Biblical Spiritual Warfare and False Spiritual Warfare

 © 2010 by George Hartwell M.Sc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada  About George  

Biblical and church tradition has seen spiritual warfare as withstanding the deceptions and accusations of the accuser (the devil).  Because of recent deviations in the definition and practice of spiritual warfare biblical spiritual warfare will also be called ground warfare.

Ground spiritual warfare includes withstanding the temptation and accusation of the devil and the cleansing from, repelling or expelling of demons from individuals.  Ground spiritual warfare also includes enduring persecution as we do God's work.  Paul established Christian communities in various cities and endured 'buffeting' from higher level spiritual forces. Paul pleaded to God for deliverance and did not take authority over this 'angel from Satan.'

Air spiritual warfare, as taught by some third-wave Charismatics of today - such as C. Peter Wagner and Cindi Jacobs - does not see any biblical limit on the authoritiy of the Body of Christ.  We don't need to limit our authority to handling temptation and expelling demons from individuals, they say.  If they were Paul, they would have commanded and bound this angel himself.  Why was Paul ignorant of this new teaching?  Why did he not boldly bind the prince of the air that tormented him (perhaps by stirring up opposition in every city he went to)?

Are we now more enlightened than Paul?  Or are we moving into areas that angels fear to tread?

Was Paul, somehow not bold enough to confront this angel?  Perhaps this new teaching is leading us into pride and arrogancs?  What is it?

This new teaching - "Air Spiritual Warfare" - believes that we can assault the heavenlies and bind spiritual forces in high places.  On the surface the Bible always seems to limit our place to Ground spiritual warfare - hand to hand combat ministry of deliverance and resisting temptation.

In the Bible there is no suggestion that Daniel should join in the battle in the heavenlies.  There is no hint that he failed in his duty to 'bind' the angel described in the Book of Daniel.  But clearly those who believe in "Air Spiritual Warfare" would not hesitate to take on forces in the heavenlies like the angels described in the Book of Daniel. 

In Daniel 10 the prophet Daniel had been praying and fasting for three weeks, seeking understanding from God. When an angel finally came to Daniel to deliver a message from the Lord, he explained that he had been dispatched the very first day that Daniel began to pray but that "the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days." (10:13) Eventually, as the angel explained, the Archangel Michael had been fetched and was able to overpower the Prince of Persia, allowing this unnamed angel-messenger to make contact with Daniel.

Now Peter Wagner, Cindi Jacobs and all those into "Strategic Spiritual Warfare," as they call it, believe that we can do what the angel sent from heaven could not do - overcome the resistance of the prince of the kingdom of Persia.  They promote "Air Spiritual Warfare" - what Leanne Payne calls "misguided practices of spiritual warfare."

It seems to me, that something is missing from the biblical account.  In the Bible story Daniel - the one praying - does not command or bind the Prince of Persia.  Daniel is not invited to overpower this princely angel.  He is not rebuked for simply praying and fasting.  If Peter Wagner is correct about "Air Spiritual Warfare" then we should get in to this battle.  The Bible story, on the other hand, suggests that the battle is the Lords.

In this new kind of spiritual warfare humans enter the fray.  Humans exercise their (supposed) authority over princes of the air.  Although there is no example in Daniel of bolding going where angels fear to tread, third wave charismatics go there.  Christians are taught and encouraged to do so-called 'spiritual warfare' by 'taking authority over' angels.

"Air Spiritual Warfare" lacks Biblical Support

If this new teaching of "Air Spiritual Warfare" were of true and of God then there should be Biblical support.  We would expect to find the following Biblical evidence.  On the other hand if this evidence is missing, if "Air Spiritual Warfare" lacks Biblical support, then we need to be careful. 

1. There would be examples in the New and Old Testament. 

2. There would be teaching of this by Jesus in the gospels of the New Testament.  

3. There would be examples of this in the life of Christ when he was "the Son of Man."

4. There would be clear unequivocal authorization of this in the commands of Jesus and in the commissionings by the risen Christ.

5. There would be examples of this in the prayers written in the letters to the church (the epistles).

6. There would be unequivocal teaching of this type of prayer in the letters that is supporting Jesus' teachings.

7. Similarly, there would be teaching and examples of this in the early history of the church in the Book of Acts.

I do not find the expected evidence of "Air Spiritual Warfare" in the Bible.

1. Examples of "Air Spiritual Warfare" 

As explained above, in the story of Daniel's prayer, in Daniel 10, there is no example of Daniel ever "binding" the Prince of Persia.  There is no teaching that he should do so.  He is not rebuked for just praying.

2. Teachings of Jesus on "Air Spiritual Warfare"

Jesus sent out 72 in Luke 10 but did NOT tell them to "bind" the prince over each town you enter.  They report that "demons submit to us in your name."  However they were following his orders in one on one ministry of deliverance.  There is no example of them practicing "Air Spiritual Warfare."  Summary: no orders, no practice.

Jesus, in fact, tells us that victory over the enemy, over Satan comes through this one to one ministry.  He declares that "I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven."  Jesus foresees the defeat of Satan by continued obedience to carry out the ministry of healing and deliverance.

Jesus does not change his orders in Luke 10:18-20.  He does not give any new authority.  He gives them a vision of the victory that comes through continuing what they are doing.  It was like he said: "Victory is at hand boys.  Keep up the good work."

His orders as he sent out the 12 went like this: "he gave them authority to drive out demons and to heal diseases and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick."  Jesus gave them authority for hand to hand combat not aerial warfare.

3.  Jesus encounters the devil and does not 'bind' him!

Luke 4:13 tells us that after Jesus had an encounter with the devil, the devil "left him until an opportune time."  What this tells us is quite significant.  This is the start of Jesus ministry.  In town after town he healed all their sick and casts demons of all that were brought to him.  That sounds like a very successful ministry.  But something is missing.

