LTRP Note: Egerton Ryerson Young was a young Canadian missionary in the late 1800s, who, with his wife and two small children, spent years with the Native people in Canada, living among them, loving them, and sharing the Gospel and the Word of God with them. This is one of the stories from the “Wigwam” book. While some of the terms and writing would be considered “unpolitically” correct today, Young’s great respect, admiration, and acknowledgment of the value and worth of the Native people is above reproach.
By Egerton Ryerson Young
(author of Stories From Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires)
I was sitting in my study one day when noiselessly and quietly there came filing into the room a dozen or more stalwart Indians. I greeted them kindly and bade them welcome. On scanning their faces I observed that they were all entire strangers. Seating them as well as the limited accommodations of my little study would admit, I began a conversation with them. They were a fine-looking lot of men, with characteristic Indian faces. After a few commonplace remarks had passed between us I became anxious to know who they were and what was the special object of their present visit. So, addressing the one who seemed to be the principal man among them, I asked:
“Where do you live?”
“Very far away,” he replied.
“How far?” I asked.
“Thirteen nights away,” he said.
The Indians compute long distances by the number of nights they spend on their journey. So, to see me, these Indians had, in their birch-bark canoes, traveled fourteen days down great rivers and across stormy lakes.
“What is your object in coming so far?” I asked.
Very decidedly one of them spoke up and said, “We have come for you!”
“For what purpose do you want me?” I asked, beginning to get interested by the earnestness of these stalwart men.
“Why,” they answered, “we have the great book and can read it, but we do not know what it means.”
“O, I am delighted to hear that you have the great book and can read it,” I said; “and of course you have had a missionary who has taught you to read.”
Their answer amazed me: “You are the first missionary we ever saw.”
“Then you have had a teacher who has instructed you?”
“What is a teacher?” was the questioning reply. So I explained to them what a teacher was, and to this they said, “We have never seen one as yet.”
Becoming intensely interested now in these children of the forest, I replied with a certain amount of inquiry and perhaps incredulity in my voice, “Do you, who have never had a missionary or teacher, pretend to tell me that you can read the great book?”
Quietly they answered, “We can read the great book.”
To put them to a test was an easy matter, and so, picking up my Indian Bible—printed in Rev. James Evans’s beautiful syllabic characters—I opened it and said to one of them, “Read.”
Without any hesitancy he began, and read without making a single mistake. Then I tried another and another, and found, to my great delight, that these Indians from that distant and lonely forest retreat were all able to read in their own tongue the holy word.
“Tell me,” I said, “how did you thus learn to read the good book?”
This was their story of how they had come into this great privilege. Would that I could describe the picturesque and dramatic way in which the spokesman of the party told it to me that day in my study! The substance is as follows:
“Missionary, you know hunters roam over a great extent of country looking for game. So, although our village is many nights away, yet in our winter huntings some of us come up a good many miles this way; and a few of your Indian fur-hunters go many days down toward our country, and so some of them hunt near our hunting-grounds. Well, as we all talk the same language and are at peace with each other, when we have made our little hunting wigwams and set our traps and got every thing ready for catching the wild animals, and then while waiting for them to come into the traps, we often have days when there is nothing to do. These days we would employ visiting other Indians, and among those we visited were some of your Christian Indians from this mission. They always received us very kindly, and we had some pleasant talks. We found that they had with them their Bibles, and, when not busy at their work, they spent a great deal of time in reading them. As we were very ignorant we thought they were very foolish in spending so much time in that way; and so we urged them to shut up their books and gamble with us, as we used to do. But they said: ‘Since we have become Christians we have flung all our dice and gambling stones into the fire. We find that we cannot be Christians and gamble; and since we have learned to read this book we find more pleasure in it than we ever did in our old foolish games.’ They would read to us out of the great book and we became very much interested, for they read about the creation, and Noah, and Joseph, and David, and Daniel, and Jesus, and many others, until we found ourselves going there every day we could spare from our huntings, even if some of us had many miles to walk on our snow-shoes through the great cold.
“Our hunting season, you know, lasts many months, and so we had time to make many visits. When your Christian people saw that we were so interested in what they read to us they said, ‘Would you not like to learn to read for yourselves and of course we said, ‘Yes.’ So they began teaching us. It seemed strange to us that we, who had thought it was all such foolishness a short time before, should be now seated in their wigwams and hard at work learning a, e, oo, ah; pa, pe, poo, pah; ta, te, too, tah, and all the rest of the characters which your Indians had marked out for us on pieces of birch-bark with a burnt stick. But we had got hungry to know for ourselves, and when we found that ‘ma’ and ‘ni’ and ‘to’ put together meant ‘Manito,’ ‘the Great Spirit,’ then indeed we were excited and studied hard to know more. So we worked away, and your good Christian people were kind and so patient with us, and so pleased that our stubbornness was gone, and we were willing to sit at their feet and learn. And very often did they pray with us and tell us of some of the wonderful things that were in the great book besides its stories of warriors and other great men that had at first excited our curiosity. Well, before the snow began to get soft and the time came for us to return to our village with our furs some of us had made such progress in our study that we could slowly read the great book. That spring, as soon as the snow and ice left the great rivers and lakes, a number of us decided to take our furs, as we had been very successful in our huntings, all the way down to York Factory, on the Hudson Bay, as the prices were better there. It took us many days to go, but there was plenty of game and fish, so we had a good trip down. We reached York Factory with our furs, and exchanged them for what we needed for ourselves and families. One day before we returned, the gentleman in charge of the Hudson Bay Company’s post said to us: ‘There have come out for Mr. Young, the missionary at Norway House, a lot of Indian Bibles from the British and Foreign Bible Society in London. Now, if you Indians could only read, and would try and get some good out of them, I am sure Mr. Young would be glad to have me give you some of these good books.’ When we heard this our hearts were glad, and we told him some of us had learned to read the great book and we would be so thankful to get them and would do the best we could with them. When he heard this he said he was pleased we had learned to read, and then he gave us a lot of the books, at which our hearts were made very glad. We carried them safely in our canoes up the great rivers and around the portages until we reached our homes and people. There was great excitement about them. Even some of our oldest people had never seen a Bible before. Some of the old conjurers and medicine-men were angry with us for bringing them, but most of the people were glad, for they had heard from some of our hunters who had not gone with us to York Factory of some of the wonderful stories which had been told them by the Christian Indians. At first we hardly knew what to do with the books. Then we decided that those who, during the winter, had learned to read should each have one, and that they should teach others; and as fast as any one could read, even if only a little, he should get his own book.
“So anxious were our people to learn, and so well did they get on, that the books are all distributed. We are very thankful for them, but we want somebody to teach us what we are reading. We love the book, but we want somebody to make it plain to us. We are like one who has found an instrument which makes music. We get a sweet sound here and another there, but we have never had any teaching, and so we cannot play it aright. So with this great book which we have learned to read and which we have in our midst, we are very ignorant about it, and so we have come all this way to ask you to come to our land and tell us what these things mean about which we are reading.”
With mingled feelings of surprise and delight I listened to this marvelous narrative. It was the story of the Ethiopian eunuch over again, but multiplied many fold. Like him they had the word and were interested in it; but how could they understand, never having had any one to guide them? And so they had sent this deputation hundreds of miles through the pathless forest to find out one who could begin at the same Scripture and “preach unto them Jesus.” My heart went out to them at once, and I felt that He who had sent the angel unto Philip with the message, “Arise and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert,” there to find one man longing after light upon the sacred volume, had surely sent these messengers for me to go on a similar blessed mission.
