Friday, January 23, 2009

Common Objections to Spiritual Warfare

Many Christians buy the lie that spiritual warfare proponents are fanatics, or kooks, or worse. They accept this because of three extreme responses they have observed. Let's take a moment to deal with each of these responses. The first objection I find occurs among Christians who witness other believers who fear demons are involved in every little problem. Such believers create what I call "the demon under every bush" problem. Groups that see Satan as this active and involved in Christians' lives are quick to rush in and cast out various spirits, going so far as to exorcise a "spirit of overeating," or a "spirit of anger," or a "spirit of swearing." This is absurd, you might say, but there are groups that see warfare in these terms. Exorcisms like this are usually un-necessary and in fact the very thing Satan wants us in some cases to do-to see him as so present and overwhelming that every other word must be a "casting out," or a "prayer against the devil." Such actions look weird and few people understand what such folks are all about. A second objection comes from Christians seeing the even greater extreme of people who go about brushing "demons" off their grocery sacks before entering their home. This is not only ludicrous, but it focuses on the devil in a very unhealthy way. Believers in such bondage to rituals can act and think like people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), who can't go anywhere without washing their hands sixteen times. This is just another lie Satan uses to keep us from the truth. A third objection is raised: They see believers who try to get demons to actually speak out of a person. Supposedly, through hearing a demon speak, proponents of this approach believe they will learn deep and dark things about their kingdom as well as God's. Of course, this teaching is at once extreme and sensational. And Satan uses it to convince some to think, See, this is just a bunch of fear tactics and high drama. Some leaders persist in teaching this, even though God's Word tells us not to listen to the "doctrines of demons" (See I Timothy 4:1). All these objections point out clear excesses that in themselves are lies of the devil. They get people focused on the wrong things, a favorite tactic of Satan. He loves to divert counselors and others from the real issues. It's also true that all temptation isn't from spiritual warfare. The world, the flesh, and the demonic world all work together in temptation. The flesh is like a beast in the basement, which will raise its head at times and exert its influence. We are sinners by nature. We have a natural "bent" to choose to sin. While we might claim Satan gave us the suggestion, there comes a point at which Satan doesn't even need to suggest the sin anymore-we just walk off into it because we like it, even crave it. That's the flesh speaking. The world, too, exerts an influence. Its lies, suggestions, tricks, and pressures all can lead us into sin as effectively as anything the devil might throw at us. As in the parable of the sower, the world sends weeds and thistles that choke out the truth in a believer's life until he is all but ruined. Satan uses the world to promote his lies of wealth without conscience, pleasure without consequences, and long life without worry about judgment. The fact that not all temptation comes from the spiritual conflict with Satan and his legions does not mean that spiritual conflict is myth. Instead, Satan uses the temptation of the flesh and the world for his evil purpose. He also uses false doctrine to make Christians vulnerable to his deceptions. Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 13, in His parable of the wheat and the tares. Satan sowed tares among the wheat. Strangely enough, tares look exactly like wheat until the very end of the harvest, when the wheat develops its "head of kernels," something the tares never have. Jesus made the point that Satan sends his tares-pretend believers-into the church. They look like the real things and will continue to look like that until the end. Meanwhile, they will plant their sinister suggestions and diversions that keep a church from the important task of evangelism of the lost and edification of believers. It's through marshaling all these forces that Satan attacks best. But if you don't believe Satan is out and about, why worry about him? "Enjoy your life," some say. "There's nothing to fear," Nonetheless, a thief is never so dangerous as when people believe he has left town. The enemy of our soul loves to have us think he is no longer around. I believe Satan nurtures lies everywhere he can. It's one more reason a warfare outlook is so essential to defeating the devil when he attacks. Why is rejecting the reality of Satan so foolish? Because it leads people in power to make decisions without considering his activity or presence. It leads counselors to try to solve problems without attacking the real problem. And it leads pastors to preach a powerless gospel that frees no one from the enemy-because there is no enemy! Again, my own experience proves this problem. I attended four years of Bible college and six years of graduate school. During this time, goldy professors diligently instructed me to teach God's truth. In the process, though, I was taught very little about spiritual warfare. Their apparent fear was that focusing on the enemy would bring anxiety and paranoia into the Church. I remember one professor who railed about how one church he knew became "so demon-conscious they lost their focus on God. The truth of Satan's active warfare is not fully ignored in Christian schools. In many conservative evangelical schools, missions professors teach the reality of spiritual warfare. These professors usually have been on mission fields where they have encountered warfare face-to-face. When I visited eastern Africa on an assignment, I didn't have to tell my students that spiritual warfare was real. They saw firsthand the power of the witch doctor. In witnessing pagan worship, the students and I saw and heard demons manifest themselves and speak through overpowered victims. Some Africans testified of being demonized before they came to Christ. Others told me about the power of curses and spells and how their unsaved family members desperately feared the demonic world. When you see things like this in person, you can't help but accept the reality of spiritual warfare. Once I was confronted with my own failure to emphasize the spiritual battle when a former seminary student of mine name Sam traveled to the Philippines as a missionary. At the end of his first term, he returned home and had lunch with me. His first questions was "Why didn't you teach me about the reality of the enemy?" When I asked what he meant, Sam said, "I faced spiritual attacks that I was not aware of. I was never told warfare was even possible. I would have been easily defeated had I not attended a seminar by a warfare leader who came to the Philippines. His teachings enabled me to recognize what was happening in my ministry." I asked Sam's forgiveness and explained that as his professor I was ignorant of the lies and tactics of the enemy at the time. It is my desire that on the subject of warfare the church of Jesus Christ should be ignorant no more. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.

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