Last month I attended the Missio Alliance conference Church & Post-Christian Culture in Carlisle, PA. The focus of the conference was on the growing interest in Anabaptism as a tradition that has much to offer the church in our present cultural context. Needless to say, there were a lot of Anabaptists there.
In one of the afternoon breakout sessions, pastors Greg Boyd, Paul Eddy, and Dennis Edwards spoke on spiritual warfare in “Fighting the Right Fight: An Anabaptist Perspective on Spiritual Warfare.”
I went to the first session and showed up a little early. The large room soon filled up and folks were turned away because of fire safety regulations. It was obvious that pastors and other practitioners were interested in the topic.
I remember during the discussion hearing someone say that “we (Anabaptists) don’t talk about this very much” largely because Anabaptists haven’t been known for drawing attention to unseen, spiritual realities.
It’s true that Anabaptists have mostly shied away from the “charismatic” and been more cerebral toward matters of faith. Something I’m hearing pastors in my district within Virginia Conference regrettably lament.
I got the distinct impression that folks were feeling like they wouldn’t even know where to begin in talking about this with their congregations.
While I was listening, I held an outline to a seven-week sermon series on this very topic. For me, the entire session and discussion was affirmation that the series I had put together was indeed something led by the Holy Spirit.
I was already set to begin the series that weekend.
This coming Sunday I will be preaching the final message in the Not Against Flesh & Blood series at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship.
If you’re interested, you can download the sermons and the slides (PDF) at CMF’s sermon archives. The outline gives a brief description of each message.
1. Creation & Chaos
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-2, 3:1-7; Romans 8:18-23; Ephesians 6:12
In the beginning the Triune God created an orderly universe out of love. Then somewhere in the primordial past a portion of his angelic agents began working against the Creator—war in the unseen realms! Chaos ensued and creation began her groaning. In time, the disorder and chaos that began in the heavenly realms were perpetuated with God’s highest creation in all of the physical world: mankind. The first human pair used their free will to spread sin and rebellion upon the earth. Does God hit the reset button on creation? No, God responds by enacting a mysterious, redemptive plan that would not only set the world to rights, but would eventually set the entire cosmos free from decay.
In the first message of the series, we look at how things came to be broken the way they are today, and how the spiritual forces of evil are still at work exploiting human weakness and opposing God’s will. It’s a struggle between good and evil, but ultimately the real battle is not one of flesh and blood.
2. Cruciformed Sovereignty
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 25:1, 7-9; Matthew 8:23-34; 1 John 3:8b
Isn’t God all-knowing? Didn’t God see this great cosmic rebellion coming? If so, why did he create in the first place? If evil comes to pass, God must have wanted it, right? Do we truly have free will, or is everything already determined? If it’s a real battle between good and evil in the heavenly realms, can God lose? What guarantees do we have that Satan will be outwitted and defeated? These are old questions, both philosophical and theological, but they need fresh biblical answers that are consistent with the God revealed in the crucified and resurrected Jesus—keeping in view the real struggle between good and evil (i.e. a battle of the wills), among what is seen and unseen.
In the second message of the series, we consider the problem of evil and God’s interaction with time (past, present, and future). How does God experience the present with us and see the future? If God’s sovereignty looks like Jesus’ power and domination over evil by the cross, and the real struggle isn’t with flesh and blood, what does this mean for how his followers should confront spiritual evil?
3. Prayer as Holy Resistance
Scripture Reading: Daniel 10:1-14; Mark 9:14-29; Matthew 6:5-13
In the Bible and in our experience, the future is partly open and partly settled. Therefore, prayer can be seen as joining with God in engaging the present in order to shape the future. He calls us in Christ to rebuke spiritual evil, even so-called “natural” evils, and bring about the Kingdom through our words and actions. Prayer is a cry for the Kingdom in an act of holy resistance against the evil that seeks to destroy us and our neighbors. Yes, we are changed when we pray, but so do those things around us when we pray in faith. According to the Scriptures, God acts through his Spirit and his heavenly court (i.e. angels) when we pray according to his will. In the way of Jesus, we resist in continual prayer.
In the third message of the series, we dispel of the notion that prayer only changes you and doesn’t have an effect on God or the outcome of the future. On the contrary, God has built it into the very fabric and framework of space and time that we would work with him in the redemptive story. In fact, without our free participation in the Kingdom’s work of resisting evil, we postpone God’s good promises to us.
