Christian Prayer vs Contemplative Prayer

by Mike Ratliff

19 καὶ ἔχομεν βεβαιότερον τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον, ᾧ καλῶς ποιεῖτε προσέχοντες ὡς λύχνῳ φαίνοντι ἐν αὐχμηρῷ τόπῳ, ἕως οὗ ἡμέρα διαυγάσῃ καὶ φωσφόρος ἀνατείλῃ ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, 20 τοῦτο πρῶτον γινώσκοντες ὅτι πᾶσα προφητεία γραφῆς ἰδίας ἐπιλύσεως οὐ γίνεται· 21 οὐ γὰρ θελήματι ἀνθρώπου ἠνέχθη προφητεία ποτέ, ἀλλʼ ὑπὸ πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι ἐλάλησαν ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἄνθρωποι. (2 Peter 1:19-21 NA28)

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic Word to which you do well in paying attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing first that every prophecy of scripture is not of one’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever brought by the will of man at any time, but men spoke from God being carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Back in September 2011 Pete Scazzero tweeted the following, “There is a mysterious attraction to interior silence in the depth of our beings. The attraction is like a magnet… Here is the link. Of course, he was quoting Roman Catholic Monk Thomas Keating, a proponent of Contemplative Prayer. In these days where post-modernist thinking has contaminated nearly everything including deeply into the visible church, we must have a clear understanding of what Contemplative Prayer, or CSM, really is. Some seemly very solid Christian leaders give it a pass as if it is just another form of Christian meditation, but is it? Let’s see. 

Here is a recent article discussing the spread of contemplative prayer from Roman Catholic mystics into protestant circles. The following are quotes from that article:

While contemplative prayer has been taught over centuries by Catholic mystics like St. Bernard, St. Teresa of Avila and Thomas Merton, its most recent revival came through people like the Rev. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, and the Rev. Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who died in 1996.

Its spread to non-Catholic corners has been spurred by Protestant thinkers like Richard Foster, a Quaker teacher; the Rev. Rick Warren of “Purpose-Driven” fame; and Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest popular among evangelicals.

“This is really a very old Christian form of prayer which does not use words or active intellectual meditation,” said Sister Marianne Burkhard, who leads a class in contemplative prayer at Holy Family Catholic Parish. “It is what is often called the ‘receptive form of prayer’ which cultivates stillness and interior silence.”

The head of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria’s tribunal isn’t surprised that Protestant interest in contemplative prayer has grown.

“It’s really a Christian prayer,” she said. “It was developed mostly before the Reformation and it’s based on Scripture. You can practice this from whatever denomination you come from. (Protestants) have found that this spirituality coming from the old Catholic tradition or even the newer one is very compatible with their own expression of their own denominational faith.”

Should we be surprised to find the names of Foster, Warren, and Manning as promoters of CSM? These people say it is “Christian,” but is it? One of the products of the Protestant Reformation was the Westminster Catechism. It defines prayer this way.

Q. 98. What is prayer?

A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God,[200] for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

On the other hand, even the proponents of CSM tell us that it is thought to be a way of obtaining knowledge of God by emptying one’s mind and receiving/experiencing:

Burkhard defined contemplative prayer as “the growing and deepening knowledge of God.”

“At some point, you realize you’re starting to understand faith better or that you get insight into your life or the difficulties of your life, so that contemplation is often something that works slowly in you. At some point, you realize, ‘Oh my goodness, I have really learned a lot and see things differently.'”

Contemplative prayer is usually preceded by centering prayer, Burkhard said, a period typically lasting 20 minutes during which the person praying clears away active thinking.

“You try to get away from all your thoughts and emotions and perceptions and images that float constantly through our minds,” Burkhard said. “The teaching is that you choose a word which is called the ‘sacred word,’ which can be something like ‘Jesus,’ ‘Mary,’ ‘Let go,’ ‘Listening,’ anything that is simple and signifies my intention to be present to God.”

The person praying then silently says that word in order to “let these other thoughts go,” the sister said.

No matter how it is stated, that is not how prayer is defined in God’s Word. How do Christians come to know God? Is it through these emotional/experiential methodologies taught nowhere in Sacred Scripture? No, we come to know God by being transformed through the renewing of our minds by being living sacrifices, that is, through faith, living in the Word of God, as the Holy Spirit imparts to us knowledge. (Romans 12:1,2)

Our knowledge of God begins through the Gospel as revealed in His Word (1 Corinthians 1:18). That passage tells us that those who are perishing view the message of the cross as foolishness, but to those of us being saved by it, it is the power of God.

We can only know God as He makes Himself known to us. God has communicated Himself in person, words, and propositions that have been recorded for us in Sacred Scripture. He is not silent but has accommodated Himself to our lowly capacity that we might apprehend His purpose. Our faith is not based upon any man-made philosophy or a mere man, but upon the historic Christian faith, which is recorded in the completed canon of Sacred Scripture.

