I spent the first 11 years of my life in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m in my mid 50’s now but four things will always stick out in my memories of that phase of my life: Overton Park, the Memphis Zoo, Memphis wrestling on Saturday mornings hosted by Lance Russell and Dave Brown, and Saturday night’s horror movie tucked neatly into a show called Fantastic Features (hosted by a guy dressed as a vampire named “Sivad” which was his last name spelled backward). As a kid, I became pretty much obsessed with monsters and aliens because of Fantastic Features.
We all fear the unknown. New schools, new jobs, marriage, parenting and all the rest of the things that at some point we aren’t familiar (comfortable) with are symbolized by monsters and aliens. Perhaps my younger brother’s untimely death as an infant (6 months old), my parents subsequent divorce, moving over and over again which entailed changing schools, during mid-year quite often, and never knowing what I might walk into when I got home from school, made me a perfect candidate for being captivated by the unknown represented in the horror/sci-fi genre.
One of my favorite movies as a youngster was 1951’s The Thing from Another World starring James Arness as the alien. I was kind of a bookworm as a kid and was excited to find out the movie was based on a novella by John Campbell, Jr. titled Who Goes There? Imagine my surprise when I read the book and it was nothing like the movie [sarcasm]. John Carpenter’s 1982 adaptation was a good bit closer to the book.
In a nutshell, the alien imitates other forms of life (and in the process, destroys the host). So in both the book and the Carpenter adaptation, the paramount issue becomes trust. Who can you trust when someone among you may not be who they claim to be? In the Carpenter movie, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady is visiting the scientist Blair (who has been put in isolation for fear that he has been infected by the thing). He asks Blair how he is doing. Blair responds, “I don’t know who to trust.” MacReady says, “I know what you mean Blair. Trust is a tough thing to come by these days. Tell you what, why don’t you just trust in the Lord.” Bingo. I realize that Carpenter and his character weren’t being sincere about God in that scene, but truth is truth no matter who or what acts as the vehicle that transports it.
Probably three-fourths of the issues that have been and will continue to tear at the fabric of civilization in general and American culture in particular are somehow related to trust (or the lack thereof). Modernity has discovered that the best way to bring institutions and even entire nations to their knees isn’t by facing off in easily identifiable uniforms in well-defined battle zones (like the Revolutionary and Civil Wars). No, you can cause far more problems through infiltration and dressing, looking like, and even behaving as the enemy. We found out just how effective (terrifying) that can be in the Vietnam and Gulf wars. Israel has known it since its refounding in 1948.
The enemy within (see communism, Marxism, and Saul Alinsky) is like a cancer that spreads, weakening and ultimately destroying the host usually over a rather long span of time. But if you are a well-read Christian, you know this isn’t new.
Evil has always been most effective when it dresses up as good and cavorts with the naïve or untested righteous. Think of the Garden of Eden and the serpent. Whatever the serpent was then it wasn’t as serpents are today since what we have today is a result of the curse for yielding itself for use by Satan. The only descriptive reference in Genesis 3 is that “the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1). Invested within the serpent, Satan passed himself off as only being concerned for Eve’s status in life. He was having a friendly conversation with her. And look what he was able to accomplish by gaining her respect and trust.
Another good example from the Old Testament is found in the first chapter of the book of Job. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6). God immediately recognized him and put him on the spot. But what is so interesting about that verse is that there is no hint whatsoever that any of the “sons of God” (i.e. angels) recognized Satan despite the fact that he "came among them." Not one. When you consider that Revelation 12:7-9 reveals a pre-creation battle between God’s loyal angels and Satan and his fallen angels, it is pretty amazing that Satan’s presence wasn’t immediately sensed or recognized by the very beings who cast him out of heaven. Only God noticed that he had come in among the righteous.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul had these words of warning for the Corinthians:
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you received a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough…And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:2-4; 14).
He knew Satan would never succeed in defeating Christianity through outright persecution (though Satan gets great enjoyment from doing so). He warned that the most obscene and destructive tactic would be to dress up other willing “serpents” and eat away at Christianity from within.
Paul wasn’t alone in recognizing that the greatest threat to the body of Christ would come dressed as a Christian. Jude wrote:
I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (vs. 3-4).
They didn’t come in wearing hooded black cloaks like Druidic priests touting allegiance to the Devil. Rather, they “crept in unnoticed” looking and acting like all the rest of the Christians but with much different intent.
Have we in the church become so spiritually dull that we can no longer recognize the alien monsters in our midst? Do we try to ferret them out? Do we even realize that some in our midst are not what they claim to be? Read the New Testament carefully. Apostasy is one of the most warned about issues throughout.
Think about it. Which did Jesus talk about more: baptism or apostasy? Salvation or false teachers? The triune nature of God or false christs? And yet we are witnessing an exodus from church participation and think the reason is an inability to relate to people because we use a book from the past as our source and standard? My friend, we don’t need an “update” from God in order to become relevant to today’s sin-sick culture. We don’t need better visual aids and softer sermons from our pastors. We don’t need to get rid of steeples, altars, and crosses in favor of multimedia, stages, and messages designed to make everyone feel better about themselves. What we need is to stop being naïve.
What we need is to return to return to an unapologetic message of repentance and atonement and to start dealing with the enemy within that has long been the greatest danger to the vitality of our churches and the spread of the gospel. You cannot house apostasy with holiness and expect spiritual prosperity. If we’re becoming barren it’s not because the world has changed and has moved beyond Christianity. It’s because we no longer recognize that “fierce wolves will come in among you” (Acts 20:29) and that we are required by Scripture “not to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone into the world” (1 John 4:1).
The “falling away” from the church is not caused by an old story’s lack of relevance in a modernistic progressive culture. It’s caused by a spiritual cancer within called apostasy which we seem not to care to address because either we are afraid of how it will make us look or we don’t even know it’s among us.
On the one hand, Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not be able to prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). On the other hand, He wondered aloud if when He returned would He find any faith on Earth (Luke 18:8). No enemy can succeed in taking out the bride of Christ…except, perhaps, the enemy within that may look and talk like a Christian, but does nothing much other than spread doubt, caricature the truth, and promise there will be no consequence for disobeying what everyone knows God has said.
You know what I’m talking about. There’s one in almost every church. Prone to exaggeration. Spreading little falsehoods just enough so that everyone begins to question another’s integrity. Always looking for a speck of dirt on a wall-sized canvas of white. Picking at the scabs of wounds that are trying to heal. Whispering to whoever gives them an ear why the pastor doesn't lead the church in the direction of progressivism like so many other churches are going. But rarely does anyone have the courage to step forward and confront them. After all, “they’re God’s children too.”
Have we forgotten that Judas was an apostle chosen by Jesus Christ?
You can get the flu from the sweetest person you know who shows no signs of sickness. That’s why we get flu shots. During flu season you never know who is a carrier. If you did, you’d quickly tell all your friends and loved one to steer clear of the infected person.
Holiness is God’s protection against the unseen enemy among us. That’s why both testaments cry out “You shall be holy…” (Leviticus 20:26 and 1 Peter 1:16). When we compromise on holiness it’s like walking into a roomful of people who have the flu but aren’t showing the symptoms. Never ever compromise on holiness. That’s the test that will always expose the alien.