Angels and the Local Church
Just what does the local church need to know about angels, Satan and demons is an intriguing question. In my experience, I have heard very little from the pulpit or in adult Sunday school on the topic. The question is intriguing because popular culture (movies and TV for example) teems with treatments, often fanciful, on these very themes, especially around Halloween. There are many aspects of the doctrine of angels, Satan, and demons worth making the local church aware of and here are only some of them.
The Bigger Canvas
B. Philips, a noted Bible translator of last century, wrote a small book which has proved very influential and is still in print, Your God is too Small. The title is so instructive. He maintained that too many have a shrunken view of God. With debts to Philips, one could argue that your worldview is too small if it leaves out angels, Satan and demons. This lack can be a problem at two levels: espoused and operational. At the espoused level, the believer never thinks about angels, Satan, and demons. These themes are not part of their espoused theology unlike the belief that Jesus is God incarnate. At the operational level, believers may espouse the doctrine, but it plays no part, for example in their prayer life, even though Jesus taught disciples to pray, “But deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13, my translation).We live in a dramatic universe in which good conflicts with evil, and good ultimately triumphs over evil as the Book of Revelation shows. Click To Tweet
The Bible presents a vast canvas covering heavens and earth, and the creatures in their realms made by a loving Creator God. Its plot line moves from the creation story to that of the defection of humankind from God at the instigation of Satan (Genesis 1-3). But there is a promised deliverer from evil (Genesis 3:15) and as the Biblical narrative unfolds from Abraham to Jesus, we see that the promise is instantiated by the incarnate Son of God (John1:14) who came to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8). He is Christus Victor. We live in a dramatic universe in which good conflicts with evil, and good ultimately triumphs over evil as the Book of Revelation shows. (More shortly.)
The local church needs to know about the vastness of the canvas for a big enough worldview. Because although Scripture is addressed to us, it hints that God is making a bigger point to other intelligences through his rescue project in which he reclaims creatures for true worship. (Eph 3) But not all creatures are so reclaimed, as we shall see.
We next consider in more detail some of those creatures, starting with angels, and there is a surprise.
I often hear of “the fallen creation,” and I have used the phrase myself. But strictly speaking, and here is the surprise, at least it was to me, not all creation has fallen. There are angels that never rebelled against their creator. These messenger spirits are his servants still (Hebrews 1:14). The striking fact is that since creation, God has never been without creaturely worshippers in the heavenly realms.The striking fact is that since creation, God has never been without creaturely worshippers in the heavenly realms. Click To Tweet
The Book of Revelation gives us an insight into what these angels are presently doing. Revelation 4-5 presents the heavenly scene. In Revelation 4 the creator in worshipped and in Revelation 5 it is the Lamb of God, Jesus, who is the object of worship. And among the worshippers are the angelic hosts. It is striking that the New Testament tells us that when we gather on earth as the people of God, we form a living temple in which the Spirit of God is at home (Ephesians 2:21-22). In our gatherings we are to make melody in our heart to the Lord in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:18-21). When we do, we join the ongoing worship in heaven.
The local church needs to know this reality and that in our worship, we join the worship in heaven as we form a living temple on earth. The local church as a temple is one of about one hundred corporate images of the people of God in the New Testament and one needing retrieval.
