Prayer Warriors and Prayer Offensives
A New Approach to Spiritual Warfare
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference
[Excerpted from Author’s Here We Stand]
Since the late 1960s a new approach to spiritual warfare has been sweeping through Christian churches and missions today. I say a “new approach” because, historically, Christians have always believed that there is a conflict between Christ and Satan, good and evil, and truth and error. They have taught that the weapons of our warfare are: total surrender to the living Christ and an abiding faith in Him, a devotional life of persevering prayer, meditation on God’s Word, a wholehearted response of worship and witnessing, a loving obedience to all of God’s commandments, and a faithful adherence to the teachings of Scripture.
However, in the new approach to spiritual warfare, we are being told that the traditional Christian teaching on the subject is inadequate, and that we need some extraordinary techniques to combat the enemy who is controlling our lives, homes, neighborhoods, cities, and countries. The battle plan focuses on powerful weapons of prayer, and provides training sessions to prepare mighty warriors for combat against the powers of darkness. The new approach is called Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare, or simply “spiritual warfare.”
This new way of fighting evil forces, and the flurry of interest in the demonic in general have been fueled by four different movements: (1) the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, (2) the Non-Charismatic Dispensationalist movement, (3) the “Third Wave” or “Signs and Wonders” movement, and (4) certain Evangelical groups. During the past three or four decades, the teachings of these movements have spread to many denominations through church growth and missions classes in theological seminaries, through seminars or conferences on worship, soulwinning, and church planting, and through a variety of tapes, cassettes, books, magazines, song books, CDs, worship aids, religious TV and radio broadcasts, the Promise Keepers, and others.
Not surprisingly, as some of our own Seventh-day Adventist scholars, pastors, and members uncritically embrace the theology, worship styles, church growth methods, and missions strategies of these movements, they find themselves adopting this new method of defeating demons.
It is important that we understand what this new approach to spiritual warfare is all about, especially at this time when the church is discussing the proposal for a new statement of belief. Among other things, the proposed 28th Fundamental Belief attempts to show how “Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us.” Without a correct understanding of the subject, this much-needed statement of belief (which is likely to be adopted, after necessary modifications at the 2005 General Conference session) could be hijacked and misused as justification to promote the questionable method of fighting Satan and his evil spirits.
Although there are different components to this new approach to spiritual warfare, in this article I will only highlight its teaching on prayer, contrasting it with what the Bible says about how we are to fight Satan and his evil forces.
A New Fascination with Prayer
Satan has a counterfeit for every truth in the Bible (miracles, angels, love, faith, unity, doctrines, worship, Sabbath, etc.). He even counterfeits our Saviour Himself (Mathew 24:24). So it should not surprise us that in his plan to deceive, the enemy offers a counterfeit prayer, as well. Such is the case with the new approach to spiritual warfare and its fascination with prayer.
Chuck Lowe, a scholar who has studied the subject in great detail, describes this new approach to fighting Satan and evil spirits in this way:
This new methodology has captured the popular imagination and is making considerable inroads into missionary thinking and strategy. The results are extraordinary. A newfound enthusiasm for prayer has swept many churches. Large numbers of mission teams travel on brief but costly mission trips into remote countries in order to challenge the spiritual forces of darkness in combative prayer. Books are written by the dozen, seminars held around the world, study groups formed, marches scheduled, all with one purpose: to disarm the spiritual powers of wickedness that impede the spread of the Gospel.”
Notice that in this new approach to spiritual warfare, “a newfound enthusiasm for prayer has swept many churches.” Given this new fascination with prayer, anyone who raises serious questions about prayer can be easily misunderstood. Who can possibly be opposed to prayer—except those on the side of Satan? But we must be careful here, for the enemy of our souls is very cunning.
To understand how prayer is gaining a new popularity in the churches, and how it plays a major role in this deceptive new approach to spiritual warfare, I will call attention to a few developments.
1. Prayer as a Spiritual Gift
Today, prayer is a top agenda item on the list of many churches. Prayer ministries, prayer departments, and prayer coordinators are popping up everywhere to coordinate prayer offensives against Satan and his forces. These may seem like very positive developments, in that they may evidence spiritual growth in the lives of members and a sign of revival in the churches. But are they?
Lest I should be misunderstood, I want to make it clear that there is nothing wrong with praying. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus Himself taught that “men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). And yet, it appears to me that something insidious is happening in this new approach to prayer. It is this: What is supposed to be the responsibility of all believers is now slowly becoming the specialty of a few.
Observe that prayer is never listed in the Bible as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and yet today, we seem to be looking up to a few individuals believed to have “the gift of prayer” and whose prayers are deemed more effective than all others. Intercessory prayer is slowly becoming the exclusive domain of a few “spiritual gurus” or “prayer warriors.” These prayer coordinators constitute the new priesthood to whom we must look if we are to know how to offer effective prayers. The sad irony is that the new fascination with prayer is actually discouraging or inhibiting more people from praying!
