Have you heard of “strategic-level spiritual warfare?”
This practice — which is popular in the apostolic-prophetic movement — often involves going to the highest place in a city or nation, like a mountain top, and trying to bind “territorial spirits,” the high-ranking demons that rule over specific geographical regions. The idea is that — if their demonic grip is broken — then the people who live in that region will respond en masse to the gospel, and they will be freed of sinful strongholds, like witchcraft, lust and greed.
Many churches and missions agencies have eagerly adopted strategic-level warfare, believing it’s the key to fulfilling the Great Commission (especially in regions that are hostile to the gospel). These Christians take part in showy ceremonies, where they seek to directly confront territorial spirits by name.
Operation Queen’s Palace
In October 1999, for example, C. Peter Wagner (pictured here) — the main advocate of this practice — led a group to Ephesus, Turkey, for “Operation Queen’s Palace” — to confront a spirit he identified as the “Queen of Heaven” (supposedly a strong spirit that was blocking the gospel in that region). They engaged in what is called “aggressive prayer warfare,” commanding the spirit’s power to be broken. This trip has now become a prototype for other ministries.
The reason this type of spiritual warfare is called “strategic” is because it doesn’t attempt to cast demons out of just individual people — which Wagner calls “ground-level warfare” — but entire nations.
Spiritual Warfare is Biblical
Don’t be mistaken: I believe spiritual warfare is biblical, and all Christians must engage in it with seriousness. According to Ephesians 6:10-18, we are in battle against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We must never forget this because Satan is like a “roaring lion” that is seeking to catch us off guard and devour us. See 1 Peter 5:8. We must be aware of his schemes against us. See 2 Corinthians 2:11.
The Bible also teaches that there are angels (both good and bad) with varying degrees of authority. For example, Michael is called an “archangel” who has command over other angels (Rev. 12:7) and is one of the “chief princes” and a prince of Israel (Dan. 10:13, 21). Other Scripture passages hint at the existence of a hierarchy within the angelic world. See Romans 8:38-39, Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16.
In 1 Corinthians 2:6, 8, there is reference to the “rulers of this age” who caused Christ’s crucifixion (perhaps high-ranking demonic forces).
All these passages seem to teach that there are angels who have greater authority than other angels. These angels would seemingly include territorial spirits, whose existence, I believe, is also supported by the Bible. In Daniel 10, for example, we learn that there are a “Prince of Persia” and a “Prince of Greece” — apparently, territorial spirits who were opposing God’s work in those empires.
So, the question isn’t: should we engage in spiritual warfare? As Christians, we all must. The real question is: how should we engage in it? Should we seek to combat territorial spirits, as leaders in the apostolic-prophetic movement urge us to do? Or have we been given other strategies? (More on this below.)
Strategic-Level Warfare is Unbiblical
The problems with strategic-level warfare are that Scripture does not support it, and it may actually be dangerous. At the very least, Christians may be involved in a practice that diverts their focus from fruitful, Spirit-empowered ministry to powerless ritual. At the worst, they may be opening themselves up to harmful spiritual attack. I will explain why.
But, first, Christians should know that even Wagner admits that much of this practice comes from sources outside of Scripture. For example, in his book — ironically titled What the Bible Says About Spiritual Warfare (pictured here) — Wagner argues that it’s important to know the name of a territorial spirit to cast it out. He believes that, when we know the name of a spirit, then we have more authority over it.
Of course, the Bible doesn’t teach this — something Wagner readily admits. But he doesn’t care. Why? Because people who have experience dealing with demons have found that it’s important to know their names, according to Wagner. So, he has developed his doctrine from experience (and human wisdom), instead of God’s Word. And, of course, strategic-level warfare includes identifying the names of territorial spirits.
Wagner also struggles to come up with an example of strategic-level warfare in the Bible. In fact, he has to rely on a story that doesn’t come from the Bible — a story about when the apostle John reportedly went to the temple in Ephesus and prayed against the goddess Diana. John reportedly said:
“Oh God … at whose name every idol takes flight and every demon and every unclean power: now let the demon that is here take flight at thy name.”
According to the story, Diana’s altar then split into pieces.
Yet, even Wagner’s non-biblical example has problems. For starters, John’s prayer was directed to God — John didn’t directly speak to, or confront, Diana. So, this doesn’t even qualify as strategic-level warfare. Also, of course, this story doesn’t come from Scripture, so we shouldn’t build our doctrine or practice around it, as Wagner has done.
Spiritual Warfare Is Ignored
Unfortunately, biblical teachings on spiritual warfare are neglected in many evangelical churches — especially non-charismatic churches. Because of this, a vacuum has been created that has been filled by unbiblical teachings. Many Christians who see the reality of spiritual warfare in the Bible — and who may have even experienced it in their own lives — are hungry for teaching on it. Because they can’t find this teaching in other churches, they are drawn to churches that promote strategic-level warfare.
Wagner created the United States Global Apostolic Prayer Network to promote strategic-level warfare on behalf of the United States. Under the leadership of Chuck Pierce and Cindy Jacobs, this network has appointed “state apostolic coordinators” who direct strategic-level warfare in each state. Through this network, many churches have been brought into strategic-level warfare. Read more about the network here, and find out the names of the apostolic coordinators for each state.
