Spiritual Warfare—False Clichés*

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. — 1 John 4:1

On a "Christian" television program a number of years ago, the guest was a "Christian" psychologist who was sharing experiences from his practice, which he claimed blends the "spiritual" with the psychological. He was attempting to bolster, with stories, his new therapy for treating the so-called "dysfunctional."

The good Doctor told a story of a Christian lady whom he diagnosed as demon-possessed as a result of a trauma from her past. As he rebuked the evil within her, she was said to have instantly lapsed into a trance, in which she went into the birth-labor process. He described the whole delivery performance: the heavy breathing, cries of pain, and finally the pushing process. The psychologist played the part as her coach throughout the whole event, which was being acted out in his counseling office. This episode resulted in the five demons, which were said to possess the woman, being exorcised from her as she acted out the process of giving birth. The psychologist believed that this "birthing process" exorcism was related to the type of cause which provided the basis for her possession.

Spiritual Warfare Explosion

Stories like this are rapidly becoming commonplace within today's professing evangelical Christian community. It is being called "spiritual warfare," as more and more Christians are said to be casting-off the blinders of a Western rational world view, which for too long has held the Church captive, and are awakening to what they consider an enlightened view of the spiritual realm. It seems that almost every facet of the Christian life is now being taught as some aspect of spiritual warfare.

Why is this becoming so popular? I believe it is because today's new generation of evangelicals has absorbed a mystical worldview, which interprets experiences from a mystical framework instead of from Biblical categories.


Arthur L. Johnson, in his excellent, but neglected book, Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism (Moody Press:1988) defines and describes mysticism as follows:

When either the psychological attitude alone, or the more complete philosophical grasp, is translated into the theological terms, the resulting view leads the person to equate his inner impressions or subjective states with the voice of God. Such a person, if he is a Christian, tends to believe that the activity of the Holy Spirit within us is expressed primarily through emotional or other non-cognitive aspects of our being. Having and "obeying" such experiences is what "being spiritual" is all about. (26)

Johnson's words certainly seem to describe the contemporary bent of evangelicals.

Since the Bible is to be the authority for all Christians, mysticism wrongly shifts authority from God to man's own intuitive interpretation of experience. If your experience is to measure up to the authority of God's word, then it has to be examined and verified by objective Scriptural standards.

A current error within evangelicalism is that often the mystical and the supernatural are used synonymously. They are NOT the same thing! Thus, to deny the mystical is not to abandon belief in God's supernatural work. Instead, it is to be discerning in terms of the Biblical framework. What is needed today are those who will test by means of the objective Word of God (the Bible) to see if the many claims being made in our day are merely mysticism or the genuine. But when any form of mysticism becomes dominate in a culture, such as it has in our day, then stories and experiences themselves become the basis upon which to formulate belief, rather than the study of God's Word.

Mystical Views of Spiritual Warfare

It is all too common today for a spiritual warfare teacher to get up and bombard his listeners with story after story, experience after experience, from which he draws conclusions that form his views on spiritual warfare. More often that not, this kind of "skyscraper preaching" (sermons with one story stacked upon another) results in an approach to spiritual warfare that is built upon practices and techniques which do not measure up to God's Word.

For example: often one begins to teach that Christians can be demon-possessed or something similar; Christians can inherit curses from parents; Christians need deliverance from certain kinds of sins in addition to the forgiveness received at salvation; Christians need to speak or do things to protect themselves and their loved ones from the demonic; Christians can boss Satan around by rebuking, binding, taking authority over him, or running him out of town, usually by sundown, all in the name of Jesus; demons occupy territories because of specific sins of those people which supposedly have given a basis for the demonic stronghold, instead of by permission of the sovereign will of God. These kinds of beliefs are mere superstition, the product of false mystical experiences which do not match up with the teaching of Holy Writ.

Deceitful Spirits

We are seeing an amazing development in our day. The more pervasive that the current versions of mystical "spiritual warfare" become within the church, there seems to be a corresponding rise of the abandonment of examining teaching and practice in the light of Scripture. The average evangelical seems to be persuaded by a pragmatic polemic (i.e., sincerity of the teacher and "it seems to help people") rather than Biblical doctrine.

The New Testament predicts that the "latter times" of the church age would be a time of great deception within the church (1 Tim. 4:1-4):

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, ... In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, {constantly} nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following (1 Tim. 4:1,6).

What does the phrase "later times" mean? It very likely refers to the "later times" of the current church age. Notice Paul did not say, "in these last days" as the writer of Hebrews did to refer to the whole church age (1:2). Paul used a different expression to convey the clear idea that the Holy Spirit is talking about the "later times" of the current church age. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is giving a dual warning for the church in our day—first, "not to fall away {lit. apostatize} from the faith," and second, don't pay "attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons." In addition to the problem of apostasy we experience in the church today, the second warning is especially interesting in light of the fact that those within the church who depart from the faith are said to be especially open to demonic teachings.

It is significant that both Biblical terms for the demonic are used in this verse: "spirits" and "demons." A clear contrast is set between what the Holy Spirit is explicitly saying as opposed to what "deceitful spirits" and "demons" are saying. The Holy Spirit's teaching that the "later times" will be characterized by apostasy in the church is strengthened by the addition of the term "explicitly," so that there is no mistaking what He is trying to say. However, many of us today in these "latter times" who repeat the Spirit-inspired warning about the increase in apostasy are accused of being negative, divisive, and obstructing the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet, at the same time, these critics are teaching things which can be proved from the Bible to be error. This passage would lead us to believe that they are "paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons." "Deceitful spirits" are the agents Satan uses to generate these teachings, which are then said to be described as "doctrines of demons"—that is, doctrines that come from demons.