Even more, to give the illusion that we are really praying, some of our prayer ministries and prayer coordinators are chasing after and promoting the latest prayer fads and formulas that are believed to really work. These fads include “prayer warriors,” “prayer offensives,” “prayer walks,” “Jericho marches,” “prayer anointing services,” and the famous “prayer of Jabez” formula. In many cases we blindly import these into the church, having little clue as to what they are all about, and thereby setting up our church members for deception.
2. Prayer as a Set Formula
Not only do we see prayer as the spiritual gift for a few, but in certain quarters of the church prayer has become a Christian mantra or talismanic formula that people recite or repeat to get some results. Prayer has to be said in a certain way, repeated so many times, and be expected to be answered at a particular time. And if that prayer formula happens to come from the Bible, it becomes all the more appealing to many—even if the theology behind it is dangerously deceptive. Let me illustrate with one well-known example.
It was not too long ago when individuals and churches were captivated by Bruce Wilkinson’s book The Prayer of Jabez. This mega-bestseller took Christendom by storm, from a small, single, 92-page volume to a deluge of editions marketed for various age groups from preschoolers to adults. At its peak, “Prayer of Jabez” became a successful Christian enterprise, with Jabez Bible covers, Jabez desk calendars (with the famous Jabez prayer of 1 Chronicles 4:10 on every page), Jabez music CDs, Jabez ballpoint pens, and other Jabez paraphernalia.
But the “Jabez prayer” also became the new way to do church. Judging from the many “Prayer of Jabez” conferences, prayer meetings, leadership seminars, sermon series, and anything else one can think of, one could almost think of it as a cult. The prayer of Jabez became the newly discovered formula to every need, as we memorized it: “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!” (1 Chronicles 4:10).
Thus, the above prayer replaced the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) as today’s model prayer.
Perhaps one reason why so many Christians were carried away by the Prayer of Jabez book is the fact that it contains a lot of good things. But like a meal that is 99% wholesome and nutritional, but which has been sprinkled with a little rat poison, the problem with the book is that upon closer examination its approach to prayer is no different from the pagan formulas in other religions (e.g., Muslims’ rote repetition of prayers when they count their beads, the Hindus’ method of repeating their prayer wheel, and the Roman Catholic Christians’ endless recitation of “Hail Mary” as they use their rosaries).
A few excerpts from Bruce Wilkinson’s book The Prayer of Jabez will show that for the author, prayer is the rote repetition of a particular formula. In the preface, the author writes:
I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief—only one sentence with four parts—and tucked away in the Bible, but I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God. This petition has radically changed what I expect from God and what I experience every day by His power. In fact, thousands of believers who are applying its truths are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis (emphasis mine).
The “key” that will make God “always answer” our daring prayers is the repetition of the famous “prayer of Jabez.” In subsequent pages, Wilkinson describes how he himself learned to pray this prayer “word for word” every day. He then “guarantees” that our lives will also be “marked by miracles” if we pray the prayer of Jabez for thirty days (pp. 11, 24). In other words, as long as we know the right formula of prayer and recite it every day for the stipulated period of time (30 days), God is bound to always answer our prayers. As he concludes his book, he makes this appeal to readers:
I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you'll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit” (p. 86; emphasis mine).
Thus, according to Wilkinson, if we will just pray the prayer of Jabez, word-for-word, unwaveringly every day for a month, then we will see God's power released in our lives. The key isn't God's choice to answer Jabez’s prayer. In fact, God cannot say “No” to our prayers as long as we use the right formula for asking things of God. He has to say “Yes.”
As mentioned earlier, this mindless recitation of the Jabez formula seems suspiciously close to the Hindu’s method of rote repeating their prayer wheel and the Catholic’s use of “set” or “fixed” prayers. In fact, in its insightful commentary on the prayer of Jabez, a Roman Catholic magazine, Our Sunday Visitor, has this to say:
A little book with huge sales is introducing evangelical Protestants to a uniquely Catholic concept—the comfort and power of “set” or “fixed” prayer—but also reinvigorating the troubling “name it and claim it” aspects of prosperity gospel preaching.
This Roman Catholic magazine correctly recognizes that rote praying the prayer of Jabez is, indeed, just like praying the rosary. In addition, the practice is also another version of the name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel. It is, however, worthy of note that even though this Catholic magazine likes the idea that Protestants are getting conditioned to accept rosary praying, it is troubled by the fact that the prayer of Jabez is preaching another gospel. In short, the author is distancing himself from the prayer of Jabez, even though it is just like rosary praying!
