The Devil And The Church
By E. M. Bounds (1835 – 1913)
The “gates of hell shall not prevail” against the church (Matt. 16:18). This promise of our Lord stands against every satanic device and assault. But this immutable word as to the glorious outcome does not protect the church from the devil’s stratagems which may, and often do, pervert the aims of the church and postpone the day of its final triumph.
The devil is a hydra-headed monster, but he is hydra-headed in plans and wisdom as well as in monstrosities. His master and supreme effort is to get control of the church, not to destroy its organization, but to abate and pervert its divine ends. This he does in the most insidious way, seemingly innocent, no startling change, nothing to shock nor to alarm. Sometimes the revolutionizing and destructive change is introduced under the disguise of a greater zeal for Christ’s glory. Introduced by some one high in church honor, often it occurs that the advocate of these measures is totally ignorant of the fact that the tendency is subversive.
Wrong Estimate of the Church’s Strength
One of the schemes of Satan to debase and pervert is to establish a wrong estimate of church strength. If he can raise false measurements of church power; if he can press the material to the front; if he can tabulate these forces so as to make them imposing and aggregating in commands, influence, and demand, he has secured his end.
To mistake the elements of church strength, is to mistake the character of the church. The strength of the church lies in its piety. But in worldly, popular language of this day, a church is called strong when its membership is large, when it has social position, financial resources; when ability, learning, and eloquence fill the pulpit, and when the pews are filled by fashion, intelligence, money and influence. An estimate of this kind is worldly to the fullest extent.
The church that thus defines its strength is on the highway to apostasy. The strength of the church does not consist of any or all of these things. The faith, holiness and zeal of the church are the elements of its power. Church strength does not consist in its numbers and its money, but in the holiness of its members. Church strength is not found in these worldly attachments or endowments, but in the endowment of the Holy Ghost on its members. No more fatal or deadly symptom can be seen in a church than this transference of its strength from spiritual to material forces, from the Holy Ghost to the world. The power of God in the church is the measure of its strength and is the estimate which God puts on it, and not the estimate the world puts on it. Here is the measure of its ability to meet the ends of its being.
On the contrary, show us a church, poor, illiterate, obscure and unknown, but composed of praying people. They may be men of neither power nor wealth nor influence. They may be families that do not know one week where they are to get their bread for the next. But with them is “the hiding of God’s power,” and their influence will be felt for eternity, and their light shines, and they are watched, and wherever they go, there is a fountain of light, and Christ in them is glorified and His kingdom advanced. They are His chosen vessels of salvation and His luminaries to reflect His light.
A Damaging Delusion
There are signs everywhere unmistakable and of dire import that Protestantism has been blinded and caught by Satan’s dazzling glare. We are being seriously affected by the material progress of the age. We have heard so much of it, and gazed on it so long, that spiritual estimates are tame to us. Spiritual views have no form nor comeliness to us. Everything must take on the rich colorings, luxuriant growth and magnificent appearance of the material, or else it is beggarly. This is the most perilous condition the church has to meet, when the meek and lowly fruits of piety are to be discounted by the showy and worldly graces with which material success crowds the church.
We must not yield to the flood. We must not for a moment, not the hundredth part of an inch, give place to the world. Piety must be stressed in every way and at every point. The church must be made to see and feel this delusion and snare, this transference of her strength from God to the world, this rejection of the Holy Ghost by the endowment of “might and power,” and this yielding to Satan. The church more and more is inclined not only to disregard, but to despise, the elements of spiritual strength and set them aside for the more impressive worldly ones.
These may be but the gilded delusions which we mistake for the true riches, and while we are vainly saying, “We are rich and increased in goods,” God has written of us that we are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They will be, if we are not sleeplessly vigilant, but the costly spices and splendid decoration which embalm and entomb our spirituality. True strength lies in the vital godliness of the people. The aggregate of the personal holiness of the members of each church is the only true measure of strength. Any other test offends God, dishonors Christ, grieves the Holy Spirit, and degrades religion.
A church can often make the fairest and best showing of material strength when death in its deadliest form is feeding on its vitals. There can scarcely be a more damaging delusion than to judge of the conditions of the church by its material exhibits or churchly activity. Spiritual barrenness and rottenness in the church are generally hidden by a fair exterior and an obtrusive parade of leaves and an exotic growth. A spiritual church converts souls from sin soundly, clearly and fully, and puts them on the stretch for perfect holiness, and those who are straining to get it, to keep it, and to add to it.
This spirituality is not a by-play, not to be kept in a corner of the church, not its dress for holiday or parade days, but it is its chief and only business. If God’s church is not doing this work of converting sinners to holiness and perfecting saints in holiness, wherever and whenever this work is not blazing and conspicuous, wherever and whenever this work becomes secondary, or other interests are held to be its equivalent, then the church has become worldly. When collecting money, building churches, and statistical columns are to stand as evidences of real church prosperity, then the world has a strong lodgment, and Satan has gained his end.
Another scheme of Satan is to eliminate from the church all the lowly self-denying ordinances which are offensive to unsanctified tastes and unregenerate hearts, and reduce the church to a mere human institution, popular, natural, fleshly and pleasing.
Satan has no scheme more fearfully destructive and which can more thoroughly thwart God’s high and holy purposes, than to transform God’s church and make it a human institution according to man’s views.
Men who sit in apostolic seats often through a marvelous blindness, sometimes through a false attachment to what they deem truth, and for what they consider the honor of Christ, are found trying to eliminate from the system of Christ those painful, offensive, unpopular, and self-denying features to which it owes all its saving efficacy, and beauty and power, and which stamp it as divine.
