Spiritual warfare is the Christian concept of fighting against the work of preternatural evil forces. It is based on the biblical belief in evil spirits, or demons, that are said to intervene in human affairs in various ways. Various Christian groups have adopted practices to repel such forces, as based on their doctrine of Christian demonology.
Prayer is a common form of spiritual warfare among Christians. Other practices may include exorcism, the laying on of hands, fasting, and anointing with oil.
Doctrines of demonology
Jewish demonology escalated with the rise of Jewish pseudepigraphic writings of the 1st Century BCE, in particular with Enochic apocrypha. Jewish apocrypha initially influenced post-New Testament writings of the early fathers, which further defined Christian demonology. Thus followed literary works such as The Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius’s epistle to the Ephesians, and Origen’s Contra Celsum.
Mainstream Christianity typically acknowledge a belief in the reality (or ontological existence) of demons, fallen angels, the Devil in Christianity and Satan. In Christian evangelism, doctrines of demonology are influenced by interpretations of the New Testament, namely with the Gospels, in that dealing with spirits became a customary activity of Jesus’ ministry. Mark states that “he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (Mark 1:39).
Exorcisms may be promoted by evangelists referring to Jesus comment, “If I drive out demons by the spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is upon you” (Matt.12:28; Luke 11:20).
Evangelical Christian traditions believe that Satan and his minions exercise significant influence over this world and its power structures. A hostile realm in conflict with the kingdom of God is recorded in the Bible by the Apostle John, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) and by Jesus who referred to Satan as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), which may point to the concept of Territorial Spirits.
Paul elaborates on demonic hierarchy in Ephesians 6 where he also mentions, by way of metaphor, those qualities needed for defense against them. Two of those articles, the helmet of Salvation and the breastplate of Righteousness, are also mentioned in the book of Isaiah.
It is also believed that Satan occupies a temporal existence when the Apostle Paul refers to him as “the god of this age” (2 Cor.4:4). Further, Paul’s epistles focus on the Victory of Christ over principalities and powers. Evangelical interpretation has history divided into two eras: the present evil age and the age to come which supports the concept of the Second coming of Christ.
Imagery of spiritual warfare is displayed in the Book of Revelation when after the War in Heaven (Rev.12:7), the beasts and kings of the earth wage war against God’s people (Rev.19:19), and a final battle ensues with Satan and the nations of the earth against God himself (Rev.20:8).
Practices in Christianity
Christian practices of spiritual warfare vary throughout Christianity. The development of specific spiritual warfare techniques has also generated many discussions in the Christian missions community. Critical exchanges of views may be found in periodicals like the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (such as in volume 31, number 2 published in 1995), and in conferences sponsored by the Evangelical Missions Society. In 2000, an international collaborative attempt was made by evangelicals and charismatics in the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization to reach some common agreement about spiritual warfare. The conference gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, and yielded a consultation document as well as many technical papers published as the book Deliver Us from Evil.
Spiritual warfare has also been practiced by non-Christians and in non-Christian countries. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network commentator Carl Moeller, spiritual warfare is practiced even in North Korea, a country that has been described as the most dangerous place on earth to be Christian. Non-Christian media reported on the African spiritual warrior Pastor Thomas Muthee visit to America who prayed over a 2008 presidential candidate. The Nigerian Tribune, the oldest surviving private newspaper in Nigeria, has published articles calling for the need for spiritual warfare. In the case of Haiti, American televangelist Pat Robertson and others blamed the earthquake of 2010 on demons, and called for Christians to increase spiritual warfare prayer.
Expositors of spiritual warfare include Jessie Penn-Lewis, who published the Pentecostal 1903 book, War on the Saints, prolific author Pastor Win Worley started publishing his Hosts of Hell series in 1976, and Kurt E. Koch published Occult ABC, which all contain elements of the concept of spiritual warfare, if not explicitly using the expression. In 1991, C. Peter Wagner published Confronting the Powers: How the New Testament Church Experienced the Power of Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare and edited Territorial Spirits. In 1992, Dr. Ed Murphy wrote a modern 600 page book on the subject, “The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare“, from the point of view of deliverance ministry. Laws of Deliverance, From Proverbs, 1980, 1983, 1995, 2000, 2003, written by Marilyn A. Ellsworth, is another important Biblical work of authority, as is her book ICBM Spiritual Warfare, God’s Unbeatable Plan. Other notable expositions on spiritual warfare were written by Pastor Win Worley, Mark Bubeck, and Neil Anderson.
