Monday, July 7, 2008

Something mystical this way comes: A new syncretism in the Presbyterian Church USA


Well over a year ago I noticed an invitation to those interested in developing a mystical community. Such a community would supposedly transform the Church. The invitation stated that “the Mystical Church Network will engage clergy and religious professionals from a variety of denominations and religious traditions. The Network is one aspect of a larger multifaceted and organic movement called the Mystical Church Project which is being developed to support leaders, provide resources and create more integral communities of faith. The project and network will support and supplement the work of denominations as together we work for the transformation of the Church.”1

Additionally this pamphlet states among other things that the “Network will host a variety of national gatherings and will encourage local and regional gatherings as the network grows and develops. One gathering will correspond with the Annual 7% Event for Presbyterian USA clergy.”(Emphasis the authors)

It is important to note that although I found this on the blog site of Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow, he was simply advertising it for Reverend Jud Hendrix, who alongside Reverend Liz Kaznak, is Pastor of Covenant Community Church. The Mystical Church project has taken form in the
Integral Church Leadership Movement.

Mysticism in the Church is not necessarily a bad thing, but its validity does depend on what forms it takes. St Teresa of Avila is well known as a mystic within the Catholic tradition as is St. John of the Cross. But many mystics have edged their way out of the Church either by carelessly equating themselves with Christ or by becoming too syncretistic in their religious views.

Hendrix, who seems to be a fairly strong catalyst and leader within this movement, (he undoubtedly wrote the Network pamphlet) not only equates others and himself with Christ2, he also brings together many differing religious viewpoints placing himself well within what has been called the “New Age Movement”. And in fact one author that he often uses is New Age guru Ken Wilber. Wilber’s “Integral Mini Model” is the first guiding text listed by Hendrix in his pamphlet.

And on the Integral web site is a “Shema Circle,” (
Download shema_circle_ext_des.doc ) “structured around Perenniel philosophy (Mind, Body, Soul, Spirit) and the Integral theory of Ken Wilber.”

Some of the explanation for this circle is based on Scripture, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5) But the more basic foundation is Eastern and new age philosophy as can be seen from this statement: “However, the practices of the Shema circle also seek to develop an awareness of “self” that transcends the individual and merges with the cosmic Self or Christ Consciousness.”

The best way to understand how this kind of mysticism is not Christianity is to look at some written texts and sermons, comparing them with Biblical Faith.

Perhaps the most basic place to begin would be with Hendrix’s views of Jesus Christ. In his sermon on “Resurrection and Evolution” while looking at Advent, Hendrix states “God comes to God’s self.” This means that Hendrix is following a panentheistic view of God that sees creation as the body of God. Next he looks at the person Jesus as he lives his life, referring to a great event when “something about Jesus wakes and he becomes the Christ. The metaphor of becoming enlightened or becoming into his own and at this point he somehow realizes who he is, the beloved, and he is united with God, all of creation and all of men.”

In a different sermon, “The Baptism of Jesus,”3 Hendrix refers to Jesus’ baptism as the time when he realizes he is God. Hendrix states, “A person wakes up, Jesus a human person … wakes up to the reality that all is sacred, that he is God … He some how becomes the channel for truth and grace… somehow with this new moment there is a new potential for the human experience.” This leads to the view that “There is new opportunity for all of history for us to wake up and realize who we are … we are god present in time and space.”

Hendrix turns Jesus into a kind of Buddha who reaches enlightenment and carries all of creation with Him. He is certainly using process theology and equates the life and work of Jesus Christ with evolution. He, not unlike Teilhard de Chardin, sees Jesus as the catalyst of a new consciousness for humanity, the bringer of new potential.

In fact he sees Jesus’ self surrendering and "emptying of himself" in death as the cause which opens all of creation to the possibility of having the same opportunity to become the Christ. Speaking of Jesus emptying his life Hendrix states, “So that the cycle can start again and we see that is not only the cycle of Christ but this is the cycles of evolution …the cycle of our own becoming…an on going process of dying and becoming.”4

Turning Jesus Christ into an enlightened person who realizes he is God leads to a misunderstanding about the Christian community, about redemption and about the need for others to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. For instance, writing on his blog, “Out Beyond Ideas …” about the second coming of Christ
Maybe the Next Messiah Will Be a Collective, Hendrix writes of his longing:

The other day I found myself wishing for Jesus to come back. Not something that crosses my mind much, but I caught myself thinking it. If not Jesus, I thought, then maybe a new anointed one (Messiah) to emerge on the world scene to make things right. Why not! I wondered. Isn’t it time for a little Fleshy Divinity again. Why can’t it be like the good ol days… when God would respond to the cries and chaos of the world with an embodied Messiah. Maybe, a women this time… to settle the argument once and for all about the gender of God. I Also briefly wondered if it was Barak Obama!??! – but that is yet to be seen?”

