The Wonder of the Church: Part 8 – Counter Attack
Mt 16:18 I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
1 Pet 2:9,10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
More? I thought we had finished this series, at the end of the last Part, but woke one morning with such clarity of something more, so we have to go on at least one more Part which is all about NOT being a passive, ineffectual bunch of religious people who are increasingly marginalized in this modern world. No this is about standing up and saying, “Enough! It is time to become who we were called to become.” The studies you will find as we go through this Part are as follows:
- A Time to Regain Identity
- A Time to go on the Offensive
- Are we ready to fight?
- About ‘Attitude’
- Finally, regain Perspective
It starts with this verse from Matt 16 that the gates of Hades (or Hell) will not overcome the church. In such context the phrase “the gates of Hades” can be taken to mean Satan and all his forces, as one commentator puts it, “storming out of the hell’s gates in order to attack and destroy the church.” Now as C.S.Lewis sought to show in his “Screwtape Letters”, he seeks to do that in various ways and they are clearly observable today. Thus our starting point in this final Part must be to identify the ways the enemy works to seek to undermine and bring down the Church. Sometimes that is by big, all-embracing strategies that affect many at a time (usually the weak of faith) and sometimes it is by personal and individual attack. His end objective is to weaken, disarm, disable and dismantle the Church and to eventually destroy it. As we will see, a hopeless task!
The Ways of the Enemy: In a variety of ways, Satan strategizes to undermine and bring down the Church. First, on one hand, he seeks to encourage the atheistic crusaders of the twenty-first century who sought to rubbish the truth of the Bible, successfully in those who were weak in faith, but unsuccessfully for others as the Lord raised up His intellectual warriors to show the folly of the attacks. (This is the ‘roaring lion’ attack – see 1 Pet 5:8).
Second, he seeks to encourage what is often referred to as the liberal wing of the church who downplay the veracity of the Bible and unwittingly undermine faith. This is the approach of ‘reasonableness’ and ‘logic’ which demeans the divinely supernatural and denies the truth that God speaks and acts into His world. (The is the ‘angel of light’ attack – 2 Cor 11:14).
Third, he seeks to make The Faith seem outdated and irrelevant in the face of the tidal waves of knowledge and science and technology. Fourth, in another deceptive strategy, he seeks to suggest that the modern world is so civilised and wise and all-knowing, that we no longer need these ‘outdated and superstitious folk tales from the past’. Unfortunately for him, the Bible truth still remains, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and so the fruit of this folly is observable in every area of life where men and women abandon God’s ways and God’s laws, and this is clearly visible for those who have eyes to see.
Fifth, especially in affluent Western societies, he seeks to make people so comfortable and secure in their affluence and tells them that they have been successful and so, again, don’t need these outdates rituals or beliefs. They can get by quite happily without them. He fails to remind them of Jesus’ parable of the two house builders in Matt 7 where we are reminded that temporary security is illusory without Christ, so when the crises of life hit – and they will – downfall will follow.
Futility of his efforts: History, ancient and modern shows that even though persecution comes, His Church remains strong and even thrives. The history of the church in China in the past hundred years is a classic example of that. While numbers in the church in the West decline, numbers of the church in China have spiralled, making it greater in number than the Communist Party of that country. In the West, leaders are qualified by education; in China they are qualified by having been in prison! Scripturally Jesus taught that God’s kingdom would grow and grow and grow and be the largest of all the ‘plants’ (Mt 13:32, Mk 4:32). In the West, while traditional denominations decline ‘new shoots’ thrive and increase in numbers. In that sense it is difficult to discern the exact truth of what is happening to the church.
Assessing the Reality: We have maintained throughout these studies that whatever the numbers, the overall signs are of a Church that a) so often is more concerned to maintain the status quo rather than constantly be pushing to expand the boundaries of the kingdom, b) so often is more concerned with managing buildings and institutions than putting much effort in reaching the lost, c) so often retreats into social work to appease a guilty conscience rather than train and send disciples to go out preaching the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, d) so often is more concerned with comfort and ease and constantly seeking personal well-being rather than sacrificially living out lives that reveal the wonder of the Servant-King, e) so often are more concerned with speaking carefully crafted words rather than moving in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit so that, f) so often there is little fruitfulness in the reality of transformed lives that now reveal the light and the life of their risen Lord and move on in service in the power of the Spirit. .
And Yet: Yes, this is the truth, God still looks to us to play our part. Yes, Scripture does appear to show that the powers of darkness may yet have a field-day but despite that we are called to display the resurrected Christ in and through the life of the Church. If there is any truth in these assessments of the place and the state of the Church in these different places, the end call has to be the same. Are those right who suggest that the picture of the church at Laodicea in Rev 3 applies to this time? Are we lukewarm, neither hot nor cold? (3:15,16) Are we deceived into believing we are rich while all the time (spiritually at least) we are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”? Is Jesus writing off the Church in the West? Will the Church in China, or from other severely persecuted countries, be the light that the Lord will use to shine to the rest of the world in the end-time darkness?
A word of hope. One thing I notice about Jesus with his disciples, is that he often chided his disciples for their little faith (e.g. Mt 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20) but he never wrote them off. When Jesus scolded the disciples for having ‘little faith’, it was not to put them down but to challenge them to rise up in it – he continued giving them opportunities to minister and become more and more like him. May that be true of us in these days, and that I will be examining in the remaining studies.