Why is “Centering Prayer” Wrong? A Helpful Comment from Pr. John A. Frahm

It is relatively easy to point out the flaws in the LCMS under President Kieschnick’s leadership as I have done recently with this “Centering Prayer” issue. It is like shooting ducks in a pond. It takes a little more effort to teach to correct the flaws. We thank Pr. Frahm for posting the following quotes from Luther in the Smalcald Articles.

The  quotes from Luther point out that anytime we seek spiritual enlightenment apart from the written word of God, as centering prayer does, we are engaging in the false theology of “enthusiasm” which literally means “being in God” (Greek “en” which means “in” and “theos” which means “god”). Being in God is certainly a good thing but as the Lutheran Confessions point out and as Pr. Frahm reminds us, our being in God is limited to our receiving His word and sacraments. As Scott Diekman points out, seeking God outside of word and sacrament is the devil’s playing field, not that of the Holy Spirit.

Here is Pr. Frahm’s comment:

December 29th, 2009 at 10:59 | #4
From the Smalcald Articles;

And in those things which concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or with the preceding outward Word, in order that we may [thus] be protected against the enthusiasts, i.e., spirits who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word, and accordingly judge Scripture or the spoken Word, and explain and stretch it at their pleasure, as Muenzer did, and many still do at the present day, who wish to be acute judges between the Spirit and the letter, and yet know not what they say or declare. 4] For [indeed] the Papacy also is nothing but sheer enthusiasm, by which the Pope boasts that all rights exist in the shrine of his heart, and whatever he decides and commands with [in] his church is spirit and right, even though it is above and contrary to Scripture and the spoken Word.

5] All this is the old devil and old serpent, who also converted Adam and Eve into enthusiasts, and led them from the outward Word of God to spiritualizing and self-conceit, and nevertheless he accomplished this through other outward words. 6] Just as also our enthusiasts [at the present day] condemn the outward Word, and nevertheless they themselves are not silent, but they fill the world with their pratings and writings, as though, indeed, the Spirit could not come through the writings and spoken word of the apostles, but [first] through their writings and words he must come. Why [then] do not they also omit their own sermons and writings, until the Spirit Himself come to men, without their writings and before them, as they boast that He has come into them without the preaching of the Scriptures? But of these matters there is not time now to dispute at greater length; we have elsewhere sufficiently urged this subject.

7] For even those who believe before Baptism, or become believing in Baptism, believe through the preceding outward Word, as the adults, who have come to reason, must first have heard: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, even though they are at first unbelieving, and receive the Spirit and Baptism ten years afterwards. 8] Cornelius, Acts 10:1ff , had heard long before among the Jews of the coming Messiah, through whom he was righteous before God, and in such faith his prayers and alms were acceptable to God (as Luke calls him devout and God-fearing), and without such preceding Word and hearing could not have believed or been righteous. But St. Peter had to reveal to him that the Messiah (in whom, as one that was to come, he had hitherto believed) now had come, lest his faith concerning the coming Messiah hold him captive among the hardened and unbelieving Jews, but know that he was now to be saved by the present Messiah, and must not, with the [rabble of the] Jews deny nor persecute Him.

(For a quick and easy online access to the Lutheran Confessions we recommend you check out Pastor McCain’s website The Book of Concord.)

9] In a word, enthusiasm inheres in Adam and his children from the beginning [from the first fall] to the end of the world, [its poison] having been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and is the origin, power [life], and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Mahomet. 10] Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. 11] It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments. For God wished to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word; and no prophet neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments [or spoken Word]. 12] Neither was John the Baptist conceived without the preceding word of Gabriel, nor did he leap in his mother’s womb without the voice of Mary. 13] And Peter says, 2 Pet. 1:21: The prophecy came not by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy, much less would the Holy Ghost have moved them to speak when they still were unholy [or profane]; for they were holy, says he, since the Holy Ghost spake through them.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Why is “Centering Prayer” Wrong? A Helpful Comment from Pr. John A. Frahm — 10 Comments

  1. “A straightforward and excellent explanation.” That is exactly why JK thinks we need the “centering prayer”, etc.

  2. So, when Jesus said “Consider the lillies…” was he leading people down an evil path of “seeking spiritual enlightenment apart from the written word of God” from outside the Torah? Aren’t we as christians and as Lutherans called to more important tasks than to nit-pick somebody’s way of praying and meditating. Was Mary seeking spiritual enlightenment wrongly when she “pondered in her heart” the things that had happened in her life? Those things certainly were not yet scripture. Moments of meditation are times of opening ourselves to the divine– to the mysteries– to the presence of God. It seems the the church is so busy “parsing” practically everything that we forget to simply listen to the inclusive and loving grace of the Gospel and to trust that the Holy Spirit isn’t a fossil, but can lead us to ever new understandings of God’s love and grace. Just maybe— God hasn’t called us to be watchdogs. Maybe God doesn’t need us for that– but would rather that we love God, proclaim God’s love, and practice it in our lives. By the way, I’m quite certain Martin Luther would agree and I’m sure he did a lot of centering prayer in that little room at the Wartburg Castle.

  3. James,
    You mention the Torah. When referencing the Torah, do you mean the Torah, the first five books, or the Nevi’im, the Prophets, the Nevi’im Acharonim (Later Prophets, the K’tuvim (the Writings) or the Negillot (Scrolls)? I must assume you don’t mean the B’rit Hadashah.

