Spiritual Warfare

by Canon Mark Pearson

If you mention the phrases “evil spirits,” “the demonic,” or “spiritual warfare” to your friends, you will probably get one of three reactions.  Either they will think that you’re just kidding, or that you have taken leave of your senses, or that you have joined a cult.

Frequently the reason for their reaction is that the only connection they have to such ideas is their having read or heard about crazy or fanatic people, or their having watched a sensational Hollywood film.

I recall how decades ago a few of my friends who were not so immediately dismissive of me when I used those phrases, asked, “Where did you pick that stuff up?”  My answer was not what they were expecting: “When I was getting my Master’s degree in theology at Oxford, I got to know Dom Robert (“Max”) Petitpierre (1903-1982), an Anglican Benedictine monk, very calm and gentle, well trained in psychology, who was the chief exorcist of the Church of England.

He taught me that most of the people he was called upon to minister to had problems that were psychological in their cause, not demonic, but that when confronting a genuine demonic case, the person ministering needed to know what to do.  The protocols for ministry were well and long established and the theology behind the subject of spiritual warfare was grounded in the basic, historic Christian world view.

One friend who shares my off-beat sense of humor responded, “In that case, from now on I will be steering all my need-for-exorcism business your way.”

Another friend said, “This is not at all what I expected to hear from you, but it makes sense.” 

Christian orthodoxy teaches that God made various ranks of supernatural beings we generally, if somewhat incorrectly, lump together under the term, “angels” (see Ephesians 6:12).  While the majority of those beings who possessed free will remained loyal to God, some, led by their leader Lucifer, rebelled (see Isaiah 14:12-14, Jude 6).

These fallen angels, now called demons, and Lucifer, now called “The Devil” (which means “accuser”) and “Satan” (which means “adversary”), seek to foment rebellion against God and inflict harm on God’s people and plans.  Although we know who will win in the end, much satanic harm has been done and continues to be done in the meantime.

The Devil’s Offer of “Spirituality”

One way Satan works is by offering people “spirituality” without Christ or His cross.

Many people today are spiritually starving and are looking for something that lifts them beyond the material world and the daily humdrum.  Available are such things as divination, sorcery, astrology, and discerning truth and wisdom via means other than Scriptural revelation, scientific discovery, and the spiritual gifts of wisdom and discernment (see 1 Corinthians 12:8).

The Church speaks against these, not because they’re sometimes mere con games out to bilk naive people, nor because the Church is jealous, but because God said they were wrong and forbade them (see Genesis 41:8, Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Isaiah 47:12, Daniel 4:7).  We warn our people against them not because they don’t work, but because sometimes they do work but leave a legacy of spiritual, emotional and sometimes even physical harm in the lives of those who practice them.

Some people, having sought guidance and power from sources other than the God of Scripture and His grace as mediated through prayer and the sacraments, have so gotten swallowed up into the demonic that their subsequent actions become evil in intent.  Moreover, the power that fuels what they do is evil as well.

The Devil’s Offer of Power and Control

Another way Satan works is by offering people power and control over others. Five times in Isaiah 14:13-14 Lucifer uses the word “I” culminating with, “I will make myself like the Most High.” 

While God demands that, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3), Satan seems to be saying that those who seek power at his hand can do whatever they want.  Indulging one’s baser passions makes them giddy until they realize (often too late) that those who make a deal with the devil are always the losers.

No, not every problem is directly caused by a demon, although everything wrong with individuals, society and the cosmos can be traced back to original sin and the fall of the human race. Often people simply make wrong choices.  They may need conversion and submission to Christ in obedience to His Word and in the fellowship of His Church, but they don’t need exorcism or deliverance.

But sometimes people do need such ministrations because there’s more afoot.

Three decades ago I was conducting a healing service in the Chapel of St. Andrew’s Seminary in Quezon City, the Philippines.  During the service I noticed two students leering at me and making a mockery of the event.  When they came up for prayer, I felt a strong sense of evil and foreboding.  I asked them both to repeat the phrase, “Jesus is Lord.”  They could not.

My prayer partner was the Most Rev. Manuel Lumpias, who was then the Presiding Bishop of the Philippine Episcopal Church.   Together we commanded the evil spirits to depart in Jesus’ Name. We continued to do this for about ten minutes. Finally, they  both  blurted  out, “Jesus is Lord,” as they fell physically and spiritually exhausted to the floor.

Bishop Lumpias and I later learned that in the years prior to seminary both had participated in occult healing services in their villages because their priests were devoted to overthrowing what they believed was an oppressive government and not to teaching the faith or ministering the sacrament of healing.

As I look over the political landscape I see the same differences of opinion we have always had, but I also see something that increasingly troubles me.  I see in some not merely opinions that differ from that of others; I see evil.  The looting, the arson, the intentional murders of blacks by the handful of police officers who are racist, and the intentional murders of police officers of every race, the glee some take at dismembering babies in the womb, and more, all remind me of Ephesians 6:12:

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.

While a specific ministry of exorcism is generally reserved to those licensed by a bishop, each of us is called to wage spiritual warfare.

