Contemplative Prayer, is it Biblical?

by Rob Lundberg

One of my favorite disciplines under the umbrella of theology is the what is called contemporary theology.  Marrying this to the style of apologetics, to the beginnings of my journeying into apologetics, I was involved in what would be called today, counter cult apologetics. If you think of it, contemporary theology and cult movements in our culture really make for an interesting blog post. This is where I want to begin a series on what is called the New Apostolic Reformation.  Before I do that, I want address what I consider to be the “initial camel in the tent” which led to this new wave in modern Christendom.[1] That “camel” is what is known as contemplative prayer.

I have some colleagues that have some great work on this. So what I am going to do is “chime in” one some notes that I have taken and then later on refer you to their work so that you can read more on this and other subjects.

What is contemplative prayer?  

This whole idea of contemplative prayer is really a misnomer, since it is neither contemplation nor prayer. In fact one should be alert to any instruction that strays away from what the Bible describes or prescribes. I will address seven things in a little bit that you and I should be alerted to.

What is the nature of contemplative prayer?

The whole idea behind contemplative prayer, by design, is to focus on having a mystical experience with God. There are some things in our Christian walk that are a mystery, but that is quite different from mysticism.

When we think of mysticism, it is purely a subjective experience that is not grounded on anything objective rooted in truth or fact. This whole movement is rooted in a misapplication of Psalm 46:10, which says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  I will have more on that in a moment.

This practice is in conflict with the Word of God, which has been given to us for the purposes of knowing God objectively, for building our faith and guiding our lives rooted and ground in its truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  What we know about God is based upon historical factual writings from people who have been eyewitnesses to His intervention.  We trust in a God who has sent His Son to die an historical death and rise from the death in historical time and space.

When it comes to trust, we are trusting in experiential knowledge rooted and grounded in the Bible.  But whenever one takes experiential knowledge and places it over the biblical record, this takes a person outside of the standard which is the Bible. This is where the problem lies with contemplative prayer.

What is the problem with contemplative prayer?

Contemplative prayer is no different than the meditative exercises used in Eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism and the New Age cults. Its most vocal supporters embrace an open spirituality among adherents from all religions (professing Christians and non Christians alike), and promote the idea that salvation is gained by many paths.

If this is acceptable to a Christian, then this is direct conflict to what Jesus Christ said about salvation coming only through Him.  (John 14:6).  Therefore allow me to bring “off the cuff” seven points about contemplative prayer, as practiced in the modern prayer movement, which will show that it is in opposition to biblical Christianity and should be avoided by a Bible believing Christian.[2]

1 . Breathe a certain way before or during prayer.  This is a practice found in the Hindu practices of yoga, transcendental meditation, and even in the practice of hypnosis. Totally foreign to biblical Christianity.  God is the giver of our breath and there are no biblical prescriptions for types of breathing when we go before Him in prayer.

2. Maintain a certain posture or bodily position.  There are not biblical prescriptions for how we should position ourselves in prayer. We can pray on our knees, standing up, lying prostrate on the floor, while we are conversing with a cultist, while we are driving to work, et al.  Again any posturing or positioning oneself in pursuit of a mystical experience, with our found in various forms of yoga.

3.  Repeat a word or phrase, even if it’s from the Bible, or use a word or phrase to stay “focused.” This is what is known as the lectio divina, which is tied in to the Benedictine practice founded by Thomas Merton, a Benedictine priest who became a Buddhist monk.[3] It focuses on “scriptural reading,” and empty-minded mystical meditation intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. 

I will not get into a full treatise of this right now, but there is nothing biblical about this kind of meditation on Scripture.  Biblical meditation is a filling of the mind. Eastern meditation is an emptying of the mind with expectation of a mystical experience.  When it comes to the misuse of Scripture in this practice, I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:7And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”

4. Go beyond thinking or thought. Think of this for just a moment.  Going beyond thinking or thought is to empty one’s self of all distractions. While this sounds real good, it is another practice that is found in yoga and various forms of Eastern meditation.  This is in direct conflict with Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37, And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEARTAND WITH ALL YOUR SOULAND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ (See Deuteronomy 6:4, 5)

5. To turn inward in order to find or be with God. God wants us to look up and look to Him, not turn inward in some Eastern navel gazing exercise. This is totally Eastern and no where found in biblical Christianity, or Judaism where Christianity gets its roots.

6. Be in silence in order to truly pray.  This is where Psalm 46:10 enters the picture. “Be still and know that I am God” is the “pet verse” for this. Of course this is snatched out of context in lectio divina-like style. I will let you read the whole of Psalm 46 to get the gist of this.

7. Believe that contemplative prayer is true prayer.  In response to this last point, let me pose a question: Do I have to believe something to be true in order to make that something true?  No. Something is true, whether I want it to be true or not. Truth is that which corresponds to reality, objective reality.

Closing Thoughts.

As I stated opening this series, I believe that contemplative prayer opened up the door for many churches to accept the New Apostolic Reformation as a compatible movement in Christianity.  It really is not compatible with biblical Christianity but it is more in line with the Eastern pantheistic religions of Hinduism and Buddhism (which is really atheistic but a response to Hinduism). Metaphysically speaking, contemplative prayer is a mystical experience that is rooted and grounded in subjective experiences. God wants us to know Him objectively, because truth is objective. God is the source of truth because He Himself is truth. If you are professing Bible believing Christian, please ground yourself in the objective Word of God and what it teaches you and I about prayer.

A Great Resource for Understanding the New Apostolic Reformation

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[1] The New Apostolic Reformation began with C. Peter Wagner and others who were aligned with a movement earlier known as the Kansas City Prophets or the Latter Rain Movement.

[2] I took these down a few years ago from a “spirited” discussion online with a professing Christian in a local church who believed at that time that it was not in direct conflict with biblical Christianity.  participant in this practice.

[3] Marcia Montenegro has a blog posting that will expound upon this subject even further.  You can find at Christian Answers for the New Age.


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