Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 1, Embracing False Doctrine

“We should not and cannot pass judgment on the Holy Spirit’s presence, operations, and gifts merely on the basis of our feeling, how and when we perceive it in our hearts. On the contrary, because the Holy Spirit’s activity often is hidden, and happens under cover of great weakness, we should be certain, because of and on the basis of his promise, that the Word which is heard and preached is an office and work of the Holy Spirit, whereby he assuredly is potent and active in our hearts (II Cor. 2:14 ff.).” (Solid Declaration, Article II, 56)

You may remember Rod Serling’s introduction to the original version of the TV show The Twilight Zone:

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, things, and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into The Twilight Zone.

Much like a journey into The Twilight Zone, the Southeastern District (SED) of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is opening a door to another dimension, and you unlock this door with the key of imagination as well. It is a door that beckons, enticing the unwary to turn the forbidden key. It is the door of mysticism.

The SED offers seminars on spiritual formation, prayer, and meditation. They state that the spiritual disciplines that they will teach you

are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice of God.

If you read that carefully, you might have the same reaction that the then-future LCMS President Freidrich Wyneken had when he stumbled into a Methodist pentecostal-like prayer meeting in 1838 where they were barking and howling,

Well, I don’t know if it was from God or the devil, but it certainly wasn’t Lutheran.

The SED invites us to unlock the mystical door through such practices as listening prayer, healing prayer, lectio divina, praying without words, the Jesus Prayer, breathing prayer, centering prayer (also called contemplative prayer), journaling, dream interpretation, labyrinths, and use of a spirit director. All of these practices taken together are called “spiritual formation,” and all can be thought of as mystical practices when placed in the SED context. If you don’t recognize all of these practices, or don’t see how they relate to mysticism, please review the glossary provided at the end of this post, which gives a definition of each using the SED’s own terminology, complete with references to SED documentation as well as references for apologetic purposes. Their own words will prove that their practices are blatant mysticism. When they say
  • “express to God your intention to know God’s love through your breath and body,”
  • “being present to God through breathing and stretching,” and
  • “the work of silence is a way of gently saying ‘no’ to the endless stream of thoughts and feelings that make up our world in order to listen for and say ‘yes’ to the thoughts and feelings that are the voice of God,”
you know something has gone terribly wrong.

The Christian Cyclopedia reports that “the goal of mysticism is the alleged intuitive and emotional contact with the Absolute (‘that which is,’ ‘the Good,’ ‘God,’ and many other ultimate spiritual values). In its practical aspects, mysticism is the attempt to apperceive, use, and enjoy ultimate values.” It continues: “Mysticism is not so much a doctrine as a method of thought, a reaching for the Infinite through methods of reasoning and attempted direct contemplation.”

By now your internal Lutheran alarm system should be going off. Unlike the SED’s teaching, God does not promise to answer prayer, or speak to you, or send you His Spirit, if you repeat a mantra, through your silence, through your imagination, through your breath, through your dreams, through your scribbling on a piece of paper, through labyrinths, through prayer without words, by emptying your head, or via group consensus. Nor are these means of grace by which we can be saved or sanctified.

To get back to basics, we can take a look at Luther’s Small Catechism:

How does God answer prayer?
God hears the prayers of all Christians and answers in His own way and at His own time.

The SED says

1. Introduce various spiritual disciplines and prayer forms
2. Enrich and nurture your spiritual journey toward a greater awareness of God’s presence and love in your life (Journey inward)
3. Nurture a passion for Jesus and a life of service (Journey outward)

But our spiritual journey cannot be an inward journey – we cannot know God by looking inward. The prayer ideas the SED promotes are clearly rejected as false doctrine in the Lutheran Confessions, as demonstrated here by Dr. Luther in the Smalcald Articles:

In issues relating to the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word [Galatians 3:2, 5]. This protects us from the enthusiasts (i.e., souls who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word). They judge Scripture or the spoken Word and explain and stretch it at their pleasure, as Münzer did. (SAIII, VIII, 3)

In other words, the SED, in its prayer seminars, teaches false doctrine by encouraging enthusiasm.

