60. Spiritual Warfare

Clifford Denton

This is both a contemporary issue in the Church and a relevant subject for this edition of Tishrei. The term Spiritual Warfare has been used very freely over the last few years, along with other terms like Power Praise, Power healing, Prayer Power, Powerful Intercession and Power Evangelism. The idea of special powers given to Christians to overthrow the Devil and bring in the Kingdom of God alarms me because it reminds me of the parallel messages coming from the New Age Movement.

There seems to be some relationship between these concepts and the spiritualisation of Old Testament accounts (for example, the Conquest of Canaan is likened to the taking of strongholds through aggressive spiritual attacks on Satan’s strongholds). Now there may be some truth in this kind of analysis (indeed, there may be a lot of truth), but there is also a concern, because many people are applying formulas for conquering and subduing regions and nations that are not directed by the Lord. If we follow one avenue of teaching we might assume that Almighty God has given all authority to the Church to wage war on His behalf, without particular reference to Him for strategy. Indeed, I begin to suspect methods more and more when groups who spiritualise the Old Testament in this way also have a strong Post-Millenial view or a Restorationist approach to the Church in the world, which invariably also brings in a Replacement theology.

In short, I am concerned that there may be a movement growing which has a very unreal view of prayer and spiritual gifts but which is, nevertheless, trying to conquer Satan with human effort. Such approaches are dangerous and, I am thinking more and more, unscriptural. There seems to be a wide gulf between the intimacy of prayer from brokenness, humility and need, expressed in the articles of this journal and the headstrong ideas of some who would take the world by forceful spiritual power. These ideas are dangerous if, as I believe, Satan is far more powerful and deceptive than many think.

Now I am not against the idea that there are unique giftings and authorities within the Church, but I would expect mature “soldiers” to fight in the background rather than stir up the masses. It seems that the training of a “soldier” for the spiritual battle takes far less than the training of a professional soldier in the conventional armed forces, in the Church today. Hence we see all manner of people railing at Satan and claiming all sorts of things in the Name of Jesus – even children. Perhaps this is because there is so little to go on in the Bible concerning techniques of, so-called, Spiritual Warfare. Anyway, as Judson Cornwall points out in his excellent book “Whose War is it Anyway”, perhaps the soldier metaphor, relating to Christians, needs to be rethought: do we have a rightly balanced perspective?

I think it is time we came to our senses and realised that the spiritual conflict (which we are most certainly in) is in the hands of the Lord alone, and it is time for us to come to maturity in our relationship with Him, learning to pray and obey instructions from Him. Indeed, there is far more a case for learning to live according to Torah, and find the Lord’s protection that way, than to go off on spiritual battles. We will get plenty of opposition from our adversary, of course, but let’s find the correct strategy.

I wrote a paper entitled “Spiritual Warfare” in 1992 as the last in a series of six papers entitled “Truth About Deception in the Present Age”, published by Prophetic Word Ministries. While researching and writing on the major deception of the New Age Movement it occurred to me that this was an important topic and that elements of deception were creeping into the Church based on the overall manifestations of Satan in our day, of which aspects of so-called Spiritual Warfare were a part. This article is a brief overview of that paper.

I quote:

“Jesus warned that we would enter times when even the elect might be deceived, if that were possible (Matthew 24:24). Thus we are right to test all things in the deepest of ways. We might expect to find deception related to any topic on the Christian agenda even deception about deception!

“As we have already stated, there is absolutely no doubt that Satan is at work in all areas of deception and counterfeit, including all aspects of the New Age Movement. Indeed, the New Age Movement is founded on spiritual expectations and Lucifer is well known to many New Agers, albeit that they are deceived about his true nature and intent. There is no doubt that demonic forces are at work in close and intimate ways as New Agers call on so-called ‘Higher Masters of Wisdom’ and ‘Spirit Guides’. This movement in particular, among all the deceptive ideologies, has expectations relating to the spiritual powers and there is overwhelming evidence that these deceptive spiritual forces manifest themselves according to invitation and expectation. As Christians respond to these challenging times, therefore, they can be certain that the spirits of the Antichrist are abroad. Perhaps, and it seems very likely that this is so, the spiritual forces of darkness are active in a particularly significant way in this generation.

