Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Satan will gum you

Last night on my way home from work, I flipped on the radio and tuned the dial to the Christian Satellite Network (CSN). I was lucky enough to catch about 5 minutes of Matt Fox’s program “The Way the Life and the Truth” on CSN radio. It was another expository teaching, and it sounded like he was going through Samuel or Kings, but I was not for sure. Matt Fox said something that, in essence, I had heard many times before, but he said it in such a way that I had to stop and reflect on the bizarre nature of it. Last night I looked for the message online so I could listen again, but I had no such luck. But paraphrasing, Matt Fox, shared a message with his congregation that went something like this:

Satan, if he is able, would rather not fight with you. Instead, he wins his battles by convincing you that the sinful path is the correct path, and then he stands back and watches you ruin yourself with your bad decisions. Because you believed Satan! But that is his strategy. He will just tempt you, convince you, entice you. He will never battle with you or force you though! Do you know that Satan has no power over you? Jesus defeated Satan at the Cross! So Satan can no longer do anything to you! He can’t attack with his teeth! Satan will gum you, but he will never bite.

At about this point, I changed the station.

Later last night I thought about what Matt Fox could have meant by this. The idea of Satan being “defeated at the cross” is something that I had heard before, but honestly, in all my years as a Christian, out of all the countless sermons I have heard over the years, I never actually thought about this statement until last night.

I know about the crucifixion being the sacrifice and expiation for Sin. But what part does Matt Fox believe "Satan" had in this sacrificial act? Does Matt Fox believe Satan had some kind of biting power over Yahweh’s faithful before the crucifixion, which Satan now no longer has? And if so, how did this power of Satan manifest itself? Matt Fox’s message implies that Satan once had the power to actually force Yahweh’s faithful to do things against their will, since he now only has the power of suggestion. If this is so, and considering the fact the Matt Fox is a good inerrantist, evidence of Satan’s forceful power must be found in the Old Testament. The first, in fact, the only story I can think of where Satan does physical harm to one of Yahweh’s Faithful is the story of Job. But Satan’s deed of harming Job and killing his family was done only after Yahweh had given his approval and permission (Job 1:12, 2:6). If Satan, when demonstrating his destructive powers, can only act on that power with Divine approval, it is contradictory to suppose Jesus needed to perform a sacrificial deed to then strip Satan of his destructive powers.

My point here is not to debate the correct interpretation of particular Scriptural passages, or even to discuss Satan’s proper roll in our world and his relation to Jesus. I do not cite The Bible as any kind of authority, and I believe that Satan is a wholly mythological creature. I believe that these stories, when taken out of their realm of myth, have no relevance in our world. My point rather is to highlight, even assuming the existence of other-worldly Beings and Divine authorities, the theological sloppiness of many popular ‘Bible Teachers’. I do care when authority figures abuse their call as teachers to an unquestioning crowd. I have written several articles about the nonsense I have heard from various Catholic homilies, and, even if one assumes orthodoxy, how the uncritical Faithful accepts every word of nonsense uttered by the priest. And I fear that is what we have here in the person of Matt Fox. The idea of Jesus’ defeat of the once powerful Satan is just one very simple example of the blatant fabrications that come from these charismatic Bible Teachers, and the pews are swollen with the Faithful who uncritically lap it all up.

Nothing is as simple as it is presented.

I had always been taught that Jesus’ death was necessary for the atonement of our sins. But does Matt Fox think that a magical deed other than sin atonement occurred during the act of crucifixion? If Yahweh could, back in the story of Job, cause or restrict the destructive power of Satan by his simple word of permission, why did it later require the death of Jesus to bind Satan’s destructive power? In another story, when Satan opposes the High Priest, Yahweh is able, by his divine word and authority, to rebuke Satan (Zech 3:1-2). Are we to believe that Yahweh is now somehow unable to enforce his word over Satan without the action of the sacrifice and the shedding of blood, as he was able to in the books of Zechariah and Job? Does Matt Fox believe that Yahweh is now powerless without the aid of magical rituals and incantations? He must believe this if he thinks that it took no less than the death of Jesus to remove the fangs of Satan, and restrict his power to biting with gums.

Where could Matt Fox have gotten this idea? As a good inerrantist, I am certain Matt Fox thinks he pulled the idea of Jesus defeating Satan at the Cross out of one of the 66 books of the Bible, and nowhere else. This is the where the inerrantists think they get all their ideas. Let’s look at some possible options, and see if they have any relevance to the idea that Satan once had, and now no longer has, any power over the Faithful via the Crucifixion.

The most commonly cited passage concerning Christ's defeat of Satan is from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

This passage describes the Devil, whom I assume Matt Fox equates with Satan, as being destroyed via Christ’s death. It also says that The Devil has the power of death, and that through Christ’s death, those who were once afraid of their own death are now delivered. Christ does not strip Satan of his power, but completely destroys him by giving himself up for death, thus releasing The Devil of the power he once had over death. It seems to me that the author of Hebrews mixes and confuses, as so often happens, separate descriptions of spiritual and physical death into the same passage, so that while he may mean the death of Christ in the physical sense, he may also mean that Christ delivered those who were afraid of spiritual death. Does the author then mean that The Devil had the power of spiritual or physical death? I don’t know for sure, and I don’t know if anybody knows the precise intent of this scriptural passage, but I think that this passage is the closest we have to the teaching of Matt Fox that Satan no longer has destructive power over the life of the believer. But it is quite a reach.

Here is another passage we may consider as a possibility:

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He (Christ) was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (1John 3:4-10)

In contradiction with the passage from Hebrews, in which The Devil is destroyed, in this passage it is stated that the death of ‘the Son of God’ destroyed the works of The Devil. The foul work of The Devil is Sin, which is lawlessness, and Sin was destroyed by the death of ‘The Son of God’. The destruction of Sin is evident in those who ‘dwell in God’ because they do not sin (v. 4, 6, 8, 9), and the lawless works of The Devil are destroyed (v. 8). If Matt Fox pulled his teaching from this scriptural passage, he would have to assume that the destruction of the works of The Devil leaves the Devil with the power to further tempt believers (or in Matt Fox’s words, ‘gum you’) but this is nowhere hinted at in this passage. Further, Matt Fox would have to assume that the destruction of Sin means that those who dwell in God no longer keep on or make a habit of sinning, as I have heard these passages mis-quoted many times. But this is not what the text says, and the statement regarding the work of The Devil, Sin, which was destroyed by the death of the Son of God, only makes sense if that Sin is utterly destroyed in the believer, and the believer no longer commits sin. If it took the death of Jesus to give the believer the mere power to resist the temptations of The Devil, the power of Christ's death is rendered unnecessary and superfluous when we consider the power of the righteous faithful of God before Jesus walked the earth. If Job, for instance, was able to overcome all the temptations of Satan without the power of Christ’s death, why is the death of Christ even necessary? Unless Sin is allowed to be completely destroyed in the believer, as 1John 3:4-10 actually states, and not merely made a habit of, as Matt Fox seems to believe it states, then I don’t see how 1John 3:4-10 makes any sense at all.

I can only think of one other place where Matt Fox might be pulling this idea from - the famous “first Messianic prophecy” (Gen 3:15). Yahweh, describing his punishment to the Serpent after the incident in the Garden says:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.

Even if we accept the common interpretation of this passage, in which we assume the Serpent is Satan, and that this punishment is a foretelling of somebody who will subsequently bruise the head of Satan, it is too vague to fit Matt Fox’s thesis. If we assume that Matt Fox accepts this as evidence of Christ’s destruction of Satan at the Cross, we cannot interpret “it shall bruise thy head” to mean “because of Jesus’ death on the cross, Satan no longer possesses his formerly destructive force. But he can gum you.” Such wild extrapolations of meaning are arbitrary and gratuitous. Further, this ignores the second part of Yahweh’s statement to the Serpent, “And you shall bruise His heel”, which is left unexplained in Matt Fox’s message, in fact, in nearly all quotes of this verse as a Messianic Prophecy. But even if we ignore this, and even if we grant Matt Fox his Fundamentalist theology, and agree with him that this Scripture refers to Jesus bruising the head of Satan at the Cross, this is still contradicted by Paul’s personal greetings in his epistle to the Romans.

Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. (Romans 16:19-20)

Paul, writing after the crucifixion of Jesus, interprets Genesis 3:15 as something occurring still in his future. Unlike Matt Fox, Paul takes the entire quote from Yahweh into consideration, and incorporates “And you shall bruise His heel” into the meaning of Satan bruising the feet of the Faithful in Rome, but they shall, in turn, crush Satan’s head with those very feet that Satan is “bruising’.

But wait, how can Satan bruise, when, according to Matt Fox, Satan has somehow lost that power?


Here is my point. In the grand scheme of Biblical interpretation and exegesis, Matt Fox’s opinions on Satan, that I confess I am overblowing, are meaningless. I have no desire to argue and debate fine points of Biblical interpretation. This is how I read these passages, and in no sense, in no way, shape or form do I see where in the world Matt Fox, a pastor, a person who wields authority over his Faithful Flock, pulls this admittedly very trivial teaching from. The Bible teachers of CSN radio hold up the Bible as an inerrant standard, they claim it as a sole authority; they demonize those who do not follow, interpret and believe it as they do. Yet, when faced with complicated and contradicting scriptural passages, they all tend to iron everything into the simple, basic and meaningless sludge. The bumpy complications and bothersome technicalities of the varied writings in Scripture are homogenized into smooth, placid, flavorless, jello. These pastors and Bible teachers numb their captive flock with salt that has lost its savor.

They are getting off easy – I am commenting on a mere 30 second quip from a roughly 25 minute radio broadcast, which itself is just one of dozens of interchangeable teaching programs broadcast on CSN radio, a station that prides itself on its own claims of sound exegetical Bible-based teaching. Many times have I been tempted to comment on the base nonsense that I have heard from CSN radio, my old Skip Heitzig cassettes, and various Evangelical pamphlets and booklets, only to stop myself for fear of starting an exegetical debate blog-war. But such simple, popular Christianity is theology for kindergarteners, a theology that I immersed myself in for far too long, and not a basis of teaching or living for any thinking person – Christian or non-Christian alike. So many of these types of expository, verse-by-verse Bible teachings, such as those popular with Calvary Chapel, are so ironed flat, that any number of them can be deconstructed, as I have done in this article, with minimal effort - if only their flocks dared do so. Convolving the complex, diverse, and sometimes contradictory, yet profound, thinking of the Scriptures into the trite messages that I so commonly hear, render their own Scriptures as meaningless – and the message is delivered and accepted purely on the authority of the Pastor. What a waste.


D'Ma said...

I think it must have been sometime in 1998 that I was sitting in the video driven Beth Moore class, Breaking Free, just prior to my being "saved". I remember her saying that if you were sealed with the Holy Spirit Satan couldn't indwell you. He could tempt you, but because if the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we now had the power to resist and rebuke Satan. I also remember being afraid of that.

I'd been convinced ever since "receiving" the Holy Spirit that Satan was trying to "sift me like chaff", and that he was a "roaring lion seeking whom he could devour". Just recently the church I've been a member of for 20 years had a Sunday night class on spiritual warfare. I couldn't force myself to go because I've come to believe it's so much bunk and was afraid it might trigger a panic attack. I sort of wish I had gone because some of the things that a friend of mine has told me are so outlandish I wish I'd heard them myself.

It's a shame that so many good and faithful people are in bondage to this kind of fear. I know, I was one. *sigh*

Grace said...

I think there is real evil in the world that certainly cannot be discounted or taken lightly, but it does seem to me that many things people directly attribute to the Old Nick come simply from fallen human nature, bad choices, or just simply happen.

It seems to me a mistake to look for a demon lurking behind every bush, and assume the devil made me do it rather than to be accountable for our own actions, and choices.