If these Indians, longing for instruction, had lived in a land of railroads or even ordinary highways, the matter of visiting them could have been easily arranged, but, unfortunately, it was just the reverse. No surveyor had as yet passed through that land. There is not a mile of road laid out in a region of many thousand square miles; and so only by a birch-bark canoe, manned by two Indians, could I visit them in the summer-time, and even then perhaps not be able to travel as rapidly as these experienced men whose lives had been spent in those wild regions.
I explained to them how my mission field was already over five hundred miles long and proportionately wide. In visiting the different Indian bands on it I had to travel either by canoe or dog-train several thousands of miles each year. I tried to visit each band twice a year, and if possible when present at the different places arranged the date of the next visit, which was generally six months ahead. Through the good providence of God I had been able to keep all of my many engagements, and the Indians, knowing this, often came hundreds of miles by canoe in summer or on their snow-shoes in winter from their distant hunting-grounds to meet me at the place appointed, that they might hear the word of God. Very many were the difficulties and hardships endured in faithfully filling these remote appointments, but many pleasing incidents occurred to compensate for a fixed resolve to be faithful, with divine help, to every promise made, even if we were in “perils oft “from raging floods in summer or the bitter cold in winter.
While I was anxious to go to this new and inviting field which seemed so ripe for the harvest, I dare not break faith with any bands whom I had arranged to visit. The result was I had to inform these Indians, who had come so far for me to go and help them understand what they were reading, that six months must pass away ere I could go and see them. They said they were very much pleased that I would come sometime, but pleaded for an earlier visit, for “who could tell what might happen in all that time?” However, when I explained my work to them they saw how it was and were satisfied. One of them, however, looking out of the study window and seeing the sun which was sinking toward the western horizon and casting toward us a line of golden light on the rippling waves, with the quick poetic Indian temperament said, “Come quickly, missionary, and see us, for your coming will be like that sunlit path upon the waters.” We had a long and earnest talk about the truths of the blessed book and God’s design in giving it to us that we might know the truth concerning him, and also about ourselves and what we had to do in order to obtain his forgiveness and become his children. Reverently they bowed with me in prayer as upon them we asked the divine blessing in the name of Jesus.
After exchanging some of their furs at the fort for necessary supplies they set off on their return journey to their distant wigwams, thankful that they had got the promise of a visit from a missionary to explain to them the meaning of the great book. In the month of February I began my trip to the land of those Indians who had sent the deputation so far for me to come and visit them. I made every preparation for a long and dangerous journey, and was not disappointed in any way. I took with me two of the best of men, both as regards their genuine piety and their endurance and cleverness as Indian travelers. So many were the peculiar difficulties of the route that all the patience and energy of us all were at times taxed to the utmost. Our trip led us first a hundred and fifty miles down the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg, and then many days’ journey into the wilderness directly east of that great lake. The traveling on Winnipeg was mere child’s play to what followed after we had plunged into the forest country. Our way led us over a number of little frozen lakes and streams and through several long, gloomy forest portages. The work of getting through the dense forests was very laborious and often very slow. A little clearing out of the fallen trees and the cutting down of some ere they stand too densely together would have saved both men and dogs a great deal of hardship and our sleds from a great deal of damage, but unfortunately no road-making has as yet been ever attempted in this wild country. Often we had to get down on our hands and knees and crawl under the partly fallen trees, and then all hands were engaged in getting our dogs and sleds over the accumulated fallen ones, that seemed determined to block up our way. Often our sleds would so violently strike against a tree that there was great danger of serious injury being inflicted on our dogs.
Thus on and on we went day after day. Some days we made fairly good progress. This was when we had some frozen lakes or river stretches along which we could travel rapidly. But on the whole, the trip was one of the most difficult I ever undertook. However, as we were in a forest country all the time, we could find good camping-places, and so we were able to rest fairly well after the fatigues and sufferings of the day, although our beds were made in the forest on some evergreen boughs in a hole dug in the snow, with no roof above us but the stars. At length we reached the Indians for whom we were looking. To say that they were delighted to see us seems very cold in comparison with the reality. They had abundance of venison, and so we and our dogs fared well. All that they had said to us about their people being able to read the blessed book, we found to be as they had told us. And so our work was to explain the truths they had for months been reading.
It being the hunting season, and this being their only means of livelihood, many whom we had hoped to meet were far away in their distant hunting-grounds. However, those whom we did meet gave the most earnest heed to our words and drank in the truth with great delight. We felt repaid a thousand-fold for coming to visit them and remained several days among them, during which time we tried to teach and preach unto them Jesus, and many of them were baptized.
Often since, have we thought of and rejoiced at the coming of this deputation to visit us and of the marvelous manner in which they had learned to read the word of God in their own language, without missionary or teacher, and then had imparted that knowledge to others; and then, best of all, there had come into their hearts the earnest desire to understand what they were reading. To satisfy in a measure that longing, it had been given to me to have the great honor of going as the first missionary to visit this interesting people and explain more fully some of the truths of the blessed book.
This was my rejoicing, that:
[T]he Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:6-8)
(This is an excerpt from Stories From Indian Wigwams and Northern Campfires)
This past summer, a Lighthouse Trails reader sent us this e-mail letter she received from Renovare (Richard Foster’s contemplative outreach organization). Our reader is on the Renovare mailing list as she has grave concerns about friends who are involved with contemplative spirituality, and she monitors this group. The letter reveals the tight connection that YWAM (Youth With a Mission) has with the contemplative prayer movement.
I want to offer a short vignette of how the ministry of Renovaré continues to ripple around the world. For the past 20 years I have taught a class called “Foundations of Christian Spirituality” at Eastern University. Assigned readings from the class are Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, Devotional Classics, edited by Richard Foster and Jim Smith, and The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, written by John Ortberg. As you know, all these books are written by authors deeply committed to the vision and outreach of Renovaré.
“Foundations” is basically a Renovaré course on the basics of spiritual formation. For the past ten years the class has continued to grow in attendance, growing to around 200 students. How encouraging! Students long to learn how to live ever more wisely and fully as “Christ’s apprentices,” as Dallas would put it. Even more encouraging, five years ago a generous donor had “Foundations” filmed by Gorilla Films, well-known for its films of the gorilla population of Rwanda.The class is now available on-line to people world-wide.
More recently, I was with a group of YWAM (Youth with a Ministry) leaders in Burtingny, Switzerland, gifted people who are earning an MA in Spiritual Formation from the University of the Nations. I was surprised and pleased to learn that these leaders of discipleship training ministries around the world had been watching the filmed version of “Foundations.” Not only so, but they shared with me that this course—with Renovaré at its core—was presently being viewed by “thousands” of people in China, India, Scandinavia, and Brazil. In fact, two of these students—very courageous women—are showing clips of “Foundations” in small villages in India. Renovaré’s effect through the power of the Holy Spirit is profound and widespread.
Grace and peace,
Renovaré Board Member
LTRP NOTE: If you are not familiar with the teachings of Richard Foster or the contemplative prayer (i.e, Spiritual Formation) movement, please read some of our research material. Do not underestimate the overwhelming impact that Richard Foster and Renovare have and are having on Christians across the globe. Because of the dangerous anti-biblical roots of the contemplative prayer movement, this should cause great concern to Bible-believing Christians. And remember, if you have a loved one in a Christian college or seminary, most likely he or she is being introduced to the Spiritual Formation movement. We estimate (after 12 years of research) that over 90% of these schools have now begun to integrate Spiritual Formation into their schools.
