All of a sudden, after years of membership in your church, you start hearing “new” words used much more frequently than ever before, such as: Conversation. Missional. Incarnational. Prophetic. Mystery. Community. Relational. Authentic. Post-modern. Deconstruct. Narrative. Story. Re-imagine. Tribe. Contextual. Mystery.
Or phrases such as: “You can’t put God in a box.” “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” “The Bible is just ink on paper.” Vintage Faith. Vintage Christianity.
There’s more, and most of it has a totally different meaning than you might guess, and it’s not good, and they are usually signs that you may be conversing with a pastor, or other person, who has bought into the emergent movement, another “religion of man.” But let’s look at another phrase here today: spiritual formation.
When was the first time you were aware that this term all of a sudden was being tossed around all over the place? As a Christian growing up in the Nazarene church, I can tell you that I never heard this phase up until perhaps two years ago, at about the same time when I began researching and finding out about the horrors of the emergent church movement. So what brought about the prominent use of this phrase, what does the emergent church define it as, and if so, is their definition biblically sound?
One mystic equates Christian mysticism with spiritual formation. He defines it as being formed, by the Holy Spirit, through Christ, in the image and likeness of God. Sounded good, until I continued on to the pages where he promotes all sorts of heretical books by mystic writers; the usual suspects like Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, et al.
At Trevecca Nazarene University’s website, their definition is “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” But as some of you know, that apparently includes the use of prayer labyrinths and retreats to Thomas Merton’s old monastery to “practice the silence”, certainly not biblically sound.
It’s even hard to pin down an exact definition of spiritual formation, and that’s where we can get into trouble. What does it mean when someone mentions it to you? Do you nod your head in approval, because it sounds pretty good to you? Do you have some idea of what it is, yet you are not sure, and you don’t want to sound ignorant and unlearned by asking the person what they mean? It could be, and so you go on thinking that it means one thing to you, but it might mean a totally different thing to the person talking about it.
Its like the word missional for me. As missions president for a few years at my former church, I used to use that word in my yearly reports. I would, with great pride, talk about the kind of church the Nazarene church was, that it was a “missional” church. It was only until a few years later, when stumbling onto all this emergent silliness, that I realized that I may have been using the word while thinking of the traditional meaning of sending missionaries to the world to preach the gospel, when in reality, it seems that much of the Nazarene denomination’s use of the word is now, at best, confusing and changing like a chameleon, depending who uses the word. It now often means a more social gospel-like, community oriented idea.
Back to spiritual formation. Let’s cut to the chase: spiritual formation as defined and used by the emergent church crowd, is not a good thing. If it’s not good, it’s not from God. If it’s not from God, then there is only one other other source. It can’t be bad and from God, so the source must be Satan. Harsh words? Perhaps, but if your conclusion about spiritual formation is that it is not of God, what else can it come from? As you read the following article, remember that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” If you mix a little bad with a lot of good, it’s all bad. To answer the well used phrase by some emergents, “you can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”…. yes, doctrinally and biblically, you can.
So it makes me ask the question: how did spiritual formation get thrown into the mix all of a sudden in the Nazarene universities? It did not exist in the 70’s when I went to Eastern Nazarene College, as far as I know. Who started the first spiritual formation theological degree program, and where? And what was the biblical rationale behind it, that we missed something like this for so many years? Is this an example of Brian McLaren and company’s assertion that we have not gotten it right in 2,000 years, and that now this is the “New Reformation” that is happening? (Remember that these programs now use books by McLaren, Rob Bell, Richard Foster, and all sorts of teachers and writers who clearly do not come close to speaking the same language, or expressing the confidence in holy scripture that John Wesley had, even though they try to say he was an emergent).
The following was originally posted at Nazarene Church Has Lost It’s Way.
Does “Spiritual Formation” Line up with God’s Word?
Spiritual Formation is common in our churches now. What exactly is it? The definition can vary from church to church. From research, I believe it is meant to push people to have a deeper spiritual life while emphasizing holiness. This in itself is not a bad goal. The problem is that it takes its direction from unholy roots. Some would claim that the roots lie in Wesleyan theology, but I could not find this. Holiness, yes. Labyrinths, prayer beads, breathing exercises, cannot be found with Wesley, but rather in Catholicism and eastern religions. Spiritual formation contains many good attributes, such as self-examination and encouraging the practice of prayer and holiness. But where it strays and becomes a snare is when it entangles ancient heathen practices and ritualism in its teachings. In Jeremiah 10:2, Israel is commanded,” Learn not the way of the heathen…”and v.3 says, “For the customs of the people are vain…” By adding traditions that are used primarily in unholy religions, the will and work of the Holy Ghost is not aided. The Holy Spirit will always lead you plainly and clearly to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.
The fruits of the teaching of “Spiritual Formation” in our churches are many. I would address a few here. First, I believe it has resulted in spiritual relationships with people who are not saved. We are not to bond with unsaved people, religious or not. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 clearly tells us to “Come out and be separate.” We cannot study with the Catholics, who believe Mary is superior to Jesus, and pray to idols and be right with God. We cannot, in good faith, practice prayer meditation in the same manner the Buddhists do, and expect to please the God of Israel. Remember in the Old Testament how God got very angry when his people did not tear down the groves that the heathen had used for prayer. Surely, they could have prayed there, but God wanted them to have no part in even the appearance of evil. In I Kings 14:22-24, the Lord deals with this. In 2 Chron.19: 3, God blesses them for removing the groves.
This brings me to my second point; we are engaging in practices that we have learned from the ancient Eastern religions. Such as meditations, centering prayer, lectio divina practices, among others. Christianity has always stood apart from such mystical practices. Now we are teaching it in our Sunday School curriculum!! Another result from this emphasis on “Spiritual Formation” is our inclusion of those who do not worship Christ. “Spiritual Formation” always leads people to ultimately define God for themselves. In other words, I could pray to the God of Isaac, while you might pray to a “higher power”, or “Allah.” Follow the writings of those who are leading us in this movement. They start out pretty ordinary, but as they progress in the movement it always leads to the joining of saved people with those who may not even acknowledge His blood sacrifice for salvation. I believe this is an abomination in the sight of God.
2 Tim. 2:15,16,17a “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker.”
One last fruit of this movement, which I would like to draw your attention to is this: Watered down preaching. This movement encourages a therapy couch type preaching, where we read and you tell me how it makes you feel and I tell you how it makes me feel. The pastor asks, “What do you think it means?” Instead of the Bible, the pastor reads from man-made lesson plans that incorporate, at best, the opinion and quotes of saved and unsaved alike!! What are you being fed at the house of God? Is it similar to watching a Dr. Phil show??? Pastors are to preach the WORD! They are to exhort us to live holy, God fearing lives. Not by teaching us how to walk a labyrinth, but by teaching the unblemished Bible!
In conclusion, I say we do not need to go to the heathen to learn how to worship or become holier. We just need to go to the Bible. It will teach you the difference between the holy and profane. And, if you are sitting under a pastor who does not preach the Word and you feel like you are starving to death, please, pray for wisdom. Ask God to lead you to the right pastor who can instruct you in righteousness, not in only a “form of godliness.”
2 Timothy 3:5 “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” V.7 “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”