Braswell says three components of a healthy church, a healthy Christian life, and a healthy family are:
- A Strong Offense
- A Determined Defense
- Passionate Special Teams
According to Braswell, the church has focused too much on defense and not enough on offense, and in order to go on the offense, the believers need to be strong.
While it is true that our spiritual strength comes from God, the part believers sometimes forget is that His strength is best demonstrated through our weakness. What might seem like defeat is, in the scope of human history, victory. For more information about how this works, read Being the Ministerial Exception and Persecution, Tribulation, and Overcoming.
Finding hope in the idea that the strength comes from God, Braswell explains that having a strong offense is all about being prepared. Prepared for what? Satan.
That Sneaky Little Snake
Braswell says that everyone at FBCU needs to carry a shovel so that when “that sneaky little snake tries to slide into the church, every one of us have the authority by God through Jesus Christ to chop off his head.”
Some believers see Satan as a personal being, while others define “Satan” as the adversary — an allegorical personification of evil influences and intentions. (That’s definitely another blog for another day.) Regardless of differing views, one idea remains — that is, it’s good to “chop off his head” or to eliminate evil influences and intentions. Every believer is authorized and equipped to efficiently and effectively deal with Satan/the adversary, but in doing so, we need to remember we are not fighting against flesh and blood. We are not fighting against PEOPLE.
At this point, it would be beneficial to introduce an account of Jesus doing some head-chopping:
Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan [Σατανᾶ]! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:21-25)
I’ll refer to this account again throughout this series, but for now, just note that Jesus addresses Peter as Σατανᾶ. What are we to make of this? There are a few possible ways of interpreting Jesus’ choice of words:
- Simon Peter is actually Satan.
- Jesus was actually addressing Satan, who had somehow used Peter as his mouthpiece.
- Jesus was addressing Peter’s conduct, which was based on evil influences and intentions, like that of an adversary.
Of these possibilities, the first is just silly. But the other two bring new meaning to what chopping off the head of Σατανᾶ looks like.
If Jesus were addressing Satan, as many believers claim, it’s reasonable to interpret the situation like this:
Christ looked for the moment through Peter, and saw behind him His old enemy, cunningly making use of the prejudices and impulsive honesty of the undeveloped apostle. It was the old temptation back again, that was now presented through Peter — the temptation to avoid suffering, persecution, bitter hate, scorn and murder; and instead, to erect a secular throne that would in pomp surmount all other thrones upon the earth. (J. Morison)
If Jesus were addressing Peter’s conduct, it’s reasonable to interpret the situation like this:
Simon was not innocent of selfishness in his concern for the life of his Lord, for he shrewdly concluded that the servants might suffer with the Master. Jesus strongly resented this evil spirit of the world, and urged the absolute necessity of self-denial. (J.A. Macdonald)
Either way, a strong offense — chopping off the head of Σατανᾶ — for all intents and purposes, requires an inner strength that has the appearance of weakness to anyone who doesn’t comprehend how the Reign of God is accomplished. A strong offense has everything to do with being willing to lose worldly power through self-denial. Keep this in mind as we continue to examine Braswell’s sermon.
How do believers get strength from God?
According to Braswell, here’s how believers get strength from God: They should attend church on Wednesday night and get plugged into a small group in order to bring God’s word into their lives. Braswell compares this routine to a body builder working out, drinking a protein shake, and pumping spiritual iron. Braswell is very animated, adding sound effects, and flexing his 140 pound body as he describes weight lifting, spotters, and the like. The comical and entertaining discourse takes a sudden dark turn when he says of the church, “We’ve thrown in the towel.”
There’s nothing wrong with attending church or getting plugged into a small group to study the Bible. But there’s a huge difference between studying the Bible and bringing “God’s word” into our lives. Because Braswell does not define the term “God’s word,” I can only assume he is talking about the Bible. Perhaps this is not an accurate assumption. Nevertheless, the subject demands attention.
What is the Bible? What is God’s word? Are they the same thing?