Paul goes on in this passage to note that "a good servant of Christ Jesus" is one who points out these sobering facts to fellow believers and nourishes those under his care with healthy doctrine from the Bible. But often when this is done, the response of some is that we are being divisive and that we are destroying the last days unity needed to win the world to Christ.1 This is at least partially a true charge. The Bible divides truth from error, right from wrong, light from darkness.

However, the more one listens to the ever growing chorus of spiritual warfare teachings, the more he encounters phrases and clichés which reflect and convey the mentality of the popular, but false, "spiritual warfare" teachings. Most of these expressions make sense only if a believer can be demon-possessed or inflicted, which the Bible teaches he cannot. [This and many other issues are dealt with in great detail in A Holy Rebellion: Strategy for Spiritual Warfare (Harvest House: 1990); the title for subsequent printings was changed to Overrun by Demons.] The following is an examination of some of the more popular, but according to Scripture, false spiritual warfare clichés:

1. Binding Satan: In the early 1970s, [I] attended my first "deliverance" service. The one conducting it was a well-known pioneer in the field. Many bizarre things happened at the service. Many of the demons had names, such as the demon of lust, gluttony, worry, gossip, criticism, etc. One demon was even named after a particular food.

The "deliverance" evangelist had a routine which he would follow in casting out demons from these people. First, he would find out a little about the individual. He would then ask them what their problem was. (He always assumed that it was caused by a demon rather than some other source.) Then he could speak authoritatively to the demon and command the demons to manifest themselves. Having done this, he would usually carry on a conversation with the demon, often quite humorous, as he would insult, question, and finally command the demon to leave in the name of Jesus and by the power of the blood of Christ. Some demons would require several conversations before they would finally leave. One of the things he always did when he was commanding them to depart was to bind them and send them to the "pit of hell."

The practice of binding Satan and/or the demons and evil spirits is not only something which some professing Christians do during public and private deliverance sessions, but it is often a personal activity exercised on a regular basis by a growing number of professing Christians. Sometimes a person will pray that Satan will be bound from blinding a person to whom they are presenting the gospel, in the belief that this will improve the likelihood of that person trusting Christ as his Savior. Or someone might pray that an upcoming event would be protected from the influence of the demonic by binding the demons from having influence in relation to that event. On other occasions, people attempt to bind Satan and his demons from certain geographical locations, such as a new house the person will be moving into, a new church building, or a particular location in a city or neighborhood. Doing this, it is believed, could affect the power and moving of God in the lives of believers as well as unbelievers. (See point #3 below.)

One instance [I] recall from about 20 years ago, a group of professing believers wanted a particular piece of property for their ministry. One evening, they marched around the tract of land claiming it for themselves and "pleading the blood" over it. They believed that this was an act of faith that God would honor. This practice, and many others like it, is viewed by some to be a central practice to engaging in successful spiritual warfare. Lets look at the primary Bible passages from which those who hold these beliefs say they have a Scriptural mandate for such practices:

Mandate for Binding?

The misinterpretation of three passages in Matthew form the basis for the popular "binding" teaching and practice. First, Matthew 12:29, in which Jesus said, "How can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man?" This statement by Christ was made as part of an illustration meant to refute the Pharisees' claim that Jesus "casts out demons only by Beelzebub the ruler of the demons"(12:24). The Pharisees did not want to admit, as many of the people were beginning to suggest, that Jesus was the Son of David (12:23). Therefore, they attributed His exorcism to an alliance with Beelzebub, the only other supernatural alternative in the universe. Christ replied that He is more powerful than Satan, by pointing out that one would have to control the strong man before his house could be robbed. The logic is that Christ was not in league with Satan, but was accomplishing His exorcisms by the true power of God. It would be wrong to conclude from this passage that Christ was laying down a universal pattern for believers to follow. Instead, this was a historic illustration of Christ's personal power over Satan.

There is coming a day when the strong man will be bound, along with his demonic host, and we do not have to speculate as to when that will be. Revelation 20:1-3 says that Satan will be bound for 1,000 years shortly after Christ's Second Coming. Following the Millennium, Satan will be deposited into the lake of fire for all eternity (Rev. 20:10). In the meantime, during the current age, Satan is "a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pe. 5:7). The antidote for the believer is not to bind him (if Satan and the demons are being bound, who keeps letting them loose anyway?), but as 1 Peter 5:8 instructs, to "resist him, firm in your faith." Jesus Himself will bind the strong man, Satan, on behalf of His followers at a future time. He does not use believers to act in His behalf in this area. God will not be using believers to round up Satan and put him out of commission by binding. Instead, the means God will use is stated clearly in Revelation 20:1, where it says that "an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand," will do the honors. Therefore, the idea that believers have removed Satan and his demon armies from spheres of influence because they have prayed for Satan's binding, is not found in the Bible and is, thereby, unbiblical.

