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(460.6) SPIRITUAL FORMATION: ORIGINS – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

“ORIGINS – Where Gaming Begins”….but I digress.
Spiritual-Formation
Is your church “doing SPIRITUAL FORMATION”?

Is your church promoting SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES?

These are some of the catch phrases EMERGING today within the church as more and more Christians become increasingly influenced by a CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM that has become popular within Evangelicalism over the last several years.

How people use these words and phrases may differ today but their origins can be traced – in some cases back to the EARLY CHURCH or in other cases to various MYSTICAL PHILOSOPHIES and EASTERN RELIGIONS.  To properly understand their meaning, it is important to understand their original meaning and compare it to what is being promoted today.

For example – some will use the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION (& SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES) to describe what basically has been known as DISCIPLESHIP.  A problem arises when the principles behind what we call SPIRITUAL FORMATION have little in common with what Scripture teaches and more in common with what was taught by some in the EARLY CHURCH.

Why is that a problem?  A problem arises when the church looks to history and actually values man’s views higher than God’s word. (2 Timothy 3:16)

When a source other than the Bible is used to establish practices and define doctrine, this can be an invitation to do down a path over time that is simply not beneficial in our spiritual walk.  This can lead people/church away from its primary mission (i.e. discipleship) and into other activities not specified in the Bible.  In the example of SPIRITUAL FORMATION, some of these popular activities were performed during the EARLY CHURCH.  This fact alone will convince some to hold these concepts on par with the Bible.  When the “Early Church” is brought into a conversation, it seemingly conveys a status of authority that some will actually say is equivalent to Scripture.  Others won’t actually go that far in saying that but in practice, they hold up the Early Church sometimes more so than they look to Scripture.

Therefore, as doctrine develops in the church, if is not rooted and grounded in the Bible, then the opportunity exists for all sorts of error and aberrant theology to develop.  When you read through the Bible in both the OT and the NT, the people of God have repeatedly dealt with doctrinal errors and heresies.  In fact, we are warned that as we approach the final days, the amount of false teaching will increase – 2 Peter 2:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. …

Many things could be said in this passage in 2 Peter.  But looking at a few of the main issues include the following.When we look to define SPIRITUAL FORMATION, some basic observations should be noted.

=> False teaching came from WITHIN the church.

=> False teaching came from WITHIN the leadership of the church 

=> False teaching will be SECRETLY brought in.

=> False teaching will be DESTRUCTIVE.

=> DECEPTIVE words will be used.

=> TRUTH will be BLASPHEMED.

It may be no accident that concepts such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION have caught on among Bible colleges and seminaries.  There is an intellectual elite side to the appeal of these practices even though the practices themselves tend to downplay intellect, knowledge, doctrine,….etc.  So, with this in mind, let’s look at the MEANING and the ORIGINS of the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  

1) BIBLE:

First, we don’t see this phrase used in the Bible.  It is a simple fact but one that should be clearly noted when we decide to follow the associated teachings that spring forth from its inclusion in Christian practice.  That doesn’t void its use in Christian practices and doctrine, (e.g. the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible but defines a core aspect of our faith found throughout Scripture) but it should cause you to look further at the principles being suggested to determine if they are biblically supported.

2) HISTORIC:

Second – If the phrase is largely dependent on historical traditions – then, obviously, we should investigate how these traditions developed and how they were used over time in the church. Again, we need to look at the core principles being suggested to determine if they are biblically supported.

So, how is this phrase used in Christianity today and where did it originate from historically”.  In a previous posting, we looked at the recent history of SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  Let’s look back further in history (and we won’t do this justice in this blog): 

2a)  ORIGEN 

As we look back at the “Early Church“,  one of the earliest sources to investigate is with Origen (A.D. 185-254).  You may recall that Origen rejected the single meaning of a text of Scripture and adopted the Greek allegorical approach popular in secular mythological literature especially in the Alexandria, Egypt, region in which he lived.

This view taught that every passage of Scripture had various levels of meaning.  It ranged from the literal, which was the simplest, to the allegorical, which was considered the most insightful.  The allegorical is described using some of the same phraseology used today among contemplative spiritual formation proponents  => allegorical was viewed as the DEEPER and RICHER form of biblical interpretation.

Origen and proponents searched for hidden, symbolic meanings within the biblical texts – but they were not necessarily the meaning intended by the author. The result of this approach was not an accurate understanding what the Scripture was saying but rather it opened up the reader to all kinds of aberrant interpretations.  

Gary Gilley (from “Roots of the Spiritual Formation Movement”, Think on These Things Ministry) states that “this method was guided by personal imagination instead of informed study which of course led to all sorts of fanciful and, at times, heretical, interpretations”.

There are those today (e.g. Emerging Church proponents) who recommend reading material from Origen himself.   I came across this from a men’s small group leader at my church who wanted to drop reading the Bible and instead read through the works of Origen for a period of time.  Someone asked me of my opinion and I stated that while there may be a time and place for reading the works of Origen, replacing the Bible in a small group setting is not the time and place for it.  Unknown to the leader, Origen taught a number of heresies such as UNIVERSALISM and PRE-EXISTENCE of SOULS.  I don’t think that is the type of material we should be focusing on instead of the Bible.

An author, who is supportive of Origen’s views, wrote, “Almost all Christian spiritual and ascetic literature, ever since, has been indebted to Origen’s foundational architecture of Christian MYSTICISM.” 