In light of that my brethren, we should shun false teachers like Perry Noble who tell those who follow him that those who want to go deeper into the Word are “Jackasses.” How do we come to know God? It isn’t through CSM or going silent and looking inside, but by seeking him in His Word by faith. As we do this, we should do so with the full understanding that the Scriptures are without error (inerrant and infallible) in the original manuscripts, and represent the supreme and final authority for our faith and practice. The Bible is our guide in all matters regarding doctrine, church practice, counseling and individual behavior. We should, therefore, always be reforming our thoughts of God in order to be more God-honoring & consistent with the Word of God. The Scriptures were written by divinely inspired humans and are God’s revelation of Himself to everyone. (Exodus 24:4;Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21)

Now my brethren, I know that some may be offended by what I have said in this post. I am not sorry about saying what I said because what I said was the truth, but I am sorry that some may be offended for that means they are deceived and have believed the lie that men can know God outside of the only way He has given us. The CSM route is of the devil and will only lead to bondage and deeper deception. Consider yourselves warned.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

14 thoughts on “Christian Prayer vs Contemplative Prayer

  1. Thank you for your encouragement, Mike. Yesterday I resigned my position as elder at my now former church after a several months long battle against this unbiblical practice. This past Sunday morning, the pastor, who claims to be biblically conservative, encouraged the congregation to read books by Basil Pennington and David Benner. This was done over my strenuous objections. To do this requires an incomprehensible tolerance for cognitive dissonance… Messed Up Church posted an article yesterday on “confirmation bias” which helped me understand how these train wrecks develop.
    Shalom,
    Gary

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  2. You really should distinguish between contemplative prayer and centering prayer. Although Fr. Keating and others like to equate the two, they are not at all the same. Contemplative prayer comes from the earliest days of the Church. Centering prayer is a counterfeit practice that originates with New Age influences.

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  3. Thanks, Mike. Our different perspectives stem from the fact that I am Catholic. I appreciate that non-Catholics have a different way of looking at prayer and do not accept contemplative prayer as Christian. However, I believe that in order to discuss our differences in any meaningful way, we must understand what those differences really are. I write a spirituality column for SpiritualDirection.com, the largest Catholic spirituality site on the internet (and also have my own blog Contemplative Homeschool). I have also written the book Is Centering Prayer Catholic? In this book i detail the myriad ways that CP differs from the teaching of St. Teresa of Avila, the greatest Catholic teacher on prayer, and how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has criticized the essential elements of CP as being New Age. I think one of the fall-outs of so many Catholics wrongly teaching and practicing CP is that many Protestants, like yourself, now equate the two practices. They are completely different–almost opposite. I’ll take a look at your material nonetheless. I agree with you on Yoga.

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  4. Just a few points after looking at your link (if you’ll humor me). Contemplative prayer, as taught by real Catholic mystics and not Fr. Keating and his followers, does not use a mantra. Prayer in the western Christian tradition does not focus on one’s breath. Sitting in silence and just waiting for God to speak or act–St. Teresa said that was acting like a “dolt.” Achieving a God-consciousness is completely foreign to authentic Catholic spirituality. A real contemplative rather recognizes the huge gulf between Creator and creature, more fully than ever. Catholic prayer is not about having a transformed consciousness, but a soul transformed from sinner to saint. I share many of your concerns. Where we disagree is in equating the erroneous practices with traditional Catholic spirituality.

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  5. Connie, I work in Catholic Healthcare. My being Protestant is respected by the sisters of the order of that sponsers our hospitals. I am friends with some of them. However, we know that there is a line they will not cross and one I will not cross. Much of what I know about Contemplative Prayer I have actually seen in action at the Mother house. In any case, being a Protestant and bound to the Word of God alone as the source of Truth and it having all authority, we are forever seperate and will continue to be. What it all boils down do is what I stated above, the Word of God is our source of Truth and it is authorative and infallible, etc. No man can ovderide those truths. Roman Catholics rely on the Pope and councils, etc. I learned to exegete scripture in the original languages in order to learn the truth. I do not have to rely on fallible people to tell me what they think and then say they are infallible and sent by God.

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  6. Sorry Connie, our sanctification is not done that way. In fact, I have written many times about it using Romans 12:1-2 as the model. We could talk about this all day, but since Roman Catholics and Protestants have a huge gulf of disagreements about the Doctrines of Justification and Sanctification, I doubt if this discussion forum here is the right place for that.

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  7. I get that we have lots of differences (although I hope and pray we won’t be “forever separate,” because that implies something bad about one or the other of us). The fact remains that contemplative prayer is not the same thing as Centering Prayer. Whether the sisters you work with are practicing the one or the other, it’s impossible for me to say. But Centering Prayer is not orthodox Catholicism, never has been, and never will be. God bless.

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