By David Dombrowski
Editor at Lighthouse Trails
Often times, people call our office asking what denomination we are. We realize that this is a probing question designed to find out more about us. The truth is, Lighthouse Trails Publishing has never been affiliated with any denomination. From the onset, nearly thirteen years ago, we have always endeavored to be connected with the body of believers scattered throughout the world who are very concerned, as we are, with the state of the church today. Many of our readers have told us they felt very alone and even ostracized in witnessing the apostasy in the churches today prior to their finding our website and realizing there were other Christians who saw what they did.
We know firsthand how it feels to be labeled troublemakers for having legitimate concerns about what is happening in the church today. We too have felt disillusioned as we have witnessed a gradual departure in the churches from the Word of God. Pulpits throughout the land, many of which formerly proclaimed the biblical Gospel of God’s saving grace through the sacrifice on the Cross now espouse an assortment of pseudo-gospel, pop-psychology, seeker-friendly, Purpose-Driven, emerging, New Age, mystical/contemplative spirituality that may be chicken soup for the soul but what God calls an abomination (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). It is no wonder that God in referring to the lukewarm warns that He is ready to “spew thee” out of His mouth” (Revelation 3:16). How much better it would have been if churches and their pastors had stuck with John 3:16!
Out of this frog’s slow-cooking kettle, some emerged only to witness that a great many were staying in the pot. Many discerning believers now find they have become watchmen for the Lord, compelled by God to sound out a clear warning of the impending doom of the church. In fact, it appears that God is presently calling out believers from various denominations to stand up and be counted among those who refuse to comply with the compromised experience-driven Christianity of today. Yes, God is calling out His own.
If you love Jesus Christ and His Word and if you really want to serve Him, now is the time to be fully surrendered to the Lord without reservation. Whatever the cost. We are invited to the wedding feast, ready to meet our Savior, with wicks trimmed and lamps burning. Now is the time to make ready.
Nearly on a daily basis, we witness our very earth in what seems like birth pangs— be it nuclear threat, terrorism, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tornadoes—or violence, wars and rumors of war—while most people seem almost oblivious to what is happening (or may see something is amiss but do not turn to Scripture and Bible prophecy to understand the implications). Again, God is sounding out a warning to make ready.
Even now, while the reality of the Antichrist and a one-world religion is looming closer and closer all the time, preachers and teachers are sitting at their desks inking out sermons that discredit Bible prophecy.
If you are a pastor, let us remind you that you have a great responsibility. When we first began Lighthouse Trails Publishing, we contacted our pastor at that time, trying to encourage him to warn his congregation of the apostasy that was beginning to creep into the church back then. His reply was that he lives in a bubble and consequently sees no need to warn his congregation about anything as long as he keeps expounding the Word to them. Our reply to him was “you may be in a bubble, but your congregation is not.” The question is this: if it is not the pastor’s job to warn his congregation of impending spiritual danger, whose job is it? In the Old Testament, the prophets referred to individuals with this kind of responsibility as watchmen or shepherds. The prophet Zechariah, for example, has much to say about the responsibilities of a shepherd in chapters 10 and 11. In referring to the spiritual condition of his day, he said:
For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled because there was no shepherd. (Zechariah 10:2)
Nothing could speak more succinctly of the condition of the church today. We never dreamed in all our years as Christians that there would ever be such blatant heresy as we see in the organized Christian church today. Years ago, we would never have imagined that anyone would be given the green light to stand in front of a congregation and deny the atonement of Jesus Christ. Yet this is exactly what is happening in the emerging/progressive/contemplative “church” as well as in some of our Bible colleges and seminaries. Many have fallen from a great height, and we should be mourning as God surely must be mourning.
If you are a pastor who feels that it is not your calling to warn your congregation, let us remind you that the closest New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament watchmen or shepherd’s is the position of a pastor. There is a time for speaking uplifting encouraging words of peace and comfort—but when ravenous wolves are about, is it not wiser to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2)?
WHAT IS THE TEST?
Sometimes we are asked, what is the criteria for deciding whether or not a doctrine or practice is biblical or validates criticism. Over the years, many pastors, elders, and youth pastors have contacted us and told us we have no business in doing what we are doing. We have often thought after hearing this that what we would like to say in reply is, “If you pastors were doing it, people like us wouldn’t have to.” It has not been a pleasant task, but the church needs to be warned of the impending danger. If you have read our books, then you understand what we are talking about.
But getting back to the question, what is the test for deciding if a particular teaching or practice validates criticism? There is but one test that we have used consistently from the inception of Lighthouse Trails. The Book of Proverbs says: “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight (Proverbs 11:1).
And again from Proverbs: “Divers weights are an abomination unto the Lord; and a false balance is not good (Proverbs 20:23).
It is interesting that Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, placed such emphasis on accurate scales. It is even more amazing that God would call false scales an abomination – amazing only until we realize that God is speaking of the spiritual—not just physical, scales here.
So what we are looking for is a spiritual balancing scale—something that will reappear throughout the Bible—through the Old and New Testaments. There is such a scale, a consistent theme, which John refers to in his first epistle:
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)
Some Bible commentators have believed that John was referring here to a particular sect who denied that Jesus Christ actually came in a human body. If that is all John meant, then this passage is of little relevance to us today, because you will scarcely find anyone who does not believe that Jesus as a historical figure was a man who walked the earth. But the name Jesus Christ in this passage is not a historical term; it is a name loaded with meaning —referring to Jesus as the Messiah, God come in the flesh, our Savior and Redeemer, who atoned for our sins. If we look at the context of 1 John 4, we can verify that this is what John is talking about because in it he says, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). In other words, John is saying here, I am referring to the Jesus I wrote about in my gospel— the Word made flesh who in the beginning was with God and was God (see John, chapter 1).
This is the balancing scale we have been looking for. Just as all human history and our blessed hope hinges on what Jesus did on the Cross, so too we can weigh a doctrine or practice by whether or not it agrees with the fact that we are justified by faith alone through the atoning, redemptive work of Christ on the Cross. The question then is, does a particular doctrine or teaching agree with the Gospel the apostles all preached?
With this discerning tool in hand, if you stop to measure all of the world’s religions and systems, you will find that all of these are opposed to the Gospel. The natural man will not acknowledge the need for a Savior, consequently all of the world’s belief systems (except biblical Christianity) are works based—believing that it is possible to earn our way into Heaven or to become “Christ-like” through mysticism and “spiritual disciplines.” But the Gospel says it is not possible. John knew all too well the contrariness of the natural man and the world’s belief systems. That is why in the same chapter of his epistle, he offers another test:
[H]e that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6)
In other words, John is saying that when the world rejects you for sharing the Gospel, it is because the Spirit of truth in not in them.
Whichever way you look at it, the Gospel is the fulcrum of our balance in discerning truth from error. When Lighthouse Trails Publishing began, this became, and has always been, our standard of truth and also the deciding factor as to whether something is significant enough to bring to the attention of our readers. We are careful not to get involved in issues in the church where the Gospel is not attacked or compromised; but when it is we are compelled to speak up— because as believers in Christ, we are called to defend the Gospel; and is that not the calling of pastors especially?
The Gospel is the most precious thing on God’s heart, and it is worthy of our defense and protection. Wouldn’t you like to be remembered as a man (or woman) after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13: 14)? If so, then defend the Gospel.