2b) DESERT FATHERS

Next up on the scene were the DESERT FATHERS. After Emperor Constantine’s conversion and the established the church as the state religion in 312-313 A.D., the persecutions of Christians were no longer carried out by the state.   As a result, some saw the struggle against evil being minimized when Constantine took power.  Becuase of this, (“man” in his infinite wisdom (not)), some felt the need to carry on the struggle resisting evil and left their places of comfort in society and fled to the desert to take up an ASCETIC life in battling evil.  Many became isolated hermits while some formed local communities in the dessert. In a somewhat ironic shift in thinking, today we find Evangelicals going after the writings of those Desert Fathers and applying them to their walk today.  (see item number #4 below)

3. THEOLOGICAL

The desert fathers followed in Origen’s footsteps.  Gerald L. Sittser, “The Desert Fathers,” p. 199, states –

Their overall approach to the Bible seems—and, in fact, is—foreign to the modern age. They jumped from text to text, as if by free association, making connections that would appear odd to us, and they interpreted the Bible allegorically, which gives the impression that their interpretation is informed more by fanciful imagination than by careful exegesis.

Gary Gilley states that

“this approach to Scripture ultimately led to numerous schools of spirituality (ways of living out the gospel) such as Augustinian, Dominican, Benedictine, Ignatian and so forth. But ultimately they all had one thing in common, the so-called tripartite division of spiritual life. The sine qua non of this three-fold division consists of purgation, illumination, and union and is found in ALL forms of MYSTICISM, not just Christianized forms.”

Greg Peters defines these terms:

The purgative way consists in one’s active cleansing and is aided by spiritual exercises and ascetic practices, through the cultivation of humility and by practicing the virtues. Further advancement is made with the assistance of meditation, prayer and contemplation. The illuminative way is characterized by further meditation, prayer and contemplation, combined with the reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, additional spiritual exercises and a devotion to the Virgin Mary. The unitive way involves the exercising of proper Christian love until one experiences or achieves MYSTICAL UNION with God as Trinity.  Greg Peters, “Spiritual Theology, ibid, p. 82, (cf. pp. 188-189).

MYSTICISM – Gary Gilley goes on to summarize –

  1. PURGATION = emptying oneself not only of sin but of passion, desire and even of intellectual thought.
  2. ILLUMINATION = is what takes place when the Lord fills the emptiness of our souls and minds with extrabiblical knowledge and experience
  3. UNION = is that mystical contact with God that cannot be rationally described, only experienced.

It is a bit beyond the scope of this posting to give too much more detail on these aspects of mysticism. But, some general conclusions can easily be identified with characteristics we see in even among Evangelicals today:

  • An important goal in MYSTICISM is the belief that we can ALL achieve a UNION with God.  
  • We become like Christ by practicing SPIRITUAL EXERCISES/DISCIPLINES
  • RATIONAL (intellect) is downplayed while extra-biblical EXPERIENCE in encouraged. 

The implications of these include the belief (by some) that the UNION achieved with God is available and achievable by all people (not just Christians).  What comes to mind are false teachings such as UNIVERSALISM.  A quote found in a popular book promoting a mystical view:

“… any and all active contemplation on your part is also just preparation for bringing you to a passive state. They are preparations. They are not the end. They are a way to the end. The end is union with God” (Guyon, Experiencing Union with God through Inner Prayer). 

=> David Cloud states that – “This is a pagan concept that has no basis in Scripture. The believer is a child of God, but he is not absorbed into God and does not partake of his divine essence. Only Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, can say that He is one with and of the same essence with God. Christ alone dwells in the light “which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:15). In Revelation 22:3, in the New Heaven and New Earth, the Bible says that God is still God and “his servants shall serve him.” God is God, and though the believer is His child through Christ, he is not God and never will be. When 1 Peter 1:4 speaks of being a “partaker of the divine nature,” it refers to partaking of God’s moral qualities, which is what the Bible means when it speaks of man as made in the image of God. Adam was made in God’s image morally, as an upright being, but Adam was not God. 1 Peter 1:4 refers to the same thing as Ephesians 4:24, “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” and as Colossians 3:10, “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”  www.wayoflife.org

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES (silence, solitude, chanting, meditation….etc.) may sound like a constructive description, but some of the disciplines include items that are not biblical. In fact, some of the disciplines are mirror images of practices within Eastern Mysticism and other Eastern religious and New Age beliefs.

=> Keep in mind, these fall under the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION. 

 

4. EXPERIENTIAL 

As discussed above, during the first two centuries of church history persecution and martyrdom were not uncommon. Many Christians suffered because the church stood against the corrupt world system and the devil. The martyrs became the heroes of the faith.  These folks, willingly made the ultimate sacrifice for Christ. That changed in 312 A.D. with the legalization of Christianity by Constantine.  Some viewed the change as a watering down of the Christian faith.  Martyrdom became a thing of the past, and Christians were asking who would become the spiritual heroes of this new generation?

Hermits and monks who later became known as the desert fathers and mothers were the ones who stepped out of their life of relative comfort. D. Cloud states that “They originally moved to the deserts of Egypt, and to similar areas, because it was their belief that Satan still ruled there and they sought battle with him as Christians had battled him during times of persecution. And in the face of a softening approach to the Christian life they wanted to demonstrate dedication. As their reputations grew, the desert fathers and mothers became the Christian heroes of their day. Many flooded to the deserts to see these living martyrs, to perhaps learn from them, and some to join them.”

What developed were many misguided attempts to show the dedication of the hermits and monks.  Extreme forms of asceticism included fasting, days & nights without sleep, celibacy, poverty, loneliness….etc.  It was under these extreme, self-induced physical conditions that some of these folks began to claim visions and revelations from the Lord.

