In two articles appearing this week [March 2013] in the Christian Post (CP), Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta, discusses the mystic concept of waiting in silence and listening for the voice of God, seemingly independent of hearing God speak through His written Word.
In a 5 March 2013 article entitled, “Listening to God,” Stanley discusses prayer by appealing to the Old Testament figure of David. Stanley offers that David approached prayer by reviewing the past, reflecting upon the Lord’s character, recalling God’s promises and finally by making requests of God. This article curiously concludes, however, with Charles Stanley stating the following:
Stop for a minute and think about how you typically interact with God. If prayer time is dominated by your own talking, some adjustments may be in order. Just as the Lord spoke to David, God also has many things to say to you, if you’ll simply let Him speak. Source
Stanley’s language here seems vague, though his instruction appears to allude to the idea of listening for outside guidance from the Almighty, whether via an audible voice or impression or some other subjective means. This mirrors the practice of Eastern meditation and is mystical in its origins and unbiblical in nature.
A complementary article written by Stanley and appearing at CP on 6 March 2013 is entitled, “Meditation: The Key to Listening.” In this short piece, Stanley further reveals his true beliefs regarding this topic. He writes:
In our normal everyday lives, we are surrounded by countless voices in need of our attention. Our children cry for it, our employers demand it, and our loved ones yearn for it. With all of these bidding for our attention, no wonder God’s voice at times seems so muffled or distant.
Effective meditation requires seclusion. Unless we make an effort to escape our daily demands for at least a few moments, our ability to hear God’s voice will be weakened.
To be sure, the Christian should pursue a time and place free of distractions to commune with God through the study of Scripture and through prayer. Silence should not be sought, however, in order that one may audibly hear from God. Yet, such a practice seems to be precisely what Charles Stanley is advocating as he concludes:
At some point today, turn off the TV, cell phone, and computer, and simply listen for God’s voice. Your schedule won’t surrender easily, so make a decision to claim a block of time for the Lord. Then quiet your extraneous thoughts, and focus on Him. Source
In both practice and purpose, contemplative prayer stands in contrast with what Scripture teaches about prayer. Practitioners believe that one must clear the mind of outside concerns so that God’s voice may more easily be heard. Advocates of contemplative prayer believe and teach that it is a necessary practice if one desires to become more like Christ. This latter point is especially interesting considering Charles Stanley’s appeal to Matthew 6:6 in his most recent article:
Our Lord was well aware of this need for isolation. In teaching about prayer, Jesus told the disciples to go into their rooms and close the door behind them. He knew it was vital to take a break from the pressures of life in order to truly commune with the Father. Source
In the passage to which Stanley alludes, the Lord is condemning the hypocritical, self-centered prayers of those who deliberately sought to be noticed by men while praying in public. When Jesus urges his followers to “go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6, NASB), He is teaching His followers that the attitude of their heart in prayer should be to be heard by God, not men.
When Jesus was asked by His followers to teach them to pray, He instructed them in what is known as the Lord’s Prayer, as found in Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4. Noticeably absent from these passages is Jesus instructing believers to sit in silence and solitude listening for the audible voice of God or waiting for an impression that might be divinely sent.
When the Christian prays, he speaks to God. When the Christian desires to hear from God, he opens his Bible and reads. True, biblical prayer is talking to God the Father (Phil. 4:6) through Jesus Christ the Son (John 16:23) in the power of the Holy Spirit, understanding that what God has revealed in His Word is sufficient and that new revelation is unnecessary (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
The ground being tread by Charles Stanley is perilous, as those who seek and desire mystical experiences open themselves up to potentially dangerous deception. This is not the first time that Stanley’s thoughts on the matter have been exposed, however. As previously reported, in a November 2012 interview with Mark Galli of Christianity Today (CT), Stanley is referred to as a “mystic Baptist,” and, when directly asked about his claims that God speaks to him, Stanley responded by saying,
For me, I get this strong sense of feeling that’s so clear, so direct to me. Like this week, something happened and I thought, Well, I could do thus and such, and God said, “Don’t do that.” I don’t hear a voice, but it’s so crystal sharp and clear to me, I know not to disobey that.
I think that comes from early in life as you learn to listen. You make mistakes; after a while, you realize as you obey him, it turns out right, and whatever your reason was for not obeying him, it doesn’t turn out right.
Stanley also stated in this CT interview that he wanted “the Holy Spirit to interpret the truth” for him. Surely this is the desire of every Christian. How, then, can one know that he is being guided by the Holy Spirit into the truth of God? Should one rely upon subjective feelings and impressions, or upon the clear, unambiguous and objective Word of God? How can one know what is true? It seems prudent to turn to the words of the Lord on the matter:
Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. (John 17:17, NASB)
To engage in mystic meditation as taught and encouraged by Charles Stanley in these articles is to wander down dangerous and deceptive paths outside the boundaries of God’s perfect and holy Word. One of the battle cries of the Reformation was that of sola scriptura, Scripture alone, and truly it is sufficient for the Christian’s needs (2 Tim. 3:16–17), especially as one seeks to know God and to grow in faith. Scripture itself, as inspired by the Holy Spirit and as penned by David, attests to its own sufficiency:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. Ps. 19:7–9, ESV
May the Christian be satisfied with the true and perfect Word of God as found in Scripture.
By Erin Benziger of Do Not Be Surprised