2016-06-30
The Rev. Bobby Welch, 61, is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, with 16 million members, and pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona, Fla. He is a close friend of Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin, the Pentagon official who was nearly fired in 2003 for making anti-Islam statements. Based on his experiences as a Green Beret and as a pastor, Welch has written a new book called You, the Warrior Leader in which he describes Christians' duty to apply the Bible and military strategy to spiritual warfare against the forces of evil. "Not only is the United States at war with human terrorists bent on our destruction, but we also are at war with unseen spiritual terrorists," he says. "We must take the offensive and fight strategically." Beliefnet senior editor Deborah Caldwell talked to him about spiritual warfare, his friendship with Gen. Boykin, and about ear-ripping-off battles with Satan.

What is a warrior leader?

The warrior leader is someone who understands that we really are in a spiritual war in this life, and they approach this life in that way understands there are certain missions assigned them by God. They understand that we engage a real and powerful enemy who is seeking to kill, destroy, maim, and ruin our families and our life-and that we have the potential of rising above that enemy as a victorious spiritual war fighter.

Let's define some terms. Who's the enemy?

Satan himself.

Satan as a person.

Yes, well, and his work.

And what is spiritual warfare? That is when the powers of evil out of Satan, the devil, his camp, his command, come against the believer and society around the believer.

Why do we need warrior leaders now, particularly?

We've always needed them, and the Bible is full of warrior leaders-the biblical leaders who are on the side that is making a difference for God and His kingdom. I believe there needs to be a fresh view of that today, because so many have been lulled into the idea that if we leave the devil alone and leave the world alone and we stay in our churches and gated communities, everything will work out right. But that is not biblical. We need today to take a new look at the fact that we are in this warfare and that we must be prepared to engage it and to rise above it victoriously.

Give me an example of a biblical story that parallels the kind of struggle you believe we're in now.

Jesus Christ is the best picture of the warrior leader.

Can you explain?

In the book, there is a section called "Jesus the Warrior Leader." He is a warrior leader because he is aggressively and intentionally going out to deliver those who have been captured, many of them hurt and abused by Satan himself. That's what the Gospel is about-sharing the Gospel to rescue the captives and set them free. And he does that while applying principles of spiritual warfare. Military strategy is similar to what you see in spiritual warfare. In fact, the truth of it is that many of the military strategies that are being practiced today are taken in their original form right out of the scriptures. So it's not a matter of just applying contemporary strategy today; we're applying strategy today that you can see throughout the Bible.

Can you give some examples of that kind of strategy?

Yeah. Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. If you read that passage, you could probably parallel that with Fallujah and Iraq today-some of the things you see happening there on the ground in contemporary war fighting. In the story, they encircled the city. Well, that's exactly what they did in Fallujah; they divided it up into components and then they made one unified effort to bring down the wall-of course, this was God doing it-and then they moved in and occupied the city and then moved out from there to other parts of the land.

But the spiritual analogy is clear too, that we must be willing to trust in the Lord, to lead us, to take advantage of the areas where Satan may seem to have the victory in our marriages, in our homes, with our children. We need to surround that with prayer, with the word of God, we need to use these tactics and strategies that are talked about in the Bible and also underlined in this book, and do that aggressively and intentionally.

One section of your book that startled me was the scratching, biting, ear-ripping-off war-fighting. Can you explain that?

I will not be surprised if we have some interesting reactions to it, and I think that'll be healthy. The point of that story is that spiritual warfare can get every bit as bad. If you're losing a battle with Satan, it ends up horrible. And I'm telling you, I don't think there's one description of warfare in that book that I haven't seen that is every bit as bad as what happens to individuals in our church and out here in the highways and byways of life.

Seriously?

Seriously.

I've put in over 30 years here, pastoring this church in Daytona Beach. I believe that I have seen that sort of hellacious, tormenting, gut-wrenching experience, plus, plus, plus in spiritual warfare. I have been there and tried to help when I watched my deacon's son being gripped by drugs and had to hold him down and tie him up and drag him to a van to get him into a place to try and help him.

And that's not near as bad as it gets. And I've been there when people lost the battle of spiritual warfare.

Really? Explain.

I go to prisons where they're living in an absolute cesspool because they lost the battle or they're losing it. So I don't think it's a stretch of imagination at all. I think we have a large crowd of people out here who are trying to sugarcoat the devil's influence.

