And we don’t want you, either.
You masquerade as ancient wisdom, a long-lost treasure dug up by our spiritual superiors to “wake” us from our dull and lifeless Christianity. These archaeologists-of-sorts profess Christ, yet have mastered the art of repackaging paganism and selling it as bonafide biblical practice. They assure us that God is waiting for us… just on the other side of this little door, and all we have to do to truly meet with Him (because really, we’re missing out) is to carefully follow the steps of their Christianized (but actually Buddhist/Hindu) rituals.
And in the event that one of their readers happens to use discernment and sees through their deception, they sprinkle on some Bible verses for good measure–cherry-picked, out of context, and usually in a loose “translation” that tries to make God’s Word fit their sales pitch.
Mysticism is nothing new. In fact, it is one of the oldest lies of the Serpent, and it has been a false teaching in the church since centuries before the Reformation. It proposes various “spiritual” (read: not necessarily biblical) ways to gain information about, communicate with, or experience God. The mystics believed that even though other religions were not Christian, they still had some good methods to offer for how to connect to the Divine.
These include pagan rituals like contemplative prayer (emptying your mind by repeating a phrase over and over so you can “hear” from God), automatic writing (listening for a personal, inner voice from God and writing down what He tells you), Buddhist meditation, and many more.
The purpose of this article isn’t to expose all of the details and history of mysticism and how it is resurfacing today as part of the Emergence movement. (You can learn more about that over in the archives of Berean Research).
Instead, I want to explain 7 reasons why we don’t need, and shouldn’t seek after, mysticism. Today’s mystics in the church (many of them female authors/ministers) are good at disguising themselves as our friends, just hoping and praying that we would find what they’ve found. But when they try to gift us unbiblical, pagan practices, we should kindly but firmly say, “No thank you.” And then plead with them to repent and obey God’s sufficient Word.
1. We don’t need a new “spiritual awakening” to worship and serve the Lord.
One of the marks of mysticism is its language of newness and “waking up” from being “asleep” in our Christian lives. It claims to hold the keys to revival and new life.
We are told we are missing out on something–God’s presence, or His words, dreams, or destinies for us. And the only way we can receive what we’re missing is by practicing mysticism.
For instance, we need to sit down and “listen” for His voice telling us how wonderful we are and how we should chase after our dreams of being female pastors. (No matter that God’s true voice tells us not to do so in, you know, the Bible.)
Oh mysticism, you are so wrong. We are most definitely awake. Awake enough to see the truth, awake enough to rejoice in the fact that we were once dead in sin (a concept you’re not very comfortable with, we know), but now we’ve been raised to new life in Jesus. We are new creations in Him, because He took the wrath we deserve and gave us His righteousness. We know these things because we hear Him speak to us… in the written Word of God.
Stop telling us that we don’t believe the Holy Spirit is active today; stop lying and saying He’s “dormant” in us! The Spirit is working within every true believer by illuminating for them the truth of the Scriptures, and sanctifying them by it. Ironically, every time you lie, you show you’re a work of the flesh and not of God.
2. We don’t need artificial, pagan rituals to draw near to God and His presence.
God is invisible. The perfect Word teaches us this reality (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17). We draw near to Him in worship, not by coming to a special physical location or using mystical methods, but as Christ taught: “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). He has also taught us the only things we need in order to experience God’s presence–and none of them are pagan:
–Righteousness. Sinners need the righteousness of Christ in order to be in God’s holy presence. If we are saved, we are freely given that gift as believers in Jesus, and now we can boldly approach the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16)–we don’t need mysticism to be our mediator.
–The Holy Spirit and the Word. The Holy Spirit reveals what our flesh cannot see when we read the Bible. He changes our minds and hearts so we receive in faith what God says, and He applies it personally to us for our sanctification. By His power, we grow in love and knowledge of the Lord and our relationship with Him.
–Prayer. Biblical prayer does not involve “clearing the mind” or repeating certain phrases or trying to connect with our inner being. It involves lifting praises and petitions to God using the truth He has taught us in the Word. It is modeled for us in the Lord’s Prayer and many other places in Scripture.
Though we don’t hear a voice in return, we pray by faith knowing God hears us and will fulfill our requests according to His good, sovereign will. We love Him even though we can’t see Him. Our faith–being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we cannot see–is acceptable before Him.
3. We don’t need fake “voices” to hear from Him.
Mystics tells us to listen closely and deeply for God’s voice speaking personally to us.
But what they fail to do is warn us of the consequences of falsely interpreting our own thoughts as God’s very words.
Because the biblical office of prophet has ceased, and we have a closed canon and the complete Word of God, He doesn’t speak to us like He did to Moses or Elijah or Paul. If He did, then His Words would, by necessity, be as infallible and needed for the church as the words of Scripture.