After speculating on what is needed in the world today, Hendrix goes beyond the individual messiah or avatar, as he puts it, and writes about the Christian Community as a collective Christ. He writes:

This space of community is the playground of the Spirit. Christ says, “Where two or more are gathered I am there.” Access to Christ consciousness is not an individual experience but a communal one. A particular church or spiritual community is locally grounded and non-locally connected making it potentially a fuller reflection and agent of God’s Shalom than any individual Messiah could be. A community is the channel to the universal not the individual.”

The Jesus of this new mystical movement is not biblical. Jesus is the unique and only Christ.


"Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." (1 John 4:15)

Jesus did not realize Christ consciousness or awaken to some new sense of oneness with God, humanity and creation. Instead the Father put his seal of approval on Jesus at his baptism. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And Jesus was quite aware of himself before his baptism. He in fact said to John the Baptist, who was protesting against baptizing him, "Permit it at this time: for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." (Matt. 3:15)

Jesus came to redeem a people for his Father. The simple Bible verse that even children know states it so completely. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) (emphasis mine)

With this new syncretism the individual Christian is left in a lonely place without a personal Savior and with only technological spirituality such as yoga and Tantra as a means of achieving wholeness. At the same time the Christian Community is turned into a place where Christ consciousness is exhibited instead of a community experiencing unity because each individual person is united to the risen Lord Jesus.


"What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." (1 John 1:3-4)


1 http://breyeschow.typepad.com/faithblog/files/MysticalChurchProject.pdf.
2 See “Resurrection and Evolution” sermon by Jud Hendrix at http://youtube.com/watch?v=lWU0t6IAo1k. & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0fKb9bvcQs&NR=1.
3 See The Baptism of Jesus” by Jud Hendrix at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCHsm6hZK7I&feature=related. & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w6nVBDo0Mw&NR=1.
4 “Resurrection & Evolution.”

14 comments:

Mar Vista Mustang said...

I agree with most of your concern over a creeping syncretism, a creeping entry of Eastern mysticism, and you give distressing examples. However, let me just say that, taken alone, the term "mystical Church" has a long and venerable place in Christian, namely, Catholic theology. In its historical context, the "mystical" of "mystical Church" has little to do with mysticism. Rather, it stands in opposition to the "visible Church" or the "physical Church," i.e., the institutional Church. As such (and I hope someone corrects me if I'm wrong), a Catholic may admit that a Protestant belongs to the "mystical Church" via baptism, but not the institutional Church.

I believe C.S. Lewis is one who wrote about the mystical Church.

Rus said...

It is really disturbing to hear some are trying to find another way outside of Our Lord. I agree with Mar Vista, mysticism isn't bad and has provided a wonderful piece to the Church, esp in Theresea of Avalia and others. At it's heart Christian mysticism and contemplatives should be after a deeper love and personal knowledge of Christ. We protestants have rarely emphaiszed this aspect, but I think in a church today more concerned about societal governance and 'ism' a new push for personal friendship with Our Lord would bring all the transforming reform we need.

Viola said...

Mar Vista mustang and Rus,

I agree with what you say about mysticism and the Church. I tried to make it clear that I didn't disagree with all mysticism but it sounds like I was not clear. I have read St Teresa's The Interior Castle and like it. I also have a story that I wrote for a class on Christian mysticism on my web site, http://www.naminggrace.org/id70.htm "Conversation on the Immense Journey: A Fictional Conversation on Evolution, Mysticism, Pantheism and God" Admittedly I used Loren Eiseley and Teilhard de Chardin because that was a requirement.

What I probably should have done in this posting was title it something New Age or heretical or something like that this way comes.

I am sure that those I am writing about would protest that they are seeking a deeper love and personal knowledge of Christ, but it matters little if the Christ they are speaking of is different than the Biblical Christ. God calls us to love His Son Jesus Christ as he is known in Holy Scripture.

will said...

I think the significant phrase here is "transformation of the church".

This appears to be one of many movements about changing the church by incorporating other traditions.

While I have zero problem with changing the organizations that exist to support the church (i.e. denominations, their structures, etc.), I am 100% certain this should not be confused with transforming Christianity. Using the two interchangeably creates confusion and hinges on dishonesty and trickery. It simply cannot function where there is full disclosure.

