Thursday, February 14, 2008
How Are Strongholds Pulled Down?
There is, according to Scripture, no doubt that Satan rules over a hierarchy of evil spirits who inhabit the earth’s atmosphere and who assist him in ruling the kingdom of darkness. That those evil spirits are “territorial,” ruling over certain geographical areas, is a concept that is also contained in the Bible (see Dan. 10:13, 20-21; Mark 5:9-10). That Christians have the authority to cast demons out of other people and the responsibility to resist the devil is scriptural (see Mark 16:17; Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). But can Christians pull down evil spirits over cities? The answer is that they can’t, and to attempt to do so is a waste of their time.
Before we expose the error of this particular myth, it would be helpful for us once again to consider another common-sense rule of sound Bible interpretation. Let’s begin by looking at an example of some Christians in the Bible who misinterpreted, because of an assumption, a statement Jesus once made. Our example is found in John’s gospel, and occurred after Jesus’ resurrection. Upon learning from Jesus about future persecution he would suffer, Peter questioned the Lord about his fellow disciple, John:
Peter therefore seeing him [John] said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:23-21).
Here is a classic example of some Christians who misinterpreted Jesus’ words because they read into His statement more than He intended. Jesus never said that John would not die; He only said that if He wanted John to be alive at His return, it was His own business, and none of Peter’s!
I’m sure you can see how it would have been tempting to read into Jesus’ words and assume that John would not die. But we must be careful that we don’t make a similar error when we interpret any of God’s Word. We must be cautious in making any assumption that cannot be clearly proven from what the Bible says, or else we could find ourselves believing something that is not true.
This kind of misinterpretation is often made, however, by many Christians. Just because we can cast demons out of people, we should not assume that we can pull down evil spirits over cities. There are numerous examples of casting demons out of people in the gospels and the book of Acts, but can you think of even one example in the gospels or the book of Acts where someone pulled down an evil spirit that was ruling over a city or geographical area? You can’t because there are no such examples. Can you think of one instruction anywhere in the epistles about our responsibility to pull down evil spirits from the atmosphere? No, because there are none. For this reason, we have no biblical basis to believe that we can or should be waging “spiritual warfare” against evil spirits in the atmosphere.
Extrabiblical or Unbiblical?
Errors of assumption are often justified by the argument, “I may not be able to prove what I am doing is correct according to the Bible, but you can’t prove that it is incorrect either.” Claiming that there is vast difference between what is unbiblical and what is extrabiblical, they justify their practice, classifying it as not necessarily supported by Scripture, yet not refuted by Scripture either.
This is a weak argument indeed. If God wants us to know something or do something, He makes it quite clear in Scripture. Why would anyone want to practice a kind of spiritual warfare for which there is no instruction or example in the Bible? Why not rather practice that which is clearly revealed as God’s will in Scripture, such as casting demons out of people, preaching the gospel, making disciples, and praying scripturally?
Moreover, as we study Scripture closely, that which may be classed by some as extrabiblical is often exposed as being very unbiblical. Such is the case with the concept of pulling down territorial spirits.
Pushing Parables Too Far
Reading more meaning into the Bible than God intended is an error Christians often make when they read scripture passages containing metaphorical language. The Bible is full of comparisons, because they help us understand spiritual concepts. When Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is like,” He took something His listeners did understand to explain something they did not understand. Metaphors are extremely helpful in aiding the learning process.
We must not forget, however, that every comparison is imperfect, because the two things compared are not usually identical in every respect. A metaphor is defined as a comparison of things basically unlike but having some striking similarities. For this reason, we must be cautious that we do not force a meaning upon a metaphor that God never intended. For example, Jesus once said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away (Matt. 13:47-48, emphasis added).
What did Jesus mean in this comparison? Like most of His parables, He wanted to convey one point. In this case, He wanted us to know that not everyone will automatically get into the kingdom of heaven, but that there will be a separation into two categories, good and bad. But that is where the similarities between His story of the gathered fish and the kingdom of heaven end.
Certainly Jesus was not trying to teach us that the kingdom of heaven will consist of fish! Or that the good fish in heaven will be put into containers! Or, if you are smart enough to realize that the fish in the story represent people, Jesus does not want us to think that those people are going to be caught in a big dragnet or that their judgment before God will take place on a beach! Moreover, Jesus was not trying to teach us, as “good fish,” that our good works earns our salvation. Any of these conclusions would be reading more into His parable than He intended.
Yet how often this is done by some who try to read meaning into every minor detail of Jesus’ more lengthy and detailed parables. They end up confused, because they fail to realize that in every comparison, at some point, similarities turn to dissimilarities.
Because Scripture so often contains metaphorical language, we must be careful that we don’t fall into that trap, as unfortunately, many who teach about spiritual warfare have done. Satan is a master at twisting Scripture (see Matt. 4:5-7). He loves it when we misinterpret what God says.
“Pulling Down Strongholds”
The Bible does sometimes use military terminology when describing the Christian’s responsibility. Yet, in those cases, we must ask ourselves if we are “pushing the parables too far,” by reading more into metaphorical language than was meant. For example, a classic text that is often misinterpreted is 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
The King James Version, rather than saying “we are destroying speculations,” says we are “pulling down strongholds.” From this one metaphorical phrase, practically an entire theology has been built to defend the idea of doing “spiritual warfare” in order to “pull down the strongholds” consisting of evil spirits in the atmosphere. But as the New American Standard Version clearly conveys, Paul is speaking, not of evil spirits in the atmosphere, but of strongholds of false beliefs that exist in people’s minds. Speculations are what Paul was destroying, not wicked spirits in high places.
