Our previous discussion was on the improper system of practicing sanctification or drawing closer to God as taught through the paradigm of spiritual formation. Spiritual Formation is a system that is not going away anytime soon and it is good for us to carefully examine it and at least be aware of it. This is a deceptive method and as one noted Christian apologist said:
“Deceptions that do not work have a short shelf-life” (Bob DeWaay).
I could not agree more and just because it lasts does not mean it is right. One of my appreciations for men who have been faithful to the truth is their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. Faithful preachers over the years have not given way to winds of doctrine because of the “positive” results many others claim to be a work of God.
There appears to be a high level of tolerance when what someone experiences satisfies them or makes them a better person. But I must note that what truly transforms lives is the faithful preaching and total reliance upon God’s word. Salvation is not complicated, sanctification is not complicated––sin complicates everything and a method will not make it easier.
No man can come to God unless God draws Him (John 6:44), and unless he comes to God through Christ Jesus (John 14:6). Therefore, we must always consider the condition of the person as it relates to their faith in God and how much they truly rely on God. Because if they do, how can they justify taking on practices that have often been associated with the worship of human capability? And how can anyone pursue a process of spiritual growth apart from what Scripture teaches?
Some do claim early church leaders were known to use some form of spiritual formation, but does that make it acceptable? No, it does not, especially when we have been commanded to “examine everything carefully” (1 Thess. 5:21). After careful examination, spiritual formation is in many ways, deadly.
So we must compare these things with Scripture. We must also examine the history, because modern definitions change. If truth is relative, the expressions we use or adopt can be relative as well. What spiritual formation meant years ago have really been narrowed as a practice and not just a way to describe religious preferences, such as home schooling. But to adopt anything like this only confuses things and does not separate us from others.
The history itself should be cause for concern. Let me briefly explain.
Spiritual Formation, especially the word “formation,” has Catholic roots. The purpose was to instruct priests and leaders on how to develop a life of devotion to God as they seek to be like
Christ. Some of what they instructed and taught young disciples were indeed noble and much of what every Christian should pursue, such as the desire to be like Christ. But there is a problem with one of their premises. They believe that a person is able to use human reason in order to fellowship intimately with God.
They are guilty of a historical form of teaching that has plagued them and separated them from the doctrines of grace. Inherent in their belief system, is that man is capable of accomplishing good, a conflict with Romans 3:12. There is absolutely no mention of the Spirit’s work in the process whatsoever. Furthermore, they neglect the issue of human depravity, thus making this process of “formation” tenable based on what they would see as sufficient good inherent in the person.
This is the basis and origin of spiritual formation, strictly catholic, not scriptural whatsoever; at least the name and the process taken toward formation derives from them.
Now how can we attribute the success of this movement into the halls of what has been conservative churches and seminaries? I will not mention the people most noted for spiritual formation in the evangelical circles but you can Google them based on what I will describe to you. They are not hiding.
As you examine what they teach and believe, you will quickly notice they do not fully embrace the inerrancy of Scripture. Others reject authorship and important Old Testament dates. In fact, one prominent formation leader has written a study Bible, and you will find all forms of scripture twisting or denial of authenticity. Additionally, one prominent formation promoter believes it is important to use practices from all denominations in order draw closer to Christ.
They will, whenever necessary, allegorize Scripture in order to fit their situation. Combining Quaker spirituality with Catholicism and true biblical practices, they have developed a very deceptive movement that continues to make ground. While so much of this was often associated with the New Age Movement and the Emergent cults, spiritual formation is like the adopted child that has now found a home in many of our respected institutions and churches.
Some churches have in fact employed the use of labyrinths, mazes, and mantras. One grieving former member said this took place in a very sound church after a young pastor came in. He came from a very respected seminary (not Masters of course) and earned the respect of, not the noble minded, but the weak minded. The rest is history; the church is deeply involved in mysticism mixed with Christianity.
