One of the biggest problems we find in the Western church today are countless people claiming to be Christians who are living like atheists. There is no discernible difference between how they live and how any pagan lives. The lifestyles are largely identical, and one would never know they were Christians simply by observation.
And if far too many Christians are living like atheists, there are certainly too many thinking like atheists as well. They claim to be Bible-believers but when push comes to shove, their worldview is really indistinguishable from the world’s. They think just like pagans, talk just like pagans, and therefore act just like pagans.
We see this in so many areas. Simply consider the culture wars. Christians should be countercultural. They should not be slavishly following the world’s agenda. They should not be weak on things like God’s purposes for marriage, family and human sexuality. They should not equivocate on things like the sanctity of life. They should not buy into trendy secular left social issues.
But so many do. Or simply consider the basis of the Christian life: the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, helping us to live above-ordinary lives of holiness, boldness, power and grace. We have been equipped from above. We have been given all the spiritual tools we need to live a Christ-centred, God-pleasing and world-changing life.
Yet so many are just floundering and getting nowhere. So many live like the devil because they have no means to resist the devil. They are carnal because they prefer carnality to godliness. They are powerless because they are not connected to the source of our power.
And in today’s dark times, we dare not go out in our own power and strength. We are in a war, big time, and ultimately it is a spiritual war. Without spiritual power from on high, we are simply toast. We will never do a bit of good if we do not go into battle fully equipped and prepared by means of the Holy Ghost.
Let me bring two well-known Christians into this conversation. One is the late, great Christian pastor and apologist Francis Schaeffer. He has a terrific chapter on all this in his 1975 book, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History. In it he looks at Rahab, a pagan prostitute, a heathen hooker.
Recall that she makes it into the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11:31, is in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5), and is held up with Abraham for their good works (James 2:14-26). Wow, she musta been some sorta gal. Schaeffer says this about her:
“This woman Rahab stood alone in faith against the total culture which surrounded her—something none of us today in the western world has ever yet had to do. For a period of time she stood for the unseen against the seen, standing in acute danger until Jericho fell.”
He reminds us that just before leaving Egypt the Israelites sacrificed the Passover lamb. He goes on to say this:
One cannot partake of the Passover lamb without being ready to see the world as a place of pilgrimage and war. Rahab is an even greater illustration of our position, because until Jericho fell, she lived as a pilgrim surrounded by her old alien culture. This is exactly how the Christian lives, and Rahab is a tremendous example for us. Though you and I have stepped from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, we are still surrounded by a culture controlled by God’s great enemy, Satan. We must live in it from the moment we accept Christ as our Savior until judgement falls. We, too, are encompassed by one who was once our king, but is now our enemy. It is just plain stupid for a Christian not to expect spiritual warfare while he lives in enemy territory.
That last line is well worth repeating: “It is just plain stupid for a Christian not to expect spiritual warfare while he lives in enemy territory.” Yet so many Christians have no clue that they are living in a hostile, demon-infected world which really hates Christ and hates real Christians.
We ARE in a war and the only way we can make it through is to realise the hostile spiritual forces arrayed against us, and utilise the spiritual weaponry God has given us. It is not just some bad ideas and values we are up against. It is not just a case of some wayward folks holding to some mistaken ideas about the radical trans agenda for our children and the like.
There are doctrines of demons circulating, and many people are controlled by evil. This is not a little debate game but a life and death struggle with the very forces of evil. No, not everyone pushing ungodly agendas is crammed full of demons, but some are, and many people are in the full power of the evil one, and happily doing his every bidding.
Thus we must fight such people not with flesh and blood but with all the divine spiritual resources we have at our disposal. Another writer to run with these thoughts just came out with an article on this today. In “Life During Spiritual Wartime” Rod Dreher offers a number of related points to what I have been making.
He begins by mentioning a long conversation he recently had with “a priest who is also an exorcist”. Now there is something we don’t hear much about anymore: exorcists and exorcisms. That is because we mostly no longer believe in real spiritual evil, nor in the reality of Satan and demons.
Jesus certainly believed fully in both, and he engaged in plenty of exorcisms and power encounters with Satan and the demonic. But back to Dreher. In part, he said this in his new article:
My conversation with the exorcist — and by the way, St. Benedict was an exorcist — gave me new insights into why the Benedict Option is so important. There is no Christian figure more plunged into the adversarial encounter with intelligent evil than the exorcist, who faces it directly. Yet this is a battle that all of us have to fight one way or the other, in our daily lives in a post-Christian culture. The broader culture knows what it believes, and actually believes it. What about contemporary Christians? The satirical Christian news site The Babylon Bee sums up one basic theme of The Benedict Option in this story under this headline:
“SUCCESS: This Christian Is Now Completely Indistinguishable From The Culture He’s Trying To Reach”
As Christians called to live in the world, we have to reach out to that world to share our faith. But if we look like the world, and think like the world, and live like the world, what do we have to offer them, beyond Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? Behind a God-lite form of superstition and psychological comfort?
In our conversation, the exorcist told me personally that I had better not take my prayer life lightly, especially when doing the kind of work that I’ve been doing lately, on the abuse scandal. He said that as dark and as confusing as it is now, it’s going to be much worse before it gets better, and believers must strengthen themselves spiritually to hold firm to the faith through this trial. Nevertheless, he said he finds “joy” — his word, not mine — in the release of the Vigano letter, and everything that has followed, because it means that a great evil that had lodged itself in the Church is being exposed, which is the first and necessary stage to being cast out.
I offer you Catholic readers these words from a front-line fighter as a sign of hope. But also as a warning: it’s going to get much worse….
Same in the Protestant world. J. C. Ryle put it this way:
Warfare with the powers of hell is the experience of every individual member of the true church. Each has to fight. What are the lives of the saints, but records of battles? What were such men as Paul, and James, and Peter, and John, and Polycarp, and Ignatius, and Augustine, and Luther, and Calvin, and Latimer and Baxter, but soldiers engaged in a constant warfare?
And Charles Spurgeon nailed it when he said:
Where are you? You are in enemy country, a stranger and an alien. The world is not your friend. If it is, then you are not God’s friend, for whoever is the friend of the world is the enemy of God. Be certain that you will find enemies everywhere. When you sleep, remember that you are resting on the battlefield; when you travel, suspect an ambush in every hedge.
Or as Leonard Ravenhill once put it: “Many believers live as if this world were a playground instead of a battleground.”
It is time to stop living and thinking like pagans, and start acting and believing like sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.