Pray regularly that God sends to us His warrior angels led by St. Michael the Archangel, that he “be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil” (The Prayer of St. Michael). 

When St. Paul speaks of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18, he is not telling us merely to memorize that passage.  God is commanding us through the apostle to put these things on and keep putting them on.

But it is not so we can cower just a bit less before Satan and his minions active around us.  Each of us is to bind evil principalities and powers.  Each of us is to take authority in the Name of Jesus against the forces of darkness.  We are to go on the offensive, confident that the gates of Hell will not prevail against God’s Church (Matthew 16:18).

If we simply see the problems in society as inequality of income, education and housing, we will be missing the bigger picture.  Behind the problems of society and our call as compassionate Christians to respond actively, is a battle in the spiritual realm.

And, if we fight in our own power against the demonic powers seeking to destroy the Church and to capture more fully our society, we will lose and probably wonder why.  Instead, we are to go forward in the Name of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit and we are to go into battle with the defensive armor on and with the offensive spiritual weapons God gives us and we shall see victory.


by Canon Mark Pearson

[First, please read Mark 11:20-25]

Over the centuries people have reacted quizzically to Jesus’ statement, “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22).

One common response is, “Easy for you to say!” Others say, “Isn’t ‘faith’ a special gift of the Spirit and God gives this to some but not to others, so how I can I be commanded to have it?” Still others respond, “If only I had that personality type that makes faith easy.”

Over the years a number of people have said to me, “I wish I had your faith!” Taking my cue from a few with whom I studied theology fifty years ago, I respond, “Then go get it.”

How do people define “faith”?
If Jesus wants us to have faith, exactly what is faith? For many people, “faith” is a mild hope, vague as to specifics, that we should latch onto emotionally.

Some have attributed to President Dwight Eisenhower the statement, “I have faith in faith.” Some of us of more advanced years may remember former New York minister and congressman Adam Clayton Powell saying, “Keep the faith, baby.” Many us have friends, who, when confronting something troubling, try to comfort themselves with, “I just gotta have faith to get through.”

If some take a mushy view of faith, still others take a more critical view.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) was a nineteenth-century Danish philosopher. His 1843 book Fear and Trembling looks at Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Rather than understanding this as genteel Christian piety, Kierkegaard understands Abraham’s faith as highly isolating, anxiety-ridden, and rationally absurd.

Contemporary Australian academic Peter Harrison states, “Religious belief is often thought to evince a precarious kind of commitment, in which the degree of conviction is inversely proportional to correspondence with the facts.” Or, as a rationalist acquaintance of mine asserts, “Faith is the ridiculous belief in the absurd.”

Biblical definitions: 1. The Faith
The word in Greek is πίστις, transliterated as pistis with the accent on the first syllable. There are two meanings, related, but still separate, to this word.

First, it means “The faith,” the body of true, as opposed to false, doctrine. Here’s just two examples of how the word “faith” is used this way in the New Testament:

Because the ordination of seven to diaconal service freed the apostles for more extensive preaching, the number of converts grew rapidly. Acts 6:7 notes a great company of the (Jewish) priests were obedient to the faith.

Jude exhorts his listeners/readers to contend earnestly “for the faith which was once and for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude, verse 3).

The Bible makes it clear that truth matters. Truth — objectively real, propositional statements given by God and valid across the ages and in all of the different human subcultures. Doctrine — that establishes certain things as objectively correct and that rules out other ideas as objectively wrong, irrespective of how sincere a person is and irrespective of what a person feels.

We embrace the truth because God gave it. When Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, said to love God, it was to be with our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30, after Deuteronomy 6:5).

Our minds are not liberated by disengaging from Christian doctrine. Rather, they lose their proper moorings and are subject to disaster when we disengage.

In his hymn Adoro Te Devote, (usually translated as “Humbly I Adore Thee”), St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), wrote “I believe everything that the Son of God has said….”

We embrace the truth because, as Jesus stated, it is what sets us free (John 8:32)

Or as Richard M. Weaver noted three quarters of a century ago, “ideas have consequences.” Obviously, good ideas (objective truth) have good consequences and bad ideas (denial of that truth) have bad consequences.

Doctrinal systems that depart from God-given objective truth are called heresies. Anglican bishop C. Fitzsimons Allison wrote a book entitled, The Cruelty of Heresy (1994). As the truth sets us free, falsehood enslaves.

Contending for the truth is not being picky over academics any more than our doctor’s quest to get your diagnosis correct is not being picky. Souls are at stake, temporally on earth and eternally in the afterlife. I liken it to insisting your doctor gets your diagnosis exactly right.

That’s why the New Jerusalem Bible translates Jude, verse 3, as “fight hard.” instead of “contend.” It’s that important.

So if one of the ways Jesus’ statement, “Have faith in God,” means to embrace the faith — historic Christian orthodoxy— how do we do it?

First, embrace Scripture as God’s infallible Word to the human race and then study it. For centuries people in the Anglican tradition have been blessed by the collect for The Second Sunday in Advent:
Blessed Lord, Who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of Your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Second, embrace the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed as definitive summary statements of the Church’s centuries’ old understand of the basics.