Beloved I leave my blog ministry and turn to you as a slave of the Master: there has been nothing good with the word spiritual formation and we do not need to use it. Christianity is not at a loss for words or rich theological expressions. We do not need to borrow from the world because it is a debt we will never be able to pay back. We do not need to confuse anyone; it’s the world’s name, give it to them. We have something better: Jesus Christ our sanctifier, the Holy Spirit our cleanser, and God our heavenly Father. That is the joy of our life and sanctification.
So I ask, as a lowly beggar, bearing no significance before anyone, all seminaries using the term spiritual formation to please leave it alone and seek the word of God and prayer to find terms that are biblical and faithful to the character of true Christianity. Instead of remaining steadfast on theological truth, there is a bending to what is commonly known as theosophy (using eastern philosophy with mysterious practices and mystical traditions), a slow departing from foundational truths.
Now the question naturally arises, why should we be on the lookout if we are not directly affected? Well, for one, this is a very subtle system. On the surface, it looks like sound religion; from the onset, it sounds like something worth doing. And depending on the situation, spiritual formation has been used to define anything done religiously to achieve progress. And to a certain extent, I cannot disagree. Yet my question is: why do we need to even use the phrase? Why, if it is not found in pages of Scripture, do we need to use a term that has a theologically poor history? If you beg to the church fathers, do we not agree they got many things wrong, especially when they drifted from the teachings of Scripture?
And when biblical words and doctrines are not used, what happens to subsequent generations? They will loose it and loose all respect for its historical and contemporary importance. And as I have stressed, this practice is rooted in non-Christian practices.
It is not that we lack biblical terms given to us in Scripture, such as godliness, holiness, sanctification, righteousness, transformation, etc. We hardly use them anyway, so why not pull them out and leave the “cute” but deadly terms alone. And, you mean to tell me, that a brilliant religious institution cannot come up with creative words or original terms for their classes and leave what is unworthy to be mentioned alone? Spiritual Formation sounds so much like a process of striving in my own strength and not in the Lord (Phil. 2:13).
It matters very little what we try to do with the term spiritual formation, there is nothing we can do to redeem it and it does not need to be restated or redefined––just leave it alone and find God’s word once again and apply it.
Furthermore no one is “spiritual” based on what they do, i.e. exercising certain spiritual rites and systems to get closer to God. This is extremely unbiblical and deceiving. When it comes to attributing activity to spirituality, nothing is more perverted when we say someone is more spiritual than another. That is not scriptural. No one person can have more of the Holy Spirit in them. While some may mature more than others, that does not make them more spiritual. As an illustration, if a person is 6’3” that does not make him more human because he is taller than the person who is 5’11”. The same must be understood for those who have been saved. All who are in Christ are of equal “spiritual status” but we may mature in different degrees as we obey and submit to God’s word. In the end that still does not make a person more spiritual.
The same must be said of the immature believer. They are not less spiritual than the person who pursues Christ with steadfastness. On that D.A. Carson notes: “The NT does not label immature Christians as unspiritual as if the category “spiritual” should be reserved only for the most mature, the elite of the elect: that is an error common to much of the Roman Catholic tradition of spirituality, in which the spiritual life and the spiritual traditions are often tied up with believers who want to transcend the ordinary. Such “spiritual” life is often bound up with asceticism and sometimes mysticism, with orders of nuns and monks, and with a variety of techniques that go beyond ordinary Joe or Mary Christian.”[i]
Beloved, we receive our marching orders from God. His word is the rule, order, direction for our life and sanctification (John 17:17). God calls the plays and His word is the rulebook. We do not receive instruction from anyone but God, and for that reason, we need to fill our minds with His word, not empty it; We do not need to imagine we are with him through the use of our fallen intellect. Scripture confirms that we are already seated with God in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). Faith comes by hearing the words of Christ (Rom. 10:17), not spiritualizing the word of God through the prism of our subjective nature.
Avoid spiritual formation and when you hear any preacher encouraging you to engage in it for your personal sanctification plan on making that your final Sunday there.
[i] Spiritual Disciplines, D.A. Carson, Themelios, Nov. 2011, Volume 36 Issue 3: http://legacy.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/spiritual_disciplines