Encountering Territorial Spirits - part 2

     This article continues a discussion of the fact that 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. It requires that they avoid leaning on experience or the theories of men as a basis for what they do. Further, they must handle Scripture carefully in using it as their source for direction in evangelism. That necessitates that they "rightly divide the word of truth," as Paul exhorted Timothy (2 Tim. 2:15), rather than carelessly applying the Bible in their work.

      With this caution in mind, believers must be aware that some scholars, providing an over-emphasis on demonic activity today, appear to handle the Bible carelessly at times. For example, Peter Wagner writes: "We read in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan has successfully blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot receive the gospel. This undoubtedly refers to individuals, but could it also refer to territories? Could it mean nations? States? Cities? Cultural groups? Tribes? Social networks?"[1]

      Of course, no one would fault him for asking questions, but by implication he answers them all in the affirmative. From that point, he builds his excessive teaching about territorial spirits, and everything he associates with it, on supposedly biblical principles.

      Elsewhere Wagner manifests the same tendency to handle Scripture carelessly when he writes, "We have examples of Jesus both naming and addressing demons."[2] The truth is that the Bible offers only one such example. Further, Wagner takes the Greek word nikao, "to conquer," and makes it fit his views on spiritual warfare everywhere it appears in the Bible.[3] The fact is that believers conquer or overcome the flesh, the world, and the devil. In many of the passages in which it appears, the word nikao concerns overcoming the first two rather than the third.

      Wagner continues with the same careless tendency when he immediately concludes that Beelzebub in Luke 11:15 is "a classic territorial spirit,"[4] despite the fact that many Bible scholars consider this to be simply one of Satan's several names in Scripture. He also takes Jesus' reference to "binding" and "loosing" in Matt. 16:19 as "relating directly to strategic-level spiritual warfare."[5] Instead, a study of the terms as they appear in parallel passages in Matt. 18:15-20 and John 20:21-23 shows the emphasis is on indirect "loosing" or "binding" through church discipline, prayer, and preaching. If believers obey His commands in these three areas, they will make possible the loosing of people from their sins. If they fail in their duties, sinners will remain bound in their sins.

      Further, how can Peter's encounter with Simon at Samaria be considered "the primary event that opened the Samaritans to the gospel," as Wagner concludes?

[6] The passage records that the encounter did not occur until Peter arrived on the scene after the townspeople had already responded in mass to the Gospel (Acts 8:5-24). Wagner seems equally rash to consider the "beasts" at Ephesus to which Paul referred in 1 Cor. 15:32 as having been "territorial spirits." [7]

      As to "casting down every high thing" in 2 Cor. 10:5, Wagner quickly concludes that these high things "are demonic beings, principalities and powers, which in many cases have been intentionally invited to take control of whole cities or people groups or nations."[8] Then, on the basis of that interpretation, he declares the passage to be "one of the most direct indications in the New Testament that we are to do strategic-level spiritual warfare."[9] A more careful analysis of the passage reveals that, in the military analogy which Paul uses, he refers to a towering fortress or high rampart which stands in defiance of the Gospel. Any argument or system of thought that raises its head in opposition to the true message of salvation is such a "high thing" or proud obstacle.

      In like manner, "imaginations" and "strongholds" in the passage (2 Cor. 10:5) likely do not refer to what the demonologists contend. Rather than thinking of the strongholds of the strongman in Wagner's strategic-level spiritual warfare, Paul writes of philosophical speculations, systems of human reason, and "thoughts" which stand opposed to the knowledge of God as revealed in Scripture. The apostle's military analogy pictures these as fortresses or prisons of false teachings, which hold sinners captive. They must be exposed as erroneous darkness by the light of the Gospel. The truth of the Gospel is what sets these prisoners free.