Gary Gilley states that –

“these were passed down orally by their followers and then recorded in books to be spread throughout the Christian community. These writings became the basis for new forms of spiritualties that continue to have an impact on the church to this day. Those in the Spiritual Formation Movement today look continually to this group, which they call spiritual masters and physicians of the soul, for insights into a deeper life with God. The roots of spiritual formation are planted in the desert fathers and mothers of the second to sixth centuries.”

However to these early formers of mystical and ascetic spirituality must be added a number of others who mostly appeared in the Medieval Era, an era variously pegged as from 325 (the council of Nicaea) to 604 (the death of Pope Gregory the Great) and ending from 1453 (the fall of Constantinople to the Turks) to 1517 (Luther posting his “Ninety-Five Theses”). Developers and promoters of these forms of Christianity included Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Bonaventure (1217-1274), Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), Pseudo-Dionysius (c. 500), and Thomas á Kempis (1380-1471), to name a few. Around the time of the Reformation a number of efforts were made by Rome to draw those who had adopted Reformational theology back to the Catholic Church. This Counter-Reformation was led in part by those who supported mystical and ascetic views and insights. This same group popularized their ideas by means of their own experiences, supposed visions and writings. St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) were among the luminaries.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) is somewhat representative of this latter group. She was a nun in Norwich, England, who was locked in a cell that was attached to a church and lived there in seclusion (such women were called anchoresses). These cells or anchor holds would have a window that looked into the church so the individual could participate in the worship services. There would also be another window in which to receive food and water. While living in this condition, and at a time of extreme sickness, Julian claimed that she received 16 “showings” (revelations) on May 8, 1373, when she was 30 years old. These showings are held in high regard by the mystics and became somewhat of a pattern for the visions of others, which became increasingly common during this era.[4]”

Consistent throughout the history of the mystical and ascetic spiritualties, including those promoting spiritual formation today, has been the four-fold hermeneutical approach to Scripture attempting to follow the three stage pathway to spirituality (purgation, illumination, union), as well as openness to extrabiblical visions, revelations, traditions and practices. It is the acceptance of these three foundational premises that has enabled this branch of heretical Christianity to survive and flourish.

While these stories are more common within Roman Catholic circles, today, we are seeing many Evangelicals being caught up with these practices.  Many Evangelicals are reading books about these historic figures and mimicking the practices they used which originated from the mystical and ascetic life of the hermits living in the deserts. Relatively strong evangelicals are willing to drop their safeguards and minimize the clear teaching of Scripture in order to glean from these mystics what they believe will be spiritual insights. This is true even as these evangelicals are aware that the theological foundation of this system of spirituality is often corrupt to the core.

Gilley discusses this –

“One of the most interesting and puzzling examples of this is Dr. Bruce Demarest, former professor of theology at Denver Seminary for more than thirty years. Demarest is a man who has studied and taught evangelical theology for virtually his entire life and recognizes true heresy when he sees it. In writing the chapter “Reading Catholic Spirituality” in the book Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics, Demarest expresses deep appreciation for what he has learned from Roman Catholics concerning spiritual life. Yet he knows full well that the spiritual masters that he promotes and the teachings of Rome are in serious doctrinal error. He identifies a number of these himself: Catholic spiritual writers placed church tradition on par with Scripture and used faulty hermeneutics; they believed in papal supremacy and infallibility; they had a low view of the fall and human sinfulness; they did not call clearly for conversion; they did not believe in justification by faith alone; they believed in a redemptive role for Mary; they prayed to Mary and the saints; they practiced severe asceticism; they promoted unbiblical mysticism; and they were, and are, a pathway to Eastern religions.[5] Fred Sanders, another author who is supportive of who many call the spiritual masters and their classics, nevertheless admits, “These nonevangelical traditions may hold the gospel itself in stewardship, but they are messing it up, and a messed-up gospel is not the gospel; its result is dysangel, not evangel; bad news, not good.” [6]

Many of these are core doctrines of the faith.  To simply follow after them and substitute them in the place of Scripture and orthodox historic church practice is a serious change that many Evangelicals are misunderstanding in their rush to jump into these practices.  In essence, these new Spiritual Disciplines fall into their own form of a WORKS mentality which looks to achieve based on disciplines that are engaged and practiced in their walk.  

=> The positions taken by the “spiritual masters” and the Church of Rome place them outside the realm of biblical Christianity and in some cases demonstrate a clear rejection of the gospel.

Is your church involved in SPIRITUAL FORMATION?  As we have seen, there are several indicators showing that may be the case.  Is your church promoting the writings of the Desert Fathers and from the Early Church (e.g. is your Sunday School class reading from Origen or Teresa of Avila, St.John of the Cross….etc.)?  Do you see and hear terms such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION being used over biblical descriptions such as DISCIPLESHIP?

(460.5) SPIRITUAL FORMATION DANGERS – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

REVIEW: In our the previous postings on SPIRITUAL FORMATION, we have

  1. looSpiritual-Formationked at several different definitions of Spiritual Formation from various perspectives.  
  2. looked at the history of how Spiritual Formation entered into mainstream Evangelical churches mainly from Roman Catholic sources but also influenced from with many similarities found in Eastern religions.
  3. looked at how some have mis-interpreted commonly used passages in the Bible to justify their meaning of related practices under the umbrella of Spiritual Formation.  

    => Common phrases such as “Be STILL and know…..etc.” (Ps. 46:10) have been mis-interpreted by many people historically up through today.  As a result, there are several so-called Spiritual Disciplines such as SOLITUDE, STILLNESS and SILENCE that have evolved from these mistaken interpretations.  They have spawned many practices that have more in common with other mystical religions from the East.  We see a similarity in historic ancient Roman Catholic mystical practices from the time of the early church through the Middle Ages.  Roman Catholicism has a long history of people who proclaimed God’ word.

