Emerging Monkery

monks.jpegOkay, I love the emerging church, but sometimes you guys make me shake my head in wonder. Call me old, call me a relic. Fine, I’ll take my lumps. But when young seminarians are told to stand in their evangelical seminary class and recite an Orthodox prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me” over and over, in a droning unison, for at least five solid minutes, I gotta say something:

That something is HELP!

Help me understand. Help me appreciate. Help me value this kind of “vain repetition.” (Matt 6:7). And please don’t tell me it’s helpful repetition, not the vain kind.

lloydjones.jpegMartyn Lloyd-Jones, considered by many to be the greatest English speaking pastor of the 20th century, argued forcefully against consciously manipulating the “mood” in worship. He called it an abomination. Granted, he probably called lots of things abominations, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is that there is no biblical value in inducing a kind of trance-like state through the repetition of a phrase over and over and over and over and over. In fact, we could argue that it is positively damaging because it renders the words meaningless after a while, shuts down the brain, weakens the volition, and casts us into a somnambulant vulnerability (if you know what I mean). Might as well be chanting “Om.” That would be relaxing too.

I’ll stick with Paul: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8, NKJV.


The people of God turned away from monasticism for many good reasons. I’ll grant that we threw out some babies with the bathwater. But let’s be careful: we may like the formalities, or the symbolism, or the reverence, or the mystery of the Orthodox/Roman church, but we have serious (albeit respectful and loving, hopefully) DIFFERENCES IN DOCTRINE. And to gloss over them is a mistake. The Reformation was a blessing. Let’s not turn back the clock.

If we want mystery — and God knows I do — let us find it biblically: in a transcendent Creator, in a biblical glimpse of the invisible realm, and supremely in the MYSTERY OF GODLINESS, which is CHRIST IN YOU. Who’s teaching Christ-in-you these days? When was the last time you were taught to rest and work in the power of Christ, and how that works, and what that’s all about?

christ-our-pilot.jpgWe’ve lost the mystery, not because we’ve gone away from the formalities of the church, but because we’ve gone away from the supremely important mystical core of the church: Christ in you.

And we’ve gone away from that because of a rush to be concrete and practical and relevant.

God help us. What could be more practical than “an ever present help in time of need”? or, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you”? or, “working through His might which works in me mightly”? The mystery of Jesus reliving his life through me.

Christianity isn’t the imitation of Christ. It’s Christ still alive (imitating himself?) in and through me. In and thru his people. And that requires no chanting, even though it’s worth repeating.

The road to Rome is paved with silence, solitude, and chanting. The road to mystery, however, is paved with simple faith.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20, NKJV.


A.W. Tozer wrote: (in Man, the Dwelling Place of God)

True religion is removed from diet and days, from garments and ceremonies, and placed where it belongs – in the union of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God.

From man’s standpoint the most tragic loss suffered in the Fall was the vacating of this inner sanctum by the Spirit of God. Man by his sin forfeited this indescribable wonderful privilege. Christ, will enter only by the invitation of faith. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me”. (Rev. 3:20).

By the mysterious operation of the Spirit in the new birth, that which is called by Peter “the divine nature” enters the deep-in core of the believer’s heart and establishes residence there. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” for “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:9,16). Such a one is a true Christian, and only such.

Click here to read “Himself”, a fascinating tract by A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. The hymn at the bottom is worth the read.



11 thoughts on “Emerging Monkery

  1. Oh my, may I bring up repetitious words and/or phrases in MUSIC?? What a can of worms…

    As a musician, I’m a tad biased in my opinion! (I agree with your conclusion, though.)

  2. it renders the words meaningless after a while, shuts down the brain, weakens the volition, and casts us into a somnambulant vulnerability

    I think the people who practice this kind of meditation and prayer would say that if this is what you experienced when you tried to meditate on the realities of Christ, or the words of scripture, that perhaps you were experiencing something very different from what they experienced…

    Speaking from an ’emergent’ perspective, I find it refreshing that we no longer have to crystalize our understanding of spirituality to a Western European Protestant 16th-17th Century expression; that we can actually enter into the experience of Christ followers from countless cultures and traditions and learn from their own experiences of “Christ in them.” Which by definition will look different from “Christ in Steve,” or “Christ in Bill.”

  3. ‘no one comes to the father but by me’…… steve brings up a good point i think. what words, what methods, what names? does it, the road, the goal, reside in the exact same name as we pronounce it in english? there seems to be a tendency to insist on a certain route. maybe our defined ‘path’ is an element of revealing a need to control, touching on the common thread among fundamentalism.

  4. I remember in a group I was in, the worship leader played his guitar and sang a simple, beautiful song, and I thought, “That’s beautiful; I love it.” Well, he repeated it and repeated it and repeated it until I was thinking, “Aargh–I can’t stand it!” After 5 minutes of “Lord Jesus have mercy on me” I would either be filled with a deep appreciation of Jesus, His lordship, His great mercy and my need of it, or I would want to run screaming from the church.

    One thing that might help is that we go to the written word to remember (whether it’s the Bible or our grocery list; these kinds of repetitious liturgies developed when the common people had only their memories to depend on.

  5. So help me understand something here. We’re taking a practice of “worship” from a bunch of monks who mutilated themselves, abstained and separated themselves from the world, in a futile attempt to gain salvation by works? How is that “refreshing”? In fact, those (which was most) who tried gaining their salvation by works remained spiritually dead. What does a spiritually dead man have to offer in terms of worship?

  6. Ouch Erich, did a monk do somthing to offend you? 😉

    I sure wouldn’t want to admit that I had prayed any form prayers around you, (like the one Jesus gave his close followers…)

    I have another question for you Dr. G

    What are your thoughts on the ‘Bible as Narrative’ folks? Have you read Wright’s ‘The Last Word’ ??

  7. Three points.

    1. Thanks, Jean and Janet, for your comments about music. So much of today’s worship music is painfully repetitive and thus banal. I know worship leaders are trying to find a balance between being contemporary and honoring God and his doctrines. But, please, don’t surrender our brains in the search.

    2. Where does manipulation end and “worship leading” begin?

    3. Be honest, here. How many of you originally thought the title of this entry was “Emerging Monkey”? I had to read the whole thing, comments included, before I realized Bill wasn’t making an unfair caricaturization. Sorry, Bill.

  8. Tee hee, Matt, I, too, thought it read “monkey” right off the top! That’s because, I’ve been told, our brains can “interprete” words with only the first and last letters being correct with the middle all scrambled up! So, we’re off the hook in thinking it was “monkey” since that’s probably the first word we think of starting with m and ending with y. (Money???) Oh well, we’re in a class all our own since no one else will admit to monkey!! You go, Matt!!

  9. Quick thoughts:
    – Matt & Jean, I saw “monkey” too, in the title…but it sure caught my eye.
    – I don’t remember Jesus doing any chanting. In Jesus’s teachings, conversations, and actions, he never promoted mindlessness. He spent time trying to wake people up, not put them to sleep via hypnotic repetition. In fact, Jesus was always waking people up, from their old lives and beliefs, and even from the grave.
    – I want to experience Jesus fully alive and awake. I don’t want to miss a second!
    – We are a people allured by mystery. Who else can explain the success of a book like The Da Vinci Code? Chanting and rituals are mysterious; but mystery does not equal holiness. Sometimes, it’s just weird!

  10. Susy… I love it! I want to experience Jesus fully alive and awake! Me too. And yeah, a lot of times it is just plain weird. But I know, one person’s weirdness is another person’s divine encounter. My main objection is against manipulating “divine encounters.” Can’t. God is sovereign. Q.E.D

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