One’s experience with, and feelings about, spiritual warfare, may depend largely on where in the world we live. Here are a few of the differences:
Here in the United States, the topic of spiritual warfare is for the most part not emphasized. It is rarely preached from our pulpits, and it is not a subject that Christians tend to be comfortable discussing or thinking about very much. There are a number of reasons for this, I believe:
- Spiritual warfare is as a rule not taught in our nation’s seminaries and Bible colleges. When it does arise in academic settings, it is likely to be downplayed. As a result, our pastors may feel ill-equipped to deal with the topic, and so approach it awkwardly if at all.
- We are a nation that has developed a robust health care system, including therapy, mental health treatment, and psychiatric services. One result of this is that when individuals are experiencing emotional crises and spiritual battles, they are most likely referred to the mental health care system. As few of these are grounded in treating spiritual warfare, treatment consists of therapy, medications, and invasive treatments such as Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). One wonders how many of these cases are actually spiritual warfare.
- The topic of spiritual warfare still carries with it a certain stigma in our country. Believers who openly describe their battle with spiritual warfare are often perceived as weird, or thought to be instead experiencing mental illness. As a result, people are often reluctant to share their experiences, even to their pastor. This is a stigma that must be lifted if we are to have a biblical and healthy understanding of spiritual warfare.
Contrast this with how the church in Africa, for example, deals with the subject. In African churches, spiritual warfare often takes on a unique cultural flavor, drawing on traditional beliefs and practices. For example, in some African cultures, there is a strong belief in the power of ancestors and spirits, and these entities may be seen as either allies or enemies in the spiritual battle. Some African churches also place a strong emphasis on deliverance ministry, which is the practice of casting out demons or evil spirits from individuals who are believed to be under spiritual attack. Deliverance ministry often involves intense prayer and fasting, as well as the use of anointing oil, holy water, or other sacramentals. Additionally, some African churches may use physical objects or symbols as a means of spiritual warfare. For example, the use of anointed oil, or the wearing of special prayer shawls or bracelets, may be seen as a way to ward off evil or invite the protection of God. The point is that the church in Africa sees spiritual warfare as a real threat to its members, and they openly do battle with it. It is very much a part of their everyday lives. So which way is correct? The answer, as we have already suggested, probably lies somewhere in the middle. We are in error if we completely deny and/or ignore the possibility that we are subject to spiritual warfare. We are also in error if we decide that every negative event in our lives means it was a spiritual warfare attack. As mature Christians we seek God’s wisdom and insight as revealed in the Bible. We must also remember that there are in actuality three areas in which a Christian can come under attack, and spiritual warfare is but one of the three. Those are the world, the flesh, and the devil.
1. The world- the external solicitations for us to sin. 2. The Flesh- the internal solicitations for us to sin. 3.The devil- spiritual warfare by unseen spirit forces.
Next week we will tie all of this together. Let me conclude this week with the dangers of “whistling in the dark”, ignoring and/or denying the existence of spiritual warfare. By doing so, we play right into the devil’s hands. His goal is to take out those for whom Christ died. Dozing Christians in denial are much easier to take out than trained warriors who will fight for their faith. Here are two quotes from The Screwtape Letters:
- “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
- “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
We’ll wrap this up next week- see you then!