The Church as a whole suffers from an assault on two fronts. As Christians, we need to be aware of these two fronts and how to turn back these assaults so that they do the Church no harm. The first line of assault is always from an external source. The world would happily overrun us, if they could. This is usually the easier to see and thwart. The second is typically more subtle and frequently poses a bigger threat. This is the assault from the inside. The Church has never been a part of the world (John 17:14). We are separate from it, without having been removed from it yet. Sometimes we forget that the world hates us (1 John 3:13). If we page through history, there are many times and many places where we see the world trying to destroy Christians and Christianity. From the rulers of the Jews -- first in Acts 4, but many times after that -- to the Emperor of Rome (several of them). Still today, there are people who are trying to destroy the Church and turn Christianity into a myth. You can see it in the news, on Facebook, and sometimes in daily conversations. Beliefs that are part of Christianity are held up and ridiculed in the public arena. This is not the first time it has happened, nor will it be the last.
Yet we have this promise from Jesus Christ himself, “the gates of Hades will not overcome it [my Church]” (Matthew 16:18). As long as we are able to hold firm to the truth that Peter had just expressed, that Jesus is the Son of God, we can stand firm. If we hear his words and put them into practice, we will have a house built on the rock (Matthew 7:24), which is Jesus himself. It is his strength that carries us, not our own. It is his strength that allows us to stand, in spite of everything the world may throw at us.
Revelation 13 reminds us that the whole world will worship false gods, except those who belong to God and the Lamb. Yet John reminds us that we will suffer, just for belonging to God instead of the world. The appropriate response for us is, and always will be, patient endurance and faithfulness (Revelation 13:10). This world will not be kind to us. No one has ever promised that it would be. But we have a promise from God that there is a hope waiting for us that will put all these trials to shame. May each of us have the endurance to run the race to the end where the reward is waiting for us.
But wait, you say, that sounds like an end! That is only one half. That is the external struggle, the world against the church. Unfortunately, we also have to deal, with an alarming frequency, with an internal struggle. It is the internal struggles that have fractured the Church until there are so many out there confused as to what is the true Church. Surely, the Apostles didn’t have to deal with these kinds of problems, right?
Actually, they did -- frequently. Paul talks about an issue in Galatians 2 that could have been very terrible for the Church, but it was taken care of. Or again, he warns Timothy against certain men. John also warns Gaius about Diotrephes in 3 John. Jude talks about how these men “have secretly slipped in among you” (Jude 4).
The Church has always had a problem of people trying to get in and get what they want from the church. Sometimes that means power, sometimes that means money, sometimes that means other things. Whatever it is, the naturally accepting atmosphere of Christians makes it easy for people to join us. We want people to come, and we don’t want to change that attitude! Indeed, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Our goal is to save souls and we can’t do that if we don’t get them to hear the word of God! But there are those who will use this beautiful attitude in a damaging way. These are people who will seem to be wonderful people, they may talk very nicely, they may even act in a way that seems right. But their father is Satan, the father of lies, and even he can appear to be holy and good and righteous (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
We must then be on our guard against these people. This is something that the Church in Ephesus was praised for in Revelation 2:2. They tested people who claimed to be apostles. We also should follow in this path and verify that people are what they say they are. We must test the spirits of men, to be sure they are of God (1 John 4:1) before we allow them to teach and to have authority.
To accomplish this task we must be acquainted with God’s word and with people. Jesus told his disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We remember the innocent as doves part easily enough, but frequently forget the shrewd as snakes. And the thing that makes us shrewd is God’s word and experience. Is it any wonder that the writer of Hebrews was frustrated that the readers of his letter were not more advanced (5:11-14)? We like Timothy must “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14), which is the holy word of God and his son, Jesus Christ.
It is through constant diligent study of the scriptures that we can become the soldiers able to turn to any assault on the church, whether it be from the outside or the inside. When we have been prepared by the word of God, we will be capable of handling any threat. When we lay that aside, we will lose that preparedness. Let us all fight with endurance the war laid out before us, so we may be among those who overcome.