Ambivalent Reflections on Spiritual Warfare


Plate 22 of 22 for the Macklin Bible after Lou...

“SATAN BOUND” Plate 22 of 22 for the Macklin Bible after Loutherbourg. Bowyer Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often find myself on the side of downplaying “spiritual warfare” and “power encounter.” I see myself doing this not so much because I see these as purposeless. I have seen missionaries working in particularly difficult places coming down with horrible maladies. I am not sure I can simply chalk that up to stress and convergence disorder. They appear to have been drawn into a battlefield that they are challenged to survive, to say nothing of thrive. However, I find myself arguing against a certain Christ-paganism that has crept into the church and Christian mission. I don’t claim to be an expert in this area (and don’t plan to become an expert) but here are some thoughts I believe to find a healthy balance in Spiritual Warfare and Power Encounter for reflection.

1.  In Spiritual Warfare, the primary battle is with oneself. It has become popularized to externalize evil. We may talk about the spirit or demon of depression, lust, or hate. But really, Pogo (as written by Walt Kelly) was ironically correct when he said “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The Bible drama makes it clear that man sinned, man fell, man lives in a state of rebellion (warfare) with God. We need to be changed positionally, and renewed continually to be brought to where we are (at least on some level) at peace with God. Demons and Satan appear to have a fairly modest role in this, and much of that is obscured from us.

2.  In Spiritual Warfare, the secondary battle is with others. We not only sin (live in rebellion) but are also sinned against. Social Justice is not simply a nice thing for a Christian to work for, it is very much at the heart of spiritual warfare. Read the major and minor prophets and you will see how important social justice and challenging abuse of the poor, weak, and innocent is to God.

3.  In Spiritual Warfare, the heavenly/spirit realm cannot be discounted. As noted in Ephesians 6, the world we see is not the only world… we may live in rebellion, others may live in rebellion, but there is a grander story that we are part of, and we each have a part to play. Therefore, it is not correct to simply make our work to be only about self and other people.

4.  Our Ignorance of the battle in the heavenlies was intentional. God gave us lttle more than tiny snippets of information about the “spiritual” battle in the heavenlies. However, our primary  activity is focused in the here  and now. Our activity as Christians can be seen for the most part in God’s command to all mankind in Genesis 1 and 2 (multiply and rule… as a good steward), Genesis 12 (be a channel of blessing to the entire world), the Great Commandment (love God and, as a result, love people), and the Great Commission (act as witnesses of God’s good action and good news). Primarily speaking, the battle in the “spirit realm” is not our battle. Spiritual warfare is primarily dealing with evil here and now by those who do evil here and now.

5.  Our understanding of Spiritual Warfare should be built from the Bible. Certain individuals have popularized a form of “Christian Paganism.” There is a verse or two that suggest some sort of territorial spirit… but such references fall far short of the the fanciful imaginings that have sprung up. Such local demons (as well as the above-mentioned oppressive demons) generally have more in common with forms of Animism than with Biblical Christianity. I am not one who labels things as “pagan” to castigate them. Every culture has some truth in it. But when our doctrines are more firmly grounded in a different religious system than Biblical or Historical Christian Theology, there is reason for concern.

6.  Based on the Bible, Satan does appear to be a real being, and angels and demons also appear clearly to exist in an objective sense. Some have gone the other way, and have turned anything that is not judged as “natural” as metaphoric or mythic (mythic in this case meaning untrue stories). Yet the Bible does describe them as real, problematic, and active. The comment from C.S. Lewis seems appropriate.

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” (The Screwtape Letters)

7.  The Bible appears to be pretty ambivalent about power encounter as well. The two biggest power encounter events in the Old Testament (Moses and the Pharoah, and Elijah and the Priests of Baal) both had mixed results in their ability to effect real and lasting change. Jesus did power encounter, yet often did such activities in secret (asking that the activity would be kept private) or even actively refusing to do signs and wonders. The mixed record of power encounter compared with (I believe) the much better record of love encounter (battling sinful prideful abusive self-centeredness with divine love) clearly tells us where our priorities should be.

8.  We need to be open-minded about what we see and experience. Satan and demons may not (in fact probably don’t) work the same today as they did centuries ago. Today, some Christians see mentally ill people and assume they have a demon. Since demons are thinking beings, unlike viruses, corrupted genes, or bacteria, their symptomology is likely to vary based on effectiveness in a given culture. Two thousand years ago, a demon oppressed (I prefer that term to demon possessed… personal thing) person was effective by being wild, scary, and insane. Today, such a person would be jailed or drugged to hinder their effectiveness. If demons are at work today in and through people, expect to see that action in ways that are effective today, not ways that render themselves useless in spiritual battle. On the other hand, being too quick to label what we don’t understand as being demonic is risky. Labeling does not reduce ignorance… it can actually enhance ignorance and cause greater trouble in the long-run.

9.  Our activities have eternal consequence. There is a battle going on and we, indeed, are a part of it. God’s word, God’s Spirit in our lives, and God’s love are vital equipments for us to incorporate into our lives. These are likely to make us more effective in spiritual warfare than prayer walking, prophecy events, and regional prayer exorcisms.

10.  Although our activities have eternal consequences, the battle (ultimately) is already won. We do not live in a dualistic universe. As Crowley says in Good Omens… God is playing solitaire, not chess. God is in control, even if He has allowed us to pilot the ship (poorly) for awhile. We are to be prepared for trouble, but not fearful for we are ultimately on the winning side and so we cannot (again ultimately) lose.

11. The war metaphor is important, but not necessarily the most important. The Bible appears to ultimately be a love story not a war chronicle. Recognizing the war metaphor is valuable… but it should be given its proper place. The book of Hosea appears to be a more important description of God’s relationship with us than the book of Joshua.

Anyway, these are my thoughts today.  Who knows… I may have new ideas tomorrow. One should be ready to learn and grow.

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