Rick Howard sent us this article shortly before he passed away last November. In it, he is responding to a July 30, 2015 Gleaner article by Dave Thomas, and a July 28, 2015 Statement by Northwest Adventist Church Leaders--also in the Gleaner. Thomas was defending Walla Walla University against revelations of spiritual formation on campus. The NPUC leaders issued a statement on Spiritual Formation that downplayed the danger of it, and relegated concerns to "obsession and conspiracy theories" and "unfounded rumors."
Here is Dave Thomas' article in its entirety:
For reasons that will become apparent shortly, I want to address the topic of spiritual formation. On the face of it, this phrase would seem to be innocuous, even favorable as a phrase describing the task of forming the internal spiritual dimension that is so important to all of us. But, as I suspect you already know, that is not the case. The phrase “spiritual formation” has come to be the phrase of choice used now to refer to the surreptitious infiltration of all kinds of Eastern mystical meditational ideas and techniques alleged to be flooding into Christianity and, of particular concern, into Adventism — all as part of a great conspiracy of the devil. Most astonishing to me is that, according to the purveyors of this idea of a great conspiracy, Walla Walla University, Walla Walla University Church and its School of Theology are said to be the primary locations where all this is happening. Those purveying these allegations have produced all manner of videos, books and Internet presentations. They have made speeches and gone about making presentations laying out their claims and allegations very publicly. And they have now distributed their wares far and wide. The charges and allegations they make are very serious indeed.
I would respond by saying that those of us who live and work in and around Walla Walla University know what Eastern mystical meditation is — a mind-altering meditational technique through which people try to transcend their humanity in order to penetrate the transcendence of God. And I can say categorically that such meditation is NOT practiced or endorsed here at all. Those who claim otherwise say this kind of mystical stuff is “everywhere” at WWU. I say, if it is “everywhere,” then it must be “somewhere.” The problem is that nobody can find a “somewhere” where mystical meditation is being practiced or endorsed. It is simply the case that this kind of thing is not found on the campus nor in the church. Put another way, those making these allegations against us have created a fantasy. For reasons I do not understand, they have amassed all kinds of evidences and drawn conclusions that have no substance in reality. What they have never done is check their conclusions with those against whom they make their allegations. When formulating opinions, before going public with them, it is normally standard practice to engage those about whom you write or speak to see if the conclusions you have arrived at are, in fact, true. This our detractors have never done. They have never come here to see for themselves what is happening, and they have never come to talk with those whom they allege are the perpetrators of this infiltration of Eastern things. I can only presume that, for some reason, they prefer their fantasy to truth. So, I say again quite plainly, spiritual formation as conspiratorially understood is not a part of life at WWU or the School of Theology. It is NOT! We do NOT practice mystical meditations nor do we endorse them no matter what you hear from those far away.
I might conclude by observing that, up to this point, we have deliberately chosen not to engage in debate with our detractors because, once a conspiracy theory is abroad, any and all evidences and occurrences get co-opted to support the conspiracy. We prefer not to be caught in that dynamic. We do sincerely hope, however, that those who make allegations about spiritual formation at WWU will soon realize they are completely wrong in their conclusions and will turn from their ways. Ours is an open campus, and the church services are televised. We are under the supervision and direction of a university board of church leaders and other trustworthy people. Church leaders are often on our campus interacting with us, and we are visited by the Adventist Accreditation Agency as are all other campuses. There is no conspiracy or underhandedness going on here. It is time for all this to come to a halt, for making such egregious allegations against fellow Christians without concrete substantiation is unconscionable. It boggles the mind to think how readily some who profess faith in Jesus believe the very worst about their fellows! In the interest of openness, I include here my phone number and invite you to call me if you have interest in firsthand conversation: 509-527-2194.
Statement From Northwest Adventist Church Leaders:
A recent statement from the Carolina Conference officers regarding concerns about “spiritual formation” in Adventist churches and institutions has been adopted by North Pacific Union Conference officers and the presidents of the Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Upper Columbia and Washington conferences. This represents an active call for appropriate spiritual discipleship and growth among Northwest churches and an appeal to some well-meaning members to cease their promotion of unfounded rumors.
By now most of us have heard about spiritual formation. This term has become a buzzword for various, questionable attempts to gain a meaningful experience with God by using such methods as centering prayer, emptying your mind, repeating mantras and other forms of mysticism.
