If there was anyone poignantly aware of the spiritual battle we humans wage day in and day out, it was Martin Luther. The late Luther scholar Heiko Oberman, in his famous book, Man Between God and the Devil, described the great Reformer as one who saw the cause for the gospel of Christ in the world as a constant battleground between God and Satan. In the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther describes the sly and tenacious tactics of Satan this way: “He is an enemy who never stops or becomes weary; when one attack ceases, new ones always arise.” (LC III, 109). Scripture lets us know that we can expect trickery from this enemy of our souls and of the Christian faith. Recall how the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian believers that Satan frequently “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:15).
It is wise to keep this in mind as we open the doors of our sanctuaries once again. It may seem strange to raise the concern at a time when we are rejoicing over the prospect of gathering together with our fellow Christians in our churches after a long drought foisted on us by pandemic concerns. I am aware, however, that in some congregations there unfortunately exists a tension between those who wish to open slowly and cautiously and those who prefer to open quickly and with few constrictions. This gradually can cause an unfortunate division. God forbid that Satan would use such necessary discussions and voicing of opinions to destroy our treasured unity.
Even more subtle temptations could be lurking. Whether one is in the “open-at-all-costs” group or in the “slow-and-safe” group, temptations from the shrewd Serpent should be seen for what they are – attempts to drive a wedge not only between one another but between each of our own souls and the gospel of Christ.
Is there a temptation to disregard the role of government, which has the duty to be concerned with the health of all its citizens? Might there be the temptation to treat any and all regulations with absolute disdain and contempt?
Is there a temptation to disregard Hebrews 10:25, where our Lord enjoins us “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together?” Could government stipulations (now beginning to ease) become a convenient excuse to stay away from collectively gathering with fellow Christian around word and sacrament?
Is there a temptation to show meager concern for safe health practices and the impact it can have on ourselves and our neighbors? Do we truly care about the impressions we leave with others, or do we hold a cavalier attitude?
Is there a temptation to so heighten the concerns over the deadly virus that it deters us from seeing the greater danger to our souls – sin and its consequences spiritually and eternally?
Also comes this tugging thought: Do I care about personal contact with my fellow church members and my called pastor, or am I now quite content to continue with electronic communication as a long-term option? What will be the duration of the pandemic restrictions? If they finally are all lifted, am I that interested in changing my routine stay-at-home habits on Sunday?
Many questions. Many ways for the devil to try to gain a foothold. Many openings, however, for each of us to prayerfully ponder this truth: As powerful as Satan is, far more potent is my loving and eternal Savior, the Almighty Lord.
It is our dear Lord who gives you and me His Word: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13). That “way out” is to run regularly with repentance and faith to the heart of the gospel message that proclaims our full forgiveness of sins and salvation and assures us of the final victory over every devious scheme of the Evil One. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8).
O Lord, have mercy on us!
Rev. John A. Moldstad,