Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spiritual Deception: Soul Power 3

Probably the most common way going off track into signs-and-wonders "Christianity" doesn't get recognized:

These are phenomena that just come over a person. They are involuntary, they come out of nowhere, it seems supernatural. You were praying to God (you thought), you were worshipping God (you thought), you have dedicated your life to God, all you want to do is serve God, therefore it must be from God. Speaking in tongues comes this way, visions and dreams come this way, jerking and flailing and falling down "under the power" come this way, the "holy laughter" comes this way. Out of the blue, out of nowhere, unbidden.

Since scripture isn't crystal clear about these things a person can just go on assuming it's from God. You can argue all you like that the supernatural gifts stopped when the canon was closed, but you won't be persuasive with people who have experienced these things. You can't tell them there is no more prophecy because they've experienced prophecy -- and healings, and tongues and so on. And where could such things come from except God? Can't be Satan "because we're Christians." Can't have human origin because, well, because we don't think of human powers as ever reaching a level we'd call miraculous or supernatural -- Nee's teaching on the latent Adamic powers is not well known or accepted.

Calling it all "mysticism" may help categorize it at least but the way that term is used as a blanket pejorative has always bothered me. On this point maybe I'm the one who needs to change my mind, that's not clear yet, but the reason I've not wanted to think of mysticism as always a bad thing is that some very good Christians have both experienced something they call mysticism and defended it. A W Tozer defended it and even put out a book of quotes from various "mystics." This is because some of those called "mystics" seem to have a much more powerful appreciation of the character of God than the average Christian does, love of God, fear of God, an all-around deeper sold-out Christian life of genuine dying to self and service to others.

I remember reading of a striking vision Jonathan Edwards had, and a description of his wife's actually levitating. That struck me as very odd and as often happens I don't remember where I saw it, but would we accuse THEM of practicing mysticism? While the Catholic mystics are to be shunned, for good doctrinal reasons, nevertheless Teresa of Avila seemed when I first read her to be describing unusual phenomena that simply happened to her as a result of normal if protracted periods of prayer -- to God, not Mary -- not something she was seeking but something that just happened, and most of it seemed to come through passionate love of God and it had the effect of inspiring love of God in me the reader.

Also, those mystics were always advising their students not to take supernatural or unusual spiritual phenomena seriously, that most of it did not come from God, and that even if some of it was from God you shouldn't focus on God's gifts but on God Himself. Sounds like words of wisdom to me. John of the Cross wrote quite sternly against one nun who got carried away about how God had "spoken" to her. Yet John of the Cross's methods reminded me of what I'd read of Buddhist methods -- despite the fact that his famous poem about the Dark Night of the Soul* was all about yearning in love after God, panting after God as the psalm says, while Buddhists aren't seeking God and love would seem to be an emotion foreign to their practice. I read the Catholic mystics on my way to becoming a Christian and I did put them aside at that point with no intention of returning to them, but some of the phenomena they described I also found described among some good Protestants and it always seemed to be something that just came to a person, wasn't sought, but was given by God to those seeking Him for Himself and not for His gifts.

HOWEVER, Watchman Nee's Latent Power of the Soul does suggest another way of thinking about these things. It's not at all a familiar idea that the human soul possesses any powers that could reach expressions describable as supernatural or miraculous, so at first it's hard to entertain what Nee is saying even as a possibility, but it's coming to make more sense to me. Jessie Penn-Lewis also writes about the phenomena of the soul as opposed to the spirit and specifically attributes the powers of the coming Antichrist to soul power. The Biblical term in the Greek is "psyche," so these can be called "psychic" powers, though "soulish" is often the preferred English rendering. Both Nee and Penn Lewis wrote in the early part of the 20th century when it had become fashionable for "scientists" to study paranormal and psychic phenomena, so some of their descriptions sound out of date, but the same phenomena persist now of course, sometimes with terms from Eastern religions attached. Much of it is what now gets called "mysticism."

Nee's descriptions reminded me of the Russian Startsy or holy men who were (are?) known for their various "supernatural" powers. Seems to be rather a striking example of just what Nee is talking about, practicing methods that release not the spirit but the soul powers.

