Spiritual Warfare and the Consequences of Cessationism

Spiritual warfare. In Christian life, we often hear that phrase hurled down the hallowed halls of the church, either in sermons or common language. Within the imagination, several images often begin to manifest. Those images are depicted as a harrowing dark-voiced troll like figure we refer to as a demon or as a bright shining wing carrying giant called an angel—both engaged in all-out war.  But buried beneath those images and that phrase is an axiom. The axiomatic reality is this – In order to make sense of spiritual warfare, one must presume the spiritual world not only exists but is also active in our physical world.   

In Eph. 6:12 Paul writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Here we see Paul illuminates to us where our true enemy slithers. But many have been trained to live as though we do not believe in actual spiritual battle. Paul makes clear our battle is not against other humans but against the spirit world. But there is a problem. Many believers do not practice codifying the spiritual world into the natural. For most, it is because they do not expect any manifestation of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12). They do not believe sign gifts continue today. And if many of the spiritual gifts are not expected within the church, then it is no surprise they are not experienced. This lack of expectation has consequences for spiritual warfare. The saying isn’t always true, but in this case, it is – seeing is believing.

Hear No Evil See No Evil

In the world of theology there is a debate regarding spiritual gifts. The debate has those who believe the gifts of the Spirit, e.g., gift of prophecy and tongues, continue. This is called Continuationism. The other side of the debate says the sign gifts have ceased. This view holds they no longer are experienced as normative in the life and body of the church. This is called Cessationism.

In the famed fictional book called ‘The Screwtape Letters’, C.S. Lewis depicts the ominous banter of demons. Screwtape, the senior demon, is training his understudy Wormwood. In the quest to devastate the Enemy (God), Screwtape instructs with the aim to decimate, with specificity, the mind of man. On one such occasion Screwtape, steeped in pious perfunctory; preaches:

“An important spiritual law is here involved. I have explained that you can weaken his prayers by diverting his attention from the Enemy Himself to his own states of mind about the Enemy.”

This is what Cessationism does. It creates a state of mind about God that says he can do anything, but in practice, it expects nothing. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ lack of mighty works in his hometown. In Matthew 13:53-58 it says Jesus taught in the synagogue. The people were astonished at his wisdom they heard and the mighty works they heard about. But, because of their unbelief, it says, “he did not do mighty works there”. They had a mindset which allowed for the wisdom of God, because they heard it as he taught. Yet, they lacked the expectation of the divine Jesus because they didn’t believe him. This is the effect of Cessationism. As Screwtape points out, this mind of disbelief weakens prayer. To engage in spiritual warfare is to engage in prayer. When one fails to pray in a way of expectation, which enables the Spirit to move through his gifts, it is a weaker prayer.

Spiritual War with Joy

In Ask Pastor John, episode 1163 , “Do Cessationists Miss Out on the Full Joys of Christianity” John Piper says: “All things being equal, someone pursuing spiritual gifts can experience the goal of Christian Hedonism more fully… That’s because God has given spiritual gifts as a means of ministry to his people, and these gifts are points of supernatural encounter with the living God in which he shows more of his power, more of his wisdom, more of his love to his people.”

The practice of believing for a “supernatural encounter with God” provides a framework in which spiritual warfare can be realized. When the Spirit goes to war on our behalf (Rom 8:26-27) through prayer, and we have an expectation of God’s power on display, we get happier in God. We have a place where we know the power of God manifested is not only possible but expected. This joy is a building of our faith because his glory blazes all the brighter. That is, our joy in him increases as his gifts are manifested. It encourages us to fight against spiritual wickedness in high places, fully believing God not only can move supernaturally, but expecting he will.

Continue by the Spirit

The apostle Paul writes the following to the church of Corinth:

“earnestly desire the higher gifts.” (1 Corinthians 12:31)

“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”                            (1 Corinthians 14:1)

“Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39)

In part, Paul writes this because he wants them to be equipped to wage spiritual devastation by the Spirit. The word of God is the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), and his spiritual gifts are joy filled demonstrations to remind everyone, he is with the church. Through the gifts there is Gospel power unleashed into the cosmic corners of the realm of the deep. And when the power of God is ushered into the throughs of war his glory is displayed, our joy is more and the consequences of Cessationism cease.  

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