Two Fronts of the Body of Christ’s Witness: How Jesus-disciples Resist the Fallen Powers—An Addendum to the “Divine Council” Video by The Bible Project
Two Fronts of the Body of Christ’s Witness: How Jesus-disciples Resist the Fallen Powers—An Addendum to the “Divine Council” Video by The Bible Project

Today The Bible Project released the latest episode in a series of videos exploring Spiritual Beings. This is a really important series because spiritual beings are an often neglected part of Western Christian theology. Since the Reformation, a lot more emphasis has been placed on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, atonement theories, and ecclesiology. [1] However, spiritual beings are an important topic of discussion because they are such a prevalent part of the biblical narrative. Hence The Bible Project’s interest in them. I’m grateful to The Bible Project for not going the safe route of ignoring spiritual beings, since the biblical narrative points to spiritual beings as the cause of significant evil in the world, especially as it relates to political structures and institutions. This means spiritual beings are a necessary part of any political theology that draws from the Bible. So far, I think The Bible Project has done a great job introducing spiritual beings to a much broader audience than would otherwise encounter teaching about them through their local churches, Bible colleges, and even seminaries. As I’ve shared regularly and widely, I’m very grateful to The Bible Project for their ministry for just such reasons. I think they do an excellent job overall. There are times, however, when I’d want to add some to what they’ve produced. My addendum here is not to negate what they’ve taught, but it’s to draw a few necessary applications to the political theology of the local church and to emphasize the collective witness of the body of Christ. There are two complementary fronts on which the witness of the body of Christ is vitally necessary. But before we discuss those two fronts, a brief recap of what The Bible Project covered in the video.

From Divine Council to Fallen Powers

The spiritual beings referred to as the hosts of heaven and the divine council are given authority by God to rule with God in the spiritual realm that is an integral part of our world, albeit hidden. This is in parallel to human beings being appointed by God to rule in the terrestrial world. However, when human beings fail in their calling by imaging creation (the serpent) rather than the Creator, which is rebellion, they are exiled. The Bible Project correctly discerns that Scripture speaks of the spiritual beings also failing in a similar way. Like human beings, some spiritual beings have abnegated their rule in submission to God and have fomented a rebellion. The spiritual beings who were once the divine council are now the fallen powers and wreck havoc in the world. A critical acknowledgement by The Bible Project is how closely related the fallen powers are to evil earthly empires. The Bible Project rightly connects fallen spiritual beings to “Babylon,” the Bible’s archetypal evil empire from which all evil empires share their power. This sets the stage for important applications for political theology. However, The Bible Project’s video concludes with only a personal application of Christlike character and wielding the weapon of the Word of God. It’s important that we don’t fail to place the Bible’s teaching about the fallen powers and their influence over political structures and institutions in the cultural context in which it was written. That context was not individualistic, as Western Protestant theology tends to be today. Instead, Paul and other New Testament authors who write about spiritual warfare do so with the collective body of Christ in mind. Which is why an addendum to The Bible Project’s video is needed.

Front One: An Alternative Society of Shalom

Personal holiness is not the only or even the primary way that Jesus-disciples resist the fallen powers. There are two other fronts in this spiritual battle that are important to highlight. The first is our identity and formation as the body of Christ. Together as a diverse, united, and alternative social order—a society of shalom—the body of Christ resists the dominion of the fallen powers, which thrive on division and hostility. The character of Christ must not only be displayed in each individual Jesus-disciple, Jesus communities must also put on display Christlike character in how the Gospel brings together people of different cultures, ethnicities, classes, and genders. This is a central feature of Paul’s theology in both Romans and Galatians as well as the New Testament book of Ephesians. [2]
“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (3.7-11 NIV)
Paul makes clear that the Gospel produces a diverse community (the Gentiles being grafted into the people of God) and that God’s purpose in creating this new, diverse community was to display God’s “manifold” (also “many-colored”) wisdom to “the rulers and authorities in heavenly realms.” (v.10) The many-colored nature of the body of Christ, as a community made up of different peoples, is itself a witness to the fallen powers. What does this demonstration entail? It entails the destruction of all social divisions that cause hostility. In our new, recreated identities, our distinctions are transformed so that they are no longer dividing walls, but represent the beauty God has invested in creation and now Christ’s body.
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (2.14-18 NIV)
Members of this new community who have various ethnic and cultural identities are united in a common identity that destroys divisions which were created and guarded by the fallen powers. Social constructs served as “walls” keeping people God loves apart. But Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has brought about a new way of being human community together. Ephesians calls this “peace.” The Hebrew concept would be shalom and would be much more holistic than merely a cease-fire. The body of Christ is a diverse, alternative society of shalom. The body of Christ puts on display in microcosm the shalom that will one day characterize the whole world, when Christ returns to complete the Kingdom of God which was begun through his birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Jesus’s sending of the Holy Spirit empowers Jesus-disciples to love one another as Christ has loved us, forming a new family into which all people are invited. The body of Christ is a holy space where God’s Spirit indwells our relationships, our worship, and our fellowship.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (2.19-22 NIV)
This new, diverse, united society of shalom forms a model of God’s dream for the whole world. In fact, God is at work through this new humanity to spread shalom to the wider world. Which is the second front in the body of Christ’s witness.