My point is that despite the new fascination with prayer, upon a closer examination prayer has become a mantra, a ritual, or a talismanic formula people are reciting or repeating. Contrary to the teaching of Christ against “vain repetitions” in our prayers (Matthew 6:5-13; Luke 11:2-4), today prayer has to be said in a certain way, repeated so many times, and be expected to be answered at a particular time. In the words of Wilkinson himself, “Jabez’s . . . request is a brilliant but little-understood strategy for . . . a blessed life” (p. 63). Fortunately, after two thousand years, when our Lord taught us how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), this author has finally revealed to us this “strategy” or formula of effective prayer.
3. Warfare Prayers
The new view of prayer as a spiritual gift and as a formula finds its ultimate expression in warfare prayers. These are special techniques of prayer to combat territorial demons that are believed to inhabit not only people but also homes, cars, mechanical devices, etc. Popularized by the new worship styles and new methods of church planting and church growth, this new approach to prayer is finding increasing acceptance in certain quarters of our own church.
Warfare prayer has a definite objective. According to one leading advocate of “warfare prayer,” “through warfare prayer, we can free unsaved souls and take them ‘from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.’” Warfare prayer “helps bring about effective evangelism,” and can increase receptivity to the Gospel “virtually overnight.”
Warfare prayer also involves certain key components—who can effectively pray, the place to pray, and how they should pray. For example, prayer warrior is the name given to those engaged in this warfare prayer. These “prayer warriors” or “generals of intercession” are a cast of "specialists" who have the special knowledge needed to deal with demons. Although these spiritual warfare “generals” liberally share their knowledge, the average Christian must be extremely careful in any attempt to deal personally with demons. There are dire consequences for incompetent dealings with demons (such as demonization, death, and illness).
Praying on-site is vital in the new approach to spiritual warfare. For in order to be successful in combating the evil forces, the prayer warriors must embark upon prayer offensives, aggressive kinds of prayers designed to “bind” or “break the strongholds of” demons. If the demons are believed to control our neighborhoods, the prayer warriors embark upon what is known as prayer walks.
The new “prayer walks” should not be confused with “walking and praying” (the kind Christians throughout the ages have when they are walking, jogging, working, etc.). In the new approach, “prayer walk” simply means going to a particular neighborhood and binding the demons that are believed to hold that neighborhood captive and hence impervious to the preaching of the Gospel. Also, praying for the deliverance of cities requires praise marches or “Jericho marches” (after the example of Israel marching around the city of Jericho). Finally, praying for entire regions is called prayer expeditions, and for nations it is known as prayer journeys.
Additionally, the new approach to spiritual warfare teaches special techniques or formulas of prayers. A typical prayer on-site goes like this:
On the basis of our submission to God, we in faith resist the Devil and his work. We resist all forces and powers of evil that have taken hold of [name of neighborhood or city]. We resist the spirit of wickedness that has established strongholds in [neighborhood or city region, the dark places, the hidden works of darkness, the mystery places where the enemy has set up encampments]. We call on the name of the Lord to destroy all spiritual strongholds. We proclaim this day that [neighborhood or city] is now under the power and ownership of the Holy Spirit. All other spirits are hereby given notice and are evicted from this property by the power of the name of Jesus. Today we stand in the gap and rebuild a hedge of protection around [neighborhood or city].
If a particular prayer site or individual is noted for certain vices, the prayer warrior’s prayer must “trample down the demon of pride, the demon of anger, the demon of lust, the demon of stupidity, or the demon of immorality.” Thus, one pastor who writes often about spiritual warfare suggests the following prayer:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I resist all of Satan’s activity to hold [John Doe] in blindness and darkness. Exercising my authority which is given to me in my union with the Lord Jesus Christ, I pull down the strongholds which the kingdom of darkness has formed against [John]. I smash and break and destroy all those plans formed against [John’s] mind, his will, his emotions, and his body. I destroy in prayer the spiritual blindness and deafness that Satan keeps upon him.
Later in his book, this minister suggests warfare prayers for an adopted child, whom he believes has been indwelt by demons transferred to him through generational bloodlines:
I cancel out all demonic working that has been passed on to me from my ancestors. As one who has been crucified with Jesus Christ and raised to walk in newness of life, I cancel every curse that may have been put upon me.
Notice the phrases: “I resist, I pull down, I smash, I break and I destroy.” It is I-I-I-I-I ! It almost sounds like a kind of spiritual egoism, in which Christ’s name is being used to advance oneself. Is that how we are supposed to pray? Where is humility in this kind of prayer?
Here is another suggested prayer for “the taking back of ground we may give through our own fleshly or worldly sins”:
I address myself against Satan and all of his kingdom. I take away from you and all your powers of darkness any ground you are claiming against me when I sinned in [naming the offense]. I claim that ground back in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I cover it with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice that this prayer addresses Satan and demons, not God. One wonders if we can really say we are praying, when we are not directing our petitions to God but to Satan. Who are we to order around the powers of darkness? Can we really bind Satan?
