One thing I appreciate about the clothing of Jesus’ day is that there were no zippers or grommets to contribute to a possible wardrobe malfunction. People from that time also didn’t have to worry about removing of an overkill of stickers and price tags from clothing. And who is not grateful when told a dryer sheet is stuck to a sweater? Oh, but are we grateful when someone points out our theological loose threads? Just as we would inspect and remove an offending item from clothing, are we just as quick to inspect and remove faulty doctrine from our lives? Are we as teachable with our theology as we are with our outward appearances?
Recently, I was privy to a conversation regarding the promotion of the mystical practice of lectio divina. Thankfully, there were many discerning women warning of it; however, there were many who could not see the error of this practice. Lectio divina has gathered momentum in evangelical circles and, like most deceptive practices, there is much ignorance regarding its origin and intent. I do appreciate the desire to be closer to God; however, we walk by faith, not by experience and feelings.
What Is Lectio Divina?
Pronounced “lex-ee-o di-veen-a”, it is Latin for “divine reading” and “is undertaken not with the intention of gaining information but of using the texts as an aid to contact the living God.”* It is popular among Catholics and Gnostics and has gained wide acceptance within the emerging church. In general, lectio divina is being promoted as a form of Bible study and is found within the unbiblical practice of spiritual formation. Sadly, this practice has found its way into the evangelical/protestant church too, and many teachers and preachers are openly promoting and endorsing this unbiblical practice. Note that other faiths practice lectio divina too; so it does not matter whether one is reading from the Koran or the Bible, all one has to do is ‘adopt’ this practice for Christianity – you know, as the visible church has done with yoga.
The practice is described as follows, courtesy of Lighthouse Trails Research:
Reading (lectio)—Slowly begin reading a biblical passage as if it were a long-awaited love letter addressed to you. Approach it reverentially and expectantly, in a way that savors each word and phrase. Read the passage until you hear a word or phrase that touches you, resonates, attracts, or even disturbs you.
Reflecting (meditatio)—Ponder this word or phrase for a few minutes. Let it sink in slowly and deeply until you are resting in it. Listen for what the word or phrase is saying to you at this moment in your life, what it may be offering to you, what it may be demanding of you.
Expressing (oratio)—If you are a praying person, when you are ready, openly and honestly express to God the prayers that arise spontaneously within you from your experience of this word or phrase. These may be prayers of thanksgiving, petition, intercession, lament, or praise. If prayer is not part of your journey, you could write down the thoughts that have come your way.
Resting (contemplatio)—Allow yourself to simply rest silently for a time in the stillness of your heart, remaining open to the quiet fullness of God’s love and peace. This is like the silence of communion between the mother holding her sleeping infant child, or between lovers whose communication with each other passes beyond words.”
Where are these steps in Scripture? Surely, if we needed to repeat words many times over, it would be in the Bible. In fact, in Matthew 6:7 Jesus instructs us to do the opposite: “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again (NLT).”
Common Misperceptions about Lectio Divina
1. “It’s been practiced throughout the history of the Church”
First, lectio divina was started around the year 220 by contemplative monks, but the four steps date back only to the 12th century**. Second, which “church” are we talking about? The roots of this practice lie in Catholicism and has no ties to the true church of which Jesus Christ is the only cornerstone and head (Colossians 1:18). Catholics who are knowledgeable of and practice lectio divina, boldly declare it as mysticism, and they do not claim that it is found in Scripture. Additionally, as many have pointed out, if this practice is vital to ‘experiencing God’, then what did the church do before the year 220? Truly, the Body of Christ – the true Church – has nothing to do with this heretical and unbiblical practice.
2. “The Bible says we are to meditate and pray”
Yes, we should; however, the proponents of lectio divina have redefined meditation and prayer. These people do not mean biblical prayer – they mean contemplative prayer, which seeks to empty one’s mind to hear the ‘still small voice’ of God. Consider this description of meditation (courtesy of Southern View Chapel):
Meditatio: the next step is meditation but not meditation as we normally would understand it. Boa describes meditation as “a spiritual work of holy desire and an interior invitation for the Spirit to pray and speak within us (Romans 8:26-27).”  Two brief thoughts before we move on. First, note the misinterpretation of Romans 8:26-27, which is virtually universal in mystical literature. The text does not promise that the Holy Spirit will speak to us in prayer but that He will intercede with the Father for us as we pray. This is an important and often overlooked point.”
‘Christian’ mystic Madame Guyon writes, “[In lectio you are not reading the Scriptures to gain some understanding but to] turn your mind from outward things to the deep parts of your being. You are not there to learn to read, but…to experience the presence of your Lord!”
Part of the misunderstanding is the belief that lectio divina is merely prayerful reading. However, according to mystics, “it is the focusing on and repeating a word or small phrase to facilitate going into the ‘silence'”. Indeed, and that is the real danger. As this article in Lighthouse Trails Research points out, “There is certainly nothing wrong with reading Scripture carefully and thoughtfully. Thoughtfully, we say. In eastern-style meditation (and in contemplative prayer) thoughts are the enemy.”