You may recall that in the Old Testament the Israelites took great pains in transporting the Ark of the Covenant. According to the instructions given by God to Moses (Exodus 25:13-15), the Ark was to be carried by staves (poles) on the shoulders of the Levites (1 Chronicles 15:15). However, in 1 Chronicles 13:7-10, contrary to Moses’ specific instructions, they put the Ark on a cart to be pulled by oxen. But the unexpected happened. When “Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled . . . the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him” (1 Chronicles 13:9-10). The Levites, who were the “pastors” of that day, were careless about following Moses’ instructions; and it ended up costing a life. The Ark of the Covenant was a type and foreshadowing of the Gospel. It was sprinkled with blood to symbolize Christ’s death on the Cross. Today, similar to back then, so many pastors and Christian leaders have become careless about the Gospel. If you are one who has grown careless with the Gospel, isn’t it time to make some changes and return to following the instructions of the Lord?
2010 Film “With God on Our Side” – Championed by Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren & Steve Haas (World Vision) – Has Changed the Minds of Evangelicals
By Jan Markell
Olive Tree Ministries
Today, one of the greatest seductions is that there could be world peace if only the Palestinians had a homeland. The film that came out in 2010 titled With God On Our Side is aimed at changing the end-time views of evangelicals and the theology that says the Jews are God’s chosen people and have a divine right to the land of Israel.
Porter Speakman, the movie’s producer, explains that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel. He says there is a theology that doesn’t favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians. Peace would be terrific if Palestinian leadership wanted peace with Israel. They don’t. They want a one-state solution and the destruction of Israel. So whatever theology Speakman refers to is bogus.
“Palestinian Christians lived here for centuries in this land. Suddenly they meet Christian groups of people who say the Palestinians are obstacles to the Second Coming of Christ. You need to move out to make room for the Jewish Diaspora to come here.”
“Anti-Israel activists see American evangelicals as key to U.S. support for Israel. That is why they are targeting evangelicals with messages of pro-Palestinian solidarity as supposedly central to Christian compassion.”
“Anti-Israel activists see American evangelicals as key to U.S. support for Israel. That is why they are targeting evangelicals with messages of pro-Palestinian solidarity as supposedly central to Christian compassion.”
“The film’s main message to evangelicals is that the old religious Right crassly imposed a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy based on its end-time theology, creating untold suffering among largely innocent Palestinians. The film suggests that more thoughtful, more compassionate evangelicals will reject that heritage and instead stand with the Palestinians as the victim group most needing compassion.”
“The film perpetuates a simplistic stereotype alleging that American evangelicals self-servingly only support Israel because a Jewish presence there is central to their blood-thirsty apocalyptic dreams about the second coming of Jesus.”
I hope other evangelicals are as outraged as I am at being called “blood-thirsty.”
To sum it up, Israel and the U.S. are nasty imperialists, and Christian Zionist evangelicals only back the Jews because of perceived abused theology: God will bring the Jews back to the land. It rightfully belongs to them. The last days’ scenario centers around the Jewish people and nation. Say folks, I say we can’t change Scripture although many are trying to do so today!
What is true is that Palestinian leaders and the entire Arab world abuse them, not U.S. imperialism and anybody’s end-time theology. Evangelicals are strong supporters of Islamic evangelism around the world. Many evangelical agencies have been raised up, particularly since 9/11, to reach out to lost Muslims, including Palestinians.
The film With God On Our Side wants increased U.S. pressure on Israel to accommodate Palestinian demands, facilitated by reduced U.S. evangelical support for Israel. It just won’t happen. We are smart enough to know that what they really want is Israel dismantled altogether in favor of a one-state solution: Palestine.
Just what exactly is “Christian Zionism?” It is a movement supporting the return of the Jewish people to their rightful homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. Christians who fit into this category are almost exclusively evangelicals who believe God has a continuing special relationship with the Jews [as opposed to the belief of Replacement Theology]. He has a covenant with them that can never be broken. This is apart from the church. This is based on literal and futurist interpretation of the Bible and the conviction that Old Testament prophecies concerning the Jewish people are being fulfilled today in the State of Israel.
According to the film, With God on Our Side, Christian Zionism and our strange theology have muddied the waters more than any other entity! So, along comes a man who cannot stand the stench of Israel, Stephen Sizer. He is a Church of England priest who has written several anti-Israel books and anti-Christian Zionist books including Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon and Zion’s Christian Soldiers. Here are some more blood-thirsty images!
Sizer insists that the theology of Christian Zionists rejects some ethnic groups such as the Palestinians. He suggests we are using the lens of Bible prophecy and not the lens of justice. Most evangelicals will always choose the lens of the Bible so let Sizer bang his head against the wall in utter frustration. He has a great platform to do so on the program by the so-called “Bible Answerman,” Hank Hanegraaff. Who are some championing this film? Those who usually side with religious Left causes including Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Steve Haas from World Vision, Gary Burge from Wheaton College, and more.
This film came at a time when Barack Obama tried to impose a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. Obama behaved as though he were President of the World, dictating borders and treaties even if one side does not want to participate. He has clashed with the Lord God of Israel, and America may never be the same. What other sovereign nation would put up with this scenario? None.
Gen. David Petraeus has blamed the war on terror on Israel, saying that the perception in the Arab world is that America cannot “stand up to Israel.” As a consequence of that perception, Petraeus said, America was losing support among the moderate Arab states. There are no moderate Arab states. But this is just one more American voice condemning our number-one ally and “the apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8). There was even talk that Barack Obama is going to shut down Israel’s nuclear program. What other nation would be on the receiving end of such abuse?
Some have concluded that Israel, while important, isn’t that important to the United States. The administration has “dug in” on its position and maintains that any Jewish construction in Jerusalem is an “Israeli provocation” and that the price for “peace” is a Palestinian state ethnically cleansed of any Jewish presence.
So those behind this pathetic effort to demonize a group of Christian Zionists and, for that matter, demonize all of Israel, need to do a reality check. There are consequences. Covenants are involved: Genesis 17:6-7; Genesis 12:1-7; Psalm 105:8-15. God is on the side of those with whom He has covenants: Israel and believing Christians who call him Savior. He will never break a covenant. That you can count on. You and I are betting eternity on His trustworthiness. Watching Him perform His promises to Israel should give us great comfort!
Dear Lighthouse Trails Editors,
I recently found your website and have been glued to it everyday, reading all the articles. I admit, I have been in the dark about a lot of the information I’ve read thus far. My husband and I recently left our little country church in rural ________ about 6 months ago. The pastor there is practicing “Spiritual Formation.” He began as a co-pastor, but when the other pastor had to resign due to health reasons, it became evident something wasn’t quite right ever since the co-pastor assumed the position of lead pastor.
On the surface, everything seemed OK, but then we noticed some of the deacons resigned and left church. Some of these folks were friends, whom we had been in Bible studies with, small groups etc. At first, we thought they left because the pastor left. But there was something else we just couldn’t put our finger on. It was Good Friday, and we went to church that evening to be reminded of what Good Friday was really about and what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. Instead, the pastor asked the church a question, something like: “What does Jesus look like to you.”
I have never been at a loss for words and never shy about sharing my testimony. But this was an odd question. As folks around the room shared, I thought to myself, this makes no sense. Awaiting for him to get to the Good Friday message, he ended the service with, “that was great! You were the service tonight!”
After that first “flag,” another one popped up when the pastor introduced “Breath Prayers,” going into the silence, emptying your mind, etc. I thought this sounded a lot like “vain repetitions” to me, and this is not quite right. In my years of sitting under expository preachers, I had never heard the term “breath prayers.”