The Keys of the Kingdom

The focus of the Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 passages is on the word "bind" (deo). How is this word used in context and what does it mean? The word has the basic meaning of "to tie up by binding." The result is inactivity on the part of the one bound. In Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, the word bind is used with its opposite "loose." In these contexts, the idea of binding and loosing has the force of the judicial notion of "forbidding" and "permitting." This phrase was used in Christ's day by Israel's religious leaders regarding what was forbidden (bound) and that He will give him "the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19).

Peter was to become one of the apostles upon whom the Christian church would be founded (Eph. 2:20). Therefore, Peter and the apostles will be the human agents through whom entrance into the kingdom of heaven will be denied or allowed, depending upon whether or not one's key matched the lock. The words "shall be bound" and "shall be loosed" as used in the Greek means that the binding and loosing in heaven will precede the binding and loosing on earth.

A translation which brings out this aspect of the original Greek would read as follows: "I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, but whatever you bind on earth is that which shall already have been bound in the heavens, and whatever you loose on earth is that which shall already have been loosed in the heavens." Peter was to bind things upon the earth, but only what had already been bound in heaven. Peter was to set the standard on earth for entrance into the kingdom of heaven based upon the standard which God has already set in heaven. Peter was to be the mediator of the Word of God between God and man, and that standard is what Peter stated in Matthew 16:16, namely, that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Affirming God's Will

"Binding and loosing" are used in exactly the same way in Matthew 18:18: "Truly I am telling you, whatever you may bind upon the earth shall be that which has already been bound in heaven; and whatever you may loosed upon the earth shall be that which has already been loosed in heaven" (literal translation). Jesus is saying that believers can have confidence that when they justly excommunicate someone on earth, that they are fulfilling the will of God which has already been determined in heaven. This should give them confidence in what they are doing. So in this context, binding and loosing carry the idea which corresponds to our modern judicial language of declaring someone guilty (binding) or innocent (loosing). The court decision does not make someone guilty or innocent, but simply determines whether his past acts violate or conform to God's heavenly standard.

In both passages, neither word is referring to the contemporary idea of binding Satan or the demonic. Instead, these references refer to carrying out God's heavenly will upon earth as it has already been determined in heaven. In fact, the contemporary idea of binding and loosing has more in common with the methods related to the casting and the removal of spells found in the occult than anything related to Biblical Christianity. This is why we as believers need to be extremely careful when we adopt practices that are not mandated by the Scriptures. One scholar in commenting on these two passages has said:

"A purely magical binding and loosing such as may be found elsewhere in Greek and Rabbinic usage [passages outside of the Bible] is ruled out by the context. Jesus does not give to Peter and the other disciples any power to enchant or to free by magic. The customary meaning of the Rabbinic expressions is equally incontestable, namely, to declare forbidden or permitted, and thus to impose or remove an obligation, by a doctrinal decision" (Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, II:60).

2. Rebuking the Devil: Many people are being lead astray by deliverance teachings which promise instantaneous victory over one's problems by a timely rebuke of the devil. This misleads people from the Biblical path of exercising endurance or patience in meeting their trials. As a result, many believers are not developing the kind of proven character they need to handle trials.

This character-building approach is illustrated by Paul's thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The thorn is described as "a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself" (12:7). It is possible this messenger was a demon. The Greek word for messenger is "angelos," the word for angel. This kind of situation is often viewed today by deliverance teachers as something which is not in keeping with the will of God, and they would seek to rebuke this "messenger of Satan" and run him out of town by giving him two black eyes in the process. This was not Paul's response. Instead, he "entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me" (12:8). Yet God did not grant Paul's request. But don't we have power in the name of Jesus? Yes, we do, but it is to be exercised within the will of God. The Lord was more interested in building Christ-like character in Paul as a true display of His power (12:9) than in putting on the kind of fireworks display which many today are calling "power encounters."

Within certain circles today, it is common to hear a speaker lash out against Satan with various rebukes. Often the speaker will rebuke Satan in the area of health, wealth, and peace of mind. It is not unusual to hear more preaching against Satan and the demonic than to hear preaching which focuses in on Christ and His resources. Many people become so concerned with what the devil is doing that they take their eyes off the Lord.

We must realize that believers are NEVER instructed to rebuke the devil or his demons. The New Testament views rebuking as the sole prerogative of Jesus as an expression of His lordship and sovereignty over the spirit realm. The only acceptable condition for a believer to rebuke is when he lovingly corrects a brother fallen into sin (Lk. 17:3; 1 Tim. 5:20). Throughout the New Testament, rebuke is understood as the sole prerogative of the Lord. This is why Michael said when challenged by Satan, "The Lord rebuke you" (Jude 9).

Marks of a False Prophet

2 Peter 2 describes and denounces false prophets who will be active within the church until the second coming of Christ. Peter exposes their self-centered motives and conduct in the first three verses, and then pronounces their condemnation (4-9). The rest of the chapter concludes with a description of their characteristics. One characteristic that the contemporary church would do well to take note of is found in verse 10: "Especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desire and despise authority. Daring self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties." The earlier context indicates that these self-willed false prophets were engaged in reviling fallen angelic majesties—demons. Remember that this is something which is characteristic of false prophets, so it is a warning for Christians not to engage in such practices.

Peter goes on to explain this practice in greater detail in verses 11 and 12. He notes that "angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord" (11). Angels know better than to do such foolish things as rebuking or reviling other angels. They have much greater strength and power than the greatest human being, yet they know better than to engage in such practices. Certainly God's holy angels cannot be justly accused of not being involved in spiritual warfare, but for them, as it should be for us, it is a question of being properly involved.

