by Mike Ratliff
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 ESV)
In the recent attacks on John MacArthur and his ministries by some bent on claiming that he is in league with Rick Warren and perhaps isn’t even a Christian, I have learned what it is like to be considered guilty by some using the method of “guilt by association” as sure-proof evidence of one being false. It is very easy to make a case against someone or their ministry if this sort of method of “discernment” is 100% valid in every case. I have seen discussions get started on our discernment blogs that devolve into creating “isms” in which this or that person is categorically assigned by those who have not taken the time to investigate what he or she really teaches or writes about. I doubt that God is pleased with us when we do that. I have received the very same treatment by some who have categorically assigned me to the camp of ‘fundamentalism’ even though I reject much of what that ism stands for and the way they go about doing what they do.
On the other hand, there are some things in which I will not compromise or budge at all from what the Bible very clearly gives us as a non-negotiable part of our faith. The Gospel is at the top of that list. When I use the word Gospel I am also including within it a paradigm of the things that make up our orthodox faith. That would include our spiritual maturing unto Christlikeness after we are saved by grace through faith. It would include how we serve and worship our Lord and for what purpose. It would include the roles of prayer and meditation and being transformed by the renewal of our minds.
The problem for the visible church in our time is that it is plagued by rampant biblical illiteracy. The Gospel preaching in much of the visible church is not biblical but takes the form of a sales pitch to invite Jesus into your life so you can have a better life. This appeals to the flesh not the spirit. This is not the gospel at all. Couple that with decades of milquetoast bible study and you have a brew that is ripe for deception.
I have a good friend who has contacted me over that last several days about the creeping in of spiritual formation and contemplative prayer into her church through the youth group. I confess that I do not know much about what these things are so I have hesitated tackling this issue. I was counseled by another good friend to do some research on this, but to approach the topic biblically since that is how God works through me. Here is what I discovered today.
I did a web search for the term “Spiritual Formation.” Interestingly, one of the first links I received in the search engine was a link to George Fox Seminary. Their definition of Spiritual Formation is “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit and grounded in Scripture and a faith community.” That does not sound so bad does it? The problems come in how this is defined and how they go about implementing this in the spiritual life of the believer. Here are the three interrelated processes of becoming Christ-like:
The process of becoming Christ-like involves three interwoven processes:
- Orthodoxy Right-thinking about Christ and the Christian faith
- Orthopraxy Right-action/piety and devotional living
- Orthopathy Right-feeling toward God, self, and others
Again, this sounds rather benign instead of ominous. However, we must consider the fact that this is coming from a Quaker theological perspective that is most certainly not orthodox.
In part of my research today I came across a document written in 1997 titled What is Contemplative Spirituality and Why is it Dangerous. Never forget that Contemplative Spirituality is a synonymous term with Spiritual Formation. Please take your time and read that document. It is very well documented.
What does God’s Word say about any approach to the Gospel that is not Biblical? Does it do so? The book of Galatians was written by the Apostle Paul to specifically address this very thing. Let us look at a short section of chapter one of Galatians (vv6-10).
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-10 ESV)
6θαυμαζω οτι ουτως ταχεως μετατιθεσθε απο του καλεσαντος υμας εν χαριτι χριστου εις ετερον ευαγγελιον 7ο ουκ εστιν αλλο ει μη τινες εισιν οι ταρασσοντες υμας και θελοντες μεταστρεψαι το ευαγγελιον του χριστου 8αλλα και εαν ημεις η αγγελος εξ ουρανου ευαγγελισηται [υμιν] παρ ο ευηγγελισαμεθα υμιν αναθεμα εστω 9ως προειρηκαμεν και αρτι παλιν λεγω ει τις υμας ευαγγελιζεται παρ ο παρελαβετε αναθεμα εστω 10αρτι γαρ ανθρωπους πειθω η τον θεον η ζητω ανθρωποις αρεσκειν ει ετι ανθρωποις ηρεσκον χριστου δουλος ουκ αν ημην (Galatians 1:6-10 WHNU)
I marvel that thusly quickly you change from the one having called you in favor of Christ into other good message, what not is other, except some are the ones troubling you and wanting to turn across the good message of the Christ. But even if we or messenger from heaven might tell good message to you from what good message we ourselves told you, curse let be. As we have said before and now again I say; if some you tells good message from what you took along, curse let be. Now for men I persuade or the God? Or I seek men to please? If still men I was pleasing, of Christ slave not I was. (Galatians 1:6-10 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
Heresies are rarely so far from what is genuine that it is blatantly obvious to everyone that they are false. Quakerism rejects the deity of Christ. It is a “changed” gospel. The ones behind much of the ecumenical spiritual formation stuff are Roman Catholic monks who have blended in the Eastern Mysticism with Quakerism to use good terms such as meditation that we use to ponder God’s Word, in a different way that puts the mind into neutral and opens the mind up to the evil spiritual forces of our enemy.
Paul tells us in this passage that those who grasp the real Gospel are χριστου δουλος, the slaves of Christ. They do not determine the content of the Gospel. They obey the one given to them by Christ. We are not to do as the majority of voters in the 2008 USA election did in voting for change for the sake of change. The Gospel is immutable. It never changes because it is based in our God who is immutable.
If the youth group or pastors in your church are speaking of spiritual formation along the lines of the two referenced pages I linked to above then you should be concerned. If you take your concerns to your pastors or elders and are rebuffed and nothing changes then you should be aware that the leadership in your church has been compromised. Those they are teaching are receiving spiritual teaching that is not biblical and is, therefore, of our enemy. I pray that God will give you the wisdom and discernment to see these things and obey Him in what He shows you.
Soli Deo Gloria!