This is Part 4 of the series "A MISSIONARY ECCLESIOLOGY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY". Originally presented in 2005, the relevance is current.
by R. Bruce Carlton
Major Emphasis 3 - Prayer and Spiritual Warfare
As the church seeks for an effective missionary ecclesiology, the role of prayer and spiritual warfare must be an integral component. The Pentecostal movement of the twentieth century has helped the church worldwide, especially the Western church, understand that the church is engaged in an immense and intense spiritual struggle. The notion of spiritual warfare is having an impact in many evangelical circles, so much so that the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in the United States, has incorporated spiritual warfare training into its missionary orientation program. Furthermore, in a recent book on missiology, edited by three former missionaries and current professors of mission at two different Southern Baptist seminaries, one chapter is devoted specifically to the issue of spiritual warfare and mission.
The Western evangelical church’s stress on the intellectual aspect of faith has almost eradicated any sensitivity to the spiritual realm. The result of this emphasis has led to a division in evangelical theology between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, with a focus more on orthodoxy.
However, the Two-Thirds World churches find themselves immersed in a milieu where encounters with the spiritual realm are a daily occurrence, environments more in common with that of the New Testament than Western culture. As these churches seek to find a valid way to address these spiritual forces within their environment, orthodoxy merges with orthopraxis. In such environments, the church fully expects to encounter the spiritual forces that oppose its mission to the world. Orthodoxy alone is inadequate for the church to confront such spiritual forces. Only as the church engages in spiritual warfare through prayer can it prevail.
Prayer and spiritual warfare are interrelated. The New Testament church understood this, and a careful reading of the book of Acts shows how important prayer and spiritual warfare were to the growth and expansion of the early church:
Acts 4:31 (23-24a, 31-35) after persecution praying for boldness…great growth and maturity resulted.
Acts 6:6 (6-7) praying before choosing leaders…great growth resulted.
Acts 9:40 (40-42) praying for signs and wonders…resulting in great growth.
Acts 10-11 (Cornelius) prayer surrounded every aspect of the crossing over of the gospel to the Gentiles… a new people group.
Acts 12:12 praying for the release of Peter from prison.
Acts 13:1-3 praying before setting aside the first missions/church-planting team, Paul and Silas.
Acts 14:23 praying before setting aside new believers in new churches as leaders.
Acts 16:25 praying in prison, resulting in the conversion of the jailer's household and their release.
Acts 20:36 praying when departing from a church Paul had planted, leaving them "on their own."
Acts 21:5 praying when commending Paul to a dangerous situation and certain imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.
Acts 28:8 praying for signs and wonders.
Prayer and spiritual warfare must be a part of any sound missionary ecclesiology in the twenty-first century. At the same time, the church also needs to exercise caution to avoid excessive triumphalism, an overemphasis on power evangelism, or an unhealthy emphasis on demons and Satan. Nonetheless, the church of the twenty-first century must recapture the heart of the early church, recognizing that, as it advances into the world with the message of God’s redemption and reconciliation, it faces a struggle. This struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil and the powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12). Consequently, such a spiritual struggle must be waged with the spiritual tools that God has provided (II Cor. 9:6; Eph. 6:10-18).