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The worldviews discussed so far have jettisoned objective truth. This rejection of the Bible as the final and authoritative Word of God has resulted in Christians seeking for truth, or for messages from God, in other places. Mysticism is the search for truth in subjective experiences, where the emotions and inner impressions, rather than rational thought and objective truth, dominate and dictate our perception of spiritual reality

Historically, the church has had to contend with mysticism from the very beginning. Paul’s letter to the Colossians and John’s first letter called people away from gnostic mysticism. Luther’s catch cry  of Scripture alone repudiated not only the Roman Catholic claims concerning the authority of the Church, but also the proliferation of dreams, visions, supernatural visitations, veneration of relics and holy places, and various superstitions which characterised the prevailing spirituality. Luther is reported to have said: ‘If I were to see a vision of Christ himself, I would say to it “Get behind me Satan!”’ Leaders of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, both students and preachers of the Bible, found it necessary to call people back to the solid teaching of the objective Word of God, away from their preoccupation with, and pursuit of, mystical experiences.

In our current era reasoned understanding and diligent study of the Bible are disdained by many, and all manner of mystical experiences preferred above the rational study of the written Word. Lest we should think that this is happening solely in churches of Charismatic and Word Faith persuasions, we need to be aware that many of the expressions and impacts of mysticism listed below are found right within conservative evangelical churches.

Some expressions of mysticism within the church
[1] Using the Bible to get a personal ‘word from the Lord’ irrespective of the real meaning of the text.
[2] Getting personal ‘words from the Lord’ by way of inner impressions, these impressions being interpreted as ‘the Lord told me’, ‘I feel this is what God wants me to do’, ‘the Spirit moved me’ and so on.
[3] Believing that inner impressions are authentic words of prophecy, and announcing them as though they have as much authority as, or even more than, the written Word.
[4] Believing that additional revelations of God and his truth are communicated by such means, and also through dreams and visions. (Warning: Almost every false cult, and one major religion, have originated from the inner impressions of individuals being interpreted as revelations from God.)
[5] Communicating with real or imagined spiritual beings, or hearing inner voices, and classifying what these beings and voices say as messages from God.
[6] Finding private messages from God in co-incidences and other unexpected or unusual circumstances.
[7] Looking for signs and wonders - not only in miracles of healing but also in circumstances as in [6] - and basing one’s understanding of truth on these signs and wonders.
[8] Believing that our positive faith creates the realities for which we pray.

How has modern mysticism impacted Christians individually and the church corporately?
[1] Inner personal impressions, emotional messages and testimonies of personal experiences are preferred above the sound teaching and study of Biblical truth.

[2] Those who attempt to call people back to a faith and understanding grounded on the true meaning of Scripture are labelled as ‘unspiritual’ or ‘legalistic’, and accused of ‘quenching the Spirit’. An anti-intellectual mentality takes over which despises any concept of truth tied to or gained by the diligent study of the meaning of Scripture.

[3] The significance and importance of the Bible as the authoritative Word of God reduces dramatically in proportion to the significance given to mystical, inner impressions and experiences. It ceases to matter whether or not the Bible is God’s once-for-all given Word, because it is no longer seen as the most significant source of truth.

[4] Christians are encouraged to seek spiritual experiences based on inner impressions. This search involves them in an emotional bind as addictive as any drug, and as illusory and transient as any drug induced experience. There is always a need for more. Each successive experience must be more impactive than the former to sustain the desired level of spiritual ‘high’. This mentality in which personal faith and spirituality must be constantly infused with new impetus from new personal experiences almost inevitably leads to disappointment or failure of some kind.

[5] Faith ceases to be valuable because it is faith in the God of the Bible. It assumes its own significance. 'I believe' becomes more important than 'I believe in God the Father ... and in his Son ...' The experience of believing is seen to be the significant and spiritual thing. The content of belief, or the focus of faith, is seen to be unimportant.

[6] Lacking content defined and confined by the written word of Scripture, truth takes on a whole range of differing, and even conflicting, meanings. The ‘Jesus’ of mysticism, revealed and known through all manner of personal impressions is far removed from the Jesus of Scripture. How this imaginary Jesus is expected to fulfil the promises made by the real Jesus is a question with devastating implications. One can only fear that the real Jesus is not known at all, and that the salvation supposedly  possessed by  those who follow this ‘Jesus’ created by individual imaginations, is as imaginary and non-real as their ‘Jesus’.

[7] Like existentialism, mysticism sees personal spiritual experiences as self-validating. People who have had an experience assume that the interpretation they give to that experience is valid, and are offended when anyone tries to point out that that is not necessarily so. They question the right of anyone who has not had the experience to stand in judgement over the validity of their interpretation of that experience, irrespective of whether or not the experience or the interpretation line up with Biblical truth. It is clear here that the personal experience, rather than the Scripture, is having the final say in the matter, and that the mystic defines ‘truth’ through experience rather than through Scripture.

[8] Some Christians who pursue truth through inner impressions tend to discard the commands of the Bible. They refuse to submit to clear Biblical commands and claim that if God wants to tell them something then he will make it known to them. They thus ignore the fact that God has already made his will known in the written Word, that Christ and the apostles governed their lives by that written Word, and that we are commanded by God to be subject to that Word. Christians who seek these personal words from the Lord through inner voices and the like, frequently make moral and ethical decisions which are contrary to the written Word, and justify their behaviour by saying ‘the Lord told me ....’.

[9] In extreme expressions of mysticism within the church, congregations are discouraged from studying the written Word and encouraged to empty their minds of fixed concepts of truth in order to let the ‘Spirit’ move within them, freeing themselves up to find ‘God’ in the realm of emotion and experience. Some ‘teachers’ of such experience-based perversions of Christianity even tell their victims to ‘stop praying’ and just let go of themselves, and open themselves up to the movement of the ‘Spirit.’ The phenomena that then follow are claimed to be manifestations of the Holy Spirit, regardless of whether or not they can be verified by Scripture. Indeed in many instances the Scriptures are twisted to fit the experiences and manifestations.

Next week we will look at a biblical response to such aberrations.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012