Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Freedom in Worship, Richard Foster, and Mysticism

We have a lot of freedom in Christ. We are often surprised to read that we are allowed to go to temples and even eat foods that have been sacrificed to their idols (1 Cor. 8:1-8). However, we are not free to worship in any way we please. Some of us would like to think that “as long as I have God in mind, I can worship in whatever way feels right to me.

However, Scripture has never given us such freedom. Moses told Israel:

·        You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. (Deut. 12:31-32)

The way we worship is the way we live and behave. If we believe that God is unjust, we will act unjustly. If we believe that He is compassionate, even towards the criminal, we will likewise seek to be compassionate. Consequently, as Moses pointed out, our worship was to be directed by every word of Scripture, without any additions.

Likewise, Jesus taught that we have no choice but to worship God in truth, according to whom He is. He explained to the Samaritan woman that worship had to be according to the way He revealed Himself in Scripture to the Jewish people:

·        “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24)

According to Jesus, we are not free to imagine God in a way that might feel right to us. Instead, God requires that we worship Him “in spirit and in truth,” with all our heart and mind.

In contrast to this, the mystics claim that we are missing out because we fail to make use of their techniques of visualization and imagination. In Celebration of Disciple, Richard Foster insists that:

·        “As with meditation, the imagination is a powerful tool in the work of prayer. We may be reticent to pray with the imagination, feeling that it is slightly beneath us. Children have no such reticence.” (172)

·        “Imagination often opens the door to faith.” (173)

Scripture never mentions that “Imagination often opens the door to faith.” How then does imagination open the door to faith? Foster explains:

·        “Let’s play a little game. Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let’s imagine that he is sitting over in the chair across from us. He is waiting patiently for us to centre our attention on him. When we see him, we start thinking more about His love than how sick Julie is. He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us. Then, let’s put both our hands on Julie and when we do, Jesus will put His hands on top of ours. We’ll watch the light from Jesus flow into your little sister and make her well.” (173)

According to Foster, not only does “Imagination often open the door to faith,” it also coerces and channels Jesus’ grace and healing. In essence, this teaching claims that we are in charge instead of God.

In contrast to Foster, the Apostle Paul that we are not free to imagine and visualize God according to our own inclinations:

·        For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

Our imaginations provoke God’s wrath. Although humankind knows God, we refuse to worship Him “as God!” As a consequence of refusing to abide in God’s light, we become darkened by our own imaginations, as God revealed through the Prophet Jeremiah:

·        This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, 'The Lord says: You will have peace.' And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts [“walketh after the imagination of his own heart;” KJV] they say, 'No harm will come to you.'” (Jeremiah 23:16-17; Ezek 13:2; Luke 1:51)

I know that this sounds like an overly harsh indictment of many people who seem to be sincerely seeking God. However, imagining or visualizing Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with Scripture. In fact, it is condemned! Therefore, it’s either the case that those who seek Jesus in this manner are either ignorant or rebellious.

Sadly, many among the church remain haters of the light of Scripture, according to Jesus:

·        This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3:19-20)

To love our Savior is to abide in His Word:  And this is love, that we walk after his commandments” (2 John 1:6). When we refuse to abide in His commands and teachings and instead pursue mystical techniques, we demonstrate that we really don’t love Him!

Isn’t this very limiting? Yes, but what’s the other alternative? Complete freedom? This concept is as meaningless as playing chess without rules. We thrive when we confine ourselves to the worship that He has designated. We are like a goldfish in his tank, who maximizes his freedom by remaining in the water for which he was created. We were created to trust and serve God in accordance with His truth. Let us abide there!

No comments:

Post a Comment