It seems that men and women often are searching for the next great experience. Whether this is religious or purely carnal, mankind’s affinity for the subjective often overwhelms his reason. No doubt this has largely contributed to the popularity of such things as contemplative prayer and other spiritual formation practices among professing Christians. Because many of the elements of spiritual formation have their roots in Roman Catholic mysticism, it comes as no surprise when yet another popular Roman Catholic trend trickles into evangelicalism. Such may be the case with the concept of spiritual direction and spiritual directors.
A recent Christian Post (CP) article states that,
If your resolution this year is to have a better relationship with God, a spiritual director might just help you keep it. Source
What CP neglects to mention is that one’s faith does not come by means of a spiritual director, but from God Himself (Eph. 2:8–9). Not only that, it is God Who keeps the Christian in his faith (Jude 24), sanctifying him by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13). Perhaps a more effective approach to “a better relationship with God” would be for one to seek to know Him through the Word that He has provided.
Nevertheless, to support this statement, CP turns to Roman Catholic Dan Burke, executive director of the National Catholic Register and author of the book, Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. According to the book’s website, spiritual direction is
- Understanding the general direction or trajectory of one’s soul
- Working with a spiritual guide to help unite one’s soul to God and find peace and joy through the pursuit of His will and ways
- A process of growing in holiness
Spiritual direction is quite popular within Roman Catholicism, with the Catholic Encyclopedia offering the following:
In the technical sense of the term, spiritual direction is that function of the sacred ministry by which the Church guides the faithful to the attainment of eternal happiness. It is part of the commission given to her in the words of Christ: “Going, therefore, teach ye all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19 sq.). She exercises this function both in her public teaching, whether in word or writing, and in the private guidance of souls according to their individual needs; but it is the private guidance that is generally understood by the term “spiritual direction”. Source
The Catholic Encyclopedia further addresses the potential mystical elements of spiritual direction:
Another marked difference in the direction of souls arises from the presence or absence of the mystical element in the life of the person to be directed. Mysticism involves peculiar modes of action by which the Holy Ghost illumines a soul in ways which transcend the normal use of the reasoning powers. Source
Once this mystical element is acknowledged, the Christian who relies upon God’s Word as the sole source of objective truth must pause in rightful caution. Yet could it be that it is this very appeal to emotional experiences that allows for the growing popularity of spiritual direction, even beyond the so-called Christian realm?
A May 2012 Boston Globe article reported on the growing demand for spiritual directors, noting that many millennials who consider themselves to be “spiritual but not religious” are turning to these individuals for guidance. The article quotes a “young, evangelical Christian” pastrix, Michelle Sanchez, as saying,
“So many religious traditions end up feeling quite divorced from your everyday life and experience, so it’s essentially irrelevant,’’ she said. “I think people are tired of that, and I think they hunger for a God they can experience, that is relevant, and close, and that can actually transform them.’’ Source
This article also describes a 25-year-old musician who does not attend church but who will spend an hour every three weeks “with a gentle, bearded man in a quiet room with gleaming oak floors [talking] about the experiences that most awaken her spirit, the people who make her feel most connected and alive.”
Spiritual direction may be a way to indulge one’s narcissistic tendencies for a time, but should it be something to which the Christian turns to improve his relationship with God?
Spiritual Directors International (SDI) is one of the largest organizations of its kind. A visitor to the SDI website can quickly locate spiritual directors of varying faiths within his own city. The aforementioned Christian Post article even references this organization as a “good place to start” for those who may be seeking spiritual direction. From the SDI website:
Also known as spiritual companions or spiritual guides, spiritual directors help people discover how God is truly with them every day and everywhere. Around the world, spiritual direction is cultivating communities of peace and compassion through the contemplative practice of sacred listening. Source
Here again the mystical elements of spiritual direction become evident. The language used here is not unlike that used by proponents of contemplative prayer and spiritual formation. The professing Christian who practices such things often does so under the guise of seeking to “hear from God.” Yet, when seeking to “hear from God,” there is no biblical guidance as to how one may determine exactly who or what is communicating. Such practices, then, may open wide a door to supernatural experiences and influence that does not find its origin in God.
Delving further into the SDI website offers additional confirmation that the Christian should not pursue involvement in such activities:
Do you want to be part of a global contemplative movement that contributes to peace, justice, and living in right relationship with all creation? Together we are changing the world through the contemplative action of spiritual direction….
Spiritual Directors International is a global learning community of people from many faiths and many nations who share a common passion and commitment to the art and contemplative practice of spiritual direction, known as spiritual companionship, spiritual guidance, anam cara in Gaelic, and mashpiah in Hebrew….
SDI has a vibrant membership of more than six thousand individuals on six continents who represent forty-five spiritual traditions, from Anabaptists to Zen Buddhists and many spiritual traditions in between. Everyone is welcome to join this rich learning community.
It is clear that this is not only a mystical endeavor, but an ecumenical one as well. SDI and its spiritual directors do not appear to seek the change that results when a man repents of his sin and turns to Christ for salvation, but rather seeks to further an agenda of social change through “contemplative action.”
One also wonders how it is that spiritual directors of varying faiths can help a person to know “how God is truly with them every day and everywhere”? As Scripture tells us, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
The Christian ought to know that he cannot unite with other faiths in such endeavors as “spiritual companionship,” for in this world there are only two spirits of influence: the Holy Spirit of God and the spirit of antichrist, or Satan. The man whose God is not Jesus Christ will one day discover that his god on this earth was Satan himself, regardless of what name he was called.
It may rightly be deduced that the growing influence of spiritual direction and spiritual directors is yet another means of deception by the father of lies (John 8:44). The gospel presented above to seek a “global contemplative movement” of peace, justice, etc., is not a saving gospel. It offers an ideal example of why it is that the Christian must turn, not to pleasant, fleeting experiences, but to the only word of truth as provided by God in Scripture.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17
The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. Ps. 119:160
As the appeal of the concept of a spiritual director is ushered into evangelicalism from Roman Catholicism, let the Christian be ever mindful of Paul’s admonition to the Galatians:
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. Gal. 1:8–9
Further, let the words of Peter, who himself was privy to a great experience in witnessing the Transfiguration, remind of the importance and value of the written Word of God:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16–21
The truth of God and the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is contained in His Word. This should not be abandoned for a wild goose chase into one’s own mind as guided by a spiritual director. Rather, let the Christian turn to the source, God Himself, for true spiritual direction, boldly approaching His throne in prayer (Heb. 4:16) and eagerly seeking to know Him through His Word. Let His Word be read, taught and proclaimed. It is, after all, through the proclamation of this great Word that men may be saved (Rom. 10:17).