“Here I am with the children the LORD has given me to be signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of Armies who dwells on Mount Zion. When they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,” shouldn’t a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? Go to God’s instruction and testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.” – Isaiah 8:18-20
Webster gives the following definitions for Mysticism:
1: the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics
2: the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (such as intuition or insight)
For the purpose of our study, we will define Mysticism as the belief that, while God can and does reveal Himself through the scriptures, the revelation is not complete. There is more available revelation to those that are “quickened” to receive it and they can not only gain further revelation but also properly interpret the written revelation due to their “subjective experience” or “intuition” with the Divine. Simply put: the experience is supreme.
We need to make a note of clarity that the “experience” referred to here is not that of years of learning and stored up wisdom accumulated through study and trials of life. This “experience” is that of an encounter – specifically a divine encounter or multiple divine encounters with a divine being which “enlightens” the mystic to special revelation not given in the general revelation of the scriptures.
Just as with Rationalism, we will look at two types of Mysticism. The first is false Mysticism. We see this type of Mysticism in the theology of Pantheism, Quakerism, and the Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave movements. We’ll take a brief look at each of these theologies and then look to scripture for the appropriate view of Mysticism.
Have you ever heard of Mysticism before?
What about “Mystic experiences”?
Have you heard of “Christian Mysticism”?
Irving Hexham defines pantheism as: The doctrine that all things and beings are modes, attributes, or appearances of a single, unified reality or being. Hence nature and God are believed to be identical.
In its most root and basic form, pantheism is a belief in which, essentially, God is the universe and everything in that universe is directly connected and part of God. Thereby, nothing has a beginning and an end. When one dies, their “being”, the part of them that is part of God, continues into other things in the universe. This is especially true of those who recognize God as simply “an energy”. It is because of this “God is part of everything” (including themselves) that they are able to have divine experiences and gain special revelation.
There are several different sects of Pantheism. They have different explanations on “what” defines God and varying degrees of their claimed “enlightenment” and what their “experiences” can entail and reveal. We won’t dive into each of the differing beliefs as this study is geared towards an overview of the views of the Bible.
- What problems can you see with the of Pantheism?
- How can you witness to someone who believes in a form of Pantheism in an effective way?
Quakerism refers to that group of people you learned about in your American history class who fled England for religious freedom and were yet persecuted again in the New World – primarily by the Puritans. Quakers hold a closer view of the Bible than Pantheists and most claim to be Christians. However, they still hold that the Bible is not the final revelation. Quakers traditionally refuse any idea of formal church instruction and hold to a “universal priesthood” in which all people are priests of God and capable of receiving instruction from the Lord. They hold to the saying that “Jesus has come to teach us himself”.
There are also different sects of Quakers. Some have gravitated to functioning more and more like traditional protestant churches, but still hold to the idea that additional revelation is available to those who seek it and the Bible is not the complete revelation of God. Others hold to a more unorganized type of study and worship in which there is no preacher or planned study or music. They operate on a “show up and see who God speaks to” approach. Unfortunately, these ideas closely resemble what we see in many protestant denominations today.
- Are you aware that Quakerism is an active religion in America still today?
- What issues can you see with Quakerism that deny the authority of God and His word?
Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave Movements
These three distinct movements are generally recognized by the inclusive term “Christian Mysticism”. While they each hold their separate and somewhat varying doctrines, beliefs, and practices, they, in most cases, all three hold to these points of Christian Mysticism.
- They emphasize a direct and personal experience with God which is unique among those of the Christian faith in general.
- They emphasize finding spiritual insight beyond thought and doctrines common in the orthodox Christian faith.
- They accept extra-biblical dreams, visions, and insights as revelations from God.
- The common response to any challenge on doctrinal issues is almost always some form of “You cannot speak about something you haven’t experienced yourself.”
- There is extreme focus on emotion and spiritual gifts (though not weighed by scripture in most cases).
To better understand the extreme nature of these “movements” and their approach to theology, consider these quotes from leaders in these movements:
“In these latter days preaching and simply teaching the word is no longer sufficient, the Spirit has to get involved, through the signs and wonders due to much sin that abounds.” – Steve Hill, co-founder and senior pastor of Heartland World Ministries Church
“I don’t preach doctrine, I preach faith.” – Kenneth Copeland, founder of Eagle Mountain International Church and host of Believer’s Voice of Victory
“God’s raising up a new standard, a new banner, if you will, that’s going to radically change the expression, the understanding of Christianity in our generation … God has invited us to have a role in establishing a new order of Christianity … God is offering to this generation something He has never offered to any other generation … beware lest old order brethren rob you and steal this hope from you.” – Paul Cain speaking at Vineyard Prophetic Conference
- Have you had any encounters or discussions with those of the Pentecostal, Charismatic, or Third Wave movements?
