True and False Spirituality

A year ago I blogged about Adventist Spirituality. Adventists aren’t used to using the terms “spirituality” or “spiritual formation” or “spiritual disciplines.” Yet Adventists certainly engage in practices that may be referred to as “spiritual disciplines”: prayer, fasting, the Sabbath, a wholistic lifestyle, Bible study, personal devotions, small groups, etc.

I define spirituality as “the lived experience of a personal relationship with God.” Some reflect on that experience and, in the words of Gustavo Gutierrez, propose it “to the entire ecclesial community as a way of being disciples of Christ.”

There are lots of things in the contemporary world under the heading of spirituality, however. How do we decide what is true and what is false? In that article, I suggested that Seventh-day Adventist spirituality is rooted in (1) our understanding of the person of Jesus, his work, and our relationship with him, (2) a Biblical understanding of the human person, and (3) a proper distinction between the Creator and all creatures, reflected in the worship we offer to God.

False spiritualities will have an unbiblical understanding of Jesus or our relationship with him. For example, they may deny his uniqueness, and suggest that all paths are equal. They may suggest our relationship with him is based on works rather than grace–they may, as in spiritualities rooted in Neoplatonism, speak of our ascent to him, instead of his descent to us in the incarnation.

False spiritualities will have an unbiblical understanding of the human person. They may see us as divine, or as having a spark of divinity. They may be focused solely on getting the soul to heaven, with no regard to our life on earth. They may devalue the body, and seek to punish it. They may see us in isolation from one another, instead of members of a human community.

False spiritualities will have an unbiblical understanding of the relationship between the Creator and the creature. They may blur the line, suggesting we are divine, or immortal, or they may suggest our relationship with God is based on our human efforts, as has already been suggested.

I’m going to be wary of any spiritual practice that is focused on me or what I must do, that seeks God inside of me or gives a ladder for ascent to God. I’m going to reject any that have more in common with Buddhism or Hinduism than the Sermon on the Mount. I’m going to steer clear of those that depend upon the philosophy and metaphysics of pagan authors, whether Plato or Jung.

But with those cautions, I’m willing to learn from all Christians, Adventist or Lutheran, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox … I’m just going to judge all they say by the clear teachings of Scripture, and whether they speak truthfully about Jesus, mankind, and help me to grow in that relationship and in my relationships with others.

3 thoughts on “True and False Spirituality

  1. Sound and relevant! New Spirituality is sweeping the Protestant church and renewing the Catholic. Many paths they call “emerging.” All seek to “find the god within.” They are tired of boring sermons and dead church services. They want conversation instead of sermons, experience trumps theology, etc. Courage and peace, Bill. Cheers, Herb

  2. If the teachings of scripture were especially clear, there wouldn’t be so many different Christian denominations and such a range of views on how scripture is to be understood – from the far right to the far left and everything in between.

    What we know as the Bible is a multiauthored anthology written by many authors over thousands of years and only officially canonized as a sacred text – with certain books rejected and others accepted for inclusion – by church councils in relatively recent centuries.

    To me, it isn’t surprising that it’s not the kind of clear writing that you’d get from a single author source. What verses we choose to emphasize says as much about us as it does this highly complex text.

  3. That’s a version of history that is given as a justification for Church precedence over the Word of God, but it’s false. What we call the Old Testament is the Tanakh of the Jewish people–it was settled well before the first church council got to talking about it. As to the New Testament, there was broad consensus on its content in the mid second century. This is why the Fathers of the Catholic Church all point to it as the safeguard against the multiplicity of heresies abounding in their day.

    And Christians have always affirmed the unity of Scripture, because God is its ultimate author, revealing himself to men and safeguarding that revelation. That’s what makes Scripture authoritative, not the decisions of a 16th century European council. Jerome and Augustine were pretty confident of that fact.

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