Christians have a genuine relationship with Christ, and Christian spirituality involves drawing near to Him daily in prayer and being used in God-given gifts. Nevertheless, there are counterfeits of this spirituality – counterfeits that often make people feel and appear as though they possess an elevated other-worldliness that surpasses the humdrum, banal experience of “less spiritual” believers.
I have observed this phenomenon many times, and although demonic spirits may be involved in sidetracking Christian spirituality, I believe the root of most pseudo-spirituality is pride. Paul spoke of a “puffed up” spirit that inspired the purported revelations of people in the church who thought themselves to be super-spiritual:
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” — Colossians 2:18-19 NASB
The imagined revelations of the Colossian heretics are said to be inspired by an inflated, fleshy mind. A. T. Robertson notes that these pseudo-spiritual heretics were “Vainly puffed up (eikei phusiomenos). Present passive participle of phusioo, late and vivid verb from phusa, a pair of bellows…” 1
In The Berkeley Version of the New Testament, Gerrit Verkuyl translates the latter part of verse eighteen by saying the pseudo-spiritual person, “though empty, is inflated by his worldly mind.” Peter T. O’Brien says “The cause of this conceit was ‘the mind of his flesh’…that means the attitude and outlook which are characteristic of the old nature, dominated by the flesh.” 2
Pseudo-spiritual revelations in the contemporary church generally cater to the ego of the one who is giving the alleged revelation or the one(s) to whom the revelation is spoken. One does not hear from the pseudo-spiritual, for example, that God has revealed that someone or some group will live an ordinary life with modest outcomes in their endeavors. They seem to think that a big God will always speak of big and exciting outcomes or achievements, though the big things with which God is most concerned relate to godly living rather than exciting developments in the lives of His people. Pseudo-spiritual revelations emanate from a puffed up spirit and generally feed hungry egos.
The false revelations of the Colossian heretics involved an asceticism, in which the practitioners felt superior to “ordinary” Christians. Similarly, some believers today seem to want to achieve a reputation as being especially near to God and unusually obedient to Him – exhibiting a kind of surpassing obedience that cannot be demonstrated in simple things such as loving one’s neighbor or resisting temptations to immorality. Consequently, pseudo-spiritual people seem to get frequent “revelations” from God that cannot be gained from clear teaching, that defy clear reason, and that are more difficult to follow than is sound wisdom. Rees Howells, for example, grew his hair long and defied custom by refusing to wear a hat because he claimed God had told him to do these things. To this day, many people see this as a mark of higher spirituality in Rees Howells. I do not.
Living by revelations that take them beyond the bounds of common sense and good judgment by which most people live is seen by the pseudo-spiritual as a sign of higher living. Anyone can live according to plain wisdom. It supposedly takes a keener sensitivity to God as well as a commitment to obey in more difficult paths to act in “spiritual” ways that cannot be supported by reason or common sense. The pseudo-spiritual, for example, will not be “told by God” to buy a car that best fits their budget and needs — that is too ordinary, and they think real spirituality must surpass ordinary thoughts or actions. The supposed indication of God’s leading and speaking is that the super-spiritual person will act “above” the plain, common principles by which “less spiritual” people live.
Since easy-to-understand principles of holiness and love are too commonplace and unexciting, the obsessions of the pseudo-spiritual usually revolve around non-moral issues. The communications from God they claim to hear (and often believe they hear) generally do not relate to living a godly life. Instead, those voices most often give them supposed guidance on issues such as what career to pursue, where to live, and what kinds of items to buy and use. None of these matters, however, have eternal implications or relate to principles of obedience found in Scripture. God is not so much concerned with where we live or which occupation we choose as He is with what kind of people we are. As a rule, it is not which store we go to with which He is concerned so much as how we act in the store to which we go.