In April and May of 2010, Frank Gillespie, on his blog Putting Out the Fire, reported extensively on the SED Prayer and Spiritual Formation workshop he attended. I am indebted to Frank for his work. Much of what is reported here is the result of his efforts. So why discuss it further? Because it is one of the gravest threats confronting the LCMS at this time. It cannot be allowed to continue or spread. We aren’t talking about a little nuanced discussion of some adiaphoron – this is a situation where Satan is being handed a gold-gilt invitation to the masquerade ball. And as is his custom, he’ll be dressed as an angel of light, lest anyone discover who is behind the mask. Ironically, and at the same time, in dabbling in these mystical practices, we are attempting to peek behind God’s own mask, a practice that promises to be risky, or fatal.

In February of 2010, and again in March of 2010, I emailed to SED District President Diefenthaler a very cordial letter advising him of my concerns, offering him specific discerning resources to read on the mystical practices they are promulgating, and asking him to let me know what he thought regarding my concerns. Since he didn’t respond, in April I called the SED office and spoke with his assistant. She relayed to me that he stated that he had not received my emails, and invited me to resend the email, which I did (all three emails went to the same correct email address). I’ve never received a reply from President Diefenthaler. After waiting for six months, based on his non-response, coupled with Frank’s statements that President Diefenthaler is well aware of the current practices of the SED, and the SED’s ongoing prayer seminars (most recently in Southern Wisconsin), I must conclude that the officials of the SED fully support what is being taught in spite of being informed that what they teach contradicts the clear teachings of Scripture and our Confession. This series of blog posts is not an attack on them personally, but on the ideas and practices they are teaching to those whose spiritual well-being is in their care. At the same time, they are personally responsible for what it is they are teaching and should be held accountable.

In the following days, we’ll be looking at quotes from Dr. Martin Luther, Dr. Francis Pieper, and quotes from the mystics whom the SED promotes to further expose the SED’s enthusiasm and demonstrate where that enthusiasm leads. What follows below is a list of some of the mystical practices the SED is teaching, along with an encyclopedic definition of each, using their own words. As you read through the list, it will be readily apparent that these practices attempt to reach God via our own internal feelings, imagination, and Satan’s influence, rather than the external means of grace, and that the SED has indeed unlocked the door of mysticism.

List of SED prayer types and related practices:

[References which link to Frank Gillespie’s blog posts are from his notes on the workshop he attended. His statements which are in italics are direct quotes from the seminar based on the transcription from his own recording. Apologetics references are articles that offer a discerning critique for the practice being discussed.]

The Practice of Silence
Clearing your mind of all thoughts, which results in the beginning of our understanding and acceptance of a relationship with God who wishes to communicate with us through our “imaginations, feelings, and dreams.”
reference: Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1, by Frank Gillespie

Spiritual Discernment, or Listening Prayer
A group process in which a decision is made resolving an issue or question by each person of the group quieting themselves and reflecting and praying, listening to God’s “tugging” and hints of His direction. The group members then share what they have seen, heard, and felt. If a lack of group clarity exists, further information is sought and prayer accomplished, waiting for God’s timing. A holy indifference to the outcome is critical, along with a willingness to receive new ideas and consider them. Decisions and plans are made based on group consensus.
reference: SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout
SED Discerning God's Will pdf
apologetics reference: The Diabolical System of Diaprax, by Doug Hudson & James Lloyd

Healing Prayer
According to the SED, “During the first 300 years of the Christian Church (until Constantine and the Edict of Milan, 313 AD), the primary means of conversion was not preaching, but healing and exorcism….” “The rapid spread of Christianity in third world countries today is due primarily to healing (i.e. an experience of God) preceding or in connection with proclamation.” Prayer and anointing with oil should be used by us today just as it was done as “Jesus sent His disciples out to (1) preach the Gospel, (2) heal the sick, (3) raise the dead, and (4) cast out demons (Matthew 10:1ff.; Luke 9:1ff, 10:1ff).” “We are called to serve as agents of God's grace. In prayer, we ask God to open our spirits, minds, bodies, and relationships so that God's healing power may flow through us to others.” (emphasis in original)
reference: SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout

Lectio Divina
A form of prayer in which “we are invited to listen deeply to the voice of God with “the ear of our heart….” This prayer will allow you “to live your life aware of being ‘in the presence of God,’” make the abundant life Jesus promised a reality for you, and experience life with Jesus at a deeper level. “Through lectio we read not for information, but formation, which is a heart centered way of experiencing God and our world.” “Read the text (lectio) and listen for the word or phrase that is touching your heart at this moment.” “Don’t be caught by the literal meaning.” “Sit with it for a few minutes, repeating it silently within yourself. Read it again, taking time to reflect (meditatio), and allowing your imagination to unfold. Pay attention to the images, thoughts, feelings, and memories that are stirred in you.” “Continue to ask God to speak to you through this word, and continue listening for a reply.” Read it a third time, (oratio) listening for where God might be calling you (a change, new direction, area that needs some work) at this time in your life. How are you being invited by God to respond?” “Whatever you sense, do not rush the prayer. Continue to wait and listen as God forms your prayer and desire in your heart. Speak your prayer of desire, longing, or action to God. Continue to listen in silence.” “After holding this in your heart, take time to rest (contemplatio) in silence.”
reference: 1) SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout
2) SED Lectio Divina pdf
apologetics reference: “A Lutheran Perspective on Lectio Divina,” by Rev. Jeffrey W. Ware

Praying Without Words
Praying without using words by praying bible stories through “holy imagination” and praying using images like stepping stones, forgiveness, healing.
reference: Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3, by Frank Gillespie

The Jesus Prayer
The origin of the Jesus Prayer is Eastern Orthodox Christian Monastics, according to the SED handout. “This prayer takes seriously that there is power in the Name of Jesus.” You repeat in your mind continuously for 5-15 minutes “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” allowing “the words to flow into your entire being.” (“It can be helpful to match them to your breathing.”) When you have completed your time of prayer, observe for a moment God’s movement, and then express your thanks to God. (emphasis in original)
reference: SED Jesus Prayer pdf

Breathing Prayer
“Breathing prayer can help you to center yourself when you begin prayer. You are ‘offering your body as a living sacrifice to God.’ Dedicate your feelings about your body to God. Express to God your intention to know God’s love through your breath and body. Pay attention to your breathing. Try to breathe from your diaphragm, letting your abdomen rise and fall easily. Breathe slowly and intentionally. Ask God to make your [sic] aware of His presence in the Spirit as you breathe. Whenever your thoughts wander, bring your attention back to your breath. You may find it helpful to envision breathing in the Spirit of peace and light and breathing out the darkness, distractions, stress or dis-ease you are holding.” (emphasis in original)
reference: SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout

Centering Prayer, also called Contemplative Prayer
Pick a “holy” word that captures your desire to be with God (perhaps one of the fruits of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, hope, or Shalom, etc.). Sit comfortably in a quiet place with your eyes closed for 15-45 minutes. Begin by saying your word once. Then just sit quietly. Your word is not repeated continuously as in the Jesus Prayer. When you notice you have become distracted by your thoughts, silently repeat the word to bring yourself back to the present. When your time of prayer has ended, observe how God may have moved in your prayer, and then express our gratitude to God. (emphasis in original)
reference: SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout
apologetics reference: A detailed discussion of centering prayer and its non-Christian eastern origins can be found in an article I wrote on the Emerging Church here:
The Emerging Church, Part 4: The Mystical Road, by Scott Diekmann

A Spirit Director, Companion, or Guide
Spiritual Directors help us discern the activity of God in our lives. They ask us, 'How is God present in your life and what is God saying to you?' It can be both challenging and exciting to enter into such a relationship. This is an opportunity to explore our inner life, deal with our "issues," be held accountable for our spiritual journey, and learn to be more honest with ourselves, others, and God.
Spiritual direction is not psychotherapy, nor is it pastoral counseling. We do not come as patients in need of a psychological cure, but as souls searching to be with God. While at times it may feel like a counseling session, the ultimate goal of spiritual direction is to relate more consciously and respond more fully to God, who is always calling us into His presence and to newness of life. This is done through spiritual reflection and encouraging the practice of spiritual disciplines.
How do you find such a companion? Begin by praying that God would lead you to the person He has in mind for you. While Spiritual Directors are found in many Christian denominations, the tradition and training has been most carefully preserved in the Roman Catholic (e.g. Jesuit, Benedictine, Franciscan Orders) and the Episcopalian Churches. Therefore, the search for a spiritual director may begin at a diocese office or retreat center.
reference: SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout
apologetics reference: Augsburg Confession Article V