Looking more in detail at the origins and meaning of Spiritual Formation, we can see other sources for this information – 

 

The Christian Research Network* states:

UNBIBLICAL ORIGINS

Despite assertions that the spiritual disciplines are “God-ordained,”13 they are in fact derived from the practices of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mystics.14 These practices are contrary to the biblical theology fought for in the Reformation.

Gary Gilley asks:

Do we, as believers in Sola Scriptura, take our marching orders from the written Word, or do we look to the ‘white spaces’ in Scripture to determine how we live?15

In other words, are we to turn to mystical, subjective ascetic practices, or do we rely upon the objective truth of God’s Word?

Bob DeWaay contends:

The Bible nowhere describes an inward journey to explore the realm of the spirit. God chose to reveal the truth about spiritual reality through His ordained, Spirit-inspired, biblical writers.16

UNBIBLICAL VIEW OF MAN’S CONDITION

Spiritual formation teaches that man possesses innate goodness, but that his fallen state of sin is a result of “deprivation” or “spiritual starvation.” Thus, the disciplines help to feed, mature and grow man’s spirituality. In his Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard states:

The evil that we do in our present condition is a reflection of a weakness caused by spiritual starvation. When Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was not just being generous to his killers; he was expressing the facts of the case. They really did not know what they were doing. As St. Augustine so clearly saw, the deranged condition of humankind is not, at bottom, a positive fact, but a deprivation. It is one that results in vast positive evils, of course, yet depravity is no less a horror because it stems from a deficiency, and people are no less responsible for it and its consequences.17

Rather than having an innate ability for good, Scripture teaches that, due to the Fall, man is innately depraved (Rom. 3:11–18, 23, 5:8; Eph. 2:1) and his heart is wicked (Jer. 17:9).

INVENTED PRACTICES MADE BINDING UPON CHRISTIANS

Spiritual disciplines are not commanded in Scripture. To impose practices not commanded in Scripture as necessary for spiritual maturity is to undermine and deny the sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

In spite of the absence of an explicit command in Scripture to practice these disciplines, leaders like Dallas Willard continue to assert their necessity:

The disciplines are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken, to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order. They enable us more and more to live in a power that is, strictly speaking, beyond us, deriving from the spiritual realm itself, as we “yield ourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God,” as Romans 6:13 puts it.

The necessity for such disciplines comes from the very nature of the self in the image of God, discussed earlier. Once the individual has through divine initiative become alive to God and his Kingdom, the extent of integration of his or her total being into that Kingdom order significantly depends upon the individual’s initiative.18

Though Dallas Willard admits that the Bible does not command that these disciplines be followed, he nevertheless argues that they were practiced among members of the early church. Bob DeWaay summarizes Willard’s argument regarding Paul’s silence as being that he “did not write about the spiritual disciplines because everyone was practicing them.”19 He further states:

Spiritual disciplines are man-made, amorphous, and not revealed in the Bible; they assume that one is saved by grace and perfected by works.”20

The Apostle Paul writes against such ascetic practices. In Col. 2:20–23, Paul rebukes the idea of relying on fleshly practices to grow in holiness. Gal. 3:3 reads: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected in the flesh?”

Though proponents like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard claim that spiritual formation has been practiced since the early days of the church, Foster admits that the term “spiritual formation” did not appear in evangelical vocabulary until he ushered it into the mainstream in the 1970s with The Celebration of Discipline:

By now enough water has gone under the Christian Spiritual Formation bridge that we can give some assessment of where we have come and what yet needs to be done. When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. And more.”21

POSSIBILITY OF REAL SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES NOT FROM GOD

Richard Foster himself has offered warnings when it comes to practicing some of the disciplines. In regard to the practice of contemplative prayer, which is a type of meditation, Foster, in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, writes:

I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on that, there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way!….

…But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.22

When seeking to “hear from God,” there is no biblical guidance as to how one may determine exactly who or what is communicating. Foster himself notes that not only could one be deceived by Satan, but one may also mistake one’s own imagination or “human voices” for the voice of God.

Learning to distinguish the voice of God…from just human voices within us…comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. Satan pushes and condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference.23

Though Foster provides criteria for determining just who or what is speaking, there is no biblical support for the specifications he provides. He implies that God will always speak in a positive manner, yet there are multiple instances in Scripture when God speaks negatively to His people. About Foster’s comments in the above-referenced Be Still DVD, Pastor Larry DeBruyn writes:

Assuming that God speaks Soul to soul today, what if Foster’s paradigm for determining “the voice” were reversed; that the negative voice is God’s, and the positive is Satan’s? It happened that way in the Garden. God warned Adam and Eve that for disobedience to God, “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17), but Satan reassuringly told Adam and Eve, “You surely shall not die!” (Genesis 3:4). The point is that when engaging meditative spirituality, the contemplator can never be certain who will speak, and as a consequence, the experience can become the spawning ground for myriads of flashy ideas based solely upon, “he heard this,” or “she heard that.” And at that juncture, Christians and the church will have turned aside “to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4).24

Deception is rampant, and unbiblical, mystical practices may offer people an actual spiritual experience, though not one that originates from the true and living God. To ignore the boundaries of Scripture is to open oneself up to danger.

In addition to Foster descriptions and warnings about these related SILENCE and MEDIATION,…..etc. and various types of CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER, Dr. Rod Whitacre from Trinity School of Ministry in Contemplative Prayer: A Brief Introduction, states (with my highlights added):

DANGER can arise if we practice the more extreme forms of physical control found in some forms of contemplative prayer. A gentle attention to the breath is not a danger, but more intensive forms of control of the breath or the beating of the heart can interfere with these functions and cause damage. Such practices should be avoided unless one has a competent guide.

