There are many popular quasi- and pseudo-Christian spiritualities in existence today. The “Christian” bestsellers typically include books about spirituality without a clear explanation of or belief in the gospel. Some popular “Christian” authors deny key aspects of the historic faith and others talk about being spiritual without much dependence on Scripture. You can find bestselling books about someone supposedly going to heaven and you can read a book that puts words in Jesus’ mouth. Most of the time, these spiritualities are quite man centered, focused on internal feelings and emotions.
These things have happened before in history. For just one example, after the Reformation there were radical reforming groups such as the Anabaptists – some of whom rejected the written Word of God only to focus on the inner voice/word/light (called “mysticism”). Around 1700, Dutch Reformed pastor Wilhelmus a Brakel even addressed this pietism/quietism/mysticism in his systematic theology, since Quakers, Pietists, and other such sects had come on the scene. The chapter is called, “A Warning Exhortation Against Pietists, Quietists, and all Who in a Similar Manner have Deviated to a Natural and Spiritless Religion under the Guise of Spirituality.” In this chapter, Brakel gives 6 propositions to help Christians stand firm in biblical spirituality and avoid quasi- and pseudo-Christian spiritualities. Here’s an edited summary:
1) A Christian must have great love for the truth; all splendid pretense void of love for the truth is deceit. The truth is the way of salvation as revealed by God in his Word (John 17:17, Eph. 1:13). There is no other way unto salvation but one. Christ’s church has this truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and it is the means whereby God draws sinners out of darkness (James 1:18, 1 Pet. 1:23). God’s truth in Scripture is what true faith rests upon and what our life must be regulated by. We are obligated to stand on this truth and uphold it – we must never trifle with the truth.
2) A Christian must have great love and esteem for the church (Ps. 27:4, 122:1-2). The church is the congregation of the living God (Rom. 9:26), his people whom he loves. Who would not have the highest esteem for the church which as God and the Lord Jesus as King? How can one claim to love God and love the church – his children – an not have esteem for her? (1 John 5:1). If you do not love the brothers, you certainly do not love God – regardless of what you may say.
3) The Holy Scriptures are the only rule for doctrine and life. In the Word all saving truth is comprehended, upon which the church is built, and which God has given to the church for the purpose of spreading and preserving the truth. This the Pietists either reject or minimize. The Word is everything to the church. There is no church without the Word and there is no Word without the church. He who wishes to live godly and desires to be saved must regulate his intellect, will, affections, words, deeds, and entire religion according to this Word.
4) Regeneration is the originating cause of true spiritual life, and of all spiritual thoughts and deeds (Luke 6:45, Rom. 8:5). A person can appear to be very religious and spiritual, which even shows up in the writings of pagans, but if a person is not regenerated by God, this religion and spirituality is nothing but darkness and pollution, and not worthy of being called spiritual. Regeneration is not separating yourself from the world; it is not ‘sinking away in God;’ it is not losing sight of yourself. Rather, it is a complete change of man wrought by the Holy Spirit through the Word. It is being brought from death to life and involves the whole man.
5) A Christian continually avails himself of faith. True religion means going to Christ, receiving him and entrusting yourself entirely to him. Faith in Christ is a daily exercise, a daily reality. It is not as if one can believe a few times, and then move along. Rather, one exercises faith as long as he lives. Although true faith waxes and wanes, it constantly trusts in Jesus.
6) All of man’s felicity, here and hereafter, consists in communion with and the beholding of God. God savingly reveals himself to his reconciled children who presently believe in him, and thus not to the world – not to unconverted and natural men (Mt. 11:27, John 6:46, 2 Cor. 4:6, etc). Many unconverted engage themselves in beholding God by means of their natural light. They speak about divine meditations, doing so with expressions which are lofty as their imaginations can devise. But we must follow the advice of the apostle: Believe not every spirit, but test the spirits… (1 John 4:1). To follow one’s own spirit and ideas, as if they were from the Holy Spirit, is to run to one’s own destruction. Therefore it behooves all Christians to live in the presence of God, avail themselves to his will found in the Word, and to heed the Spirit speaking in the Word.
We need these propositions today as much as God’s people did in 1700! Remember, not every spirituality and religious thought is biblical and Christian. Brakel’s six propositions, which are based on the Word, will help us steer clear of false spiritualities and religions and help keep our feet firmly planted in the historic Christian faith.
You can read the entire chapter in volume 2 of Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service.