Encountering Territorial Spirits - part 1

      Peter Wagner reports that when moving into an office complex that he had leased, he discovered it had a "grossly unclean statue at its entrance." In fact, with one of its ugly fingers the creature pointed directly at the window of Wagner's personal office! Concluding that its presence had invited demons to dwell on the premises, he declares that if the building had belonged to him, he would have immediately removed the work of art. Since that was not an option, he pursued another course. He says, "Doris and I invited Cindy Jacobs to join us in an office cleansing when we first moved in. She broke the power of spirits inside the office and bound any forces of darkness attached to the statue. Since then the offices have been peaceful and pleasant."[1] 

      Neil Anderson has interesting instructions for people in such circumstances. He writes, "If they are renting or leasing the home, I suggest they move unless the owner is a Christian and is willing to dedicate the property to the Lord"[2]

      Other authorities agree with Wagner that demons can occupy buildings as well as many other places. Explaining the views of pagan peoples, George Otis declares, "These incorporeal beings are perceived to rule over homes, villages, cities, valleys, provinces and nations, and they exercise extraordinary powers over the behavior of local peoples."[3]  While most would agree with his statement as to what pagans perceive to be true in their teachings on demonology, many do not conclude with him that such beliefs correspond with reality.

      Some segments of American culture hold strange beliefs about spirits, demons, and ghosts. Many fear to live in houses where someone was murdered because they think the place to be "haunted" by the spirit of the dead or other evil spirits. Rumors often abound that strange sights and sounds appear in the place, especially in the darkness of night. Others think if they carry a rabbit's foot as a charm or if they find a four-leaf clover, they will enjoy good luck. Still more fear black cats or would be terrified if they absent-mindedly walked under a ladder because these things bring bad luck into one's life. Do their beliefs make their views true? They certainly don't, although this article is not an attempt to deny the reality of demons or their activities in the world today.

      Otis, Wagner, and others have recently linked practices such as "spiritual mapping," identifying and exorcizing "territorial spirits," and "territorial staking," with their views of demon activity. While they seek to support their approach to such ministries with Scripture, much of what they do is so extreme as to be disturbing to many in the Christian world. A study of their material indicates that far too much of their teach­ing has human experience and even pagan theology as its base

      It is commendable, however, that many whose theology and practice have embraced extreme concepts in demonology declare that their major concern is the evangelization of the world. As the editor of a demonology work to which several writers contributed, Wagner explains, "The heartbeat of each one of the contributors to this book is that the world may believe; that multitudes of lost men and women will be liberated from the dark oppression of the enemy and drawn by the Holy Spirit to the glorious light of the gospel of Christ."[4]

      Quite apart from the questionable practices of these demonologists, however, Scripture makes clear that believers can obey the Great Commission to evangelize the world by taking the Bible as their sole and sufficient guide for faith and practice. This requires them to keep their focus on the clearly-stated content of the Commission. It also involves careful adherence to the nature of the authority Jesus gave His followers to carry it out. It further includes a practice in ministry that follows what Scripture says about the character of spiritual gifts. The articles in this series focus on these factors.

      First, we should consider the encouraging fact that believers can obey the Great Commission to evangelize the world by taking the Bible as their sole and sufficient guide for faith and practice.

 Scripture suggests several reasons for using the Bible as one's only guide. Among those reasons is the fact that trusting in other things, such as one's own understanding, is not safe. Certainly, people learn much through their senses; however, those senses are subject to mistakes. Experiencing a mirage on the desert, seeing what appears to be an oasis in the distance only to find nothing but rock and sand when one arrives at the spot, demonstrates that the senses are not infallible. Thus, to lean on the adage, "Seeing is believing," can be risky business indeed. As reported twice in God's Word, a wise man of long ago declared, "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Accordingly, God advises that His followers, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; And lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths"' (Prov. 3:5-6).

      It is sheer folly to put one's confidence in anything other than the Word of God. Concerning such, Jehovah chides His people: "And when they shall say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards who whisper and mutter,' should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:19-20).

      Perhaps most important of all is the fact that only the Bible tells men how to make things right between their souls and God. As the psalmist says, "How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word" (Ps. 119:9).