Another form of DANGER occurs if we let our mind go blank, rather than focusing on the Lord. Such a condition can open us to demonic suggestion.

Sometimes people try to practice contemplative forms of prayer, but in fact they only daydream. Instead of an alert concentration on God, they simply let their minds roam among various thoughts and feelings, with perhaps a vague sense of God in the background. Such woolgathering is not the Prayer of the Heart and can have the negative effect of making us more vague and fuzzy in the rest of our life.

Since contemplative forms of prayer can be DISTURBING or even DANGEROUS, it is often recommended that we have a spiritual director, or at least a close friend who is sympathetic with such prayer with whom to share something of what we are experiencing. However, if we avoid excessive interference with our breathing and heartbeat, and if we focus on the Lord, asking for His guidance and protection, there need be no danger. The regular reading of Scripture and participation in Christian community, especially worship, are further safeguards.

Along with these practical DANGERS, there are also potential theological DANGERS. Those who seek to simply attend to God’s Presence as such, with no thoughts of any sort, are practicing an ancient and valuable form of Christian prayer, but such prayer can run the RISK of seeking a God beyond God, like some of the ancient Gnostics, and denying the Incarnation. We can guard against this DANGER by putting our contemplative prayer in the context of lectio divina, the meditative reading of Scripture.

Similarly, such forms of prayer can promote unmediated God-mysticism. The focus of the New Testament, however, is the Presence of God mediated to us in Jesus, the divine/human Son. Indeed, St. John seems to consciously reject unmediated God- mysticism, insisting that no one has seen God apart from Christ (e.g., John 1.18). The writings of John Main contain much help in understanding the role of Christ and the Holy Spirit in contemplative prayer.

 

There is so much to be said about these comments, but for now, I will just focus on the fact that a contemplative prayer advocate spends a great deal of time explaining the DANGER of contemplative forms of prayers.  He makes it sound casually…….alarming and scary.  This is how the Richard Foster describes the dangers associated with these practices.  

=> The question becomes WHY are we suggesting to pursue a practice that comes with this type of DANGER?  Does Scripture give us these stark warnings when we pray?

To be continued.  

* http://christianresearchnetwork.org/topic/spiritual-formation/

(460.3) Spiritual Formation 2017.3 – Interpreting Key Passages in the Bible Used to Promote Contemplative Spirituality – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY

Some of the key verses used to promote and defend CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY are usually taken out of context.  There are several contemporary authors/speakers who promote a Christian walk that moves further away from the Bible and prayer to a walk that looks INWARD and seeks to be drawn CLOSER to become UNIFIED with God in the DEEPEST part of our soul.  The problem is that Scripture discusses our sanctification and growth involving our dedication to God’s word and Biblical prayer – NOT in chasing after ancient mystical approaches that we find in the early church.   There are other religions that promote the idea of being unified with God by being unified with all of humanity – but Christianity is not it. To summarize – passages from the Bible are used to justify this seeking to be close to God in the DEEPEST part of the soul so that they can ultimately become unified with God.  But, the passages referred are usually taken out of context to arrive at their conclusion.

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In the following book, Relentless Spirituality: Embracing The Spiritual Disciplines of A.B. Simpson, by Dr. Gary Keisling illustrates a simple example of this.  The foreword was written by DALLAS WILLARD – a huge influence on the church accepting contemplative/spiritual formation.  

The book uses phraseology that quickly tips off the reader of the perspective that promotes a more mystical approach (e.g. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES).

First, let me say that my intention is not to be critical of Keisling but rather, my review is focused on how Scripture is used to come up with relentless alternative interpretations of the Bible that may not be justified when those passages are looked at in context.

Keisling discusses the disciplines such as SILENCE and SOLITUDE.  He states that “both have complimentary roles in SPIRITUAL FORMATION”.  Solitude unfolds in two dimensions.  First, there is solitude that is in response to Jesus’ invitation: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (NIV Mark 6:31) .

Now, look at that verse again and ask yourself what is actually being said in the passage.  In context, look at the entire chapter to get an understanding of the context of verse 31.  Again, ask yourself, how should verse 31 be interpreted?

Keisling states that – “Christ’s disciples were invited to join Jesus in doing something they had seen Him do in the past and would certainly see Him to again in the future.  It was an invitation………..to be alone and draw close to God.”

Hold the phone.  Was that the reasons stated in this passage of Scripture?  Read the passage again.  Read it from another translation – NKJV: “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while”.  You can read in a number of both literal and dynamic translations and they say the same thing.

=> I would say that Jesus was inviting the disciples to literally “get some rest”.  Radical idea?  This passage doesn’t say or even imply that Jesus was calling them to engage in a Spiritual Discipline of drawing close to God.  Keisling states that we are to “draw close to the Presence of the Almighty.”  

He goes on to explain that “these steps of spiritual formation are an essential part of life in Christ”.  Really?  “These steps” are an essential part of our spiritual formation – yet Christiandom is just finding out about it now?

=> QUESTION: Where does the Bible instruct us to be in SILENCE and SOLITUDE with respect to our devotional life in our walk with Christ?

=> If you find a passage in the Bible, ask yourself first – are you interpreting the passage correctly?

=> Then ask yourself is the passage asking us to engage in SILENCE and SOLITUDE as a part of our normative walk in Christ?

In my opinion, the so-called disciplines of SILENCE and SOLITUDE find themselves to be silent in the Bible.  With the huge emphasis today on this topic, I think it very important to note that many look at early church traditions (that many consider being mystical) more so than look to see what Scripture actually says on these issues.  

There are other key passages that supporters of CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER take out of context making their case for Spiritual Formation. We will look at a few in the near future.

