Discerning Best Practices in Spiritual Warfare
In the Pentecostal movement, many spiritual-warfare practices have biblical roots. Some, however, draw vocabulary from the Bible but have a tenuous biblical foundation. How do we sort out good spiritual-warfare practices from bad ones?
To answer that question, George Paul Wood, Enrichment journal executive editor, interviewed members of the Assemblies of God World Missions executive committee: Greg Mundis, executive director, and regional directors Omar Beiler (Eurasia), Mike McClaflin (Africa), Dick Nicholson (Latin America/Caribbean), Paul Trementozzi (Europe), and Russ Turney (Asia Pacific).
In the Preface to The ScrewtapeLetter, C.S. Lewis writes: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves [meaning the devils] are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” Western culture tends to be materialistic. Majority-World culture tends to be magical. How does culture shape a person’s interpretation of what the Bible says about spiritual warfare?
MUNDIS: Secularism and our materialistic worldview have permeated our culture. This worldview tends to skew us in regard to the spirit world. We have to overcome this prejudice when we go into other contexts and other cultures.
McCLAFLIN: The cynicism of the West does not exist in most cases in Africa. Therefore Africans can be easily misled. However, once they know the truth, they can be easily led and discipled. The distance between any African and the supernatural, the mystical, or the spiritual is very short. The umbilical cord of who they are is deeply rooted in the mystical. The gospel is so penetrating because the receptive heart sets the stage to believe in something spiritual.
TURNEY: In Asia, most of the cultures have an animistic foundation. Asia is probably close to Africa, in the sense that people are in tune with what they see as the spirit world. I was in Vietnam at General Council when an evangelist asked 150 pastors, “How many of you have cast out devils?” He was expecting a few hands. Every hand went up. In that culture, casting out demons is normal. They deal with it and move on.
NICHOLSON: I saw a video clip of a movie called The Enemy God. The producers interviewed people from the YanomamÃ¶ tribe, an indigenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest of Venezuela. Bautista Cajicuwa, the shaman — the priest of the tribe — believed there was a conflict. In a trance the spirits told him there is a God, but He hates you.
“The missionaries,” he said, “are telling us there is a God, but He loves you. So whom do we believe?”
That gets to the heart of it. In most of the world, especially in spiritistic and animistic cultures, there is no question about whether there are spirits. The driving question is, “What do I have to do to appease the spirits?” The fear factor is so powerful. People tend to lapse into a default mode of fear of the spirits, even if they have seen the light on other issues.
First John 3:8 describes the ministry of Jesus this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” When Jesus’ ministry is applied to the life of the individual in destroying the devil’s work, does it take place instantaneously? Is it a process, or both?
TREMENTOZZI: It is both instantaneous and a process. I remember what Dick Dobbins said years ago: “If we give it a pill and it goes away, it’s not the devil.”
In the European mind, the process is important because it is an intellectual process. They contend that if we cannot reason this thing through, then maybe something else is going on.
NICHOLSON: The Bible uses two words to describe demon activity: cast out and healing. “He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38). There is a casting out. There is a word that brings light. It is healthy for people to believe that in this moment God has done something great for them.
But it is counterproductive if nothing else happens. The Bible teaches that demons that are cast out will attempt to come back (Matthew 12:43-45). Healing is a process by which we experience a work of grace to close the gaps and no longer give place to the devil. Learning to engage in that healing process is important for any believer.
McCLAFLIN: Fear is a huge controlling factor. But Jesus indicates that, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
I ask Africans after conversion, “How do you feel?”
They say, “I’m free.”
We specifically ask this for emphasis.
We do not go to Africa to get people saved; we go there to get them to heaven. We draw a distinction between the initial act of redemption and the discipling process. They will be instantly saved — they will feel instant relief — and then the devil goes to work. The process of building disciples and the cultivation process is arduous in that cultural context.
BEILER: Pat and I lived in Moscow for a few years and traveled throughout Russia, where Shamanism and Buddhism are common. I was invited to speak at Bethany Church, the largest church in Russia. I met with the pastor prior to the service and asked for instructions. He said that after the sermon and altar call, I should sit down, and the deacons would take over.
I was curious and pressed him a little more. He said, “Because of the shamanistic background and lifestyle of appeasing spirits, the people tend to bring that into their Christian walk, and now they are just trying to appease God.”
The deacons were trained to first cast demons out of people who responded to the altar call. The deacons did an exorcism deliverance prayer to take advantage of the moment and to break the demonic powers. Then they led each person to faith. This was an instantaneous act to break the bondage.
This church is strong in discipling. When people come to the big tent and have the devil cast out of them and receive Jesus, the church immediately connects them with a home group where a strong discipleship process takes place.
The English Bible translates the Greek word daimonízomaias a “demon possessed person.” Some believe that word might be more accurately translated as “demonized.” In that case, possession is an extreme form of demonization. If possession is the most extreme form, what other tools does the devil use to influence Christians?
McCLAFLIN: Fear is a strategic tool the devil uses in Africa. Africans are always looking for a safe harbor. Safety for them is anything that makes sure they have insurance against the things they do not understand. Fear is always at the surface.