In the Bible, we are warned not to take away or add to His Word (Prov. 30:6), and not to pretend to be prophets (Deut. 18). Some today are proposing that God’s personal, “prophetic” words to us might be fallible–meaning, they might be wrong or can fail. But how can this be? Every word of the Lord is pure and holy and true. False prophets are condemned in Scripture. It is very dangerous and sinful to say, “Thus saith the Lord,” when really it’s your own words.
Mysticism, you need to learn: God’s Word is sufficient for life and godliness. It is personal because the Spirit applies it to our personal lives. It is more than enough.
4. We don’t need erotic emotionalism to experience God’s love for us in Christ.
This has to be one of the weirdest, most uncomfortable aspects of mysticism today. You’ve probably read it before but haven’t had a word for it: when authors describe their closeness to God using language best reserved for romance novels.
Mystics have been known to say that they want to “make love” to God, and a host of other expressions that aren’t worthy of being repeated here. Suffice it to say, our relationship with Christ is in no way erotic–nor should it be distorted by emotionalism. While mystics want to unnaturally heighten our emotions to keep us from thinking biblically and rationally, we must anchor ourselves to God’s Word and refuse to be swayed.
Of course, we should as Christians have what Jonathan Edwards called religious affections–we are, after all, called to love God with all our hearts as well as our minds. But those affections are far from mere emotions. They are powerful, Spirit-driven desires to do God’s will and honor Him. Yes, love for God can often bring us to tears of gratitude and joy. But that love rests in, and is tapered by truth–not selfish attempts to find emotional fulfillment.
5. We don’t need improved self-esteem to find joy in Jesus.
Mysticism is often characterized by pep talks disguised in Christianized language, Bible passages taken out of context and abused for the sake of making much of us and our “dreams” and “destinies.” The story of David and Goliath becomes a study on how to defeat our detractors so we can find victory–rather than a lesson on God’s remarkable power for His people and zeal for His own glory. We are told to embrace our strengths, pursue what we desire, and feel entitled to the life we want.
But self-esteem is not what we need. We need Christ-esteem–loving Him and esteeming His worth over our own. We are sinful creatures entirely dependent on God, blessed with salvation and the hope of eternal life in glory. We are given the task of serving the Lord while we’re here, and all we need to motivate us is the love of God poured out on us undeservedly in Jesus.
The mystics will set you up for disappointment when you don’t find your victories or your dreams coming true, but if you hope in Christ and His will, you will never be disappointed.
6. We don’t need man-centered paraphrases to benefit from the Holy Word.
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet.
“The Message” is not the Bible!
It’s a man’s “paraphrase” that doesn’t even deserve that title. It’s full of his own thoughts and expressions, not those of God. And when it comes to other translations that are loose and error-ridden, they too are deceiving.
If mystics really believed their teachings came from the Bible, why wouldn’t they just consistently use accurate translations–rather than supporting their paganism with false “Scripture” aimed to twist and water down the truth?
7. We don’t need ear-tickling and false gospels to embrace Christ and His church.
Birds of a feather flock together… and so do false teachings. One can lead to another. Mysticism is like a gateway drug, leading its followers further and further away from Scripture. For instance, mystics have been known to teach clearly anti-biblical beliefs, imploring the church to accept homosexuality and women in the pulpit. Not all of them do, or at least, not yet; but rotten theology begets rotten theology.
And though they come in different shapes and sizes, all heresies have in common a messed up version of the gospel. Roman Catholicism is historically one of the biggest adherents to mysticism, and it still influences the religion today. With paganism as its heart, is it any wonder that the “church” of Rome teaches the false gospel of works-based salvation?
Another example is the prosperity gospel, being sold as a brand of Christianity to millions around the world. The prosperity gospel, charismania (as I call it), and mysticism all frequently show up together, because they have man and his ways at the center rather than Christ.
One of the most deceptive aspects of mysticism is that it can easily disguise itself to appeal to the Protestant church. We who know the true gospel may not recognize the way mystics distort it, at first. But we have to see that even when they use biblical language to describe the gospel–explaining Christ’s death on the cross, or admitting we can’t earn it–their pagan methods of coming to God contradict orthodoxy.
They contradict the gospel concept that Christ is our only meditator, and we are saved only through Him, because they infuse false religions with Christianity. Remember that the Israelites were confronted by God, not because they went full-out pagan, but because they tried to worship Him and their idols at the same time.
BETTER THAN MYSTICISM
True believers do not follow the voice of wolves in sheep’s clothing; they listen to their Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We don’t need or want ear-tickling books to get us to worship Him. Since He’s given us new hearts, we desire to obey even when our flesh doesn’t want to.
And because Christ is better than mysticism, we follow Him even when it takes us through valleys of suffering and darkness. We endure sleepless nights when it seems like He isn’t answering us. We face the pain of seeing the depths of our sinfulness–and we repent. We seek and search for Him (in the ways the Word teaches us to) when we feel far from His presence, knowing He has promised never to leave nor forsake us.
But we also have joy and peace in Him that is incomparable to any “experience” than the mystics could manufacture.
So yes, mysticism, we don’t need you. Christ is incomparably better.