Jude 8 and 9, in a similar warning about false teachers, gives a specific example of this kind of incident. Jude uses almost identical language when he notes that the false teachers "defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties" (8). How do they do that? He tells us that "Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you'" (9). This passage is telling us that even Michael, the highest-ranking elect angel, would not rebuke the devil; yet many professing Christians today do it on a regular basis. The text says "did not dare," which means that doing such a thing was so unthinkable for Michael that he would not come close to doing such a thing. Michael did not even say what we hear many saying today, "I rebuke you devil, in the name of the Lord!" Michael simply said, "The Lord rebuke you." Unlike many modern "Christians," Michael knew rebuking was a prerogative of the Lord alone!

With not one, but two warnings in Scripture against such practices, the question must be asked, "Why do so many professing Christians and their leaders regularly engage in such practices"? Both passages give us the answer. They are acting out of ignorance. "These, like unreasoning animals ... reviling where they have no knowledge ..." (2 Pe. 2:12). "But these men revile the things which they do not understand ..." (Jude 10).

This is an example of the ignorance of God's Word leading to wrong practice in the area of spiritual warfare. No wonder many are growing weary and dropping out of the battle. Many are following leaders who are leading them on wild goose chases through beliefs and practices that open them up to attacks from the enemy rather than the advertised protection from the enemy. Believers can only develop true maturity through genuine Biblical training, which teaches us to keep our eyes upon Christ and not preoccupation with the demonic.

3. Strategic Level Spiritual Warefare:2 The doctrine called "Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare" (SLSW) is a popular charismatic method of casting out demons from geographical locations or territories. It identifies three levels of demonic control on earth. First, there are "Ground-Level" demons, which possess people. Secondly, "Occult-Level" demons empower witches, shamans, and magicians. Thirdly, "Strategic-Level" demons, the most powerful of the three, are said to rule over certain regions or territories. Their main purpose is to hinder people from coming to Christ. Well known proponents of this teaching are C. Peter Wagner (Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits) of Fuller Seminary School of World Missions; John Dawson (Taking Our Cities for Christ) of Youth With a Mission; and Frank Peretti (This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness). 

In the early 1990s, there were a number of citywide gospel campaigns in Latin America. Some of the evangelists attributed their success to days spent wrestling in prayer against the powers of darkness. Author Frank Peretti stirred the imagination of believers with his two early books: This Present Darkness (1986) and Piercing the Darkness (1989). These fictional books demonstrated in graphic and sensational detail the battle of believers with territorial spirits. In the early 1990s, Charismatic leader C. Peter Wagner linked himself with the movement and has been its most vocal spokesman and most prolific writer. Wagner has attributed astonishing claims to the use of spiritual warfare, claiming, for example, "10 million Japanese will come to Christ by the year 2000; it helped to bring down the Berlin Wall and opened Albania to the gospel; it deposed dictator Manuel Noriega; it lowered the crime rate in Los Angeles and broke the power of demons over Japan" (Breaking Strongholds in Your City, 1993, p. 25).

How does one go about breaking territorial dominion? There are a number of detailed steps required. First, seek the name of the ruling spirit and identify its territory. Second, seek the function of demons in a particular area. Thirdly, if demons occupy a neighborhood, then a "Prayer Walk" is required. If the demon controls a city, then a "Praise March" is necessary. If a demon exercises power over a region, then a "Prayer Expedition" is demanded. And if a demon rules in a nation, then a "Prayer Journey" should be carried out. "Spiritual Mapping" is the process of gathering information regarding a region or a people in order to determine the identity and function of the territorial ruler; i.e., the process of discovering the exact location of the demon's domain. The accumulated data is later used in spiritual warfare prayer and intercession. "Identification Repentance" is the practice of discovering the sin and guilt which give the demon a foothold in an area in the first place, and then repenting of that sin to break the grip of demons in an area.

Peter Wagner explains: "Spying out the land is essential when warring for a city … Christians should walk or drive every major freeway, avenue and road of their cities, praying and coming against demonic strongholds over every neighborhood ... Even if you don't see instant results, keep the trumpets blowing … always remember God is not slack concerning His promise; the walls will come down!" (Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits, p. 98).

The most commonly cited proof of text is Daniel 10:13,20, which is the battle between the prince of Persia and Michael the archangel. The prince of Persia is said to be an example of a Territorial Spirit which can be defeated through the techniques of SLSW. Wagner writes, "This story leaves no doubt that territorial spirits greatly influence human life in all its sociopolitical aspects" (Warfare Prayer, p. 66).

However, Daniel 10 does not argue for the detailed and sensational practices of SLSW. It must be pointed out that:

Scripture implies that Satan's minions are highly organized (Eph. 6:12), but nowhere does the Bible say that Satan has assigned them to every geopolitical unit. Nowhere does the Bible give an example of a believer rebuking or confronting geographical demons. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are to command demons to give up territory.

Yes, Satan is a formidable adversary (1 Pe. 5:8), yet the Lord Jesus Christ has already conquered him on the cross (Col. 2:15) and will one day consign him to hell (Rev. 20:1-10). Jude 8-10 and 2 Peter 2:10-12 rebuke those who verbally abuse spirits. Indeed, we are called to turn them over to God. In the meantime, we are called to oppose Satan through our spiritual armor (Eph. 6:20-18) standing firm in the power of His might, and praying always with all prayer.

