Spiritual Formation – Part 2 – Is It Biblical?

In my last post I discussed a new false teaching that is becoming very popular in churches today called Spiritual Formation which is basically a form of eastern mysticism or what the Bible would classify as witchcraft or idolatry. I discussed the history of its origins and how churches may try to implement this teaching in your very own congregation.

In this post I’m going to cover why this practice is not biblical and should be avoided at all costs.

Spiritual Formation is a method of prayer or worship that employs silent meditation along with some chanting with the end goal being to put oneself into a hypnotic state in order to hear from God or draw closer to him. It can be a dangerous practice for 2 main reasons. One, it encourages idolatry which is strictly forbidden in scripture. And two, it could leave one open to demonic spirits.

So let’s look at what proponents of Spiritual Formation teach and compare it to what the Bible says on these things.

Proponents of Spiritual Formation say that their methods of prayer draw one closer to God and help one become “one” with God. They encourage the use of silent meditation and using manmade objects in order to focus to put oneself into a trance like state. These objects may be a candle or other object designed to help you empty your mind. They also promote chanting as a way to enter this state. These methods have their origins in pagan worship in ancient times and religions like Hinduism and Buddhism today. Catholics also use these methods which were made popular by the Jesuits and continue to this day.

In scripture, God warns us of following after the gods and practices of pagan worship.

Deu 12:29-32  “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”

God not only does not want us to worship other Gods, but He does not even want us to to inquire as to how they worshipped their gods. God had provided us direction on how he wants us to worship Him and to do anything else would be disobedient according to His very own words.

So how does God want us to worship Him?

Joh 4:23-24 “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

What does it mean to worship God in spirit and truth?

Rom 8:1-17 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

So those who seek to worship God as He wishes will live or walk by the Spirit. They will put the deeds of their flesh to death and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is a new way of life for the Christian. We are a new creation. This has very much to do with overcoming sin in our lives through the power of the resurrection of Christ. It’s by the resurrection we now have access to the Spirit.

Joh 14:15-26  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

So the Christian has guidance of the Holy Spirit with them continually. So why would someone want a Christian to empty their mind in order to draw closer to God? Biblically it seems this would prevent a Christian from following the guidance of the Spirit. This verse also says that those who love Jesus will keep His word. Where in His word does it say anything about emptying our minds, using objects to pray, or chanting? Worshipping in truth means letting the words of Jesus abide in you. It seems to me that someone that would want to engage the methods of Spiritual Formation may not have the Spirit in them because they are really not seeking after God, but something rather that makes themselves feel better about their conscience. It would also point to the fact someone engaging in this practice does not know Jesus’ words or is rebellious in not obeying them. Is it possible for a person like this to draw closer to God?

Let’s look at what scripture does say about prayer.

The most commonly referred to passage on prayer is in the New Testament when Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray.

Mat 6:7-15 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

There are two significant things to note in this passage. First, Jesus says to not use empty phrases like the Gentiles do. This would definitely exclude empty chanting which is taught in Spiritual Formation methods. Jesus also gives His disciples concrete things to include in their prayers. That does not reconcile with the emptying of the mind also promoted by Spiritual Formation proponents. Jesus clearly does not want our minds empty when we pray but too have purpose.

There are other scriptures that highlight this point.

Luk 18:1-8 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

1 Pet 4:7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

Heb 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

The thrust of scripture shows prayer should be active, not empty minded silence and chanting. As Jesus did Himself, we should be offering supplications and crying out to God.

The Apostle Paul also seems to think the Christian should be alert and not empty minded when praying to God.

Eph 6:16-20 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints and also for me,

So I think we have looked at enough of scripture to see, beyond any disagreement, that the methods of Spiritual Formation are not biblical and therefore should not be practiced.

There are several serious issues this practice raises for the church today.

1. People are encouraging unknowing congregations to engage in idolatry, a known violation of God’s commandments.

2. We have many, many people professing to be Christians today in our churches that are in fact not believers and are looking to try anything that alleviates their seared consciences from disobeying God.

3. There is a “church promoted” aversion to reading and studying God’s word because it would shine a light on false teachings like Spiritual Formation practices and would reveal them for what they are – witchcraft.

4. And lastly, a huge concern of mine is the leadership we have in churches today. Where are their hearts at? Is there nothing leaders won’t do anymore to bring people in the doors and money in the coffers? Do we have leaders that are truly believers themselves? Only time will tell…

5. On evangelism, is the church now moving away from the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ dying for our sins? This requires repentance from unbelievers, not fake experiences designed to fool someone into thinking they have a relationship with God when they don’t.

In closing this post, I pray for all of those people who are true believers in Jesus Christ. I pray you will worship Him in Spirit and Truth and you will stand strong against these winds of adversity to the Kingdom of God and you will spend your time in praying the way you should – with alertness and all supplication. Amen.

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