“At such a time in history the Church would be negligent if it was not properly warned and prepared. Thus it is not surprising to discover that there has been a considerable amount of teaching on what is called ‘Spiritual Warfare’ in recent years. Aspects of the spiritual enemy’s activities have been highlighted in seminars and in books which have raised up the awareness of a spiritual challenge involving the powers of Satan, and has stirred up considerable reaction in many Church fellowships.

“It is not the purpose of this paper to repeat the lessons that others have taught in this area, many of which are good and important lessons. It is more in response to my observations of what is happening in our fellowships in the train of even good teaching, than to the teaching itself, that this paper is being written. Not all of the teaching to which I refer is sound, of course, but there is some sound teaching, and we must emphasise that point strongly. Nevertheless, even sound teaching does not always result in sound practice. Give a sharp sword to someone untrained to use it and he will damage himself and others. It is possible that there is imbalance in the response of many Christians to even good teaching on “Spiritual Warfare”. If this is so, I would suggest that it is resulting in a kind of spiritual aggression towards the spiritual enemy which assumes an authority and responsibility which is not given or intended by the Lord our God. This can result from an assumption that the authority of Jesus has been given in a general way which does not rely on the deep abiding principles of John 15 and 1 John, therefore, may also result in Christians practising warfare according to fleshly impulsion and mental reasoning, quite separate from God; right principles wrongly applied.

“For example, the principle of ‘The battle belongs to the Lord’ may be on our lips but not fully understood, resulting in all manner of attempts to bind and loose spiritual powers, even Satan himself. Without a deep relationship with the Lord there can be no such authority and then only to be applied in accordance with the Lord’s timing and strategy. Jesus Himself said, ‘By myself I can do nothing’ (John 5:30); and ‘I did not speak of my own accord, but as the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it’ (John 12:49); and ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’ (John 5:19). Surely this indicates that Christians, also, must be careful to listen to God and obey, in His time and in His way, particularly in these challenging days. Indeed, Jesus told us clearly: He said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Chapter 15 of the Gospel according to John contains a good deal which we should understand relating to prayer and. our response to the spiritual challenge of the age. We shall return to it later. First we must consider some of the teaching which is becoming widely known, from which we can review some of the possible reactions. This will highlight the concern that we have for a right response to the spiritual battle, suggesting, as we will, that there are responses which are wrong and potentially dangerous.

“In these days of challenge the spiritual enemy would be only too pleased to draw much attention to himself, which could have the result of causing us to fight him according to our own initiative: right ideas but wrongly applied. He would be only too willing to manufacture for us some counterfeit manifestations of success. A demon can remove itself from a person only to return later. A body of demons can manufacture considerable noise and activity among a body of believers as if they are submitting to our commands, only to lure us away into further and more complicated spiritual encounters where we will be quite on our own and unable to cope, if we were not doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way from the start. Scripture gives clear warning of this:

‘False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.’ (Matthew 24:24)

‘Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:22-23)

‘Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding’ (Acts 19:16)

“To summarise. We are undoubtedly in an age in which evil spiritual powers of Satan are at work in the world. This is being identified by many Christians who are also teaching others that they should learn to respond to these challenges. As a result of this there are many Christians who are aware of a spiritual enemy, and what has come to be called ‘Spiritual Warfare’ is high on the Christian agenda. This results in a growing focus on combating these spiritual forces in areas of deliverance and healing, and also moving out to tackle higher spiritual powers and principalities of Satan. This is reflected not only in our actions but also in many of our songs. We are suggesting, in this paper, that the spiritual conflict is real but we are also suggesting that it is timely to review our understanding, strategy and practice, particularly because we could be deceived into wrong spiritual practice which has not been initiated by God.”

Thereafter, in the paper follows a review of some current books. I had been concerned to find that “Spiritual Warfare” had become a topic which was considered worthy of dedicated sections among the shelves of bookshops. One could browse through numerous books with various slants on the subject as if it was a topic for light reading among other things, and even for speculation and entertainment. I will not quote from these books here, for readers of this article can readily check out what I am saying by going to the shelves of Christian bookshops and discovering the range of material for themselves.

