Mysticism and faith

Four voices

All world faiths have mystical experience at their root, and at least in their beginnings, at their heart. Mysticism ……. [definitions – explanations etc] ……

….. [Insert – Prophecy/Mysticism – dependency one to the other?] ……

Christianity along with all mature faiths recognises the need to discern. There are many claims from ‘prophets’ who are ‘saying what God is telling them’. The Christian scriptures recognise well the need to ‘test the spirits’ – 1 John 4:1 is one example of this. And Paul speaks of ‘discernment of spirits’ (1 Cor 12:10). In 1 Corinthians 14:29, he suggests that two or three members (of a meeting) should decide on the nature of a message that the speaker is claiming to be ‘of God’.

Controversy over what God is saying is right at the heart of all the disputes from the early days of Christianity, and one might say that there are still elements of this problem around in the church today. The church has long held that tradition needs to be taken into account alongside scripture and prophecy. Unhappily, the church as a whole cannot agree on what is and what is not valid tradition. It is this disagreement that has allowed, even encouraged, schism into the many traditions that claim to be a part of the ‘one holy catholic church’. The Eastern Orthodox traditions claim that all views on the authority of scripture must be tested against the teachings not only of the church, but especially of the early church fathers. Canon 19 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod is specific about this1. Vassilios Bakoyannis speaks also of three ‘interpreters’ [of scripture]. He names them as: The Devil, Our Passions, and the Holy Fathers. It is in a similar vein to this that I want to suggest that when the mystic ‘listens’ to God, he or she may in fact ‘hear’ four voices. These are: The Devil, His or Her Passions, His or Her Intellect, and Almighty God. Indeed, perhaps it is true to say that all ‘Words from God’ begin as a mixture of all four ‘voices’ with one or other being the dominant factor. Many years ago, I met a very humble and very holy Franciscan Catholic Friar. He was very much a part of the charismatic movement, and often felt moved to give a word of prophecy for discernment by the assembled church. He said with great humility that the first thousand or so words of prophecy that he had given were ‘probably 99% me, and 1% God’2.

Recently I read the first volume of Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch. This, and his two subsequent volumes became best sellers, and I believe rightly so. I found reading them to be a very moving experience which led me to a great deal of reflection and a great deal of though including listening to God’s voice in my own heart. It is out of that reflection that I begin to write now.

I have no wish to critique Walsch’s work. That is for others. I would certainly advise that it be widely read – I would also suggest that it needs to be read prayerfully and with discernment of the spirits (the Four Voices?) always in mind.

With the spread of the charismatic movement through the church in almost all of its denominations, the majority of Christians recognise that the gift of Prophecy is working in the church today along with other gifts of the Holy Spirit. These same Christians recognise that discernment of spirits is required alongside the gift of Prophecy, and that this is the task of the church; however, the definition of ‘church’ may vary from denomination to denomination. I imagine that the majority of Christians who accept ‘words of Prophecy’ would agree that testing against scripture must be a criterion for the validity of the ‘word’. Some would also want to test against the traditions of their denomination, and many would be happy to take into account the methods of scriptural interpretation laid down by the early church and the early church fathers. For the most part, this will lead to the majority of Christians being in agreement most of the time as to the validity of the ‘word of prophecy’.

1 One Lord, One Faith, p 23. (Archimandrite Vassilios Bakoyannis).

2 1982 Ratcliffe College Charismatic conference, Fr. Joseph di Mauro …..


Author: Barry Drake

Retired URC minister. Very involved in Colwick Village and its affairs. In retirement, I have the privilege of being a visiting preacher at a number of churches, and I act as a tutor on groups aimed at deepening spirituality. See: Some of my writings are at:

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