 

 

(460) Spiritual Formation 2017.1 – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY

We will begin a new series on the topic of SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  We have looked at this topic in the past but it was more along the lines of it being piecemeal.  I intend this series to be more comprehensive in scope.

I. INTRODUCTION – CONCEPTS & DEFINITIONS

One of the challenges in looking at this topic relates to the various definitions for the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  They range from the traditional, more common and more original meaning involving growth coming from a mystical & contemplative perspective.  Today, we find some combining this aspect with a more historical and biblical concept of discipleship or sanctification.

Here are few definitions by well-known authors today relating to this topic – the authors who have had a foundational impact on Evangelicals primarily include RICHARD FOSTER and DALLAS WILLARD, which we discuss further as we go along in this study. 

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Spiritual Formation – D.Simeone

=> Richard Foster  – Author of the Spiritual Formation Bible

“By now enough water has gone under the Christian Spiritual Formation bridge that we can give some assessment of where we have come and what yet needs to be done. When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. And more.” Spiritual Formation, A Pastoral Letter by Richard Foster

=> Larry Crabb

“The next reformation is due. It will focus on what it means to know God with a power that changes who we are and how we relate. I predict the Spiritual Formation Forum will play a vital role in the Spirit’s next great movement.” Larry Crabb, The Association of Christian Counselors, Willow Creek Association

“The Practice offers Saturday morning meetings which provide a rhythm of worship, teaching on a particular spiritual discipline and time to experience or “practice” that discipline. This practice time allows participants to get a fuller understanding of how to incorporate the discipline in their daily lives.” Spiritual Formation at Willow Creek.

RESEARCH: SPIRITUAL FORMATION

SPIRITUAL FORMATION is the process of apparent spiritual development through engaging in a set of behaviors, termed disciplines. Advocates believe these disciplines help shape the character of the practitioner into the likeness of Christ.

Though superficially similar to discipleship, spiritual formation is not merely concerned with biblical exhortation and instruction in orthodox doctrine, but also with the teaching of “many practices that opened [the believer] to the presence and direction of God, and nurtured the character traits of Christ into fruition”.1

The Renovaré website states:

Spiritual formation is a process, but it is also a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.2

HISTORY

1974
William Menninger discovers the book, The Cloud of Unknowing:

In 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.3

Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and others who were students of Menninger disseminate these teachings.4

 

1978
Richard Foster writes THE CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE.=> This book launched spiritual formation into mainstream evangelicalism, and continues to be used today.

In The Celebration of Discipline, Foster shares the practices of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that originated with the Desert Mothers and Fathers.

=> The Celebration of Discipline presents spiritual formation as attainable through the “spiritual disciplines.”

=> These disciplines are seen as a means of growing in spiritual maturity and depth. “In fact, the implication was that without the use of these ancient contemplative methods true ‘spiritual formation’ was not possible.”5

1988
Dallas Willard, a close associate of Richard Foster, writes The Spirit of the Disciplines. This book “reveals how the key to self-transformation resides in the practice of the spiritual disciplines, and how their practice affirms human life to the fullest.”6 

The Spirit of the Disciplines is based on Willard’s understanding of Matt. 11:29–30. Willard teaches that the “yoke” spoken of by Jesus in this passage is to attempt to emulate the life of Christ in every way possible. Willard teaches that this emulation occurs through the practice of the disciplines.7 (For a comprehensive teaching on this passage in Matthew, read or listen to Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon, Jesus’ Personal Invitation, Part 2.)

Richard Foster founds Renovaré. This organization seeks “to resource, fuel, model, and advocate more intentional living and spiritual formation among Christians and those wanting a deeper connection with God. A foundational presence in the spiritual formation movement for over 20 years, Renovaré is Christian in commitment, ecumenical in breadth, and international in scope.”8

PRESENT
The ideas presented by Foster and Willard continue to be propagated through the works and teachings of others.
Spiritual formation is a primary teaching found in what has come to be known as the emerging church. Brian McLaren, a key leader in that movement, has acknowledged that both Foster and Willard are considered “key mentors for the emerging church.”9

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

According to proponents of spiritual formation, various “spiritual disciplines” must be practiced in order to experience true spiritual growth:

Christian spiritual formation is a God-ordained process that shapes our entire person so that we take on the character and being of Christ himself.

Properly employed…these disciplines help us attain increasing levels of spiritual maturity so that we respond to our life circumstances with the mind of Christ.10

In his book, The Celebration of Discipline, as well as on his Renovaré website, Richard Foster lists these disciplines as:11

MEDITATION
Entering into a “listening silence” in order to “hear God’s voice.” Similar to the meditation of Eastern religions.
PRAYER
An “interactive conversation” with God. Practiced as contemplative prayer.
FASTING
“The voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”
STUDY
“The mind taking on an order conforming to the order of whatever we concentrate upon.”
SIMPLICITY
“The joyful unconcern for possessions we experience as we truly ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matt 6:33).”
SOLITUDE
A “state of mind” for one to be “found by God and freed from competing loyalties.”
SUBMISSION
Letting “go of the burden of always needing to get our own way.”
SERVICE
“A pattern of service as a lifestyle…At the center is found a contentment in hiddenness, indiscriminancy.”
CONFESSION
Confession of sin to other professing believers.
WORSHIP
“Entering into the supra-natural experience of the Shekanyah, or glory, of God.”
GUIDANCE
Learning to “heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.” “It is the perception that we have heard the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God.”
CELEBRATION
Celebrating God in all facets of life.

Since the disciplines are not defined in Scripture, no concrete, definitive list is available. Consequently, Willard notes that we should not “assume that our particular list will be right for others.”12 This confirms the subjective nature of these practices.

