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A Lutheran seminarian eagerly awaiting the return of Our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Way of the Master vs. Saint Athanasius the Great on Mysticism

Old Testament: Job 17:1-16
New Testament: The Holy Gospel According to St. John 7:14-31
Psalms: Morning - 22
Evening - 107; 130

Link to the Show: February 20th, 2008 Hour 1

I was flabbergasted by this broadcast! There are times when WOTM gets things right and other times......BUZZZZZ. Such was the case this time around. Guest host David Wheaton was discussing the "ancient/future movement in the church." Basically within the hour, he takes non-stop slams at ANYTHING mystical....for those of you who might have issues with St. Ignatius of Loyola or Meister Eckart, don't feel left out! If you use a mystical liturgy (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, etc.), use prayer labrynths, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayers, "Ancient images," the Jesus Prayer, etc....you are unbiblical and wrong. Here's why! Many in Evangelicalism today are getting fed up with the shallowness of it all (it took them THAT long eh?) with regard to not doctrine so much, but practice. People my age want to actually experience "genuine" Christianity that goes beyond doctrinal statements and dry Bible studies and focus on prayer, service to others, and deeper more spiritual connections to Christ. Rather than talk about how they can do that...apparently the order of the day was to take another swipe at "Early Church Fathers" (I'm not kidding, Wheaton put quotes around them MANY times), Roman Catholicism, and "Eastern mysicism." In fact even St. Augustine was treated as only "he might have some good things to say."

These Christians want to return to the practices of the early church (100-~600AD [why Ignatian exercises got into Wheaton's hit-list escapes me as he is MUCH later than 600AD])...but Wheaton has one better...."return to the Bible!" Of course it's that simple...after all, most sermons are nothing more than what a text means in its context (and Jesus is where?), as are Bible study and apologetic curricula. No, I think that it isn't the Bible that's missing...it's the "authentic" (quite a good word I'd say) concept of communion with God. Of course, to be ENTIRELY consistent, Wheaton would also have to give up doctrinal positions and statements of the early church councils. If he's willing to give up the term "Holy Trinity" and "Holy Incarnation," then I at least would think he's being consistent. Of course what this really shows is that when you divorce the Scriptures from their historic reading, you end up lacking apostolic teaching authority. After all, St. Polycarp (celebrated tomorrow) of Smyrna wasn't "inspired by God to write a book of the Bible"...no, but he did know an apostle and was taught by him...so I think that gives him some credibility...WAY more than we do today being separated by 2000 years from the events in the Bible. I think Evangelicals are getting tired of an ephemeral spirituality that separates Christ from daily life in a real way that He Himself has promised us.

This also shows that individuals who lead churches or who do theology with that understanding of Scripture and history show that they haven't figured out that words can change meaning. It isn't JUST the context of the text or a minor historical fact that can put it all together in meaning, when YOU are reading it and what background YOU have will influence how YOU read it. If it were all self-explanatory, the best trained scholars wouldn't be disagreeing over major points of doctrine. Words like, "symbol" which have changed in meaning since the time of Christ are a good example of such, as they are commonly read by Evangelicals with an Enlightenment mindset, not an ancient Jewish one!

Indubitably though, the TRUE weakness of (Protestant, not Catholic) Evangelicalism comes in THIS quote from Wheaton who quotes Tom McMahon of the "Berean Call": "Catholic mysticism is thoroughly subjective and experiential...like its parent, Eastern mysticism...it claims that God can neither be known nor understood, through human reason, but only experienced subjectively through various techniques. It is the antithesis of what the Bible teaches in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now and let us reason together," saith the Lord.' Furthermore, the goal of mysticism is union with God, the merging of one's soul unto God. This is an impossibility...that reveals mysticism's pantheistic and panentheistic roots: that God is everything and is in everything. No, God is infinite and transcendant; absolutely separate from His finite creation."

So....God is absolutely separate from His creation. Who is Jesus Christ then? He is the Word of God MADE FLESH. God becomes our brother in the incarnation! That's EXACTLY why when we say the Nicene Creed, it has been customary to bow at the statement: "Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and was made man." We mystically partake of Him through faith! We mystically partake of Him when we eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Eucharist! We are reminded of when we were buried with Him in Baptism! To deny mysticism as completely as has been done is an affront to the root of Christianity, and in love we must correct our brothers, pointing out the importance of the incarnation with regard to our salvation...and hence, the writings of the church fathers, not as infallible men, but as men who preserved and died for the faith delivered from the Apostles.

Since the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was ardently defended by St. Athanasius, who also defended the mystical practices of the dessert hermits such as St. Anthony of the Desert...perhaps we should ask the question, "What Would Athanasius Do?" We don't give up doctrine by taking up mysticism...it is an expression of that truly and foundational doctrine of Christianity...that God became man and died for our sins so that we might live forever! And of course...mysticism is "works righteousness to earn our salvation" to quote Wheaton....what utter NONSENSE!

Biblical verses on mysticism: "I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." - 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 NIV

"Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." - 2 Peter 1:4 NIV..if "participate in the divine nature" isn't a mystical union with God...I don't know WHAT is.

"For he "has put everything under his feet."Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all." - 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 NIV

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." - John 15:5

4 Comments:

Anonymous McG said...

Christopher,

well spoken. I agree completely. The one thing I'd add is that the Bible itself is rooted in mysticism-- the Bible records the experiences of the saints. How is it possible to deny mysticism if you read the account of Moses on the mountain, or the Transfiguration of our Lord, or Pentecost... a denial of mysticism, that is, of the ineffable experience of union with God, is a denial of the whole faith, including the incarnation. D'oh!

I had a little epiphany the other day thanks to our dialogue on the will, and I've discovered a hidden spring for further research, but I'll tell you more in the other post, where it belongs.

Glory to God for all things,

~Christopher McG

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Walter said...

Well said! I love teaching prayer forms and include those that the fellow finds objectionable.

Interesting about panentheism (which you mention, above). I found this quote on the web. I copied and pasted it to a word document but neglected to site the source:

"Zwingili (The Reformed scholar) argued that Christ couldn't be present in the Eucharist because he had literally 'ascended to heaven'. Luther held that this was too narrow of a view of the trinity - Christ was present in the Eucharist not because of hocus-pocus, but because God/Christ is present in all of creation. (The Eucharist was only held as more important because of the inherent promise of the Eucharist - body 'given for you', blood shed 'for the forgiveness of sins', etc.)"

Luther embraced some form of panentheism. Some have neglected to acknowledge this or simply did not know. In this day and age, many refer to panenthism as "New Age". Well, I don't consider Luther to be New Age.

Walter
ELCA

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a link that explains, perhaps, were part of his perspective comes form:

http://herescope.blogspot.com/2008/05/was-paul-mystic.html

I was puzzled about his comments on mystical prayer forms being "works", and this link helps me in understanding this perspective.

...although, if I accept this perspective, I should also consider attending church and opening up my Bible as "works" as well.

Walter

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

was-paul-mystic.html

12:27 PM  

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