By Elizabeth Prata
This is part 1 of a 3-part series. I’ll look in this part at the theology behind The Great Banquet/Tres Dias/Walk to Emmaus retreats (all parallel movements under the same origin, Cursillo, a Roman Catholic three-day course).
You might have heard talk of people having been exclusively invited to attend a three-day retreat called Walk to Emmaus or The Great Banquet. You might have heard that these folks later attend weekly/monthly ‘reunion meetings’. You might notice the youth of your church going to something called Chrysalis or Awakening. What are these events? What do they do there?
It’s hard to discover, because the events seem shrouded in secrecy. One must be invited by a “sponsor.” Invitees are carefully pre-vetted. Afterward, if the “candidate” wants to take up the sponsor’s offer, they must apply. If accepted, the so-called “pilgrim” must in like turn be told not to let out the secrets after attending. Past participants decline to speak of exactly what goes on, they are especially told not to reveal about the Agape letters and the Dying Moments (now called Candlelight), maintaining they don’t want to spoil the “surprise.”
Yet the popularity of these events is growing massively. There is now a youth version of The Great Banquet called Awakening, and a youth version of the Walk to Emmaus called Chrysalis. There is a prison version called Kairos.
So what IS The Great Banquet? (Or its parallel event Walk to Emmaus?).
The Great Banquet (And Walk to Emmaus) is a 72-hour, [immersion] experience (usually Thursday evening to Sunday evening) that focuses on one’s relationship with God and with others, and training attendees to become effective Christian leaders. The three days include fifteen structured talks, given by both clergy and lay people. The talks are outlined and presented in a specific order for teaching attendees about grace and priorities. The talks are based in scripture and are peppered with personal experiences of the individual speaker.
There are some good intentions about the movement. The thrust is to arouse in the Christian a fervor to love others and be diligent in service to others. The organizers say that The Walk to Emmaus weekend is to “remember that the whole intent of The Walk to Emmaus movement is to develop church leadership and strengthen the witness of the Christian community in word and deed.”
On the surface this sounds great. Digging deeper reveals issues that impact the local church and the congregant, mainly negatively.
But first, what about the theology of the program?
The 3 days is broken down into 5 talks each day given by members of the Banquet/Emmaus team. Some talks are delivered by lay-persons and others given by clergy. Here is a link to the 15 talks with the scripts and advice for speakers. It is a list of talks for Walk To Emmaus organized by Cross Point Church in OK. It should be noted that this church has female pastors, some of whom serve at the Weekend event in their capacity as “pastor”.
The Great Banquet and Walk to Emmaus (and Tres Dias etc) are fairly interchangeable. In some cases I say Great Banquet (which was founded by a former Emmaus leader Jack Pitzer) and other times I refer to the Walk to Emmaus. I’ve excerpted the portions of the talks I desire readers to see most, and I’ve added my comment after. All the talks are listed below in the .jpg
First day talks
In discussing priorities, avoid mentioning God, Christ, salvation, or the usual theological words. This is because the talk should not even imply what the participants’ priorities ought to be. … The talk should be reasonable, speaking to the common sense and experience of the participants. A helpful way to illustrate the points of the talk may be a story, anecdote, or personal experience.
Setting a priority without mentioning Jesus or God is very sad. It is sad that at the outset, the first talk which leaders are told “will set the tone for the day,” trains speakers NOT to mention the most important Person in the universe.
The talk continued with presenting the false notion that we have ability in human power to set priorities and carry them out above and beyond our sin nature (sin is not mentioned in this first talk. Leaders are expressly told to keep it light and humorous.) For example, it is stated,
“We have the capacity to rise above mere instinctual responses…we are not created to be slaves to the forces of nature and instinct.”
True that we were not originally created to be slaves to our nature, but we fell. Every person born after Adam and Eve is a slave to sin, helpless and hopelessly enslaved to our base instincts. We need the salvation of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome our nature and our instincts. It presents the notion that we have strength and power on our own to do service that’s pleasing to God. We don’t. This first talk sets the tone for the me-nature of the weekend.
The next talks focus a lot on grace. What can possibly be the matter with that, you ask. Well, there’s grace of the Bible and the grace not of the Bible. Grace not of the Bible is what is taught at these weekends, and it’s called prevenient grace.
2. Prevenient Grace
“Prevenient grace serves as the foundation of all other grace talks…”
“Prevenient grace is the courtship period of our relationship with God, God woos us into this relationship of grace.”
“Prevenient grace works through the Holy Spirit courting us, not forcing us.”
I think Saul/Paul would beg to differ about being forced into conversion. His conversion was definitely not “wooing”. Jesus said that Peter did not choose Jesus because it was not his flesh and blood that chose Him but the Father who revealed Jesus as Messiah. (Mt 16:17). Flesh and blood nor the will of man decides for God. (John 1:13).
The thrust of this talk, and thus all other talks since this one is the foundational talk, is Arminian. Adam and Eve, they say, made “wrong choices” in the Garden that separated them from God. What Walk To Emmaus and Great Banquet call a ‘wrong choice’, RC Sproul called “cosmic treason.” Big difference.