We want to be around nice, beautiful people, but nice, beautiful people get their guts ripped out when divorce comes, when a child commits suicide because he's hanging out with the wrong crowd. And my book pulls that veneer back and says, "Listen, you may be driving a two-seater sports car, and you may live in a gated community and you may have everything painted the color you like and all the furniture may be coordinated, but there is a war going on around you that is spiritual, and you have to win that war or you'll end up in the same mess."

I've pastored people who drive two-seater cars. And I've been through some of the worst things imaginable in their lives.

How do you reconcile this aggressive Christianity with the peaceful Christianity of the Beatitudes?

Well, I am a happy warrior. I got up today happy. I'm happy right now. I've been through a couple of really rough licks dealing with people and their circumstances in life, but I am happy. The warrior leader is not somebody who stays mad all the time and is fighting and fussing all the time-Jesus was not that way at all. But Jesus was aggressive. And I am open-eyed about my walk with the Lord, because I do know there's a spiritual war going on all around me. I'm not trying to live or look at it through rose-colored glasses. I'm trying to deal with reality, because I know that I do not have to put up with this foolishness from the devil and the devil's craft.

It seems that you're almost glorifying war by describing it in a spiritual kind of way.

I think we're pulling back the veil a little bit, and some people won't enjoy that. But if they say that I am glorifying it, then they're going to have to deal with the Lord too, because he definitely talks in the scripture in these sort of terms. But I am aware that people may say, I'm taking this to an extreme, but that is not true. Jesus talked about us being in a war in the language he used. You've got all kinds of language about spiritual armor in Ephesians 6, and throughout the Bible.

And it's not just metaphoric here. Jesus said what he meant and he meant what he said. And the Bible says what it means and means what it says, and it talks about spiritual warfare. What you get in this book is an earnest look at spiritual warfare and how to win it.

The metaphor seems more intense because the nation is at war.

And, of course, you know I'm not oblivious to that fact.

But we know every Christian needs to know how to win against the forces of hell and the devil. And there is no substitute for that, if you want to rise above it in this life and bring others with you. And that is my purpose in the book: to develop victorious spiritual war fighters.

How do you suggest people armor themselves for spiritual warfare?

They read the Bible and then read this book, in that order. I guess a good title for this book would have been, "How to Arm Yourself for the Victory." Next, they should form a force-multiplying army that accomplishes the Great Commission. I want to win above the forces of hell that are trying to drag me down in this life.

What seems new about what you're writing is your urging that Christians go on the offense. You seem to be saying, it's time to have a more aggressive posture.

You are on it, sis. You've got it. Christians today think they're supposed to view the devil as a sleeping mad dog-and if we'll just tip-toe around it, polish our brass, keep our steeple lighted, stay inside, have a big time in church but don't say much when we get out, the devil won't bother us. But that isn't true.

The Bible doesn't say he's a sleeping mad dog-it says he's a roaring lion, going to and fro seeking whom he shall devour. That sounds like something you want to be ready to deal with. You don't want to say, "Here, kitty, kitty."

I want my 16-year-old and my grandchildren to know how to deal with the devil-I don't want them to have to back up and hide in a corner somewhere. I want to be able to walk down the street, believing God is able to overcome every enemy including Satan.

You're friends with Gen. Jerry Boykin. Isn't your message similar to his-he wants people to be warriors for God's kingdom?

Yes, and of course that's what makes us friends. We met years ago, at some sort of military meeting at some university, and we just connected. And then somehow or other, later, we met again and became fine, fast friends.

Then two years ago the hubbub came along about his speaking in churches, and so I lived through it with him. And by the way, he was totally exonerated. Such a tragedy, but he is such a great man of God, as well as a great American hero. He's probably the most decorated American soldier on active duty today. We're so, so fortunate to have a great man like him out there, and I sleep better knowing that.

Do you believe his work is a parallel to what you're talking about-that he's a warrior for the United States and a warrior for Christ?

I can't put words in his mouth, but I think that he believes he lives his life in a way that would please the Lord-and to do that in a way, that would make him a victorious spiritual war fighter, as well as a victorious military war fighter.

Why do you think his speeches were misunderstood? There are people and forces out there who randomly, maybe on a slow news day, try to find something to say, and if you get caught by it, then you're left to pick up the pieces while they ramble on down the road.

