The Emerging Church and Spiritual Formation
By Pastor Hal Mayer
Welcome to Keep the Faith Ministry. Thank you for joining us this month as we explore a major development that God’s church is facing in the last days. Perhaps one of the most significant developments in religious history was the formation of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius Loyola established the Jesuit order to destroy the Protestant Reformation and the churches that it spawned. The order took aim at their influence, and was especially interested in re-conquering the world and placing it again under papal dominion. This has been largely successful, as their work with and within various denominations has been conducted in tandem with the ecumenical movement. They have historically worked in a network conspiracy that stretches throughout the world. They are masters of disguise. This should be no surprise to the students of Bible prophecy. But I’m not going to go into the history of the Jesuits in this message. Nor am I going to address their fundamental teachings, or their overall methods. Today I’m going to show you an emerging threat to God’s church that has come directly from this Roman Catholic order.
There may be some who will be quite upset with me for this message today, for it will expose some things they appreciate or even promote. However, I would be an unfaithful pastor if I did not do my duty before God and warn you about things that will endanger your eternal salvation. So I hope that if you are upset with what I say today, you will get on your knees and ask God to show you the truth of the matter.
Lest you think that I am going to tell you all the latest conspiracy theories without documentation, let me hasten to add that this message is carefully documented and, like with all of our monthly messages, you can go on our website, find the text of this message and there, interspersed throughout, you will find the documentation to the original sources we use. We do not discuss matters that we cannot document.
And while we are on the subject of our Keep the Faith website, I want to encourage you to go to our website and read more of our Prophetic Intelligence Briefings so that you can keep up to date on what is happening in prophecy. We post up to five or six of them each week. There are far more things happening in the world than we can report on CD, so it is in your best interests to go to our website every couple of days to check on the latest.
Also on our website is an event schedule that shows where my colleagues or I will be preaching in the coming weeks. If you live nearby and can attend, I would be delighted to meet you if I don’t already know you. If you have friends in any of those areas please contact them and invite them to come.
Many of you have been faithful supporters of Keep the Faith. We want to thank you for your gifts and prayers. They mean a lot to us, and I hope you will continue to support God’s work at Keep the Faith during these magnificent times in which we live.
As we begin, let us bow our heads where possible and ask the Lord for His blessing on our time together today. Our father in heaven, Thank You for all you have done for us in our lives. Your faithfulness and mercy is a marvel to us. Your longsuffering and patience is even more phenomenal. Today we ask for You to send Your Holy Spirit to us as we study Your word and as we compare what the Bible says with the developing threat to Your church through the emerging church concepts and Spiritual Formation. We need to understand this so that we can meet it with a “thus saith the Lord.” So bless us today, we pray, in Jesus name, amen.
I am amazed at how shallow some Christians are in their personal faith, even very educated ones. In some ways my own faith is not what it should be. We need both knowledge of the truth and a close walk with Jesus every day. Today however, there is a new approach to worship that is taking the Christian world by storm that, if followed, will lead the unwary straight away from the truth and into fables. They will lose their salvation because they do not know Jesus Christ, but are dependent on man.
Many don’t study their bibles, and they don’t pay attention to what is happening around them. If a program comes along that is endorsed by those in religious authority, they think it is ok. It is even possible that Satan will use scripture, or His own interpretation of scripture, to lead the unwary away from a true experience with Jesus into an experience based principles inspired by Satan. Listen to it from the Apostle Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
This is a prophecy of the end times. We have to recognize that God has to permit Satan to work his work of unrighteousness in the church in the last days as well as in the world. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.”
What does this mean and why does he do that? This means that Satan comes to you with temptations so disguised that you think he is a righteous angel and that his message will lead you to eternal life. Satan does this in order to deceive the unwary, superficial, lukewarm, Laodicean class into believing things that are false so that they lose their hold on Christ and their eternal salvation. But to many people it is hard for them to conceive of the idea that Satan might actually bring his deceptions into the church. That is beyond their capability to comprehend. Yet that is exactly what the Bible tells us he is trying to do. We are also advised both in scripture and in the Spirit of Prophecy that he will be successful to a considerable degree. Most Christian people either think that this is all in the past, or will perhaps be true in the future, but they don’t think that it can actually happen now! Others are just too unspiritual and worldly to even recognize his deceptive arguments when they come and are so blind that they think some religious leader will alert them to any error that comes along.
