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New Zealand, Nigeria massacres: Who has authority over the abyss?

Wallace Henley Portrait
Wallace Henley |

Who has authority over the abyss?

That may be the most important question in the wake of the recent horrific events in New Zealand, Nigeria, and other parts of the world where it seemed that all hell broke loose.

In New Zealand, a gunman massacred at least fifty Muslim worshippers in the sanctuary of their mosques. In Nigeria, more than one hundred Christians were slaughtered in the sanctity of homes and churches by religious fanatics.

Many Bible students wonder when the Great Tribulation will come. The survivors of the New Zealand and Nigeria bloodbaths and their families might conclude that “great tribulation” is already here. So would millions of asylum seekers who have been persecuted because of religion.

In this age, it seems the “bottomless pit” has cracked a seam, and the misery blasts up into the world like solar flares from the deep core of the sun.

One of the most relevant voices now is that of a man dead for decades. Christopher Dawson was a serious Catholic Christian, a philosophical historian. An Englishman trained at Oxford, Dawson would ultimately teach at Harvard. Dawson focused on the biblical view of nations and cultures. He was fascinated by the spiritual significance and undertones of historic events.

Bradley J. Birzer, a Dawson biographer, wrote that in his span of the twentieth century, Dawson watched the rise of “nationalism, communism, fascism, the holocaust camps, the gulags, the killing fields, and the sheer mechanization and overwhelming destruction of human life...”

“All the events of the last years have convinced me what a fragile thing civilization is,” Dawson wrote. He looked deeply into all this and more, and “feared the unloosing of the powers of the abyss.”

The recent events in our times are abysmal in the most literal sense of the word.

The abyss, according to the Bible, is the habitation of the “beast” (Revelation 11:7), the prison of fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6)

Who or what has the authority to restrain these powers that push so hard to bring their torments into the world?

Apparently no one in the view of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her hubristic soul mates who mock “thoughts and prayers” when murderous madness breaks out. Many who sit in the seat of the scornful believe there is no abyss, but only behaviors the state must do a better job of controlling.

By the reality revealed through the Bible, it is the statists who are irrelevant. They are unable to pass enough laws and mouth enough slogans to stop the carnage. This is why Christopher Dawson noted the “fragility” of civilization. Russell Kirk, one of Dawson’s most influential disciples, concluded that “a civilization cannot long survive the dying of belief in a transcendent order that brought the culture into being.”

Thus we cannot look to Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow secular progressives to close the snarling mouth of the abyss and rescue us.

Who, then, has authority over the abyss? 

“All authority is given to Me,” said Jesus of Nazareth. Christ’s authority over the powers of the abyss was demonstrated every time He cast out demons. It continues today whenever and wherever the name of Jesus is used to drive out the demonic, when the Word of God is proclaimed against the lies and delusions of the pit, or when Christ-exalting praise and worship displace the darkness. When those things happen, Christ’s Kingdom is manifest.

How is the Lord Jesus Christ present midst the abysmal tragedies of our time? The answer is seen when Jesus gives the “keys of the Kingdom” to Simon Peter, and, through him, to the church. It is on this basis Christ’s followers are to go into all the world, proclaiming the Kingdom, baptizing, making disciples—apprentices—of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

Jesus also describes the church as His “body,” and the Apostle Paul builds on that theme in his letters to the churches. It is the church that is to continue Jesus’s love-driven incarnational ministry in the world, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

But which church? When Christopher Dawson wrote of the church and the Kingdom of God he thought of “Christendom,” that era and expanse when the Catholic Church held great power in Europe.

However, the church that inherits the authority of the Kingdom is that which professes Jesus Christ as Lord, whether Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic, or whatever denominational alignment or human categorization.

The church that restrains the powers of the abyss is that which worships God’s transcendent majesty and reveres His holiness. Such churches are Jesus-centered, doing in their communities what Jesus did in His incarnate work. Abyss-restraining churches are energized by the Holy Spirit rather than merely mesmerized by the deeds of the flesh. The authentic church is anchored to the Word of God and its changeless truth. The church with authority over the powers of the abyss has compelling vision of Christ’s Kingdom, and the blessings its brings to the world—beginning with its own neighborhood and all the way out to the “uttermost parts”.

The less the church functions in the world as the body of Christ, the more the state will try to step in and use sheer power to try to tame the powers of the abyss.

So in this age when the deadly, spiritually sulfuric stench of the abyss darkens the nations, poisons their cultures, and chokes the life out of their societies, let the church be the church!

Wallace Henley is senior associate pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, a former White House and Congressional aide. His newest book is Call Down Lightning, from Thomas Nelson-Emanate.

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