Spiritual Formation – Part 1 – What Is It?

This past month I became aware of a new fad taking the church by storm. It’s called Spiritual Formation or Spiritual Development. Along with the Seeker Sensitive movement that has handicapped the church in America, this new fad is dangerous. It promotes Eastern Mysticism as a way to draw closer to God. Unfortunately for church members, they will be lied to by church leadership figures about the true nature of what their congregations are asked to participate in until it’s too late. I’ll explain further in a minute.

My hat’s off to lighthousetrails.com for publishing a great little e-book on the subject. It was very informative and led me to some other resources I could read along with my own research to help me understand this issue better. In fact, below is a quote from this e-book that is hard to top in terms of defining what Spiritual Formation actually is.

“Is your church involved in a Spiritual Formation program? If so, you might want to ask the question, what exactly is Spiritual Formation? It’s a fair question, and one that, if not asked, could end up surprising you when your church changes in ways you never imagined.

A Christianity Today article states: “Spiritual Formation is in.” The article defines Spiritual Formation in this way:

Formation, like the forming of a pot from clay, brings to mind shaping and molding, helping something potential become something actual. Spiritual formation speaks of a shaping process with reference to the spiritual dimension of a person’s life. Christian spiritual formation thus refers to the process by which believers become more fully conformed and united to Christ.

Such a definition would hardly send up red ags. But what this definition excludes is how this “process” of conforming and uniting to Christ takes place and who is eligible to participate in such a process.

The “how” is done through spiritual disciplines, primarily through the discipline of the silence. The silence is an altered state that is reached through a mantra-like meditation, breath prayers, or some other meditative practice. The idea behind it is that if you go into this silent state, you will eliminate distractions (thoughts) and be able to hear God’s voice. He in turn will transform you to be like Christ. The “who” (who can practice these disciplines and become like Christ) is anyone (according to Spiritual Formation pioneer Richard Foster and other proponents of Spiritual Formation). A Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, even an atheist—anyone at all can benefit from the spiritual disciplines and become like Christ (the question is which Christ?).” – Lighthousetrails.com

So what are the origins of the Spiritual Formation movement? These practices come from ancient pagan rituals that date back to the earliest biblical times of idol worship. Religions like Hinduism and Buddhism are the modern versions of this idol worship. These rituals entered Christianity through the monastic movement in the early church and found it’s official promotion through the practices of the Jesuit order in the Catholic Church. The Jesuits were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola and the organization, although a large missionary group with a mission of christianizing the world, were involved in scandalous practices like slavery and persecution of native people groups that they recently apologized for. Is this the foundation of faith you want to see take root in your church?

So how is your church going to introduce this devil worship into your congregation? After all, wouldn’t something this radical be pretty hard to do without people noticing? They will do it VERY SUBTLY…the only advantage you will have is the discernment the Holy Spirit gives you through study of your bible. Unfortunately, the leadership in your church might be duped by this false teaching due to their lack of bible literacy, or worse, they may be willing to do anything in the name of church growth. Their motives should and MUST be questioned!

So here is how they will do it.

1. They will begin by talking a lot about prayer. How prayer is the key to becoming closer to God and growing in Christ. They will use lots of terms that associate prayer with you being like God, or one with God, or use terms of nature designed to elicit emotional responses instead of biblical ones. They will say things like we should “bask in the glow and warmth of God”. You will see a prayer room suddenly appear in your church. It will be a private place for people to pray. Why private? So no one will see what is really being done which are pagan rituals similar to witchcraft. THIS WILL INCLUDE YOUR CHILDREN BY THE WAY IN YOUTH GROUPS WITHOUT YOUR SUPERVISION OR KNOWLEDGE.

2. Next, you will notice certain members of your congregation attending various training sessions. When they return, they will be given new titles like “Spiritual Director” or “Prayer Director”. Their titles don’t matter but what they teach does. You get the gist. You will be assigned to one of these people so you can be “trained” in the “Spiritual Disciplines”. These disciplines were made famous by Richard Foster in his 1989 book “Celebration of the Discipline”. The following is a quote from Foster regarding this practice and his involvement in proliferating it throughout the church.

“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.” – Richard Foster

Stupid me…I thought spiritual direction came from Jesus and His Word – the Bible. Guess in the “seeker sensitive created world of believing unbelievers” Jesus just isn’t good enough anymore.

2 Pe 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

These new trainers (usually biblically illiterate people…how else would they fall for this?) will teach you a new way to pray. This prayer method involves coaching you to alter your breathing along with focusing on an object like a candle or anything that helps you block out everything else in order to put you in a trance or a state of hypnosis when your alpha brain waves reach the right place. You heard me right. That’s what they intend on doing! Some methods involve selectively repeating the same word over again and again and again to put you into this state. While in this state, you supposedly hear from God. But let me just give you a word of warning here. Some people that practice this type of meditation frequently suffer from bouts of depression. They become addicted to the euphoric feeling and the only time they feel normal is when they are meditating. The more concerning part I think is the possibility of becoming demon possessed during these rituals. During my research into this topic, I found testimonies of people that claim this is how they became demon possessed. It’s well documented that for years the leaders in Buddhism and Hinduism claim they have contact with “spiritual guides” who give them supernatural powers.

3. Another practice you might see develop is the congregation being trained to confess your sins to these “Spiritual Directors”. They might take on the title of “Confessors” or something similar. This is a practice of the Catholics in confessing sin to a priest for absolution for sins. This practice will probably take place in the private prayer room. Be watchful about this practice. Although we should confess our sins to one another and help each other carry our burdens, the Bible also warns this may lead to temptation.

Gal. 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

I can see all kinds of problems developing out of this practice. First, it’s clear anyone trained in this practice is not someone spiritual in the sense of being guided by the Holy Spirit which leaves an open door to that person being tempted as the Galatians verse points out we should be careful of. This could result in gossip or people getting caught up in the sins of others. One thing to be watchful of from a practical point of view are men meeting with women in one-on-one sessions. This could lead to temptations that could destroy entire families and congregations.

So what can you do to prevent this false teaching from taking hold of your church?

1. Get vocal about it. If you’re in a church where this fad has not started yet, begin talking about it and how terrible it is. This may start a grassroots movement in your church and the leaders will get the message before they begin such a terrible thing that the congregation is educated on the practice and it won’t be tolerated.

2. If your church has already begun the process, ask serious questions about it. Ask for scriptural evidence this is a practice Jesus would condone. Challenge the leadership to reconcile their teachings on prayer with what Jesus said about prayer. Jesus instructs us to petition God and pray supplications for all people as well as praying to overcome temptation. Where does Jesus say anything about clearing your mind, breathing a certain way, or using objects of idolatry to “get closer or become one with God”? It can’t be justified from scripture.

3. Most churches have small groups during the week. Do a bible study on the topic comparing what Jesus teaches about prayer and worship compared to the practices of Spiritual Formation. Or find a good book that gives the history and warns about these practices and the movement in general. There are some good ones out there on the dangers of this heresy.

I hope this article was helpful and it sounded an alarm for you and your church. I wrote this article to define what this movement is but check back into my website to see my next article, “Is Spiritual Formation Biblical?”

Thank you for reading my post, and as always, my prayer is for your faith to be strengthened and for you to draw closer to God through His inspired word and not the teachings of men.

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