I am alarmed at the interest of God’s people in something called the “emerging church” and “Spiritual Formation.” What I am going to show you about it today should alarm you too. The emerging church movement is being promoted by the large mega churches such as those run by Rick Warren, of Purpose-Driven fame, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek fame, and many others. The concepts are also entering the remnant church through Spiritual Formation, which is now sweeping over it like a tsunami. And it is promoted by some of the most popular and respected preachers alive today. Their names are no doubt very familiar to you because you have probably heard of them in one way or another.
But before I give you more on Spiritual Formation, let us hear the words of God’s prophet Ezekiel about the church in the last days. “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, (those would be false prophets) like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have daubed them with untempered morter, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord GOD, when the LORD hath not spoken.” That’s Ezekiel 22:25-28.
These verses tell us exactly what is happening in the last days. There are many who are working together to try to get us to believe that we no longer have to follow the Bible, but that we will get more spiritual power and oneness with God by learning from some guru or mystic. Some of these mystics date back to the third and fourth century. Some are more recent.
You have probably heard the old saying, “things aren’t what they seem.” That is also the case with the emerging church and Spiritual Formation. There are many nice-sounding terms that are used to make you believe that this is all biblical and right. Beside the term “Spiritual Formation” the term the “emerging church” or “emergent teachers” is used to describe this movement. “Contemplative prayer,” “meditation,” “discipleing,” “discipleship,” “spiritual discipline,” “ancient-future worship,” “vintage worship,” “future church,” and many other similar phrases are also terms used in connection with the emerging church and Spiritual Formation. Some even disguise the whole thing by naming programs in spiritual formation with bland and generic terms like “growing in Christ.” These seemingly wonderful concepts are very alluring to the uninformed and unaware. And while you may not hear all these words if the emerging church or spiritual formation movement comes to your church, you will certainly be introduced to the concepts behind them.
While words like disciple or discipleship, meditation and spiritual discipline, have a true meaning, these nice sounding words are being re-defined and re-introduced into the church with an entirely different meaning. Most people who hear them are not alarmed because many of these words are used in the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy and they have heard them for years. Moreover, when these new concepts are promoted, they use many of the old terms that everyone is familiar with as a bridge into the new concepts.
What could be wrong with “contemplative prayer” or “meditation” anyway? Isn’t prayer and meditation something that we are supposed to do? Of course it is. But when you understand what those terms actually mean when packaged with the emerging church concept, you will know that it is not the kind of prayer and meditation that the Bible is urging you to do. It is a whole different matter, as you will see.
And since your spiritual destiny is at stake, it is vitally important that you be a good Berean and make sure you understand what these pleasant and spiritual sounding practices are all about.
If Satan comes as an angel of light it is so that he can deceive you. And he will give his programs very spiritual sounding terms so that you think him, or those promoting his program, are actually sent of God. They may even be well-respected men and women in high positions. They may even come from famous conservative TV programs, or well-known universities where future pastors are taught and trained. Do you remember what Ezekiel said about false prophets and ravening wolves coming in to destroy souls? Well, Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
Underlying Spiritual Formation is the emerging church concept. Its teachers promote something that is very familiar to anyone that understands the ecumenical movement that the Roman Catholic Church has promoted since the 1960s. Emerging church leaders say that doctrine is not as important as your experience with Christ. While we must have a daily experience with Christ, what they really mean is that doctrine is not important at all, and that we should not worry about, or discuss it. Emerging church leaders want all religions to blend together, and they are working with Rome to accomplish it. The trouble is that doctrine comes from Christ. And doctrine comes with Christ. If you remove the doctrines, you don’t have Christ. If you don’t believe Jesus’ teachings, or the teachings of those prophets through whom He spoke, you can’t say that you have a true relationship with Jesus.
The idea today is that we are to just accept everyone as part of Christ’s body no matter what they believe, and as we experience Christ together, doctrine will be less and less important. Today, evangelicals, formerly known as Protestants, are deeply involved in the ecumenical movement, which is designed to bring them back into unity with the Roman Catholic Church. This is also leading them into a “new spirituality” which is really just old Roman Catholic mystical spiritualism.
One of the key thought leaders in the new spirituality is Richard Foster. He wrote: “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.”
Notice the bold link Foster makes between Spiritual Formation and the Roman Catholic Church. It is amazing how the Catholic concept of Spiritual Formation, invented by the Jesuits, found its way into mainstream evangelical churches.
What is spiritual direction? It is when a person finds a human “spiritual director” who guides him in his spiritual life. This takes the place of the Bible as the guide of life. The new focus is placed on a human being who guides the “cohort,” as the person being directed is called. This superior is known as the spiritual director, who is trained to do this sort of thing. He himself is a cohort under a spiritual director of his own, and so the hierarchy goes.
