FIRST-PERSON: Fighting the real enemy

ROGERS, Texas (BP) -- Much of the language in the New Testament is of a militant nature. Believers are often referenced as soldiers. Warfare is a common theme and words like battle, fight and defeat are used regularly. The real enemy is Satan and this worldly system he superintends.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

Throughout the passing decades of the last half-century the church has, quite ironically, battled itself as much or more than it has battled the world. Frequently, rather than engaging the world and confronting the world, the church has instead taken up arms against itself. Strong opinions about a variety of issues have led to deep divisions, animosity and even church splits. This effectual "turning against one another" has been cause for Satan to break out the celebratory champagne.

Petty battles, however, albeit defending deeply held convictions, may have felt like spiritual warfare to those involved, but frequently these engagements have served to drain the church of its spiritual, emotional and physical energy and sometimes its monetary resources.

And these battles certainly have been cause for delight to the enemy of our souls. Quite simply, believers in recent decades in particular have struggled to identify the real enemy and the real battlefield worthy of their attention.

Believers are called to be warriors in this conflict -- not spectators. They are expected to properly identify the true enemy and his tactics. A warrior has been defined as "a brave or experienced soldier or fighter." It takes skill, resolve and determination to defeat any enemy. Our opponent is formidable and should never be taken lightly by the church of the Lord Jesus.

Sabine Baring-Gould wrote the great hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" in 1865 (to listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mG78M7g9wRo). The hymn has served as something of a "call to arms" for Christians engaged in the battle for Christ in this world. Debates raged in the 1980s within some denominations as to whether to include it in new editions of hymnals because of its militaristic tone.

When Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met in August 1941 on the battleship HMS Prince of Wales to agree on the Atlantic Charter, a church service was held for which Churchill chose the hymns. He chose "Onward Christian Soldiers" and afterward explained his choice in a radio broadcast. "We sang 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' indeed," Churchill said, "and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we were serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals ... it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation."

While the hymn may have been highly appropriate for this occasion, the ultimate cause of freedom and of nations is not as great as the cause of Christ. Churchill and Roosevelt primarily were concerned with earthly battles and earthly victories, but Christians have a much greater cause for which to fight.

Warfare is never as glamorous as some of its romanticized depictions. Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy: "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 2:3). A soldier's life entails plenty of hardships, but Paul admonished Timothy that he must endure.

Unfortunately, to look at the attitude and approach of many professing believers, one might easily get the impression the war has long since ended. Charles Thomas "C.T." Studd (1860-1931), the great British missionary who served in the Belgian Congo, captured somewhat of the urgency when he famously wrote, "Some want to live within the sound of a church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell." Studd also wrote a ditty that gave, rather tongue and cheek, a depiction of how some so casually approached the great daily battles. With words to be sung to the tune of the famous hymn "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus," he wrote, "Get up, get up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross, a lazy Sunday morning surely means harm and loss; the Church of God is calling; in duty be not slack; you cannot fight the good fight while lying on your back."

Many Christians today have lost sight of who the real enemy is and are not keenly aware of what he is actually doing. The second stanza of "Onward Christian Soldiers" optimistically states, "We are not divided; all one body we; one in hope and doctrine, one in charity." Sadly, we could only wish those words were true in our times.

Throughout the passing decades of the last half-century the church has, quite ironically, battled itself as much or more than it has battled the world. Frequently, rather than engaging the world and confronting the world, the church has instead taken up arms against itself. Strong opinions about a variety of issues have led to deep divisions, animosity and even church splits. This effectual "turning against one another" has been cause for Satan to break out the celebratory champagne.

We have been divided across denominations, within our own denomination and even within our own local churches. An army battling within its own ranks is music to the ears of the enemy. While many argue over issues, preferences and other minutia that will not even exist in a few years, the enemy is advancing and the church is often in retreat. Before we are going to be effective soldiers we must first realize there is a war raging and too many believers are not carrying out, or even aware of, their assignments.


Allen Raynor is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Rogers, Texas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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