(474) SPIRITUAL DIRECTORS – Emerging Trends in the Church Today (Part 1)

Spiritual Direction – Part 1

To the church, the victorious and ascended Lord Jesus Christ “gave . . . some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming . . .” Ephesians 4:11-14, NASB
Spiritual direction is the practice of being with people as they attempt to deepen their relationship with the divine or to learn and grow in their own personal spirituality.  The person seeking direction shares stories of his or her encounters of the divine, or how he or she is cultivating a life attuned to spiritual things. The director listens and asks questions to assist the directee in his or her process of reflection and spiritual growth. Spiritual direction advocates claim that it develops a deeper awareness of the spiritual aspect of being human and that it is not psychotherapy, counseling, or financial planning.

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While there is some degree of variability, there are primarily two forms of spiritual direction: regular direction and retreat direction. They differ largely in the frequency of meeting and in the intensity of reflection.

Regular direction can involve a one- to two-hour meeting every four to eight weeks, and thus is slightly less intense than retreat direction, although spiritual exercises and disciplines are often given for the directee to attempt between meetings.

If the directee is on a retreat (lasting a weekend, a week or even 40 days), he or she will generally meet with his or her director on a daily basis for one hour. During these daily meetings, exercises or spiritual disciplines such as LECTIO DIVINA  are given to the directee as fodder to continue his or her spiritual growth. Alternatively, retreat centres often offer direction or companionship to persons visiting the centre alone.[1]

The SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA  are a popular example of guidelines used for spiritual direction. (Wikipedia)

MY QUESTION:  ‘Where’s the beef?”   Are the origins of these traditions coming out of man’s traditions or do they come out of God’s word – the Bible?  The reliance on God should be grounded in the Bible. How do you know that the what the Spiritual Director is telling someone is biblical? 

Very little is usually mentioned about these issues.  This may show the reliance of Roman Catholicism on church authority demonstrated by whatever the Pope, Priest says which are based on human feelings, human thoughts….etc.  This is in contrast to the traditional Evangelical approach that relies on the Bible as the source and justification for a practice or belief. 

Historical traditions

ROMAN CATHOLICISM (Early Western Christianity)

Proponents of SPIRITUAL DIRECTION speak of the NT disciples engaging in mentoring as an example of this practice.  The problem with this is trying to force into the Bible a teaching that doesn’t emanate from the Bible (e.g. eisegesis).

This can continue into the early history of the church.  Theologian John Cassian who lived in the 4th century provided some of the earliest recorded mentoring guidelines on the Christian practice of spiritual direction.  This practice was introduced in the monasteries. It consisted of placing a novice under the care of a more experienced monk.  Today, many people have heard of the Rule of Saint Benedict – which are similar guidelines

Spiritual direction is WIDESPREAD in the CATHOLIC religion: a person with wisdom and spiritual discernment, usually but not exclusively a priest or consecrated in general, provides counsel to a person who wishes to make a journey of faith and discovery of God’s will in his life. The spiritual guide aims to discern, understand what the Holy Spirit, through the situations of life, spiritual insights fruit of prayer, reading and meditation on the Bible, tells the person accompanied. The spiritual father or spiritual director may provide advice, give indications of life and prayer, resolving doubts in matters of faith and morals without replacing the choices and decisions to the person accompanying. (Wikipedia)

Pastor Larry DeBruyn for CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY:

Spiritual Director: A New Gift from an Ancient Tree.

Alice Fryling says that –  “Spiritual direction is a way of companioning people as they seek to look closely, through the eyes of their hearts, at the guidance and transforming work of God in their lives.” [2] For example, Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), who in spite of having received “no formal education in the area of MYSTICISM,” yet who became a recognized authority on the subject, became so via “the influence of Baron Friedrich von Hugel [1852-1925], her friend and spiritual director . . .” [3] 

SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR appears to mimic the role of an EASTERN RELIGIOUS GURU who tries to affect the spirituality of others in either one-on-one or small group settings. As Fryling states, “People throughout the Christian church, including those of an evangelical orientation, are experiencing again the gifts that God gives to his people through the loving listening and the gentle guidance of spiritual directors.” [4] So what is the Bible-believing Christian to think of this so-called gift of a spiritual director?

