Overcoming the powers

At Saturday’s Missional Leadership teaching day we were looking at The Kingdom of God and the language of Power Encounter. This is a substantial module which examine the biblical and contemporary approach to understanding and engaging the powers, and there’s more to come next month. This is, of course, an area with a diversity of strongly held views about what constitutes ‘the powers’ and how to engage with them, tackle them or defeat them.

The starting point for the exploration of this subject is the Kingdom of God, a kingdom the perspective of which stretches way beyond the church to the life and lives of all for whom Christ died. I love this quote from George Otis, "When the Kingdom of God comes to town it makes no distinction between the restaurant and the church." God’s intention is that both come under his rule. A focus on the Kingdom lifts our gaze from the inner workings of our church to the wider workings of the world.

The power of this Kingdom is exclusively the Holy Spirit’s power, not ours.  Paradoxically, God’s power shows up best in our powerlessness. Tragically, this is not what most people observe of most western churches where the lack of any apparent spirituality leaves many seeking spiritual reality in alternative or occult practices.

We covered a lot of ground, but here are a few of the key points that grabbed my attention.

Walter Wink’s integrated worldview of spiritual powers challenges the traditional view of the physical and social world here on earth and the world of spiritual powers ‘up’ in the heavenlies – a spatial concept that has it’s roots in the ancient belief that heaven was up above the the sky. Wink’s worldview asserts that spiritual powers are ‘within’ the world that we experience, therefore we engage with them as we engage with the personalities, principalities and systems of this world within which they exercise their power.

Another surprise for me was that the language of ‘power’ or ‘powers’ in the New Testament is imprecise, liquid, interchangeable and unsystematic. In particular, as Michael Green says, "The truth of the matter is that words like principalities, powers and thrones are used both of human rulers and of the spiritual forces which lie behind them." The accompanying notes for the day sum it up, "Behind the ambiguity lies an ancient world view of the continuous interplay and interaction of heaven and earth. Behind the visible, physical manifestations of power is the spiritual invisible dimension constantly at work – each dimension reflects and reveals the other. The New Testament writers, particularly Paul, were not building up a hierarchy of Powers nor an esoteric demonology, for study or debate. They were simply describing the spiritual/physical context in which the gospel was growing, in order to show how Christ was supreme over all ‘Powers and Authorities’ through the cross."

This identifying of spiritual powers as being ‘within’ all the structures of our world suggests that unless the spirituality of an organisation, community, or church changes, no real change will take place, even if major restructuring takes place in the ‘outer’ life of the organisation. "Only by confronting the spirituality of an institution can the total entity be transformed." This resonates powerfully with experience, both personal and observed.

Wink’s integrated world view, whilst not without its limitations, seems to make a lot of sense, both theologically and from experience. It affirms that spirituality is intimately woven into all structures as one might expect of a world created by God, and human life created in his image. And it relieves us of what can sometimes seem a bit like a cartoon world view of spirits fighting away ‘upstairs’ while we toil away in ignorance downstairs (ok – I’ve made it sound even more like a cartoon…) All of this encourages me to be more alert and active in spiritual warfare, recognising that whenever we seek to engage with people, organisations, communities or on a bigger scale, cities in order to advance the Kingdom of God we are simultaneously engaging with the spiritual powers that are within them.

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