Jun 1 1997
The term "spiritual warfare," as used by most conservative evangelical Christians, is simply a figurative way of describing what takes place every day as they attempt to live their lives in a manner pleasing to God. The very real adversaries on the spiritual battlefield are the world, the flesh, and the devil, and the "good fight" consists of resisting temptation, overcoming personal sin, and being an effective witness for Christ. The figurative language of this term expresses the nature of the literal, temporal struggle in which all believers find themselves. At least, that's what many if not most evangelicals would say. But this view is changing rapidly.
The military metaphor is now being taken quite literally. Prayer has been drafted and retooled with the latest technology. C. Peter Wagner of Fuller Seminary writes, "Thousands of churches have installed prayer rooms, tastefully furnished rooms that include a phone line or two and perhaps a fax machine or a computer for e-mail. These rooms are occupied by intercessors 24 hours a day." 1 In many cases these are dedicated "strategic-level spiritual warfare" (SLSW) rooms manned by intercessors engaged in "warfare praying for the cities of the world." From such rooms many of the "strategies" of the new spiritual warfare can be executed.
For example, "spiritual mapping" is considered a critical strategic procedure. It involves creating geographical area maps with markings for all historically and presently significant pagan activities at a particular location. It's claimed that by researching the area's religious history one can learn in detail what brought it into spiritual bondage, and that this specific knowledge can lead to more effective prayer. When historical information is limited or unavailable, direct communication from God closes the gap. "Discernment of spirits is a spiritual gift that is extremely valuable, for through it spiritual cartographers are given special insights by the Holy Spirit." 2
Here is one example of how SLSW works, according to Dr. Wagner:
[It] begins by breaking the city down into neighborhoods, manageable geographical areas. In Medellin, Colombia... they have designated 255 neighborhoods. ...Each one...is mapped in detail, showing each lot, what buildings are on the lot, what color house, and the name of the family or families who live there.
The maps are distributed to prayer groups in the city, in other parts of the country and in other countries....If at least three prayer groups report spiritual impressions about a particular household or place, trained workers go right in and solicit specific prayer requests for that house.
Prayer groups outside the city keep in touch through fax machines and computer modems. In Medellin, one of the participating prayer groups was a Baptist General Conference church in the United States. Even though they had no tradition of receiving prophetic words from the Lord, one day the group heard clearly that there was something wrong with a certain vacant lot in the neighborhood they were praying for, and they faxed the information to Medellin. A ministry team visited the lot and found five occult objects cursed and buried by witches to control the neighborhood. They were destroyed and the gospel flowed freely. 3 (Emphasis mine)
SLSW focuses upon demonic activities perceived to be keeping people in bondage and preventing them from hearing and receiving the gospel. Certainly Satan and his minions do all they can to oppose the gospel. But can "five occult objects cursed and buried by witches" prevent the flow of the gospel? And what of "spiritual impressions" received by the above-mentioned noncharismatic Baptists? Was it the Holy Spirit who gave such insights to them, then later directed the ministry team to find, dig up, and destroy the objects?
To accept all of this we would have to go beyond what the Bible teaches and embrace the key doctrine of the spiritual warfare movement: that of territorial spirits.
Territorial spirits are said to be "high-ranking principalities [demons]" which "attempt to keep large numbers of humans ...in spiritual captivity." 4 Their control includes nations, cities, neighborhoods, industries, and religious groups. Wagner writes, "Only the Holy Spirit can overcome the territorial spirits, destroy their armor and release the captives under their wicked control." 5 Strategic intercession by prayer warriors is brought to bear in situations where evangelistic efforts seem to be unproductive. Wagner recommends in such cases that "strategic-level spiritual warfare might at least be worthy of experimentation . Possibly a strongman [territorial spirit] needs to be bound by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us." 6 (Emphasis mine)
Binding territorial spirits is the primary SLSW method of removing demonic control. Wagner and other SLSW proponents contend that Matthew:12:29, 16:19 and 18:18 and Mark:3:27 lay the foundation for power encounters in which ruling demons or principalities are neutralized. Arriving at such an interpretation of those scriptures, however, necessitates reading them with SLSW preconceptions. If Jesus were instructing us in Mark:3:27 to enter Satan's house and bind him in order to prevent his obstruction of the gospel, 1) He failed to follow His own counsel during His "power encounter" with Satan in the desert; 2) His instructions were terribly vague; and 3) none of His disciples bothered with the application.
Incredibly, the rationale offered by some SLSW advocates is that such spiritual warfare teaching was for good reason not specific: Christ's words were for the most part prophetic, and meant for a later time in which the very necessary extrabiblical sources and devices such as libraries, faxes, computers, the internet, etc., would be widely available for waging spiritual warfare.
Although he encourages experimentation with SLSW methods and techniques, Wagner nevertheless issues a warning: "It is foolish, as well as dangerous, to confront the enemy by binding and loosing outside the will of God or outside His timing. ...[C]ertain spiritual powers could be too mighty for us to handle at a certain time and in a certain place." 7 Therefore, receptivity to extrabiblical revelation (personally hearing from God—see Part I) is extremely critical and must be nurtured in order for prayer warriors to know: who (by name) the territorial spirits are, what their particular function is, and when they might effectively be bound.
