The False Spirituality of Mysticism
“Mysticism: The belief that direct knowledge of God can be attained through your subjective experiences of God or something godlike. Mysticism, then, is nothing more than worship of your emotions.”(1)
“Mysticism has found many ready listeners in American culture because American culture is a melting pot of trying to feel good. Humans have always made feeling good a high priority, but in our age we have made it an art form. Both Christians and non-Christians alike spend most of their waking day trying to feel good. When we feel bad (which happens a lot), we begin casting around the market for something new to consume in order to try and feel better. Once we find an answer, we remain as diligent in trying to make the feeling better last as long as possible. This is our way of life. It is our economy, our national pastime, and our greatest export. We believe, teach, and confess that the key to happiness is managing discomfort by increasing good feelings instead, and we are so successful at it that we’ve also come to assume God approaches religion the very same way. Why wouldn’t God want me to be happy? Why wouldn’t God want to meet my needs, take away my cares and worries, and lift me up? Why wouldn’t a truly good God want me to find Him by learning to feel the goodness of His presence? It only makes perfect, heartfelt sense.
“For this reason, all over America, every week, a vast number of the most well-meaning of us congregate in special houses that we have built for the sole purpose of trying to feel God together. By combining applied motivational speeches and creative musical arrangement with the latest and best gimmicks of technology, we listen to the promise that we can and will feel good by finding God (and find God by feeling good). We consume these carefully manufactured divine experiences like any other product, expecting them to be over on the hour so that we still have plenty of time to trot back to our lives of buying, selling, and trying to feel even more good in all the ways we possibly can. Fresh off the assembly line, we don’t mind applying whatever bits of personal skill development the preacher told us was this week’s key to directly enhancing our experience of God. None of us feel manipulated. We would be angry if you told us we were just consumers being sold a fast-food religion. “Mysticism” is just a big word without any meaning to us. But every week we buy it anyway. We go to our churches in search of a better feeling, and when we find it, we believe we have found the real presence of God.”(2)
“Mysticism’s lie: You can find God in your heart.”
“For many, Mysticism dances with them through decades of church attendance, purposeful living, and chasing after a successful life. For many, it isn’t until they’re sitting alone in a nursing home, forcing down fifteen pills a day, and hoping for a visit from anyone, that the despair and doubts about God buried beneath endless rays of sunshine come flooding back as the perfect storm of a broken life. Sometimes it’s later, sometimes it’s sooner, but it is inevitable that the lows tip the balance back from the highs.”(3)
“Our fast-food religion isn’t cutting it, and we know it. Living in mystic pursuit of an emotion-giving god, we are constantly haunted by the strange feeling that after all our efforts, we don’t feel closer to God. Not really. Not once the adrenaline wears off. Instead, we feel more alone. It’s this loneliness that keeps us susceptible to the latest, greatest marketing techniques and the next, bigger, better spiritual deal…Christians are starving for something that this time will really, really, really work.”(4)
“It’s Mysticism’s lie that what you manage to feel inside of you can make your problems go away. It’s Mysticism’s lie that trying to find God in your heart, your emotions, and your experience (even in a superchurch filled with 20,000 singing people) still boils down to you experiencing your encounter with your god entirely inside of you…which means…entirely…all…by…your…self.”(5)
If God cannot be found inside of you or in your internal, subjective experience or emotions (as taught by the false spirituality of Mysticism in its many forms), then where can He be found? The biblical answer is that He is found outside of us, in the Person and saving work of Jesus Christ. “Christian spirituality lives from the teaching that Jesus is the place where man is one with God and God is one with us.”(6) And how do we encounter Christ? How does God deliver Jesus Christ His Son to us? In the external Word of Holy Scripture (read and preached) and the external, sacramental “Words” of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, all of which we receive by faith alone (sola fide)! As Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk (whose excellent book I have been quoting from) states:
“God’s act of saving the world did not happen in me, but outside of me. That’s the message. That’s the Word. This Word has pure meaning. The meaning is more than a mere story. This story is humanity’s history. Our history is not the experience of every individual Christian all alone, but an utterly and entirely shared faith – not a feeling but a believed reality. One set of facts. One result from those facts. One faith. One Lord. One Baptism (cf. Ephesians 4:5).
“One God and Father of all has sent one Spirit, who calls to our hearts with one hope that belongs to the preached call – one hope that believes these words: “Hey, you. Yeah, you. I’m Jesus. I died for you. That’s right. I’m calling you by name. I’m washing you so that you shall have a part with Me. Just trust Me on this one. You are Mine now.””(7)
What is the conclusion of all this? How should we respond to the false spirituality of Mysticism? Pastor Fisk explains:
“This is why the first rule that every Christian ought to follow is “Never follow a rule that follows your liver, your heart, your pancreas, or any other bodily organ that could conceivably have its mind changed by the shifting of the wind.” Never put your trust in “Christian” disciplines, methods, and traditions that make promises about your relationship with the almighty God founded on what you feel. Never put your trust in Mysticism.
“Emotions are a wonderful gift of the created world. God made them for us. They are part of being human, and Christianity exalts in the redemption that has been purchased for us. But there is a chasm of difference between believing feelings are a gift from God and believing feelings are God. Feelings can be good, but feelings are never the Gospel. Rules and traditions, methods and disciplines that teach that your emotions are the source of God’s revealing of Himself to you confuse Jesus Christ with you. As exciting as those kinds of promises might sound, ignore them. Get real wisdom. Follow the Word of God instead.”(8)
(1) Broken: 7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, copyright 2012 Jonathan M. Fisk), p. 29.
(2) ibid., pp. 29-30
(3) ibid., p. 32
(4) ibid., pp. 39-40
(5) ibid., p. 40
(6) ibid., p. 41
(7) ibid., p. 42. Let the reader note that as confessional Presbyterian Christians we would differ with Rev. Fisk, a confessional Lutheran pastor in the Lutheran Church, Missouri-Synod (LCMS), on some important matters of doctrine and practice. In a few places in his book he argues for some of these Lutheran distinctives to which we who are confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian would take exception (for example, the literal, physical presence of Christ “in, with and under” the elements of the Lord’s Supper, universal atonement, etc.). (Of course, we would expect a confessionally Lutheran pastor to advocate and promote the distinctives of confessional Lutheranism, just as we who are confessionally Presbyterian would seek to promote confessional Presbyterianism.) Nevertheless, overall this book is a fantastic and doctrinally sound work which we who are confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian can learn much from and which we would mostly agree with. Readers who are interested in purchasing Rev. Fisk’s book can go here: http://www.cph.org/p-19471-broken-7-christian-rules-that-every-christian-ought-to-break-as-often-as-possible.aspx?SearchTerm=broken%20by%20jonathan%20fisk
(8) ibid., p. 47