As a result of practices such as described above, “a great deal of fiction, superstition, fantasy, nonsense, nuttiness, and downright heresy flourishes in the church under the guise of ‘spiritual warfare’ in our time.” The result is that spiritual warfare “is not only a hot issue, but a hotly contested one.”
What really is this strategic-level spiritual warfare? What are some of its key components? Is it Biblical? And should we be involved in it?
What Is Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare?
Strategic-level spiritual warfare (popularly known as spiritual warfare) consists of two major components: (a) the theory or doctrine of ‘strategic-level spirits’—this is a complete belief system about demons; (b) the practice of ‘spiritual warfare’—this is implementation or the new strategy designed specifically to defeat demons. The practice grows out of the theory.
Therefore, when people talk about “spiritual warfare” or “warfare prayer,” they are referring to the implementation or the practice of combating the territorial demons. It must, however, be emphasized that behind warfare prayer, prayer warriors, and the different techniques of prayer, is a doctrine or theory of territorial demons.
Doctrine of Territorial Demons. Warfare praying is based on the fundamental assumption that specific demons control certain assigned territories, and that these demons not merely exercise authority over, but reside within, and are restricted to, that specified location. The territories included:
o geographical regions (e.g., there are specific demons in charge of the Middle East [Islam], Native American reservations, etc.);
o ethnic regions;
o geopolitical institutions (e.g., nations or governments);
o topographical features (e.g., valleys, mountains, or rivers);
o ecological features (e.g., trees, streams, and rocks) or smaller physical objects (e.g., houses, temples, or idols);
o occupational enterprises;
o domestic situations, etc.
The belief that demons control certain assigned territories has some radical implications. For example: If the spirits are ethnic, then spiritual warfare is particularly mandated when penetrating a new tribe or people group, but may not be necessary when beginning a new outreach in a new area to other members of an already evangelized people group.
Also belief in territorial demons suggest that in evangelism, instead of the proclamation of the one Word, we need to devise specialized techniques over each religion, each vocation, each voluntary association, etc.
Given the complexity of this new approach to spiritual warfare, you can understand why today an increasing number of church leaders and pastors are attending special training seminars to learn how to confront and assault the powers of darkness.
The Practice of Warfare Prayer. Warfare prayer is an aggressive challenge, initiated by the Christian and directed against the demons. Christians are to go on the “offensive,” they must declare and wage war on the ruling evil powers. The specific purposes of warfare prayers include:
1. Rebuking or binding the demons that have invaded or indwelt Christian believers, rendering them ineffective as Christians or depriving them of God’s blessings of health, wealth, prosperity, or success. [This is the justification for “deliverance ministry.”]
2. Setting free unbelievers or unsaved souls and taking them “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.” [Hence the need for “prayer warriors,” “prayer offensives,” “prayer walks,” etc.]
3. Effecting the receptivity of the Gospel by rebuking, binding, or cursing the territorial demons that are believed to control or rule a particular home, region, territory, objects, music, etc. [Hence the need for “anointing” people, microphones, pews, music CDs, etc.]
Techniques of Warfare Prayer. Spiritual warfare specialists believe that we must learn formulas to speak to, confront, command, cast out, and verbally assault evil spirits. If you’re not practicing this kind of warfare, they imply, you are not really in the battle. Believing that warfare prayer is very dangerous for those who are not skilled in the area, today they are offering specialized training to thousands on how to engage in warfare prayer.
There are three major steps in warfare prayer:
1. Seek the name of the ruling spirit. The proper name is preferable; but if it proves too difficult to obtain, a functional name is (e.g., “demon of lying,” “demon of anger,” “spirit of poverty,” etc.”) is better than nothing.
2. Identify the demon’s territory. Identifying the territory ensures that the proper demon is selected, and establishes the boundaries for ministry once the demon is bound. Proponents do “spiritual mapping” by collating and plotting the information concerning territorial spirits and their “strongholds” for distribution and wider prayer. This process is similar to mapping a city according to ZIP codes. Once the spiritual mapping is done, the prayer warriors will conduct their on-site prayers (such as “prayer walks,” “prayer marches,” “prayer expeditions,” and “prayer journeys”).
3. Use the demon’s name in direct rebuke. Their strategy includes speaking to, confronting, or rebuking demons, commanding them to leave the person or location, and claiming an individual or region for God.
It must be pointed out that the above formula in confronting demons cannot be found in the Bible. Nowhere in Scripture are Christians instructed to seek out, speak to, defy, deride, or rebuke, bind, and cast out demons as advocated by the spiritual warfare experts. We may therefore ask: If Christians must learn these spiritual warfare techniques for casting out demons, why did the Holy Spirit omit the instruction from Scripture?
In this connection, it is significant that the specific techniques employed by spiritual warfare specialists are the same found in pagan and animistic religions. Writes Paul Hiebert:
[In animism] most things that happen are brought about . . . by spirits, ancestors, ghosts, magic, witchcraft and the stars. It is a world in which God is distant and in which humans are at the mercy of good and evil powers and must defend themselves by means of prayers and chants, charms, medicines and incantations. Power, not truth, is the central human concern in this worldview.
In such animistic faiths, practitioners seek and employ the names of the demons in their incantations and prayers to cast out the evil spirits. This was the kind of thing that the exorcists in Ephesus did. If there is any lesson for us, it is that the key to power does not rest in using names–even the name of Jesus. How much less can it depend on using the names of demons (cf. Acts 19:13-16)?
Some Key Questions
The theory and practice of strategic-level spiritual warfare raises a number of questions for Bible-believing Christians. The following are a few of them:
1. Are there territorial demons?
The Bible teaches that as a result of the Fall of Adam and Eve, Satan is now the god and ruler of this world. Proponents of spiritual warfare go beyond this teaching when they teach that specific demons control certain assigned territories, and that these demons not merely exercise authority over, but reside within, and are restricted to, those specified locations. Among the texts often cited are:
Mark 5:9. “What is thy name? And he answered, saying My name is Legion: for we are many.” This encounter between Jesus and the demoniacs of Gadara (Mark 5:6-13 and Luke 8:28-33) is the proof text that advocates of the new approach to spiritual warfare employ for identifying demons by name. On this basis, practitioners find demons named Self-Destruction, Anger, Hate, Self-pity, Pride, Fear, Fear of Others, Rebellion, Unbelief, Lust, Suicide, Homosexuality, Despair, Resentment, Nonacceptance, Liar, Self-hate, and so forth. They also find demons matching the varied names the Bible attaches to the evil one: Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan, Apollyon.
However, the one recorded incident of Jesus directly addressing the evil spirits is not sufficient ground for naming demons, dialoging with them, or assigning territories to them. Notice that Jesus did not initiate the conversation; instead He responded to the demons after they had taken the initiative. Even then, Jesus did not ask them to identify themselves until after He had authoritatively demanded that they depart. Also Christ didn’t seek to enter into dialogue with the demons, nor did He connect demons to patterns of sin in the demoniac. Moreover, Jesus never received a name for an answer; He got a number. And although He never got a name, the demons obeyed Christ. Finally, after ascertaining that there was more than one demon inhabiting these afflicted men (“Our name is Legion”), Jesus did not (a) ask them their individual names; or (b) cast them out sequentially, one by one, as is the practice of spiritual warfare advocates today; or (c) take hours to get rid of them.
Mark 5:10. “Don’t send us out of the area.” Spiritual warfare advocates argue that the reason the demons said this was because they were afraid that their superiors would punish them if they lost control over their assigned territories. In reply, it must be pointed out that the demons were not afraid of deportation, but of torment in the “abyss” (see Luke 8:31, Mark 5:7). They feared that Jesus (not Satan) had come to punish or judge them.
Acts 19:28, 35. The Ephesians shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” On the basis of this text, spiritual warfare proponents conclude that Artemis was a territorial spirit in charge of the city of Ephesus. Contrary to such assertions, we must point out that Artemis was not just associated with Ephesus, but was the amalgamation of several distinct deities: the “mother goddess” of Asia Minor, the Greek goddess Artemis, and the Roman goddess Diana.
The Bible itself explains the meaning of the slogan “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:34). In the words of the city official, “Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven [the sky]?” (Acts 19:35). Artemis was of the Ephesians only in the sense that her central temple was located in their city. The goddess was not the guardian of the city; rather the city was the guardian of the goddess.
Revelation 2:13. “The place [Pergamum] where Satan dwells.” Spiritual warfare advocates claim that this statement concerning Pergamum is an example of a spirit reigning over an “assigned territory.” Note, however, that if Pergamum were the assigned territory of Satan, then the all the rest of the whole world would be free from his attack. But the Bible teaches otherwise. Until Jesus comes, Satan will prowl over the face of the entire globe to destroy (Revelation 12:12; 1 Peter 5:7).
Moreover, the book of Revelation makes similar comments about Smyrna, Thyatira, and Philadelphia. Smyrna and Philadelphia each contain a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9; 3:9), while Thyatira is “where Satan’s secrets” are taught within the church (Revelation 2:24). “By the logic of SLSW [Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare], if Satan resides in Pergamum but works in Smyrna, Thyatira and Philadelphia, he does a fair bit of commuting! Besides, if he is ruler of Pergamum, what is he doing interfering in the other cities? Of course this is all rather silly, but it demonstrates the absurdity of the woodenly literalistic interpretative method employed to substantiate SLSW.”
The statement “The place [Pergamum] where Satan dwells” simply points to the location where Satan was raising opposition against the church. In Smyrna and Philadelphia, Satan used the Jewish synagogues to instigate persecution against Christians. In Thyatira, he instigated his attack from within, through a prophetess who encouraged participation in temple feasts, where sexual immorality and idolatry were rife. In Pergamum, Satan used persecution. The Devil does not dwell physically or exclusively in any one city, temple, or synagogue. Rather, he is at work anywhere that the church faces persecution without or corruption within.
2. Should Christians engage in warfare prayer?
Proponents of warfare prayer confront Satan’s demons by (a) naming the spirits, and (b) using the names in direct confrontation and imprecation in an attempt to “bind” the spirits. They often point to the following Biblical examples:
Daniel 10:13. “Daniel’s warfare prayer.” “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.”
Notice that Daniel never seeks the names of the demons or the angels, nor does he ever use them in prayer. The only names he receives are those of Gabriel and Michael, the heavenly beings helping Israel (cf. Dan 8:16; 9:21; 10:13, 21; 12:1). The evil powers are known only by the generic titles, “prince of Persia” and “prince of Greece” (10:20). Daniel does not have to embark upon prolonged periods of prayer and fasting to obtain the particular names of the alleged territorial demons. He never rebukes any demons. He offers a simple prayer requesting the explanation of a dream. In fact, Daniel does not even know that a battle is raging until he is later told!
Zechariah 3:1, 2. Warfare prayer in Zechariah. “Joshua the high priest [was] standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan [was] standing at his right side to accuse him. The [Angel of the] Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord . . . rebuke you!
Although advocates find here a justification for “rebuking” demons, observe that the only human participant, Zechariah, is merely a bystander and an observer. It is the “Angel of the Lord” Who confronts Satan (identified as Christ Himself by Ellen G. White in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 469).
Jude 9. Warfare prayer at the burial ground of Moses. “Yet Michael the Archangel, when contending with the Devil He disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
Again, as noted before, no human being “rebuked” Satan. It was Michael the Archangel (Who is Jesus Himself), Who did it. Even here, he handed the Devil over to God Himself. Christians may beseech God to rebuke ruling demons, but they must be careful not to give the impression that on their own authority they can do that.
3. Should we bind demons?
The new approach to spiritual warfare, which seeks to get rid of territorial demons by “binding” the spirits through various commands and prayers, allegedly finds justification for this practice in Matthew 12:29: “How can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.” It is often supplemented by Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, where Jesus says, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”
However this Matthew 12:29 passage is taken out of context. The passage “is a parable describing Jesus’ cosmic work as the Messiah. He entered a ‘house’ that belonged to a ‘strongman’ whom He ‘tied up’ in order to ‘rob’ him of his ‘possessions.’ The house is planet Earth. The strongman is Satan. The possessions are people, you and I, whom Jesus has saved, robbing the Devil. The tying up is the entire work of Christ—from ekballistic [casting out] foretastes of mercy, to His death on the cross, to His resurrection. Satan’s kingdom of sin and death has been dealt a definitive blow, and his former followers are fleeing the darkness and streaming into the kingdom of mercy, righteousness, and life. The passage does not teach—and nowhere else does Jesus illustrate—a pastoral method of ‘binding’ spirits.”
Also, Christ’s example is sometimes cited as precedent (“Jesus . . . rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him” [Mark 9:25]), and the further example of Paul is used to buttress the case (“Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” [Acts 16:18]).
While these examples cannot be ignored, it must be noted that in both of the above instances the demon himself initiated the confrontation. And as we have shown in the earlier contexts (Daniel 10, Zechariah 3, Jude 9), the general pattern in Scripture seems to be that of the Christian believer's appealing to Christ to cast out the demon, instead of addressing the demon directly.
4. Should Christians initiate preemptive war to attack the “strongholds” of Satan?
On the basis of Ephesians 6:10 ff., spiritual warfare advocates maintain that Christians are urged to arm themselves in the armor of God and declare war on the principalities and powers. But this is not what the Bible teaches.
Before looking at Ephesians 6, we must mention why Christians are not to launch their own a pre-emptive strike against Satan. First, it was Satan who declared this war in the beginning, and it is he who is still making war with the saints (Revelation 12). We don’t have any business declaring war on him. The war was on before we came on the scene, and it was initiated by the enemy. Second, God has already won the battle. And this is good news. For though defeated, Satan is still a dangerous foe and we cannot fight him in our own power.
It is important to highlight the victory Christians have in this warfare with the enemy. While the book of Ephesians teaches that there is a war going on, in which “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12), Paul makes certain facts clear in the book of Ephesians:
1.Christ has already defeated Satan. Through His death, resurrection, and exaltation at the right hand of the Father, Satan has been conquered. In Ephesians 1:19-23, we are told of the “the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised him from the dead, and set Him at His Own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him That filleth all in all.”
All power (dunamis, energeia, kratos, isxus) belongs not to the spirits or to their mediums, but to Christ, Who uses it for the benefit and protection of His followers. Also in Romans 8:37-39, we read:
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him That loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come , nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Greek word for “principalities” refers to both good and fallen angels in the New Testament, but in verse 37 it refers to the latter. In Christ we are secure against the demons. “The Greek words for ‘height’ and ‘depth’ are astronomical terms. The former refers to the location of a star at its zenith, and the latter at its nadir. We are secure against everything in the celestial realm, including demons. Now that’s territorial security!” Writes Ellen G. White:
“There are Christians who think and speak altogether too much about the power of Satan. They think of their adversary, they pray about him, they talk about him, and he looms up greater and greater in their imagination. It is true that Satan is a powerful being; but, thank God, we have a mighty Saviour, who cast out the evil one from heaven. Satan is pleased when we magnify his power. Why not talk of Jesus? Why not magnify His power and His love?” (Desire of Ages, p. 493).
2. Every conversion story demonstrates Christ’s power. Each person who turns to Christ marks an unmistakable break in the control of the demons over the world (Ephesians 2:1-6). Prior to conversion, the individual was under the control of the evil forces of the world and the flesh. But at conversion Christ raises the individual up and exalts him to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6; cf. Colossians 2:15; 1:13). We are on the throne with Christ, and conquerors through Him. The Christ Who sits on the throne is winning victories in the lives of people today.
3. The existence of Christ’s church shows that Satan’s power has been broken. The existence of the church, reconstituted from every nation, proclaims the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities of the universe that Satan’s power has been broken (Ephesians 3:8-11). “Until the resurrection of Christ, Satan had ample reason to boast. The only people who professed allegiance to the true God was a small unimportant ethnic group, restricted to a provincial outpost on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, and insignificant on the political stage. The rest of the world appeared to be firmly within the kingdom of darkness. Now the church has exploded across all boundaries, and incorporates all people. Entire ethnic groups and nations which were previously consigned to the darkness have now entered the light.”
Therefore, even though the Christian is engaged in a warfare with spiritual forces, Christ’s decisive victory over Satan through His death on the cross, resurrection, and exaltation, as well as through the conversion of each believer and the universally constituted church, suggests that Satan and his forces have no power or control over us—if we remain in Christ.
Though a defeated foe, Satan is still dangerous. But having lost his power and his captives taken, Satan is waging a counterattack. He is like a wounded lion, seeking whom he will devour (1 Peter 5:8). Our responsibility is not to launch a preemptive strike, but to resist and withstand Satan. Thus, James urges us “to resist the Devil,” not to attack him, with the promise that he will flee from us (James 4:7). Herein lies the nature of our warfare: Resistance (defense), not Attack (offense). We are to preserve and maintain what has already been won. This is how to fight the enemy.
Standing Firm: How to Fight the Enemy
Our Role in the Warfare. Contrary to the assertions of advocates of the new approach to spiritual warfare, the Ephesians 6 passage that they often cite teaches that the Christian’s role in the ongoing battle is to stand firm in the face of Satan’s counterattack. Our role is not offensive, but defensive. We are to “stand fast” or “stand firm”:
“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (v. 13).
“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14).
The military metaphor of “standing firm” or “standing fast” portrays soldiers threatened by the enemy and engaged in close combat. Under fierce assault, the commander does not order them to launch an offensive, but to hold their ground. It is a defensive, not an offensive, posture:
It involves standing firm, holding one’s position, resisting, not surrendering to the opposition but prevailing against it. . . . The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand, that is, to preserve and maintain what has been won. It is because this victory has been won that believers are involved in the battle at all.
Standing firm means to hold the ground already taken in the face of an enemy counteroffensive. This is the appropriate stance for Christians. Christ has won the battle; we are to stand firm in the face of satanic counterattack.
Stand is a common exhortation in Paul’s writings, and always carries a defensive connotation.
–The Thessalonians are to “stand firm” in the midst of persecution (1Thessalonians 3:8) and in the face of false teaching (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
–The Philippians are to “stand firm” in the midst of persecution, and not be cowed by fear of their opponents (Philippians 1:27, 28; 4:1).
–The Colossians are to “stand firm” in all the will of God, lest they be swayed by heresy or seduced by sin (Colossians 4:12).
–The Corinthians are to “stand firm” in the faith and do all things in the spirit of charity (1 Corinthians 16:13, 14).
These exhortations to “stand” suggest that Christians are under attack; it does not call them to initiate an attack against Satan. This is why James says that we must “resist the Devil” (James 4:7). Because the enemy prowls like a hungry lion, Peter says we must be vigilant, resisting and withstanding him (1 Peter 5:8, 9). This is what the Bible teaches about the nature of the spiritual warfare—how to fight Satan and his evil forces.
