Centurions in the Conflict

by BGen Donald C. Wurster, USAF

The following is an address given at an appreciation dinner for chaplains and pastors. The speaker used the occasion to clearly describe spiritual warfare in contemporary terms.

I stand before you, not as a general officer but as a sinner saved by grace -- who has the combat perspective of a general officer.

My subject tonight is warfare -- and you are the centurions in this conflict. This warfare has raged over the centuries, the battle fully joined across every continent, people, and purpose. Living the life of the soldiers you are, you will find the comforts sparse, the challenges great, the situation sometimes desperate, and as you are well aware, the rewards will be few.

We face a formidable enemy, who is defeated in eternity, but who continues to plague the human race. For, as Paul says, "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."

At the strategic level, our battle is won. The first skirmish for the human race was in the Garden of Eden, victory was assured at Calvary, and we are just waiting for the final mop-up at Armageddon. But we face the daily reality of spiritual combat at the tactical and operational levels.

We focus most of our time at the tactical level. It is where we use the weapons of worship, prayer, obedience, and fellowship. We are guided by the compass of faithfulness, its needle pointing unfailingly upward -- challenging us to shape every decision, every desire, every blow struck to be the result of alignment to the will of our Creator. We need to watch out for each other and make sure that we are not casualties of the land mines of pornography, or the snares of addiction.

The struggle of demons and holiness is invisible to the unenlightened. The most caring of the unsaved have no realization of their unfortunate alliance with evil. All around us, though, we see the casualties of the battle. Many do not even perceive that the battle is joined or know that they are spiritual casualties in need of a Savior.

That brings us to the operational level of spiritual combat. At this level we need to think and act as eternal spiritual creatures who are having a brief human experience. How do we engage at the operational level in spiritual combat? This is a personal challenge for me, one led by the Spirit, and I do not know where it will take me. But I do know I am not alone. History teaches me that.

As Joshua, the commander of the Jews, approached Jericho he encountered a man with his sword drawn. Joshua asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" The response was "Neither, I am the commander of the Lord's army." Joshua asks for a message, a plan. The only response is "Take off your sandals, you are on holy ground." Joshua knows he is not alone, but he does not know that the visi tor's mission is to knock down the walls at the last trumpet when the people shout.

On several other occasions the spiritual world interacted with the temporal, in one case leaving 185,000 Assyrians dead on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Moses pitted his faith against the diviners and magicians of the pharaoh and the exodus began following the Passover and the deaths of the firstborn in all of Egypt. And, if only we had the spiritual vision to see as Elisha did, we would know that there are more of us than there are of them, and we could visualize the horses and chariots of fire that surround us.

The legion of demons who fled into the pigs at Christ's command are still there. All in all, by my count, they number a third of ten-thousand times ten thousand. They interact in the world today as stealth-bombers of evil and vice. They hold ground and they shape societies -- they know what they are doing, and their purpose is to prevent, at all costs, the conversion of even one soul to salvation. They know that Jesus Christ is the nuclear weapon in spiritual warfare and it is applied one person at a time.

That is how you change people, it is how you change a nation, it is how you change the world -- and successful evangelism always inspires the most desperate defense by the foe.

This is precisely where we are called to operate. In the breach, probably without reinforcement, exposed to the sniping that is designed to disable, disorient, or destroy you. This is the place where we must stand, not fragile and human in our current form, but as the bulletproof spirit-beings of our future as we are made perfect and undefeatable in Christ.

The Challenge

Your responsibility as the centurions of the modern age, is to prepare those under your leadership at the tactical level, while you maintain the vision of operational priorities and goals. The battle is won, not with donuts and socials, but with the proclamation of the Word of God and the application of His power to change lost souls into new recruits. Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power -- preparing ourselves with the armor He provides -- the helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, feet shod with the gospel of peace, shield of faith, sword of the Spirit in the Word of God. We must wade into the fray and swing the blade while trusting our armor.

Refresh yourselves. Our commander told Joshua, "No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and very courageous. . . ." When Joshua acted on this guidance, he inspired the people who followed him and they answered him with this: "Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us, we will go. . .Only be strong and courageous."

Be strong and courageous. Our enemy is desperate but he will be delivered into our hands. That is why you responded to this calling -- don't let the ordinary and the urgent sway you from your divine purpose. Remember that the obstacles you face are placed there with evil purpose and deliberate design. Your calling is to produce tactical elements to form squads and platoons, squadrons and regiments, wings and corps, steady warriors who can hold their ground against the onslaught of the world and the forces of evil therein. This is the most noble and important effort in the world and I salute you all.

BGen Donald C. Wurster was commissioned in 1973 upon graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He completed helicopter training and has been a career helicopter pilot in both rescue and special operations. He has commanded at squadron, group and wing level, and is currently Commander, Special Operations Command, Pacific, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.

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