Yes, many argue that some sort of trajectory or historical pattern exists here - that the church is progressively being transformed into greater understandings. Yet it cannot be denied that the specifically mentioned esoteric traditions have existed for thousands of years - if this were the direction Christianity were intended to go, it would have 'emerged' - in other words, what we call Christianity and actually believe wold have been a falsehood.

What has been Christianity - what has been definitional to it for 2K years is not extra-Christian mysticism / the notion of panentheism / the gnostic and/or theosophist concept of the divine, that are all present in the 'esoterica'.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I am following the logic here.

Are you saying that Mysticism is bad, and here is an example of how bad it can be,

Or are you saying Jud Hendrix is bad because she is a mystic,

Or are you saying Reyes-Chow is bad because he sent you to Jud Hendrix who is clearly bad, and oh and by the way so is the mystical horse she rode in on.

Is it possible they have nothing to do with each other?

Ritchie

Viola said...

Ritchie,
You are really confused, and I hope its not my fault. There is nothing wrong with Christian mysticism when it is centered in the biblical Jesus. But the mysticism that Jud Hendrix (who is a guy)is involved in borrows from many different religious faiths and ideologies and is not biblical.

I only mentioned Bruce Reyes-Chow because I footnoted one source and his name is in the link. I was simply explaining why. I don't think our Moderator is into this stuff. And I don't think he is bad.

What I didn't perhaps say clearly enough is that Hendrix sees Jesus as simply a human being who suddenly in a mystical experience sees that he is Christ, and that now we all have the same potential because of him. This is not the Biblical account of Jesus Christ.

David Fischler said...

On the web site of Hendrix's church, there's a link to the Center for Progressive Christianity. That's really all I needed to see to know that he's a heretic.

Anonymous said...

Viola,

Maybe it was the play on words with the title. "Something evil this way comes" or "Something wicked this way comes" changed to read "Something mystical..."

Equating "mystical" with "wicked" or "evil" ... If that is not what you meant, then I was indeed confused. Thanks for clearing it up.

So, can you name a contemporary Christian mystic you approve or endorse?

Ritchie

Viola said...

Ritchie,
I am of the feeling that you don't call Christian contemporaries mystics while they live any more then in the Catholic sense you would call them saints. Perhaps mother Teresa would fit both those terms in the Catholic tradition. And I do approve of her. (But I really don’t know if she is considered a mystic)But on the other hand there are other Christians such as Corrie Ten Boom (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrie_ten_Boom) and Bonheoffer who I admire and I don't think Mother Teresa is any greater than they were.

Toby Brown said...

I don't have much to say about mysticism, as I'm a rational guy, but this is all just a symptom of our unraveling denomination.

You do us a great service by pointing out where this thing is headed. Rough waters...

I DO think that this form of mysticism that you warn us about is more akin to Borg Theology than anything else. Nor Marcus Borg...I mean the Star Trek kind--

"You will be assimilated! You will service The Collective!"

Mark, Lenin and Trotsky would be proud!

Viola said...

I'm of course not a left leaning person but I would have to say that Marx, Lenin and Trotsky would not be proud, Toby. Rather it’s those pesky romantics of the nineteenth century and after who would be proud. It would be Hegel, Schelling and so on. You know the German philosophers whose thoughts evolved until people like Barth, Bonheoffer and Niemoller had to deal with the consequences.

Viola said...

Perhaps you are right about the theology being "akin to Borg Theology." I'm not an expert of any sort in that area : )

Anonymous said...

I did not know that in order to be a mystic you had to be dead. I thought that any transcendent religious experience, belief or practice (like prayer) that was based on anything beyond the purely empirical or scientific was basically mystical, almost by definition.

Learn something new every day.

I don't understand the Borg analogy.

I've heard that the "Borg" is really an acronym for Business ORGanization. Its a metaphor for giant corporations that grow through corporate acquisition and choke the creativity and uniqueness out to the companies they take over.

Everybody lives in a box. Nobody can be creative or think on their own. They all have to behave according to the rules of the collective. The Borg do not create or invent, they just take from others what they need and discard the rest. Think giant media or defense conglomerates.

I don't think it has nothing to do with religion or mysticism.

Ritchie

Viola said...

I didn't mean someone couldn't be a living mystic I just meant I don't know if one points at someone and calls them a mystic. Nothing wrong with it I just am not sure how one would prove their identity.

And this,
"I thought that any transcendent religious experience, belief or practice (like prayer) that was based on anything beyond the purely empirical or scientific was basically mystical, almost by definition." is considered debatable. Some who write about mysticism would not classify just any non-empirical religious experience as mystical. I would rather not be a part of that debate.