The high and holy principles of self-denial, of unworldliness of life, and of self-surrender to Christ, are all against men’s view of religion, a losing thing with them. Men’s view would eliminate all these unpopular principles of the Cross, self-denial, life surrender and world surrender. But when this is done, the devil runs the church. Then it becomes popular, cheery, flesh-pleasing, modern and progressive. But it is the devil’s church, founded on principles pleasing in every way to flesh and blood. No Christ is in it, no crucifixion of self, no crucifixion of the world, no Second Coming of Christ, no eternal judgment, no everlasting hell, no eternal heaven. Nothing is in it that savors of God, but all that savors of men. Man makes the devil’s church by turning Christ’s church over to men leaders. The world is sought and gained in the devil’s church, but the man, the soul, heaven, are all lost, lost to all eternity.
The very heart of this disgraceful apostasy, this dethroning Christ and enthroning the devil, is to remove the Holy Spirit from His leadership in the church and put in unspiritual men as leaders to plan for and direct the church. The strong hands of men of great ability and men with the powers of leadership have often displaced God’s leadership. The ambition for leadership and the enthronement of man-leadership, is the doom and seal of apostasy. There is no leadership in God’s church but the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The man who has the most of God’s Spirit is God’s chosen leader, ambitious and zealous for the Spirit’s sovereignty, ambitious to be the least, the slave of all.
God’s Way or Man’s Way?
God’s way and man’s way of running the church are entirely at poles. Man’s wise plans, happy expedients and easy solutions, are Satan’s devices. The Cross is retired, the world comes in, self-denial is eliminated, all seems bright, cheerful and prosperous, but Satan’s hand is on the ark, men’s schemes prevail, the church fails under these pet devices of men.
All God’s plans have the mark of the Cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. All God’s plans have crucifixion to the world in them. But men’s plans ignore the offense of the Cross or despise it. Men’s plans have no profound, stern or self-immolating denial in them. Their gain is of the world. How much of these destructive elements, esteemed by men, does the devil bring into the church, until all the high, unworldly and holy aims, and heavenly objects of the church are retired and forgotten?
From Spiritual to Natural
The church is distinctly, preeminently and absolutely a spiritual institution, that is, an institution created, vitalized, possessed and directed by the Spirit of God. Her machinery, rites, forms, services and officers have no comeliness, no pertinency, no power, save as they are depositions and channels of the Holy Spirit. It is His indwelling and inspiration which make its divine being and secure its divine end. If the devil can by any methods shut the Holy Spirit out from the church, he has effectually barred the church from being God’s church on earth. He accomplishes this by retiring from the church the agencies or agents which the Holy Spirit uses, and displaces them by the natural, which are rarely if ever the media of His energy. Christ announced the universal and invariable law when He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). The church may have a holy preacher, a man of great prayerfulness, of great grace, filled with the Spirit. But if Satan can by any method retire him, and put a man of no prayerfulness, plausible, eloquent and popular, the church may seem to have gained, but it has gained by the substitution of natural for spiritual forces, a gain which has all unconsciously revolutionized the church. Officer a church with holy men, not highly cultured, but well versed in the deep things of God, and strong in devotion to Christ and His cause, not wealthy, nor of high social position. Now change these officers and put in men who are every way decent in morality, but not given or noted for prayer and piety, men of high social position and fine financiers, and the church scarcely marks the change save marked improvement in finances. But an invisible and mighty change has taken place in the church, which is radical. It has changed from a spiritual church to a worldly one. The change from noonday to midnight is not more extreme than that.
At this point Satan is doing his deadliest and most damning work, the more deadly and damning because unnoticed, unseen, producing no shock and exciting no alarm.
It is not by positive, conspicuous evil that Satan perverts the church, but by quiet displacement and by unnoticed substitution. The higher is being retired, the spiritual gives place to the social, and the divine is eliminated, because it is made secondary. Edification as the need of God’s church is wholly lost sight of, and entertainment, that which is pleasing and pleasant, comes to the front. The social forces not only retire the spiritual forces, but effectually destroy them.
Disguise it as we may; reason about it as we will; apologize for it as we do; vainly philosophize of growth and change and culture, the truth is, we have lost that intense type of personal experience, that deep conviction of eternal things which are such evident features of all great spiritual movements. Many preachers and people have fallen so low in their experience that they do not relish these distinct and strongly spiritual agencies; and are devising schemes and institutions to gratify their non-spiritual tastes with schemes which are midway between Christ and the world; which, while not essentially wrong, do not possess one grain of spiritual power, and can never be the channels of heavenly communications.
Who will dare affirm this? The tastes of the people are low and perverted. Shall we then change the agencies to suit the unsanctified appetites? No; let us tone up the appetite for spiritual things and correct and elevate the tastes of our people. Let the revolution begin with the preacher. Let him wrestle with God until his ordination vow becomes vitalized, so that all can feel the pressure of his aim, the ardor of his zeal, his singleness of purpose, and the holiness and elevation of his life, and until the people catch the fire and purpose of his heart, and all press on to the regions of perfect love, panting for all the fullness of God.
The church cannot be the purveyor to unsanctified desires. Neither is it her province to fall down to the beggarly task of entertaining the people. This is her saddest mistake, when her solemn assemblies are surrendered to the concert and lecture, her praise turned into worldly music, and social cheer is sought after rather than a house of prayer. Her high and royal duty, that by which she maintains her spotless fidelity to her Lord, is to stress holiness and afford all means for its advancement and perfection. This done, spiritual character and affinities will order all the rest.
– Condensed from the book Satan: His Personality, Power and Overthrow by E. M. Bounds.