The Lenten season is upon us once again. As I have reported before, spiritual formation is one of the key avenues of the demonic influences coming into evangelical churches and universities. Where spiritual formation is mentioned (another red flag is spiritual disciplines), it is more likely than not that it is an unhealthy emphasis on things other than what God has prescribed for our growth in spiritual maturity. Christian spiritual formation would be that which is supported by Scripture and follows the model and examples given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. The problem is that today’s spiritual formation strays far from God’s word and incorporates inventions of man that goes back as far as the Desert Fathers, who introduced unscriptural methods of “getting closer to God.” This is being taught at every Nazarene university and seminary.
The following, which I received last week from an alumnus of Point Loma Nazarene University, is a reflection of the sad decline of the Church of the Nazarene. We are moving away from a biblically based tradition, to a mystical, ritualistic and experience-based tradition based on man’s inventions.
“So this evening at Point Loma Nazarene University and most likely in other so called Christian universities they will have a “Traditional Ash Wednesday” chapel service.
Today’s chapel service speaker said that “Lent was needed. The practice of Lent and the ritual of Ash Wednesday is the invitation for God’s spirit to come to you.”
Where does it say that in scripture!?! He then said that this was a practice to “undo unholiness” a “seasonal affection time”. Really!?!
God does not ask us for a season, but if I recall scripture says DAILY…
And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:22)
Yes! I’m going to say it! If you are at Point Loma , any university, or any church service that is offering you a “Traditional Ash Wednesday” service, DON’T GO! The Word of God does NOT require this ritual or practice of you! God keep us in His TRUTH!!! END QUOTE
In listening to that chapel service (Wednesday Feb. 13) with speaker Jamie Smith, I could barely finish it without hearing in almost every other sentence a promotion of Lenten practices that I had never before seen in my dad’s ministry or in any other Nazarene pastor’s ministry, nor during my years at Eastern Nazarene College. Although the speaker mentioned Psalm 51, he used it erroneously to justify the practices of “spiritual disciplines” during a prescribed Lenten season, as if they are biblically mandated and necessary for spiritual growth. I can smell this stuff a mile away it seems, because these people consistently have the same goal: move away from clear doctrine in Scripture, and embrace a lifestyle of experientialism and ritualism. The result is a rejection of clear instruction from God, and a welcoming of your own personal “experience” of God, and a formulaic, unbiblical way of “doing” things to get an outcome.
Consider more of what Jamie Smith said in light of Scripture:
“So the church… is a peculiar people who are sort of stretched… which is why we keep time differently. One of the ways the church has tried to embrace this peculiarity, this difference, is by inhabiting different calendars, different rhythms and seasons, with feasts and fasts, which are all meant to regulate and circle us back to the life of Jesus Christ.
“And so, around the world today, Christians will observe what we know as Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the season of Lent. It’s a season of disciplined denial and focused confession.”
“I want to encourage you to see the spiritual disciplines associated with Lent as the answer to the prayer of Psalm 51. The spiritual disciplines of denial are the answers to prayer in Psalm 51.”
“So the Psalmist’s prayer “create in me a clean heart”… that prayer now is answered in the gifts that God gives us, of bodily tactile disciplines, the visceral ritual of Ash Wednesday, and the ascetic practices of denial that accompany Lent.”
“Friends, I encourage you to receive in a way the ritual of Ash Wednesday and the disciplines of Lent as yet another way that our gracious God meets us right where we are.”
“This is how the Spirit of God creates in us a clean heart, by meeting us in the practices and disciplines that are invitations into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God actually knows that the way to our hearts is through our bodies.”
“And there is something tangible and bodily and visceral about the practices of denial, and the rituals of Ash Wednesday that are a way of God marking His love on our hearts.”
“We tend to assume that we will think our way into holiness. We assume that we will get some information that will finally trigger a way for us to follow Jesus in the way that we’re supposed to do.”
“We don’t think our way into holiness…. But what primarily drives our behavior… our actions… what moves us in the world is not for the most part the outcome of some logical conscience deliberative choices we make, it’s in fact governed by the power of habits we’ve acquired.”
“It’s a season in which the Holy Spirit wants to tap into your affections and order them to the Kingdom of God.”
“…to see these rhythms and rituals as the conduits of the Spirit’s power is because I really think we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about sanctification.”
Very little of this is Scripturally sound, if any. But I was not surprised by any of this, considering that Jamie Smith wrote a book called Desiring The Kingdom. In the book, he makes the premise that ritual, or liturgy, is that which comes first, before someone’s Christian worldview or theology is formed. In other words, he believes that “doing things” first, will then formulate what you believe inwardly. This I straight out of works based Roman Catholic theology.
There is nothing Scriptural about Ash Wednesday rituals, or ashes to the forehead, or giving up something for Lent. There is nothing “traditional” about it, other than it being man’s tradition, not God’s. Yet, the Nazarene denomination and its leaders are defying God’s word and are shamelessly going forward with another year of Ashes to Fire, Lent, and the various mysticism based practices we have been warning about. I have warned many times that the Nazarene leadership seems to be complicit with efforts to mix Roman Catholicism and mystical practices into a denomination that claims to preach holiness. Should not the leaders, whose duty it is to interpret church doctrine, either explain how these practices are Scriptural, or if not, speak out against them?
Some Nazarene churches last week had Ash Wednesday services complete with the ritual of ashes being placed on the forehead. There is no doubt it is happening, the only question is, what is the motive? And what of those Nazarenes sitting in the pews who felt a bit awkward as others got up to receive their ashes? Did they feel less pious for not going up? And did the recipients feel good about a practice which never existed before in a denomination that preaches “holiness unto the Lord?” Is this a way of attracting those of the Roman Catholic faith, by saying, “look at us, see, we are just like you.”
A Church Now Focusing On Experience, Instead of Doctrine
All these things are part of the “experience” that comes with the contemplative mysticism being introduced, and even some charismatic based revival. It’s prayer stations, and prayer labyrinths, and lectio divina, etc, etc. Do this ritual, or do that ritual, follow these steps, and you will get closer to God. We are exchanging a real experience with God through knowing His word and through prayer, for activities that are not prescribed by the Lord. Instead, the focus is taken away from Jesus, and becomes a focus on ourselves, and what WE do, not what He has done for us.
As many Nazarenes now focus on that magical goal of 40 days of Lent, what then after that? How is your life after this specified time period going to look like? Is this like the Super Bowl experience, where the hype builds up over time until the big event, and then we go back to “normal” until the next time around? Do you really think that this is a “special” time God has set aside for you to grow spiritually, or is not God’s desire that we grow spiritually every day, without any gimmicks?
The bottom line is that no ritual can make our hearts become right with God, and instead, we may end up being only filled with personal, sinful pride for thinking “look at me, I’m better because I did this, and you did not.”
In his article Spiritual Formation at Worship, Dr. Gary Gilley states:
“Deliberate asceticism, harsh treatment of the body and abstinence from acceptable activities, actions and food, may have the appearance of spiritual activity but have no effect on our souls, nor do they enhance our spiritual development. Lent is a hold-over from ascetic practices of the past that have no direct spiritual value.”
The danger of participating in these practices is that the Nazarene church will also eventually tell you, as the RCC does now, that these “new” liturgical practices are required for our “spiritual formation,” thus resulting in the practices of man once again casting aside the teachings of Holy Scripture.
I close with a word from Colossians 2:20-23 which I believe speaks to these issues:
“If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
Spiritual Formation at Worship, by Dr. Gary Gilley of Southern View Chapel