Saturday, July 15, 2006

Spiritual War (overview)

Today, as war continues to expand in the middle east with the growing conflict between Israel and various radical Islamic organizations that seek its demise, it occurs to me that perhaps we Lutherans don't take as serious as we should that we are engaged in a spiritual war.

NLT Ephesians 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

I once had the opportunity to hear a man speak on the book of Revelations from Concordia Seminary -- a professor Brighton. I took extensive notes, but won't go into all the details but the following is a short synopsis of what I learned.

There is a real devil, not a metaphorical expression of a generic evil, but a real entity whose goal is to harm God by harming God's creation. Secondly, that while the devil seeks to bring harm to humanity and the entire creation through such as war, pestilence, famine, and so forth... he most especially seeks to destroy the church. I learned that the war between the devil and God will continue to the end of the ages when Christ returns. There will be times that are better for the church and times worse. Also that not only will Satan attempt to destroy the church from outside forces, but also from infiltration of the church itself. I think this is what John is after with these verses:

(NIV) Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-- he denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

Many antichrists have come. It would be unreasonable to suppose that for some reason Satan is any less serious about attacking the church today than in the time of John.

I enjoy reading about history, especially military history. It occurs to me that many of the strategies employed in successful political and military campaigns are similar to what is employed against the church today. In time of war, a country protects its core -- that which is essential for its operation. The enemy may not be able to reach the core, but will attach the fringes doing as much damage as possible looking for an opening to strike at the core -- that which will cause the entire operation to fail.

For Lutherans the core foundation is Christ crucified for the sin of the world -- salvation by grace alone through faith alone as proclaimed in Scripture alone because Christ alone had died for us. Christ is the heart -- but these other pillars of the faith provide essential support or understanding to a saving faith.

Then comes supporting infrastructure and logistics. In the world, every army at war is dependent on supplies: manpower, medical supplies, food, ammunition, fuel, materials, and so forth. The church is a body in motion engaged in a war in the world. Manpower comes through sustainment of those who believe and recruitment or missions/conversions. The church's infrastructure is not is political forms and government but rather how it is connected to its core -- JEsus Christ. These are the means of grace -- the Word and the Sacraments of communion and baptism. It is through the Word and the Sacraments that God works to create faith and grows His church. (learn more here)

The enemy bombards our core: ideologies, theologies, and philosophies that seek to cast doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

The enemy attacks key beliefs that flow from Jesus being the Christ.

Faith and grace -- creating doubts that we can be saved by grace alone. Creating theologies within the church of salvation by works or at least a combination of works and faith creating room for doubt -- have I done enough.

And by attacking the key infrastructure of the church -- the means of grace. The Sacraments are turned from a means of grace into works that human beings do to symbolize aspects of human spiritual works -- baptism becomes a metaphor of human commitment to rebirth instead of a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion is stripped of its power for sustaining spiritual life by grace in movements that cast doubt about the real presence of Christ turning it into a memorial meal - where benefit become dependent on human action of remembrance -- hence casting doubt that I believe enough, am serious enough and so forth. Hence leaving one to wonder "do I really belong to Jesus?".

And finally the trump card -- the mean's of grace upon which the other's rest -- our lifeblood connection to Jesus -- is attacked: The Scripture itself. Destroy the church's confidence in Scripture and all else will fail. How do we see Jesus? Through the Scriptures. How do we hear and understand how we are saved? Through the Scriptures. How do we understand the roles of baptism and communion? Through the Scriptures. How do we understand the relationship of salvation and works, how we should live life, how we should make disciples, how it all works and what it all means? Through the Scriptures. The enemy seeks to have us see the Scripture as a human work, only a human expression of how we interpret our experience of life and perhaps God.

I must confess, that at this very exact moment of writing, I've had an epiphany. Something occurs to me. The strategy of the enemy is just this -- the same as it has been from the beginning with Eve and Adam. First casting doubt on God in one form or another (you don't need God and you can't rely on Him anyway) to trust yourself (you get yourself to God or you don't need to get to God anyway). Wherever Satan attacks the faith it is always to get us to turn our trust from God to ourselves.

I want to ponder and write some more about how the enemy leads us to shift our sights from God to ourselves in the various aspects of our spirituality. I think for us in the LCMS the enemy is chipping away at the core -- attempting to make those ideologies and faiths that deny Christ more palitable and encouraging us to have closer relationships with them. The enemy is striking at the sacraments -- not directly at the real presence right now, but at its implications, as attacks on the practice of close communion come more frequently and open communion is becoming the vogue, a continued whittling away of what communion means. And the Scripture is being targeted. Now the enemy had made a direct attack in the 70's trying to weaken the authority of Scripture head on with an offical endorsement of the critical method of interpretation, but this was beaten back. But now the attack comes from the sides -- increasing tolerance for divergences of confession, weakening dependence on the Lutheran Confessions through ignorance, dismissal, and even in a few cases misinterpretation of key passages. At the same time the authority of Scripture is diminished as reliance upon Presidential, CTCR, CCM, and convention proclamations is made a supreme authority. And the church eats its itself alive from the inside out. When there are those who raise concern, they are ostracized, marginalized, cast as legalists for wishing to stand on time proven principles, and as ignorant because the are not progressive. And so many pastors and congregations have gone silent -- believing either the LCMS progressive leadership is on an unstoppable blitzkrieg or that the full weight of the church's armament will be turned upon them should they speak up.

When the fringes of our faith are eroded, the infrastructure, the core understandings of faith and means of grace will be more vulnerable, soon leaving the core itself, our faith in Christ exposed to attack. Can it happen in a Lutheran church?

We have seen it happen to a sister Lutheran Church which is heavily influenced with the critical interpretation of Scripture. One example -- its current debate on the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle among its membership.

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