Take a look at this:
And the Father Who sent me has Himself testified concerning me. You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, nor does His [lógos] dwell in you, for you do not believe the One He sent. You study the [graphḗ] diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very [graphḗ] that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40 NIV)
Notice the words lógos and graphḗ. The graphḗ testifies about Jesus, Who is called the Lógos with God and the Lógos-God. Lógos ≠ graphḗ. To illustrate this point, consider the study of DNA.
The DNA molecule is literally encoding information into alphabetic or digital form. And that’s a hugely significant discovery, because what we know from experience is that information always comes from an intelligence, whether we’re talking about hieroglyphic inscription or a paragraph in a book or a headline in a newspaper. If we trace information back to its source, we always come to a mind, not a material process. So the discovery that DNA codes information in a digital form points decisively back to a prior intelligence. (Stephen C. Meyer)
Just as studying DNA may not result in recognizing an intelligent Creator, studying the Bible (graphḗ) may not result in knowing the Lógos-God or His message (lógos). God’s word in our lives is the lógos in our lives, not the graphḗ in our lives. The graphḗ conveys the lógos about the Lógos, Who enters into our lives and gives us strength. It is very important to understand that we do not get strength from God by bringing “God’s word into our lives” (if God’s word = Bible).
Understanding and Recognizing the Source of Strength
After doing a two-hour word-study on strength, I could not find anything in scripture to indicate that bringing the Bible (graphḗ) into our lives is how God gives spiritual strength. Feel free to leave a comment if you find something. I did, however, repeatedly and consistently find the idea that God is our strength and believers already have an unlimited reservoir of strength in Him — with no mention of being involved in a small group or doing some heavy Bible-lifting in order to access that strength. Perhaps the reason Braswell says of the church, “We’ve thrown in the towel,” is that believers don’t recognize or understand the strength of God within. Paul explains this concept:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21)
The Full Armor of God
Braswell say believers need to put on the full armor, and he illustrates the point by telling a story about wearing special clothing to protect against mosquitos. If a spot remains open, the mosquitos find their way in. The church is so busy trying to put on the armor, Braswell says. In the next breath he asks: When does the church go on the offense?
When are we ever going to do anything to go against them? When are we ever going to say, “Hey, you’re not welcome in my life?” (Braswell)
I begin to wonder whether Braswell is talking about the “Devil” or real flesh and blood people.
The armor of God consists of defensive parts: salvation, faith, truth, peace, and righteousness, and one offensive part: Spirit. Given the fact that each metaphorical part deals with one’s state of being, state of mind, beliefs, or intentions, it is safe to assume that the battle takes place is in the hearts and minds of believers, not in any geographical location, the political arena, a business or organization, etc.
The battle is internal.
The purpose for the armor of God, according to Paul:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
Let’s look at the words devil, schemes, rulers, authorities, powers, dark, spiritual, forces, evil, heavenly, and places in the Greek:
- Devil — diábolos comes from the word diabállō, which means “to slander, accuse, defame.” Diábolos is a slanderer; a false accuser; unjustly criticizing to hurt, malign, and condemn in order to sever a relationship. (Strong’s 1228)
- Schemes — methodeía is the root of the English term, “method,” and it means a predictable or pre-set method used in organized evil-doing. (Strong’s 3180)
- Rulers — arxḗ has a temporal meaning: from the beginning or the initial starting point. It has a figurative meaning: what comes first and therefore is chief or foremost, or what has the priority because ahead of the rest. (Strong’s 746)
- Authorities — eksousía comes from the words ek, meaning “out from,” and eimí, meaning “to be, being as a right or privilege” and has the meaning: authority, conferred power; delegated empowerment or authorization, operating in a designated jurisdiction. (Strong’s 1849)
- Powers — kosmokrátōr comes from kósmos, meaning “world” and kratéō, meaning “to rule”) and has the meaning: world-ruler. (Strongs 2888)
- Dark — skótos – has the literal meaning: darkness or obscurity and the figurative meaning: the principle of sin with its certain results. (Strong’s 4655)
- Spiritual — pneumatikós comes from the word pneúma, meaning “spirit” and has the meaning: spiritual, relating to the realm of spirit, i.e. the invisible sphere in which the Holy Spirit imparts faith, reveals Christ, etc. (Strong’s 4152)
- Forces — Not found in the Greek
- Evil — ponēría comes from the word pónos, meaning “pain, laborious trouble”) and has the meaning: pain-ridden evil. (Strong’s 4189)
- Heavenly — epouránios comes from the words epí, meaning “on, fitting,” and ouranós, meaning “heaven” and has the meaning: heavenly, referring to the impact of heaven’s influence. (Strong’s 2032)
- Places — Not found in the Greek, but assumed by most translators because of the epí part of epouránios.