Pope John Paul II stated, “‘Spiritual combat’… is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which monks engage every day against the temptations”.
In modern times the views of individual Roman Catholics have tended to divide into traditional and more modern understandings of the subject. An example of a more modern view of the demonic is found in the work of the Dominican scholar Richard Woods’ The Devil.
The traditional outlook is represented by Father Gabriele Amorth who has written three books on his personal experiences as an exorcist for the Vatican: An Exorcist Tells His Story, and An Exorcist: More Stories, and An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: The Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels. Francis MacNutt, who was a priest within the Roman Catholic Charismatic Movement, has also addressed the subject of the demonic in his writings about healing.
The practice of exorcism was also known among the first generation of teachers and pastors in the Lutheran Reformation. Johannes Bugenhagen was the pastor of the Wittenberg town church and officiated at Martin Luther’s wedding. In a letter addressed to Luther and Melanchthon dated November 1530, Pomeranus recounted his experience of dealing with a young girl who showed signs of demon possession. Pomeranus’ method involved counseling the girl concerning her previous baptismal vows, he invoked the name of Christ and prayed with her. (Letter reproduced in Montgomery, Principalities and Powers).
The Anglican-Puritan writer William Gurnall wrote a lengthy three-volume work The Christian in Complete Armour that was published between 1662 and 1665. In this work Gurnall stressed the place of reading Scripture, prayer and the name of Christ.
In the American revival tradition among evangelicals, prominent preachers such as D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, R. A. Torrey and Billy Graham have all affirmed their belief in the existence of the demonic and had occasions to recount some of their own spiritual warfare encounters. In the nineteenth century, one of the major evangelical authorities on demon possession was the missionary to China, John Livingstone Nevius.
During the late twentieth century, evangelical writers such as Mark Bubeck and Merrill Unger presented their theological and pastoral response to demonic phenomena. The problem of demon possession and spiritual warfare became the subject of a Christian Medical Association symposium that was held in 1975. This symposium brought together a range of evangelical scholars in biblical studies, theology, psychology, anthropology, and missiology (see Montgomery, Demon Possession).
One of the very significant German writers is the Lutheran Kurt E. Koch whose work has influenced much of both evangelical and charismatic thought in the late twentieth century. The impact of his ideas has been recently examined by the folklore specialist Bill Ellis.
Spiritual warfare has become a prominent feature in Pentecostal traditions. The concept is well embedded in Pentecostal history, particularly through Jessie Penn-Lewis’s book War on the Saints arising from the Welsh Revival in the early twentieth century. However, Jessie Penn-Lewis preaches a very different kind of spiritual warfare than that preached by the third-wave Charismatic movement of today—notably C. Peter Wagner and Cindy Jacobs. Other Pentecostal and charismatic pastors include Don Basham, Derek Prince, Win Worley, Bishop Larry Gaiters, Dr. Marcus Haggard, and Missionary Norman Parish, who have emphasized using the power of the blood of Christ in the deliverance ministry.
Spiritual warfare has been applied to spiritual growth in holiness, or what is technically called sanctification. A preacher may discern that parishioners are experiencing obstacles in their faith, prayer life and general spiritual well-being. That process of discernment may yield an awareness of spiritual oppression caused by a combination of personal sin and demonic influence. The obstacles are then removed through prayer, delivering a parishioner from demonic possession, and breaking down false beliefs about God. Dr. Ed Murphy is the author of a modern 600-page tome on the subject from the point of view of deliverance ministry entitled The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare. See also The Ultimate Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Learn to Fight from Victory, Not for Victory (2015) where the author, Pedro Okoro espouses the notion of fighting from victory, not for victory. He teaches believers to stop struggling with the devil, and instead to start enforcing their authority as believers in Christ.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, “C. Peter Wagner, head of Global Harvest Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colo., is in the vanguard of the spiritual warfare movement.” In the version of spiritual warfare of Wagner and his associates and followers, “spiritual mapping” or “mapping” involves research and prayer, either to locate specific individuals who are then accused of witchcraft, or to locate individuals, groups, or locations that are thought to be victims of witchcraft or possessed by demons, against which spiritual warfare is then waged. Peter Wagner claims that this type of spiritual warfare was “virtually unknown to the majority of Christians before the 1990s”. According to Wagner, the basic methodology is to use spiritual mapping to locate areas, demon-possessed persons, occult practitioners such as witches and Freemasons, or occult idol objects like statues of Catholic saints, which are then named and fought, using methods ranging from intensive prayer to burning with fire. “[T]hey must burn the idols… the kinds of material things that might be bringing honor to the spirits of darkness: pictures, statues, Catholic saints, Books of Mormon… [T]he witches and warlocks had surrounded the area… When the flames shot up, a woman right behind Doris [Wagner’s wife] screamed and manifested a demon, which Doris immediately cast out!”