[Christian Research Network]

 

Part 2 (2017.2) will continue on this subject matter in the next posting.

(457) 61% CHRISTIANS AGREE WITH ‘NEW SPIRITUALITY’ – Emerging Trends in the Church Today.

Practicing Christians Agreeing with ‘New Spirituality’

From several perspectives, this blog exists to inform Christians of some of the nonbiblical influences that have developed within Christianity from other religious philosophies. Even more so, it is important to understand that point out how much of these trends are occurring from within the church itself.  New practices are being combined with Christian beliefs and practices along with new words and phrases used to describe these practices that are not found in Scripture.

From my perspective, similar trends in the church today reflect a departure from the practice of biblical discipleship.  More and more churches seek to spread the latest fad for growing the church while leaving behind one of our most important callings from God’s word – discipleship. Christians today are less equipped, less knowledgeable, less experienced in the basics of the faith.  This has impacted all Christians but especially younger Christians growing up in a church that succumbed to these trends.

The book of Jude reminded believers of their duty to fight for the truth.  This is such an important issue to Jude when he took up his pen to write about our common salvation, he was compelled by the Holy Spirit to encourage us “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

3 aBeloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our bcommon salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you ccontend earnestly for dthe faith which was once for all edelivered to fthe 1saints. 4 For certain persons have acrept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand 1 bmarked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn cthe grace of our God into dlicentiousness and edeny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (NASB)

Survey: 61 Percent of Practicing Christians Agree With Some ‘New Spirituality’ Beliefs

BRANDON SHOWALTER , CP REPORTER

May 10, 2017 | 12:28 PM

A new survey reveals the scope of influence of non-Christian belief systems on the mindsets of practicing Christians, with large percentages of them agreeing with ideas from other faiths and secular philosophies.

The research from Barna in cooperation with Summit Ministries released this week measured how much the central beliefs of other worldviews like “new spirituality,” secularism, postmodernism, and Marxism have affected the beliefs of Christians about the world and how it should be.

Their “widespread influence upon Christian thinking is evident not only among competing worldviews, but even among competing religions,” the survey report reads.

In a web-based survey conducted in March of 1,456 practicing Christians, researchers asked the sample if they agreed with several statements that are rooted in so-called “new spirituality.Sixty-one percent of them affirmed at least one of the questions.

Nearly 30 percent agreed that “all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” About that same percentage of people said they believe that “meaning and purpose come from becoming one with all that is.”

The influence of this spirituality has also seeped into the thinking of Christians on matters of ethics, with approximately one third believing in a form of karma. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they agreed with the statement “if you do good, you will receive good, and if you do bad, you will receive bad,” which although not found in Scripture appeals to a sense of justice many have.

“This research really crystallizes what Barna has been tracking in our country as an ongoing shift away from Christianity as the basis for a shared worldview,” said Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research for Barna, in the report.

What Do Americans Think of Jesus: Man, Myth or God?

“We have observed and reported on increasing pluralism, relativism and moral decline among Americans and even in the Church. Nevertheless, it is striking how pervasive some of these beliefs are among people who are actively engaged in the Christian faith.”

Because fragments and similarities to Christian teachings exist within other systems of thought, this poses a challenge.

“[S]ome may recognize and latch on to these ideas, not realizing they are distortions of biblical truths,” Hempell noted.

“The call for the Church, and its teachers and thinkers, is to help Christians dissect popular beliefs before allowing them to settle in their own ideology.”

The survey also presented statements rooted in postmodernism, secularism, and Marxism, asking Christians if they agreed with them. Those numbers were lower than those who agreed with “new spirituality.” Still, overall, 54 percent agreed with some postmodernist views, 36 percent accepted ideas associated with Marxism and 29 percent said they believe ideas based on secularism.

More specifically, ten percent of practicing Christians said they believed the “secular” view that “a belief has to be proven by science to know that it is true.” The postmodern statement “what is morally right or wrong depends on what an individual believes” resonated strongly with 23 percent of practicing Christians. Eleven percent of respondents agreed with the Marxist statement “Private property encourages greed and envy.”

Demographically, men, often at a two to one ratio, were more open to these non-Christian worldviews than women in all categories. In about half of the survey’s questions, Americans of color were more likely than white Americans to lend credence to non-Christian worldviews.

Millennials and Gen-Xers, who came of age in a culture under considerably less influence of the Christian faith, were eight times as likely to embrace non-Christian worldviews than were respondents from the Baby Boomer and Elder generations, the study found.

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/survey-61-percent-of-practicing-christians-agree-with-some-new-spirituality-beliefs-183173/#5BXtXAbXgqsLD6ME.99

(455) THE BENEDICT OPTION – Emerging Trends in the Church Today

THE BENEDICT OPTION

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A new book by Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, is getting a great deal of exposure and write-ups across many branches of Christianity.  It is promoting a strategy for Christians to engage in our post-Christian nation that we find ourselves today.

I will most likely be writing more about the book in the near future, but for now, I will give a few comments based on reading some reviews and listening to a podcast with Rod Dreher describing his book and why he wrote it.

I heard a podcast interview at the Impact 360 Institute –

http://impact360institute.org/podcasts/should-christians-take-the-benedict-option-an-interview-with-rod-dreher

My brief review from listening to Dreher’s comments in the interview include the following comments:

Rod Dreher does make some very good points. He identifies some of the problems that Christians in our society face today. His point is well taken – college kids and young adults just don’t know about the basics of the faith and have grown up in the church but still lack discipleship in their walk.

However, where I would disagree with Dreher is in what he recommends as a solution. 