4. Picking Up Loose Ends: Within the context of contemporary spiritual warfare thinking, it is common for proponents of these views to use similar language as that dealt with above. Phrases such as: "praying the blood" to cover someone or something for protection, "praying a hedge" of protection around someone (Bill Gothard), or "claiming" protection, etc. This kind of "warfare praying" and commanding of God is also improper from a Biblical perspective since these practices are not found in the Bible and are specifically forbidden. The same kind of objections noted above would also apply to those concepts noted here to show that similar phrases are invalid to use in a Biblical approach to spiritual warfare.

5. Inherited Curses?: The error of timing is really one which misinterprets Scripture from a past era and wrongly applies it to present circumstances. One such view is that occult powers or curses are passed from parent to child. Those advocating this view will quote from Exodus 20:5— "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me." Proponents of this view believe that if a parent's or grandparent's curse or occult power is not specifically covered and removed by renouncing it, a Christian can be oppressed by such a past.

There are at least three reasons why this view is an inaccurate application of the passage. First, when a person becomes a Christian, he is delivered from all his sins, including his occult sins, since a Christian cannot be demon-possessed. The Bible does not recognize occult sin as a special category of sin that has not been dealt with by the cross.

Second, it is wrong to assume that Exodus 20:5 refers to God's "visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children" because of inheritance, rather than because each successive generation learns from their parents patterns of sin, and then decides to follow in the footsteps of their fathers and mothers. It seems clear from the passage that the basis of God's judgment or blessings are based upon the choice of each successive generation's decision to follow after the sins of their ancestors. Thus, the mode of transmission of the sins is not because the children are under a curse from a sin committed by the parent. Instead, the sin is conveyed through the child learning the sin patterns from his parents and choosing generation after generation to persist in them (i.e., "of those who hate Me"). A mystical or curse transmission is not taught or implied from the text!

Ezekiel 18:2-20 says that God curses each Israelite individual for his own sins and not specifically because of something that their fathers may have done. God specifically states in verse 4 that "all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine." The Lord goes on to declare that if the son does right in the contrast to the parent's sins, including occult sins, then "he shall surely live."

Third, the statement of Exodus 20:5-6 (see also Deut. 5:9-10) is within the context of the Lord's treaty-covenant with Israel, which promised specific blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience. Therefore, the jurisdictional scope of this passage is limited to Israel and cannot be applied in a universal sense to humanity in general as a timeless principle. Were it to be a universal principle, then it would have been stated in Genesis (or elsewhere in the Bible) and given to mankind in general. Also, if this was universal (even though the passage does not mean what is alleged in the first place), then it would probably be repeated throughout Scripture. Since it is restricted to Israel, it only occurs in relation to them. Psalm 147:19-20 makes it clear that the jurisdiction of the Mosaic Law was given exclusively to Israel as a rule of life: "He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His ordinances, they have known them. Praise the Lord!"

The specific blessings and curses to which this passage speaks are found in Deuteronomy 28. In this chapter, Israel is promised specific blessings if they obey the commandments of their covenant with the Lord. Israel is promised specific curses if they disobey. That these specific blessings and curses where for Israel is further seen by tracing the development of this theme throughout Deuteronomy.

So we see that Exodus 20:5-6 and Deuteronomy 5:9-10 tell the Israelites that God would hold them responsible for obeying His law and that there would be consequences for their actions.

Christ's Work on the Cross

This kind of "I-inherited-from-my-parents" view is also a popular explanation for all sorts of behavior within many "Christian" psychology circles as well. It is used to explain so-called mental and emotional illness, chronic sickness, all sorts of female problems, rebellious teenagers, etc. But the idea that a Christian might have to be delivered specifically from a curse or occult power, which salvation in Christ would not have taken care of, is not found or implied in Scripture. In fact there is not one example in the entire Bible of a saved person being under a satanic curse, which has to be "broken" by Christian exorcism or distinct confession. The only curses which the Bible treats as effective are those uttered by God. Curses of all kinds can be uttered over a believer continuously during his entire life, but they cannot impact his life. Christ has prayed that Christians be kept "from the evil one" (John 17:15). Further, the Bible promises to believers that "God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him" (1 John 5:18). This attempt to shift responsibility for current failures to someone else is reminiscent of Adam's attempt to shift the blame for his sin to Eve.

Other deliverance teachers say that any Christian with an occult past must specifically renounce those sins or they will not be free. That is to say, they must have a separate, post-salvation deliverance from occult sins. Yet if this is true, then Christ's work really did not forgive them of all their sins. If this is true, then a person would need to specifically go back and name all past sins in order to be saved or have freedom from the consequences of those sins. This is completely contrary to the entire teaching of Scripture, that Christ died once and for all sin—past, present and future—and that we are forgiven and delivered from all of our sins at the point of salvation.