      Believers must also maintain their faith in the Bible as their sole guide because its truths are eternal. As Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away" (Matt. 24:35). In contrast, the various philosophies that people encounter may prove to contain truth to a greater or lesser degree. The passing of time, however, has demonstrated that multitudes of human theories have proven false, and people have discarded them. Even the Church, especially its Pentecostal segment, has known numerous fads that have come and gone with seeming regularity. Each of them has rested on some "truth," supposedly recently revealed from the Lord. Unfortunately, many immature believers lack the capacity to admit to themselves that the last "wind of doctrine" they embraced turned out to be false and, therefore, worthless. Instead, they keep watching for the next new "revelation" on the horizon.

      Despite these facts, Wagner contends that a teaching is acceptable even when it has no biblical base, as long as it does not actually contradict the Bible.[5] Charles Kraft also declares, ". . . we contend that ideas and/or practices may be scriptural as long as they are not condemned by Scripture."[6] Such reasoning, however, appears very shaky indeed when one applies it to many situations. For example, Chris­tians generally condemn the smoking of marijuana, though that is nowhere specifically forbidden in Scripture. Instead, the specific scriptural prohibition of drunkenness, by implication also forbids smoking marijuana.

      Further, Wagner rejects the "apostles only" rule of hermeneutics.

He writes, "As I have said, I do not agree that the so-called ‘apostles' example principle of hermeneutics is a useful principle."[7] Actually, in the end he turns to a three-fold source as his guide for faith and practice. He writes, "We can learn valuable information from the totally reliable written Word of God, from the spoken or rhema word of God and from accurately analyzing and interpreting the works of God."[8]

      An overemphasis on the work of demons appears to be among the latest of the fads to gain popularity among believers. Recognizing the magnitude of the task of reaching billions of lost people in the world, Harold Caballeros justifies some of the current questionable teachings on demonology as resulting from new "revelations" from God. He concludes, ". . . God is sovereign and is revealing new and better strategies so that we may reach those billions in our generation. I am convinced that spiritual mapping is one of these revelations."[9] If he is correct in his deductions, why did the Lord wait so long to "reveal" these strategies? Did He recently realize the magnitude of His assignment to His Church in the Great Commission? Such faulty reasoning demonstrates the danger of basing the work of the Church on lessons learned from experience.

      Ray Anderson boldly declares that his theology begins with experience rather than Scripture. He writes, "One fundamental thesis will control this discussion--the thesis that ministry precedes and produces theology, not the reverse."[10] Wagner reasons that Paul's theology came from his experience rather than the Old Testament. Making his pragmatic position more clear, he says, "By nature I find myself more goal oriented than process oriented. Application seems more important to me than theory. The theories I like the best are, frankly, the ones that work."[11]

      Priest, Campbell, and Mullen, however, express concern over this tendency to base doctrine and practice on experience. They write: "New understandings of spirit realities are being constructed by missiologists based upon contemporary religious experience and upon a re-examination of Scripture through the lens of such experiences. As they construct their arguments for how we are to understand spirit realities, they continually appeal to accounts of contemporary experience from which we are to infer truths about spirit realities–truths which cannot be derived from Scripture alone."[12] Concluding their analysis of the false teachings that they discuss, they declare, "The doctrines we have presented are theories about spiritual realities not given in Scripture, something freely acknowledged by key proponents of these [erroneous] doctrines."[13]

      In addition to avoiding experience as a basis for doctrine, believers must also steer clear of the temptation to base doctrine on the theories of men. They must not be turned aside by philosophical speculations that result in their hearers losing sight of what the sacred Scriptures clearly contain. Paul told Timothy to "shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer." (2 Tim. 2:16-17).

      Over and over the apostle warns the youthful minister to avoid the temptation to chase after the wisdom of man as it appeared in the various philosophical and theological theories of the first century. He begins that theme in his first letter to Timothy as he writes: "Nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes, rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the end of the commandment is from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say, nor the things which they affirm (1 Tim. 1:4-7).

      In the verse preceding these, Paul shows grave concern over a counterfeit message that was circulating among the churches.

He viewed it as another teaching or doctrine, categorizing it as heterodox, "crooked," (1 Tim. 1:3) as opposed to orthodox, "straight." He also used heteros for "another of a different kind" (1 Tim. 1:10) rather than allos for "another of the same kind." The message contained myths, fables (called old wives' fables in some passages), and endless discussions of genealogies. The apostle viewed such a message as nothing more than vain talk, idle discussion, endless debate, and worthless philosophical speculation. Despite its attempts to use the Word of God in its teaching, Paul declared the counterfeit message was guilty of making misapplications of the Law.