• "Express your desire to have a conversation with God.
• Draw a line down the center of the paper.
The left side is for your words; the right side is for God. You are the scribe for both.
• Begin the conversation with your side. Write down your thoughts, questions, concerns or anything on your mind.
Listen for any replies. Write (without censoring) on the right side of the page anything that comes to mind.
• You may choose to dialogue with God, characters in a Bible story or even a person in a dream.
• As strange and stiff as this may seem at first, try it. You might be surprised at what comes forth
• What do I feel?
• What do I want?
• What do I find within myself that I need?
• Write a couple sentence prayers in response.”
reference: SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout

Dream Interpretation
Essentially you figure out the symbolism of your own dreams:
“Next, circle the associations that have the most energy behind them or give you an “ah-hah” feeling. Remember: Your dream is yours. Only you can interpret or understand its message. It is helpful to look back over the dreams you have journaled. Are there common themes or a consistent message? What do you think God is trying to say to you?
reference: SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout
apologetic reference: 1) Genesis 40:8: They said to him, "We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them." And Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me." 2) Jer. 23:32: Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams," declares the Lord. "They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least," declares the Lord.

“When you walk a labyrinth, you slowly walk back and forth, turning 180 degrees each time you enter a different circuit. As you shift your direction you also shift your awareness from right brain to left brain. This is one of the reasons the labyrinth can open us up to God.
Each person's walk is a personal experience. How one walks and what one receives differs with each walk. Some people use the walk for clearing the mind and centering. Others enter with a question or concern, or as a time of confession and repentance. The time in the center can be used for receiving, reflecting, meditating, or praying, and resting. What each person receives can be integrated on the walk out. Your walk can be a healing and sometimes very profound experience or it can be just a pleasant walk. Each time is different.
We are all on the path... exactly where we need to be. The labyrinth is a model of that path. At its most basic level, the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are and your relationship to God.” (emphasis in original)
reference: SED Prayer & Spiritual Formation Workshop handout
apologetic reference: The Labyrinth Journey: Walking the Path to Fulfillment, by Carl Teichrib

Jump to Part 2: What Did Luther Say?

You can download all parts of this series here.


Anonymous said...

So--rather than "Stewards of the Mysteries" (1 Cor. 4:1), the SED is a purveyor of the mystical.

Scott--you should send your correspondences to Pres. Diefenthaler by registered mail with return receipt. It is that important. Having encountered much of this bovine scatology with RIM in another life, I can assure you that your concerns are well-founded.

Fascinating reading, and very scarey. And now on BJS, I see linkage between PLI and TCN! Ecclesiastical supervisors--be warned! Your work is cut out for you.


Michael Paul 白霈德牧師 said...

Thank you for the "heads up" on this Scott. This IS really bad!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for tackling this extremely difficult topic, but one that needs our full attention.

I think it might be instructive for others to compare the statements above with those found here promoting yogic meditation. I have cut and pasted some highlights from the linked article below.

" The first stage of meditation is to concentrate on a specific object or establish a point of focus, with the eyes either opened or closed. Silently repeating a word or phrase, audibly reciting a prayer or chant, visualizing an image such as a deity, or focusing on an object such as a lighted candle in front of you are all commonly recommended points of focus. Observing or counting your breaths and noticing bodily sensations are also optional focal points. Let's take a closer look."

"Mantra yoga employs the use of a particular sound, phrase, or affirmation as a point of focus.... Chanting, an extension of mantra yoga, is a powerful way to enter into meditation. Longer than a mantra, a chant involves both rhythm and pitch. Western traditions use chants and hymns to invoke the name of God, to inspire, and to produce a spiritual awakening. Dating back to Vedic times, Indian chanting comes out of a tradition that believes in the creative power of sound and its potential to transport us to an expanded state of awareness."