When Jesus launched his ministry he did not bind the devil.  The devil left him of his own free will.

The devil left him!  He was not bound by Jesus.

At the launch of Jesus ministry the devil was not bound by Jesus.

Yet Jesus had a successful ministry of healing and deliverance.

Conclusion: One can have a fully fruitful ministry without "binding" the devil.  Jesus did.

4.  The Great commission fails to authorize "Air Spiritual Warfare"

In Matthew 18:18, Jesus declares that he has all authority in heaven and on earth.  Obviously with Jesus holding that kind of authority - all authority - he could authorize those he sent out to "bind" princes and so "Air Spiritual Warfare."  He does not.

No way.  (Read: Matthew 18:18-20.)

In Mark he sends the 11 out to preach to all creation.  Surely if they were to preach to all creation Jesus would include authority over angels of the sky.  He did not.  (Read Mark 16:15-20.)

In Luke when he appears after his resurrection he does not rebuke them for failing to undertake "Air Spiritual Warfare."  No.  He rebukes them for not realizing that "the Christ must suffer these things and enter into his glory."  He is talking about suffering and entering into glory not exercising his authority as the Lord of Hosts;  Suffering in love not battling with power.  (Luke 24: 25-27).

The disciples are sent out with a message of love of: "repentance and forgiveness of sins."  (Luke 24:47.)

Finally John fails to focus on power.  John is focused on love and life.  "My command it this that you love each other as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends."

5. Is there "Air Spiritual Warfare" in the apostolic prayers as recorded in the letters to the early churches?

No there is not.

6.  Possible biblical Warnings that "Air Spiritual Warfare" is a destructive teaching

We might ask did any writer ask believers to pray by binding Princes of the air.  No they do not.

In fact, two writers, Peter (2P 2:10-12)and Jude (8) write with concern about those who "reject authority and slander celestial beings."  Peter and Jude warn us about a bold arrogance that is "not afraid to slander celestial beings."  This is a warning against arrogant prayer against angels.  This is a warning against false teachers who introduce "destructive teachings." 

Leanne Payne speaks of the extraordinarily grievous effects that misguided practices of spiritual warfare have had upone Christian leaders, , communities, and families, and most particularly upon children. 

Leanne Payne is so concerned about misguided spiritual warfare that she says: I first found it necessary to write and strictly warn of them from a pastoral perspective in Restoring the Christian Soul (1991) and then again several years later in Listening Prayer (1994).

7. No "Air Spiritual Warfare" in the prayers of the Life of Paul

There is an example of how Paul dealt with a "messenger of Satan" that was sent to torment him.  "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away form me.  But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"

Here is Paul's clear opportunity to do "Air Spiritual Warfare."  An angel of Satan was sent to buffet Paul that he might not be exalted.  If ever there was a chance to see one of God's bold anointed ones take on the devil here it is and what a disappointment.  Paul shows no inclination to "take personal authority" over this messenger of Satan.

We know Paul.  Paul did not lack in either courage or boldness.  If Paul did not act then Paul must know that this is not his call.  He goes to the commander in chief with his appeal - the Lord of Hosts - to the one who could call on 10,000 legions of angels.

He accepts the call.  He does not do "Air Spiritual Warfare."

Conclusion: "Air Spiritual Warfare" is new and lacks Biblical evidential support

We are forced to conclude that the weight of Biblical evidence fails to the concept of Air Spiritual Warfare in example or teaching.  Jesus did not 'bind' the devil at the start of his ministry.  The devil went away.  Jesus did not authorize the disciples he sent out to 'bind' territorial angels, instead, he authorized them to do Ground spiritual warfare.  Even when Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth he still does not authorize Air Spiritual Warfare in his commissions.

Paul had an opportunity in his life to deal with a "angel of Satan" sent to buffet him and he appeals to God for deliverance.  Paul did not 'bind' this angel.  Paul does not teach to 'bind' territorial spirits.  Paul did Ground spiritual warfare.

Peter and Jude warn against bold and arrogant attitude toward angels among false teachers.  It almost seems that we could use the term "false spiritual warfare" or "destructive spiritual warfare" for teaching of "Air Spiritual Warfare." 

Note:  What I call "Air Spiritual Warfare" is also called "strategic-level warfare."   C. Peter Wagner, head of Global Harvest Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colo. defines three levels of spiritual warfare: "Ground-level" involves casting demons out of individuals; "occult-level warfare" involves more organized "powers of darkness" [such as New Age thought, Tibetan Buddhism, Freemasonry, etc.]; and "strategic-level warfare" which directly "confronts 'territorial spirits' assigned by Satan to coordinate activities over a geographical area."

For your own spiritual safety run the other way when people get into "strategic-level warfare" which directly "confronts 'territorial spirits' assigned by Satan to coordinate activities over a geographical area."  The churches in one town in Ontario found that dissension and division occurred when they followed Peter Wagner's misguided spiritual warfare.  The Christian bookstore in that town no longer carries his books but carries John Paul Jackson "Needless Casualties of War." It may have been Jackson's book that warned them against 'binding' territorial spirits.

You don't want to shoot yourself in the foot.  I don't want you to be exposed to unecessary sprititual attack.  And, frankly, I don't want to give the enemy that much attention. LOL.  Best don't read Peter Wagner.  Best don't do 'strategic spiritual warfare.'  Focus praise and worship on God and put Satan on an attention deprivation diet.  Learn:


George Hartwell M.Sc. is a Christian counselor with a masters degree in clinical psychology and 30 years experience in private practice.  To learn all About George or his professional practice see: George's Professional web site, Christian marriage counselling, Christian phone therapy, and Christian Marriage Retreats.  To e-mail George click on:

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