Attendance was continuing to dwindle; we started to make some phone calls to the deacons who resigned. As our calls were returned one by one, the common thread was the pastor wanted them to read a book by Ruth Haley Barton. I am not sure which one it was, but from what we were told by these deacons, they thought it bordered on occultism.
One friend clarified what the problem was: She told us to look up Spiritual Formation and Ruth Haley Barton. Keeping in mind, the pastor, after being asked to leave a pastoral position at a local multi-site community church, opened his own Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation locally.
So we Googled “Spiritual Formation” and Ruth Haley Barton. The pieces of the puzzle came together quickly. I was referred to your website by a friend and and our eyes were opened, WIDE! The deacons addressed their concerns to the pastor. They felt it was like talking in circles with him. We phoned one of the current sitting deacons and explained the information we researched on Spiritual Formation, etc. He said they [he and the other sitting deacons] read the book by Ruth Haley Barton and loved it. We then told them we will not be attending the church anymore.
We received a phone call from the pastor on a Saturday evening; he was away leading an “SF retreat” and said he “heard” we had a problem. We explained our new found wisdom and told him we did not like his links to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Mysticism, Universalism etc.. that it was not biblical and was occultic. He asked us for a meeting. At first, we agreed but then he asked us not to speak to anyone about our findings before meeting with us. We told him we would not be silent and would share this new-found information with as many as we could. We stand on the Solid Rock, and we know the Truth!
He phoned my husband during the week and left a voice mail to meet. We waited to return the call as we needed time to think and pray about this meeting. A few days later, he called again, and we declined the meeting. After a few more calls to godly folks who had left the church who had tried themselves to convince the pastor of his erroneous ways, we thought our meeting would also be in vain and more like casting pearls before swine.
I have been sharing your articles on my Facebook, and some “church friends” e-mailed me and told me I was being divisive and stirring up strife. We wrote a letter to the current sitting deacons, stating our reasons for leaving and to withdraw our names from the membership. They responded with a letter that the pastor was teaching and practicing “Christian” Spiritual Formation, which is not the same as Spiritual Formation, and we were wrong in our assumptions.
We have been searching for another church in our area. Now that we are on our toes and know what to look for, it has become quite difficult to find a good church home. We are in an area with many churches including many Baptist and community churches and a large Baptist College nearby. Knowing what we know now about SF and Emergent, Contemplative etc., it has proven difficult to settle down anywhere. It’s like choosing the lesser of the evils. One multi-site church is seeker sensitive and Purpose Driven and offers Karate and Yoga. In the other community church, in the next county over, you are in a rock concert during worship, the lights down and the band on the stage singing “to” you not with you.
Anyway, that’s where we are at. I was thinking and praying about doing a Bible study on the Emergent church and SF and Contemplative. Folks in our area have not heard of this. We didn’t until six months ago, and it’s been a revelation. There is only a few of us here who are aware of this movement slithering into our local churches.
In Christ Jesus,
A concerned couple
By Phil Young, M.D.
(Guest writer and missionary)
To grasp fully the temptation involved in contemplative prayer, one needs to go back to the beginning and look at man’s first temptation, that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and its implications. In Genesis chapter one, we are told that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Theologians have argued just what is meant by “created in the image of God.”
Whatever else it means, it is an indication that Adam and Eve were meant to be God’s representatives on planet earth. Following the completion of creation, Adam and Eve were given dominion over that creation, over all animal life on the planet. The creation of Eve from Adam’s body further illustrates what is indicated by this idea of image. Before Eve was created, all the animal world was paraded before Adam, but no animal was found that was “suitable” to be his companion. The idea in the Hebrew word translated “suitable” is that Adam needed a companion who was created in such a fashion that if that individual was standing in front of Adam it would be just as if Adam himself was standing there. In other words, Eve, when she was taken and created from Adam’s body was created in Adam’s image, created as Adam’s perfect representative. Before the fall, one would have received the same answer if one asked the “image” question to either Adam or Eve. Just as Eve was to faithfully represent Adam when he was not present, Adam and Eve were to give a visible presence of God’s character to the creation that had been placed under them. They were to be the representatives of God on planet earth. The more they fellowshipped with God, the better representatives they would become.
Adam and Eve were not created in the image of Yahweh or Jehovah, the word for God that speaks of His essence, but in the image of Elohim, a word for God which hints of the trinity and the interrelationship of that trinity, their creativity and goodness. It was God’s character that Adam and Eve were to represent, not God’s essence. What Adam and Eve were meant to do is seen in the life of Christ. Following the incarnation, as He lived his life here on earth, he never used the power he had as God to meet any of his human needs. Christ used His power as God in His ministry to others. As we see Christ starting his ministry, He was tempted by Satan to change the very rocks in the wilderness into bread when He had been without food during forty days and nights in the wilderness. Satan was tempting Christ to use his power as God to meet his real human hunger. If Christ had done so, if He had used his power as God to meet his own needs, all that his life on earth would have proved is that God can live a life here on earth that is fit for heaven, not that any mere man can be good enough to live a life fit for heaven. Since God cannot die, there would not have been any perfect sacrificial lamb. In other words, Christ had to live as a perfect man to be God’s perfect sacrifice. He could not use His godhood to meet his needs. He answered Satan’s temptation by saying that man is not to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Mankind is to be molded by every single word of God. Christ’s life was a life of complete obedience to God.
Christ as the second Adam was a perfect representation of the character of God. In John 14: 8 when Philip asked Christ to show us (the disciples) God the Father, Christ answered that he who has seen me has seen the Father. Christ, as He lived as a man, was the perfect representation of God’s character here on earth. And as Christians, we seek to be fit vessels to represent Christ to a fallen world to give a picture of God’s character though it is marred through our human weakness.
Look again at the temptation of Adam and Eve. The gist of the temptation was that Adam and Eve would become more like God by disobeying Him. “You shall be as gods knowing good and evil, ‘’ if you will just eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil which God has told you not to eat. Adam and Eve were already created in God’s image, in His character. How could they become more like God? By constantly walking in God’s will the character that God had given them would gradually truly became their own unshakable character. The temptation from Satan was to divorce themselves from God and to do just as they pleased–to live so that that they would ‘know both good and evil’ while ignoring all moral consequences. In the Hebrew Satan told them, “dying, you shall not die.” In other words, when separated from God due to sin, they would not die, they would continue to exist but they would just be divorced from the only source of true life, God. Hell, which is permanent separation from God, is a place of permanent degradation: “Their worm dieth not.” The whole universe is gradually degrading, and in scientific terms, this is called entropy. This is likely because the universe is no longer connected to God in the same way it was before sin. The universe cannot create life and is not life or a living being, the thesis of many Eastern religions, a belief which is in exact opposition to this process of degradation which is seen taking place in the universe. In fact, any system that is degrading had to be created, had to have a beginning; so the universe cannot have existed forever.
We as Christians are sealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who gradually transforms us to be like Christ until the day, we, in character, will be like Christ, when “we see Him as He is” in heaven. The temptation of Contemplative Prayer is in a sense the same one that Adam and Eve faced–to be more like Christ, like God; to be more like Him in character by going outside the provisions of his Word. We already have been given God’s character as we are born again through the provision of Christ’s Calvary sacrifice and obedience to the Word of God. We have God’s character restored through our faith in the second Adam, Christ, and we grow to be more like Him as we are obedient to the Scripture He has given us. The temptation in Contemplative Prayer is to take a path not endorsed by Scripture, a path that ignores the provisions God has given in an effort to draw closer to Christ, an effort to become more like Him through disobedience to His Word. This is parallel to the temptation Adam and Eve faced. In both cases, the temptation involves a good goal—to be more like God. Unfortunately, the result is the same in both cases. We come under Satan’s sway, under his dominion.