      Wagner provides another example of his hasty exegesis when he confesses to knowing that rhema and logos are used interchangeably in the New Testament but still declares that "logos most frequently refers to the written Word of God (an exception being a reference to Jesus in John 1:1), and rhema most frequently refers to the directly spoken word of God."[10] He seeks to support his view by reporting an episode from his own experience. He writes that "John Wimber received a rhema word from God that the root cause of my headaches had been a demon and that I was to drive it out myself rather than ask someone else to do it for me. I obeyed. I cast out the demon in the name of Jesus, and I have not suffered any such headaches since that day."[11]

      A final example of Wagner's tendencies in interpreting Scripture concerns Ezek. 4:1-3. In it the prophet receives instructions to prophesy the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon in a dramatic and highly symbolic way. He is to display a tile on which he has portrayed the city. Then around it he must place small objects depicting the coming Babylonian siege against it. His actions were to serve as a sign to the citizens of the Holy City as to what lay ahead for them. Yet in all this, Wagner somehow sees biblical support for the practice of spiritual mapping! He writes, "An example of spiritual mapping is seen in Ezekiel 4:1-3 where God instructs Ezekiel to make a map of the city of Jerusalem on a clay tablet, then ‘lay siege against it.'  Obviously, this refers to spiritual, not conventional, warfare."[12]

      Bob Beckett manifests the same tendencies as Wagner in his approach to interpreting Scripture. For example, he cites Isa. 33:20-23 in support of the practice of "staking."  Then he writes: "I will be the first to recognize that this passage, in its historical context, has little to do with strategic-level spiritual warfare or taking a city for God. Nevertheless, we felt it was God's prophetic word for The Dwelling Place Church in Hemet, California, in 1991, so we set out to obey it and apply it as we sensed God's leading step-by-step."[13]

      Accordingly, Beckett explains that they proceeded to drive stakes around the city to hold the "prayer canopy" which they felt the Lord directed them to erect over the town. While others were driving stakes around the city, Beckett explains, "At the same time, Susan and I, standing by the intersection in the center of town, would simultaneously lift up a praise offering unto the Lord as a center pole of the spiritual canopy."[14]

      Wagner and his associates claim that those who disagree with their positions on demonology are interpreting Scripture using rose-colored glasses. In this case, the "rose-colored glasses" are the Western mindset. Wagner's contention is that theologians in the Western world build systems that are logically, rationally, and empirically arranged. Supposedly, those Western theologians conclude, "If you can't experience it with one of your five senses, it doesn't exist."  Thus they have difficulty accepting the reality of angels, demons, and spirits. Easterners, on the other hand, tend to be more oriented toward the non-material world, the world of the spirit.

      Robert Priest, Thomas Campbell, and Bradford Mullen, who question many of the teachings and practices of the demonologists, respond with, "As supernaturalists, we are concerned that our critique not be construed in any sense as an attack on supernaturalism and on the importance of prayer and faith to missions, or as a denial of the powerful Satanic forces arrayed against us."[15]

      Certainly believers must beware of turning to pagan beliefs for support in doing the work of God. Yet concerning the use of the names of territorial spirits in exorcizing them, Vernon Sterk seems to lean more on such cultural beliefs than on Scripture. He says, "I am very suspicious of names that are given by territorial spirits themselves, since I do not believe that they are about to reveal any secrets which would lead to their own downfall. . . . However, this does not invalidate the using of specific names in casting out these spirits."[16] From there he moves to pagan beliefs for support of the practice. He declares that in many cultures the view prevails that if you know the name of a person, you possess certain powers over him. Then he explains, "The Tzotzil people have strong feelings about knowing the names of their ‘animal spirit companion' (Vogt 1969:371). If some enemy gains knowledge of the name of that spirit, he can place a curse on that person by harming that particular animal spirit."[17]

      Wagner makes clear his dependence on such cultural beliefs in a Christian ministry. When commenting on the advisability of learning the names of spirits to facilitate exorcism, he writes, "Effective spiritual warfare does not require knowing the names of the spirits, but experience has shown that when we are able to identify them specifically by name, we seem to have more authority over them, and therefore we can be more effective."[18]

      Priest, Campbell, and Mullen warn of the dangers in this approach to ministry. They write: "If we proceed on the mistaken assumption that we can infer truth about spirits from people's beliefs about spirits, we will invariably end up syncretistically incorporating animistic and magical notions of spirit power into our doctrinal understandings of the demonic world."[19]

      Of course, the Lord sometimes grants miracles to a seeking and believing individual, despite the fact that the preacher involved may not be correct in some of the methods he or she uses.