Many ministries also use “spiritual mapping” to aid their strategic-level warfare. This practice involves mapping out the demonic activities in geographical regions, including the names of the ruling territorial spirits and types of strongholds. (Note: not all people who practice spiritual mapping support strategic-level warfare. Some Christians just find it helpful to identify the religious and spiritual influences in a region to aid their evangelism efforts, but they don’t seek to identify or bind territorial spirits.)
Links to the Apostolic-Prophetic Movement
Although many churches and ministries have embraced strategic-level warfare, they may not know how these practices relate to the apostolic-prophetic movement. According to the movement’s leaders, strategic-level warfare will work only if it is practiced under the direction of modern “apostles” (like Wagner) and “prophets” (like Cindy Jacobs). Why? Because only “prophets” are able to receive the divine revelation needed to defeat the territorial spirits (including their names). And only “apostles” have the God-given authority to bind the territorial spirits.
The average, everyday Christian doesn’t have this authority, according to these leaders. This is why they teach that all Christians must submit to the modern “apostles” and “prophets.” They believe that once the entire church is under their rule, then they will lead it — like an army — in defeating demonic principalities and establishing God’s kingdom on earth.
Strategic-level warfare also relates to the apostolic-prophetic movement in its emphasis on national revivals. According to the movement’s leaders, binding territorial spirits will result in the Christianization of the world and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth — before Christ returns.
This contradicts the “premillennial” view of the end-times, which argues that nations will grow more evil and hostile toward God — even accepting the rule of the antichrist — until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom Himself. Yet, interestingly, many people who are part of the apostolic-prophetic movement still hold a premillennial view of the end times, without realizing that these views are contradictory. (More on this in a future post.)
Perhaps if more Christians realized the agenda of this movement’s leaders — an agenda to bring all Christians under their rule — then they wouldn’t so readily embrace this practice. They also may reject it if they realized that it requires a very different view of the end times than they hold to.
No Biblical Support
Of course, advocates of strategic-level warfare claim that the Bible supports the practice. But a careful reading of the passages they cite — in context — shows they don’t.
The Bible does support the concept of territorial spirits, as I mentioned above. But it never encourages God’s people to directly confront territorial spirits or interact with them in any way. In fact, we have no biblical record of God’s people — be they apostles, prophets or ordinary Christians — ever confronting a territorial spirit or seeking to bind one. Jesus, himself, never sought to bind a territorial spirit in his earthly ministry.
Let’s look at Daniel 10, the passage most often used to support strategic-level warfare. In this passage, we learn of a heavenly struggle that was going on behind the scenes, involving the archangel Michael and the Princes of Persia and Greece. Notice, however, that Daniel never directly challenged the Prince of Persia or Prince of Greece. In fact, he seemingly never even knew the Prince of Persia had hindered his prayers until after his divine visitor told him this information. So, Daniel certainly wasn’t engaging in strategic-level warfare against the Prince of Persia, as advocates of the practice claim.
Other passages used to support the practice also fail. Just because the Bible teaches the existence of territorial spirits doesn’t mean that we, Christians, have the mandate or authority to directly confront them.
Our biblical authority seems to be limited to casting out demons from individuals — what Jesus gave the Seventy the authority to do in Luke 10. Note: the Seventy weren’t attempting to bind territorial spirits in the cities they visited, but were focusing on delivering individual people from demons.
Rather than binding territorial spirits, the early Christians’ method of evangelism was proclaiming the gospel — along with prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit. This method may not seem as glamorous as spiritual warfare ceremonies (it’s certainly harder work!). But it’s the model we are given in the Bible.
Of course, if we are concerned about territorial spirits in a region, then we can always ask God to hinder their influence. But we haven’t been given the authority to command a demon to leave a city or region. As long as sin is present in a region, Satan has legal claim there.
Dangers of Strategic-Level Warfare
Not only don’t we have examples of strategic-level warfare in Scripture — we actually may be warned against it. In 2 Peter 2:10-12 and Jude 1:8-10, we learn of people who speak abusively against angelic forces — something even powerful good angels (including the archangel Michael) don’t dare do. People who directly rebuke high-ranking spirits are messing with dangerous things that are outside their realm of knowledge. These passages should serve as a sobering warning against confronting territorial spirits.
Could it be that Christians who practice strategic-level warfare, unknowingly, may be opening themselves up to powerful demonic attack as they venture outside their God-given sphere of authority?
Biblical Spiritual Warfare
So, how should Christians wage spiritual warfare? In Ephesians 6:10-18, we are told how: by putting on all the spiritual armor God has given us, including living in truth, righteousness, sharing the gospel, having faith in God, receiving salvation, knowing the Word of God (the Bible) and constant prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are told to pray that God will deliver us from Satan. See Matthew 6:13.
We must draw near to God because, when we do, Satan will flee (James 4:7). If we are filled with the Holy Spirit (meaning that we are submitting to His control in all areas of our lives), then there won’t be room for Satan to operate in our lives.
We must stay alert to Satan’s schemes. One of his most powerful and common tactics is deception. Satan is called the “father of lies” (John 8:44). He attempts to blind unbelievers to the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) and to get Christians to accept demonically inspired false teachings (1 Timothy 4:1). So, our main offensive strategy is to expose Satan’s lies by presenting the truth of God’s Word to believers and unbelievers, alike.
For a great overview of what the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare, I recommend Clinton Arnold’s book, 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare (published by Baker). It has an in-depth critique of strategic-level spiritual warfare. See it at Amazon.com.