Spiritual Warfare and the Desert Fathers

As a Pentecostal, I was taught that spiritual warfare was directly related to the binding and loosing of Matthew 16:19 where Jesus said:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

As a Christian, I was told, in Christ’s name we have the power to come against Satan and bind him and all his demons preventing them from operating in some particular circumstances. And by the same token, we had the power to loose the power of the Holy Spirit to operate in the said circumstances. So, you put on the full armor of Ephesians Chapter Six and off you went to bind Satan and his cohorts.

Like many, for years I followed this formula. However after a while I came to the conclusion that, like the many other formulas my mentors had taught me, this one didn’t work either. I was perplexed by the fact that if indeed this verse is referring to binding Satan, then why is it that as much as we have bound him, he is still running around freely and creating so much misery in this world? And if this is not the way to do spiritual warfare, then how does a follower of Christ conduct such warfare?

The answer came to me over ten years ago while sitting in my Early Church History class at Fuller Seminary. Quite in passing, my professor, Mel Robeck, mentioned something about the Desert Fathers, “who went out to do spiritual warfare, but not the way we do it today.” That certainly caught my attention and I began to study the so-called Desert Fathers and Mothers.

Around the end of the third century, when Rome was becoming Christianized and the Church was becoming more and more Hellenized, a group of godly men and women said, “now that the world is no longer persecuting and waging war against us, WE are going out to wage war against the world or the spiritual darkness”. Having believed that Jesus faced Satan in the desert, they also went to the desert to face the enemy, thus the title, Desert Fathers.

If I was to ask a room full of Christians, “how did Jesus over come Satan?” the majority would say, “by the word of God”. Yet, we all know that we can quote the scriptures till the cows come home and still give into whatever temptations we face. Which brings me to the conclusion that the word was only a tool and not the means by which Jesus defeated Satan. Jesus defeated Satan by defeating temptation.

But where do temptations originate? Our thoughts. No man wakes up one morning and says to himself, “today I am going to commit adultery.” No, the act was the end result of something that had started with a simple thought long before the action took place.

So, these men and women of God came to the conclusion that in order to defeat Satan, one has to overcome temptation in himself. And in order to overcome temptation one has to control his thoughts or as Paul says, “bringing them into captivity”. For the Desert Fathers, the spiritual warfare was an ongoing inward discipline and not something that is accomplished by yelling at Satan and attempting to bind him.

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5 thoughts on “Spiritual Warfare and the Desert Fathers

  1. Shah,

    Great to see your blogging! Found you through Phil. I am a pastor in Goleta, part of the same movement (I presume) that shanked you and Phil. Makes me wonder. Anyway… I spent a lot of time at Cedercrest and totally remember your son (Todd, I think) when he was a camper. What a great kid! Anyway, I had not heard about the “shanking” until now and I’m super bummed. What happened? (Would love to hear from you in email if you can’t share it on the blog…) I’ve been blogging seriously for about a year now and one of my favorite topics is the interaction between Christianity and Islam which I know you much more knowledgeable than I. Perhaps you might be willing to do a post or two on the topic as a guest blogger (which might get a few more readers pushed in your direction?)

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  2. I would like to say that I have read your blog most by accident. I work in West Africa and have struggled with the present-day concept of spiritual warfare. it seems to me that there is a short-sightedness to it all. i have found myself thinking very often of an african friend who passed away a few years ago. I distinctly remember having a dream around the same time my friend died. I have begun to wonder if our concept of warfare might be better understood if it was a concept of spiritual interaction with forces that we don’t understand but are needing to be understood. I wonder, after having been exposed to this for some time now, find myself less fearful of the spiritual realm, knowing that these things are under the sovereignty of God.

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