Many of them have a reputation amidst believers of being able to know the secrets of a person's heart without having ever previously met the visitor, and having the ability to discern God's plan for a person's life. This, as all of the elder's gifts, is believed to come from the Holy Spirit acting through the elder.
Nee himself said he had experienced knowing "the secrets of a person's heart" but had to learn that this was soul power that did NOT come from the Holy Spirit, that he must put this power under the cross or deny it so that the spirit, that is the dwelling place of God's own life, could operate in him instead. It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing. A popular book about the life of a Starets is Way of a Pilgrim in which the method prescribed for the holy life is the practice of the Jesus Prayer, which is used the way a mantra is, simply endlessly repeated, the very sort of thing that releases soul power according to Nee, and in the case of the "pilgrim" of the book that's exactly what happened, as he came to have heightened powers of various kinds.

Just another way of missing God completely. Spectacularly.

It is very likely that many or all of the "charismatic" gifts including speaking in tongues, are based on soul power. Also the phenomena of "revival" such as the "holy laughter" and the spasmodic bodily movements and the like. There is nothing of God in those environments but the odd manifestations are what deceive people into thinking God is present. Those of us who have experienced these things know they are real, know we aren't bringing them about intentionally, know that they aren't an illusion produced by the mind, and yet sometimes they don't feel like they have anything to do with God at all. My own "gift of tongues" has always felt wrong and I haven't had any way of epxlaining it. It also doesn't go away when I pray God will take it away. I try to suppress it but sometimes it's just "there" anyway. It came just as I describe above, out of the blue, not as something I produced myself in any way at all, just all these "words" came tumbling out of my mouth as I was praying out loud in my room one day. Sure does seem supernatural or miraculous. But it has NEVER felt like worship, always felt wrong, though I never knew how to deal with it. Now it seems to me that I should probably regard it as a soul power that I inadvertently facilitated by my participation in charismatic groups, so then I can practice denying it as Nee denied his ability to know what was in people's minds.

In this way Nee's book is very helpful, and it seems to me it could be more helpful in getting a handle on this sort of phenomena than the usual arguments are, even possibly persuading some people out of them who have been caught up in them.

Here's an example of a typical charismatic type "prophecy" or "word from the Lord" given by Jill Austin, who used to be well known among the Kansas City Prophets -- she died a few years ago. She says to a woman that she "saw" her apparently dead husband "dancing on the sapphire sea" with the Lord. You'd think this sort of thing would be so patently obviously nuts it couldn't be entertained at all just because it's so obviously unbiblical -- dead people don't return to talk to people in this life -- but again, it just "comes out of the blue" and is taken to come from God because supposedly where ELSE could it come from? This could be either soul power or just garden-variety witchcraft or mediumship in which demons impart enough knowledge about other people to seduce them.

It's not just the usual charismatic phenomena we have to account for these days either. There is now a growing movement of people who have become dangerously enamored of what is called "contemplative prayer" which makes of prayer a "practice" or a "meditation" or a sort of repetitive mantra along the lines of some Hindu practices. Just another way of releasing soul power or even inviting demonic power.

Another hindrance to recognizing and being able to deal effectively with the "supernatural" counterfeits of the Christian life may be the belief in much of the Church that there is no distinction between soul and spirit as Nee and Penn-Lewis teach there is, even saying that to teach such a distinction is heretical. Maybe I need to try to get more into this concept here.

*Dark Night of the Soul: In John of the Cross's poem, the "dark night" is a state of the soul in prayer, in which all the faculities and powers of the soul and body, the senses for instance, mind and emotions as well, have become "quieted" or "dark" so that the spirit can go forth unimpeded, in love and yearning and adoration to God. It's not meant to describe just any kind of suffering, as most people misinterpret it who don't know anything about the poem but its title, but the suffering of being deprived of the usual faculties we depend on, dealing with impediments to the spiritual life and learning to deny self. I'm not advocating anything about his methods. Clearly they are a minefield of dangers and potential delusions, especially to anyone today who casually and naively decides to try "contemplative prayer." But of course the main problem with ANYTHING Catholic is that they preach a false gospel of salvation by works.