We’re exhuming things that are better left alone. We as a culture are digging up the bones of the excess and debauchery of past generations, dressing them in find clothes, and calling them freedom. Our culture is growingly more and more post-Christian. Our young people have no grounding in the knowledge of the scriptures and yet we are asking them to go out into a hostile world whether it be the military, secular universities or Christian universities, it hardly seems to make a difference where they go. More and more people are rejecting Church membership and weekly church attendance has dropped. People identify as spiritual but not religious or they call themselves Jesus followers instead of Christians.
The concept of church history is completely irrelevant to most people in the church today, but so many of the heresies of today were fought against by our forefathers in the faith. Instead of looking at history and trying to learn from it we seem to be ignoring history and emulating it. As I consume books about church history and theology my age group seems to have adopted the position that if something doesn’t give them an overwhelming experience than it isn’t Christian.
I remember as youth I was in a class about “Practical Christianity” at my Christian school. I sat there, as people would talk about how close they felt to God. They would talk about being close to God when they were outside or singing songs, and I didn’t feel any closer to God when I was doing those things. I felt just as close to God inside a building as I did outside, and when I shared that with the class the look they gave me was one I will never forget. I felt as if I was a terrible Christian, why couldn’t I have those kinds of feelings?
Christians of long ago left their fellow men and wandered out into the desert, deserting the call to evangelize and cloistering themselves away from the world, this would grow into the monastic movement that is still present in certain churches today. (Although most Protestant denominations have abandoned these types of monastic practices.) These Desert Mystics did not necessarilly seek the truth of the God as revealed to them through the bible but instead spent time developing various methodologies, called mysticism, that were allegedly suppose to grant someone a special communion with God.
One of the methods that developed out of these monastic traditions was the practice of Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina is a method of reading the scriptures that historically did not seek to understand what the text of scripture was truly saying, but rather using it as a type of starting point by which God would speak directly to you. “This is a spiritual reading that has as its chief characteristic an attitude of surrender to the word of God rather than the restless attempt to “get something” out of the text.” This alone would be problematic as the goal of reading scripture should not be a quasi-mystical direct revelation to one’s mind, but rather an understanding that God has revealed himself fully through His Son, who we learn about primarily and most effectively through the bible. Lectio Divina does not utilize the means that God has given of us to know him, but instead relies entirely on man made traditions in order to commune with God. “In this encounter one is enabled to transcend the text of scripture and achieve direct communion with the divine.” The idea that we must get behind the text of scripture is one that sounds more like the Gnostic heretics of old rather than the writers of Holy Scripture.
We must remember that our faith is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”(Ephesians 2:20 ESV) Also remembering that scripture is actually sufficient that we might know God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness So that the man of God maybe thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17 ESV) If the scriptures themselves are sufficient for all our training then there is no need for God to speak to us through other means. Yet we develop methods like Lectio Divina in order to feel God’s presence or to hear him speak.
The apostle Peter had one of the most miraculous experiences that anyone had ever had. He saw the Lord Jesus upon the mount of transfiguration and yet he spoke of the scriptures as “a more sure word.” Why then do we seek experience rather than God’s word? Martin Luther has a very unique perspective on mystical practices and their place in Christianity. As a monk Luther utilized Lectio Divina, as well as other mystical practices, yet he was plagued by a sense of his own sin and guilt. For Luther the word of God was not a means to an end, but rather the means by which we can know Christ. “In contrast to Lectio Divina which sees the word as a means to an end, Luther’s list continually leads one back to the word.” In fact Luther himself said this:
“Therefore if you want to be certain what God in heaven thinks of you, and whether He is gracious to you, you must not seclude yourself, retire into some nook, and brood about it or seek the answer in your works or in your contemplation—all this you must banish from your heart, and you must give ear solely to the words of this Christ; for everything is revealed in Him.” (Luther, AE 24:257)
For Luther the things he had done as a monk were not commendable practices that focused his attention on God, but were things that took him away from actually knowing God properly. Why then does the modern church not simply look back at church history and see the many problems that these mystical practices wrought and reject them? Why then does the Church reject the teachings of the protestant reformers who having experienced what this type of cloistered Christianity had brought to the world? It’s a question I ask myself as I think back to my time in those classes, as I remember their words as they taught me to “experience God” and to perform Lectio Divina. Why didn’t those Christian leaders care for my soul enough to as least give me the facts concerning these topics? I don’t have all the answers, but I think part of that is a symptom of not being satisfied with what God has given us, and that is a sin.