When Maasai come to the Lord, we do not have to say anything about dress or things they do in their heathenistic culture. They immediately go to their homes and remove the things that relate to the Maasai culture. The criticism they experience because of fear from the rest of the village over what might happen to them is huge.
Fear drives so much of what we do. It causes some good Christians to want a little bit of insurance. They will keep a remembrance of the past “just in case.” This disappears with knowledge of the Word, and as believers become maturing disciples. But in the early stages of their spiritual journey it is very critical.
TURNEY: The things of the flesh are not the influence of the Spirit. They’re the influence of the world. Scripture tells us that Satan is the controller of the world, even of the nations. The demonic is influential in our lives because we live in a fallen world. That doesn’t mean, however, we’re demon possessed. It does mean that there is an influence we have to overcome, and it happens on every level of life, whether we live in the U.S., Europe, or Africa. The realities are the same.
MUNDIS: In the Old Testament, idols were in homes. As Paul states, an inanimate object is not necessarily god-like or devil-like. How I view that object is what matters. What is the object exercising on me?
In Serbia, especially among the gypsies, a shamanistic understanding of the spiritual world prevails. During a revival in Serbia, a group had received the Lord. The first thing they did was go back to their village, take out their magic books, their idols, and publicly burn them. It was a sign of freedom for them. By doing this they exorcised things that had control over them — whether it was real or perceived.
Scripture is clear — “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). That love begins in the cataclysmic process of the initial salvation experience. As believers learn to grow in love with Jesus, that fear is driven out.
John Wimber popularized the term power encounter, which refers to the diagnosis and cure of demonization. How do you distinguish when a person’s problem is caused by a demon as opposed to a medical or psychological problem?
TREMENTOZZI:I’ve actually seen this in my background in counseling. In one particular session, the person was determined she was demon possessed and was going to show me she was. She literally got down on the ground and started barking and spitting. She then sat back in the chair as if to say, “See!”
I looked at her and said, “God just told me you’re not demon possessed.”
She said, “I’m not?”
I said, “I just had a revelation from God, and you’re not demon possessed at all.”
She said, “Oh, thank goodness.”
I think sometimes we are too quick to jump to conclusions because the behavior is so radical.
In many respects, it is easier to cast out demons than it is to deal with other issues of demonization. For the demon-possessed person, you can pray for deliverance and the demon is gone. But when it is the flesh imbedded in the habits of one’s life, it is like a muscle that has not been worked for a long time — it is much more difficult to handle and get rid of.
TURNEY: Any time our national church has an atmosphere of great worship and the presence of God is overwhelming and powerful that is when demonic influence in someone’s life will usually manifest. The closer the church gets to Jesus, the more we can make the distinction. Demons are uncomfortable in God’s presence.
MUNDIS: Pentecostals must deliberately and intentionally move closer to understanding the spirit world. God has given us through the Holy Spirit the gift of discernment. We need to push back the secular materialistic understanding we default to and move closer to Christ. When we do, the Holy Spirit helps us understand what is going on. We need this discernment.
If we agree that a Christian can be demonized — meaning having devilish influences working on him or her — can a Christian actually be demon possessed?
McCLAFLIN: There are varying degrees of demonic control, but I do not believe a Christian can be demon possessed. The Spirit of God resides in our soul; He owns us. But we still have our mind to deal with. What the devil can do to confuse the mind, to influence us in certain circumstances, indeed is a demonizing process.
TREMENTOZZI: I don’t believe Christians can be demon possessed. The Bible says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). You can argue that the terminology “filled” means the same as “possessed.” You can be dominated — controlled — by the Holy Spirit. As believers, we are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
A demon-possessed person is a person who is completely controlled by a demon(s). A demonized person is a person who is influenced by a demon. That is an important distinction. I don’t see how a person can be completely controlled by a demon if the Spirit of God is in him or her.
MUNDIS: The blood of Jesus Christ is so powerful and all encompassing that light and darkness cannot dwell in the same vessel. The blood of Jesus washes away every sin and restores us. How can demonic powers cross the bloodline?
NICHOLSON: God created our human spirit as a place for the Holy Spirit to dwell. The devil’s intent is to occupy the human spirit and try to replace God.
Demon possession takes place when the devil gains full control of a person’s life. A person cannot easily become demon possessed. I do not believe demons can cross the bloodline and occupy or possess the human spirit once a person is truly a child of God.
C. Peter Wagner popularized the concepts of territorial spirits, spiritual mapping, and strategic-level spiritual warfare. Are territorial spirits real? Is it a Christian’s job to engage in spiritual mapping and strategic level spiritual warfare?
TREMENTOZZI: This is an example of what the devil does. He gives you truth, and then he pushes it so far that it becomes absurd. It becomes a negative testimony on the kingdom of God. Scripture is clear that Satan is the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). What does it mean? I don’t know that we can understand it completely. There are spiritual agents and activity going on of which we know little.
In Daniel 10, God heard the prayer from the moment Daniel prayed. But it took 21 days for his prayer to be answered because a battle was going on between the messenger and the prince of Persia. People want to understand this, so they begin to reason and think about theories and spiritual mapping. I think it’s beyond our human capacity to fully understand. Nor do I think it’s productive and a good use of our time.
