Some see the church as a mall for spiritual shopping or maybe a country club of friends or a hospital to help in times of trouble. Others primarily think of church as an experience of a family, a counseling center, a classroom, a spa, a convalescent home, a $$ generating seminar, a gathering of hypocrites. Some of these are true, some not. But we all have in our minds a main metaphor for “church” – how we view her, her purpose and what we expect of the experience.
The bible’s primary metaphor for the church and the journey of God’s people is war. It’s a war that’s being waged for people’s souls with spiritual, not physical, weapons [2 Cor. 10:3-5]. Though we started in paradise as God’s family [Gen. 1,2] and will end in glory as God’s family [Rev. 21,22], war – specifically spiritual warfare – is the primary redemptive experience of God’s people in the bible from Gen. 3 through Rev. 20.
Satan declared war on humanity in the Garden [Gen. 3]. The Israelites were formed as a people by war [Exodus]. They were brought into the Promise Land through war [Joshua]. They warred against the Cananites, Assyrians, Babylonians [Judges-Nehemiah]. In the New Testament, Jesus on the cross defeated the armies of dark spiritual forces aligned against him [Col. 2:15]. People died for their witness to Christ [Acts]. Followers of Jesus Christ war against their flesh [Gal. 5:17]. The Apostle Paul summed up the struggle of human experience in these words:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” [Eph. 6:10-12].
From start to finish, the language of the bible is nothing less than the truth vs. the lie, right vs. wrong, light vs. dark – the story of two opposing kingdoms. The war that followers of Jesus Christ are engaged in is not primarily a war over land, the environment, alleviating poverty or politics. It is a war to make disciples of one kingdom to rescue others out of another kingdom [Jude 23] with the weapons of truth, prayer, peace, faith, hope and love.
What Star Wars gets right is that the core experience of life is a war between good and evil. For us, our time here on earth isn’t primarily about how we can just live a more fulfilled or purposeful life. Sometimes, we forget that. How would our devotion to the gospel change, how would our prayers change, how would our commitment to each other change, how would our resilience for the work of God change if we viewed the experience of church primarily through the metaphor of spiritual warfare? Maybe it would help us sustain an urgency for our mission in the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ. While various other metaphors for church (“family”/”hospital”/ “counseling center”/”classroom”/”mall”) are true/valid to a degree, perhaps having them as our main view of church has helped create an expectation that the church is a peacetime institution of comfort rather than the prevailing, eternity changing movement she should be.