Spiritual passivity rules much of the Body of Christ; my local Anglican congregation hardly reacts to my preaching and charismatic gifts lie dormant in corporate worship across the churches.
Yet believers never seem to lack energy to accuse, gossip, entertain suspicions about or argue amongst one another. Christians agree that our real struggle is not “against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12), but in practice visible persons rather than invisible spirits are at the centre of our conflicts.
As Donna correctly reminds me at times, “I am not your enemy!” Our enemy is the devil (1 Pet 5:8).
One reason the Church as we know it is not seeing in the Spirit the works of demonic forces and responding with spiritual power is the influence of a scientific worldview on culture. When Jesus encountered a convulsing child foaming at the mouth he delivered him from an evil spirit, our instinctive analysis is that the boy suffers only from the physical disease of epilepsy (Mark 9:14-29).
Christ said of a woman who could not stand up straight that she had been “bound by Satan” (Luke 13:16).
Our reflex reaction would attribute her problem simply to scoliosis. Heavily conditioned by a scientific worldview we are not seeing things spiritually and not engaging in the intense war which rages all around us.
There is however a far deeper reason for our spiritual blindness than the influence of culture.
SON AND KING
When Jesus burst onto the scene filled with the Spirit’s power the demons could not remain hidden but involuntarily spewed forth; “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”” (Luke 4:14; 34).
Immediately they were silenced by the Lord’s command and with their victim visibly delivered Jesus was recognised by all as a holy man with authority over the dominion of darkness (Matt 12:24; Luke 4:35-37).
The mission of Christ and his disciples was framed by the ongoing cosmic conflict between God and Satan.
When his disciples reported that the demons were subject to them in his name Jesus bubbled over, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18). The Church today has failed to understand that spiritual conflict is central to Jesus’ identity as Son of God.
This is because an epic contest is raging over the imaging of fatherhood in creation. One Father is the Author of Truth and Life, the rival father has been a liar and murderer “from the beginning” (John 8:44; 14:6).
Christ discerned with absolute clarity that every person visibly bears the image of one of these fathers; ““Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”” (Matt 16:17; John 6:70; 1 John 3:10-12).
These tensions are woven into the deepest order of human reality and came to a climax at the cross.
The radically demonised character of lost humanity was unambiguously revealed in the insane slaughter of the blameless Son of God; “this is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). The apostolic Church lived out these things.
SONS OF THE KINGDOM
Paul received a share in Jesus’ own commission to battle evil powers; “‘I am sending you…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.’” (Acts 26:18).
As he went forth in Christ’s power the demonic hosts recognised Paul’s spiritual authority and were silenced by his word of command (Acts 16:16-18; 19:15).
Like Christ, Paul taught a salvation of cosmic proportions; “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). Sharing in Jesus’ discernment of spirits Paul named the presence of the devil where he saw it; “the magician…opposed them… But…Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil…will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”, and striking the man blind people turned to the Lord (Acts 13:8-12).
The holy leaders of the Early Church understood that since the primary work of the evil one is to disfigure the image of God in humanity the purpose of the their proclamation of Christ was to restore the glorious image of the Father (2 Cor 3:17-18; Col 3:9-10).
The grand vision of sharing in the Son’s work to renew the likeness of the Father in creation by destroying the works of the devil is missing in most Christian leadership today.
The fruit of this failing is passivity in the Church and blindness to the satanic presence.
Demons instinctively knew Jesus as the Son in whom the Holy Father dwelt, and the apostles radiated a fatherly holiness that exposed the works of the false fathering of the devil (John 17:11; 1 Cor 4:15; 2 Cor 6:16-7:1).
The primary problem in spiritual warfare today is the loss of such a fatherly presence.
As Adam stood silent before Satan’s attack on his wife and projected to her an image of God as a distant father, so the lack of active holiness in many pastors strips Christ’s Bride of insight and authority to fight the works of the devil.
The Church is called to be the place where the works of the devil are identified and visibly destroyed.
Anything short of this is a negation of the revelation of God as Holy Father.
Rare is that congregation in our land today that sees in the Spirit Satan being cast out for the glory of God.
Let me put the crucial issue more pointedly. What sort of a “Father” would stand by passively and watch his children suffer in interpersonal conflict, disease, marriage meltdown and mental disorder.
Only a false and distant father would leave the Church in an unholy state unable to resist the evils of our culture.
I am not advocating a “spooks in space” spirituality that sees Satan as the sole immediate cause of every human ill.
But he is the ultimate cause of ill and is presently ravaging the Western Church as a largely invisible Enemy (Rev 12:9).
Lacking the penetrative gaze of holy fathers into the unseen realm the Church around us is largely paralysed and losing the cosmic conflict over the presence of the divine image in the world.
Only Jesus can deliver us from a malaise this deep.
His confident prophecy of personal death and exaltation should embolden us; “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”” (John 12:31-32).
Jesus believed in the love of the Father to reverse all Satan’s power over death because he knew himself to be exactly what the demons proclaimed, “the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34; Acts 2:27; Heb 2:14-15).
In Christ we too are holy sons of the Father and through him we can have insight into the spiritual conflict that rages around us (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 1:30; Heb 2:10ff; 3:1).
Such insight gave the leaders of the Early Church great authority and profound ministry.
But following the fight of their Lord it was for them also the way of much persecution and many cruel deaths.
Many today prefer to be safely “asleep in the light” (Keith Green) rather than bruised in the great battle for the honour of Father and Son.
I sense however that in the realm of spiritual conflict an increasingly alien culture will soon make spiritual passivity a thing of the past.
Satan will then be seen for what he is and Christ increasingly glorified.
Glory to our Father!