Seeking advice and counsel from godly men and women is important and can be helpful in dealing with difficulties and problems of life, but obedience to a spiritual director is quite another matter. Now even in seminaries, young pastors are taking courses in spiritual direction, and they learn how to relate to a spiritual director.
One of the key evangelical religious leaders today who is promoting the emerging church concept is Leith Anderson, the current president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a religious and political association. Anderson made the following comment.
“The old paradigm taught that if you had the right teaching, you will experience God. The new paradigm says that if you experience God, you will have the right teaching. This may be disturbing for many who assume propositional truth must always precede and dictate religious experience… That mindset is the product of systematic theology and has much to contribute… However, biblical theology looks to the Bible for a pattern of experience followed by proposition.”
So there you have it, right from the head of the largest evangelical association in America. He is saying that experience is more important than doctrine. This means that no matter what you believe, you can unite with others in an experience. Friends this is false. Jesus said that we are to worship God is spirit and in truth. Both are important. If one overbalances the other, there is going to be a spiritual problem in which Satan will take advantage of you.
The idea of the emerging church concept is to limit the deeper teaching of doctrine and emphasize feelings. This makes your understanding of the Bible superficial. This is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church has been emphasizing in the ecumenical movement for many decades now so that the churches can unite with Rome.
Friends, this is a direct attack on the distinctive doctrines of God’s last church. If doctrine is not important, then why bother to keep the Sabbath? If doctrine is not important why bother to study the meaning of the ministry of Christ in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary? If doctrine is not important, than you can believe what you want regarding what happens after death. If doctrine is not important, then why return your tithe to the Lord? If doctrine is not important, we can join with all the other churches in an ecumenical kind of love and unity, which only emphasizes the things on which all churches can agree (which, by the way, isn’t very much at all and is quite outside of its true setting).
In the emergent movement, as the emerging church is sometimes called, there is a principle which teaches that you can believe anything you want, and you are still a part of Christ’s family. Keep in mind however, that there are varying degrees in which the emerging church ideas are promoted. Some of the more radical ones I will share with you today. Some emergent teachers inside God’s church may even deny that these concepts are real. If they do so, it tells you that either they don’t know what they are talking about, or they are trying to deceive you into thinking that you are overstating the case against emergent theology and practice. And yes, there is a theology involved, and it is quite dogmatic. It is the inflexible doctrine that doctrine doesn’t matter.
Listen to what God’s messenger says in Great Controversy, page 445. “When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.”
So where is all this headed? When distinctive doctrine is overthrown by common doctrine, the ecumenical movement will lead to oppression of the religious minority that will follow all of God’s commandments, and uphold the truth or doctrine as it is in Jesus. Persecution will certainly result. There is no one more oppressive than someone who is brainwashed into thinking that he is doing God’s service when he is violating another person’s conscience. Jesus said in John 16:2 “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”
Here is a statement from the book Great Controversy, page 488 that ought to interest you. “Satan invents unnumbered schemes to occupy our minds, that they may not dwell upon the very work with which we ought to be best acquainted. The archdeceiver hates the great truths [or doctrines] that bring to view an atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful mediator. He knows that with him everything depends on his diverting minds from Jesus and His truth.” The statement is referring to the Most Holy Place ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary and His power to overcome sin in your life. He offers to make you a consistent law keeper. The emerging church and Spiritual Formation will never help you do that. It is a counterfeit masquerading as the genuine. Spiritual Formation is touted as a way to be like Christ. You follow your mentor’s instructions and you will become like Christ. But friends, this is impossible. Only Christ can make you like Christ.
Notice that Jesus and truth go together. You cannot have one without the other, for Jesus Himself said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If Jesus is the truth, then everything he taught both during his earthly life, and through all of His prophets is doctrine of His wonderful kingdom that we need to understand and practice.
Do you think that Satan has cooked up one of his unnumbered schemes just for you? He certainly has. He is planning one for every follower of Jesus so that if possible he might deceive even the most alert, or the “very elect,” as the Bible calls them. I hope you are among the very elect. They are probably the only ones who have a chance to escape Satan’s snares if they continue to be elect. That means that they are watching and praying lest they fall into temptation and naïvely accept his spiritualistic sophistries. By the way, the very elect are not necessarily the ones with university degrees. In fact, a university degree often makes people more skeptical of God’s truth and His doctrine, with some exceptions, of course.
