During times of personal struggle, church difficulties, or global conflict, it is all too easy for us to abandon basic Christian insights when trying to understand what is happening. The same goes when we are attempting to discern the response we should make. In our time many first world churches of a very wide range of traditions seem hell-bent on accommodating themselves to current secular world views on key issues, rather than gently and lovingly, but firmly, adhering to what God has revealed.
It seems to me that one of the key passages of Scripture for today is Ephesians 6:10-13:
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 wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Commenting on this passage, the great evangelical Archbshop Marcus Loane (at whose hands I was confirmed 51 years ago when he was an Assistant Bishop in Sydney) wrote,
There is a marked pause at the end of the long and salutary passage on home relationships; then Paul called on his scribe once more and the Letter was brought to a close with a call to arms. He knew that, just like the ancient Spartans, we were born for battle: therefore we must learn to ‘endure hardness’ as good soldiers of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3 Authorised Version). We have to live on ground where we will be under attack; it is like a camp in hostile country which must be held until the Captain returns in triumph. Attacks are launched against it by unseen adversaries, for the devil is in command of a vast host. He is always a most aggressive enemy, and that host is skilfully organised for war without quarter. No true soldier of Christ will be immune from its assaults, nor can he be neutral in that conflict. The battle field is overhung with clouds, and he will be forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat. But each member of that beleagured [sic] garrison can stand fast and prevail, because there are sources of strength available in Christ which can make them invincible. Marcus L. Loane, Grace and the Gentiles (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981), 110.
Now, I know that some of our liberal friends smile condescendingly at that kind of teaching, but no less a scholar than the Anglo-catholic Dr Eric Mascall reminded us in his Boyle Lectures that
. . . it is part of traditional Christian belief that, behind and beyond the physical universe, there is a realm of purely spiritual beings, in whose affairs we have become implicated. I need hardly recall you to the tremendous and superb imagery in which the last book in the Bible . . . depicts the warfare in the unseen world between the angels of light and the powers of darkness. E.M. Mascall The Christian Universe (Darton, Longman & Todd, London 1966), p. 110
Scripture, tradition and Christian experience combine in assuring us that the struggle against evil with which Christians on earth are concerned can be seen in its true proportions only against the background of a vaster and more mysterious conflict in the unseen world in which they, too are caught up. When we are faced with the claim that Christians in a secular age ought to live as completely secularised men we can only reply that such a programme does no justice either to the true nature of this world or of existence as a whole . . . It ignores also the resources which we have at our command. (ibid. p. 129)
May the Lord open the eyes of all Christian people in our day, not just to the cosmic struggle in which we have become involved, but also, as Mascall says, to the resources God has given us with which to overcome.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High :
who abides under the shadow of the Almighty,
He will say to the Lord
‘You are my refuge and my stronghold :
my God in whom I trust.’
For he will deliver you
from the snare of the hunter :
and from the destroying curse.
He will cover you with his wings,
and you will be safe under his feathers :
his faithfulness will be your shield and defence.
You shall not be afraid of any terror by night :
or of the arrow that flies by day,
Of the pestilence that walks about in darkness :
or the plague that destroys at noonday.
A thousand may fall beside you,
and ten thousand at your right hand :
but you it shall not touch;
Your own eyes shall see
and look on the reward of the ungodly.
The Lord himself is your refuge :
you have made the Most High your stronghold.
Therefore no harm will befall you :
nor will any scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels :
to keep you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands :
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder :
the young lion and the serpent
you will trample under foot.
‘He has set his love upon me,
and therefore I will deliver him :
I will lift him out of danger,
because he has known my name.
‘When he calls upon me I will answer him :
I will be with him in trouble,
I will rescue him and bring him to honour.
‘With long life I will satisfy him :
and fill him with my salvation.’