We become more like Christ by renewing our mind through God’s Word, not by trying to empty our mind of all rational thought, not by following the same practices the heathen world has used for years. The very process they use involves vain repetition of words in prayer, repeating a word over and over again, a practice which is forbidden by Christ’s admonition to His disciples, not to use vain repetitions. It makes no difference if Christian words like “Jesus” are used. It is the practice of using repeated words to empty one’s mind that is wrong [see Matthew 6:7]. It is evident this practice does not bring the heathen world closer to the true God, so how can Christians think that the practice will draw them closer to Christ? The false spirituality that results is based on an experience, which is divorced from God’s Word. A good goal “to be closer to Christ” can never trump obedience to the Word of God.
Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t) by the editors at Lighthouse Trails is our newest Lighthouse Trails Print Booklet Tract. The Booklet Tract is 16 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklet Tracts are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t), click here.
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.1
Such a definition would hardly send up red flags. 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?).
Richard Foster, the “Father” of the Evangelical Spiritual Formation Movement
Now many evangelical seminaries offer programs in spiritual formation. Renovare, which Richard Foster and others founded in 1989 to cultivate spiritual formation (especially among evangelicals), today offers retreats and resources worldwide.2
In 1989, Richard Foster began an organization called Renovare, but eleven years earlier (1978) his book Celebration of Discipline first came out, and that has been a Spiritual Formation primer ever since. The following quote by Foster, written in a “pastoral letter” sheds light on the roots of Spiritual Formation (the Catholic Church) as well as how prolific it is today:
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.3
Countless evangelical leaders have gotten on Foster’s Spiritual Formation bandwagon. One example is Rick Warren who considers the Spiritual Formation movement to be a worthy wake-up call to the evangelical church:
From time to time God has raised up a parachurch movement to reemphasize a neglected purpose of the church. . . . [the] Spiritual Formation Movement. A reemphasis on developing believers to full maturity has been the focus . . . authors such as . . . Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have underscored the importance of building up Christians and establishing personal spiritual disciplines. . . . [this] movement has a valid message for the church . . . [it] has given the body a wake-up call.4
There are some who are deeply concerned about this movement. Author and missionary Roger Oakland expresses concern about this supposedly “valid message” and says Spiritual Formation came upon the church like an unsuspecting avalanche:
A move away from the truth of God’s Word to a mystical form of Christianity has infiltrated, to some degree, nearly all evangelical denominations. Few Bible teachers saw this avalanche coming. Now that it is underway, most do not realize it has even happened.5
Oakland explains how this paradigm shift has come about:
As the Word of God becomes less and less important, the rise in mystical experiences escalates, and these experiences are presented to convince the unsuspecting that Christianity is about feeling, touching, smelling, and seeing God. The postmodern mindset is the perfect environment for fostering Spiritual Formation. This term suggests there are various ways and means to get closer to God and to emulate him.6
So exactly what is Spiritual Formation, and what is its premise? In this booklet, we hope to answer these questions.
The Merton Effect
When Richard Foster told research analyst and author Ray Yungen that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people,”7 what he meant was that Thomas Merton saw one element missing within Christianity—the mystical element. Merton had learned from a Hindu swami named Dr. Bramachari that one could obtain mystical properties from Catholic mystics like the Desert Fathers and didn’t need to leave one’s own tradition to do it.8 But Merton realized that most Christians didn’t know about this. So, he set out to bring mysticism (i.e., contemplative prayer) to the Catholic and Christian world. However, Merton died a sudden early death in 1968 and was unable to accomplish his goal. But somewhere between 1968 and 1978, Richard Foster picked up the mantle of Thomas Merton and carried it forward.* Now today, untold numbers of churches (and millions of people) are going forth with Thomas Merton’s (and Richard Foster’s) message of Spiritual Formation. To understand the true nature of Spiritual Formation, consider the following quotes by Thomas Merton, Richard Foster’s mentor:
I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.9
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . . now I realize what we all are. . . . If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. . . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth. . . . This little point . . . is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody.10 (emphasis mine)
I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian [mystical] traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions.11
The most important need in the Christian world today is this inner truth nourished by this Spirit of contemplation . . . Without contemplation and interior prayer the Church cannot fulfill her mission to transform and save mankind.12
This “Spirit of contemplation” is what fuels the Spiritual Formation movement. Merton believed that God dwelled in all people and that we are, in fact, all a part of God. Richard Foster has done much to carry forward Merton’s message through the Spiritual Formation movement. The question you must ask yourself is, do you believe what Merton said? If not, then Spiritual Formation does not belong in your church or in your family’s spiritual structure.
In essence, Spiritual Formation is carrying on the Hindu message of: God is in all things (panentheism), and God is all things (pantheism). If such a message is true, then the Gospel message of Jesus Christ—that man is sinful, that he is heading for eternal destruction because of sin, and that he needs a Savior—would become null and void.
Richard Foster’s Meditative Prayer
For more insight into the backbone of Spiritual Formation, let us turn to a small book Richard Foster wrote called Meditative Prayer. Foster says that the purpose of meditative prayer is to create a “spiritual space” or “inner sanctuary” through “specific meditation exercises”13 Foster references several mystics in the book who can point the way to these exercises: Madame Guyon, Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton. Foster breaks the contemplative process down into three steps. He says:
The first step [into meditative prayer] is sometimes called “centering down.” Others have used the term re-collection; that is, a re-collecting of ourselves until we are unified or whole. The idea is to let go of all competing distractions until we are truly centered, until we are truly present where we are.14
Foster suggests that practicing visualization methods helps us center down. In the second step of meditation, Foster suggests that mystic Richard Rolle experienced “physical sensations”15 (kundalini) during meditation which perhaps we may or may not experience as well.16 Step three of meditation, Foster says, is that of “listening” to God. Once the meditative exercises have been implemented and the “spiritual ecstasy” is reached, this entered realm is where the voice of God can be heard.17 However, as any New Age meditator knows, this ecstatic state is an altered state of consciousness where everything is supposed to be unified and one with God. Foster acknowledges the interspiritual attribute linked to contemplative prayer when he states: “[Jesus] showed us God’s yearning for the gathering of an all-inclusive community of loving persons.”18 Foster defines more of what he means by “all-inclusive” in his book Streams of Living Water when he says this “all-inclusive community” includes everything from a “Catholic monk” to a “Baptist evangelist.”19
Two Spiritual Formation Practices:
Oftentimes, Richard Foster has made favorable reference to the practice of lectio divina, which is being heralded in many Christian settings as a Christian, biblical practice. People are persuaded to believe that repeating words and short phrases of Scripture over and over again is a deeper way to know God. They believe that since it is Scripture being repeated (and not just any words), then this validates the practice and that this sacred reading is sacred because it is the Bible being used. But Foster himself proves that it has nothing to do with Scripture. It’s the repetition that is effective, not the words. He states:
[L]ectio divina includes more than the Bible. There are the lives of the saints and the writings which have proceeded from their profound [mystical] experiences.21
Foster obliterates the supposed premise of lectio divina by saying this. That is because as a meditation proponent, he knows that meditation has nothing to do with which words are repeated over and over; it is the repetition itself that puts one into an altered state. Thus whether you say “Jesus,” “Abba,” “Buddha,” or “OM,” it produces exactly the same effect.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are named after the founder of the Catholic Jesuit Order and have typically been used by Catholics. However, according to one source, “[b]eginning in the 1980s, Protestants have had a growing interest in the Spiritual Exercises. There are adaptations that are specific to Protestants which emphasize the exercises as a school of contemplative prayer.”22 Traditionally, Ignatian Spirituality is practiced in a retreat center setting usually with the assistance of a spiritual director. As with other Spiritual Formation exercises, it is believed that if the Ignatian exercises are practiced, the practitioner can conquer self and become more Christ-like (this is why Ignatian Spirituality is often included in Spiritual Formation programs).