"Using the breath as a point of focus is yet another possibility. You can do this by actually counting the breaths as you would in pranayama practice.... Breath observance is the predominant technique used by practitioners of vipassana, commonly referred to as "insight" or "mindfulness" meditation. Popularized by such renowned teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, this is a form a Buddhist practice."

What the SED is promoting is simply demonic.

Dennis Peskey said...

Scott - How have we strayed so far from the narrow way. When I read articles like this, I just feel numb, unable to respond. These are fellow Lutherans engaging in practices which I left behind in Vietnam. Reading the Book of Concord should be required for at least the District Presidents, if not for all the district members they intend to lead to perdition.

RobbieFish said...

We need to respond to this in the strongest terms. Thank you for making this known.

Carl Vehse said...

More stuff for the ACELC to add to their list of "Evidence of Errors."

Scott Diekmann said...

It's getting to be a rather large list Carl!

Frank Gillespie said...

It should be noted that when I voiced my concern over the practices taught at the workshop back in February I was told “Prayer and spiritual formation practices are here to stay in the LCMS. If you don't like it, than you really ought to consider leaving the Lutheran Church, and joining up with the Fundamentalists; they would be more aligned to your way of seeing things.”

Mr. O said...

This public false teaching in the SED is demonic. I know this both from personal experience as an Evangelical and Luther's warnings in the Smalcald Articles.

I went to the SED web page, and "spiritual formation" is prominently displayed. Two clicks brought me to a page praising it. They are not even trying to hide it. (By the way, why does a district of the LCMS even need a Director of Spiritual Life? Perhaps one reason why such heretical fads are propagated is the fact that these district and synodical bureaucrats have to justify the existence of their positions.)

Whoever is responsible for this public false teaching needs correction and discipline. It it is a pastor and he is unrepentant in the face of clear, pastoral correction from God's Word and the Confessions, then he needs to be defrocked. But I don't even know if the LCMS does such things anymore. I know that I am just a laymen, but I also know from experience where such false teaching goes. Such demonic fads really are a door to the Twilight Zone. May God have mercy upon the souls to which its pastors in the SED have been entrusted.

Thanks for your post. I hope that your work here is widely disseminated, discussed, and addressed by pastors. Perhaps a program on "Spiritual Formation" could be on Issues, Etc. where the SED's teaching is mentioned by name? Perhaps a "Let the horse talk" interview of the SED Director of Spiriutal Life?


Rob Olson

Frank Gillespie said...

“By the way, why does a district of the LCMS even need a Director of Spiritual Life?”
Rob, we don’t have one spiritual director, we have a team of 10 – 16 depending on who you ask and which SED website you click on. The presenter who taught the class that I reported on is considered the lead facilitator in spiritual direction but not the only spiritual director.

Frank Gillespie

Rob Olson said...

Mercy beans! But we have pastors, don't we?

As a public school teacher (non-union), this reminds of our state's Department of Education, and to a lesser degree, its various "districts" (ISD's) spread throughout our state. I call this bureaucracy the "Ministry of Magic" (Harry Potter) or simply Those Who Know Best in Lansing.

I am sorry that we have a Ministry of Magic in the LCMS, and considering the demonic nature of this teaching, it is even more accurate.

Frank Gillespie said...


The presenter explained in the workshop that I attended that while spiritual direction could be conducted at a church it would be unusual for it to be done by a pastor because “as pastors we aren’t trained to do it, we aren’t trained in spiritual things very much”. He also stated that while spiritual directors could be ordained a majority of the people in his circles seemed to be laity with more women than men involved in the movement. His view of the office of the holy ministry is not that which we have received through the Apostles in the Scriptures or what we have in our stated in our confessions. He was actually very honest that he thought that Paul and the Lutheran Reformers had over systematized the Christian faith.


Dave Wagner said...

This trait is not only dangerous to our Church. It is Satan's favorite ploy to deceive us into thinking we can be on the same level as God. I just left the Catholic Church after 2 years of studying the Bible vs their teaching and history. When we leave the Word and Grace along with Faith we are playing into Satans hands. It is best to leave this voo-doo to the wicked, and study the Book of Concord and follow it.No more or no less. My prayers are we will not let this live and go on.