- Have you found it difficult to discuss doctrinal issues with them? Why?
- Why do you believe these type churches tend to average higher attendance numbers than other protestant denominations in general?
Problems with Mysticism and What the Bible Says About Them
- Mystics tend to interpret scripture allegorically and with vague meaning and application. Often the “this is what it means to me” is their approach.
“Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” – 2 Peter 1:20-21
“The truth is, it doesn’t matter what a verse means to me, to you, or to anyone else. All that matters is what the verse means! You see, every verse has intrinsic meaning apart from any of us. It has that true meaning whether or not any of us has ever considered it.” – John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos
- Mysticism often ignores or minimizes their view of God’s transcendence and overemphasizes God’s immanence.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the LORD’S declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9
“This is what the LORD says: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where could you possibly build a house for me? And where would my resting place be? My hand made all these things, and so they all came into being. This is the LORD’S declaration. I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:1-2
(Quoted by Steven in his sermon in Acts 7 when preaching to the Sanhedrin)
- In many cases, Mystics will put a much greater emphasis on the “friend they found in Jesus” and neglect recognizing the holiness of God.
“For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying: I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will sing hymns to you in the congregation.” – Hebrews 2:11-12 (Psalms 22:22)
“Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance. But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16
- The extreme introspection of Mysticism tends to set as the primary, if not only, goal as “near-erotic enlightenment” and ignores the true fruit of the spirit and works of service as part of the body of Christ.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe – and they shudder. Senseless person! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works in offering Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete, and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works in receiving the messengers and sending them out by a different route? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” – James 2:14-26
- Mystics will grant authority to their experience over the scriptures and do not hold to the inerrancy and authority of sola scriptura.
“Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying: “Nothing beyond what is written.” The purpose is that none of you will be arrogant, favoring one person over another.” – 1 Corinthians 4:6
“Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize what I write to you is the Lord’s command.” – 1 Corinthians 14:36-37
“Every word of God is pure, he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Don’t add to his words, or he will rebuke you, and you will be proved a liar.” – Proverbs 30:5-6
- Mysticism, in quite the opposite approach of Rationalism, tends to criticize use of the mind in study, reason, and application of the Scriptures. There is no reason for knowledge when there is enlightenment.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15
“I will meditate on your precepts and think about your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” – Psalms 119:15-16
“When the mystic elevates subjective experience over the objective truth of Scripture they deny the sufficiency, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. In seeking deeper spiritual truth through mystical practices the mystic denies that the Scriptures are able to equip the believer for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). When they deny the ability of the scriptures to equip them for every good work their actions undermine the truth stated clearly in the Scriptures about its own sufficiency. In denying this truth they, most unknowingly, deny that the Scripture is inerrant.” – Tim Carter in his work on Christian Mysticism
“When men sought a sign from Jesus his reply was that it was ‘an evil and adulterous generation’ that seeks after a sign (Matt 12:39). Furthermore, in his rebukes of the religious leaders he consistently pointed them to the Scriptures as the measure of truth not to their subjective experiences. It is in no way deniable that mysterious and miraculous things took place in and around the ministry of Christ. However, Jesus always placed a greater weight on the objective truth of the Scriptures and his own words. It must also be noted that Jesus never prescribes and/or models mystical practices in his ministry. When examining the spiritual life of Christ, specifically the prayers and fasts he partook of, it can be seen that mysticism was not a part of the process.” – Tim Carter
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is the truth.” – John 17:17
- The tendency of introspection causes most Mystics to withdraw from any type of local church and live a life individually “seeking God” and their “walk of faith” becomes all about themselves.
“And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
- The greatest problem of all is the utter denial of the true gospel which Mysticism in action commits by its very nature and belief that the subjective experience can bring them closer to the Almighty.
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in [His] kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift- not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation-created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:1-10
“This union of the believer with the triune god of the scriptures is mystical in the sense that they are connected to the Father through the Son empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is through this link to the absolute the term mysticism may apply. However, in this application the term ‘there is no mystical experience to be sought’…In other words when a believer tries to ascertain direct knowledge of God and spiritual truths through their subjective experiences they have denied the actualize mystical reality they already inhabit. This mystical union that occurs between the believer and Christ is actualized in their life at conversion. The mystical union is mystical in a proper sense in that it is the union of the person to the absolute (Christ). To then, through various means, try to work up a mystical experience in order to strengthen or understand that union more would be to deny not only the union itself but the power of the Gospel to restore man to his maker…This union that takes place is by grace through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ not in a subjective experience. The mystical union that takes place in a believer’s life is the result of the person and work of Jesus Christ and not the efforts of the believer to possess a deeper connection with the absolute. When the mystic tries through subjective means to attain a higher level of spirituality he unknowingly denies the present mystical union actualized in his life brought through the power of the Gospel. For the power of the gospel not only saves a man but raises him up and seats him ‘in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’” – Tim Carter
- What is the greatest problem with Mysticism?