When the Catholic church elected their new pope (Pope Francis), a statement was issued from the AJCU (Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities) reaffirming the pope’s “Ignatian spirituality,” stating that:
All Jesuits share the experience of a rigorous spiritual formation process marked by a transformative experience with the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.23
Spiritual Formation—A Dangerous Substitute For the Life of Christ
Sometimes we think of spiritual formation as formation by the Holy Spirit. Once again. That’s essential. . . . But now I have to say something that may be challenging for you to think about: Spiritual formation is not all by the Holy Spirit. . . . We have to recognize that spiritual formation in us is something that is also done to us by those around us, by ourselves, and by activities which we voluntarily undertake . . .There has to be method.24—Dallas Willard
Aside from the fact that Spiritual Formation incorporates mystical practices into its infrastructure (remove the contemplative aspect and you don’t have “Spiritual Formation” anymore), Spiritual Formation is a works-based substitute for biblical Christianity. Let us explain.
When one becomes born again (“that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9-10), having given his or her life and heart over to Christ as Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ says He will come in and live in that surrendered heart:
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Colossians 1:27)
[I]f the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:11; emphasis added)
When God, through Jesus Christ, is living in us, He begins to do a transforming work in our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:18). Not only does He change us, He also communes with us. In other words, we have fellowship with Him, and He promises never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
This life of God in the believer’s heart is not something we need to conjure up through meditative practices. But if a person does not have this relationship with the Lord, he may seek out ways to feel close to God. This is where Spiritual Formation comes into play. Rather than a surrendered life to Christ, the seeking person begins practicing the spiritual disciplines (e.g., prayer, fasting, good works, etc.) with the promise that if he practices these disciplines, he will become more Christ-like.
But merely doing these acts fails to make one feel close to God—something is still missing. And thus, he begins practicing the discipline of silence (or solitude), and now in these altered states of silence, he finally feels connected to God. He now feels complete. What he does not understand is that he has substituted the indwelling of Christ in his heart for a works-based methodology that endangers his spiritual life. Dangerous because these mystical experiences he now engages in appear to be good because they make him feel close to God, but in reality he is being drawn into demonic realms no different than what happens to someone who is practicing transcendental meditation or eastern meditation. Even mystics themselves acknowledge that the contemplative realm is no different than the realm reached by occultists. To understand this more fully, please read Ray Yungen’s book A Time of Departing.
Bottom line, it is not possible to be truly Christ-like without having Christ inside of us because it is He who is able to change our hearts—we cannot do it without Him.
It is interesting to note that virtually every contemplative teacher has a common theme—they feel dry and empty and want to go “deeper” with God or “become more intimate” with God. But if we have Christ living in us, how can we go any deeper than that? How can we become more intimate than that? And if going deeper and becoming intimate were so important, why is it that none of the disciples or Jesus Himself ever told us to do this? As Larry DeBruyn states:
Why are Christians seeking a divine presence that Jesus promised would abundantly flow in them? . . . Why do they need another voice, another visitation, or another vision? Why are some people unthankfully desirous of “something more” than what God has already given to us? Why is it that some Christians, in the depth of their souls, are not seemingly at rest?25
Dallas Willard and the “Fruit” of Spiritual Formation
As we mentioned earlier, Rick Warren identified Dallas Willard as a key player in the Spiritual Formation movement. Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines has become a classic within the movement. The book is filled with references to and quotes by numerous contemplative mystic figures including universalists and interspiritualists (e.g., Nouwen, Merton, Meister Eckhart, George Fox) as well as some names that would fall in the New Age/New Spirituality camp (e.g., Agnes Sanford and M. Scott Peck). And in the bibliography, there is The Cloud of Unknowing, (an ancient primer on contemplative prayer), the Desert Fathers, atonement denier Harry Fosdick, Ignatius of Loyola, Carl Jung, the mystic philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, Evelyn Underhill, and Teresa of Avila. All of these names are in Willard’s book for one reason only—because he resonates with their spiritual viewpoints. And while The Spirit of the Disciplines was released back in the late 80s, Willard maintained his affinity with most of these figures. On his website, many of these names are recommended as viable resources for spiritual growth.
A Lighthouse Trails article titled “The ‘New’ Emerging Theology Breeds Atheism in a Generation of Young People” tells about a young man who after sitting under Dallas Willard for four years at university declared himself an atheist. We asked the question, how could a young man raised in a solid Christian home change his views so drastically? It happened, and it is happening to countless young people who are sitting under the feet of bridgers—people like Dallas Willard who point their protégées to panentheists, universalists, and mystics. Another young man, whom we came across who was looking for answers, found them by turning to Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. Listen to what he found:
I bumped into the classic spiritual disciplines while taking a course called “Dynamics of Christian Life” in my second year of Bible school. One of our textbooks was The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. The course and textbook only touched on the actual disciplines, but the concept captivated me. The following spring, I found a copy of Richard Foster’s spiritual classic Celebration of Discipline in a used bookstore. Opening it and discovering each discipline [including the contemplative] detailed chapter by chapter, I felt a profound sense of joy and excitement. I’d found a real treasure.26
Later, this young man became a free-lance writer for the emergent organization, Youth Specialties. Listen to where the spirituality of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster led him:
I built myself a prayer room—a tiny sanctuary in a basement closet filled with books on spiritual disciplines, contemplative prayer, and Christian mysticism. In that space I lit candles, burned incense, hung rosaries, and listened to tapes of Benedictine monks. I meditated for hours on words, images, and sounds. I reached the point of being able to achieve alpha brain patterns, the state in which dreams occur, while still awake and meditating.27
For those not familiar with what the “alpha brain patterns” are, here are two descriptions:
Mystical states of consciousness happen in the alpha state . . . The Alpha State also occurs voluntarily during light hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback, day dreaming, hypnogogic and hypnapompic states.28
Alpha is the springboard for all psychic and magical workings. It is the heart of witchcraft.29
And from Richard Foster himself:
If you feel we live in a purely physical universe, you will view meditation as a good way to obtain a consistent alpha brain wave pattern.30
What happened to Perschon and others like him is tragic. And we just cannot fathom the idea that not only will Willard’s influence continue on long after he has been gone from this planet (he died in 2013), but Christian leaders who should understand the dynamics of this movement will continue promoting him.
Is There a “Good” Spiritual Formation?
One of the most common arguments we hear defending Spiritual Formation is that there is a “good” Spiritual Formation done without contemplative prayer. To that we say, we have never yet seen a Spiritual Formation program in a school or a church that doesn’t in some way point people to the contemplative mystics. It might be indirectly, but in every case, if you follow the trail, it will lead you right into the arms of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and other contemplative teachers.