The emerging church movement is taking the evangelical world by storm, and it is very enticing to those who are not anchored in scripture. When we embrace ideas and philosophies of men rather than the inspired Word of God, it does not take long to be led into false ideas. Jesus quoted Isaiah when he said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.” Then He said, “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:8-9.
Emerging church leaders say that we need to reinvent Christianity for the 21st century. Brian McLaren, a key emergent leader wrote; “You see, if we have a new world, we need a new church. We won’t need a new religion parse, but a new framework for our theology. Not a new spirit, but a new spirituality. Not a new Christ, but a new Christian. Not a new denomination, but a new kind of church in every denomination.”
Another common theme running through the new spirituality movement in evangelical circles is the re-introduction of ancient liturgy into emergent church worship. In her article called “Ancient New” published in The Lutheran magazine, Julie Sevig, says of the emerging church movement; “Evangelicals are using traditions from all liturgical churches from Orthodox to Lutheran to Catholic…” In other words, now that they no longer have a strong hold on their Protestant faith, these churches are reverting back to a more ritualistic worship style of the medieval Catholic Church. This perfectly fits the plans of the Papacy to recover her power over the churches. The emerging church movement is step by step, leading the churches back to Rome.
Reference: Article is available through online or print subscription to The Lutheran.
The emerging church also emphasizes the early century mystics and monks. The late Robert Webber was one of the key thinkers and planners for the emerging church movement and spiritual formation in evangelical circles. His book entitled Ancient-Future Faith openly calls for churches to recognize and practice the ancient faith, not the faith of the apostles, but the faith of the ancient Roman Catholic mystics from the 2nd to the 4th centuries, as well as some more recent ones.
In this book he says, “the primary source of spiritual reading is the Bible. But we now recognize that in our love of Scripture we dare not avoid the mystics and the activists. Exposure to the great devotional literature of the church is essential. More and more people are turning to the great work of the mystics. Richard Foster has called us to recover Augustine’s Confessions, Bernard of Clairvaux’s The Steps of Humility, [etc.].” (Page 135)
Webber recommends books by Roman Catholic mystics like Thomas a Kempis, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton, etc., and says, “to immerse ourselves in these great works is to allow our vision to be expanded by a great treasure… The value of all these books as well as many not mentioned is indispensable to spirituality. Those who neglect these works do so to their harm, and those who read them do so for their inspiration and spiritual growth. (Ibid)
In other words, Webber is saying that without studying the works of the Roman Catholic mystics, your spiritual life will not be sufficient. You can only understand God through them, not the Bible alone. This is blatant Roman Catholic teaching on tradition. Webber is also recommending ecumenical unity. He says, “A goal for evangelicals in the postmodern world is to accept diversity as a historical reality, but to seek unity in the midst of it. This perspective will allow us to see Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches as various forms of the one true church—all based on apostolic teaching and authority, finding common ground in the faith expressed by classical Christianity.” [Page 85]
In other words, evangelicals must seek unity under the apostolic teaching and authority of the pope of Rome. By classical Christianity Webber means Roman Catholic Christianity mainly.
Reference: Robert Webber’s book Ancient-Future Faith is published by Baker Books and is available through any major outlet.
Other advocates of classical Christianity in the emerging spirituality movement advocate the same thing. Dan Kimball, another promoter of ancient-future worship says in his book The Emerging Church in the chapter entitled Creating a Sacred Space for Vintage Worship; “aesthetics is not an end in itself. But in our culture, which is becoming more multi-sensory and less respectful of God, we have a responsibility to pay attention to the design of the space where we assemble regularly. In the emerging culture, darkness represents spirituality. We see this in Buddhist temples, as well as Catholic and Orthodox churches. Darkness communicates that something serious is happening…”
Imagine that! Darkness represents spirituality? That’s what I call spiritual darkness.
Reference: Dan Kimball’s book The Emerging Church is published by Zondervan and is available from any major outlet.
“Post-moderns prefer to encounter Christ by using all their senses,” wrote Julie Sevig, in The Lutheran, “That’s part of the appeal of classical liturgical or contemplative worship: the incense and candles, making the sign of the cross, the taste and smell of the bread and wine, touching icons and being anointed with oil.”
While not all emergent church proponents are doing these Roman Catholic (and somewhat new age) rituals to support their worship experience, the trend in that direction should not go unnoticed. Another observation that should be made is that the Roman Catholic system of candles, incense, darkness, repetition, genuflection and other visual and sensory trappings make their worship very experiential and emotional, thus bonding the participant to Rome. You may think that it is all about formal rituals, and not very attractive. But those very rituals are tremendously appealing to those who feel the pangs of guilt and want an experience with God for relief. They think that these sensory activities and trimmings are the way to connect. This all replaces the Bible and a living faith in Christ. The emergent church, tired of empty worship styles, now combines these ancient practices with the rock music and other modern worship performances, to provide a sense of oneness with God.
The fascination with ritual in the emerging church movement is telling. Evangelicals are gradually being primed to re-accept the Roman Catholic faith. Yet Rick Warren, Dan Kimball and other emerging church leaders see no danger in this approach. Those who promote these men and their writings or their practices are also preparing their congregations to follow in their steps, perhaps several years down the road. Those steps lead right back to Rome.
Robert Webber, in his book titled Ancient-Future Faith, revealed the underlying purpose, the hidden agenda of the emerging church.
“The early [Catholic Church] Fathers can bring us back to what is common and help us get behind our various traditions, not in a sense that we deny our own tradition, but that we give a priority to the common teaching of the church. Here is where our unity lies. To summarize, the words One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic point to the oneness of the church, as a matter of faith. Christians do not believe something about the oneness of the church; they believe in the oneness of the church. Consequently, evangelicals need to go beyond talk about the unity of the church to experience it through an attitude of acceptance of the whole church and an entrance into dialogue with the Orthodox, Catholic, and other Protestant bodies.”
Marcus Grodi, a Roman Catholic TV personality runs a show called The Journey Home. It is about non-Catholics who have converted to Rome. His ministry is all about helping them do it, and he is particularly interested in helping pastors who want to convert. He knows, no doubt that if pastors convert, so will at least some of their members, if not many.
Grodi also edited a book called Journeys Home, which is also about non-Catholics who converted to Rome. He made this comment about the effect of reading the Fathers of the Catholic Church. “The Church Fathers are the guarantors of an authentic Catholic tradition… Many great Christian men and women have found their way either back to, or into, the Catholic Church through meditating and reflecting upon the writings of the Church Fathers.” Then he mentions John Henry Newman who converted to Rome from the Church of England after he read the church fathers.
Reference: Marcus Grodi’s Journey’s Home is published by Queenship Publishing and is available from most major outlets.
Robert Webber is enthusiastic about the Church Fathers of the Roman Catholic faith. He believes that you can only benefit by reading them. He also believes that reading them will help you become more accepting of the Roman Catholic Church.
So the real agenda behind this emerging church movement is to direct you to Roman Catholic authors, mystics and Fathers, Roman Catholic practices such as contemplative prayer, submission to spiritual guides, rituals, etc. and especially to the acceptance of other faiths, and in particular the Roman Catholic faith. It may be that some of the leaders don’t realize what is involved in this movement. However, a little diligent search of credible sources can quickly reveal what the emerging church movement and Spiritual Formation is all about.
And this is where spiritual formation comes in. Because of their vulnerability to Rome’s teaching through the emerging church movement, now many Christians are going to come under the influence of teachings that will lock them into a connection with Rome from which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to escape.
Spiritual Formation is a system of practices that were originally invented by Ignatius Loyola the founder of the Jesuits. His was an intricate system designed to train the young Jesuit, known as a novitiate, to submit his mind and his will to his superior. “Spiritual Direction” by a superior rendered the novitiate an obedient subject ready to do his superior’s bidding. It also involved Spiritual Disciplines such as Loyola’s famed Spiritual Exercises. All of this was involved in the practice of Spiritual Formation.
The Evangelical version of spiritual direction involves a similar kind of relationship between the spiritual director and the subordinate, known as a cohort, as they are often called (the cohort may well be what a novitiate would be in a Jesuit school). The cohort, who is under the spiritual director, becomes obedient to all that the director tells him to think or do – at least in an ideal setting. I’m sure it doesn’t always happen that way however, though that is the goal.
Those who want training in Spiritual Formation are told to find a person who is trained to be a spiritual director and let that person mentor him so that he can come under his superior’s spiritual discipline; similar to what is done in the Jesuit order.
Richard Foster, an influential promoter of Spiritual Formation wrote that “the less commonly practiced [religious] activities like solitude and silence and meditation and fasting and submission to the will of others as appropriate are in fact more foundational for Spiritual Formation.”
Reference: Foster, Richard, Ancient Future Faith, published by Baker Book House and is available from any major outlet.
