By Mike Willis
The second half of the book of Revelation opens with a scene in which a woman gives birth to a child, obviously the Lord Jesus. A great red dragon, identified as “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (Rev. 12:9), tried to destroy the child. When he failed to destroy the child, he turned his attention to destroy the woman and her children. Her seed is identified as those “which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17) the church. This chapter reveals that the Devil is constantly trying to destroy the church.
Early Assaults Against the Church
The book of Acts records a number of early attacks against the church.
1. Jewish leaders tried to destroy the church by physical force. The apostles were beaten and told not to preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-8:1). This was the beginning of a strong effort to destroy the church by persecution under the leadership of Saul of Tarsus. The movement was so strong that many Christians were forced to leave Jerusalem, but Saul pursued them all the way to Damascus (Acts 8:1-4; 9:1-9). Not many years later, the Jews were able to persuade Herod Agrippa Ito put James to death and imprison Peter (Acts 12:1-2). The Devil was obviously trying to destroy the church.
2. Judaizing doctrine was also employed to attack the church. If the Judaizers’ doctrine had been successful, Christianity would never have become a world religion that reached out to the Gentiles; it would have been considered another Jewish sect and perished like the sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes, and Ebionites. The specific doctrine of the Judaizing teachers was that Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved (see Acts 15). To stop this false doctrine, Paul wrote Romans, Galatians, Philippians, and Hebrews (if he is the author of that book). The Devil used the Judaistic heresy to destroy the church.
3. Gnostic heresy soon followed on the heels of the Judaizers. The Gnostic heresy took a number of different forms, but one particular form was the Docetic heresy that believed that the flesh is inherently evil. Therefore, the Gnostics concluded that the divine spirit could not unite with sinful flesh. They taught that the divine spirit entered Christ at his baptism and departed from him prior to his death. The books of 1-3 John were written to answer this heresy. John said,
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are see of (Sod: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world (1 John 4:1-3).
This test question was used to determine whether a person was a disciple of Christ or a heretic. In addition to 1-3 John, Colossians was also written to address incipient gnostic errors.
4. Local church problems were also used by the Devil to destroy the Lord’s church. The Devil got his foot in the door at Corinth and tried to demolish that church. The church faced these internal problems: carnal attitudes (1 Cor. 1-4) and social class divisions (1 Cor. 11:18); rivalry in the use of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14); worldliness, in the form of sexual immorality and brethren taking one another to court (1 Con. 5-6); divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7); brethren who tried to bind human judgments (1 Cor. 8-10); false doctrines relative to the resurrection (1 Cor. 8-10). In addition, the Judaizers from with-out entered the church, bringing their false doctrines (2 Cor. 10:12). These were some of the tools that the Devil used to destroy the church in Corinth.
The Work of the Gospel Preacher
The work of the gospel preacher also reminds us that the Devil is ever working to destroy the Lord’s church. When Paul instructed Timothy and Titus in carrying on the work of gospel preaching, he said,
As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do (1 Tim. 1:3-4).
Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:13).
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears (2 Tim. 4:1-3).
These words remind us that the truth of the gospel must be preached because the Devil is ever threatening to destroy the church by doctrinal apostasy. Paul exhorted Timothy to fight the good fight of faith by preaching the unsullied gospel.
The Devil Is Still on the Attack
This issue of the Guardian of Truth calls our attention to some of the Devil’s more recent assaults against the church. Soon after the church was restored on this continent, the Devil launched his attacks against her. He used the church support of the missionary society, mechanical instruments of music in worship, premillennialism, one-cup and no Bible classes positions, church support of orphan homes and colleges, the sponsoring church, and the social gospel (fellowship halls, summer camps, medical missions, recreation, etc.) to attack the church and lead it into apostasy.
In addition to these doctrinal issues, the Devil has assaulted the church with worldliness, apathy, bickering and fussing, and other such things to divert it from its God-given mission and to destroy its internal peace. No one can deny that the Devil is alive and well. He is still working to destroy the Lord’s church.
We need to remember that the Devil will never cease his assault and attacks against the church. When they come, the Lord’s people have one of two choices: (a) They can fly the white flag of surrender and there will be no conflicts, issues to be fought, or confrontations between brethren; (b) They can rise up against the Devil’s attack, wielding the sword of the Spirit to fend off his devilish assault. In this case, brethren will be fighting against brethren, conflicts and confrontations will occur, because this is the nature warfare, whether it be spiritual or carnal. In the one case, the church will surrender to Satan and his assaults against the church will be successful. In the other case, God-fearing brethren will withstand the Devil, despite the unpleasant nature of the conflicts. Our choice is simple: Do we fly the white flag of surrender in the hope of escaping unpleasant conflicts or do we withstand the Devil, in spite of the unpleasant nature of the conflicts.
Brethren, there always will be conflicts so long as there is a Devil who is trying to destroy the church. The exact nature of his next assault is not known, but knowing the Devil, one knows that there will be future assaults. For that reason, there will always be a need for open and direct confrontation of the false doctrines preached by the devil’s ministers (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Forums such as Guardian of Truth have served a good purpose in providing a venue in which the false doctrines of the Devil can be exposed and refuted. Sometimes brethren become weary of conflicts and imagine a world in which there is no controversy. The Bible reveals that such a world will not be found until the saints enter glory. So long as there is a Devil there will be controversy, conflicts, false doctrines, and false men. The people of God should accept the fact that there always will be controversy and accept their responsibility of studying the issues that come before us, always resolving to take their stand with the truth!
Guardian of Truth XLI: 1 p. 2
January 2, 1997