6. Testing Spirits: This practice comes from a misinterpretation of John 4:1-3, where the apostle exhorts the Church to "test the spirits, whether they are of God." John's "test" is that every Spirit that confesses Christ came in the flesh is of God, while they that do not confess this are not of God.  One charismatic book on the subject of spiritual warfare even states that if one receives an impression or "word" he  thinks may be from The Lord, then you should ask the spirit if "Christ came in the flesh." If you then hear a resounding "Yes" in your mind, it is of God.  If not, the "spirit" will either be silent or say "no." There is great spiritual harm that can be done through trying to "hear" voices. A more accurate interpretation of John 4 is that by dealing with the Gnostics who believed that matter is inherently evil, and in the doctrine of "dokeo" (meaning "to appear," saying that Jesus appeared to have a fleshly body, but was really Spirit), John needed a test to expose them. The "spirits" mentioned then are the potentially false prophets who were teaching Gnosticism, and the test was simply a question designed to prompt a response. If they denied the incarnation, they were false prophets, if they confessed it, they were not. We could apply this  principle in modern times by "testing" potential false brethren in other areas. Do they believe Christ is co-equal and co-eternal as a member of the Godhead?  Is salvation by Grace alone, or by works? and so on. In either case, it is a false concept widely practiced along with "binding demons," and usually taught in the same circles and by many of the same teachers.

2 John 7 also addresses the subject of Christ coming in the flesh  — "For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." What is it to "not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh"? It is to deny the fact that God came in the flesh and is still in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:36-43). But, deception comes by ways that are very subtle. Note what Paul wrote in Colossians 2:8-10 — "Beware lest anyone cheat you though philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. FOR IN HIM DWELLS ALL THE FULLNESS OF THE GODHEAD BODILY; and you are complete in Him, who is the head over all principality and power." What reason does Paul give to us as believers for the basis of why we are to be aware of anyone who brings with them the teachings (traditions) of men (Colossians 2:8)? It is because "all the fullness of the Godhead" dwells in Christ "bodily." In other words, Christ is in the flesh. He came in the flesh, suffered in the flesh, was tempted in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose from the dead in the flesh, and is still in the flesh ("bodily"). In other words, HE IS ALL WE NEED! We do not need any "philosophy," "traditions of men," or any wisdom "according to the basic principles of the world" (e.g. psychology), because we have Christ! For anybody to come along and say you also need some kind of wisdom from the world to live out this Christian life (e.g., professing brethren who are psychological integrationists), THEY ARE, IN EFFECT, DENYING THAT ALL THE FULLNESS OF THE GODHEAD IS IN CHRIST BODILY (i.e., they are denying "Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh" — 2 John 7; i.e., that Jesus Christ is still in the flesh, and He is all we need (2 Peter 1:2-3). The psychologizers of today, and the spiritual warfare gurus, are totally rejecting the sufficiency of Christ, the sufficiency that was guaranteed by His coming in the flesh, and thereby, indirectly, denying His coming in the flesh.

7. Pulling Down Demonic Strongholds: This is a practice whereby spiritual "strongholds" of the enemy, which have supposedly invaded the homes of professing Christians, are "brought down" —  usually by the typical spiritual warfare gimmicks of binding demons, breaking generational curses, etc. Like most spiritual warfare tactics, it is a misinterpretation of a specific passage. In this case, 2 Cor. 10:3-5. As soon as the warfare pundits see "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God ..." then the bad hermeneutics start flying. This wording is all they need to create some new spiritual doctrine. The actual "strongholds" are those of false teachers entrenched in the Corinthian church who are contradicting Paul and his doctrine. The "weapons" is the Word of God that Paul will use in "casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God." This leads to another false spiritual warfare technique called "Bringing our thoughts captive."

8. Bringing Thoughts Captive: This is based on 2 Cor 10:5 "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;" While not a spiritual warfare tactic in the sense of warring with the enemy, it is one in the sense of having control over our thoughts which may be corrupted by the enemy. Again, a gross misinterpretation by spiritual warfare advocates. The Greek word for "thoughts" is not the same used elsewhere in the sense of "thinking," but is rather a word that means ideological principles and concepts. Therefore, the "thoughts" being taken captive by Paul were the false philosophies and man made ideologies that contradicted God's instruction and teaching through His Apostles.

9. Flags & Banners: The latest spiritual warfare technique is the use of "flags and banners," suggested by its advocates to be "spiritual power tools." The act of flag waving becomes the causal reason why God's special presence occurs. The flag (termed "worship and warfare flags") processionals, so popular in some charismatic circles today, are not just a witness of faith, but become a force in themselves ("intercessors with flags") in the spiritual warfare game. These flags and banners are used to coax the Holy Spirit to respond. Man becomes pro­active and the spirit world becomes reactive. The "head" of the flag-waving ministry in some churches is called a "master flag minister." One flag ministry proponent states: "I can tell you that something incredible happens in the spirit when we purposefully and prayerfully raise our flags. ... I create worship and warfare flags suitable for the beginner through advanced flag ministers, in sizes geared to the home, the sanctuary, and presentation dances. You will find a variety of styles and colors to suit all the moods of the Holy Spirit." (The flag minister has the responsibility to lift the right banner at the right time. This flag ministry relies heavily on the symbolic use of color in worship. Colors include; Red: the blood of Christ; Purple: authority, and Sonship; Blue: revelational knowledge; White: the Bride, purity; Turquoise: River of God; Orange: passion, power, and fire. Flags and banners are then spiritually choreographed by the flag minister in association with dance and timbrels.) (Source: "Flags and Banners … Spiritual Power Tools?," Orrel Steinkamp, The Plumbline, Nov/Dec 2002.)