In the end, the pseudo-spiritual believer seems to exude an air of superiority over “ordinary” Christians who are just too down to earth. This results in the pseudo-spiritual achieving a status among the naive as people living on a higher, spiritual plane. Furthermore, this pseudo-spirituality is sometimes seen as a qualification for a ministry like unto that of the television preachers who seem to have more frequent, specific, conversations with God about such things as special purchases that must be financed by followers. Those who are not “special men and women of God” do not receive such revelations.
Consequently, the pseudo-spiritual apparently seek an enhanced reputation among many believers and pursue credentials that grant them an elevated ministry status in the community of like-minded Christians. The irony involved in the life of the pseudo-spiritual is that while claiming to be more obedient to God (in non-moral things such as where to live or what to buy) they disobey God in the moral issue of pride. Christians who think of themselves as more spiritual than common believers are usually less spiritual in the things that really matter to God.
As with the Colossian heretics, the pseudo-spiritual in our era ultimately tend to espouse or at least tacitly approve of false teachings through their claimed revelations — and the resulting state is especially perilous. As is noted in the quotes below by John Wesley and Evan Roberts, the pseudo-spiritual person (“enthusiast”) 3 tends to become hardened in an unteachable state and only rarely disavows any counterfeit revelations they embraced in their false spirituality. This condition can occur even in the midst of a genuine move of God’s Spirit (both John Wesley and Evan Roberts observed this phenomenon as key leaders in revival movements).
The pride that breeds pseudo-spirituality tends to preserve it. Once we have publicly claimed to have had revelatory experiences and even advocated certain views on their basis, it becomes very difficult for us to admit to ourselves or others that we have been wrong in those things. Additionally, all genuine experiences with God will be seen as His stamp of approval on our errant conduct. Stanley Horton notes this tendency:
A common fallacy that leads people astray is the idea that because God blesses or uses a person He is putting his approval on everything else the person does or teaches.” 4
If we have surrounded ourselves with people who are like-minded in the spiritual matters in which we have erred, admitting our error will generally involve a painful forsaking of our beloved comrades’ approval. Consequently, all of our prayer, study, and reasoning become shaped by a strong bias for the validity of our supposed revelations (and any views advocated as a result).
Though there is a real influence of the Spirit of God, there is also an imaginary one: and many there are who mistake the one for the other. Many suppose themselves to be under that influence, when they are not, when it is far from them. And many others suppose they are more under that influence than they really are….there will naturally arise an unadvisable and unconvincible spirit. So that into whatever error or fault the enthusiast falls, there is small hope of his recovery. For reason will have little weight with him (as has been frequently and justly observed) who imagines he is led by a higher guide, — by the immediate wisdom of God. And as he grows in pride, so he must grow in unadvisableness and in stubbornness also. He must be less and less capable of being convinced, less susceptible of persuasion; more and more attached to his own judgment and his own will, till he is altogether fixed and immovable.” – John Wesley 5
At revival dawn the ignorant are teachable, but through their ‘spiritual experiences’ later on they become unteachable. Pre-revival simplicity gives way to satanic ‘infallibility,’ or an unteachable spirit.” – Jessie Penn-Lewis & Evan Roberts 6
Pseudo-spirituality is generally a snare from which it is difficult to be freed.
- A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 4 (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1930), 497. ↩
- Peter T. O’Brien, “Colossians and Philemon,” in The Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1982), 44:146. ( ↩
- “The term ‘enthusiasm’ has traditionally been used as a pejorative designation for the conduct of misguided Christians who suppose themselves to be divinely inspired — being carried away by fanciful imagination and frenzied emotional conduct that is erroneously attributed to the Holy Spirit — when they are not.” David Kowalski, “Enthusiasm” in Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity (New York: Berkshire Publishing Group, 2006) 165. ↩
- Stanley Horton, What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1976) 208. ↩
- http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/sermons.v.xxxvii.html (accessed 4-5-2019) ↩
- http://famguardian1.org/Publications/WarOnTheSaints/Chap12.html (accessed 4-5-2019) ↩