Priest and his associates recognize this. They write: "On occasions, God works supernaturally even when the method is clearly wrong. Moses was commanded to speak to the rock (Num. 20). Instead he struck the rock. His method was clearly wrong and God later punished him. Yet when he struck the rock, God still brought forth water."[20] In such cases one may surmise that the Lord met the need of the hungry individual in spite of questionable ministerial practices rather than because of them.

      Charles Kraft declares himself ready even to experiment with the beliefs of pagan cultures in his search for truth. Speaking for himself and those of like mind, he says, "So, I/we believe in going beyond the overt statements of Scripture, though not outside the bounds of Scripture, whether in dealing with the material and human worlds or in dealing with the spirit world. I/we also believe in experimenting with the insights of others, such as animists, those in Scripture who did not obey God, even (though carefully) demons, in our quest to discover more of what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us in this area."[21]

      Charles Gailey, however, raises valid questions concerning such an approach. He writes: "If we acknowledge the identity and names of spirits before the people, as Vernon Sterk suggests (160), are we not thus validating the people's belief? If we say we believe in the spirits they believe in, do we not lend credence to pagan worldviews?"[22]

      David Greenlee expresses similar concerns. He says, "It is feared that recent discussion of ‘territorial spirits' has given them more ‘territory' than they deserve, both from biblical exegesis and case study analysis. A significant problem is the confusion of ontological reality--what the Bible declares as ‘really real'--with phenomenologic­al reality--that which is perceived by people to be real."[23]

      Priest and his associates credit Timothy Warner with being the first to promote the concept of territorial spirits.[24] Wagner explains the term, saying, "These enemy forces are frequently called ‘territorial spirits' because they attempt to keep large numbers of humans networked through cities, nations, neighborhoods, people groups, religious allegiance, industries or any other form of human society in spiritual captivity."[25]

      Sterk says, "In some cases, territorial spirits seem to be so fixed in a particular house or underground stream that everyone living in the immediate area is affected by sickness, mental illness, or serious attacks."[26]

      Scholars now writing on subjects such as territorial spirits talk much about the necessity of "binding the strongman." With a reference to 2 Cor. 4:4, Harold Caballeros concludes that Satan has so blinded sinners that evangelism of individuals is impossible until his power over a given area is broken.[27] In agreement with him, Dawson writes, "We must overcome the enemy before employing other methods of ministry among men and women."[28] This applies whether in nations, states, cities, or even individual neighborhoods. Indeed, some take it upon themselves to bind the demons occupying all four directions on the compass![29]

      These scholars elaborate on how the demons originally came to have "legal rights" to occupy such territories. Kraft holds that sinful behavior of people can give demons rights over their land. In fact, in some cases he says the territory was formally dedicated to a specific demonic influence.[30] George Otis explains the view that he and writers like Kraft hold: "In return for a particular deity's consent to resolve their immediate traumas, they have offered up their singular and ongoing allegiance. They have collectively sold their proverbial souls. It is through the placement of these ancient welcome mats, then, that demonic territorial strongholds are established."[31]

      As to how demons maintain such "rights," Otis says that it is through "the authority transfers that occur during religious festivals, ceremonials and pilgrimages. . . . They are opportunities for contemporary generations to reaffirm the choices and pacts made by their forefathers and ancestors. They are occasions to dust off ancient welcome mats and extend the devil's right to rule over specific peoples and places today."[32]

      A part of the doctrine of territorial spirits is the practice of "spiritual mapping."  