Scripture is clear that there are spiritual strongholds. But why do we try to bring it into the physical realm when there is a metaphysical, spiritual world that we will never completely understand this side of heaven? I do not think we have the capacity to map.
McCLAFLIN: Battles are taking place in the unseen world, but God and His archangels are taking care of them. As believers our primary responsibility is to make sure our lives are pure before God.
Some fights are ours; some are not. Activity in the spiritual world is beyond our comprehension, so we should let the Lord fight those battles. Let us not assume responsibility for battles that are not ours to fight. We fight the battles that confront us daily by praying that the Lord gives us the strength to do so.
TURNEY: The largest Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches in the world are in South Korea.
South Korea is a nation of Christians who pray. Prayer has led to tremendous breakthroughs in individual lives. Miraculous things happen when they pray.
But from my perspective, it is not so much that their prayers have been against the principalities of their nation. Rather, their prayers have brought tremendous breakthroughs in individual lives.
The praying Christians of Korea are not praying vague prayers. They are specific in praying about people and families and individuals in specific situations. When there is a tremendous amount of prayer focused the right way, God does amazing things.
Comment on the terms binding and loosing. Do Christians have the power to bind and loose devils?
MUNDIS: I was teaching in a revival at a church in southern Austria. A group from another country was heavy into spiritual warfare, binding and loosing, spiritual mapping, and territorial spirits. I would wake up every morning to hear them binding and loosing the spirits on this city. After 5 days, I said to them, “You have bound these spirits for 5 days now. Who in the world is loosing them?”
Sometimes we have more spiritual pride than we should have concerning binding and loosing and what we think we can do. We have a tendency to market an experience and try to replicate it. That is where we run into danger.
TREMENTOZZI: The context in Matthew 16 and 18 has nothing to do with the binding and loosing of demonic spirits. A lot of teaching about binding and loosing is completely out of context. When used together in Scripture, the terms bind and loose refer to authority those in leadership have to forbid (bind) and permit (loose) certain practices or behaviors.
Dr. W. E. Nunnally of Evangel University has written an excellent article on this subject. You can read it on EJ’s website (http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200901/200901_112_Theo_Enrichment.cfm).
BEILER: I have been in services and situations where I have seen people trying to bind and loose whatever. What concerns me is when everybody models it and makes it the norm in every meeting. Suddenly, we have this new formula for binding and loosing.
It concerns me when you go a place and they are binding and loosing everything under the sun. There are appropriate times and prophetic moments when God comes on the scene and does the miraculous. But I do not buy into the idea that Christians can bind and loose devils.
What are your thoughts on generational curses?
McCLAFLIN: The word curse creates a dilemma here. We are adding something that I do not think the Bible sustains.
TURNEY: I see generational influence, habits, and patterns that have to be relearned, and God has to set people free in their mind.
TREMENTOZZI: Sometimesit is not hard to understand how some people embrace the idea of generational curses when they see certain sins taking root in families and continuing from generation to generation. Regardless, I do not embrace the idea of generational curses.
MUNDIS: Many know my family’s history. Divorce, divorce, divorce. Some people might want to call that a curse. I don’t, but it’s certainly a pattern. It’s a lifestyle. It’s something that’s seen and modeled, but it is not a generational curse.
In Mark 9, the disciples failed in their attempt to exorcise a demonized person. Jesus replied: “This kind can come out only by prayer” (verse 29). What is the rest of the world doing that the West is not, seeing that spiritual vibrancy is being experienced in other regions of the world but not here?
McCLAFLIN: What is happening in Tanzania is beyond comprehension. Tanzania has become a nation of prayer. The people pray all the time. Everything we see happening in this nation can be attributed to the fact they have decided that prayer is the way to go. It has worked for them.
TURNEY: Great revivals come when people pray. The Korean church is a praying church. The Koreans helped bring the Filipinos to another level of prayer. God does unbelievable things when people pray. Prayer changes us. It changes our perspective of God’s Word. We get a whole different viewpoint when we focus on prayer. We are not always praying that God will change the situation. He changes us. In the process, the situation changes.
MUNDIS: God created this relationship with man, not as monologues, but dialogues. Synergy develops when we dialogue. God enriches us as we dialogue with Him. We have compared the supernatural and the mystical, but that overflow then causes us to become the answers to prayers.
The prayer that beats on my heart, of course, is, “Pray therefore, to the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth workers.” When we see candidates, we understand that people outside of America are praying and seeking God for somebody to come and share the gospel.
TREMENTOZZI: Prayer speaks of the relationship God wants to have with us. If prayer is not something that makes a difference in the world, it is an exercise in futility. Prayer is an exercise of partnership with God.
We do not understand spiritual warfare. A lot of spiritual agents are out there. God has given us one clue. We are going to do it together. We need to stand in the gap. If we do not, then some things God wants to get done are going to have to wait until someone else stands in the gap. I believe prayer makes a huge difference, and I think spiritual warfare is the essence of everything we do.