In spiritual formation you are taught that the best way to approach God is through another person. This is a Roman Catholic principle. Those teaching Spiritual Formation often quote from Catholic mystics and authors like Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton and Thomas a Kempis, and many others.
Richard Foster strongly promotes these Catholic mystics. He says, “to immerse ourselves in these great works is to allow our vision to be expanded by a great treasure of spirituality.”
Sometimes the teacher of Spiritual Formation tells his students that spiritual direction comes in an “incarnational setting,” which means that Christ comes and dwells in you when you submit your plans and activities to the review and guidance of your personal spiritual director, another human being. Students are told to “model” their mentor or spiritual director, and copy or emulate him, and then teach it to others.
The basic idea is that we can only grow spiritually if we have another person to imitate. This replaces Christ. We will be confused in our “spiritual direction,” until we have someone like this over us.
Until recent times, Spiritual Formation was mainly used by Roman Catholics and particularly the Jesuits. But in the last decade or so the principles of Spiritual Formation have gone mainstream evangelical and now they are flooding like a tsunami into God’s church.
Today however, when you hear people who promote Spiritual Formation talk about it, they use terms that sound very appealing. They talk about growing in Christ. They talk about devotion, Bible study, prayer, meditation.
These things are acknowledged by all as important for Christian growth. All of us need to study our bibles and pray and meditate on Christ. But these promoters of Spiritual Formation are taking this in a different direction.
They also promote books by Spiritual Formation authors like Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Don Pagitt, Forster Freeman and others who are dedicated to the ecumenical movement and the convergence of all religions as well as Spiritual Formation. These authors, in turn, recommend that we read and study the Roman Catholic mystics such as Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Thomas Aquinas and others. These authors will help you find your way to Rome.
One key element of Spiritual Formation is something called “Contemplative Spirituality.” Other related terms include “contemplative prayer,” or “centering prayer.” These are all names for essentially the same thing. This is nothing more than a mixture of what new age pagan practitioners of meditation and Roman Catholic monks have taught for centuries.
Listen to what Thomas Keating, a Roman Catholic monk, has to say about contemplative prayer, otherwise known as centering prayer. It’s from his book Open Mind, Open Heart. “Spiritual disciplines, both East and West, are based on the hypothesis that there is something that we can do to enter upon the journey to divine union once we have been touched by the realization that such a state exists. Centering prayer is a discipline designed to reduce obstacles… choose a sacred word [to repeat]… Twenty to thirty minutes is the minimum amount of time necessary for most people to establish interior silence.”
Reference: Thomas Keating’s book, Open Mind, Open Heart is published by The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006 and is available from most major outlets.
In other words, you repeat religious or Bible words (it doesn’t really matter which ones) in order to “center” your thoughts until you feel like you have unity with God. Jesus taught that prayer is to be simple and straightforward, treating God as our Father and our friend, and He specifically mentioned repetition as vain and useless. He said “but when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”
The idea of “interior silence” that the mystic Keating talks about is a mystical concept in which the mind is emptied of thought and distractions, which can only be done through a hypnotic repetitive practice. It is actually a New Age concept that this Catholic monk was teaching.
In more recent times, this same thing has been resurrected and adopted by the mainstream emerging church movement through the work of another Catholic monk named Thomas Merton. Merton wrote a number of books that the emergent church recommends to its adherents.
The Vatican also endorses contemplative prayer. I’ll quote you a passage from an online Roman Catholic book called From St. John of the Cross to Us.
“The Second Vatican Council, for example, gave both religious and lay people a new sense of freedom and a desire for spiritual renewal. …Centering Prayer and meditation groups… have helped introduce large numbers of Christians to a deeper life of prayer.”
This practice of contemplative prayer, endorsed by the Vatican and used in many denominations, especially those involved in the emerging church movement, is mystical to its core, and is designed to unite eastern mysticism and Roman Catholicism while at the same time being attractive to those enthralled with the ecumenical movement. For some in God’s church to present this to His people is a horrendous danger.
But yet that is what is happening today. One well-known TV ministry is promoting Spiritual Formation through a class, or seminar it offers to churches and institutions, and even on TV. Originally the title of the class was called “Spiritual Formation,” but it was changed when a lot of people reacted negatively and wondered if this class had to do with Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuit teaching. The new name is Jesus 101. This rather generic name disguises the real intent of the program. It comes from a common term used in ecumenical circles. There are Catholic books by that name; there are Bible study courses by that name; there are blogs by that name, etc. The subtitle for the course is also deceptive. It is “Growing in Jesus/Discipleship.” But the real intent behind the Jesus 101 course is Spiritual Formation.
