Answering Friends #4 // Spiritual Warfare in Church Planting
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
When I recently asked my friends to “ask me anything,” one friend asked if we faced much spiritual warfare while church planting.
In a word—Yes.
Let’s be clear though. This sincere friend was writing from a rural context and seemed to assume that we must face greater opposition because we are doing ministry in an urban setting.
While there are areas of the world where opposition to the gospel is raging hot—I don’t believe that there are any areas where one may be engaged in gospel mission without facing serious spiritual opposition.
Answering “yes” to this question is surely not news.
We are to expect conflict and to remain aware that our destruction is desired.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
But the Bible goes on here to remind us that all other believers who are engaged in the fight face similar opposition—we are not alone, and there is no “easy” field.
Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
Even more reassuring than that is the great truth that though we are slated for suffering, our support is not limited to one another—God is in our midst—He is our strength!
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Yes, church planting in any context is hard and establishing a gospel foothold in an urban context is seemingly impossible.
If you plan to rely on your power to stand in the midst of evil—quit now.
If you plan to rely on your persuasion to convince people to turn from sin—do not engage; walk away from the battle.
If you plan on counseling people into wholeness but you don’t know what it is to have sore joints and rug burns on your knees—back up and find a detour.
If you think apologetics will cause cities wholly given to idolatry to see the error of their ways—think again.
If you don’t heed these warnings to stop now, you will discover something amazing.
There is a value set that wartime soldiers adopt, and it is to be the mindset of the kingdom-advancing minister. This minister rejoices to be counted worthy to suffer for the cause.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,
Let me illustrate this mindset with a snapshot from classic literature: “In Shakespeare’s Henry the 5th, Henry begins a speech saying, “If we are slated to die, the fewer, the better for our country, and if we’re slated to live, the fewer men, the greater the share of honor for each of us.” Toward the end of his speech he speaks of the prize of the one who survives the day… he says:
“He’ll roll up his sleeve and show his scars, saying, ‘I got these wounds on St. Crispin’s Day.’ Old men forget. But these men will remember every detail of what they did today long after they’ve forgotten everything else.”
The church-planting, disciple-making, kingdom-advancing minister develops this same sense of not only enduring, but also enjoying the fact that they have suffered in the heat of battle and found their weapons and method of warfare (Spirit-enabled living) sufficient.
The stewardship that Paul references in the passage above calls wartime ministers to suffer for the good of the church. Do not be mistaken, this is our great joy—we were made for this cause.
When our life is for his cause, and his cause is his church, then suffering, accusation, being looked down on, being persecuted, or ostracized in his name and for his cause becomes privilege. It is our blessing—not our curse.
There is a dependence on the Holy Ghost that enables the weapons of our warfare; the soldier’s natural arm will not suffice.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
It’s true that we must “wrestle” (Eph. 6:12), but when we war in Jesus’ strength, we wrestle defeated foes. We do, in fact, wage war against cosmic powers, but we march under the banner of the cosmic Christ!
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
There is a united brotherhood that must engage in this fight as one!
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This passage is often referred to when people are discussing spiritual warfare. It has application but not as it’s typically represented. Remember that this text is in the context of church discipline. We are a band of brothers—a battalion of soldiers in a fight together; Scripture speaks clearly about our dependence on one another in that fight. None of us live in a vacuum; there are no hired guns, no lone rangers—when one falls, the unit suffers and the mission takes a hit. We have every reason to support one another in the effort.
1 John 5:1-5
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Notice, that we are united in love for one another because we are united in our joyful submission to and love for our Leader! Among this brotherhood of carriers of this wartime mindset, this kind of expectation is not exceptional: it is the rule.
We are a part of an epic history of warriors; we should know what to expect.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
As Jesus gave our predecessors great power, so he has given us his powerful Spirit. Our great joy remains focused on our great hope—the gospel—our names are written in heaven!
Yes, since embarking on this church-planting mission, I’ve found myself in nightclubs, ERs, crack houses, sketchy situations, and even psych wards in search of wandering, endangered sheep; still I wouldn’t trade this life for “peace,” not in 1,000 years.
Throughout these passages, you can see that we are engaged in a war unlike all others—in this war, our victory is already secured. Though battle in the city looks dark, that darkness cannot overcome the Light!