In lectio divina, Scripture is merely a tool to bring about a mystical experience. A word or phrase becomes a mantra where it is repeated over and over, and the words become what the practitioner’s imagination or other influences – be they internal or external – come up with. The words do not hold the meaning that the original authors intended. In effect, what the adherents of this practice are saying is that Scripture isn’t sufficient and that extra-biblical revelation is needed – additional, personal revelation gleaned through man-made works. We are warned about being taken captive by human tradition (Colossians 2:8).
3. “It has affected me for good”
Why hasn’t Scripture done this? The Word of God thoroughly equips us (2 Timothy 3:15-17) and is perfect (Psalm 19:7). What is being gained through a mystical experience that trumps the Word of God? Nowhere in Scripture are experiences heralded; in fact, we have the more sure Word (2 Peter 1:19), which outranks experiences. Additionally, the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, convicts us of sin (Hebrews 4:12). It is good to be convicted and led to repentance, so we can become holy (1 Peter 1:16), as God expects us to be.
The different forms of contemplative prayer that I used to practice soothed and pacified me; I was courted for pride and destruction. My sin and wretchedness never came to mind during my devotional time because my wicked and deceitful heart always deceived me (Jeremiah 17:9). During this contemplative period, I was never affected for good because I needed a truth that was outside of me – the objective and authoritative Word of God.
4. “I belong to Christ; this has nothing to do with Satan”
Practicing man-made techniques and basing our approval on them through subjective evaluation and misinterpreted Scripture are dangerous. We are to renew our minds through the Word of God (Romans 12:2), not empty them; and we are commanded to guard our wicked hearts, not open them (Proverbs 4:23).
It’s erroneous to think one can be a Christian and practice whatever ‘spiritual’ ritual or fad one wants. Whenever the Israelites were about to enter a foreign land, God would warn them to stay clear of the pagans’ “abominable practices” (Deuteronomy 18:9-11). In our age of global travel and global communication, these pagan practices have come to us; and so we need to be on full alert (1 Peter 5:8). Additionally, the entire Bible is packed with warnings to the church about false teachings – simply because something is taught within the walls of a church does not necessarily make it biblical.
Unfortunately, many Christians believe Satan and his minions are only involved with Ouija Boards and spirit mediums; unfortunately, this misunderstanding is further complicated by deceptive TV shows and movies (Long Island Medium, Ouija, etc.) that glorify and glamorize these occult activities and that basically applaud Satan’s evil craftiness. Yes, of course Satan and his demons have a hand in these things. However, using his subtle deception, it’s inside the church where he does his best work. It’s within the ‘safe’ confines of a church that he deceives through false doctrine and tempts with experiences, personal revelations, and secret knowledge. He doesn’t show up as the visible boogeyman in pew number nine; he shows up as falsehood. Certainly, if he did show up in person, he would sit in the center of the front row, smiling, and clutching a well-worn Bible.
The claim of this quote is supported by this Southern View Chapel excerpt about lectio divina. As we’ll see, an expository understanding of Scripture is frowned upon:
How the believer mines the treasures of Scripture is through the normal, literal (often called grammatical/historical) approach to its reading and study. As God’s truth is understood through this process, it is then to be applied to our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is not the approach to Scripture recommended and promoted within spiritual formation. As a matter of fact, this approach is often ridiculed as merely an intellectual process that does not reach the inner person and does not lead to transformation. Instead, we are told that if our lives are to be truly reformed by the Bible we must turn to an ancient technique, never actually taught in the Word itself, known as lectio divina.
Ruth Haley Barton adds that while reading we are to listen “for the word or the phrase that strikes us…we have a sense of expectancy that God will speak to us. After reading there is a brief period of silence in which we remain with the word, savoring it and repeating it without trying to figure out what it means or why it was given.”
Rather than turning us to the Word of God to hear the Lord’s voice, lectio turns us inward to attempt to listen to a subjective thought that is being interpreted as coming from the Lord. In addition, Barton cautions her readers not to think too much about the passage at this stage, rather “keep coming back to the word that we have been given.”  The word “given” to one of the students of Yaconelli, while reading about Jesus sitting in a boat, was “cushion.” After repeating the word “cushion” over and over “for the longest time” until he started to remember his grandmother lying on a pillow just before she died, the youth felt so peaceful he nearly went to sleep. . This was supposedly the message that God was speaking to this young man from Mark 4:35-41.”
How tragic that Scripture is utilized for this! Since the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, and seeing that the above eisegesis is unbiblical, exactly what spirit was guiding Yaconelli’s student?
I long to see my sisters and brothers free in Jesus; I long to see them consciously deciding not to chase after Satan and fall for his age-old lies. There is a growing appetite for experiencing God, and the enemy is more than happy to see us gorge on his deceit. Pagan religions seek to ‘experience’ God, whereas Christians live by faith. As true believers, we are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) – how much closer to God can we be?
Therefore, if someone says to you, “Psst, you need a theological alteration”, please pray for discernment and knowledge (Psalm 119:66). Test everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Soli Deo Gloria