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. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
Most Christians think that they understand the Apostle Paul’s words here in these familiar verses from his letter to the Ephesians. The Christian armor. The devil, and so on. I am writing this post for two reasons, 1) to demonstrate that in fact most Christians, pastors, teachers, authors, and counselors in fact have a very, very minimal or even non-existent notion of what Paul is speaking of here, and 2) to encourage us all to take a fresh and deeper look at the nature of our enemy.
Let’s begin with the second point first.
Recently I watched a superhero movie — Dr. Strange. I liked it. Oh of course the worldview and theology in it was total fantasy, as it was meant to be. But there were some thought-provoking lines in it. One was when Dr. Stephen Strange went to Katmandu (you always find ultimate truth in some Buddhist monastery type place, right?) in search of a way to heal his injured hands. He connected with “the ancient one” – a bald lady named “the ancient one” – and she introduced him to regions beyond. He was told to “forget everything he knew.”
Now, of course this kind of mind-emptying eastern mystical stuff is completely foreign and even opposed to the truth of God’s Word. We don’t empty our minds to know Christ, but He does give us a new one. And in some ways you might say that a Christian has to “forget everything he knew” in order to know Christ. You see this for example in 1 Corinthians where the wisdom of God is contrasted with the wisdom of man.
Most Christians think that they know about evil. They might even be able to quote from Ephesians 6 word for word. But what I am trying to emphasize here is that we simply do not understand our enemy or his tactics until we get firmly hold on what Paul is saying here. We think we know. But we do not.
Think about it.
Paul says pointedly, for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers/authorities/cosmic powers over this present darkness/spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. Flesh and blood we know. Touch it, feel it, see it, smell it. It’s people. But non-flesh and blood, ah, that is a different story. Let me put this question to you pointedly and I hope that it serves to greatly humble all of us, especially if you are someone who has been preaching or teaching or writing books about marriage. The question is this:
Really, just how much do you know about rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places? How much? Be honest. If you are a “teacher of Israel” as Jesus admonished Nicodemus, and you do not know much at all about such things, how can you venture to teach others?
Let me ask you still another question:
What if, just what if, there is a realm of darkness in this creation, operating its destruction, lying, deceiving, enslaving, that you really know hardly anything about? What if what you have been taught about evil is woefully lacking? What if you are wrong, in other words, about the enemy of our souls? And yet you are presuming to teach the church.
Now, I can hear many saying at this point, “I know quite a lot about evil and our enemy. I have my Bible. I know what it says.” Do you? Do you really? Do you truly know (to repeat) rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil? I am not speaking of knowing a list of facts. I am asking you if you have a true, working, experiential knowledge taught to you by the Spirit of God through the Word of God and through hard experience in this warfare. Let me answer for you. You do not. Unless you have personally been “touched” by these spiritual forces of evil right down where you live, you simply are ignorant of its nature and its tactics.
Humble admission of this ignorance is the starting point for growing wise in these matters. Arrogant insistence that you know is only a guarantee that you will remain ignorant and continue to be an ally of the enemy.
Do not grow defensive as these things are put to you. Those of you who have been preaching to others or writing books on marriage will make your greatest mistake if, when you are critiqued and your errors are pointed out, you react by circling your wagons and refusing to listen to the people who do know this evil. We at Unholy Charade see this ALL the time. I don’t know if we have ever had a well-known author or pastor humble themselves, acknowledge their need to learn, and ask for help. Rather it has been circle the wagons and fire back. The problem is, they end up firing back at the victims of evil, not at the evil itself.
Here is one more line I took from the Dr. Strange movie that really is particularly good. Dr. Strange was a well-known and famous surgeon, but he was very arrogant. The Ancient One (remember, don’t take your theology from the movies!) told him that there was one fundamental truth that he absolutely had to learn. Here it is:
It’s not about you!
And yet typically when we try to point out the errors of the preachers, notable teachers and authors, when we try to steer them to solid facts about the nature and tactics of evil, they react as if it is all about them. “How dare you criticize my book. Don’t you know how many copies have sold? I just don’t understand how you can be so mean to me.” It’s all about them, you see. But it isn’t all about them. It is all about God’s truth in Christ, about exposing the evil of this present darkness, and about setting the captives free.
The Lord has taught myself and all the host of our readers some hard, hard lessons that most of the time took decades for us to finally get. [And I still fall prey to the enemy at times. I haven’t fully learned yet]. We have all been touched (some more, some less) by this devilish evil we call abuse. It came into our lives intimately, personally, in the form of evil people whose lust for power and control knew no bounds. Sometimes that evil stood in a pulpit, sat on a church board, served as a missionary, headed up a para-church ministry, shared the same bed in a “Christian” marriage, or some other “angel of light” disguise. But it all came down the road of our life. “Something Wicked this Way Comes” as the Disney movie title puts it. It came our way. Lying, deceiving, confusing, destroying. Until the Lord in His grace by His Spirit began to lift that confusing fog and we were enabled to see it for what it really is.