It happens that the online course description for the Jesus 101 classes offered by the TV media company is virtually the same as a Spiritual Formation program offered by the Wesleyan Northeastern Seminary, which is an evangelical and ecumenical institution. Whether the description was taken directly from Northeastern and adapted, or whether it was taken from somewhere else, is unknown. But it is virtually the same with a number of modifications to downplay the Spiritual Formation aspects to some extent. There is some switching around of the order of the assumptions and objectives, and modifications of some terminology, but it is remarkably similar. The only part of the Northeastern Seminary description that was not included in the description of the Jesus 101 class was the section on Spiritual Formation. And it is no wonder. If it was included there would be a hue and cry from faithful souls who would oppose these things as there was before the online description was changed.
Now it is all under disguise as if it is a course on the life and teachings of Jesus. And many faithful souls who are unaware of this disguised Spiritual Formation course make donations to this TV ministry faithfully because they appreciated the now deceased founders and their faithful messages.
The Jesus 101 course description still uses terms like “spiritual disciplines and “guided reflection,” which are familiar phrases to the emerging church movement and the Jesuits. They describe the practice of “spiritual direction” and “Spiritual Formation.” The online course description also uses the phrases “guided exercises” (a watered-down term for “spiritual exercises”) and disciplined prayer” (which is another term for “contemplative prayer”). Again these terms would be very familiar to those promoting Spiritual Formation. And it all is offered in the name of becoming like Jesus. Certainly, the TV ministry would use a lot of biblical material in the course to relax participants into thinking that this is a faithfully biblical program.
But the original version of the online course description on the TV ministry website, openly stated that “the spiritual formation program curriculum at [the media ministry] is developed around the following basic assumptions (Adapted from [a book by] Forster Freeman, [called] Readiness for Ministry through Spiritual Formation).” The website has now been changed and deleted this material. The TV ministry said in an email that they changed the name because of concerns that were raised about their program.
Strangely enough, virtually the exact same language was used by the Wesleyan Northeastern Seminary to describe their course including the reference to Forster Freeman.
Open file called “Concerns Regarding Spiritual Formation” and scroll down to the picture of the Jesus 101 course description (only includes assumptions).
So, who is Forster Freeman? Friends, it just so happens that Forster Freeman graduated in 1984 from Boston College, one of 28 Jesuit Universities in the United States. He was a member of the Theology & Ministry/Weston Jesuit class. If anyone knows what Spiritual Formation is, it would be a Jesuit. He does not carry the designation S. J. behind his name, but that makes him all the more disguised.
But what is going on at the well-known TV ministry is not the only example of Spiritual Formation being taught in God’s church. There is a seminary in Michigan that also teaches Spiritual Formation to ministerial doctoral students. It is one of their concentration courses for the degree of Doctor of Ministry offered by the university seminary.
One of the teachers in this class has written a book on the subject called Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul, which he apparently uses in this class. In the book he recommends additional reading, which includes a number of Roman Catholic authors, eastern mystics, and evangelical emerging church authors. These include famous Roman Catholic monks and priests like Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Benedict J. Groeschel, Jerome M. Neufelder and Thomas Keating. He also recommends Tilden Edwards an Episcopal priest and mystic, Robert Webber, one of the foremost advocates of emergent teaching and Spiritual Formation, Thomas R. Kelly, a Quaker mystic, Tony Campolo, an evangelical who claims to have been born again by reading the Catholic mystics, especially the Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius Loyola, Richard Foster, one of the main evangelical promoters of “contemplative prayer” in the emerging church movement, who himself recommends that his followers read Roman Catholic Church fathers and mystics.
It is hard for faithful souls to understand what can be learned from the Roman Catholic Church Fathers, as well as monks, priests and mystics. Not even one book by God’s last day messenger is recommended, not even the compilation on prayer. It is also hard to understand why a Christian educator with all the light he may have, would recommend writers who will certainly lead the student into practices that come from the throne of darkness. Moreover, it is equally hard to understand why the dean of the seminary would defend this course from spiritual Babylon as part of an academic curriculum for ministers who are supposed to preach the three angels messages of Revelation 14, one of which is to come out of Babylon.
This is not to say that non-inspired writers should not be recommended. But they have to be chosen for their faithfulness to scripture, and not be connected to Roman Catholic tradition or very carefully chosen if taken from any other religious traditions so as not to lead the student down the wrong path.