We should know, first of all, that among the lists of gifts in the New Testament (Romans 12:5-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28-31; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9-10), there is no spiritual gift of spiritual director!

Second, the central gifts for the church’s edification are those of “teacher” and “pastor-teacher.” The risen and ascended Christ gave these gifts to the body of Christ so that it might come to, “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive . . .” (Ephesians 4:11-14). The exercise of these gifts is consistent with the example of Jesus. In the gospels, He was primarily known as, “Teacher” (Matthew 8:19). Too, Jesus commissioned the disciples to make disciples via a two-fold process of “baptizing” and “teaching” them (Matthew 28:19-20). According to Paul’s ministry, the exercise of “the gift of teacher” is consistent with not only Paul’s example, but also with his exhortation to Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2). As distributed by the sovereign Spirit of the ascended and Christ, the spiritual gift designed to bring maturity and unity to the local church is “pastor-teacher,” not “spiritual director.” That is why Fryling must state that, “spiritual direction groups” are an “exciting new branch from an ancient tree . . . a practice that began in the early years of Christianity when people followed the desert mothers and fathers out to the wilderness to ask them how to know God.” [5] 

=> There is no gift of “spiritual director” which is sourced in the Bible and bestowed by the Spirit of the Living Christ.

What is important to the church is not that people, in one-on-one, or in small group sessions, listen to spiritual directors and vice versa–though sharing fellowships have their place in the local church–but that people listen to God, and the emphasis upon listening to one another does not qualify as listening to God, for we are neither God nor gods. As the Lord said to His people through the psalmist, “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, / That Israel would walk in My ways!” (Psalm 81:13) One OT scholar remarks:

To listen . . . has the double force in Hebrew which it sometimes has in English: to pay attention and to obey. So this saying is close to the famous words of Samuel, “to obey (lit. to listen) is better than sacrifice”. [6]

I fear that the gift of so-called spiritual director is just another guru-gimmick which sources spirituality in religious opinions, teachings, and practices that are utterly foreign to Holy Scripture, and such a source of spirituality will not promote the unity of faith amongst believers, as does the legitimate gift of pastor-teacher, but a diversity of beliefs revealing that all the spiritual directors and listeners are being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”

For this usurping of the ministry of pastor-teacher by spiritual directors in local churches, pastors are to blame. By allowing methods to trump the message, they created the spiritual vacuum into which spiritual directors have moved in, and instead of being unified, Christians will become increasingly diversified (and apostate) as pan-evangelicalismism, under the tutelage of spiritual directors, bows before the MYSTICISM of the POSTMODERN culture.

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ENDNOTES
[1] Emphasis mine, Alice Fryling, “A First Look at Spiritual Direction Groups,” Small Groups.com, Posted 5/11/09.(http://smallgroups.com/articles/2009/firstlookspiritualdirectiongroups.html). This article is no longer posted on the website. See also Alice Fryling, “What Happens in Group Spiritual Direction?” SmallGroups.com, Posted 6/29/09 (http://www.smallgroups.com/articles/2009/whathappensingroupspiritualdirection.html).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Emphasis Mine, The Very Reverend Alan Jones, “Forward,” Evelyn Underhill, The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1949): xii.
[4] Fryling, “Spiritual Direction Groups.”
[5] Ibid.
[6] Derek Kidner, A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976): 53.
[7] “T-groups,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-groups).

 

The following secular article found in a city newspaper back in 2010 discusses the growth of Spiritual Direction.  It states that the practice started with the Roman Catholic church but today we see it growing in the Evangelical Church.  This demonstrates how quickly this has spread within the Evangelical Church.  It is another avenue for drawing people away from Scripture and relying more so on human influence.  Where are the warnings and checks against what the Bible teaches on any subject that may come up from the Spiritual Director?  Without them, this type of practice can quickly degenerate into a flow of unbiblical advice that results in steering someone away from God’s will for their life.  And, as this becomes more popular, people are desensitized as there is a subtle effect that causes this practices and associated descriptive words and phrases to become more mainstream within the Evangelical Church. 

http://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2010/02/17/More-people-turning-to-spiritual-directors/stories/201002170244

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