This teaching was not our doing. It was the Lord’s work in us. We wrote books. We started this blog. We interact with abuse survivors and victims and sometimes with abusers. And you know the remarkable thing that we saw right at the start and which we still see virtually every single day? We see victims thanking us, telling us things like “you saved my life,” or “your books tell the very story of my life of abuse.” NEVER have we had an abuse victims tell us that what we have written and taught harmed them, enabled their abuser, and held them in bondage longer. Never. Why? Because the Lord taught us personally through hard, hard years of abuser attacks what the nature of this evil and our enemy is. We have shared in the same evil our fellow-survivors have.
In contrast (and we say this humbly, not arrogantly nor vengefully), when we critique a book on marriage, for example, and our readers comment on our critique and tell their stories about how that book or other ministry hurt and harmed and endangered them, it is VITAL that the authors listen to them. Vital! Here are the people taught by the Lord in the fire, people intimately acquainted with evil, telling the authors or pastors or Christian counselors — “no, you don’t know. You don’t understand. Listen to me and I can tell you how your teachings are enabling evil because you do not truly know it” — and what is happening most every time? The “authorities” refuse to listen. They are dismissive toward them. They act with an air of superiority. And if the victims persist in trying to speak out, the “teachers” become angry. Some even start playing the victim. “Oh, I just cannot understand why all of this negativity is being directed at me.”
And so here is still another call to such “teachers of the church.” Admit that your real knowledge of evil is very, very limited. Confess that yes, when you wrote your book or taught your seminar or preached your sermon series, you had absolutely no inkling about this thing called abuse. You did not even conceive of such an evil person existing, let alone in the church. And most of you still don’t. And many of the “most” don’t want to know.
How can anyone possibly write a Christian marriage book, or really any Christian book at all, while remaining ignorant of the nature and tactics of evil? Consider one more time at least the titles Paul gives these “principalities and powers” in Ephesians 6 and confess to the Lord that there are very likely many truths about this evil that are entirely outside your realm of experience. Listen. Listen to the voices of the victims who are very ready and willing to help open your eyes, if you will simply step down from your high horse and listen.
How a professing Christian – be it a pastor, teacher, or author – responds when their teaching is shown to have harmful effects reveals the state of their heart. If they are genuine Christians, they will repent. They will voluntarily make restitution. They will publicly apologize for the pain their teaching has inflicted on victims, and do all they can to course correct and support those they’ve injured.
This is why I don’t have much confidence in today’s professing church. I can’t remember the last time that I have seen a pastor or author repent when the fruit of their teaching and their lives is called into account and shown to be rotten. Instead, they double down. They rally their minions to harass and condemn those who are speaking out and sharing the truth about the poisonous fruit these men and women have been offering to their audiences.
Yes, I know God will always have his remnant on the earth. I know there are genuine believers who are doing their best to follow Christ and persevere till he returns. If I’m really honest, I’ve come to realize that they are much fewer and farther between than I’d like to admit. I used to be naive about that. I thought that if I went to a local church that most if not all of those who attended were genuine believers. I know that is not the case. I’ve been emotionally, spiritually, and financially abused by multiple professing Christians, including those who call themselves pastors. Finding genuine believers is not as easy as strolling into the local church on the corner. Many genuine believers today can’t step foot in a church building because of past spiritual abuse and a wariness of all that publicly professes to be Christian. Unfortunately, that wariness is warranted. Most what professes to be Christ’s church isn’t. They are synagogues of Satan masquerading as Christ’s true church. They protect the wicked and punish the innocent. They subvert justice, empower the oppressor, and let the lambs be slaughtered for the wolves to feed on.
The victims of these wicked men and women who still cling to our faith in Christ linger in the shadows. We’re on the fringes, sharing our stories online, calling out the abusive tactics that are prevalent in all facets of the professing Christian church. We cling to Christ and his word and test all that professes to be of Christ to see what is genuine and what is counterfeit because we know the pain of blind faith in those who claim to be of Christ and who are not.
What we see in today’s Christianity – both on the conservative and the progressive sides – is not of Christ. Christians are called to walk the narrow road. Not to turn to the right or to the left. We are called to love, obey, and get to know God through the study of his word and prayer, and practically apply His wisdom and commands.
The conservative side of Christianity typically errs on the side of protecting abusers. They worship the idols of patriarchy, male headship, marriage (no divorce ever), power, and control, disguising it as the worship of God. They appear doctrinally sound but have no love for God or the brethren as evidenced by their sin being exposed and how they respond to said exposure. They are today’s church of Ephesus as outlined in Revelation 2.
