“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”—Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Knowing the world his kingdom would inhabit, Jesus instructed his disciples to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents (Matt 10:16). With that in mind, I sometimes think about what strategies our enemy might use to undermine the church’s effectiveness.
Here’s four things I’d do if I was him:
1. Diminish the Spirit’s Influence
This is kind of a no-brainer. Jesus’ game plan relies on the Spirit’s supernatural impact to be manifested through the church. Enfeebling the church would be as simple as encouraging them to rely on their own ability.
Maybe I’d make ministry a game for professionals. If I could encourage ministry to be done vocationally by highly educated experts, they’d probably forget pretty quickly that the church was birthed by a largely uneducated group of Spirit-empowered ne’er-do-wells. Everyone else would be content to show up at church once a week as spectators.
Initially people were chosen for ministry based on their spirit empowerment (Acts 6:3). But with a modicum of success, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to get the church to rely on gimmicks, curriculum, and growth strategies instead of spiritual authority. Imagine how hamstrung the church would be if she focused on competence over spiritual passion.
2. Turn the Church against the Culture
It wouldn’t do me any good to turn the culture against the church. History shows that when the populace turns against the church, the church flourishes. Persecution would never work. Instead, I’d probably encourage the church to imagine she’s being persecuted.
It probably would be as simple as ramping up their moral outrage at the depravity around them. This would help them forget that their battle isn’t against people but against spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12). I’d encourage them to reduce people to stereotypes and generalities. Once they reduce people to abstractions, they’d quickly forget that it’s these people that Jesus passionately loves.
3. Encourage the Wrong Power Model
Jesus set an example of service and sacrifice as a model for ministry (Mark 10:42–45). In Christ’s model, influence is created as hearts are captured by those who love and serve everyone—even their enemies. When the church has embraced this model, her influence has spread like a brush fire.
I’d probably just remind them that, if they banded together, they could influence the laws that affected those outside of their influence. They could be stronger than any special interest group and could spread the principles of Christ’s kingdom with a top-down, power-over model. I’d just whisper in their ear, “Why take up the cross when the scepter would be so much more effective? All the world needs is for the right people to be in control, right?”
They’d forget that people can be transformed by extravagant, Calvary-like love, and instead focus on how they can be controlled by laws, threats, shame, and social pressure.
4. Confuse true worship with nationalism
Empires are easy to diabolically manipulate. After all, they’re controlled by powerful people who want to retain their power and use it to promote their ideology and benefit themselves. Satan excels at bending governments and nations to his fiendish will by using them to oppress weaker countries, and, by default, their own citizens. Look how it easy it was to manipulate the most powerful country to kill the son of God.
Christians are supposed to identify themselves with the kingdom of heaven, and cast a wry eye at the way the enemy manipulates empires. So if I was Satan, I’d try and convince them that their country was unique. It’s a Christian version of an empire. Once they saw their country as the lone Christian nation, they’d excuse inexcusable behavior. Patriotism would be a sign of godliness. They wouldn’t look behind their country’s behavior for the motives of the powerful. They’d assume that their nation’s aggression and militarization was God’s righteous will being enforced in the world.
Eventually they’d be convinced that politics was a form of godliness. This would create a divide among their nation’s citizens. I’d encourage the church to take up the cause of one political entity over another because I’d want to encourage them to think that God’s will was being done if the right political party was calling the shots. This would give me the added bonus of creating a religious hierarchy where people of with different political views were considered ungodly and evil, ensuring that they’d never listen to reason.
Yeah, those are probably the areas I’d focus on if I was the church’s enemy. I hope that he doesn’t read this post—I’d hate to give him any ideas.