Spiritual Formation is an expression that originated in Catholic seminaries and religious communities. Recently, it has become a popular trend in a lot of today’s evangelical schools and churches. It’s a term that proposes to help shape Christians’ spirituality in order to draw closer to God. That is probably why so many have unquestionably joined the movement.
As admirable as its goal is, though, it has to be red-flagged that Spiritual Formation employs practices and disciplines that are contrary to the innocence of its name and to traditional biblical disciplines. That’s because it transforms its practitioner by means of an altered realm of consciousness.
In many of the handbooks, it’s said that Spiritual Formation is a rediscovery of the spiritual teachings of a group of Christian hermits, ascetics and monks known from history as the Desert Fathers. It was a movement that started in the last quarter of the 3rd century AD.
The Desert Fathers dwelt in small isolated communities in the wilderness areas of the Middle East. This was done so as to devote their lives completely to God without distraction. They were the ones to first promote the mantra as a prayer tool.
Also of significant influence on today’s contemplative movement, was the sixteenth century’s St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. His published spiritual exercises have formed the basis for many of the practices in the modern Spiritual Formation movement.
However, it is generally acknowledged that current interest in the topic was sparked by the book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (Harper, San Francisco, 1978). It was written by Richard Foster. He was a pastor of the Quaker “Society of Friends.” His writings merge Quaker spirituality (with an emphasis on the divine “inner light”) with traditional Christian practices.
A Few Spiritual Formation Practices
In its quest for a relationship with God, Spiritual formation seeks to transform the inner self. Oftentimes, though, its so-called godly practices can lead the Christian into mystical and occult rituals.
Lectio Divina (or “divine reading”)
This supposedly is a study of Scripture. However, the approach goes beyond reading and hearing for the purpose of obeying God’s Word.
Passages of scripture are broken down into smaller, separate segments. This, though, doesn’t allow for the intended meaning of the passage to come through. Instead, the segments are chanted over and over. This is a form of occultism, the purpose of which is to gain a mystical experience. That isn’t the intention of God’s inspired Word.
Contemplative Prayer and Meditation
Contemplative prayer teaches self-hypnotic meditation. Its style is the same style used by Buddhists and New Agers. It is vain repetition, which the Bible speaks against. Some examples of this type of “praying” are the repetitive Jesus Prayer, the Breath Prayer, and the above mentioned Lectio Divina.
This type of passive meditation, along with another technique called Centering Prayer, uses mantras and the like. It is designed to still and empty the mind. This is dangerous because there isn’t any conscious protection to guard against the enemy gaining a foothold with projected, mental falsehoods, images, and figures.
True peace isn’t achieved by deep breathing or looking within, as these approaches suggest. It is gained by looking to God. That’s done through biblical meditation, which is the act of actively contemplating God’s Word. The Holy Spirit changes the heart and leads the Christian to obedience when there is thoughtful consideration of God’s truth in the mind. Joshua 1: 8.
This is a contemplative prayer practice that is an ancient mystical ritual. The Christian participant is instructed to walk through a maze-like structure until the center is reached, then walk back out again. There are often prayer stations along the way that the participant can visit.
Dr. Lauren Artress is an Episcopal priest and supporter of the labyrinth. Through some of her writings, it can be clearly seen that the labyrinth is nothing more than occultism dressed up in Christian clothing.
“The labyrinth is a large, complex spiral circle which is an ancient symbol for the divine mother, the God within, the goddess, the holy in all creation… a spiritual tool meant to awaken us to the deep rhythm that unites us to ourselves and to the Light that calls from within.
“[The labyrinth is] truly a tool for transformation, a crucible for change, a blueprint for the sacred meeting of the psyche and the soul, a field of light, a cosmic dance; it is a center for empowering ritual.
“You walk to the center of the labyrinth and there at the center, you meet the Divine.”
First, the practices and disciplines for Spiritual formation bear a strong resemblance to the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. That isn’t surprising, considering that the founders of the contemplative movement believed that as long as there was a sincere desire to know God, any avenue could be used to reach Him. If a mantra worked for the Hindus to reach their gods, the founders reasoned, then mantras could be used to reach the Christian God.
Furthermore, Spiritual Formation compromises faith in Christ-alone because it emphasizes a self-focused, self-help doctrine that comes across as works-based, a trust in self. This is much like God’s children of old who crafted their own god – a golden calf – and rejoiced in the works of their hands.
Additionally, truth is looked for in an inner ecstatic experience rather than in God’s Word. What’s found inside overshadows biblical doctrine.
Finally, the Bible doesn’t describe or promise an experience with God by special breathing exercises or self-hypnosis. God willingly chooses to reveal Himself through His Word. He shows His character in this way. That’s how one is drawn to Him, gets to know Him, grows in Him, and is able to model oneself after Him.
If God’s people were supposed to experience Him the Spiritual Formation way, He would have included it in the Bible. As it is, scripture is more than sufficient to teach, to reprove, to correct, and to draw God’s people into His righteous ways. II Timothy 3: 15-17.
The genuine way to experience God, to share in the divine, is to be obedient to God. Be a doer of His Word.