Think about this common scenario: A Christian college decides to begin a Spiritual Formation course. The instructor has heard some negative things about Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, and Brennan Manning, and he figures he will teach the class good Spiritual Formation and leave those teachers completely out. But he’s going to need a textbook. He turns to a respected institution, Dallas Theological Seminary, and finds a book written by Paul Pettit, Professor in Pastoral and Education Ministries. The book is titled Foundations of Spiritual Formation. The instructor who has found this book to use in his own class may never mention Richard Foster or Dallas Willard, but the textbook he is using does. Within the pages of Pettit’s book is Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Thomas Aquinas, Lectio Divina, Ayn Rand, Parker Palmer, Eugene Peterson, J.P. Moreland, Klaus Issler, Bruce Dermerst, Jim Burns, Kenneth Boa and Brother Lawrence’s “practicing God’s presence.” You may not have heard of all these names, but they are all associated with the contemplative prayer movement and the emerging church.
Another example of this is Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Whitney is Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. While his book does not promote contemplative mysticism, he says that Richard Foster has “done much good”31 in the area of Christian spirituality.
Our point is that even if there is a sincere attempt to teach Spiritual Formation and stay away from the mystical side, we contend that it cannot be successfully accomplished because it will always lead back to the ones who have brought it to the church in the first place.
Spiritual Direction with Spiritual Directors
Basically, the term “spiritual direction” is part of the contemplative prayer movement (i.e., Spiritual Formation movement). Contemplative teachers say that one must have a “spiritual director” to “teach” or guide him or her how to enter into the silence of contemplative prayer. The spiritual director will provide books and resources by contemplative authors and direct his or her student on how to implement these authors’ spiritual practices. Ruth Haley Barton, a contemplative advocate who teaches thousands of pastors and Christian leaders about Spiritual Formation said this about her own spiritual director:
I sought out a spiritual director, someone well versed in the ways of the soul . . . eventually this wise woman said to me . . . “What you need is stillness and silence so that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.” . . . I decided to accept this invitation to move beyond my addiction to words.32
A Christianity Today article, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?,”33 confirms two things, one that spiritual direction is contemplative, and two that it is on its way to becoming an integral part of evangelical Christianity. The article explains that popular Christian author Larry Crabb changed his views. Once a believer in psychology, he switched to spiritual direction. He is just one of many who have done this.
The article credits contemplatives (mystics) such as John Cassian and Ignatius of Loyola for getting spiritual direction into the church and suggests that we can learn more about it from Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard.
In Ruth Haley Barton’s* book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Barton admits that panentheist Catholic priest Thomas Keating helped her to understand the contemplative idea of “the true self” (man’s divinity):
The concept of the true self and the false self is a consistent theme not only in Scripture but also in the writings of the church fathers and mothers. Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen (particularly Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart) and Father Thomas Keating are contemporary authors who have shaped my understanding of this aspect of the spiritual life.34
Merton, Nouwen, and Keating believe that man can attain to his “true self” (perfect self) through mystical practices. This is actually the crux of the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer) movement, that man realizes his divinity through mystical experiences.
Spiritual formation is sweeping quickly throughout Christianity today. It’s no wonder when the majority of Christian leaders have either endorsed the movement or given it a silent pass. For instance, in Chuck Swindoll’s book So You Want to Be Like Christ: 8 Essential Disciplines to Get Your There, Swindoll favorably quotes Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Swindoll calls Celebration of Discipline a “meaningful work”35 and Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines “excellent work.”36 In chapter three,”Silence and Solitude,” Swindoll talks about “digging for secrets . . . that will deepen our intimacy with God.”37 Quoting the contemplative poster-verse Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” Swindoll says the verse is a call to the “discipline of silence.”38 As other contemplative proponents have done, he has taken this verse very much out of context.
Roger Oakland sums it up:
The Spiritual Formation movement . . . teaches people that this is how they can become more intimate with God and truly hear His voice. Even Christian leaders with longstanding reputations of teaching God’s word seem to be succumbing. . . .
We are reconciled to God only through his “death” (the atonement for sin), and we are presented “holy and unblameable and unreproveable” when we belong to Him through rebirth. It has nothing to do with works, rituals, or mystical experiences. It is Christ’s life in the converted believer that transforms him.39
What Christians need is not a method or program or ritual or practice that will supposedly connect them to God. What we need is to be “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:30) and Christ in us. And He has promised His Spirit “will guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13).
In Colossians 1:9, the apostle Paul tells the saints that he was praying for them that they “might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” He was praying that they would have discernment (“spiritual understanding”). He said that God, the Father, has made us “partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (vs 12) and had “delivered us from the power of darkness [i.e., power of deception]” (vs. 13). But what was the key to having this wisdom and spiritual understanding and being delivered from the power of darkness? Paul tells us in that same chapter. He calls it “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints” (vs. 26). What is that mystery? Verse 27 says: “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
For those wanting to get involved with the Spiritual Formation movement (i.e., contemplative, spiritual direction), consider the “direction” you will actually be going.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2: 8-10)
To order copies of Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t), click here.
1. Even Howard, Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation (Christianity Today, 12/9/2002)
3. Richard Foster, “Heart to Heart: On Christian Spiritual Formation” (Renovare, May 2003, http://blog.renovare.org/2003/05/20/heart-to-heart-on-christian-spiritual-formation).
4. Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), p. 126.
5. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 2007), pp. 90-92.
7. Richard Foster to Ray Yungen at a seminar in Salem, Oregon in the 1990s.
8. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 2006, 2nd ed., 5th and later printings), p. 199.
9. David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969).
10. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Publishers, 1989), pp. 157-158.
11. William Shannon, Silent Lamp, The Thomas Merton Story (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), p. 276.
12. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York, NY: Image Books, Doubleday Pub., 1989), pp. 115-116. (These 4 Merton quotes are originally cited by Ray Yungen in A Time of Departing).
13. Richard Foster, Meditative Prayer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1983), p. 9.
15. Ibid., p. 17.
16. Ibid., p. 18.
17. Ibid., p. 23.
18. Ibid., p. 5.
19. Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water ( (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1st HarperCollins Paperback ed., 2001), p. 12.
20. Berit Kjos, How to Protect Your Child From the New Age & Spiritual Deception (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails, 1st Lighthouse Trails ed., 2013), p. 267.
21. Richard Foster, Meditative Prayer, op. cit., p. 25.
24. Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation: What it is, and How it is Done” (http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=58).
25. Larry DeBruyn, “The Practice of His Presence” (http://herescope.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-present-of-his-presence.html).
26. Mike Perschon, “Disciplines, Mystics and the Contemplative Life” (http://web.archive.org/web/20070206150740/http://www.youthspecialties.com/articles/topics/spirituality/desert.php).
28. Dr. Andre Eggelletion, as told by Dr. Lee Warren, B.A., D.D.
29. Laurie Cabot, Power Of The Witch, (New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, 1989), p. 183.
30. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1998 ed.), p. 22.
31. Donald Whitney, “Doctrine and Devotion: A Reunion Devoutly to be Desired” (http://web.archive.org/web/20080828052145/http://biblicalspirituality.org/devotion.html).
32. Ruth Haley Barton, “Beyond Words” (Discipleship Journal, Issue #113, September/October, 1999, http://www. navpress.com/EPubs/DisplayArticle/1/1.113.13.html), p. 35.
33. Chris Armstrong and Steven Gertz, “Got Your Spiritual Director Yet?” (Christianity Today, April 1, 2003, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/aprilweb-only/4-28-51.0.html).
34. Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downer Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004), p. 160.
35. Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ: 8 Essential Disciplines to Get You There (Nashville, TN:W Publishing Group, a div. of Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. 15.
36. Ibid., p. 13.
37. Ibid., p. 55.
39. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone, op. cit., pp. 91-92.
To order copies of Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t), click here.
To better understand the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer movement, read A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.