The progressive side of Christianity typically errs in its doctrine of who they believe Christ to be, and hold onto deceptions such as God loves everyone, extending grace to everyone, even those who haven’t genuinely repented of their sin. They affirm lifestyles and choices that God despises as outlined in his word, giving false hope to those who remain in those lifestyles. They teach heresies about how God wants you to be happy, healthy and wealthy. They are the churches in Sardis and Laodicea mentioned in Revelation 3.
Never forget following Christ will cost you something. For the sexually immoral, you will not be welcomed into God’s kingdom if you do not repent of your sin and turn from it. Repenting in this context means you confess your sin to God and stop doing it. Doing so may cost you the relationship you are in to follow Christ. So if you fail to do so, you are violating God’s law. If you love your sin and/or another person more than Christ, you cannot be his disciple. Christ must be preeminent in everything in your life. Confessing your sin, yet remaining in it is not genuine repentance. Scripture warns us the sexually immoral will not inherit his kingdom. You must be born again.
The wolves in both sides of Christianity are being exposed with their greed, abuse, and sexual misconduct being shown for all to see. If there were any genuine believers among them, having their sin exposed would have resulted in genuine repentance. That’s not what we see. We see excuses. We see language designed to minimize and shift the blame off of the offender and onto the victim. We see narcissistic pastors and authors who mobilize their flying monkeys in order to muddy the waters and shift blame from themselves to others, usually the victim.
The gospel of Jesus is real. It is the only way to be made right with God. So ask God to teach you how to be wise in discerning what is genuine and what is counterfeit, lest you fall into the snare of the enemy and become trapped.
To whom the son sets free is free indeed. Walk in that freedom for as long as God keeps you on this earth.
Come quickly Lord Jesus.
That’s a great assessment of the conservative and progressive churches. The American “church” as a whole can be summed up by everything that’s condemned in the churches in Revelation. Those who have not compromised with the Jezebels or Babylon or the Nicolaitans, who are not defiled, are on the fringe, like you said, the rare exceptions.
Amen and Amen. If only they would listen.
” Unless you have personally been ‘touched’ by these spiritual forces of evil right down where you live, you simply are ignorant of its nature and its tactics.” This is absolutely true!
“I am asking you if you have a true, working, experiential knowledge taught to you by the Spirit of God through the Word of God and through hard experience in this warfare.” Most Christian authors and ministers are not writing/ministering from experiential knowledge taught to them by the Spirit of God through the Word of God and hard experience. As a result, they do a lot of harm to already extremely wounded, genuine Christians.
Christian writers and ministers who know and have experienced very real spiritual warfare and the depth of evil that exists are much more compassionate toward victims of abuse. They do not blame the victim, but help them get free from the clutches of wicked people who are serving the kingdom of darkness. Those wicked people include wolves in sheep’s clothing who pretend to be Christians. They are narcissists, sociopaths and/or psychopaths who are very experienced in the art of deception which they use to cause tremendous pain and trauma to their victims.
What makes things worse is that many Christians do not want to acknowledge that the kingdom of darkness, Satan’s kingdom, even exists. That is why a large majority of writers and ministers focus on trying to help abusers rather than helping the ones who really need help-the victims. Abusers are evil. Evil people do not want to be helped, but they are really good at pretending that they will cooperate because they love the attention. They intentionally hurt others. Understanding evil and the kingdom of darkness is essential in order to help God’s children.
Thank you, Pastor Crippen, for another excellent article!
During my marriage, I was often reminded of Eph 6 in pop Christian readings and some family that “your husband is not your enemy. Read Eph 6.”
But now I know my husband was indeed my enemy in every way, and used as a tool by the ultimate enemy.
No one ever tells us that people are indeed enemies, they only say enemies are in the spiritual other-realm and “within ourselves” — the battle is in our “hearts and minds.” But this is only partly true.
When people allow themselves (knowingly or unknowingly) to be used as tools to evil: deceit and malicious harm, manipulation, and abuse, whether on a large scale like Stalin or Hitler, or on a smaller scale like a spouse, family member, colleague, then they are an enemy.
It is upsetting to hear Christian writers speak about something they have no personal experience with. I am thinking of Francis Chan. While I like a lot of his sermons, his and his wife’s view of marriage and thier book, “You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity,” clearly indicate they have no personal experience and understanding of abuse and the concept of “sleeping with the enemy.”
There are many things I would like to add, but instead I find thanks and appreciation for the opening post, comments and points, and Lynn’s following comments (& the others as well). Somewhere between the first two posts I felt as if I could revel well in the moment knowing you have spoken for the vastness of what we have experienced at the hands of a growing population of evil abusers posing as Christ followers, and only our drop of understanding of the even greater vastness of our Lord……. Which brings full circle back to the depth of importance in Ephesians 6.