April 22, 2009

Skinning Christian Cats

2009 1512 page14 caps well-known saying goes: “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

I would suggest that that saying illustrates the devil’s strategy in dealing with Christians—namely, the oblique approach. Among other ways, it consists in spreading misunderstanding, casting doubt, undermining confidence. The subtle, cunning approach can be more insidious than simply hammering away; more effective than the direct, frontal assault. In a few enlightening words, Ellen G. White summarizes this deceptive strategy: “Ever since his fall,” she said, “Satan has worked by means of deception” (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 31).
The devil works through Mephistophelean deception and misrepresentation.*
Seven Examples
1. Satanic subtlety is what makes today’s creeping secularism and pervasive materialism so much more fraught with danger than straightforward atheism or even persecution. It is simpler to deal with an avowed antagonist than with an enemy garbed in innocent-looking, ideological, New Age clothing.
2. One of the most effective means of undermining God’s law across the centuries has not come in the form of head-on denunciations, but through legalism. Legalism is a form of self-righteous overdo, which in the final analysis nullifies the law and its purpose.
The devil is the author of legalism, and pushes it beyond the law, as such, into every aspect of our lives. Take health, for example. God designed health reform to be a blessing to His children. “Ah,” says the archenemy, “if I can’t beat them, why not join them!” The result: dogmatic zealotry that turns healthful and happy living into wasp-waisted, untouchable taboos.
2009 1512 page143. When the devil discovered that oppression of the church and martyrdom did not produce the desired result, he switched to a much more sophisticated maneuver. His strategy was to accept the idea of church, but radically twist the concept of what it is and what it should be about. Instead of it being the people of God desiring to be faithful to God’s truth, he successfully recast it into a hierarchical entity, with a priesthood in control of semimagical rites. The church then became divided into “workers” and “members,” the latter to “pray, pay, and obey” (as the saying goes), and not much more.
Even Christ’s redemptive mission did not escape misrepresentation. Salvation, offered freely to all through Jesus Christ, was artfully converted into something people earn through good works.
4. The Bible, as might be expected, did not escape the devil’s attention. Knowing its important role in the plan of salvation, Satan realized that a frontal assault would clearly be seen as such, and thus be likely to fail. Therefore, his crafty approach often has been to speak well of the Bible, making it the honored object of scholarly critical study. His ploy has been to suggest that the Bible contains the Word of God, but that it is not the Word of God. It contains much truth, but also many mythological layers of information, making it difficult to really know, for example, what Jesus actually said.
By this approach, Satan succeeds in voiding much of the authority of the Bible, without openly seeming to do so.
Perhaps an even more insidious strategy to undermine the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures has been to claim that they are verbally inspired, each word having been dictated by God, thus making the human writers simply God’s pen. The approach is insidious because it’s less obvious that the end result is the undermining of Scripture. For when readers and students of the Bible detect the human element, including errors of grammar, terminology, geography, or history, the tendency is to reject the entire Bible as God’s Word, without recognizing that the problem really lies in a misunderstanding of how inspiration works.
5. Satan and his agents have also bestowed distorting attention on Christ’s followers. How often have devout Christians been caricatured in a burlesque travesty of truth and justice! It happened to the early Christians (who were even accused—among other things—of cannibalism); it happened to the Reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; it happened to the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers (who were portrayed as ascension-robed screwballs).
And it still happens today—Christians encountering subtle opposition, restrained misunderstanding (so to speak), abuse and discrimination craftily administered.
6. Another of Satan’s ploys I’ve noticed during my years in religious liberty is the attempt to malign the activity of evangelism, the key to the church’s survival. He does this by introducing the term proselytism, and giving it a pejorative connotation.
Traditionally, proselytism simply meant converting a person from one belief to another—which is what evangelism is all about. Christian evangelism has to do with converting people so that they change direction and become disciples of Christ. But here again the enemy uses the oblique approach, not openly attacking evangelism, as such, but even giving lip service to it, in fact.
The condemnation falls, rather, on proselytism, usually without any explanation of exactly what the issue is. When one presses, however, one discovers that what’s being condemned, usually, are “wrong methods of witness” (such as the use of material inducements, cajolery, false information). But with specific definitions omitted, the net result is that evangelism, as such, takes the hit.
The approach is cunning and devious and has a stifling effect on evangelistic outreach, without the need to come right out in overt opposition to it.
7. The essence of Christianity is salvation by faith in Jesus. We accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior. This is so basic that the evil one avoids coming right out and denying it. But what does he do instead? He leads millions to think that even though Jesus Christ is Savior, He has a vicar on earth through whom salvation is mediated. In other words, he sells the idea that salvation does not reach us directly through a personal faith relationship with the Savior, but needs to come through the church, through its priesthood and sacraments.

The end result is the eclipse of Jesus Christ as Savior; and people, with no evidence of conversion in their lives, are lured into a false sense of security through sheer human instrumentalities with its (almost) hypnotic influence upon them.
Understanding the Enemy’s Tactics
One of the most effective kings in French history was the cunning (fifteenth century) Louis XI. It’s said that during his reign he was much more successful in overcoming opponents than his warrior father Charles VII. Explaining the reason for this, Louis explained: “My father drove . . . out [the English] by force of arms, whereas I’ve driven them out by force of venison pies and good wines.”
The Bible has a great deal to say about delusion and seduction, beginning with the deception in the Garden of Eden in Genesis (where our first parents succumbed to the wiles of the serpent) and climaxing in the book of Revelation (with the dragon seducing the nations prior to his final annihilation). The pies and wines of a foxy Louis XI proved much more potent against the enemy than the violent vilification and frontal attacks by his father.
Yes, there’s more than one way to skin a Christian cat. 
*Mephistophelean refers to a representation of the devil designed to appeal to the human taste. Rather than the traditional goatlike being with horns and pitchfork, the devil 
as Mephistopheles often appears as a well-dressed, attractive, human-looking person, to whom one can easily sell one’s soul without even realizing it.
Bert Beach, now retired, was formerly the director of the public affairs and religious liberty department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland.