Encountering Territorial Spirits - part 4

     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 out the Commission. That authority is not the same as the legal condition often referred to as power of attorney. Nor does its nature come from a discovery and use of spiritual laws.

      Some theologians teach that Jesus gave His followers power of attorney to use His name. That is often the practice in a family with aging parents. If, for example, adult siblings discover that their father's age has reduced him to senility so that his business has begun to suffer, they may conclude they must take legal action to save the father's financial assets. First, they go to court to have the father declared incapable of conducting business any longer. Having succeeded in getting that decree, they proceed to petition the judge to grant power of attorney to the oldest son in the family. With that power, the son conducts his father's business from that time on just as if the father, himself, transacted it in every case. The son's signature for the father on any document is as legal as that of the father himself. That includes checks, deeds, and any other legal instrument to which the father might have affixed his signature if he were still capable.

      The authority accompanying a general power of attorney is absolute.

Its force works automatically, just upon the simple act of the son's signing the father's name. Nothing, such as the moral state or mental attitude of the child at the moment, affects that authority in any way. Conceivably, the power holds even if the son misuses it, such as in the case of financially benefiting himself at the expense of others who have a share in the estate.

       Did Jesus grant power of attorney in the use of His name once He was no longer on earth? Charles Kraft is among those who answer, yes.[1] Certainly the Lord gave encouraging instructions on the use of His name during the period of His teaching. Believers are to pray in His name (John 14:13). They cast demons out in His name (Mark 16:17). They do service in that name, such as giving water to those who are thirsty (Mark 9:31). Like Paul they bear His name in witnessing for Him worldwide (Acts 9:15). They have little cause to wonder at this, since His name "is above every name," and every knee shall bow and every tongue "confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:9-11). 

      In the Gospels, however, Jesus did not grant power of attorney in the use of His name, though it may appear to be the case on the surface. When our Lord chose the Twelve, among His purposes was that they would have power to cast out devils (Mark 3:14-15). Again when He sent them on their first preaching mission without Him, He "gave them power over unclean spirits" (Mark 6:7). Presumably, they experienced that authority in action, as in the case of the Seventy who rejoiced upon finding that the devils were subject to them through the name of Jesus (Luke 10:17).

       Yet, in the case of the lad who suffered convulsive seizures at the hands of a demon (Mark 9:14-29), it appears that the Lord's actions did not constitute power of attorney in the use of His name. We may correctly conclude that the apostles certainly used the name of Jesus in their efforts to free the boy from his terrible malady. Still, they failed. They would have succeeded if the authority the Teacher had given them had equated to power of attorney. The victory over the demon would have come automatically upon the mere use of the name of Jesus. 

      Fortunately, Jesus' arrival on the scene brought deliverance for the lad. Immediately afterward, the apostles took full advantage of being alone with the Teacher to ask why they had failed. During the episode He had indicated that lack of faith was at the root of the failure (Mark 9:19), although Edward Murphy says they were not in the right spirit, and that is why they failed.[2] He bases his conclusion on the fact that they had been arguing with the scribes during the event. Jesus, however, adding to what He had said about their lack of faith, declared, "This kind can come out by nothing but by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29).

       Details in the account suggest that the disciples were stunned that they had failed.

Evidence indicates they had thought they had power of attorney to use the name of Jesus. They mistakenly concluded that every time they used that mighty name, what they commanded would automatically happen. 

      Now they had to learn that such is not the case. The nature of the authority of the believer is not so much legal and automatic, like that in power of attorney, as it is spiritual and spontaneous. It is spiritual in that the authority always resides in the Spirit Himself rather than the believer. It is spontaneous in that the Spirit demonstrates that power through various Spirit-baptized individuals in specific cases "as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11). To meet the desperate need of the lad with seizures, the apostles needed a manifestation of that power in a gift of faith (1 Cor. 12:9). The Pentecostal fathers spoke of such an experience as coming to them when they "prayed through" or "touched God" for their pressing needs.

       Since Jesus laid stress on the believers' part in prayer and fasting, it would be incorrect to conclude that they must simply rest on the sovereignty of God in all such cases by waiting for Him to act. Our Lord clearly taught here that the Spirit responds to earnest prayer when He manifests the various attributes of God in meeting desperate needs like those of the lad and his father. Through prayer and fasting, believers put themselves in a position of availability for use through the gifts of the Spirit. 

      Paul was a participant in that kind of miracle in his encounter with Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:6-11). That false prophet, also called Bar-Jesus, sought to turn the governor of the island of Cyprus from believing on the Lord. His persistent efforts stirred the apostle to action against him. As Luke records: "Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.'  And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking some to lead him by the hand" (Acts 13:9-11).

       It was by the spontaneous quickening of the Spirit that Paul acted here. To begin the event, he was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (9).  He had been baptized in the Spirit in Acts 9, but here he was empowered by the Spirit for a specific action. He was so anointed that the words that flowed from his mouth were utterances of the Spirit. 

      Without that anointing, one may conclude that if the apostle were in an identical situation elsewhere and spoke precisely the same words on his own, nothing would have happened. This was no mere man acting with power of attorney for the Lord. Hardly would God grant that any person possess the authority to pronounce such a curse on a fellow human being. The words spoken were the Spirit's rather than Paul's, as in the case of Peter's announcing the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.

       A companion teaching to the power of attorney concept is the idea that believers have the same power on earth today as Jesus had when He was here.

Peter Wagner declared that to be a basic hypothesis of his when he wrote: "The Holy Spirit was the source of all Jesus' power during His earthly ministry. Jesus exercised no power of or by Himself. We can do the same or greater things than Jesus did because we have access to the same power source."[3] He lists as the sole exception the fact that when Jesus received worship while on earth He was acting as God.[4]

      Kraft joins Wagner in contending that, "He [Jesus] did not use His divine attributes (including His omniscience) while on earth."[5] Kraft says further, "He came powerless (Jn. 5:10), having in some mysterious way put aside His Divine knowledge, power and other prerogatives (Phil. 2:6-8)."[6]

       Contrary to Kraft's and Wagner's opinions, however, Jesus actually did demonstrate His power and authority as God while on earth. For example, He did so in at least three ways during His ministry to a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). First, He did so in the fact that He knew what His enemies were thinking (8). Only God knows the thoughts of men. Second, He manifested His deity in forgiving the man's sins. His critics were correct in declaring, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (7). Indeed, no human being on earth has the power to forgive a fellow mortal his sins. Third, Jesus demonstrated His deity on this occasion by healing the paralytic. As He explained, "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"--He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house" (10-11). He performed the miracle precisely to show that, as God, He had the authority on earth to forgive sins. Concerning the question of Christ's emptying Himself of deity on earth, Stanley Horton concludes, "He had emptied Himself of only the outward signs of His glory and that for only His earthly ministry, but He had never relinquished His divine nature and power."[7]

      Using the legal analogy in another slightly different way, demonologists also speak of the discovery and use of spiritual laws as the way to deal with territorial spirits. For them, God has set these laws in motion in the universe in the same way He did the law of gravity. Thus, such laws work equally and impartially, whether in a positive or a negative way, and can either bless or curse. In other words, since they are like natural physical laws, they will work the same for saint and sinner. For example, Wagner declares that the Lord has established the law of prayer.[8]

       Kraft explains, ". . . I believe we can expect the kinds of regularity in the spirit realm that scientists have found in their studies of the physical and human worlds."[9] He goes on to say that "there is a true set of principles and practices that God Himself has put in the universe on the basis of which humans are to relate to the spirit world."[10] Concluding that believers had power of attorney, Kraft further declares, "The same kind of authority we have with God, then, is given by Satan to his followers, since the rules are the same."[11]

      Kraft even argues that since animists have learned these laws of the spirit world, believers ought to learn from them.

He writes, "If, as I contend,  the rules of operation in the spirit realm are largely the same for both sides (as they are in the material and human realms), it should not surprise us if the forms by means of which spiritual power is conveyed are the same for both God and Satan."[12]

       Robert Priest, Thomas Campbell, and Bradford Mullen observe that this idea, if true, means that such laws work totally apart from moral, doctrinal, or spiritual conditions in the affected individual.[13]

    A person taking that approach makes a serious error. In effect, this reduces God to an impersonal law, and people's association with Him is merely a mechanical thing. One wonders if all of these practices may have been unconsciously invented simply to allow man to do what he is unwilling to wait upon God to do. In reality, the Lord has arranged things so that no flesh may glory in His presence (1 Cor.1:29-31). If He does not act, nothing of consequence will happen, regardless of what any man does or says.

       As many may recall from childhood, the Pentecostal fathers required sinners to spend time at the altar while repenting before God. They had to "pray through" in order to experience a genuine new birth. More recently, many settle for a simple repetition of the sinner's prayer and pronounce all at the altar now saved. Some individuals are so bound by sin and Satan, however, that they cannot be delivered by a "quickie" approach. 

      In a similar manner regarding divine healing, rather than spending time in fasting and prayer while waiting on God to act, now some preachers offer a brief prayer and instruct the seeker to claim his deliverance by faith. Further, when believers come to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, some devise techniques to "get them through" in a hurry. Others appear ready to teach them to speak in tongues if something from heaven doesn't come immediately. Leaders sometimes even gear their worship up to such a high degree that it matters little whether the Spirit moves or not. They tend to reduce everything to a human level, so they can do things on their own, without "waiting on God to move," as the fathers did.

       In reality, however, believers don't relate to the Lord by using humanly devised rituals, whether Pentecostal or otherwise. Nor should they seek to discover spiritual laws, which He has set in motion, merely so that they may use them at will. Rather, Christians have fellowship with Him by getting to know Him personally, learning to trust Him, and living lives in obedience to His commands. For example, Jesus taught that to have prayers answered, a person must learn to forgive (Mark 11:25-26). Further, Peter declared that when a husband relates harshly to his wife, his prayers will be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7).

      Despite all the emphasis by the demonologists on the believer's authority in the face of evil, their teachings on the "power encounter" seem sometimes to be powerless. Those teachings appear to promote fear rather than faith, and defeat rather than victory in living the Christian life. Perhaps current demonologists see themselves as promoting a life of faith. Much of what they say, however, tends to strike fear in the hearts of believers.

       For example, when Neil Anderson learned that 12 midnight to 3 a.m. is the meeting time for Satanists "and part of their ritual is to summon and send out demons," he concluded, "Three in the morning is prime time for demon activity, and if you have awakened at that time it may be that you have been targeted."[14] Actually, there may be a number of simpler, more logical reasons why an individual may have difficulty in sleeping at that time of night. Anderson seems to promote fear, too, when he unwisely gives medical advice by saying, "Often physical problems such as low blood sugar lead to emotional problems, which in turn open the door for demonic activity."[15]

      Anderson certainly leaves little room for faith when he concludes, while discussing Eph. 1:19-23, that "we can exercise authority over demonically induced sickness, but to infer from these verses that we are able to exercise authority over germs, viruses, and bacteria is questionable at best. Our authority seems limited to the spiritual realm."[16] We ask, "Why so?"  If we can do all that Jesus did when He was on earth, as the demonologists claim, we must not forget that He "healed many that were sick of various diseases" as well as "cast out many demons" (Mark 1:34). Jesus can hardly be victor over spirits if He stands defeated before germs!

       Whether intending to or not, Bob Beckett creates an atmosphere of fear when he declares that in a certain place for several decades, "every single pastor or pastor's family member had experienced a violent death, with the exception of the present pastor and the pastor prior to him. We could not help but wonder if the violence and bloodshed in the past had defiled that piece of land and given a foothold for a spirit of violent death to operate."[17]

      Murphy reports how Satanists in San Jose fasted, prayed, and cursed specific Christian organizations and leaders. He declared that as a result, "Within the next few years a half dozen key pastors in the San Jose area fell into immorality and were removed from their churches."[18] Whether intending to or not, then, he implies that believers are powerless in the face of such demonic forces.

       Rather than focus on such frightening things, why not promote what Scripture declares when it says, "Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world"? (1 John 4:4).

       The demonology specialists' doctrines can also leave people feeling a bit hopeless when it comes to living a victorious Christian life.

In regard to finding deliverance, Neil Anderson declares that it is not easy for people to gain freedom from demon activity in their lives. He says, "Such people often need many counseling sessions before they can walk free of bondage."[19] Indeed, he recalls the episode of one woman's deliverance from a demon at his hands after another minister had worked with her for four years![20] Also, according to Anderson, there is grave danger to those present at the moment of another's deliverance. Addressing a pastor and a friend of a woman possessed by a spirit, he told them, "We're going to take authority over it, but it's important that you two affirm your right standing with God in order to prevent any transference of this demonic influence."[21]

      Further, much of the teaching from the specialists in demonology paints a pessimistic picture of the chance to maintain freedom once it is finally gained. For example, in the war with territorial spirits Wagner writes, "The power of territorial spirits can be neutralized, but obviously not forever."[22] As to individual freedom from demonic activity he says, ". . . let's remember that what is gained through spiritual warfare must be maintained through spiritual warfare."[23]

       Neil Anderson, after recounting the eventual deliverance of the woman mentioned earlier, adds, "It came back occasionally, and sometimes Christy failed to stand against it because she was ‘just tired of fighting the battle.'"[24] Of another person, Anderson writes, "But even though Harry was set free from Satan's control of his life, he had trouble staying free."[25] According to Anderson, "People who take advantage of their freedom through careless thoughts or behavior soon lose it."[26]

      Thus, contrary to these extreme views, one should conclude again that believers can obey the Great Commission to evangelize the world by careful adherence to the nature of the authority Jesus gave His followers to carry it out. That does not include a power of attorney status in the use of His name. Nor does it involve the discovery and use of certain spiritual laws that work automatically for all who operate by them. It does, however, provide freedom from fear and the power to live a victorious Christian life as well as what one needs to obey the Commission in evangelizing the world.

Selected Bibliography 

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

    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. 

    Horton, Stanley M. Ultimate Victory: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation. Springfield, Mo.:  Gospel Publishing House, 1991.

     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. 

    Murphy, Edward J. Handbook for Spiritual Warfare. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992.

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


[1] 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), 125, 127.

[2] Edward J. Murphy, Handbook for Spiritual Warfare (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 295.

[3] Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1996), 129.

[4] Ibid., 132.
[5] Kraft, "Christian Animism," 94.
[6] Ibid., 96.

[7] Stanley M. Horton, Ultimate Victory: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1991), .

[8] Wagner, Confronting the Powers, 23.

[9] Kraft, "Christian Animism," 89.
[10] Ibid., 98.
[11] Ibid., 128.
[12] Ibid., 105.

[13] 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), 23.

[14] Neil T, Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1990), 102.

[15] Ibid., 211.
[16] Ibid., 65.

[17] 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), 160.

[18] Murphy, Handbook for Spiritual Warfare, 445.

[19] Anderson, Bondage Breaker, 219.

[20] Ibid., 72.
[21] Ibid., 1.

[22] Wagner, Confronting the Powers, 158.

[23] Ibid., 157.

[24] Anderson, Bondage Breaker, 72-73.

[25] Ibid., 113.
[26] Ibid., 221.