      Rather than viewing such a diversion from the Bible as harmless theorizing, the apostle declared that such teaching promoted doubt rather than faith through the endless controversy it created. It failed to build believers up. Instead, it caused many to turn aside from the simple Gospel that Paul preached!

      Elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles, Paul makes repeated references to this tendency toward dangerous extension of "biblical" studies. As he closed his first letter to Timothy, he again instructed him to avoid profane, secular, and vain babblings (1 Tim. 6:20). The first reason he gave is that such talk leads people away from the faith (21). His second reason is that all such speculations amount to a waste of time (2 Tim. 2:14; Titus 3:9). The third reason is that discussions of this nature subvert, ruin, corrupt, overturn, and undermine the faith and morals of those who hear (2 Tim. 2:14). The fourth reason is that it increases to more ungodliness, such as anger and strife (2 Tim. 2:16). The fifth reason is that such false teaching is as deadly as cancer or gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17). The sixth reason is that the heated discussions that developed during speculative debate run counter to the spirit of gentleness in Christianity (2 Tim. 2:23-24). The seventh and final reason is that such discussions ignore the fact that the basic problem for the sinner is moral, not intellectual (2 Tim. 2:25-26). It is as useless to reason with the spiritually blind as to argue with a drunk man.

      Scripture, then, makes clear that believers can obey the Great Commission to evangelize the world by taking the Bible as their sole and sufficient guide for faith and practice. This includes avoiding an overemphasis on human experience. Anyone can amass testimonials to support almost any teaching he or she devises, while another person can do the same thing with a contradictory theology. Thus, experience is unreliable as a basis for doctrine. To obey the Great Commission also requires that believers refuse the various theories of men as their guide. This is a recurring theme in the Pastoral Epistles. In them Paul presented Timothy with more than ample reasons for refusing to follow mere human wisdom in his ministry.

Selected Bibliography

    Anderson, Neil T. The Bondage Breaker. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1990.

     Anderson, Ray S., ed. Theological Foundations for Ministry. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979. 

    Caballeros, Harold. "Defeating the Enemy with the Help of Spiritual Mapping." In Breaking Strong­holds in Your City: How to Use Spiritual Mapping to Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Effective and Targeted, ed. Peter Wagner. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1993.

    Kraft, Charles H. "‘Christian Animism' or God-Given Authority?"  In Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1995.

    Otis, George, Jr. "An Overview of Spiritual Mapping."  In Breaking Strong­holds in Your City: How to Use Spiritual Mapping to Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Effective and Targeted, ed. Peter Wagner. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1993.

    Priest, Robert J., Thomas Campbell, and Bradford A. Mullen. "Missiological Syncretism: the New Animis­tic Paradigm."  In Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1995.

    Wagner, Peter. Confronting the Powers. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1996.

            . "Introduction."  In Breaking Strong­holds in Your City: How to Use Spiritual Mapping to Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Effective and Tar­geted. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1993.

             . "The Visible and the Invisible."  In Breaking Strong­holds in Your City: How to Use Spiritual Mapping to Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Effective and Targeted. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1993. 


        [1] Peter Wagner, Breaking Strongholds in Your City: How to Use Spiritual Mapping to Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Effective and Tar­geted (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1993), 65-66.

        [2] Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1990), 223.

[3] George Otis Jr., "An Overview of Spiritual Mapping," in Breaking Strong­holds in Your City: How to Use Spiritual Mapping to Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Effective and Targeted, ed. Peter Wagner (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1993), 35.

[4] Wagner, Breaking Strongholds, 25.

[5] Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1996), 98.

[6] Charles H. Kraft, "‘Christian Animism' or God-Given Authority?" in Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1995), 113.

[7] Wagner, Confronting the Powers, 162.
[8] Ibid., 64.

[9] Harold Caballeros, "Defeating the Enemy with the Help of Spiritual Mapping," in Breaking Strong­holds in Your City: How to Use Spiritual Mapping to Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Effective and Targeted," ed. Peter Wagner (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1993), 124-125.

[10] Ray S. Anderson, ed., Theological Foundations for Ministry (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), 7.

[11] Wagner, Confronting the Powers, 47.

[12] Robert J. Priest, Thomas Campbell, and Bradford A. Mullen, "Missiological Syncretism: the New Animis­tic Paradigm," in Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1995), 11.

[13] Ibid., 25.