The range of material available covers the following issues, among others: general ideas about spiritual warfare including allegoric use of the Old Testament, how to understand and defeat territorial spirits and demons, understanding principalities and powers, taking possession of cities by defeat of satanic forces, binding satanic powers, spiritualising the conquests of the Old Testament, testimonies of spiritual warfare in various towns and cities around the world, spiritual warfare preceding evangelism, dark angels, removing curses and bringing in blessings, casting out demons and identifying their characteristics, interceding powerfully, Christian armour, the points of Satan’s attacks and imaginary novels about what is going on in the heavens.

I quote from my fuller paper, in regard to this:

“It is possible for a search for experience with the supernatural to become a god in itself, and we have all known individual Christians who have gone from convention to convention in search of the latest experience of supernatural manifestations (this being no different from New Agers). At worst this can result in Christian fellowships being torn apart by division as some go to extremes in their response to new spiritual manifestations of either God or the evil one. In other words, wrong responses to the teaching on ‘Spiritual Warfare’ can give the enemy profound victories in dividing fellowships of believers. On the one hand, therefore, sound teaching partly based on the best of itinerant ministry must come increasingly from the eldership of local fellowships. On the other hand, there must be care from all believers, requiring a discerning and obedient heart, in relation to the seeking after the miraculous for its own sake, which can result in a vulnerability to counterfeit spiritual forces as well as an openness to the manifestations of all of God’s spiritual challenges of our day, walking and working with our God, rather than an army of sword waving, shallow living, vulnerable troops marching and singing into battles to which the Lord never sent us and which will result in long term harm to ourselves and others.”

With the present wave of spiritual manifestations in the world and the range of responses in the Church it is not difficult for anyone to analyse the activities that are rising up. My concern is that they seem to replace Almighty God and His Holy Spirit with a cheap substitute who is “called down” or “released” at the whim of professing Christians. There is also a great concern about principles of marching forward, taking ground for Christ, binding evil, releasing the Spirit, submitting the world and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven down to earth. It is all so naive and (dangerously) man-centred. There is also a constant focus on the year 2000, just like the New Age Movement.

I quote:

“Did the early Church really do this sort of thing? Was the contending for the faith of the martyrs of the centuries unnecessary because they did not perceive how to win spiritual battles in another way? Why is Jesus breaking strongholds like this now when he did not lead His own disciples that way while on earth? Why is it suddenly so much easier when the spiritual challenge from Satan seems at a high point?

“One particular point which troubles me is that this all overlaps a kind of New Age philosophy too much. New Agers look for a Christ force within them to bring in a New World order, a spiritual age of Aquarius. The aiming point is the year 2000 AD. It is all too easy to answer that this is the counterfeit to confuse the real work of God, but if we have, as I have suggested, become man-centred (consider and contrast Daniel’s prayer; Daniel Chapter 9) in our approach to doing God’s work, to the extent of initiating activities which we then assume he will bless, are we not vulnerable to the same deception that characterises New Age thinking? Perhaps the Lord would have us reconsider even some of the significant battles which have been won and come out with different conclusions as we go forward to a necessary maturity for the challenges. In the coming days …. I have met some vulnerable Christians caught up in this. One, a convert from the New Age Movement and still in need of healing, claimed to have cleansed a whole town of evil spirits. I heard of someone else who claimed to have cleansed a whole nation. In neither case does the fruit bear witness to the claim.”

There is no doubt that demonic forces are oppressing many people and that nations are rising up in evil in these significant days, so my argument is not against the identification of these problems but it concerns our response. If deception is rampant then it is also subtly clever, more clever than most, if not all, Christians. Thus we could be deceptively drawn into strategies of the enemy which he himself has devised. For example, there seem to be some people who are in constant need of deliverance. One week they are delivered, only to be oppressed again and in need of fresh deliverance the following week. Is this a symptom of the demons making sport of them and those who think they are ministering to them? The deceptions among nations are far more subtle. It is surely time for us to adopt a mature approach to our problems, becoming God-centred and not man-centred (which is very hard for the fallen nature of man!) Instead of “praying it in” or “interceding powerfully” we would be wise to know God better and seek His face and humble ourselves and ask that, by His grace, He might lead and help us. We will even then, I would suggest, find some paradoxes, like the prophets of old.