The Great Antagonist
Scripture reveals that the rule of God is opposed. The antagonist is Satan and has demonic entourage. Satan attacks the good character of God, the Word of God, and the people of God as Genesis 3 reveals. There are many kinds of heavenly beings: seraphim, cherubim, living creatures, archangels, and angels. In my view, Satan was most likely an archangel who led the angels under his care into their defection from their Creator. In Revelation 12:7-8, the archangel Michael and his army wars against and defeats Satan and his angels. Loyal archangel vs rebel archangel is a plausible surmise. Why? Was it pride that led to rebellion? Augustine thought so. Powerful but not omnipotent, Satan has two main guises as he seeks to spoil the works of God. In 1 Peter 5, Satan prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. This guise is on view, especially in persecution. Many parts of the globe know this well. Think of Northern Nigeria. However, Satan can also seduce through false teaching as Paul pointed out to the Corinthians long ago in 2 Corinthians 11. In this guise, he is the angel of light. In the West, this guise, I believe, is the common one and sexuality is the area of contest, as many denominations now facing splits over the issue know.The local church ought to know about these Satanic guises and their implications. Click To Tweet
The local church ought to know about these Satanic guises and their implications. The Apostle Paul knew this need and instructed the Ephesian Christians in spiritual warfare. In a celebrated passage, he instructed them about the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). The whole article could usefully exegete and apply this passage, showing how each part of the armor relates to the gospel. However, I will highlight only a few of its elements. For a start, Paul instructed a congregation not just an individual as the Greek shows. Here then is teaching the local church needs to know. He reminded them of the larger canvas: wresting not against flesh and blood but authorities, spiritualities, and powers in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12). The devil/evil one is mentioned twice (Ephesians 6:11 and 16). The posture is a defensive one of standing and withstanding attack (Ephesians 6:11, 13-14). God’s people don’t go looking for the devil. The only offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). In this context, the word of God is the proclaimed gospel. The chief defensive element is the shield of faith in that gospel (Ephesians 6:16). Paul has a Roman foot soldier in mind. Before battle, the Roman soldiers would soak their leather covered shields in water so that flaming arrows would be quenched on impact as in the film Gladiator.
The devil and his entourage won’t win the cosmic war. God does as the Book of Revelation shows. The cross of Christ was the fatal wound (Colossians 2:15). Christ died the death we should have died for our sins. He tasted death for us (Hebrews 2:14). In his death was the death of death as the great Puritan John Owen taught. The fear of death was the devil’s weapon but for the believers there is now no condemnation nor separation from the love of Christ (Romans 8:1, 38-39). The Christian life is one of resurrection hope (1 Peter 1:3-5)
The local church needs to know about the devil’s guises and the importance of the armor of God. The church needs to be rooted firmly in the gospel of Christ’s cross and victory. A local church unshaped by the gospel, uninformed about the gospel or misinformed about the gospel is a vulnerable church.
Spoiling the Gospel
Bishop J C Ryle, a great leader of the past, argued that one way the gospel of God’s grace can be spoiled is through disproportion. A biblical truth is given a weighting in teaching and thought which does not reflect the Bible’s own emphases. Something like this happened in ancient Thessalonica. Some believers there were so enraptured by the thought of Christ’s return they stopped working. Paul was not pleased. If anyone does not work, then let them not eat. Angels, Satan, and demons too, can attract excessive interest from some Christians. Jesus slips into the background. Fanciful ideas emerge. I recall hearing of folk at one local church putting a bucket of water in a church facility so when demons were cast out, they could go some were like what happened in the region of the Gerasene in Jesus’ day (Mark 5: 11-13.The temptation to pray to an angel these days comes with the idea that each believer has a guardian angel. Click To Tweet
Getting the Bible’s own emphases right, should strongly encouraging systematic expository preaching from the pulpit and expository Bible study elsewhere in the local church so that the whole counsel of God is addressed. This takes time. Paul spent about three years doing it at Ephesus. Of course, there should be topical and doctrinal preaching and teaching as well, but I would contend that expository preaching and teaching of the revelation of God should be the main diet by far.
Another way the gospel can be spoiled according to Ryle is through interposition. There is one mediator between God and us: the Lord Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5-6). The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae because they were tempted, it seems, to interpose angels as mediators between God and themselves (Colossians 2:18-19). The temptation to pray to an angel these days comes with the idea that each believer has a guardian angel. I found this prayer on the web: “Angel sent by God to guide me, be my light and walk beside me; be my guardian and protect me; on the paths of life direct me. Amen.” It is one of three addressed to an angel for use in devotions. But the New Testament is clear. We have a great high priest at the right hand of God, Jesus, to whom we can take our prayers in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16). Such interposition undermines the centrality of Christ.
Considering angels, Satan, and demons helps the local church deepen two defining characteristics of the renewed mind that the Apostle Paul wrote about. Harry Blamires in his classic work, The Christian Mind, summed up these two characteristics as the Christian mind’s supernatural orientation and its awareness of evil. The supernatural orientation embraces the bigger canvas. The awareness of evil embraces the gospel, where victory over evil is found.
 This brief article is highly selective. For a more extensive treatment of the topic see Graham A. Cole, Against the Darkness: The Doctrine of Angels, Satan, and Demons (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2019).
 3 beautiful prayers to the Guardian Angels – Catholic Gallery accessed 02/19/2023.