Recently I received an email which raised the question of whether the Apostle Paul was a mystic due to his third heaven experience. Let me emphatically state that there is no such thing as a Christian Mysticism. Many who make this assertion do so on the basis of II Cor.12:2-4, which describes an isolated incidence of Paul being carried to the Third Heaven.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago-whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows-such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows-was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)
In verse 2 the term “caught up” is the Greek work harpazo which is translated as seizing something by force. In this instance, the word harpazo is in the aorist tense, denoting a one time occurrence. This was a one time occurrence that God himself initiated.
We must actively seek to separate Christianity from the mystery religions. Our communion and connection with God comes through divine grace and the shed blood of Jesus and not through any spiritual exercises that we ourselves perform! Reacting to revelation is far different than conjuring these spiritual experiences through the practice of any of the mystic disciplines or contemplative traditions. If our spirituality is dependent upon anything that we ourselves perform then we are basing it on works and not on faith!
It is imperative to state that Paul did not embrace a works based faith. Paul’s spirituality was squarely focused on grace and in no way did Paul promote experiencing God in a mystic way. When you compare Paul’s third heaven experience to the rest of his ministry it becomes an obscure and isolated event. He had this experience only once in 14 yrs of ministry. Modern day seekers of third heaven experiences would have us believe that they can visit the third heaven on a daily basis. Indeed, they must be more “spiritual” than the Apostle Paul!
It is important to emphasize that Paul did not initiate this encounter nor did he in any way point to this experience as something for us to emulate. He most certainly did not teach others, how to take the journey! Self styled apostles and prophets operating in the contemplative and mystic traditions not only claim to have made multiple trips to the third heaven but also teach others through conferences, books and tapes, how they too can have similar encounters! Seeking third heaven experiences “by faith” is not biblical and should under no circumstances be engaged in.