Third, read classic books that hold to the historic faith without compromise. One can never go wrong by making the writings of C. S. Lewis central in one’s study.

Fourth, study Scripture and the classic Christian books with other believers similarly committed to the faith.

Fifth, regularly listen to sermons given by orthodox Christian clergy.

The key is to accept God’s truth before you come to understand it, not if you understand it.

While this might at first sound odd, isn’t how we normally behave? A wise car owner follows the manufacturer’s handbook even if he does not understand how cars work. A wise patient trusts the doctor to be far more knowledgeable about medicine than either herself or those articles in People magazine. Wise are the words of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Anselm (1033-1109).

I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand … if I did not believe, I would not understand.

Believing something to be true because God said so sounds anti-intellectual to some. A religion professor at my undergraduate college mocked me for believing Christian orthodoxy.

Three years after graduation, with my seminary work finished, I went back to Williams and bumped into him. “Are you still believing that [expletive]?” he asked. “Yes, and even more than before,” I responded.

“You’re done seminary study. What fundamentalist little school in the wilds of Arkansas did you go to?” he challenged me. “Oxford,” I told him, “and I graduated with Honours. And many of my teachers were solidly orthodox.”

Biblical definitions: 2. Trust
If the first biblical definition of faith is the deposit of truths to which a Christian believer is asked to give assent, the second definition is relational: trust.

When I was little my dad and I used to play a little game. Called “trust me.” I’d go up several steps on the stairs and he’d say, “Jump and I’ll catch you.”

I could say, “Below on the steps is Hedley Pearson. He was born on July 30, 1922 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. He has brown eyes and brown curly hair.”

All of that is true. If I recited that as a statement of faith, I’d be promulgating orthodoxy. It would be “the faith” about him, but I might be still on the step. I wouldn’t jump into his arms unless I knew I could trust him, first, that he was able to catch me and second, that he was not playing a game and would deliberately fail.

Trust when what God promises /what we need seems impossible
As an illustration of that I like the story of Joshua leading the children of Israel across the Jordan River. You can read about it in the book of Joshua, chapter 3.

The river was at flood stage at this time so the suggestion would have seemed ridiculous to them had not God commanded them. They might have played it safe, deciding to go close to the water but not actually put their feet into it until they saw the waters had somehow dried up. But that wouldn’t have been faith (trust) and therefore no divine event would have happened, the kind of event needed then and now to deepen faith in God.

But playing it safe was not what Joshua had ordered. He said, “… as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord … set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap” (Joshua 3:13).

What happened? “… as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge … water from upstream stopped flowing (Joshua 3:15-16).

Many of us have faith in God for relatively small things but not really big things. I tell people that is like having a 12-foot tall God. He’s bigger than us but not really that big. God will sometimes throw us into a situation so big that only
He can pull it off. Is our faith big enough? Or do we deserve English Anglican priest J. B. Phillips’ accusation, “Your God is Too Small”?

Trust when we don’t know the whole picture

Martin Luther King Jr. said that “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

God sometimes calls us to climb only that first step because we would run away if we saw the enormity of the stair case. Other times we could not understand what to do next until we had first accomplished His initial order.

Since we often find the task God has placed in front of us to be enormous or we don’t understand where His initial command will lead, faith as trust hinges on whether we trust God or not.

How do we come to trust God?

Trusting God is not some “leap in the dark,” or something to work up emotionally, or something we bring into being by fantasizing about it.

Trusting God comes the same way trusting others come: We do the work of determining whether the other person can be trusted or not. How do we do that?

*We read about what God is like and how God acts in Scripture. Sometimes there are doctrinal statements — either direct revelations from God or statements made by a divinely inspired Scripture writer. Other times we learn about God by learning how He acted.

*We read about what God is like and how God acts as we study the lives of Christians throughout history. These writings are called “The Lives of the Saints;” or “Christian biography.”

*We hear about what God is like and how God acts as we hear the testimonies of our Christian friends. Some churches have “praise reports” during times of worship or fellowship groups. While many Christians find it awkward to share, such sharing is important to our fellow believers. Otherwise, we might conclude that God is real but acted a long time ago or in lives of a few spiritual giants, but not in the lives of people like me, alive today.

*We learn more about what God is like as our prayer life grows. Prayer is more than asking God for something. It is, or can be, a deepening relationship with One Who wants to be known.

*We learn more about God as we serve others in His Name. As we teach, share our faith. pray with someone, manifest a word of knowledge or wisdom, God not only works through us but works in us. As we help others know about Him, we grow in our knowledge of Him. And, in even what might be called “mundane” ministries like growing food for the food pantry or stuffing envelopes, we can hear His voice and sense His presence.

*We learn about what God is like and how God acts as we see Him in the world around us. A contemporary Eucharistic Prayer includes the words:

“Give us grace to see Your hand at work in the world about us.” Knowing that this world is a fallen place, subject to the bad actions of Satan and people, we nevertheless see God’s hand acting in people and events.

*We know what God is like and how God acts when we recall those special moments of divine intervention in our lives. Some of these interventions are so special that it would take more faith to believe they are mere coincidences, rather than “God-incidents.”

May it be said of us, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20)