes! (from Mystical Encounters for Christians, Beliefnet).
In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius emphasizes purifying oneself through asceticism and using the imagination in prayer (also called visualization or guided imagery, a dangerous practice).
Visualization is not biblical, and we ought to put our faith in God and His word, not using our imagination for extra-biblical revelation. It is not true faith. Instead, God’s word says: So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).
He was also known for enforcing a blind loyalty to the pope. He said “what seems to be white, I will believe to be black, if the hierarchical church so defines” (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Vintage Books Edition, p. 124). He was the founder of the Jesuit Order, which was known for its brutality in enforcing papal authority. I could tell you more about him, but this is a small picture of someone who is being recommended as a model for youth to follow his teachings.
In the chapter on the Jesus Prayer, the writer describes the prayer as having three levels: The first, verbal repetition of a phrase over and over. In the second, the prayer is then repeated in the mind over and over without distraction or other thoughts. The final stage is when the prayer connects the mind with the heart, so that the prayer lives in every heartbeat of the person praying. (p. 21)
Where is this type of prayer instructed for us to do in the Bible? Nowhere, is the answer. This is nothing but an extra-biblical, man-created method of prayer that takes the focus away from Christ, and focuses more on ourselves.
What does scripture say?
“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” Matthew 6:7
There is no doubt this is vain repetition, and not true prayerful communication with God, as taught in the scriptures. (On page 22 the writers make a weak attempt to dismiss this biblical admonition, and even suggest that Jesus used this technique, but of course, no convincing scriptural evidence is given).
In Wesley’s Bible comments, he says the following: “Use not vain repetitions – To repeat any words without meaning them, is certainly a vain repetition. Therefore we should be extremely careful in all our prayers to mean what we say; and to say only what we mean from the bottom of our hearts. The vain and heathenish repetitions which we are here warned against, are most dangerous, and yet very common; which is a principal cause why so many, who still profess religion, are a disgrace to it. Indeed all the words in the world are not equivalent to one holy desire. And the very best prayers are but vain repetitions, if they are not the language of the heart.” (Wesley’s Notes on the Bible)
Our prayers should come from the heart, and not from following a set pattern or length to be counted. This is particularly a practice emphasized by the Roman Catholic church, but it is a violation of biblical principles. Why is this being promoted by Nazarenes, for Nazarene youth?
Worse yet, as part of the Jesus Prayer, it is recommended to use a prayer rope. In other words: a way of showing us how to pray the rosary, using rosary beads. Perhaps the authors thought that using a different name for this, and a different device, would not mean the same, but that’s exactly what it is. They are teaching our youth how to pray the rosary! Again I ask, where is this prescribed in the Bible? Nowhere. So why are Nazarenes teaching this to our youth?
The final chapter I will comment on is the one on lectio divina. I have written about lectio divina before and also critiqued it for its formulaic, method based procedure on how to read and pray scripture. It was actually invented by the theologian Origen, a heretic who amongst other false teachings, believed that Jesus was a created being.
But do we need this practice to get closer to God and live the Christian life? The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. God’s word is what we need, not new invented methods that we have to follow and make sure we do them in the proper prescribed steps.
Do we get special revelation from practicing lectio divina, which is not prescribed in any way in the Bible? Or do we need to simply know that “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure,…”
God’s word is all we need. It can be dangerous to open our minds and try to listen to God’s voice in this way, because it may not end up being God’s voice suggesting something to us.
What is this growing reliance on St. Ignatius and other Roman Catholic mystics and priests. Don’t we have enough inspirational Nazarenes from our past and present who can teach real solid biblical truth? I found out recently that Dr. Doug Hardy of Nazarene Theological Seminary is one of many Nazarene professors who have become deeply involved with Catholic teachings and teachers, including the practices of St. Ignatius. Oh, and don’t forget the Spiritual Formation Retreat sponsored by NTS and featuring Dr. Hardy, just before the General Assembly in June. And the unbelievable prayer room at General Assembly, with its prayer stations and the continued promotion of Richard Foster, spiritual formation guru, author of the multiple-flawed book, Celebration of Discipline.
The other chapters also teach methods derived from “ancient” tradition. We as Christians should only be asking one question: is this practice a proper biblically grounded practice? It does not matter that it is an ancient tradition. So is going to confessionals, praying to Mary, or taking the Eucharist as a direct means of forgiveness of sins.
I don’t care if it’s been practiced for 2,000 years, if it’s unbiblical, reject it or throw it out! Our answer as Nazarenes years ago was, no! Why are some in our leadership now bringing in these practices to our churches, and promoting spiritual formation throughout the universities, and introducing these practices to our youth? Should we expect these to start soon in our area, at some of our Nazarene churches? Perhaps we need to start asking questions of our leadership in New England. Have they not become aware of these books? If so, what do they think? Why are the writers of this book promoting dubious authors such as Foster.
If these things are okay with you already, then I have not made much impact with this article. If you are mad at me for writing this, so be it, but it really is time to get the unvarnished truth out, and let Nazarenes, and all Christians, decide if they accept these things or not. Some will, and some won’t, but no one deserves to be kept in the dark. We all deserve to know what these things are, and then decide whether we accept them as proper biblical practice or not.
So if this disturbs you about your denomination, Nazarene or otherwise, what will you do about it? Will you ask questions, or just close your eyes to it as our denomination slowly incorporates Roman Catholicism into its very core?
For a related commentary on this issue, go to “Roman Catholicism Promoted By Nazarene Publishing House” at exnazarenes blog
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. (I Thessalonians 5:5-10)