The Voice of the Martyrs’ statement of faith and main purposes define the bedrock beliefs, mission and purpose of our organization. Our newsletter and web articles are written and presented to inform Christians in the free world of the persecution and suffering of the church in more than 50 countries around the world. The mission VOM inherited from our founders, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, is to be A VOICE for these suffering saints. In our efforts to educate the church in North America about Christian persecution, researching the history of the church and of persecution plays an important part.
While VOM is clearly evangelical in our statement of faith, we are an interdenominational ministry. VOM works in restricted nations with Christians from a wide array of denominational and theological backgrounds. The Christians in the US who read VOM’s newsletter or ask VOM staff to come and speak in their churches are also from a variety of denominations and Christian traditions.
It would be difficult—perhaps impossible—to quote any person, outside of Scriptural figures, who would receive universal approval among all Christians in the American Church today, or among the wide variety of VOM readers. The Word of God is final authority in all matters of doctrine and practice, yet different denominations interpret and practice that Word in different ways. The church is divided on doctrine as well as Christian "personalities." This is not a new issue for followers of Christ. Paul chastised the church in Corinth for the same thing:
…for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? (I Cor. 3:3-5)
The November 2010 issue of the VOM newsletter included a short article on Madame Jeanne Guyon. It was part of a series we call “Hidden Stones” that seeks to educate VOM readers about the history of Christian persecution and bring to light some of our brothers and sisters who sacrificed much to follow Christ’s call. We want to honor these heroes of the faith, and we want to encourage our readers with their testimonies, just as we seek to encourage readers with the testimonies of today’s persecuted believers.
One of the challenges of telling the stories of past Christian martyrs is trying to explain and help our readers—living in the United States in 2010—understand the context in which past generations of Christians lived. While today we have numerous translations of the Bible and warehouses full of books to explain any theological question we may ask, Christians of earlier times didn’t have such luxuries. It is impossible to judge a Christian in such circumstances purely through the lens of 2010 American Christianity.
We have received several letters and online criticisms for printing a story about Madame Guyon. Some object to her being a Catholic, while others object to her being a “mystic” or her practice of “quietism” or some other of her beliefs or writings. Our article states:
Madame Guyon practiced a philosophy called “Quietism,” which teaches that spiritual perfection can be attained when self is lost in the contemplation of God.
There are those among our readers who object to the practice of “contemplation.” Perhaps a more charitable view would see Guyon, in her efforts to quiet herself and focus only on God, trying to live out the Apostle Paul’s teachings to Galatian believers:
2:20: 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.
5:24-25: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Guyon believed in constant prayer, following Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17). Guyon wrote, in one of her poems, “There was a period when I chose, A time and place for prayer…But now I seek that constant prayer, An inward stillness known…”
“Mysticism” is also a misunderstood term. Looking it up in an American English dictionary might cause many Christians to have concerns that mystic practices are incompatible with Biblical Christianity. But according to D. D. Martin's write up in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (2nd ed, Baker Academic), "Christian mysticism seeks to describe an experiential, direct, nonabstract, unmediated, loving knowing of God, a knowing or seeing so direct as to be called union with God" (p. 806).
Madame Guyon encouraged Bible reading and Holy living in a time and in a nation when both were ignored or disparaged. Her writings were published and widely read, and as a result of her living out her commitment to Christ in the way she understood that He wanted, she was disciplined by her church and eventually locked in prison. Guyon’s story is similar to many believers who were and are persecuted by "the organized church" in their nation.
Guyon’s ideas influenced many: Catholics and deists from France, Protestants from England, Scotland, and Switzerland, German Pietists, John Wesley, Count Zinzendorf, George Fox, Jessie Penn-Lewis, Hudson Taylor, Watchman Nee and countless others.
In an entry on prayer, the Christian History Blog says this of Guyon:
…Madame Guyon, a French mystic of the 17th and 18th centuries who was condemned by the Catholic church for Quietism. At its extreme, Quietism advocates stoicism, passivity, and absorption of the self into the Divine. Guyon seems to have avoided these extremes, instead running afoul of church authorities for her Protestant-seeming emphasis on salvation by grace rather than works. The book that got her into trouble, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer, began with a harmless enough invitation: “Prayer is the application of the heart to GOD, and the internal exercise of love. St. Paul hath enjoined us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. v 17), and our Lord saith, ‘I say unto you all, watch and pray’ (Mark xiii. 33, 37): all therefore may, and all ought to practice prayer.” A bit further on she wrote, “Nothing is so easily obtained as the possession and enjoyment of GOD, for ‘in him we live, move, and have our being;’ and He is more desirous to give Himself into us, than we can be to receive Him.”
Guyon sounded somewhat Protestant, specifically Wesleyan, on the possibility of Christian perfection, but I found her overall message simple and straightforward: Anyone can pray, and the benefits are abundant.
Christian author Nancy Missler (who founded Koinonia House along with her husband, Dr. Chuck Missler) writes that:
It was in Jeanne Guyon's books and St. John of the Cross's books that I first heard the term "the dark night of the soul." Although I am neither a Catholic nor a mystic, God used these precious saints to let me know that I was not alone in what I was experiencing. Others before me had endured such a "night season" and had come out even stronger and closer to the Lord because of it.
VOM does not endorse or vouch for every word written or act performed by Madame Guyon. Only God knows a person’s heart, and only God can declare who truly is in fellowship with Him. But it seems clear that genuine Christians have been blessed and impacted by her life and writings.
While we may not agree about her understanding of Scripture or her teachings, perhaps we can agree that no one should be locked up by church authorities simply for practicing their faith differently, or even practicing a different faith.
Our purpose in publishing this article was to challenge American Christians to live for Christ, even if doing so costs them something. Our intent and desire was not to promote "quietism" or any form of "mysticism," just as previous articles about Anabaptists, Quakers, Non-conformists, Montanists and others have not been intended to promote their particular theological teachings, but rather their example of costly faithfulness to Christ.
We encourage our readers to learn about those believers who have gone before, especially those who have suffered for following Christ. As you study their lives and writings through the lens of Scripture, you may find things you disagree with; you may also find things that bless and challenge you greatly. Our hope is that you will be challenged in your own walk to study the Scriptures more deeply and live them out more boldly.
Some, who reject Guyon and her teachings completely, will denounce VOM for publishing this article. Any offense was unintended. The purpose of the article was to highlight a chapter of persecution in the church’s history and to challenge readers to stand boldly for Christ. Those who become immersed in debate over the faults or merits of Guyon have missed the point completely.