Without question, these are all practices that are unbiblical, are dangerous and should have no place in the Christian life. Indeed, these practices should rightfully concern us.
Now, while we understand it is possible that some Adventists are, or have been, involved in some of these unbiblical spiritual practices, we believe this likely applies to only a very small percentage of those in God’s church. We also feel it important to clearly state that our church leadership within the North Pacific Union Conference does NOT condone such practices, nor any related part of this emerging church movement. We believe such things are a threat to our spiritual lives.
Do you know what else concerns us? We are concerned we do not hear enough about true, biblical methods of forming and growing our spiritual lives. Philippians 4:8 addresses the biblical meditation we all desperately need to pursue: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.” Some other biblical counsel in this area advises us: “I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of your deeds” (Psalm 77:12) and “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).
God’s acceptable methods of meditation do not involve emptying your mind, but filling it with positive, true and uplifting thoughts of God from His Word. In our fast-track world, we desperately need to spend more time with God to discern His will. In Desire of Ages, we read:
“In all who are under the training of God is to be revealed a life that is not in harmony with the world, its customs, or its practices; and everyone needs to have a personal experience in obtaining a knowledge of the will of God. We must individually hear Him speaking to the heart. When every other voice is hushed, and in quietness we wait before Him, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God. He bids us, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Ps. 46:10. Here alone can true rest be found. And this is the effectual preparation for all who labor for God. Amid the hurrying throng, and the strain of life’s intense activities, the soul that is thus refreshed will be surrounded with an atmosphere of light and peace. The life will breathe out fragrance, and will reveal a divine power that will reach men’s hearts” (p. 363).
Yes, we should be concerned that some Adventists may be dabbling in the dangerous, unbiblical practices some term spiritual formation. We should be concerned we are perhaps not taught enough of the Bible’s counsel about how to grow our spiritual lives. These things do concern us. But do you know what may be the most dangerous element in all this?
We find the most dangerous and destructive element is the time and energy some folks put into studying and warning others about these errors. We believe this is distracting them and others from spending time in the truth. Our sincere prayer is that we don’t fall into Satan’s trap of feeling we need to know all the details of the errors out there. Experts on counterfeit money spend their time studying the genuine. Knowing the real thing is the best way to spot a fake. In reality, if we spend all our time chasing the devil’s rabbits, we will not have time left to savor the Savior! Satan has a plan to keep us distracted. Study the truth, and you will not stray from it.
Focusing on the dangers of the nonbiblical forms of spiritual growth may just scare us away from a true, growing, saving relationship with God. We recently heard of a young lady who proclaimed she had stopped praying to God because she was afraid the devil would take control of her. What was her focus? Her focus was on the dangers of false prayer, and it turned her away from the truth and the comfort and peace the Holy Spirit can give us through prayer. We can become entrapped in fear and become paranoid to the point that our faith can be challenged.
Yes, Ephesians 5:11 tells us to have “no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather, expose them.” We are to expose error, not meditate on it. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we are to meditate on the errors and works of the enemy. Instead we are to meditate on the truth and beautiful character of our God.
So the question we need to ask ourselves is: What captivates our time and attention more — truth or error? Is the majority of our reading and listening focused on the Bible and truth or the devil’s deceptions? Would it not be better for us to become experts on our Deliverer, rather than the devil?
If we commit and focus on the truth of God’s Word, spend quality time in prayer, meditate on His Word and will, and share it with others, we will each grow spiritually and God’s kingdom will grow exponentially.
In our estimation, we should be most careful to find the beautiful path of balance and harmony that Christ desires to see in His church. There are really two ditches along this path — one ditch is a focus and obsession about conspiracy theories in the church where we view ourselves as the guardians of the church and virtually see a demon behind every bush, while the other ditch is to dismiss the warning lights provided to us by God’s messenger, throw caution to the wind and be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14, NASB).
The Lord has provided us with a beautiful, balanced path of truth that is centered in Christ. The prayer of our hearts is that His remnant church will stay that course.
Please join us in earnestly praying for the church to be ready when Jesus comes.
— Leadership of the North Pacific Union, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Upper Columbia and Washington conferences
Here is Rick Howard's posthumous response:
The NPUC Gleaner calls unnamed individuals to “cease their promotion of unfounded rumors.”