- What is the Mystic’s view of the scriptures?
- In what ways do Christian Mystics neglect their responsibilities commanded by Christ?
- What characteristic of God is almost always neglected by Mysticism?
- In what ways are Mystic’s “experiences” tested for validity and truth?
False Mysticism is not a new tool of Satan
God warned of this in the Old Testament as well:
“Therefore, this is what the Lord GOD says: You have spoken falsely and had lying visions; that’s why you discover that I am against you this is the declaration of the Lord GOD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and speak lying divinations. The will not be present in the council of my people or be recorded in the register of the house of Israel, and they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord GOD.” – Ezekiel 13:9
“This is what the LORD of Armies says: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the LORD’S mouth. They keep on saying to those who despise me, ‘The LORD has spoken: You will have peace.’ They have said to everyone who follows the stubbornness of his heart, ‘No harm will come to you.’” For who has stood in the council of the LORD to see and hear his word? Who has paid attention to his word and obeyed? – Jeremiah 23:16
Is There a Good and Acceptable Form of Mysticism?
- Mysticism desires “oneness” with God. The Bible makes it clear that, if we believe, we will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
“Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16
“You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him.” – Romans 8:9
“…be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” – Ephesians 5:18b-21
(We understand that this union happens at conversion as already discussed.)
- Mystics desire direct revelation from God. Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them.
“I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” – John 14:25-26
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come.” – John 16:13
- Mysticism focuses on individual experience with God. John seams to tell us that we don’t need anyone else to teach us.
“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, his anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as it has taught you, remain in him.” – 1 John 2:27
However, if we read within the context of John’s letter, we understand that we must keep His commandments and His word to have Him.
“This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands. The one who says, “I have come to know him,” and yet doesn’t keep his commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is made complete. This is how we know we are in him: The one who says he remains in him should walk just as he walked.” – 1 John 2:3-5
(As we already explored, we must have Christ to have the Spirit. (Romans 8:9))
- God’s prophecy of the New Covenant makes it clear that the purpose of the Spirit is to guide us in keeping the word of God. It is not to replace the need for the word.
“For I will take you from all the countries, and I will bring you into your own land. I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:24-28
To answer the question posed: Yes. There is a good and acceptable form of Mysticism. We should desire for the leading of the Spirit in our lives. We can know the Spirit is leading our lives when we test our thoughts, motives, and decisions by the word of God. What we cannot do is allow emotions and feelings to direct us and claim that they are from the Spirit knowing that they are contrary to the scriptures. The only way we can do this is if we study and know the word of God.
How can we know the difference between true and false mysticism?
“Go to God’s instruction and testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.” – Isaiah 8:20
If a mystic speaks contrary to the word of God, they are indeed a false teacher and deceiver and should be avoided and considered workers of Satan.
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world. Therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.”
– 1 John 4:1-6
Paul instructs Titus to test those who would be elders and appoint them only if they meet the qualifications (Titus 1:5-9). Then Paul continues and describes the results of those who would teach myths and reject the truth.
“For there are many rebellious people, full of empty talk and deception, especially those from the circumcision party. It is necessary to silence them; they are ruining entire households by teaching what they shouldn’t in order to get money dishonestly. One of their very own prophets said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason, rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of people who reject the truth. To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. They claim to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work.” – Titus 1:10-16
Not all Mysticism in contrary to Scripture. However, we must test all Mysticism by the word of God to determine whether it is good or evil and deal with it appropriately. In this rapidly changing world where people will accept anything that has a “form of godliness” we need to heed Paul’s instructions to Timothy with a great deal of care and discernment.
“I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. But as for you, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:1-5
I’ll let Tim Carter sum up this section on Mysticism with a final quote from his work on Christian Mysticism:
“The accomplished work of Christ in salvation must be appealed to against the mystic. The work of salvation by Christ was affective and final in uniting fallen man to his maker. Man, when through repentance and faith in the accomplished work of Christ on his behalf, is united with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. All of this is accomplished through faith in Christ by the grace Of God. There is no mystical process in which a person is to work them up spiritually to attain this union, nor could there be. But by grace through faith the individual is united with Christ and this union is perfect and spiritually actualized at conversion. While this reality is spiritually actualized it awaits its full physical actualization at the final consummation. It is the error of the mystic to work towards experiencing a physical reality that God has not yet willed to actualize.”
In your own words, how would you define the following terms:
- Mysticism –
- Christian Mysticism –
- True Christian Mysticism –
- What should our response to Mysticism in our church and in our own lives be?