10. Holy Laughter: In her book Possessing the Gates of the Enemy, Charismatic "prophetess" Cindy Jacobs claims that "the weapon of laughter is extremely powerful and even necessary as an intercessory manifestation. … It breaks Satan's power to depress you and oppress you in the midst of battle. … Laughter also can be a form of direct warfare against Satan and his forces because it mocks the enemy" (Cindy Jacobs, "Tearing Down Strong Holds Through Praise," Charisma, August 1993; adapted from Possessing the Gates of the Enemy). The uncontrollable "holy laughter" associated in recent years with the ministries of John Arnott (pastor of the Toronto Airport Church), Evangelist Rodney Howard-Browne, Kenneth Hagin, and others, is supposed to be a form of spiritual warfare. Yet nowhere in the New Testament do we see the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles laughing at the devil or laughing in order to war against the devil. Where do we see them being overcome by a spirit of laughter, falling to the floor and rolling around, laughing uncontrollably, even during preaching, etc.? All of these things, though, can be witnessed at many Charismatic meetings.

11. Marching: Another practice which has been popularized by the spiritual warfare movement is marching around a building or a city, etc., to claim authority over it (also seen as an extension of "prayer walking"). The Global March for Jesus events were originally established in England by Charismatics for the purpose of direct geographical spiritual warfare against territorial spirits. The March for Jesus book, written in 1992 by Graham Kendrick (influential Contemporary Christian musician) and Roger Forster (plus two others) states: "Our objectives were first and foremost spiritual. We wanted to see a change in the spiritual atmosphere over our country." As their authority, they cite Joshua's march around Jericho, Daniel's experience, and similar things. The March for Jesus events, therefore, have sought to exercise spiritual warfare by marching, praying, and Christian unity. 

The practice of spiritual warfare marching is primarily based on Joshua's march around Jericho. Cindy Jacobs says: "The march that Joshua and his troops made around Jericho was a type of intercession. … This type of marching produces deliverance today just as it did for the Israelites." But there is not a hint in the New Testament that Christians are to practice such a thing. The Bible does not tell us that Joshua's march around Jericho was a form of intercession. Further, Joshua's march was commanded by God for that one unique occasion; and like many other things in the Bible, it was never repeated. Those who lead the spiritual warfare movement create great confusion by pulling passages out of context and failing to rightly divide the Word of God. Note, also, that the spiritual warfare advocate tries to prove the truth of this doctrine by anecdotal  experience. Doctrine is not proved by experience. The devil can give experiences and feelings to delude people (Matt. 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13,14; 2 Thess. 2:9-11; Rev. 13:14). The only proof that a doctrine or practice is true is whether or not it is based properly upon the Bible.

12. The Settler's Stake: A form of SLSW, the "Settler's" stake began in San Francisco in the late-1990s and spread to St. Louis in 1999. Small groups of Charismatics, under cover of darkness, visited key sites in the city, such as government buildings, financial and educational institutions, to perform the following ceremony: They dig a hole, bury a Bible, then drive a foot-long stake into the ground (with "Jesus is Lord" written on the top and Bible verses inscribed on the sides) over the spot, anoint the area with oil, and then take communion and pray. Bill Malone, director of Pray USA, claims this is "a prophetic act" by which the participants are "making a statement to God and to Satan that this land belongs to Jesus Christ and we are taking it back and kicking the squatters out" (Charisma News Service, Dec. 7, 1999). This practice is complete nonsense, of course, with absolutely no authority in the Scriptures. It is more akin to pagan practices than to New Testament Christianity.


The Apostle Peter must have had the Old Testament believer Job in mind when the Holy Spirit moved him to picture Satan, the devil, as one who "prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pe. 5:8). What did Peter prescribe for the believer to do in light of Satan's persistent harassments? We are to be persistent in our fight against him. Peter says that the hard times which Satan may put us through do not result in aid to Satan's cause; instead, godly resistance to Satan produces Christ-like character and maturity, giving a battle-tested stability to our lives (1 Pe. 5:9-11). Even the attacks of Satan produce opportunities for the believer to trust God, resulting in an even greater development of patience and endurance.

How does Peter instruct believers to react to this attack? Not by talking about how you are going to run the Devil out of town or give him a black eye or even two black eyes. Not by binding or rebuking him. Instead, the Scriptures say that we are to "resist him" (1 Pe. 5:9). The same command is given in James 4:7 and Ephesians 6:11,13,14. This is what the Bible specifically, repeatedly, clearly says is to be our strategy when Satan attacks a believer: "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Scripture does not say to develop from experience a formula of rebuking, binding, insulting, or arguing with Satan and the demonic. Instead, we are to follow God's explicit instructions on this issue. By habitually following God's Word, we will see the Lord bring stability and character into our lives, including the type of endurance that we need in order to engage in spiritual warfare without fainting in the day of battle.

It should be increasingly clear to the reader that false spiritual warfare clichés are generated by the false mysticism of our non-Christian culture as it influences the professing church. The Biblical command to resist the attacks of the demonic are made effective as a product of normal spiritual growth and maturity in the life of a believer. This kind of non-mystical, day-in, day-out growth strengthens the commitment of a believer to resist the temptations of the devil by obeying the Biblical commandments. The mysticism which produces the false spiritual warfare clichés weakens true spiritual growth by transferring the responsibility for spiritual warfare to the magic of speaking words and phrases. Instead, the equipped believer resists the influence of Satan and the demonic through an informed commitment to Christ.


