Denominations, Cults and Religions
A friend sent my a copy of a newsletter from Lighthouse Trails Research Project.
I was disturbed and disappointed in the attitude and approach taken by the writers of the newsletter. While they appear to point out some possible problems or questionable associations, and indeed a couple of examples of poor attitude on the part of their opponents, I was much more disturbed by the misleading approach and logical errors that characterize their arguments.
The list of names and agencies looks like they are opposed to everybody. It was amazing -- almost amusing -- that in this one newsletter they attempted to question and bring into disrepute almost all the major leaders and movements of the Christian world today. It made me wonder who was left that they would be willing to associate with and have fellowship with.
Attacking Rick Warren
A big target is Rick Warren and his program of the The Purpose-Driven Church. There are some details and exchanges they rightly point out were inappropriately handled by associates of Warren. What bothers me more is the overall negative, even, bitter, tone of the newsletter.
I can't understand why some people feel it necessary to crusade against every effort they didn't start, or have some concerns or disagreements with. I have seen a couple of other websites that are specifically set up to counter the efforts Purpose-Driven Church and similar approaches. Why don't these guys just get on with their own calling and expansion of the kingdom instead of fighting trends that others seem to find positive.
I don't like everything Rick Warren says either, and I actually disagree with his simplistic, rule-book approach to the scriptures on some topics. In order to get some scriptures to fit his topics, I have seen he sometimes uses them out of context, or applies them in a way I feel is not related to the intended meaning in their original context. Okay, so Rick Warren is actually human! He never claimed otherwise.
But I also see he has grasped some deep principles, which I also resonate with, and feel are in keeping with the spirit of the scriptures. I could improve several chapters of his book, myself. But why should I? I have my own calling -- I am responsible to God to get that done.
I have read Rick's book twice, parts of it several times. I have it very marked up -- positive and negative!! I have led prayer sessions and implementation programs for the Purpose-Driven Church. Rick has seen a need and met it with a vigour and fervour, as well as a sweet spirit, that is mis-represented by the quotations this article presents out of context.
Rick criticizes no church or pastor. Everything I have read of him or heard him say is focused on encouraging pastors and members to deepen their life, grasp their call and allow the Spirit to fill them with insights and gifting! How can we knock that!?
Lead Like Jesus Seminar
Then there is the Lead Like Jesus Seminar, led by Ken Blanchard, along with other world-renowned Evangelical leaders. The Lighthouse Trails site also demeans Ken Blanchard, trying to associate him and his programs with Buddhism and New Age.
The Lead Like Jesus training program is being used in biblically-based leadership training by many churches, mission agencies, and other Christian organizations. Amazingly this program is also being used in businesses and the general marketplace, introducing people to Jesus in a manner unavailable in the un-Christian business world.
In this newsletter, they employ a common logical error, which I will address below. This error, called Guilt by Association, is commonly used to discredit opponents by an association with something thought to be negative, without dealing with the details and full picture. An association for one specific purpose may have nothing to do with something else another person or agency is involved in.
Lighthouse Trails is also conducting a campaign against Contemplative Prayer. I was puzzled over the term Contemplative Prayer. I can't tell what Lighthouse Trails means by this term. The term normally refers to a well-established Christian approach to prayer. Contemplative Prayer has a venerable and ancient status in the history of Christianity. I can't understand how it can be bad to meditate on the character of God, the teachings of Jesus, his role in redemption.
One example of the Guilt by Association was used here, a reference to Hindu or Eastern meditation. We are intended to believe that anything used, any activity performed by some other religious (or cultural?) group is automatically bad, no matter what its purpose or motivation, or its origin without a Christian context.
If we rejected every practice, simply because we had discovered that the same or a similar practice existed in some other religious situation, we would have to reject most of the practices of Christianity, because there is something similar in many cultures and religious traditions.
The reason for Contemplative Prayer (what I know of by that term) is to gain a deeper relationship to God, to train ourselves to internalize the words of Scripture, then be in a state of openness to the Holy Spirit, and to focus our minds on the spiritual, away from the disjointed distractions of life and the world. This is the level at which we should evaluate, and judge, practices or movements. This seems to be the approach Jesus took. Jesus said evil comes from within us, not from outside.
Intention and Purpose
Jesus criticized the Pharisees in areas he felt were deficient, yet he approved and commended their holy practices, and in beliefs and teachings he was the closest to them of all the various "parties" of Judaism of that day. Jesus focused on attitude and intention as the root of sin -- sin (evil) comes from within. ("It is not what goes into a man, but what comes out of his mouth" Mark 7:16.) So our relationship has to be right with God. Prayer is a key to this. Focused prayer has always been a part of the Christian life.
The Reference is not Hinduism
It does not make sense that I should stop meditating on the words of Jesus or the character of God, or the will of God for my life, in reflective prayer, just because I suddenly learn that Hindus or others always have a similar practice. This is a reverse perspective. What Hindus do may be of interest, or even helpful, but is never the guide for what Christians should do.
It disturbs me that the Lighthouse seems to assume that if it looks like Hindu prayer (it lowers your blood pressure, etc.) that it is bad per se. If my prayer improves my health, isn't that good, whether Hindus do it or not? The Reference is not Hinduism, but Jesus.
They may mean something else by the term Contemplative Prayer. But I am not comfortable with their negative approach, as well as their erroneous logic.
