On 16th to 18th March this year I was present at a Leadership Conference for South Queensland Conference. It was weekend event where the conferences initiative was to, as the motto states, Shape for Leadership.
The weekend was filled with inspiring stories, fellowship and loud Hillsong style worship which at times reached 117dB. I think the conference should have issued all attendees earplugs to comply with the workplace health and safety laws in the state of Queensland.
On Sunday morning before breakfast pastor Glenn Townend, SPD president had the morning devotional. He chose to speak about Biblical Meditation for Leaders. He started by saying how good the program was on Sabbath, he thanked all the presenters and ridiculed the presentation of pastor Gary Krouse. He mentioned that the highlight for him was Sabbath evening where we heard from churches what they are doing in their local church.
The fact was we heard from some handpicked and selected few that, by their own admission, went to Willow Creek church in the US to learn, and I quote “how to do church" (never mind that the founder of Willow Creek resigned in April following allegations of sexual misconduct). Pastor Mike Collum said that he and a few others went to Willow Creek to see how they operate and how they do things behind the scenes. This was all pre-set for us and they didn’t allow time for other churches whom they didn’t pick to share how successful they are in their outreach to their local communities.
Back to pastor Glenn’s topic. I have read something about meditation and certain other spiritual forms, so I was curious what this will be about. He stated at the beginning that there is a difference between eastern mediation and biblical meditation. He stated that eastern meditation makes you empty and dumber. But biblical mediation makes you “filled with God” and as a result you are smarter. His presentation seemed to be talking straight out of the textbook of Jon Dybdahl Ph.D.
I had read Dybdahl's book “Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of your Soul” previously, so when I heard pastor Glenn sharing his topic I was familiar with the methods. The Method that pastor Glenn shared is called Lectio Divina or sacred/divine reading.
Here is a very subtle and cunning excerpt from the Beginner's Guide to Lectio Divina:
Do you have a regular rhythm and practice of reading the Bible? And then once you do, how do you read? How we read the Bible is every bit as important as the fact that we do. Having, first of all, a desire to encounter the living God when we open the Scriptures is important. The Bible is more than just another book. It’s an opportunity to experience the Almighty God who made heaven and earth and you and has known you since the day you were born. By opening these pages of Scripture, we create a space of God to reshape us over time. Much like centering prayer, lectio allows us to slow down and make ourselves present to receive from God in the moment. We step out of our world and become immersed in a new world, God’s world. In another sense, lectio divina opens our eyes to see the Holy Spirit stepping out of the pages and working in the world around us (A Beginner's Guide to Lectio Divina, The Sabbath Life.com).
This method is used because it can be practised easily in a group setting. You can read more about it on page 62 of Jon Dybdahls book. First, Townend picked a Bible passage from Habakkuk 2:14, 20. He then proceeded to read verse 14. He kept repeating verse 14 numerous times, each time putting emphasis on a different word. After each reading there was a short period of silence followed by questions. He proceeded to add more emphasis to the text and read it a few more times. Then he (Townend) got the audience to read verse 20 for themselves and practise what he shared.
Being Adventists, we started studying the verse and discussing among ourselves about the verse. We were then warned that we need to keep the silence and read it silently so that we can hear God and that He may speak to us. I must say I felt uncomfortable. All my life I have been taught to study God’s word and to be filled with the word of God. To compare scripture with scripture and through the biblical stories learn the will of God for my life.
Sitting in silence, continuously repeating the same verse over and over and emphasising different words each time is not how Adventists ”meditate” on the word of God. The word meditate is used only 30 times in the bible and it always means to think/ponder or thoughts.
For example, Luke 21:14 14 "Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate(think) beforehand on what you will answer."
1 Philippians 4:8 8 "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(ponder/contemplate) on these things."
2 Psalm 1:2 "But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates(thinks) day and night."
3 Psalm 19:14 "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation(thoughts) of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight,"
Nowhere in the Bible does the word meditate mean, read the Scripture repeatedly multiple times over until your head starts to spin. Biblical meditation is not some mystical form or expression. It simply means thinking, pondering. As the Psalmist puts it “May the meditation (thoughts) of my heart(mind) Be acceptable in Your sight.”
We have been warned about Spiritual Formation, centering down and contemplative prayers. These are all spiritual exercises that stem from Ignatius Loyola, and it has infiltrated our schools and universities and is being taught and promoted to this day, even though the General Conference has openly warned the church about these dangerous practices.
A transcript of this meditation exercise was sent to a Christian expert in mystical spirituality to get their opinion on what Townend was doing. Here is their response:
It is hard to tell if Glenn Townend was using any particular meditation format or if he even knew what he was doing. Although Glenn's stated aim was to teach "Biblical meditation", however in the process it seemed to be an amalgamation of some Biblical and some Lectio Divina. Glenn seems very eager to promote meditation and to put aside concerns of eastern meditation but he went only as far as to ask audience to "google" to find out the difference.
In my opinion, it's difficult to pin down what method he was using because it was without definitive form and done in the context of an address to pastors. His keenness to promote meditation--without clearly differentiating what is Biblical compared to what is not--is of concern.
On a side note, at the beginning of this month a group of 12 SDA pastors and other church employees attended a GLS+ conference with Carey Nieuwhof.
GLS+ is a one-day conference for church leaders and teams passionate about healthy, effective and sustainable ministry. It is organised by Willow Creek Australia. I would like to call on all Bible-believing Adventist, those “7000 that still haven’t bowed to Baal,” to hold those in power responsible for their actions and the direction that they are leading God’s last day church.
If leaders in positions don’t conform to the clear teachings of the Word of God and the directions from the Spirit of Prophecy they need to be removed from office.
That's the scoop from Down Under!