We shall now summarize the other components of spiritual warfare.
The Weapons of the Warfare. Ephesians 6:10-17 mentions the weapons of our warfare: “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
Indeed, the “weapons of warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), for the combat equipment consists of:
1. The belt of truthfulness
2. The breastplate of righteousness
3. The shoes of the Gospel of peace
4. The shield faith
5. The helmet of salvation
6. The sword of the Spirit
These essential items emphasize the basic Christian disciplines that encourage true character development.
The Prayer of the Warfare. It is worthy of note that even though the Ephesians 6 passage mentions both warfare and prayer, it never uses “warfare prayer.” But even if the apostle Paul had mentioned “warfare prayer,” it is important to understand what such a prayer entails. He writes:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20).
Prayer is not an addition to the spiritual armor identified in Ephesians 6:14-17. Rather, it is the atmosphere in which all the fighting should take place. As we put on the full armor and as we undergo the demands of the warfare, we must at the same time (and at all times) be engaged in prayer. Since all of us are engaged in the spiritual battle, the prayer in the warfare is for all—not some elite “prayer warriors” or some “generals of intercession.”
We can only highlight certain aspects from the above passage:
1. Variety of prayer—“all prayer and supplication”—general and specific requests; prayer is not limited to some set formula.
2. Frequency of prayer—“praying always”—is not some 30-day “prayer of Jabez” formulas or techniques, but simply living a life in the presence of God and with an attitude of God-consciousness. Our whole life should be one of communion with God.
3. Power of prayer—“in the Spirit.” Prayer must be consistent with the mind and will of God.
4. Manner of prayer—“and watching thereunto”—vigilance. We are to “watch and pray” (cf. Matthew 26:40, 41).
5. Persistence in prayer—“with all perseverance”—steadfast, unshakable, etc.
6. Specificity in prayer—“and supplication”—specific needs of concern should be mentioned in our prayers.
7. Objects of prayer—“for all saints and for me”—not to Satan and his demons, but on behalf of members of the body of Christ.
The Site of the Warfare. The new approach to prayer territorializes not only the demons, but also the power of God. In this connection, it is particularly insightful that the apostle Paul didn’t prescribe a particular site for prayer at which Christians must engage in some “prayer walks” (in neighborhoods), “praise marches” (in cities), “prayer journeys” (for certain regions), and “prayer expeditions” (to nations). On the contrary, Paul asked the Ephesians to “pray for all the saints and for me.”
The fact that Paul regularly prays for people several months’ journey away and requests their prayers for him (cf. Ephesians 1:17-19; 3:14-19; 6:18-20), raises questions about any supposed advantages to praying on location. “Not once does Paul pray against Artemis, the alleged territorial spirit of Ephesus. Never does he ask them to pray against the ruling spirit over Rome, from where he is likely to have written this letter. He asks merely that they pray for other Christians as he was praying for them, and that they pray for him to be bold in evangelism.”
If ever there was time for God’s people to pray, it is now. But the new approach to prayer, as taught by the spiritual warfare movement, is a deceptive ploy by the enemy to confuse and lead God’s people to destruction. The way to revive our churches is not to import such questionable forms of prayer from other churches.
When the risen Christ gave specific instructions to the lethargic and inactive church of Laodicea (a symbol of God’s end-time church), Christ did not ask its pastors, scholars, and members to attend some spiritual warfare seminar to learn how to overcome their lukewarm condition. When He wanted to see a revival in the church, He didn’t ask a few “prayer warriors” or “prayer coordinators” to be the “generals of intercession.” And when He wanted His church to be successful in its missions to unentered territories, He didn’t encourage some “prayer offensives” that require “prayer walks” around some neighborhoods to “command” or “rebuke” the demons believed to be in control of those neighborhood or houses. No one was encouraged to rebuke the “demon of hypocrisy” or the “demon of materialism” that had possessed the church members. And there was no need for anyone to conduct some “anointing services” for church members, pews, microphones, and other objects to ensure the receptivity of the Gospel message.
Instead, Christ simply pleaded with the Laodicean church to “repent,” urging them to buy from Him spiritual resources that are free (Revelation 3:18, 19).
This is also our need today. For the real spiritual warfare is a battle over self—whether we shall totally surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow Him to transform our lives. Shall we surrender to Christ’s teaching, instead of inventing our own? This warfare has to do with character development, and the site at which it is being waged is our hearts.
The Christian life is a battle and a march. But the victory to be gained is not won by human power. The field of conflict is the domain of the heart. The battle which we have to fight—the greatest battle that was ever fought by man—is the surrender of self to the will of God, the yielding of the heart to the sovereignty of love. The old nature, born of blood and of the will of the flesh, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The hereditary tendencies, the former habits, must be given up. (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 141.)
Endnotes will be provided later