I have seen that there are a considerable number of people who feel there is only one or two correct ways and formats for prayer. As though they are inside the mind of God and have surveyed all the cultural systems and individuals of the world to know how they think, and how God needs to communicate with them! I pray for such arrogance, as it may be one of the blind spots that weakens such otherwise gifted speakers and writers.
I never want to get to the point where I think I have bottled God up into the comfortable way I think or prefer. I'd prefer to let God be God and continue to experience the exciting, and sometimes scary, challenge of discovering something new from God every day. Maybe something totally new I never thought of before!
For surely God has had a few thoughts I have not yet had! Isn't it amazing how some people know more about God and his work than God does! I fear for the judgement they will come under! How many "little ones" will they cause to stumble?
The Saddleback PEACE plan is a world mission ministry to get the gospel to the smaller peoples of the world not yet targeted by major mission agencies. They partner with national churches and international mission agencies to involve teams from local churches in the US and other countries. I do not know the staff at Saddleback Church, and can't testify to how they handle attacks on their integrity. I would expect, like other people, they are not at their best when under public attack.
It does seem likely that the charges levelled against them are at least taken out of context. I never heard of any "Field Representative" of Saddleback. We never had contact with any such person during our church's implementation of the 40 Days of Purpose scripture study, or in anything related to the programs of our church.
People Resist the Gospel Challenge
Of course, any major effort is going to experience opposition, and sometimes people don't want to change, so they decide to go somewhere else. When people get comfortable in a tradition and the church is the way they like it, they might resist a radical review of their church and lives in light of the gospel. People do resist the biblical message. Change is hard. The gospel is not always easy, and many, even in churches, are unwilling to accept its challenges.
Common Error of Logic
I am sorry to say I have seen the approach used in this Lighthouse newsletter many other times in negative organizations or small American denominations who seem to disapprove of terminology or activities that are different from what they prefer. They use a common error of logic, which is often purposely used to attack an opponent, though it does not always indicate malice aforethought.
The main error in their approach is called Guilt by Association. They have liberally used vague and general terms, like "New Age," which is a general term for no coordinated organization or movement, but a cover term for some broad trends in the last three decades or so. They seem to assume that any use of physical exercises or other practices similar to or derived from Eastern practices are by definition anti-Christian.
The method then used is to find some way to associate one person or organization to the first, and extend this chain of association, so that all appear to be of one mind and involved in the full range of activities or beliefs assumed (but never explained) by the first term.
I noticed that they made many charges but dealt not with the stated purposes of any of the movements or agencies, but simply mentioned certain meetings where they might have appeared together -- joint, broad efforts of which two persons might have made some supportive comment. This is then assumed to tie all these persons and organizations together in some coordinated basic scheme that somehow entails (only) what the writer understands as a negative or destructive value.
Aware and Wary
There is a lot of weird stuff out there. And we must be wary. But some of the stuff on this Lighthouse Trails website is pretty weird! All their articles seem to reflect a conspiracy theory approach. And one of the things we must be VERY wary of is an agency that is against everything. I always see a red flag when a writer or agency uses unfair guilt-by-association to cast doubt on someone.
A reader wrote in to say she had had a bad experience with the website staff. She suggests:
"Yes, Lighthouse has some wierd things on their website. Lighthouse may be spending too much time fighting against the New Age and Emergent Church movements, and too little time proclaiming the gospel and exulting the name of Jesus Christ."
The underlying attitude I have found in the Lighthouse material does not invite me to invest my time, when there is so much positive work that needs to be done, and many positive resources to draw on. I also found some of the accusations and conclusions outlandish, in light of what else I know about an agency or person. It is almost funny, except that these people are actually serious.
It is amazing that in this one newsletter they manage to attack most major Christian (mission-oriented, Bible based) schools, mission organizations, publications companies, churches and world Christian leaders. That is quite a feat! I bet they would have a field day with some of the things going on at Edenvale Baptist Church (Johannesburg) and the Christian movement in South Africa! Exciting things are happening there. Lives are being saved, families are being healed, addicts are being cured. People are reaching out to the hurting in their community.
I have seen many, many attacks like this on almost everything. I hope this is not representative of the total effort of Lighthouse Trails.
Also related on this site:
Polity, Funding and Authority in Southern Baptist Life: An Answer to a Critic of a Baptist University
Related to 40 Days of Purpose – My Prayer Meditations on the 5 Purposes of the Church
Related on the Internet:
Guilt by Association – Logical Fallacies
Guilt by Association – Wikipedia
Ken Blanchard's Pilgrimage – Regent University Business Review
Lead Like Jesus Seminars
New Age Spirituality
New Age – Tiscali News and Features
The Purpose-Driven Church
The Saddleback PEACE Plan
More On Rick Warren:
Rick Warren – Wikipedia
Rick Warren's Blog – Find out what's really happening
Rick Warren Bio – Pastors.Com
Rick Warren Introduction – Purpose-Driven.Com
More On Contemplative Prayer:
Centering Prayer – Includes a history of the Lectio Divina Christian Tradition
Contemplative Prayer – Based on a 14th century Anglo-Saxon Prayer Format
Guides to Contemplative Prayer – The Praying Church
Written first 2-3 July 2006 in email responses to a friend
Finalized as an article 30 July 2006
Last edited 8 July 2011
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.