You may be familiar with the term “friendly fire”. It refers to when a military assault on the enemy ends up taking out members of the same side as well as or instead of the enemy positions. This can be caused by those people being in close proximity to the enemy at the time or due to mistaken identity where the one firing is in the wrong place or mistakes a plane, ship or troop position for an opponent. The term was popularised during the Kuwait war where there were a few occasions when British and other allied forces found themselves on the wrong end of US bombing intended for the Iraqis.
The term has found its way into Christian parlance, most notably through Ron Dunn’s classic book “Surviving Friendly Fire: How to respond when your hurt by someone you trust.” I’ve used the term myself but I wonder if it is always a helpful and accurate description.
You see, strictly speaking, we can only really apply the term in Spiritual warfare to situations where Christians are using the spiritual weapons God has given us (see Ephesians 6) in order to carry out his mission and respond to the enemy’s attacks.
In other words, as Christians we return fire when we pray, when we share the Gospel (including the use of apologetics), when we apply the Bible to our own lives in order to “put to death sinful desires.” Arguably we return fire when we get involved in discipleship and discipline of others, not because they are enemies but because we are standing with them in order to fight back against the enemy’s attacks on their own spiritual walk. I can see how sometimes Christians can end up wounded, in effect by friendly fire in such situations.
But friendly fire is not the only way that you can get taken out in battle seemingly from your own side. If there is a mutiny or rebellion so that members of your own forces switch alliances and then attack, you’ll come under fire from those wearing the same uniform but they are no longer your friends. Another way in which this can happen is through a false flag attack where the enemy deliberately disguises members of his forces so that the attack looks like it is coming from your side but is in fact from him.
When a believer is unloving to their brother or sister, let’s them down through careless forgetfulness, tells lies against them, persistently grumbles and complains or finds other ways to bully, manipulate and control then that isn’t friendly fire. The recent horrific cases of abuse within the church are not examples of friendly fire.
Remember, that when we talk about the enemy here, we are not talking about the people involved, “our battle is not with flesh and blood.” Rather we are looking at the true source and nature of those attacks. What this means is that if the person who succumbs to the temptation to bully, lie, be unfaithful, name call etc is a believer then they too have come under the enemy’s attack.
This is important because how you respond to true friendly fire, pastorally will be different to how you deal with an attack of the enemy. First, it affects how we deal with the person “firing” we need to challenge them in order to show them how they’ve succumbed to the enemy. Secondly, it enables us to speak honestly about what has happened to us/those in our pastoral care who have experienced hurt and harm. We can name the attack for what it was.