  4. James,
    Just an aside. You are confusing “ponder” with “muse”, when referring to Mary, the mother of Christ.

    to weigh in the mind with delibration; to examine carefully; to consider attentively
    (that requires, quite a bit of engaged thought & action, one cannot do this, & clear one’s mind at the same time)

    to be absent in mind; to be so occupied in study or “contemplation” as to not observe passing of things present or present time. (that to me, sounds like what you described above in reference to centering prayer)

    Centering prayer/Contemplative Prayer, as defined by it’s panthesist supporters, is TO MUSE, not to ponder. That James, is divination, “seducing spirits”, that is not of God, Christ, nor the Trinity, it is not anything remotely connected with His Grace, His Presence, nor His communication with us. It is musing they are doing, not pondering, meditating Eastern Mystics do, not as per Scripture. I strongly disagree with you as to Luther. Luther would never use or engage in using any muse. If you can prove me or any Pastor wrong as to Luther, please do list it. I know Scripture, not so much Luther, they do, & are more learned & schooled than I.

  5. James,

    Meditation is a great and wonderful practice, when the Word of God is the focus. The centering prayer seems to involve blanking out. While it may be relaxing it is not a Means of Grace and should not be treated as such. Attributing any religious component to such an exercise seems to have more in common with eastern mysticism than Christianity. I also wonder what your reason is for your certainty of Luther’s position on the matter or his use of it at Wartburg. It doesn’t seem consistent with his writings to me, but I have not read all of them.

  6. @James #4
    Sounds like you’ve been hanging out with Brian McClaren way too much James.

    “Just maybe— God hasn’t called us to be watchdogs.” Or maybe He has:

    Mat 7:15 All ESV quotes
    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

    Matthew 24:4-5
    And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.

    Acts 20:28-31
    Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

    1Ti 4:16 “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

    You say James “Just maybe— God hasn’t called us to be watchdogs. Maybe God doesn’t need us for that– but would rather that we love God, proclaim God’s love, and practice it in our lives. By the way, I’m quite certain Martin Luther would agree….” You have a highly misplaced certainty. Here’s Luther’s answer to your comment:

    “…Many people do not understand, saying we should not fight so hard about an article and thus trample on Christian love; rather, although we err on one small point, we agree on everything else, we should give in and overlook the difference in order to preserve brotherly and Christian unity and fellowship.
    No, my dear man, do not recommend to me peace and unity when thereby God’s Word is lost, for then eternal life and everything else would be lost. This matter there can be no yielding nor giving way, no, not for love of you or any other person, but everything must yield to the Word, whether it be friend or foe. The Word was given unto us for eternal life and not to further outward peace and unity. The Word and doctrine will create Christian unity or fellowship. Where they reign all else will follow. Where they are not no concord will ever abide. Therefore do not talk to me about love and friendship, if that means breaking with the Word, or the faith, for the Gospel does not say love brings eternal life, God’s grace, and all heavenly treasures, but the Word…” (HT: Pr. Brondos)
    Sermons of Martin Luther from the year 1531, W.A. 34,11,387. Day By Day We Magnify Thee, p. 384.

    Your statements have an awfully neo-orthodox ring to them.

  7. Thanks bunches Scott!!!!! I just knew someone had that!!!!! My Book of Concord & Luther’s Sermons is in route!!!!

    James, we here aren’t trying to frustrate or hurt you, we are trying to help you understand how dangerous & damaging this all is. Souls are lead astray by this type of thing. Take it or leave it, as you see fit, but I do pray, you take it, & learn from it.

  8. I revisited this page and it’s various well-intentioned comments. It strikes me that we would limit God to our own structures which is also the devil’s playing field, and not that of the Holy Spirit. We would be in deep dilemma if God’s holy will did not pre-date even the Lutheran Confessions and time itself. I don’t understand the injunction against “Seeking God outside of word and sacraments.” Is God so confined– and if so, does not the Word of God and the sustainance of the sacrament meet with varied understandings and perspectives. I am not afraid of a perspective different than my own orthodox-but progressive– Lutheran understanding. More importantly than our seeking God in word and sacraments is that God seeks US in Word and Sacrament. Living in Grace I am compelled to seek the Risen Christ in the needs of others and in the world around me. Would we be like orthodox Jews, where everything is either kosher or traif? Was God not present in the Samaritan we call “the good Samaritan?” We can nit-pick various forms of meditation== but even Christian mystics have “emptied” themselves to feel the presence of God and be open to channels of prayer and contemplation that are other than strick verbal or image focus. I “meditated” and engaged in non-verbal centering prayer when I underwent radiation treatment. I pictured the light of Christ– the warmth of God’s love, the laser power of divine will, the healing grace of knowing that we live in that light and that no matter what happens we are not “in the dark.” I am not threatened by somebody saying “I encounter God when I’m in nature’s wonder.” I’ve known some to use a fishing trip as their own form of centering prayer (they pray they’ll catch something!). No, that is not enough– of course. Our faith is nourished by Word and Sacrament and living in community with others who believe, or want to believe. Our faith is also nourished when we see Christ in the needs of others following Christ’s admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I simply see no reason why we should lose our way as we share God’s love– and live the Gospel– by being side-tracked on a mis-guided course of nit-picking and being such “watchdogs” that we practically say the Holy Spirit isn’t powerful enough to sustain and lead to new understandings and applications. There’s a popular phrase “Let go– Let God.” If the whole basis of our faith would collapse because (following Christ’s example) we are too inclusive, or don’t dot all the i’s or cross all the t’s the whole thing falls apart, or feel close to God in this or that way, or prayed with the “wrong” person, or communed the wrong person– God would surely be weak and not the God of love who is the foundation of life itself. In my opinion we would do well to remember the first words of the Gospel, uttered by angels, was “Fear not!’ We are called to embrace the love that casts out fear, and to be faithful, which is quite another thing than territorial. JK

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