They say God is at work in our lives through grace before conversion.
Ligonier explains prevenient grace and its main error: that grace is not cooperative.
Arminius and Wesley understood the necessity of grace for salvation, but they wanted to preserve our ability to accept or reject saving grace. Thus, based on passages such as Titus 2:11, they proposed what is called “prevenient grace,” a grace given to all people that frees us enough from our bondage to sin that we have the ability to choose Christ but that does not finally persuade us to make that choice or guarantee that we will be saved. (Many Roman Catholics speak of God’s prevenient grace in a similar way.) This view has the advantage of stating that no one can be saved without grace or even God’s initiative in freeing our wills just enough to choose Him. The problem is that the doctrine of prevenient grace ends up creating a kind of de facto semi-Pelagianism. If prevenient grace is indiscriminate and merely restores our ability to choose, then it is hard to see how salvation is truly all of grace.
Here are a couple of other concerning scripts for leaders that I had an issue with-
3. Priesthood of All Believers
“The word priesthood may bring negative associations to some Protestant minds. However, when properly understood, “the priesthood of all believers” expresses the core of the Protestant Reformation and has been reaffirmed among Roman Catholics through the action of Vatican II.”
Using Vatican II as an affirmation for acceptable Protestant definitions is not reassuring.
3rd day talks
11. Changing Our World
“Changing our world begins with changing ourselves and sustaining that change in our heart (piety), mind (study), and will (action).”
It is true that we participate with the Spirit in being diligent to mortify sin and pursue holiness. However this aspect is not brought up in the talks, at least according to the script I had read. We don’t “change ourselves”.
As any Christian would like to do before committing to three-day immersion experience, one would want to know what is taught. I searched for many days and weeks in collecting background for this essay before finally finding the scripts for each talk at the Cross Point Church site. The average person won’t know the substance of the talks until he hears it live from the lay and clergy leaders during the weekend.
Question/Concern #1: Is it wise to submit to teaching by unknown people on unknown topics? No. Jesus said,
Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. (John 18:20).
Moreover, the weekend is gender specific. Men attend on one weekend, their wives or other women the next weekend. I have never been a fan of separation. The Passion conferences separate youths from their parents, who are forbidden to attend unless he is the youth pastor. He is the only adult allowed to accompany the youths.
I do not see that exclusion attitude modeled in the New Testament. Women and men, husbands and wives attended the sermons, dinners, and events Jesus was involved in (with the exception of the few times Jesus drew aside His apostles to explain a parable or ascend the Mountain for Transfiguration).
For the same reason it is not wise to separate youths from the parents and pour into them an intense theological and emotional experience. Women are vulnerable theologically (1 Peter 3:7) and should not be forced to spend 72 hours of intense theological training by unknown leaders in an unknown curriculum without their husbands present. For that reason alone, husbands should say no to their wives participating.
The Methodists adopted the Catholic’s Cursillo retreat model and called it Walk to Emmaus. The Presbyterians adopted it and called it The Great Banquet. Other denominations followed suit, including Lutherans, Reformed, Pentecostals, etc. How has the theology been adapted from Catholicism and re-formed for Lutherans/Methodists/Dutch reformed/Episcopal/Presbyterians/Pentecostals, the denominations using the model at present? Doesn’t that seem one-size-fits-all?
Brian V. Janssen wrote in his book examining the movement that-
It is evident that Cursillo is not really about theology from the fact that the method is so readily adaptable to very divergent theological perspectives: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism (Via de Christo), Methodism, (Walk to Emmaus), Anglicanism (Episcopal Cursillo), Presbyterianism (Presbyterian Cursillo and [Great Banquet], Pentecostalism, (Tres Dias), and Dutch Reformed (Reformed Cursillo). Janssen, “Cursillo: Little Courses in Catharsis“
See chart. This chart compares the original Catholic talks with the Methodist talks, which has been relayed into all the other Protestant talks almost intact.
Question/Concern #2: Can one participate in an immersion weekend and emerge unaffected by an all-purpose or watered down theology? A theology born of Catholicism no less?
No, one cannot. Jesus said in Matthew 7:14 that –
For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
The gate is narrow and the way after that is narrow. The way doesn’t broaden as it sheds unwanted theologies or waters them down to accommodate more and more people. It remains narrow. Ecumenism is deadly. There is one Gospel, as Galatians 1:6-8 reminds us. We have seen above that the theology is downplayed, and what theology there is, is riddled with Roman Catholic error (prevenient grace, etc) or other error (Arminianism, downplaying sin/our sin nature, calling it “wrong choices”…excessive focus on love and none on wrath…emphasis on service in our own strength).
So if the theology isn’t the point, what is the weekend about? It’s about the experience, the feelings, and the catharsis.
More on that in part 2. I’ll go into specifics about what happens minute by minute at a Walk to Emmaus or The Great Banquet weekend. Stay tuned.