Otis declares himself to be the father of the term.[33] Caballeros explains, "Spiritual mapping plays the same important role that intelligence and espionage play during war. It reveals the conditions behind enemy lines. . . . [It] shows us the enemy's lines, location, number, weapons, and above all, how the enemy can be defeated."[34] For him, even lines and angles on the map become significant. He suggests that demons can sometimes move rapidly, especially down streets formed in straight lines.[35] In Victor Lorenzo's thinking, angles and geometric symbols, as well as numbers, become important in spiritual mapping.[36]

      From the doctrine of territorial spirits also comes the practice of "prayer walking."  It is sometimes viewed as necessary to take a certain territory away from the spirits that control it. Patrick Johnstone, however, offers words of caution concerning prayer walks. He declares, "It is important to realize that the physical presence of the intercessor does not increase the power of the prayers. . . . There is a danger that if the premise of territorial spirits is accepted, this can easily extend to the premise that physical presence of intercessors in the area controlled by the territorial spirit is essential for its binding."[37] Johnstone concludes by affirming that "it is being in His [God's] presence, rather than in the physical location, that pulls down strongholds."[38] He even suggests possible negatives associated with prayer walking. They include expense entailed that could otherwise be used in missions, time and energy expended, and even a danger to missions in sensitive areas.[39]

      If the doctrine of territorial spirits is correct, why is there so little about it in Scripture? Even John Robb, something of a demonolo­gist himself, asks pertinent questions about this:

 

It does not seem that the apostles spent much time teaching people about these unseen forces. Not once that I am aware of did Peter, Paul, James, or John . . . instruct that Christians were to identify these spiritual forces and command them to be bound. . . . How can we account for this lack of understanding on the part of the early disciples? Had Jesus left them in the dark about such things? Were they too immature for the Holy Spirit to reveal things of this nature to them? Or did they perhaps believe that Satan's power had been broken by the cross of Jesus? . . . that when a person turned to Jesus the power of Satan was bound in that person's life. That when a city experienced revival Satan could no longer rule that city.[40]

      Not only is the Word of God trustworthy as the believer's sole guide for faith and practice, but it is also sufficient to serve that purpose. To the young preacher Timothy, the older minister, Paul, explained, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto all good works"  (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

      The apostle declares that the Bible's sufficiency rests on several facts.

First, from its pages preachers glean what they need for their doctrine, teaching, and preaching. By getting all of their lessons from it, they present sound, healthy food for the souls of those who hear them. The Pastoral Epistles call on them repeatedly to dispense such information (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9, 2:1). Second, it provides the needed tools for reproof when it becomes necessary to censure others for errors as to either what they believe or how they behave. Third, pastors find in God's Word the assistance required for correcting any among their flocks who wander astray, for helping them improve, or even for restoring the fallen. Finally, Scripture offers ministers of the Gospel an adequate supply of materials for instruction, specifically in training others in the path of duty before God.

      With such a wealth of God-breathed material in the Bible, Paul declares that the minister of God finds in it all he or she needs to be fully equipped for all that the work entails. With the Bible ever available, the preacher has a complete set of tools. By using it, he or she is fully capable and proficient and able to meet all the demands of the ministry. By the Book, the minister is completely furnished for every good work. The careful study and wise use of the Bible fully outfit the preacher for effective spiritual ministry in the Church.

      In view of all this, church workers have a duty to study continuously and to present carefully the truth of the Bible, and that alone, in their service to mankind. Jehovah promised them as much as He did Joshua in declaring that they will have a successful ministry if they follow the same pathway. To Joshua, the new "pastor" in Israel, the Lord said: "Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherev­er you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth; but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Josh. 1:7-8).