Since the popularity of groups such as the Emerging Church…etc., there has been a trend to look negatively at the church today and instead look back to the so-called “early church” to see supposed “true Christianity” as a guide to how we should live out our faith today.  The problem with this approach is, although it is not their intention, they move further from God’s word and look instead to tradition. Worse, much of their tradition is along the lines of ancient Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox mysticism. It is a mystical approach to faith that aligns itself very closely with Eastern Mysticism and includes practices that mirror practices from Buddhism, Hinduism….etc. There are many examples of Catholic and Orthodox priests and scholars having Buddhist monks teach in their seminaries on how to meditate and pray according to these traditions that align very closely with Buddhism….etc.

They don’t abandon the faith and to their credit, they include prayer and Bible study as a part of their focus. But they introduce practices that have no basis in the Bible and mix in with Christian practices. The most dangerous perspective of this approach is how it is introduced to Christians – it’s done in a very subtle manner. The results of which show that it can be difficult to identify what these practices actually are to Christians. They then use Christian sounding terms to describe these practices and Christians today have become desensitized to their actual meaning.

For example, terminology that includes words and phrases such as “formation”. “rhythms”, “silence”, “stillness”, “solitude”, “contemplative”...etc. are included with concepts such as meditation and prayer. The problem is that these phrases describe Eastern Mystical practices, not biblical practices outlined in Scripture. Biblical meditation is different than mediation being promoted by those promoting a contemplative faith. Eastern Orthodoxy is filled with these types of mystical practices. The take even reading the Bible and use a practice called Lectio Divina which doesn’t encourage the participant to understand what Scripture is saying but instead through repetition of words, phrases, periods of silence….etc., they are to experience a closeness to God. What? Is that what the Bible calls us to do?

In addition, patterning our walk today after a monastic lifestyle makes no sense.  Granted, Dreher states that his intention is not to recommend living like monks lived in the 6th century.  But, much of what is presented is copying the lifestyle and theology of these monks who have left civilization to live as hermits – I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when giving us our marching order with the Great Commission.  That is biblical discipleship.  

The Evangelical Church today has been inundated with these practices. We would be wise to cut out the middleman and go directly to God’s word for our edification and spiritual growth. True discipleship has to focus on God’s word, not these alternative practices that have more similarity to Eastern Mysticism than they do the Bible.

(452) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: THE SHACK AUTHOR -WILLIAM PAUL YOUNG’S JUST RELEASED NEW BOOK

What do you think of these comments by Warren Smith on Young’s new book? – 

“Shack” Author Paul Young States in Just-Released Book—Christ Is “In” Every Single Human Being

By Warren B. Smith

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; But after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, Having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

YOUNG PUBLICLY ENDORSES UNIVERSAL SALVATION
In his just-released book, Lies We Believe About God, best-selling author Paul Young openly describes himself as a UNIVERSALIST. In chapter 13, Young would have us believe it is a “lie” to tell someone, “You need to get saved.”1 Young asks himself the rhetorical questions, “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation?”2 He answers, “That is EXACTLY what I am saying!”3 Young then goes on to teach that “every single human being is in Christ” and that “Christ is in them.”4 With this unbiblical teaching, one recalls how Young put these same heretical words in the mouth of his “Jesus” character in The Shack. He wrote:

God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things.5

THE TRINITARIAN LIE
Young would have us believe his trinitarian lie that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit inherently indwell everyone.6 This is exactly what the false “Christ” of the New Age teaches. In fact, it is the foundational teaching of the New Age/New Spirituality/New World Religion that has progressively moved into the world and into the church.

NEW AGE IN THE CHURCH
As I pointed out in my booklet, The Shack and Its New Age Leaven,7 the teaching that God is “in” everyone is a heretical New Age teaching that has been increasingly popularized over the last thirty years by New Age authors and teachers and heavily promoted by people like Oprah Winfrey. Sadly, it is also found in the books and teachings of well-known church figures like Robert Schuller, Rick Warren, Eugene Peterson, Leonard Sweet, and Sarah Young.8 And in a November 1, 2016 Catholic News Service article titled, “Pope Offers New Beatitudes for Saints of a New Age” Pope Francis, in a Catholic Mass in Malmo, Sweden, proposed a new “beatitude”—”Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.”9

WHAT WILL THE CHURCH DO?
Paul Young wanted to have a conversation about the nature of God, and that conversation is now front and
center before the church. Will pastors and leaders and day-to-day believers contend for the faith and fight the good fight, or will they let false teachers like Paul Young have their uncontested say and have their uncontested way?

Endnotes:
1. Chapter 13 title in Lies We Believe About God is “You need to get saved.”
2. William Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God (New York, NY: Atria Books; An imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2017), p. 118.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., p. 119.
5. William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), p. 112.
6. In C. Baxter Kruger’s book, The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here Than You Ever Dared to Dream, in the foreword, Shack author William Paul Young writes: I want to say, “Thank you, and please read The Shack Revisited.” He adds, “If you want to understand better the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack, this book is for you. Baxter has taken on the incredible task of exploring the nature and character of the God who met me in my own shack” (p. ix). On page 49 of The Shack Revisited , Kruger writes: “For inside of us all, because of Jesus, is nothing short of the very trinitarian life of God.” C. Baxter Kruger, The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream (New York, NY: FaithWords), p. 49.
7. To read this booklet, click here: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=12290.
8.  I have documented a short history of how this deceptive New Age teaching has entered the world and the church in my booklet Be Still and Know That You Are Not God. The booklet includes quotes by each of these figures. To read this booklet, click here: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=17572.
9. Cathy Wooden, “Pope Offers New Beatitudes for Saints of a New Age” (Catholic News Service, November 1, 2016,).

 

This article is from http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=22361