It seems to be about people, but it isn’t.
Perhaps you have been slandered, unjustly criticized, condemned, or otherwise hurt by someone. We do not fight against flesh and blood.
We’ve all seen the news reports about the organized evil-doing of the Islamic State, chopping off people’s heads and bringing oppression and tyranny to others. We do not fight against flesh and blood.
Political leaders gain positions of power through empty promises, and once they have secured their positions, they make decisions that are in the best interest of greedy and corrupt people or organizations. We do not fight against flesh and blood.
The popular Christian worldview draws attention outward instead of inward, directing the attention of believers to a battleground out there instead of the battleground within. The popular Christian worldview puts a bullseye on flesh and blood people (“When are we ever going to do anything to go against them? When are we ever going to say, ‘Hey, you’re not welcome in my life?'”) instead of putting the bullseye on activity in the invisible sphere, the heavenly battleground, the internal struggle.
Braswell does this in his sermon.
Recently, Braswell was invited to pray at an event at the Lake County Fair. After the event, he decided to write a letter to those who invited him to pray, so that they could “see a compliment before they see a complaint.” Braswell explains,
So, before some crazy from the freedom-from-religion says, “We don’t believe you should be praying at the Lake County Fair,” there will be 1500 people in FBCU ready to charge hell with a water pistol, because we believe that you should be able to pray.
Later, the Lake County Fair officials called Braswell, saying they want him to be the official Lake County Fair Chaplain. After an enthusiastic response from the audience, Braswell asks, “Why don’t we come together as a group, and do what God wants us to do?”
What Jesus Said About Public Prayer
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing …on the street corners to be seen by others… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
Look at the purpose Braswell proposes: “…we believe that you should be able to pray.” I agree with this, in a sense. Yes, believers should be able to pray. But how can anyone prevent a believer from praying?
The believers at FBCU can pray any time and in any place. They can even pray in the epicenter of the Islamic State. The only thing that can stop the prayer of a believer is loss of consciousness or cognitive ability. So until someone screams Jihad and cuts off your head, then pray as much as you want! And if someone cuts off your head, you can express your prayers to God, face to face.
The problem, then, is not that believers who subscribe to Braswell’s view can’t pray, it is that they want to broadcast their prayers without anyone giving them a hard time about it. They want to do battle with “some crazy from the freedom-from-religion,” and abandon the battle that really matters. In Braswell’s example, the heavenly battle is ignored.
What is the heavenly battle? It’s not us versus them, it’s who we are in Christ versus who we were in Adam. I’ll borrow from Ephesians and the Strong’s definitions to describe it:
Take a stand against any organized actions (“1500 people in FBCU ready to charge hell with a water pistol”) with end results that are meant to sever relationships (with the “freedom-from-religion” people) with those who are not part of your “tribe.” For your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the desire to be the first and therefore chief or foremost religious representatives at the Lake County Fair.
Your fight is against asserting your rights and privileges through delegated empowerment or authorization, operating in a designated jurisdiction. So, wrestle against this idea that the world should be ruled by people who believe exactly what you believe.
This battle might not seem specific enough for you, because you can’t point to it and say “there it is,” (that is, unless you point in the mirror). Your enemy hides in obscurity, buried deep beneath layer upon layer of religious tradition that says it is not hypocrisy or sin to pray so that your prayers will be seen and heard by others.
Look at the history of the institutional church. How much pain-ridden evil is a direct result of imposing religious beliefs by force? Does the glorious ministry of reconciliation to which you have been called involve fighting for your right to do something Jesus expressly instructed believers NOT to do?