Contemplative Prayer Affirmed at Collonges Theology School

The issue of contemplative prayer coming into the Adventist Church has been a concern for over six years now. Books have been written about this issue; lectures have been given to alert people to the dangers; seminars and workshops at various events have dealt with the subject.

Most Adventists believe this is just something that a few people are experimenting with and that it will not harm the church.  Like other fads, they think that its influence will eventually vanish with time.  However, contemplative prayer is being imported into our educational institutions and taught to our students.  That places it well beyond a passing fad.

What we are about to show as evidence is intended to raise awareness among the Adventist family that this is an issue we must address.  It must be confronted—as it is being used to shape our liturgy and worship styles within the Adventist church.

At the Adventist Faculty of Theology in Collonges-sous-Saleve, France, our future pastors are being instructed how to develop and organize contemplative type of meetings at their future local churches.  We learn this from a liturgy exam that was given to the students in 2013.

The first question on the exam was:

[Page 1] “In order to provide a greater diversity during prayer meetings, some members of your church ask you to introduce from time to time some contemplative type of meetings.  Which method will you use among those who regularly attend the prayer meeting?  How would you like to present these meetings?”

The student's answer was:

[Pages 2 and 3] “Upon suggestion of some church members to hold a contemplative prayer type meeting, I would start preparing the liturgical plan, and invite those people who usually do not attend this gathering to come to the prayer meetings.  I would promote the event.  However, during this promotion, I would explain them the real purpose of these meetings and the method of contemplative liturgy.

Before this first prayer meeting, I would hold another meeting for all who would be interested in participating, in order to properly explain the contemplative meeting plan.  The idea is to make people understand this contemplative worship since it is not known or used among Adventists.

As we have studied, the main purpose of this type of liturgy is to let silence speak.  God reveals Himself to man through the five senses.  Let God speak and not man.

As for the first part of the prayer meeting, I would more or less follow this plan:

• In the first 10 minutes, there would be Gregorian music in a soft, calm tone in the room so that when people arrive they can feel a quiet setting.  This is so people can feel God's presence in the room through the Holy Spirit.

• Then someone would stand up in order to slowly, quietly but very noticeably read a Bible text.  This person should be well prepared in order to be able to let the Bible speak and not himself. 

• Then, I would present a video that shows the sacrifice of Jesus, without comments or music, a silent video.

• The following 10 minutes would be for meditation and reflection.  It is used to ask God's forgiveness for our sins.  It is a time for reconciliation.  This type of liturgy truly helps us feel our real dependence on God, our sinful condition, but these moments also help us to reconcile ourselves with God and give us the feeling of being a little lighter in our worship.

• Then, a moment for the Bible, in order to show how great and powerful God is.  It’s like an invitation He makes us personally, to let our pain and worries in His hands.

• Then, 10 minutes for reconciliation and especially for our requests and thanksgiving, that would finish with an acapella hymn sung by the entire congregation.

• To end, a blessing from the Bible, and dismissal.”

The student who took this exam confessed that while he does not endorse at all this method of prayer meeting, he penned an answer that he knew would provide maximum points.  And it worked.  The professor gave him a score of  100 (5 out of 5).

It should be noted that this teacher is responsible for sending each crop of first year students, to an ecumenical monastic community in the region for a spiritual retreat in which the students have the opportunity to experience and participate in other forms of worship.  The theme for those retreats is “silence.”  This retreat is organized in the context of the subject of Spiritual Formation in which the teacher also introduces contemplative spirituality.

In 2010 and 2011, Elder Ted Wilson said that we most hold our leaders accountable.  Shouldn’t that also happen at our theology schools?  

We must surely agree it should.