1  While we are instructed by Scripture to be of one mind, the evangelical today scoffs at the idea of true Biblical unity based on complete agreement with, and submission to, God's holy Word. The only use of the word "unity" in the New Testament is found in Ephesians chapter four. It is a "unity of the Spirit" (v. 3), not of men. It is a "unity of faith" (v. 13) based on sound doctrine for which believers are to contend, not water down (Jude 3). No real spiritual unity can exist apart from doctrinal unity, and we are to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Rom. 16:17).  [Back to Text]

2  The linkage of aggressive territorial spiritual warfare and evangelism was first introduced at the Latter Rain revival. Perhaps the first actual expression of this teaching was reported in the April 1949 issue of the Sharon Star, the official publication of the Latter Rain: "Suddenly without warning a mighty wind swept through the building; Brother Crane was standing teaching the class when he was almost swept off his feet … This great demonstration was accompanied by a vision of the Manifest Sons of God in the last days of this dispensation. This mighty army was seen conquering all before it. Sickness and disease were vanishing and all evil spirits were scattered before the triumphant power of God's people." (George Hawtin, "Editorial," Sharon Star, December 1948, pp. 2,3) 

Today many people being introduced to territorial spiritual warfare evangelism have no knowledge of the genesis of these practices. Perhaps one of the most surprising examples of this is from the leading proponent of territorial spiritual warfare, C. Peter Wagner, who admits to no knowledge, whatsoever, regarding the Latter Rain and its teaching. He states: "So I never even heard of the Latter Rain, Kingdom Now … Manifested Sons of God or any of those things … Now since I have become an advocate for contemporary apostles and prophets, all of these things have been coming up, but I haven't had any historical hook to hang them on." 

Latter Rain teaching of territorial spiritual warfare has now become sufficiently disassociated from its historical links so that the spiritual warfare world-view is now becoming widely accepted. Frank Peretti's novels teach territorial spiritual warfare in sensational detail. Certain evangelists in Latin America attributed their success to spending days of wrestling with territorial demons. 

Indeed, the concept of warfare is found in both the Old and New Testaments. But nowhere is it suggested that believers must attack, bind, and defeat named local spiritual entities as the indispensable means of evangelism. In contrast to the Qumran community (of Dead Sea Scrolls fame, whose liturgy included curses of Satan alongside praises to God), Jude 8-10 and 2 Peter 2:10-12 instructs believers not to bring "reviling accusations against the devil" (NKJV). Satan is indeed a formidable adversary (1 Pe. 5:8), yet Jesus conquered him on the cross (Col. 2:15) and will one day confine him in hell (Rev. 2:1-10). In the meantime, we are called to oppose Satan, but not by identifying the names of his subordinates, reconstructing their hierarchy, or mapping their supposed jurisdictions. 

The famous spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6:10-18 portrays spiritual warfare as the believer's defensive stance rather than prescribing a strategy for attacking and binding specific demons. Indeed, Paul states that we wrestle against "principalities and powers in the heavenlies," but how does Paul describe this wrestling? If Paul meant for believers to attack and destroy these heavenly adversaries, the inspired apostle would have indicated at that point in his writing that he practiced it and expected his churches to practice it in evangelism. But he did not. Indeed, as many exegetes have noted, Paul admonishes putting on the whole armor of God in order to "withstand in the evil day" In light of the "hosts of spiritual wickedness m heavenly places," Paul instructs: "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day and have done all to stand, stand therefore." (Eph. 6:13,14a, NKJV). Among the spiritual weapons, the only possible offensive weapon is the "Sword of God's word." Even here, the word used for sword is "machaira" which was a short sword, more like a dagger that could be used for attack, but in context, suggests personal defense.

The "demolishing strongholds" passage of 2 Corinthians 10:4,5 is often used by writers of this movement. In this context, "strongholds" are clearly "arguments and imaginations: that challenge the knowledge of God." The means of spiritual attack and advance in the NT is always the preaching and defense of the gospel message. The sword of God's Word is obviously more effective in evangelism than the spiritual war games of identifying, binding, and destroying local demons. The sword of God's Word is even "sharper than any two-edged sword."  [Return to Text]

* Unless otherwise cited, this material has been excerpted and/or adapted from three primary sources: (1) a Biblical Awareness Ministries' report by Thomas Ice ("An Examination of False Spiritual Warfare Clichés," Biblical Perspectives, Vol. V. No. 2, Mar/Apr 1992). (Biblical Awareness Ministries and its newsletter, Biblical Perspectives, no longer exist.); (2) an article from the November/December 2001, The Plumbline, "Spiritual Warfare Evangelism: How Did We Get Here?," by Orrel Steinkamp (the latter comprising the “Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare” section and Endnote #2); and (3) "Strange Spiritual Warfare," by David Cloud, FBIS, 6/30/00. (The use of the BAM material should in no way imply an endorsement by BDM or its editor of Tommy Ice or of his current ministry affiliations; in fact, because of Ice's affiliation with the ministries of Tim LaHaye, the guru of Four Temperaments/Personality Testing in the professing church, we do not recommend any of Ice's books or articles written after the demise of Biblical Awareness Ministries at year-end 1992.)

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 11/2003