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they are engaged in a “spiritual, theocratic warfare” against false teachings and wicked spirit forces they say try to impede them in their preaching work. Where their religious beliefs have been in conflict with national laws or other authorities—particularly in countries where their work is banned—they have advocated the use of “theocratic war strategy” to protect their interests, by hiding the truth from God’s “enemies”, being evasive, or withholding truthful or incriminating information. The Watchtower told Witnesses: “It is proper to cover over our arrangements for the work that God commands us to do. If the wolfish foes draw wrong conclusions from our maneuvers to outwit them, no harm has been done to them by the harmless sheep, innocent in their motives as doves.”
In evangelism and worldwide Christian missions, former missionaries such as Charles Kraft and C. Peter Wagner have emphasized problems with demonic influences on the world mission fields and the need to drive demons out. Robert Guelich of Fuller Theological Seminary has questioned the extent to which spiritual warfare has shifted from its basic moorings from being a metaphor for the Christian life. He underlines how spiritual warfare has evolved into “spiritual combat” techniques for Christians to seek power over demons. Guelich argues that Paul’s writings in the Epistle to the Ephesians are focused on proclaiming the peace of God and nowhere specify any techniques for battling demons. He also finds that the novels of Frank Peretti are seriously at odds with both the gospel narratives on demons and Pauline teaching.
Missions specialists such Scott Moreau and Paul Hiebert have detected traces of animist thought encroaching on both evangelical and charismatic discourses about the demonic and spiritual warfare. Hiebert indicates that a dualist cosmology now appears in some spiritual warfare texts and it is based on the Greco-Roman mystery religions and Zoroastrian myths. However, Hiebert also chastises other evangelicals who have absorbed the modern secular outlook and have tended to downplay or even ignore the demonic. Hiebert speaks of the flaw of the excluded middle in the thinking of some evangelicals who have a cosmology of God in heaven and humans on earth, but have ignored the “middle” realm of the angelic and demonic.
Christian countercult movement
The excesses of allegations made in the satanic ritual abuse phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s have prompted critical reviews; however, these are due to the surreptitious nature of these cases. Some apologists in the Christian countercult movement have expressed concerns that spiritual warfare techniques seem at times to have been based on spurious stories and anecdotes without careful discernment and reflection. Some of these general concerns have been expressed by apologists like Elliot Miller (Christian Research Institute), and Bob and Gretchen Passantino in various articles published in the Christian Research Journal. Others, such as Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott, have called into question the claims of alleged ex-Satanists like Mike Warnke and Lauren Stratford whose stories have subsequently influenced many popular books about spiritual warfare and the occult. Bill Ellis’s work, Raising the Devil, has detected the presence of folkloric stories about the occult and demons circulating in evangelical and charismatic circles, which later become accepted as unquestioned facts.
Popular fictional portrayals of spiritual warfare are found in novels by Frank E. Peretti, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, and Darrin J Mason, Ominous. There are also many articles, books, and blog topics about this on Patheos.com.
- Guelich, Robert A. “Spiritual Warfare: Jesus, Paul and Peretti,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 13/1 (1991), pp. 33–64.
- Moreau, A Scott. Tokunboh Adeyemo, David G. Burnett, Bryant L. Myers & Hwa Yung, eds., Deliver Us From Evil: An Uneasy Frontier in Christian Mission (Monrovia: MARC, 2002). ISBN 983-897-041-7
- Wakeley, Mike. “A Critical Look at a New ‘Key’ to Evangelization,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 31/2 (1995), pp. 152–162. [a contra view](Also see Tai M. Yip, “Spiritual Mapping: Another Approach”, [a pro view] in the same edition).
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia