Reformation As War: The Story of One Man’s Awakening to the Reality of Spiritual Opposition (Reformission Monday)

I recently finished reading a challenging, disturbing, but ultimately rewarding book appropriately entitled The Awakening. I say “appropriately entitled” for two reasons. First, it recounts the story of Johann Christoph Blumhardt, a nineteenth-century German pastor, and his “awakening” to the spiritual war in which he found himself but of which he had been unaware and in which he had thus remained ineffectual. Second, by recounting Blumhardt’s efforts to bring revival and reformation (i.e. reformission) to the small German town of Möttlingen, it also serves to awaken the reader to the reality that all who engage in such ministry must face. In the book’s introduction, Günter Krüger provides a synopsis of Blumhardt’s “awakening”, subsequent “fight”, and ultimate victory:

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, into a long line of Swabian craftsmen, Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1880) read the entire Bible twice by the time he was twelve, and the rest of his life bore the imprint of its message. Though his early devotion never faltered, he began to wonder even in his youth why the power of the gospel seemed so limited in the present day. If the Bible was truly the living word of God, he wondered, why was God’s nearness so hard to perceive in the world around him? Where was the spirit that had animated the first believers in the apostolic era?

In the summer of 1838 Blumhardt, now thirty-three, … took on the pastorate at the nearby village of Möttlingen. Möttlingen and its affiliated parish, Haugstett, were among the poorest in the region. When Blumhardt arrived, a crippling spiritual lethargy lay over the whole congregation. Pastor Barth, Blumhardt’s immediate blumhardt100predecessor and a brilliant preacher, complained bitterly to him that the parish seemed preached to death; people were fed up with the gospel, and if some still attended church, most of them slept in their seats. The entire town seemed to be held in a sleepy thrall.

Beginning in the fall of 1841, Blumhardt was drawn into a spiritual struggle that he referred to for the rest of his life as “the fight.” At first he tried to keep a cautious distance from it, but it soon became obvious that he would not be able to stay uninvolved. Gottliebin Dittus, a young woman from a pious Möttlingen family who had once been Pastor Barth’s favorite pupil, was regarded in her village as a “God-fearing” member of the parish. At the same time she was known, ever since her childhood, to have suffered recurring nervous disorders and various other maladies, including inexplicable attacks not unlike epileptic seizures. Repulsed by her peculiar behavior, Blumhardt kept his distance from her. He would come when summoned during her worst attacks, but he went reluctantly, feeling that her case was no task for him as a pastor. Village physician Dr. Späth, on the other hand, argued that Gottliebin’s disorders were beyond the scope of his medical knowledge, if not symptomatic of supernatural forces at work. It was on this account that Blumhardt finally agreed to observe the woman.

Before long [Blumhardt] was so deeply involved in Gottliebin’s struggle that no one could hold him back. For one thing, he was ashamed at the thought of conceding power to the darkness affecting her. Moreover, he pitied her. Little did he know that he had embarked on an uncharted journey of the most bizarre kind and entered a battle so intense that it would demand all of his energies for the next two years. Though the echoes of this battle reverberated for the rest of Blumhardt’s life, he tended to play it down whenever he was asked about it in later years, insisting that it was not the struggle itself but its aftermath that was really significant. This aftermath was a remarkable movement that arose soon after the conclusion of Blumhardt’s fight. An unprecedented “awakening” of repentance that swept his entire parish like a wave, it soon spread beyond Möttlingen to neighboring villages and towns throughout the Black Forest…

Modern minds tend to deny or ignore the very existence of satanic forces, let alone their hold on specific individuals. Blumhardt felt that this skepticism trivializes the reality of evil….

As soon as one tells a bible story with a phrase like “Then he cast out the demon…” people tune out; they dismiss it as religious nonsense. They do this because they cannot recognize any capacity for evil, any wretchedness in themselves. If we are not aware of human wretchedness, we cannot appreciate the Savior’s role in the kingdom of God, which means the end for Satan…And it will come to that! If we already have power to overcome evils, is that not enough reason to believe that God is beginning to take up his reign?

Blumhardt’s insights have great relevance today…For Blumhardt, the only acceptable tools were the “pure weapons of prayer and the word of God.” The building up of the church in Möttlingen did not begin with preaching but, as he put it, with struggle, prayer, and finally, victory over “personalities of darkness.”[1]

There is much more to this story than what is summarized here, and I can only recommend reading the book in its entirety to discover all the incredible things that occurred during Blumhardt’s ministry in Möttlingen. My purpose in reproducing this snapshot here is to make a simple point: reformation (or, as the case may be, reformission) is war. Not, of course, war “against flesh and blood”, as Paul would remind us in Ephesians 6:12, but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”.

