Ground Spiritual Warfare and Air Spiritual Warfare

 © George Hartwell M.Sc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  George Hartwell M.Sc. is a Christian counselor with a masters degree from the University of Calgary, 40 years experience and who integrates prayer therapy into his professional counseling 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:

All Biblical and church tradition has seen spiritual warfare as withstanding the deceptions and accusations of the accuser (the devil).  For clarity of writing and understanding we can define this level of spiritual warfare as ground warfare.

In ground spiritual warfare we withstand temptation and block the accusations of the devil.

Another aspect of ground spiritual warfare is cleansing from demonization - repelling or expelling the demonic from individuals.

Ground spiritual warfare also includes enduring persecution as we do God's work.  Paul did ground spiritual warfare as he established Christian communities in various cities. In fact, Paul realized that some of this 'buffeting' came from a higher level spiritual entity - an angel of Satan.

Air spiritual warfare is a recent development out of continuity with Biblical teaching and practice and church history and tradition.   If Paul practiced air spiritual warfare he would take authority over this 'angel from Satan.'  But he did not.  Instead, Paul pleaded with God three times for deliverance from this tormenting angel of Satan.  Paul accepted the answer he heard from God when he was told "My grace is sufficient."

Anyone trained by the third-wave Charismatics of today - such as C. Peter Wagner and Cindi Jacobs - would have bound this angel; taken authority over it and commanded it to depart.  I know because I was taught and naively practiced this personal power, personal authority air spiritual warfare.

Who am I to believe?  Paul is obviously ignorant of this new teaching.  Paul does not take authority in Jesus name to boldly bind this 'angel of Satan.'  Peter - Peter Wagner, that is - would gather people to pray to cast down this principality.  Who is right: Paul the apostle or Peter Wagner and the Third Wave acceptance of Air Spiritual Warfare?

Many Third Wave evangelists - Ed Silvosa comes to mind, the Transformation videos from George Otis comes to mind - strongly push us toward taking our cities for God using Air spiritual Warfare.  I may be wrong.  That is my impression.  The strategy seems to be to do 'spiritual mapping' to discover the enemy's strongholds, then, to use prayer against territorial spirits and binding type prayers against princely angels of the heavenlies.

One couple I spoke with had participated in:  1.   Prayer for Pastors, leaders and elders.   2.      Prayer for schools (including prayer walking).  3.  Prayer team leaders for the youth ministry.  4.       Intercessory prayer for our local church.  And 5.  Regional intercessory prayer events (special events, elections, pre-conference prayer, etc.)

The prayer they routinely did involved coming up against and 'binding':

strongmen assigned to this region.  

 Principalities, Demons, and Spirits assigned to this region. 

Specific prayers against the spirit of Mammon, Spirits of Addiction, the Python Spirit, and a Choking Spirit (not literally - but choking off life and commerce that fuels a strong community) that we believe have assignments here in this region.

Spirits of Religiosity (a.k.a.- a Pharisaical Spirit, interfering with developing a heartfelt relationship with Christ)

The fruit of participation in this ministry in their personal lives has not been good.   We were unbelievably blessed by God.  We were blessed to be able to send others on missionary trips, support ministries, and help churches in need.  By the end of 2000 we were in financial trouble, as I had not ever anticipated a 9 month "dry-spell" to keep the office going with full overhead.  In January 2001 we began to dig into savings and took out a home equity loan to keep us afloat.  Over the last 10 years we have suffered numerous losses - my consulting business was closed, unemployment and underemployment followed. This started during my mid 40's, my peak expected career earning period.  My wife was forced to go back to work.  She makes a quarter of what my potential is as a senior IT executive.  While we drastically cut back our spending during this time, we exhausted our retirement savings keeping the family going.

This couple was interested in my observation that supply lines get cut off and "strangled" when we become casualties of spiritual warfare- air spiritual warfare in particular.  Could the teaching of air spiritual warfare be a false and unwholesome teaching as warned about in 2 Peter 2 and in Jude?  Both Peter and Jude are trying to warn us against not knowing our place in relation to angels.  "Bold and arrogant these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings," 2Peter2:10.  When we hear that "They despise authority" we understand that we are talking about rebellion and, perhaps, witchcraft.  Read these passage and not references to 'did not keep their proper domain,' "reject authority' and 'speak evil of dignitaries.'  Meditate on what is said about the archangel Michael who 'in contending with the devil' 'dared not bring against him a reviling accusation,' but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.' (Jude 9, 2Peter2:11)

So we need to understand why the Apostle Paul, bold and courageous as he was did not act like those trained by Peter Wagner at all.  Paul faced opposition in every city.  He seemed to know that this was the work of an "angel of Satan?"  If so why did Paul not just come up against it and bind it?  These are important questions for our consideration.

We need to be clear that "Air Spiritual Warfare" - the teaching that we can assault the heavenlies and bind spiritual forces in high places - is not traditional spiritual warfare. 

We need to find out if scripture routinely supports ground spiritual warfare - hand to hand combat in one on one ministry of healing or deliverance one person at a time.  Or does scripture support "Air Spiritual Warfare" which takes 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.

This might be seen as an example of spiritual warfare of the "Air Warfare" kind, however something is missing.  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.  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.

If this authority were of God then there several conditions would be met:

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 commissionings by the risen Christ.

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

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

7. There would be examples of this in the early history of the church in the Book of Acts.

I find none of this in the Bible.

1. Examples of "Air Spiritual Warfare" 

In looking at the story of Daniel's prayer, in Daniel 10, there is no example of Daniel ever "binding" the Prince of Persia.

2. Teachings of Jesus on "Air Spiritual Warfare"

Jesus sent out 72 in Luke 10 but failed to tell them to "bind" the prince over each town you enter.  They report that "demons submit to us in your name."  This was one on one ministry of deliverance not "Air Spiritual Warfare."

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. Examples of "Air Spiritual Warfare" in the life of Jesus

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: "Air Spiritual Warfare" or not.

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.  Warnings that "Air Spiritual Warfare" is a false and 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." 

7. "Air Spiritual Warfare" in prayers in 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 a Destructive False Teaching

The weight of the evidence may make it clear that the concept of Air Spiritual Warfare is not supported by scripture.  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 do Air Spiritual Warfare.  He authorized them to do Ground spiritual warfare.  Even when Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth he does not authorize Air Spiritual Warfare.

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 Ground spiritual warfare.  Peter and Jude warn against bold and arrogant attitude toward angels among false teachers.  Conclusion: we should use the term "false spiritual warfare" for the destructive teaching of "Air Spiritual Warfare." home  spiritual warfare and our real mission   spiritual warfare and prayers of daily protection         spiritual warfare and binding and loosing   Spiritual warfare principles   False spiritual warfare