Some churches, especially liberal churches, are using prayer labyrinths, which are a tool of contemplative prayer, complete with prayer stations, candles, icons and other sensory paraphernalia. Have you ever heard of one of those? There are even claims that we are in a period of “prayer labyrinth revival.” Labyrinths are of pagan origins that came into the Catholic Church, and now into the emerging church movement from there. There are many of them in Roman Catholic Cathedrals, monasteries, abbeys, etc, all over Europe. Why would these be useful in God’s church except to take the focus off of the Bible as the guide of life?
Many of the churches and institutions of God’s church have brought in Spiritual Formation in one way or another. This list is long. It is true that God’s people need revival, but we don’t need a revival of Catholicism in our ranks. It is true that God’s people need in intimate walk with Christ for many are lost. Their souls cry out in hunger for that which the world cannot fill. But finding it through methods and principles that are inventions of Satan will never bring them to the true experience with Christ. It will do the exact opposite.
Website with lists of participating individuals, institutions, publications and organizations using Spiritual Formation or various forms of it
Friends, Spiritual Formation and the emerging church are not God’s plan for us. They are deeply connected to the Roman Catholic Church, ancient mysticism, and the New Age. The Bible tells us that there is a three-fold union that is developing and we can see it before our eyes. It includes apostate Protestantism, spiritualism and Roman Catholicism.
Here is a familiar statement from Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, and page 451. “When Protestantism shall stretch her hand across the gulf to grasp the hand of the Roman power, when she shall reach over the abyss to clasp hands with spiritualism, when, under the influence of this threefold union, our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and republican government, and shall make provision for the propagation of papal falsehoods and delusions, then we may know that the time has come for the marvelous working of Satan and that the end is near.
Friends, the threefold union is developing right before our eyes through the emergent church movement, the ecumenical movement and the Spiritual Formation movement. And it is amazing how precise God’s messenger is about this prophetic development. The formerly Protestant churches are now embracing papal falsehoods that go way beyond Sunday keeping. They are developing strong links to spiritualism and Catholicism through the emerging church and Spiritual Formation. All of them are working together, collaborating to make the world ready for the final conflict over the law of God. There is no way that any of God’s people in the last generation should be involved in this movement. Certainly pastors, leaders, and institutions should stay very clear of it all and not try to make is sound like these movements are in line with our message. That is deceptive. While there may be those who are not trying to be deceptive, there are others who attempt to disguise the real agenda behind these movements.
I am not trying to hurt anyone, or judge anyone’s motives. But I know, on the authority of God’s word that these things are wrong because they are from the polluted fountain.
Listen to this statement from the Gospel Herald, March 1, 1901. “Do not depend upon human beings for spiritual help. Resist the temptation to make flesh your arm. Look to God as children look to an earthly Father. Believe that He loves you and that He will help you, even as He has promised. If you will believe, you will have confidence, trust, reliance, and rich blessings, because you will realize that Christ is the foundation of your faith.”
Friends, you don’t need a spiritual director other than Christ and the Bible. You don’t need any Spiritual Formation other than living faith in the Word of God. The Holy Spirit should direct your meditation and prayer life as you open the pages of sacred scripture, not through mummery of oft repeated words or phrases. That is vain and worthless. We don’t need encouragement to read the polluted springs of Babylon but instead the inspired word of God.
Here is another statement from Testimonies to Ministers, page 409-410. “Many will stand in our pulpits with the torch of false prophecy in their hands, kindled from the hellish torch of Satan. If doubts and unbelief are cherished, the faithful ministers will be removed from the people who think they know so much. “If thou hadst known,” said Christ, “even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”
Oh friends, let us never forget these important words. Let not the truth that can bring you true peace be hid from your eyes. Do not listen to those who uphold the hellish torch of Satan.
And one last statement from Signs of the Times, February 19, 1894, “It is a backsliding church that lessens the distance between itself and the Papacy.” My dear friends let us not go back toward Rome. Let us not lessen the distance, but rather expand it and make it as wide as possible.
If I have made someone angry at me because of this message, please forgive me. I don’t want to be a stumbling block to anyone. However, if you feel convicted that you may have been wrong in participating in these mystical and wrongful practices, please repent and surrender to the Lord. I must do my duty to my fellow man. Your eternal destiny is at stake, and so is mine. I want to walk on the sea of glass, don’t you? I want to be in the New Jerusalem and see my savior face to face, don’t you? Let us turn from all that is human and worthless and look upon the matchless charms of Jesus.
Harvestime Books has published a
book entitled “The Truth about Spiritual Formation”. To order call 931-692-2777.