There seems to be no end to what many in SLSW are "hearing from the Spirit." Prayerwalking, prayer journeys, prayer expeditions and Marches for Jesus are related forms of spiritual warfare. Leading proponents Steve Hawthorne and Graham Kendrick define prayerwalking as "praying on site with insight." 8 Locations are visited by intercessors who have researched the "spiritual" history of each place to determine specific things to pray for, or who have "spiritually discerned" strategic information obtained directly from the Holy Spirit. Prayer journeys usually involve travel to foreign cities, while prayer expeditions are often cross-country hikes taken for the purpose of strategic intercession against the nationwide rule of demonic principalities. Kendrick describes the SLSW attributes of March for Jesus as a joyful public proclamation as well as a "foray into enemy territory. God's enemies retreat as [Jesus] arises in His magnificent processional presence during the march." 9
Reading through the popular literature featuring strategic-level spiritual warfare concepts, methods, and techniques has been a perplexing ordeal. Nearly all the authors were found to be terribly sincere, and some select teachings I read were quite insightful, even spiritually convicting. For instance, even the badly flawed books dealing with prayer revealed the shortcomings of my own prayer life. Nevertheless, the new spiritual warfare movement has missed the mark in so many fundamental ways that I believe it must be abandoned by its participants in order to desist from accommodating the strategems of the adversary. Here's why.
Foremost, the concept of spiritual strategy is unbiblical. Strategy is a military term having to do with the science and planning of large-scale military operations. It involves strategems, which Webster defines as "trick[s], scheme[s], or plan[s] for deceiving an enemy in war." Nowhere in God's Word is such an approach applied to the spiritual realm.
Strategy usually entails some form of direct engagement of the enemy. The fundamental tactic of the strategic-level spiritual warfare movement requires power encounters with demons, especially territorial spirits. With the exception in certain instances of the Lord directing deliverance on behalf of the demon-possessed lost , direct confrontation with demons is not the rule for believers. In fact, it is a deadly quicksand of spiritually erroneous effort.
1 John:3:8 tells us that "the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." It is the works ; not the devil or his demons. Although Satan's fate was sealed at the Cross, God, for His own purpose, has allowed him to continue until the Lord himself binds him for a time, and then casts him into the eternal Lake of Fire (Rev:20:2-3,10). The works of the devil are lies and deception with which he "hath blinded the minds of them which believe not...the glorious gospel of Christ" (2 Cor:4:4). Satan's works began in heaven with his own self-deluded lie: "I will be like the most high [God]" (Isa:14:14). He brought his deceptions to earth to infect mankind. Adam and Eve were seduced by his lies (Gen:3:1-6), and that has been his modus operandi in every subsequent generation.
Spiritual warfare is not hand-to-hand combat or strategic battle in the heavenlies against spirit entities. It is contending for the truth, vanquishing false teachings, and resisting the lies. The "wrestling"of Ephesians:6:12 refers to disputations over truth (v 14), not body slamming demons. Our weapon is the "sword of the Spirit [of Truth], which is the [written!] word [ rhema ] of God" (v 17). Jesus himself used that sword against the devil: "It is written..." (Mat:4:4,6,7,10).
The strongholds of the devil to be pulled down are not literal "terrritories ruled by demons," but Satan's lies, which hold captive the minds ("every thought") of the lost (2 Cor:10:4-5), and can even deceive God's "very elect" (Mt 24:24). Scripture tells us clearly and simply how we are to deal with such strongholds: "...If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn:8:31-32).
Not only has the SLSW movement missed the mark with its unbiblical mission; its militantly aggressive strategy is also dangerously erroneous. The Scriptures determine the manner and mode of dealing with Satan: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James:4:7). Again, that's just what Jesus did (Lk 4:1-13). Over and over again the Word of God exhorts believers, not to power encoun4ters with demons, but to steadfastness in the faith. Peter, who was no stranger to casting out demons, nevertheless wrote, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith " (1 Pt 5:8). (Emphasis mine)
Many concerned observers of the strategic-level spiritual warfare movement recognize its characteristics as being akin to shamanism (i.e., witch doctoring). Limited space allows only a sampling here. The shaman's world is one of direct daily contact with the spirit realm. The shaman leads his people in spiritually efficacious rituals or public dances/marches to the glory of his spirits. He develops methods and techniques to overcome evil spirits, techniques he receives from good spirits, so he believes. Communication with invisible entities is totally subjective, often experimental, and always pragmatic: if it works it's good medicine. The "good" spirits give the shaman spiritual discernment, enabling him to recognize curse-laden objects and even to "see" evil entities which could be destructive to his village. All such methods, techniques and rituals encompass sorcery and are diametrically opposed to God's way.
When the Apostle Paul referred to Jannes and Jambres in his second letter to Timothy, the reference seems to be to their involvement in counterfeit signs and wonders in Pharaoh's court. Is Paul telling us that the perilous times in the last days will see pervasive counterfeit spirituality or sorcery? Are we seeing "...a form of godliness" (2 Tim:3:5) being dispensed to the sheep by witting or unwitting shepherds of shamanism who, like Pharaoh's magicians, "also resist the truth" (v 8)?
Major elements of the strategic-level spiritual warfare movement's teachings and practices are either foundational to, or heavily incorporated in, many of today's popular programs/ministries. Of the latter, some of the most influential are the Pensacola revival, Richard Foster's Renovaré, the John Jacobs Power Team, YWAM's Impact World Tour, Neil Anderson's Freedom in Christ seminars, Cindy Jacobs' Generals of Intercession, Dick Eastman's Every Home for Christ, and George Otis, Jr.'s The Sentinel Group. Pray that the Lord will bring true spiritual discernment to both the leaders and followers of these programs, and to the many others caught up in the same biblical errors. Pray that God will turn them from the way of the shaman and back to His "good way" (Jer:6:16). TBC
- C. Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers (Ventura, CA, Regal Books, 1996), 12.
- C. Peter Wagner, Warfare Prayer (Ventura, CA, Regal Books, 1992), 154.
- Ibid., 166-167.
- Confronting, 22.
- Ibid., 152.
- Ibid. , 155-156.
- Steve Hawthorne and Graham Kendrick, Prayerwalking (Lake Mary, FL, Creation House, 1993), 15.
- Ibid., 200.