On February 12 of this year about 30 prayer leaders met in Pasadena at the invitation of Peter Wagner for a Post-Lausanne II Consultation on Cosmic-Level Spiritual Warfare. At least five workshops at Lausanne II in Manila last year had dealt with "territorial spirits" and their relationship to world evangelization. The Pasadena meeting was strictly ad-hoc and aimed simply to pray and brainstorm about wrestling with principalities and powers in world evangelization.
What shall we make of this new warfare strategy in evangelism? Is it the sort of thing you only read about in Frank Peretti's novels? Or is it terribly real and strategic for finishing the great commission among "hard" and "closed" peoples of the world?
First of all, what are we talking about? Increasingly, missionaries and evangelists are asking whether the "principalities, powers, world rulers of this present darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places" may refer to a hierarchy of demonic beings, some of whom are charged with darkening and oppressing a specific territory or people. If so, it may be that some kind of concerted prayer of resistance focused on these territorial spirits might "open" a territory to the gospel in unprecedented ways.
For example, one report from Lausanne II said that in the fall of 1984 a group of pastors and leaders from the San Nicolas/Rosario area of Argentina gathered to discuss and pray about spiritual warfare. The gathering was prompted by the realization that 109 towns within 100 miles of their training center had no Christian witness. They did some preliminary studies and discovered that the town of Arroyo Seco appeared to be the seat of satanic activity in the region.
Years before, a well-known warlock (sorcerer) by the name of Mr. Meregildo operated out of that town. He was so famous and his cures so dramatic that people would trek to Arroyo Seco from overseas for his services. Before he died, he evidently passed his powers on to 12 disciples. Three times a church was established in Arroyo Seco and three times it closed down in the face of severe spiritual opposition.
After several days of Bible study and prayer, the pastors and leaders came together in one accord and placed the entire area under spiritual authority. A few of them traveled to Arroyo Seco. Positioning themselves across the street from the headquarters of Mr. Meregildo's followers, they served an eviction notice on the forces of evil. They announced to them that they were defeated and that Jesus Christ would attract many to himself now that the church was united and had pledged to proclaim him. Less than three years later, 82 of those towns had evangelical churches in them. An unverified report indicates that as of today, all of them have a church or a Christian witness.1
What does the Scripture say about this sort of thing? There is some relevant biblical truth to consider. First, we need to recognize the teaching that obstacles to effective evangelism are not only human pride (John 5:44) and hardness of heart (Acts 28:25-28), but also satanic opposition. This opposition comes in various forms.
For example, Satan works in the hearts of the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2); he blinds unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4) and plants them throughout the world (Matthew 13:39); he deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9); he does signs and wonders to lead astray if possible even the elect (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Matthew 24:24); he holds people captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:25ff, Luke 11:21ff); he takes the word away when it is sown (Matthew 13:4, 19); he gives out authority to the world rulers (Luke 4:6; Revelation 13:2); he uses people to hinder others (Acts 13:10); he thwarts mission plans (1 Thessalonians 2:18) and he throws ministers in prison (Revelation 2:10).
This raises the question whether a kind of focused warfare-praying should be a component of our evangelism and mission strategy alongside the preaching of the gospel. Should satanic opposition be explicitly resisted in prayer (James 4:7), along with petitions for boldness of the preacher (Ephesians 6:19) and the opening of the sinner's heart (Acts 16:14)?
More specifically, are there territorial spirits that darken whole regions or people? Should there be a concerted prayer effort to "bind" or disarm these powers for the sake of more fruitful evangelism?
The passage of Scripture that points most clearly to the possibility that some demonic powers oversee territories is Daniel 10. Daniel set himself to pray and fast for three weeks. At the end of the time an angel appeared to him and said that God had heard his prayer from the first day he began to humble himself and pray (v. 12). The reason he had taken three weeks to come, said the angel, was this: "The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people" (vv. 13-14).
Evidently the evil angelic power that fought the angel who was sent to Daniel had some special relation to the territory or nation of Persia. In verse 21 the angel says to Daniel, "But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I am through with him, lo, the prince of Greece will come." Again, the demonic power seems to have a special connection with a territory or nation of Greece.
Evidently one reason this angel came to Daniel was to encourage him in his praying. Ronald Wallace, the Scottish pastor and teacher, comments on this passage,
Daniel's most intense agony, when he fasted and prayed with great conflict of soul, took place during the period of a great struggle in heaven between Michael and the prince of Persia (verses 3, 12). The conflict ended in victory for Michael, but the implication is that Daniel himself, in his sensitivity to what was going on in the other realm, was caught up into this conflict, was able to participate in it through his prayers, and thus to help to bring about sooner the successful outcome.2
Is there any missions and evangelical significance to the apparent fact that Brazilian voodoo witches were offering sacrifices for the protection of Panama's chief of state, Manuel Noriega? Is there a "prince of Panama" to which these sacrifices were being made? Could he be discerned and opposed in concerted warfare prayer?
Was there a "prince" – a "principality or power" – behind the Nazi regime? Tom White of Mantle of Praise Ministries tells a story of someone involved.
In 1983 we worked with a new convert, a middle-aged German man who had grown up in West Berlin in the late 1930's. His grandfather and uncle had both been involved in the Nazi movement. He recalled secret meetings of German government officials in his home. With discernment and prayer, a stronghold of darkness was exposed, with an ugliness and intensity bound up with the very forces of anti-Christ that fed the diabolical schemes of Hitler. Though the earthly movement finally failed, the spiritual principalities of German witchcraft and hatred of the Jew are still present. Because of the strategic influence of this one life, we battled for our brother's freedom over the course of a year. In the final session, a strong, dark spirit manifested [itself], directly threatening my life. Holding firm in faith, with the sword of the Spirit, four other pastors and myself prevailed to break Satan's claim on this man. Today, he and his wife serve the Lord in Reno, Nevada, witnessing to the grace of God and setting other captives free.3
I consider myself a beginner in this matter of "cosmic-level spiritual warfare." I have no program to put forward. I find myself being drawn from many sides into realities and struggles that I never even thought about five years ago. My aim in writing this article is to lay the matter before you for your consideration and prayer.
Who knows whether the intensification of spiritual conflict in the last decade of the second millennium will not take on dimensions foreign to our somewhat domesticated spirituality? Be on the alert! Let us not be ignorant of any of Satan's devices (neither personal nor cosmic). Let us learn how to "resist him, firm in our faith." And let us never forget the word of Revelation 12:11, "They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death."
2 Wallace, Ronald, The Lord is King: The Message of Daniel (InterVarsity Press, 1979, p. 179).
3 This account is taken from a paper presented by Tom White at Lausanne II entitled "A Model for Discerning, Penetrating and Overcoming Ruling Principalities and Powers" p. 6.