      To plant God's Word in one's heart is just the beginning. Having done so, the individual must meditate on it day and night (Ps. 1:2).  Once the person is certain of having a correct understanding of its message, he or she must share its contents with others. That necessitates handling it with the greatest of care. As Paul instructed Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). This kind of diligence demands that every effort be made to do the utmost and to be ever so conscientious in the process. It brings the individual to a place where he or she can "rightly divide" the Word, which suggests cutting a straight pathway and guiding the Scriptures along it toward their God-intended goal.

      The arguments and information presented in this study make it clear that believers can evangelize the world by taking the Bible as their sole and sufficient guide for faith and practice. That practice will keep them from being side-tracked into trusting human experience, the theories of men, or even carelessly applied Scripture, as well as saving them from unwise efforts at contending with "territorial spirits."

Selected Bibliography 

    Beckett, Bob.  "Practical Steps Toward Community Deliverance." 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.

    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.

    Dawson, John. "Seventh Time Around: Breaking through a City's Invisible Barriers to the Gospel." In Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits, ed. Peter Wagner. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1991.
     Gailey, Charles R. "Book Reviews." Missiology. 12 (1994): 250.
 
    Greenlee, David. "Territorial Spirits Reconsidered."  Missi­ology. 12 (1994): 507-514.
     Johnstone, Patrick. "Biblical Intercession: Spiritual Power to Change Our World." In Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen.  Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1995. 

    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.

    Lorenzo, Victor. "Evangelizing a City Dedicated to Darkness." 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. 

    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.

    Robb, John. "Satan's Tactics in Building and Maintaining His Kingdom of Darkness."  International Journal of Frontier Missions 10 (1993): 173-184.

    Sterk, Vernon F. "Territorial Spirits and Evangelization in Hostile Environments." In Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits, ed. Peter Wagner.  Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1991.

    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.

             , ed. Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits.  Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1991.

[1] Peter Wagner, Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1991), 43.[2] Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1996), 201. [3] Ibid., 144-145, 151. [4] Ibid., 1. [5] Ibid., 152.

[6] Ibid., 170.
[7] Ibid., 209-210.
[8] Ibid., 239.
[9] Ibid., 240.
[10] Ibid., 52.
[11] Ibid., 59.

[12] 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), 20.

[13] Bob Beckett, "Practical Steps Toward Community Deliverance," 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), 166.

[14] Ibid., 167.

[15] 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), 14.

[16] Vernon F. Sterk, "Territorial Spirits and Evangelization in Hostile Environments," in Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits, ed. Peter Wagner (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1991), 159.

[17] Ibid., 159-160.
[18] Wagner, Confronting the Powers, 200.

[19] Priest, Campbell, and Mullen, "Missiological Syncretism," 35.

[20] Ibid., 42-43.

[21] Charles H. Kraft, "‘Christian Animism' or God-Given Authority?" in Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1995), 102-103.

[22] Charles R. Gailey, "Book Review," Missiology, 12 (1994): 250.

[23] David Greenlee, "Territorial Spirits Reconsidered," Missi­logy,  12 (1994): 507.

[24] Priest, Campbell, and Mullen, "Missiological Syncretism," 20.

[25] Wagner, Confronting the Powers, 22.
[26] Sterk, "Territorial Spirits," 150.

[27] 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), 127.

[28] John Dawson, "Seventh Time Around: Breaking Through a City's Invisible Barriers to the Gospel," in Engaging the Enemy:  How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits, ed. C. Peter Wagner (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1991), 139.

[29] Ibid., 91.
[30] Kraft, "Christian Animism," 131-32. [31] 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), 40-41. [32] Ibid., 41-42.
[33] Ibid., 32.
[34] Caballeros, "Defeating the Enemy," 125.
[35] Ibid., 142. [36] Victor Lorenzo, "Evangelizing a City Dedicated to Darkness," 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), 184-88, 192.[37] Patrick Johnstone, "Biblical Intercession: Spiritual Power to Change Our World," in Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1995), 1. [38] Ibid., 150.
[39] Ibid., 1. [40] John Robb, "Satan's Tactics in Building and Maintaining His Kingdom of Darkness," International Journal of Frontier Missions 10 (1993): 181.