CS. Lewis noted that there are two dangerous positions Christians take about the devil: we can either reject any belief in his existence, or dwell too much on him. The first position blinds us to the devil's attacks; the second makes us more vulnerable to those attacks because when we dwell on his power it becomes magnified in our minds and can lead us onto his ground.
"There are Christians who think and speak altogether too much about the power of Satan. They think of their adversary, they pray about him, they talk about him, and he looms up greater and greater in their imagination." 1
Those who overcome the devil do so "by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11), not by constantly talk ing about him. As we anchor our thoughts in the power of Jesus, the teachings of His Word, and our experience of His grace, the devil flees (James 4:7, 8).
Scripture leaves no doubt that we are in a war; it even tells us which weapons to use. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds)" (2 Cor. 10:3, 4, italics added). Our weapons are "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17), the word of our testimony, and the blood of Jesus.
These weapons are not intuitive. They are unnatural to the human mind. To our way of thinking, they are not weapons at all. Consequently, there is a growing industry which amounts to a carnal arms race in the Christian community. It can divert our focus from Jesus to the enemy, increase the enemy's power over our minds, and lure us to forsake our spiritual arsenal in favor of a carnal one.
Ministers are on the front lines of this spiritual war. All of us enhance the effectiveness of ministry when we learn to identify the carnal weapons and replace them with the spiritual instead.
Debate: the Word versus a war of words
Twenty-five years ago, a leader in the church offered me this advice on counteracting error." Debate is not a Christian weapon. You will find that the word debate usually keeps very bad company. Don't use your energy to research and debate error. Use it to teach the truth from the Word of God. Your debate might succeed in counteracting error in the minds of some people, but it will always create a diversion from the Bible and sow the seeds of strife."
The Bible uses "debate" five times. Only two are positive (Proverbs 25:9 uses the word riyb or ruwb, which means to grapple or hold a controversy, to teach about interpersonal problem solving. Isaiah 27:8 uses it to describe God's controversy with Israel). The other three appearances of "debate" are as follows.
First, in Isaiah 58:4, its matstsah, which is from the root word natsah, meaning "to be expelled, to desolate or lay waste." Isaiah describes it as spiritually unhealthy. The other words used to translate it, "contention" and "strife," are also disreputable. Romans 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 12:20 use the word eris, a quarrel. Paul portrays it as something Christians must avoid. Eris's other translations are "contention," "strife," and "variance."
Ellen White cautioned that people who "debate" tend to use whatever argument is most handy in order to score a point; she contrasted that with the paramount need for Christians, when defending their faith, to use only material "grounded firmly upon the word of God."
The debater's techniques, she said, "may avail to silence an opposer, but they do not honor the truth."2 She offered this contrast to debate. "The Lord wants His people to follow other methods than that of condemning wrong, even though the condemnation be just. He wants us to do something more than to hurl at our adversaries charges that only drive them farther from the truth. ... If anyone shall seek to draw the workers into debate or controversy on political or other questions; take no heed to either persuasion or challenge .... preach the word." 3
"When errors come into our ranks, we are not to enter into controversy over them. We are faithfully to give the mes sage of reproof, and then we are to lead the minds of the people away from fanciful, erroneous ideas, presenting the truth in contrast with error.... The truth of God is found in His word."4
If we don't research the opposition's materials and debate them, how can we reprove errors and contrast them with the truth? Paul showed the way in 2 Timothy 3:16 "All scripture is given by God, and is profitable for... reproof. . ." When we preach the Word, we create the only effective contrast, the only appropriate reproof. When we uplift Jesus through His Word and our testimony, we draw people's minds back to safe ground far more effectively than we do through debate.
We have our instructions from the Word of God. Debate the seeking out of evidence from the other person's position to prove how wrong they are is a good way to lose people spiritually. The only safe method is to stick to the positive Word of God. Jesus said that if He was lifted up, He would draw all unto Himself (John 12:32). That technique is the only one the Bible gives us. Moses didn't bone up on the sorcery of Egypt in order to deliver Israel. He just delivered the Word of God. Similarly, Jesus didn't point out to the woman at the well the pagan fallacies held by Samaritans. He pointed out Himself as Messiah.
