Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Spiritual Warfare in the Church

Young Charlie Smith (not his real name) was fresh out of seminary. Charlie couldn't wait to move to the parsonage of the church that had just called him as senior pastor. Armed with a master's degree and full of zeal, Charlie planned to set the world on fire. His face glowed as he thought of preaching in the pulpit of this beautiful auditorium, that still smelled new. The unanimous vote boasted his spirits, and he looked forward to leading a unified church. Within days of unloading the moving van and helping his wife and two young children settle in, Charlie realized the unanimous vote actually came from two factions that had split months before but were unwilling to leave the new building. Each side claimed a right to own it and remain, with the other group leaving. Each group also believed Charlie was their man. Several days after getting started, Charlie learned the chairman of the elder board was involved in an affair with a young married woman who was also a member of the church. The former pastor would not confront the issue; instead he chose to answer a call to greener and calmer pastures. During his early sermons Charlie saw a smirk on the face of the head elder almost as often as he observed the closed eyes of the elder who dozed through every sermon. Charlie began to dream of the "good old seminary days," when he carried a full course load and also worked forty hours a week in the freezer at the meat packing plant to make ends meet. This was difficult, but it didn't compare to the stress of this pastorate. Each group pulled on Charlie as members jockeyed position to take over the facility. Nearly every church event turned into a power play. Even a solemn event like a funeral became a show of force. One faction would tell Charlie. "You better not give him as Christian funeral. If anybody ever went to hell, he did." His sin? Siding with the other faction, of course. The only warfare instruction Charlie had ever received in seminary was some teaching on theological liberalism that had invaded the church. Excellent teaching that this was, Charlie was ill prepared for the all-out internal warfare going on in his pews. Though he also studied about church conflicts and how to "be in charge of the war" in a church situation, nothing in his class notes shed light on the present problem. Without question the enemy was behind this assault on the church, using all his classic tactics to divide and conquer. During this time, Charlie began to wonder if the enemy's purpose was not only to destroy the ministry of the church but to seriously blemish the reputation of the Lord. This hurt even more than the idea that the church itself might go down. So Charlie began to pray. He realized God had ordained the church for His service, and he asked the Lord to oppose whatever forces were at work in the church. He actually pleaded with God for a miracle. As he sought the Lord, the Spirit brought to Charlie's attention a group of committed saints who took neither side. He discovered that they, often with tears, were praying desperately for the church in the way only scared but committed saints can do: with passion, love, and genuine hope that God would answer. The group prayed, and Charlie led them with the hope of "winning one for the Father." One night as verse jumped off the page of the Bible as Charlie read, "The time has come for judgment to being at the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17). Not sure what this meant, Charlie prayed that this would indeed be God's operative plan. However, he didn't really expect what was about to happen. The next day the leader of one of the factions died quite suddenly. It did cross Charlie's mind that God might have "struck him down," even as He had struck Ananias, Sapphira, and Herod Antipas (see Acts 5:1-11; 12:20-23). Pastor Charlie didn't say anything about his thoughts as he preached this leader's funeral; he did not try to rally anyone against the other group or even mention the conflict. But as he preached, the other leader suddenly fell sick, went into the hospital, and was not expected to live. Charlie visited him and prayed for him. By the unique grace of God, this second leader did live, and then accepted Christ while he was in the hospital. God, who had interceded twice already, was ready to act through this new child of His. One morning three weeks later, the converted elder stood before the congregation, gave his testimony, and then pleaded for forgiveness. As if setting in motion the gears of a great machine that had been idle, a genuine revival broke out. People crossed the aisles to seek forgiveness from one another. The chairman of the elders was disciplined for his adultery. Within a few short years, the church, now committed to honoring God, doubled in size. Charlie watched it all unfold, as astonished as the rest. but grateful that God had known what to do about the problem even if he hadn't. Through that experience, Charlie grew in his understanding of spiritual warfare as he searched and taught the Scriptures in order to build up the flock. He also warned the flock over and over that the wolf remained ready to attack again, so they must be vigilant and ready, as Paul said to the Ephesians in Acts 20:28-30. Charlie saw clearly there are two kingdoms operating in God's world, and they are mutually exclusive. He also learned that Jesus is the ultimate Lord of both kingdoms. This example, while a bit unusual, is not unique. God loves His church and protects it. The local church serves as the primary fortress and offense against the enemy. If you are a Christian and are not involved in a church, it's my hope that you will become convinced of the church's position before God and of its power, and of your own need to become allied with other Christians in the struggle. Lone Rangers rarely last long in the church. That's why it's called "the body of Christ." In that sense, Jesus Himself needs us to accomplish His purpose as much as we need Him. The miracle of Christianity is that God has made us His coworkers. Not slaves, nor merely servants. But coworkers and those who will share in the harvest! Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.

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