The reality of this war is graphically illustrated in the example of Johann Blumhardt, whose hard-fought struggle against the demonic forces oppressing a young woman in his parish ultimately led to the veil of blindness being lifted from the entire town and region. Although initially hesitant to involve himself in “the fight”, as he called it, Blumhardt came to realize that the real reason why the people in Möttlingen seemed so cold and indifferent – dead even – to the preaching of the gospel was due to the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” which could not be opposed except by wielding “the pure weapons of prayer and the word of God”.

Note well: the Word of God and prayer. It is not that Blumhardt and his predecessor had neglected to preach; indeed they had not! Rather, Blumhardt discovered that when he preached, the gospel remained “veiled to those who are perishing” for “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:3). Had not Blumhardt awakened to the nature of the enemy and of his hold over the people of Möttlingen, and had he not fully given himself over to battle that enemy, consciously and directly, not only with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, but also with much prayer and fasting, he would likely never have seen the greater awakening which eventually took place, an awakening that resulted in the most awesome demonstration of the power of God to pierce the darkness and lift the blinding veil from the eyes of large numbers of people so that they could see the glory of Christ in the gospel.

As I reflect on this with respect to my own calling and ministry, I must confess that, although I give lip service to the reality of spiritual warfare, the resolve of the enemy, and the necessity of prayer, I have not been as conscious of nor direct in engaging in the battle of prayer as I should be. From the opening words of the book, I could identify with Blumhardt’s frustration: I am convinced that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, yet I don’t see much fruit as I share it, teach it, and preach it. Why is that? Perhaps the story of Blumhardt’s awakening is stirring an awakening in myself, bringing me to the realization that the god of this world is indeed blinding the minds of those to whom I am ministering in Italy, and that this kind of spiritual battle cannot be won “by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). Indeed, was not that the problem to which Jesus alerted his disciples when they could not cast out the demon in Mark 9?

Truly, truly, the battle of reformission cannot be won through study, writing, teaching, and preaching alone (something that I as a theologian-type naturally gravitate toward). Hearts will not be changed, churches will not be revived, faith will luther-inkwell-4not be reformed and rekindled until the spiritual hosts of wickedness are confronted through prayer. For anyone with an understanding of the Reformation, this should not come as any surprise, as Clinton Arnold points out:

Satan and his forces fiercely pursue their objective of promulgating all forms of evil in the world. This includes, above all, deceiving people and hindering them from grasping the truth about God’s revelation of himself in the Lord Jesus Christ. But it also includes working to bring about the demise of the church through inciting moral evils among its members. This understanding of the devil and his work was central to the Reformation. Heiko Oberman, Reformation scholar and biographer of Martin Luther, has observed that for Luther the precious truth that “God is for us” directly implies that “the devil is against us.” He goes on to note that belief in the devil’s opposition to Christ and the gospel “is such an integral part of the Reformation discovery that if the reality of the powers inimical to God is not grasped, the incarnation of Christ, as well as the justification and temptation of the sinner are reduced to ideas of the mind rather than experiences of faith.”[2]

So following the example of Luther and Blumhardt, let us devote ourselves more than ever before to the hard labor and costly warfare (it is hard and costly!) of incessant prayer, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18) that the god of this world might be thwarted in his efforts and that those under his blinding spell might be liberated to see the glory of Christ in the gospel. And in so doing, may God be pleased to bring about another powerful awakening in our day and place as he did in nineteenth-century Möttlingen.

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[1] Günter Krüger, ‘Introduction’ in The Awakening: One Man’s Battle with Darkness by Friedrich Zuendel, (Rifton: The Plough Publishing House, 2000), pp.xiii-xviii

[2] Clinton E. Arnold. 3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare (Three Crucial Questions) (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), (Kindle Locations 300-307).

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3 thoughts on “Reformation As War: The Story of One Man’s Awakening to the Reality of Spiritual Opposition (Reformission Monday)

  1. Steven 7 February 2017 / 09:21

    Prayer and fasting–the means of victory in the spiritual realm that Jesus gives us, and the ones we’re most loathe to employ for ourselves. We’d much prefer to take up the lesser weapons such as academic lecture, debate, and admonition to others since those involve using our own strength and calling others to self-sacrifice. I say this as a serious indictment on myself since I fall into the second category and have not even begun to truly pray, much less fast with any seriousness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan Kleis 7 February 2017 / 16:56

      It’s a serious indictment to myself as well. Writing this post was something of a confessional for me, and putting it out there increases my sense of accountability that I should put my money where my mouth is!

      Liked by 1 person

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