This becomes even clearer as we read contextually. Paul said, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (emphasis added). The battle of which Paul symbolically writes is a battle against thoughts, or ideas that are contrary to the true knowledge of God.
Using military metaphors, Paul explains that we are in a battle, a battle for the minds of people who have believed the lies of Satan. Our primary weapon in this battle is the truth, which is why we’ve been commanded to go into the entire world and preach the gospel, invading enemy territory with a message that can set captives free. The fortresses we are destroying have been built with building blocks of lies, joined by the mortar of deception.
If you will take the time to read all of the tenth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, you will see that he makes no mention there of wicked spiritual powers, even though we know (and he knew) that wicked spirits are involved in spreading lies. Therefore, in this particular passage, evil spirits were not the “strongholds” of which He was thinking when he wrote. To say that Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 prove that we can and should practice pulling down evil spirits in the atmosphere is an obvious misrepresentation of what Paul actually meant.
If Paul did mean that we should pull down evil spirits in the atmosphere, we would have to wonder why he himself never practiced what he preached, as there is no mention of him ever doing it in the history of his ministry as recorded in the book of Acts.
The Whole Armor of God
Another passage in Paul’s writings that is often misinterpreted is found in his Ephesian letter:
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:10-17).
May I initially point out that although this passage is definitely about the Christian’s struggle with the devil and evil spirits, there is no mention of pulling down evil spirits over cities. As we study the passage closely, it becomes clear that Paul is primarily writing about each individual’s responsibility to resist Satan’s schemes in his personal life by applying the truth of God’s Word.
Notice also the evident metaphorical language of the entire passage. Paul obviously was not speaking of a literal, material armor that Christians should put on their bodies. Rather, the armor of which he speaks is figurative. Those pieces of armor represent the various scriptural truths that Christians should use for protection against the devil and evil spirits. By knowing, believing, and acting upon God’s Word, Christians are, figuratively speaking, clothed in God’s protective armor.
Let’s examine this passage in Ephesians verse by verse, while asking ourselves, What was Paul really trying to convey to us?
The Source of Our Spiritual Strength
First, we are told to “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10). The emphasis is on the fact that we should not derive our strength from ourselves but God. This is further brought out in Paul’s next statement: “Put on the full armor of God” (Eph. 6:11a). This is God’s armor, not ours. Paul is not saying that God Himself wears armor, but that we need the armor that God has supplied for us.
Why do we need this armor that God has supplied? The answer is, “that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” ( Eph. 6:11b). That is the reason. This armor is primarily for defensive, not offensive use. It is not so we can go out and pull down evil spirits over cities; it is so we can stand firm against Satan’s schemes.
We learn that the devil has evil plans to attack us, and unless we are wearing the armor that God supplies, we are vulnerable. Notice also that it is our responsibility to put on the armor, not God’s.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
Here it becomes crystal clear that Paul is not talking about a physical, material battle, but a spiritual one. We are struggling against the schemes of various ranks of evil spirits whom Paul lists. Most Bible students assume that Paul listed those evil spirits as they are ranked from bottom to top, “rulers” being the lowest class and “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” being the highest class.
How can we struggle against spiritual beings? That question can be answered by asking, How can spiritual beings attack us? They attack us primarily with temptations, thoughts, suggestions, and ideas that contradict God’s Word and will. Therefore, our defense is knowing, believing, and obeying God’s Word.
“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:13).
Notice, once again, that Paul’s purpose is to equip us to stand against Satan’s attacks. His purpose is not to equip us to go out and attack Satan and pull down evil spirits from the atmosphere. Three times in this passage Paul tells us to stand firm. Our position is one of defense, not offense.
This is not to say that we never take an offensive stand, but that this passage is primarily speaking of maintaining a strong defense. When we proclaim the gospel, for example, we are definitely “invading enemy territory” in an offensive measure.
Also, notice that it is our responsibility to take up the armor and to stand firm. God will not do it for us.
Truth—Our Primary Defense
Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth...(Eph. 6:14a).
Here is what keeps our armor in place—the truth. What is the truth? Jesus said to His Father, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). We cannot successfully stand firm against Satan unless we know the truth with which we can counter his lies. Jesus beautifully demonstrated this during His temptation in the wilderness as He responded to Satan’s every suggestion with, “It is written...”
“...and having put on the breastplate of righteousness...(Eph. 6:14b).
As Christians, we should be familiar with two kinds of righteousness. First, we have been given, as a gift, the righteousness of Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:21). His righteous standing has been imputed to those who believe in Jesus, who bore their sins on the cross. That righteous standing has delivered us from Satan’s dominion.
Second, we should be living righteously, obeying Jesus’ commands, and that is probably what Paul had in mind regarding the breastplate of righteousness. By obedience to Christ, we give no place to the devil (see Eph. 4:26-27).
Firm Footing in Gospel Shoes
“...and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace...” (Eph. 6:15)
Knowing, believing and acting upon the truth of the gospel gives us firm footing to stand against Satan’s attacks. The shoes that Roman soldiers wore had spikes on the bottom that gave them a firm grip on the battlefield. When we know that Jesus has died for our sins and been raised from the dead for our justification, Satan’s lies are unable to knock us off our feet.
Paul specifically refers here to “the gospel of peace.” We now have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). We are no longer enemies with God.
“...in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one (Eph. 6:16).
Notice again Paul’s emphasis here on our defensive posture. He is not talking about our pulling down demons over cities. He is talking about our using faith in God’s Word to resist the devil’s lies. When we believe and act upon what God has said, it is like having a shield that protects us from Satan’s lies, represented figuratively as the “flaming missiles of the evil one.”