Front Two: Seeking the Common Good of the World

If the witness of Jesus-disciples ended with personal holiness or even forming an alternative community, we would miss out on partnering with God’s Spirit in the wider world. God is at work everywhere all the time drawing people to Christ and creating more and more shalom. God is pulling the world into God’s future and Jesus-disciples are God's partners in that ministry. God is working together with human beings to bring good out of evil in the world. This is why God called Israel to “seek the shalom” of the city in which they were exiled, when they were literally exiled in Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 7). This call to partner with God in bringing about shalom and bringing good out of evil is part of the call of God’s people no matter what the circumstances we are in. Heroes of resisting the fallen powers in the Hebrew Bible are figures like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In the book of Daniel, these four Israelites are in exile in Babylon, yet they work together with God to be a blessing to that kingdom. However, they are unwilling to ‘bow down,’ give their ultimate allegiance to the king or gods of that kingdom. This is essential to their witness. Since the Resurrection and outpouring of the Spirit, this has been true of the church as well. We are a people who are “foreigners and exiles” in this world (cf. I Peter 1.1). Our ultimate allegiance is to the Kingdom of God (cf. Phil. 3.20), but wherever we are, we are to live as “salt" and "light” (cf. Mt. 5.13-16). We are to be a collective witness to the in-breaking Kingdom and foster more and more shalom in the world. One of the primary ways God’s people do this is through advocacy for the most vulnerable members of society. God’s heart has always been concerned for those who lack privilege and power in society, like immigrants, orphans, and widows. God’s sight has always been set on those who have been pushed to the margins by those who consider themselves God’s favored. Jesus’s ministry highlights this preferential option for the disenfranchised and downtrodden. Jesus praises those who weren’t regarded as praiseworthy. Jesus celebrates with the despised. Jesus includes the outcast. Jesus heals the afflicted. Jesus welcomes the stranger. In patterning our communal witness after the life of Jesus, the body of Christ also seeks to uplift those who are injured and treated unjustly. And the body of Christ doesn’t merely pull the drowning from the river, we also seek to prevent people from falling in the river to begin with. The collective witness of the body of Christ entails advocacy for systemic social justice. There is brokenness in society that must be named and leaders who must be called upon to judge with justice. This is a crucial second front in the witness of the body of Christ.

Spiritual Warfare and Growing the Kingdom

In resisting the fallen powers, Jesus-disciples must not only attend to the work of being formed into the image of Christ through discipleship and spiritual formation, we must also form Jesus Communities that resist the fallen powers through our collective witness. By forming a diverse, alternative society of shalom, we demonstrate that the walls of hostility between peoples have been destroyed by Jesus. Jesus is our shalom. Our shalom communities then are a microcosm of the Kingdom of God that is breaking in to the world gone wrong. Then, as we live within the world as a community, we seek to partner with God as God is making all things new. We are ministers of reconciliation, speaking truth to broken systems of power, calling them to account, serving in love, and fostering more and more shalom. These are two additional fronts in our battle against the fallen powers which must be added to the excellent introduction given by The Bible Project.  
  1. The exception is perhaps since the Azusa street revival and the global rise of Renewalism (an umbrella term encompassing both Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wave Charismatics). In Western Protestantism outside Renewalist circles, development of robust angelology or demonology isn’t all that common.
  2. I also happen to believe there is sufficient evidence for Ephesians to be an authentic letter of the apostle Paul.