Do you think it's also because these views are hard for people to understand?

Which views?

The idea of spiritual warfare-that's pretty foreign to non-evangelicals and non-Christians.

I'm aware this military theme is out there today, with the controversy and concern about our soldiers and our troops. I've tried to weave that in my book for the sake of illustration. But that is just a thread in the book-its main point is to explain how to move from a defensive posture to an intentional posture to win. Hopefully this will cause people to ask-Is the devil this bad? I can assure you, there are lost people who'll read that part about the scratching, biting, ear-tearing-off, and they will understand that language. I can assure you I will get letters from somebody who will say, "I am an example of this. I have had this happen to my own family, my own marriage, my own life."

Wow.

Because I get them here at church. I mean, I didn't just have a dream and write this book-that's come out of my experiences of 40 years now, dealing with people. I'm sure there will be Christians who think this is too strong or too stout. What I'm praying is that whoever reads it will think about it. And if they have any ears on them and if they're honest, they will agree that there is a force and a power that can tear you apart in your relationships, in your peace of mind. I want to offer to them my belief that there is a force out there that is even more powerful than that, that can bring you forgiveness, peace, whole happiness, salvation, grace, and an eternity of joy.

I understand that your Faith Force Multiplier program is an example of using these kinds of strategies. Can you explain what that is?

It's a highly effective method to discover ministry needs in the community and then move in and try to meet those needs. Sometimes it ends up being evangelism. You pass the faith on to others; you equip and train others to do likewise. Of course, that is simply what we call New Testament discipleship. But it is also "force-multiplying." Force means the organization, the crowd, the group. Through the years, my wife and I have tried to multiply the force in the Welch household through our children. Now we're watching our children multiply the force through our grandchildren.

Meaning the force of Christians in America?

Yeah, that's right. And what we stand for and what we believe and how we can keep our family protected from the devil and his ultimate goal against our kids and our grandkids and our marriages and our homes.

But the church has a far more dynamic way of doing that because it starts with a larger base of members, and that's one of the things we're missing today in so many of our churches-there is really no hard-core, regimented training and equipping of the saints. No football team or army can win, doing with their team what most churches do with theirs.

Imagine a football team where the coach showed up for an hour and a half a week and says, "Here, I got this book of plays, I think we're going to have a great game. I want to say a few things to get you excited. Now take this play book and go win." It's unthinkable. And it's unthinkable that we're going to win as a Christian community if the churches do not teach their people how to multiply the force that can rise above Satan and engage in spiritual war fighting.

It's interesting that you use term "force multiplier" because that's a military term. So you're really making a literal connection in your battle against Satan.

I'm making the connection because we are not talking about this as just some sort of metaphoric statement-this is a real war. If you read the New Testament, you see that there is a huge war going on and if the enemy gets you or your family, bad things are going to happen to you, very bad things. You will be murdered, killed, destroyed, captured, your life harassed, tormented, tortured, and ruined. I do not want that for my children. I do not want it for my wife. I do not want it for my grandkids. I've got enough scars on my body for being caught in that sort of circumstance before I came to know Christ as Savior and as Lord of my life. I'm trying to do all I know how to get everybody to win at that warfare.

I wanted to talk to you about your Vietnam experiences because I understand you came to Christ after a battle there.

I came to know the Lord when I was 16 years old. I really did get saved. Lived for the Lord for about three years. Got into college playing football, got away from the Lord, ended up going to Vietnam as an officer. Was an airborne ranger, jungle expert, all that stuff. Later on, after that, went to Green Beret school, but I was not Special Forces in Vietnam. I was a reconnaissance platoon leader. Some men and I went in to try to help get out some other men who were killed off and being shot up.

And in so doing, I got horribly wounded, shot in the left upper chest, blew a chunk of flesh out of me about the size of a baseball over my heart. And ended up being put on top of three dead men and given up for dead. But I called out to the Lord during that time, believing I would die, I just wanted to get things right before I met him. And not only did he hear me, but in a miraculous way he saved my life. I made a commitment after that in the hospital that I was going to live for the Lord. I promised that he would never, ever find me in that shape when he came for me the next time; I would not be living that way again spiritually. Now, I never played, "Let's make a deal-if you get me out of this, I'll be a preacher." I finished up my military time, then I built and owned my own business and then the Lord called me to preach years later.


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