Paul didn't debunk Greek mythology to the Corinthians and Athenians. John made no effort to poke holes in Roman superstitions. All the spiritual giants who serve as our examples bypassed that carnal temptation and stuck to preaching the Word of God as a counter to spiritual error. Our only models rejected the war of words and embraced "the Bible only" as their weapon against darkness.
The reason for this approach is that only Jesus can save. Our Great Commission, thus, focuses entirely on Him. Debates over the enemy's material and exposes of his projects, even though the object may be laudable and the exposes may be true, detract from the Great Commission's effectiveness. They do so by arousing strife, removing the focus from Jesus, and tying up resources that should be used to teach the gospel.
Search and destroy: studying on the enemy's terms
A young woman had bought a book from the church bookstore in order to learn more about a certain threat to the church. The author of the book approached the subject by researching the "enemy's" writings and pointing out all the errors. He included quotes and descriptions from spiritualistic material authored by witches and similar groups.
The young woman felt uneasy as she read. The use of spiritualistic mate rial caused a deep sense of "wrongness." That night she was awakened by a terrible sense of fear and of a hateful presence in her home. She prayed and felt impressed that the book's use of such material had invited evil angels into her home.
She asked me, "Do you think a Christian book could really cause this kind of problem? I was upset and groggy with sleep. I wonder if I overreacted and imagined that God identified the book as a problem."
"Well," I said, "we're not sleepy now. Let's do some serious praying and ask God again." We prayed, and God directed us to Ephesians 5:11,12. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret" (italics added).
Here the Bible urges Christians not to speak, write about, or otherwise describe the practices of those who participate in spiritual darkness, even when the Christian is guided by laudable motives. It also rules out using their own materials to condemn them.
Does that mean we cannot mention the wrongs we are combating? No, but only within limits. The Bible's approach to such descriptions is minimal. In the Bible's models, writers mentioned the problems in general terms. They used the fewest details possible, and confined the information they shared to what was common knowledge or readily observable. (For example, see Romans 1.)
When dealing with any problem, social, political, or supernatural, it is necessary to describe the problem; that description, however, should not go into detail but should stick to commonly observable facts. Above all, it should never lead us, in the name of research, to delve into the materials of spiritual ism, immorality, witchcraft, or unsound doctrine. To do so may well put us on Satan's ground. When we share that work with others, we may well lead them onto his ground as well.
The enemy's diversion
Rodney Hamilton, a pastor and com bat veteran, often draws comparisons between Christian and literal warfare. He maintains that there are similarities church workers should be aware of. Among these is the soldier's adage that "the big attack you are pouring effort into is likely to be a diversion to draw you away from the real battle."
Today there are books, videos, tracts, seminars, and lectures designed to fight this or that error, and I see a massive diversion from the preaching of the Word. There is a thriving industry of materials that alarm, frighten, and capture the attention of Christians by portraying, in detail, the beliefs, practices, and literature of cults, supernatural movements, apostasies, and fads.
"Order this book and read descriptions of the shocking rituals used by X." "Buy our video and see real portrayals of what Y will lead your children into." "Invite Brother Z to your church to show you from the authentic materials of the New Age movement what is secretly imbedded our society." The allure is strong. We want to know how to keep our churches and families safe. Consequently, we go to this carnal arms market and buy our weapons from their selection.
Whenever we adopt this carnal arsenal, we move into the second of Lewis's dangerous positions: We dwell on the devil so much that he looms larger and larger in our imaginations. He becomes so powerful in our minds that we divert energy and resources into combating his current project rather than uplifting Jesus and His Word.
The only safe way for us to combat spiritual dangers is to stick to the biblical plan. Scrap the "wisdom of words," the carnal weapon of debate. Throw out the carnal weapon of espionage, which is research into the enemy's material. Resolve to know nothing in this battle except Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:17; 2:1-5).
In order to be effective, we need to confine ourselves to the weapons Jesus authorized us to use: His blood, the teachings of the Word, and our testimony. Although we may be uncomfortable when we abandon carnal weapons, although we may feel defenseless without them, Jesus assures us that we will be much more effective. He assures us that His Word is mighty enough by itself to pull down the enemy's mightiest strongholds.
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), 433 (paperback); 490-493 (hardback).
2 __, Testimonies for the Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1889), 5:708.
3 __, Testimonies for the Church (Nampa, Idaho:
Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1900), 6:121, 122, italicsadded.
4 __. Testimonies for the Church, (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1909), 8:192, italics added.