Spiritual warfare is real.
You believe it is, too.
At least if you made your baptismal vows in the United Methodist Church. When we baptize someone, we ask several questions of them. Their baptism also reminds us of ours. So, we all reaffirm what they say we believe.
One of the questions we ask is: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?
Why would we renounce spiritual forces if we didn’t believe they were real? And if they’re real, how do we reject them?
Scripture often uses militaristic imagery. Think of Ephesians 6. The armor of God. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul also talks about our weapons of warfare.
So why are many of us in mainline denominations so timid about spiritual warfare? We don’t talk a lot about it. Whenever I do it feels necessary to make sure we know what we’re not talking about so as not to lose anyone in the conversation.
To be sure, I don’t have in mind much of the sensationalism one might come across on a Christian TV program. No, there is something much more pervasive to acknowledge.
The story that helps me best qualify this conversation for us modern disciples of Jesus is the healing of the Gerasene. Three of the gospel narratives tell this story, Matthew, Mark and Luke.
We often note Mark’s hurried story-telling nature. He moves his stories along at a rapid pace. That teaches me to pay attention to any details Mark does include. When it comes to the man who had the legion, Mark gives us more information about him than the other gospel writers.
So, pay attention!
We know his condition drove him among the tombs. No one could restrain him, even though they tried with chains and shackles. He was strong and prowled day and night howling and bruising himself with stones.
I imagine people tired of trying to help him. Who could blame them?
If Jesus had not shown up on the shore that day, do we suspect the man would have remained as he was? If chains and shackles didn’t work, what would be the next level of force to subdue him?
Spiritual forces already subdue people. Those people don’t need others trying to subdue them any further, even if their goal is to help. Spiritual warfare, then, is the fight against such suppression. What I gather from Mark is that suppression comes in many forms.
Was there anything else the other people could have done for the man? I suppose so, but they didn’t know what.
Is that why we don’t talk about this much? We don’t know what it requires of us? It’s easier to bring a food dish or write a get-well card, isn’t it?
Consider what Mark tells us about the man’s healing. When the people came to investigate what happened, they found the man sitting with Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. He was restored.
We renounce spiritual forces of wickedness because they take something away from the personhood of another child of God. Sometimes that child of God is us. But even if it’s not, like Jesus, we engage in real spiritual warfare.