As one of the unnamed individuals, I can say that I love God’s church supremely and desire more than anything a balanced spiritual life. Please know, our hearts’ desire is that our message to the world will be one of unity and love. We desire a tenderhearted harmony in His church that says, ‘we are God’s people; look and behold the manifestation of His love.” But to our dismay — as in the past — the claims made in the Gleaner article address only a symptom of the actual problem. Mystical practices are only the branch. The root is esteeming the teachings of Babylon.
Through the years, the real concern (teachings of Babylon) has been presented as such, yet a straw man has been constructed and reconstructed — namely mysticism. The claim is made, then answered, “Where is it?” “It is not being practiced here, nor there!” Certainly mystical practices in the church have been reduced, or are less visible, as a result of considerable exposure. Claiming mystical practices to be the central issue though easily creates the false narrative of single-mindedness and conspiratorial theory.
But the actual problem, as revealed in numerous sermons, seminars and books, is the return of some in our church to the teachings of Babylon. I devoted an entire chapter to these issues in my book, Meet It, using the standard of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. Many others have also clarified and carefully defended this message.
The consequences of disregarding this are clearly seen in:
- Acquiring unscriptural and extra-biblical counsel at the feet of unenlightened mentors,
- Delivering that counsel to God’s church and ushering in its acceptance and practice,
- Minimizing the impact of this dangerous practice and keeping many of our people in the dark.
Many have responded to the call of God to speak to this issue and each has a testimony, telling of God’s calling and leading to do this very work. Basically, it is these testimonies that are being challenged, along with the use of God’s gift of time. The Spirit of Prophecy tells us with surety that God is more likely to reveal His will for our lives to us, personally, than He is to reveal it through someone else.
Scripture teaches that we gain victory through our testimony and part of mine is this. God led me in a most powerful and providential way to write my first book. At the time, I was sixty-five years old and retiring from thirty-five years of ministry. I do not claim to be a talented writer, but God called me to write, so I did. The writing and publication of that book, The Omega Rebellion, was led by God’s providence at every advance. Its publication happened almost entirely without my involvement after waiting on God for a year and a half after its completion. This was God’s answer to my prayer, that I have nothing to do with its coming before the church (besides my prayer), for I knew the contention that would follow. I pleaded with God to have the book come out, if at all, by His leading and at His timing – and God answered that prayer precisely. Yes, The Omega Rebellion does examine the use of mystical practices, but of far greater importance, it explains that those very practices are a byproduct of the root problem explained above. Many in our beloved church placed themselves in the dilemma of having to parse through truth and error, furthering their education but seeking new spiritual light; and sadly, often ultimately following error. This is a central issue to those who are called by God to address these matters.
My brothers and sisters, please consider whether God is indeed asking you to pass judgment on the calling of others. Inspiration has referred to this as exercising “kingly power,” a symptom of what Ellen White labeled the omega apostasy. In defense, evil was not demonstrated, but the teachings of God were contrasted with the teachings of Babylon. It was shown that inspiration warns God’s people not to return to the churches of Babylon, churches He has already delivered them from. This is wise and inspired counsel for His church. Only those opposing the inclination to study these concerns know why their stand is being taken.
There is also a suggestion in the article that those who are presenting these concerns are causing trouble and dissension in the church. Remember, there is always some dissension when a valid warning is given to God’s people (I Kings 18:17; 2 Chronicles 18:7). This does not mean it shouldn't be given. The truth is that some do need warning and that does result in a level of discord as people choose between truth and error, but it is a good and necessary work. Is there discomfort caused by the suggestion that we should not seek new spiritual light from churches and institutions that God has called us from?
Ted Wilson, our General Conference President, counseled the church in his first sermon as president to “look within the Seventh-day Adventist Church” for understanding and not turn to methods rooted in mysticism and the emerging church movement. He was right. [Editor's note. Elder Ted Wilson just repeated this warning in the July Issue of Adventist World Magazine, The Great task Before Us].
I listened through my tears that day as I sat in the Atlanta Georgia Dome. It was a year and a half after my book was completed. Without knowing it, Ted was sharing the same message that was in The Omega Rebellion. Three weeks later it was in print, fully paid for. The publishers had been contacted without my awareness. God truly answered my prayer and gave me this testimony, that it was He Who made this happen—not me.
Please weigh the facts as they have been shared with you. Some among us are returning to the broken cisterns of Babylon, truly spending time studying the counterfeit rather than the genuine, and are recommending these views to others.
I know God will lead us all as we study His Word and the inspired counsel from His messenger.
Pastor Rick Howard