I quote:

“Habakkuk was concerned for his people, particularly when the Babylonians were rising up against them, but God made it clear that it was His initiative to outwork particular purposes among the people (‘I am raising up the Babylonians’, Habakkuk 1:6).

“Ezekiel was given clear instructions about the call and responsibility of the watchman (Ezekiel 33), yet the implication was that the watchman had to stir up and warn his people in the context of the Lord sending the enemy (‘When I bring the sword against a land’, Ezekiel 33:2).

“There are many other places in which we are led to consider God’s ability to protect and deliver. Indeed, this is the main focus of scripture in regard to the subduing of the enemies of the people of God. Psalm 81, for example, shows this in relation to Israel, ‘If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies’ (Verses 13-14).

“Many times we read of the spiritual armour of Ephesians 6, and how most of it is for protection. There is a line of thought that says that all of it is for protection, even the sword. This could be debated, but there is a need to meditate on this more fully, because the Lord is capable of holding us secure in his victory and protecting us from all our enemies. This does not take away our need to be engaged in deep and real intercession, but true intercession is itself initiated by the Holy Spirit. Is the Lord saying something far more significant to his church than we have realised? If we take the message of Habakkuk and Ezekiel seriously, then should we, having become aware of the enemy being stirred up, be seeking the Lord in deep fellowship rather than trying to fight the battles as if we have all the necessary strategy and authority? Perhaps it is the Lord who has raised up the enemy in order to show his displeasure of our nation’s practices, and to stir His church to turn to Him. He could, just as readily perhaps, turn the enemy away.”

We are certainly at a significant time of world history. The significant factor is the return of the Land of Israel to the People of Israel. Everything else hinges on this. It is time for a rise of evil and a purification of the Church. It would be interesting to make a survey of the number of Christians who have a philosophy of forceful advance rather than quiet intercession, and who also do not recognise the role of Israel.

Much is said in the Bible regarding the Lord’s methods of dealing with Israel. Surely there are parallels in His dealing with the Gentile nations and the Church, but beware of misappropriation and wrong use of Scripture. It is time for clear thinking, while we can be sure that God does have complete control over what is happening among the nations. The principle is in Jeremiah 18:7-9:

“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”

These words should send us to our knees. If there are spiritual powers at work deceiving and harming nations (and some in the Church) it is a sign of God’s judgement. It is not a battle between two equal and opposite kingdom’s (Satan’s and God’s). Satan has no more authority than he is legally entitled to in the paradox of Almighty God’s dealings with the nations. I was particularly interested in a comment by Judson Cornwall in “Whose War is it Anyway?” (Sharon Publications) concerning the battle in Heaven (Revelation 12:7-8). He considers this to be a legal battle, a battle of words. This fits well with the method of the Lord while on earth, using the truth of Scripture against Satan’s cunning and deceptive misuse of it. Who is it that commits murders, adulteries, warfare, idolatry and so forth: all the wickedness of man on this earth? It is man himself, not Satan. Though Satan can both oppress and possess, it is his lies and deceptions that men listen to and which leads them into sin and wickedness. It is surely a war of words, a contending for truth. Our strategy is to understand our God, to obey His Torah, to use His teaching, to seek righteousness, justice and holiness. It is a legal battle not a spiritual battle of the kind that so many speak. Our strength is in humility and not pride and self-assertion. Our powerful advocate is the Lord Jesus and His words of truth.

“I feel like saying, in relation to this topic, as Paul once said in relation to love (1 Corinthians 12-13): ‘But I will show you a better way…’

“‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.’ (The Lord’s words in John 15:7)

‘Do not invoke the names of gods; do not let them be on your lips.’ (Exodus 23:13)

‘…deliver us from the evil one’ (Simple yet profound words from the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:9-13).”

(Reprinted from Tishrei Vol 3 No 3, Prayer, Autumn 1995)