Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

2 Reasons I'm thankful to be at SBTS rather than LPTS, Part 2

As I mentioned at the beginning of my last post on this subject, these posts are not focused on the obvious reasons a Baptist would choose the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) over Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS), but rather on concerns I have seen from LPTS that are so severe that I would consider paying the extra tuition to go to SBTS, even if I were Presbyterian. (Assuming, of course, that for some reason SBTS and LPTS were my only to options.)

On the campus of LPTS, my wife and I saw a few signs indicating that there is a labyrinth on campus, so we set out to find it. Having been raised watching the movie Labyrinth several times and having since then become a fan of the finale in the movie The Shining, I was very eager to see this labyrinth. I imagined winding paths made of stone walls or hedges, where my wife and I could someday have fun playing hide-and-go-seek with our son.

Imagine my disappointment when I found that the labyrinth was nothing more than bricks on the ground.

There is little chance that we would meet the Goblin King by surprise in this place, and if we had to hide from Jack Nicholson here, we'd be goners.

My real problem with the labyrinth at LPTS, however, is not the architecture of the thing (it is, admittedly, very scenic), but rather the claims made for the labyrinth. For this labyrinth is not built just so that people can appreciate the beauty of its form or so that people can enjoy walking through it; rather, this is meant to be a powerful tool for spiritual experience. As the sign beside the labyrinth explains:
I'll transcribe what I consider to be the most relevant portion, as the above still may be hard to read:
Christians may walk labyrinths to experience closer, deeper union with God... experience the sacredness of the space and place... May the experience of walking this sacred and powerful tool bring you a greater sense of Shalom and Oneness.
The LPTS webpage dedicated to labyrinth pilgrimage training makes similar claims for the labyrinth, with labyrinth-walking called an "enriching spiritual practice."

In all seriousness, I consider these claims made for this labyrinth to be much more dangerous to the Church than the claims of the gay-pride poster at LPTS. As I mentioned before, any Christian with the slightest modicrum of spiritual discernment would strongly object to the notion that proclamation of homosexual support is the most important thing a person can do. The labyrinth is therefore more dangerous because it is less obvious. And we should always remember: "the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field" (Genesis 3:1 KJV, emphasis added).

Why do theses claims cause me such concern? Why am I trying to raise an alarm on this issue?
First and foremost, it is because I see no warrant in Scripture for these claims. There is a reason no Bible texts are cited in relation to this labyrinth. All legitimate spiritual disciplines of the Christian life have ample scriptural support. This is true of personal spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, meditation on Scripture, prayer, praises, fasting, the giving of tithes and offerings, works of service, etc. This is also true of the corporate spiritual disciplines within the Church of Bible proclamation, the ordinances, the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, providing for those in need, etc. On the other hand, if you look in any concordance for any Bible, you will find no mention of "labyrinth" whatsoever. The only warrant for this activity is, as indicated by both the sign pictured and the website linked above, "tradition" or "ancient practice."

The labyrinth at LPTS is reflective of a general trend within certain segments of the evangelical church to incorporate more ancient traditions, such as prayer labyrinths, veneration of icons, and the ceremonial ringing of bells and lighting of candles. It is easy to discern, however, that there is a certain arbitrariness to which of these traditions are being revived. Other ancient practices that occurred at the same time as those just mentioned were such things as living on pillars for several years, making oneself a eunuch, or self-flagellation. Yet there has not been a push to resurrect these oddities. Why? Is it because there is less Scriptural basis for these? No. As a matter of fact, one could (admittedly, using verses out-of-context, as was often done in ancient times when all of these practices originated) make more of a case from the Bible for the out-of-vogue traditions. One could read the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:29-30 in support of self-mutilation; one could read the Apostle's words in 1 Corinthians 9:27 in support of self-flagellation. The only principles that seem to dictate that these practices be rejected while things such as prayer labyrinths become popular are 'coolness' and 'convenience.'

This is my concern: Even inside the Church, ideas of what is 'cool' or what is 'convenient,' rather than Scripture, are too often forming the foundation for worldview development. Therefore, our priorities are too often not the priorities of God. For as 'coolness' and 'convenience' become key, what becomes of the vital aspects of the Church's life that are neither 'cool' nor 'convenient?' For when has it ever been 'cool' to "examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good, and abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 NASB)? When has it ever been 'cool' to be careful that "no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth" (Ephesians 4:29 NASB)? When has it ever been convenient to care for the needy or to "regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3 NASB)?

Additionally, an increase in pursuing "ancient practice[s]," such as walking labyrinths and others mentioned above, necessarily leaves less time for pursuing the genuine, biblical spiritual disciplines.

Finally, if people in our churches are trained to engage in practices without asking for scriptural warrant, they are being placed in a very dangerous position. Once they begin to rely on feelings more than the Bible, how will they not fall prey to the Mormons, who encourage people to seek a "burning in the bosom," above scriptural evidence, to validate their message? How will they not fall prey to Roman Catholicism? For if we can add labyrinths to our spiritual practice, why not embrace the sacerdotal system as well?



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