Enemy Strategy – and How the Church Must Respond
“Divide and conquer” is a strategy as old as war itself, although the pithy phrasing “Divide et impera,” is usually attributed to Julius Caesar. He not only coined the phrase, but also applied the strategy with notorious success in his conquest of Gaul 2,200 years ago. Why is this relevant now? Here’s why: the enemy of the Church of Jesus Christ was a master of this stratagem long before the time of Julius Caesar, and he is applying it to great effect in our present context.
The enemy of which I speak, of course, is no human enemy, but rather the father of lies, the ruler of this present darkness, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2b). His strategy right now in the Church is divide et impera, divide and conquer. What tactics is he using? When the world is locked down because of a pandemic, disrupting the cadence of normal church gatherings, fan into flame the differences of opinion among church members over the issue of what should be done about it and when. While churches are still reeling from trying to deal with this, stoke racial tensions, magnifying grievances on all sides, pitting brother against brother and sister against sister. Create as many aggrieved parties as possible. Throw in a good dose of political rhetoric and blur the line between politics and gospel.
Isn’t this what’s happening? We must not fall for it! But how exactly do we fight it? Here are some things that we need to be especially committed to right now:
Listening to each other – Really listening, not just letting someone with a different perspective speak while we formulate counter-arguments in our own mind. Listening because the other person might know something we hadn’t thought of. Listening because they might have experienced things we have not. Listening simply because they are worthy of respect. Listening because the Bible actually tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).
Critically evaluating our own opinions – Critically, even ruthlessly, evaluating our opinions and positions before we give voice to them. If under such evaluation we find that we are just regurgitating the views espoused on our favorite YouTube channel or by some other “talking head” or social media source, we would probably do well to hold our tongues altogether. This is not to say that one can never find truth in such sources, only that such people typically gain popularity through unusual gifts of persuasion and often have ulterior motives for being compelling and provocative. In fact, we may be being propagandized when we listen to them. If so, and if we repeat what they say uncritically, we become complicit in their sin, even to the point of harming brothers and sisters.
Acknowledging complexity – The problems that both the world and the church are dealing with right now are highly complex. We shouldn’t pretend they are not. Oversimplifying complex problems does not lead to real solutions. On the contrary, it typically leads to frustration and even ill will. Simply acknowledging complexity can itself serve as a sort of pressure release valve, because it gives “space” for multiple points of view.
Assuming positive intent – It is almost always difficult to see with perfect clarity in the fog of the moment. And in that fog, we may be wrong in some of our conclusions, as may others with whom we disagree. But it does not follow that they are ill-intentioned in the positions they have espoused. In fact, we should assume that they are well-intentioned, just as, presumably, we hope they assume about us. Starting from this place will almost inevitably lead to better outcomes and preserved relationships even when disagreements remain.
This list could obviously be developed further. But the point is less the list than it is the call to be aware of the enemy’s “divide and conquer” strategy, and to consciously counter it by thinking, acting and speaking in ways that promote the Church’s unity. This is what God has called us to (see, for example, Eph. 4:3), and it is crucial in these troubled and dangerous times that we heed this call.