4. Prayer in Imagination
Scripture Reading: Exodus 33:7-11; Matthew 6:5-13, 11:28-30 (MSG)
Having a warfare worldview and a robust theology of prayer is good, but it’s not enough. We need to be intentional in practicing a life of prayer. Jesus calls us to remain in constant communication with the Father as we go about our lives. He even expresses the holy desire to pray with his own disciples. But Christ also reveals that getting away to a private place is necessary for deepening our relationship with God and for getting in touch with the unseen realities of the world around us. In order to go deeper with God, we must learn to use a disciplined imagination to see Christ as we meet with him face to face.
In the fourth message of the series, we look at how this existential and mystical part of our faith requires that we use our minds for more than analyzing and doing mental gymnastics. We need a supernatural experience of the living Christ. Only then can we join the spiritual war on terror.
5. Sword of the Spirit
Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:1-16; Matthew 4:1-11; Ephesians 6:10-18
We constantly have messages and images running in our minds, even on repeat. Some are good and reflect God’s truth, others are bad and can hinder us, even destroy us. Filling our hearts and minds with Scripture is a powerful and effective way of combating the flesh and the devil. The psalmist knew that meditating and memorizing Scripture transformed the soul, and washed the dirt from his eyes. And Jesus, God in the flesh, immediately resorted to quoting Scripture when facing the tempter, Satan. How much more ought we make Scripture reading, study, and memorization part of our spiritual arsenal?
In the fifth message of the series, we look at the importance of reading and teaching Scripture to bring about the change God wants in our lives, and for transforming the church. Is our thinking being shaped more by the Scriptures, or by culture and our own limited experiences? How can we use the “sword of the Spirit” that’s at work in the written word to confront evil?
6. Worship as Warfare
Scripture Reading: Exodus 10:1-9; 2 Chronicles 20:1-30; Revelation 4:1-11
Worship is far more than our preferences for music and singing. In fact, true worship should have less to do with our personal preferences and more to do with how best to corporately express God’s infinite worth out of sincere thankfulness and celebration for who God is, what he has done, is doing, and will do for us. Furthermore, worship is an activity of heaven and earth. We join with heaven in our worship. Like it is with prayer, worship is calling down the Kingdom. It mysteriously expands the Kingdom in us and around us—pushing back the darkness that seeks to consume us with fear and hopelessness.
In the sixth message of the series, we look at how worship is used in spiritual warfare. It’s not about the performance. It’s not about our preferences. It’s about calling heaven down so that God’s glory would fill the earth. Worship is a part of spiritual warfare, because it’s not against flesh and blood. We join with the angels singing, and demons flee.
7. Hell Will Not Prevail
Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:13-18; 24:4-14; Revelation 12:10-12
Jesus said he saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening. In other words, our archenemy doesn’t have a chance against God almighty! Jesus crushed the head of the serpent, and now we merely see the erratic floundering of a rogue angel losing his power. Jesus said he would build his church and not even the gates of hell would prevail against her. Our promise comes from the crucified and resurrected one. He has defeated death and inaugurated the Kingdom, which is expanding through the church until his glorious return. What does this look like today while we still contend with a fighting enemy?
In the seventh and final message of the series, we look at how evangelism, in conjunction with our prayers and worship, should be seen as a powerful weapon to advance the Kingdom of God. The growing church will proclaim an end to evil and the rebellion that began long ago.
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“The God of peace will soon crush Satan…” Rom 16:20
D.D. Flowers, 2014.
November 1st, 2014 at 10:18 am
A much needed corrective to an unfortunate charismaphobia among thoughtful Christians, as well as the loud, insistent assurances of “peace, peace” when our reality is the opposite: a cosmic, external and internal war in which the Lamb who Makes War triumphs, absolutely, universally and eternally. But, war nonetheless.
November 1st, 2014 at 12:01 pm
November 2nd, 2014 at 9:50 am
David, can you suggest a helpful book addressing the response of early Christians to the social evils of their day: abortion, exposure of infants, poverty, war, contagious diseases?
November 2nd, 2014 at 6:29 pm
Good question, Tim. I would check out David Bercot’s A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs for starters. It is an excellent resource on a variety of topics that were covered by early church writers/fathers.
November 2nd, 2014 at 10:24 pm
Thanks. I’ll check it out.
November 7th, 2014 at 7:08 pm
Also, see Sider’s book, The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion & Capital Punishment (2012).