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Rankin, Stetzer explore spiritual warfare

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)—Chocolate, tight clothes and profanity — that was Easter Sunday for young Ed Stetzer.

Stetzer, who today directs LifeWay Research, grew up in an Irish Catholic family just outside New York City. Every Easter (and Christmas), his parents dragged the family to a “big building with painted windows and a lot of old people” where an “angry man” (the priest) would scream at them for 20 minutes. The screaming continued on the way home as Stetzer’s father unloaded profanities at the traffic.

“We really didn’t like it…. But we knew, if you are Irish and you didn’t go to church on Easter, hell was pretty much guaranteed,” Stetzer writes. “We believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, but it was not a big deal. We bought into the lie of Satan.”

That lie — or more specifically the devil’s ability to deceive — is one of the key warnings of a new book, “Spiritual Warfare and Missions,” co-authored by Stetzer and International Mission Board (IMB) President Jerry Rankin.

The book explores Satan’s strategies for “stealing God’s glory” by circumventing Christians’ efforts to respond to and fulfill the Great Commission. But this kind of spiritual warfare isn’t about angels and demons, evil spirits, exorcism and witchcraft.

“I think most people want to sensationalize [spiritual warfare] into powerful demonic encounters. No doubt those exist, but all kinds of Christians believe Satan’s lies without seeing something sensational,” Stetzer says. “Subtle lies are still lies, and by exposing them we hope to help churches stay true to their mission.

“A big part of my ministry is helping Christian leaders to reject the belief that ministry and mission is the responsibility of a chosen few. Many have believed that lie, that only a special group are called. … And overcoming that lie is serious warfare — so many believe it that it is pervasive and crippling to the church and its ministry.”

Rankin and Stetzer identify a handful of Satan’s strategies they believe are failing to keep the Gospel from reaching the ends of the earth, including government and religious persecution of believers. The majority of the book, however, focuses on the satanic strategies that are working.

“People will recognize their involvement in one or more of these strategies. They’re going to be very offended at the implication that they’re entangled in Satan’s tactics and influence,” Rankin says. “We want to see Satan as that which is wicked and evil and worldly, but the book shows how if Satan can just divert us from fulfilling God’s purpose, obedience to our mission task, he’s just as successful as getting us to embrace blatant carnality and sin.

“I wish the only spiritual warfare we had to deal with was government restrictions, Muslim terrorists and religious opposition — we could deal with that. But Satan is more devious. He defeats us through discouragement, dissension, subtle ways to embrace a self-centered lifestyle, and a sense of entitlement rather than sacrifice and being led of God’s Spirit.”

Rankin says one of the book’s primary goals is simply to expose Satan’s plans, thereby empowering believers to avoid them.

“Satan’s success demands anonymity. He works in darkness,” Rankin says. “If you’re not concerned about living for the Lord, witnessing for Him, Satan doesn’t have to bother with you. But if you’re determined that you’re going to be a witness and bring people into the Kingdom, he’s going to come after you.

“Spiritual warfare is between God and Satan. We’re a pawn in it. Satan uses us. It’s not about defeating us. He’s thumbing his nose at God. He’s jealous for God’s glory and is seeking to obtain on earth what he could not gain in heaven. His real battle is against God. That’s spiritual warfare.”
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board. “Spiritual Warfare and Missions” by Jerry Rankin and Ed Stetzer, from B&H Publishers of LifeWay Christian Resources, is available now from the IMB and LifeWay Christian stores. Order online at imbresources.org or lifeway.com or call the IMB at 1-800-999-3113.

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  • Don Graham