Thoughts on the “Strategic Level Prayer and Spiritual Warfare” Movement

The Wartburg Watch (TWW) recently posted the article Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Demons, Tongues, and Healings at Chris Hodges’ Church of the Highlands (ARC). It is, in part, an expose of ARC – the Association of Related Churches – which seems to have a substantial level of involvement in the “strategic level prayer” and spiritual warfare practices, and possibly also elements of a prosperity gospel and Word of Faith teachings. This critique applies to the New Apostolic Reformation movement as well.

Because of my background in studies of this particular prayer movement, along with spiritual warfare and spiritual mapping, I added several comments to the thread on this TWW article. I recommend reading my article on Strategic Level Prayer and Spiritual Mapping (2008) as a more systematic backdrop to the detailed analysis pieces here.

Note: I have done very little editing on these comments, other than adding in clarifying material, which appears in square brackets.

Going Beyond Biblical – Extreme Spiritual Warfare as “Christian Animism”

COMMENT #1

Nancy said: The whole thing [i.e., prayer and warfare rituals] sounds like they think they can control God. Do this. Say that. Require the other. Demand something, honestly? demand? That really sounds like the thinking behind witchcraft spun in the blender with some christian buzz words.

Having been closely involved with “strategic level intercession” and “spiritual mapping” and the like in the 1990s, I have to agree, Nancy. My understanding of the essence of certain aspects or types of *magick* is conducting rituals that in essence get cosmic forces to align the way you want. Part of what got me out of these doctrines and practices was seeing this formulaic/ritualistic thinking at work in spiritual warfare. “Strategic level prayer” and “confronting the principalities and powers” was the only way to “unbind” God from working so the Spirit could be released in a certain people group, city, or geographical location.

So much of the extended system here is based on thin to no biblical evidences (a few passages about the “Prince of Persia” and “Prince of Israel” as demonic or angelic forces), and building a superstructure on a weak, abiblical infrastracture. Add a lot of C. Peter Wagner and New Apostolic Reformation theology, plus a dollop of *This Present Darkness* storying, and you’ve got people locked into a counterfeit system that sounds all biblical, but has slipped to the level of anti-biblical.

It is no wonder that this system has received serious critique for at least two decades and even been termed, “Christian animism.” For instance, see the book Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues from the Evangelical Missiological Society (1995).

I am not or one who thinks references to demons in Scripture were their (primitive) understanding of mental illness and medical diseases; I believe in the biblical truths of the existence of angels and demons, the realities of being in a spiritual battle, and principalities and powers having been triumphed over by Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. But these fantastical dogmas about spiritual warfare have syncretized with animism’s overfocus on occult forces that seek to overpower us. And, as with all such power-based cultures, the inherent result is fear. We can never, ever be sure that we have said enough prayers to release the Spirit’s work in a place. We can never, ever be sure that the supposed results are sustainable. So, in place of confidence in the Most High God, we are left with frailty, doubts, and fear. Of course, ritualized formulas for “spiritual success in warfare” is appealing. But whenever we seek to put ourselves in a position of control, it all goes amiss.

I have listened to pagans/wiccans describe some of their ritualistic practices to bring “redemption” (their word), restoration, and healing to the world. The theories of practitioners of strategic-level warfare do not sound all that much different. Odd to realize that Christians can succumb to “doctrines of demons” that are themselves doctrines ABOUT demons … but there it is.

Spiritual Mapping and Critiquing the “Transformation” Videos

COMMENT #2

numo said: both [C. Peter] Wagner and George Otis Jr (of Sentinel Ministries) “pioneered” the whole strategic level spiritual warfare mess – and both took on animist beliefs in order to battle animism. Both have written about that quite extensively. Imagine my surprise at finding people I knew at That Church referenced in one of Otis’ books (though not by name; he kept that quiet).

Actually, I participated in the second-ever “spiritual mapping” conference put on by Sentinel Ministries. That was in 1994. In the mid- to late-1990s, I also was a consultant of sorts to people in the local strategic-level prayer network, doing some research, helping interpret symbols we saw locally that represented world religions, occult systems, etc. ([Where I live has long been] considered at the very least a “New Age” hotspot, if not a “spiritual vortex.”)

As a life-long learner about cultural analysis and interpretation, and a long-time student of cross-cultural missions, there’s no denying that spiritual mapping has a certain appeal for figuring out mission contextualization. But one of the Scriptural problems that comes up is that the New Testament declares we are influenced by the world [including culture], the flesh [personal pathology and “besetting sins”], and the devil [Satan and personal spiritual forces that seek to do us harm]. All three, not just one. And as far as I’ve been able to see in Scripture, no one of those three is the one-and-only key undoing the destructive influences of the other. Yet that is the effectual claim of this movement.

So, FWIW, at best I find it abiblical to suggest that spiritual warfare is THE key to dominion over culture, exorcism of fleshly strongholds and demon possession, and principalities and powers that rule over geographic areas. At worst, the practices turn out to be anti-biblical because they ignore other principles in Scriptures. Paul tells Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” in dealing with the flesh, but elsewhere to “stand against” the wiles of Satan, and again that Christ has overcome the world and we are “in Christ Jesus.” The practices also don’t look all that different from some of the esoteric-hidden-secret practices of certain occult systems (for instance, geomancy and wicca). And it’s really weak to suggest that “those guys are the counterfeits of what we’re doing, which is the real deal” when the underlying theology is … as others have said … “a mess.”

As to Sentinel Group and George Otis, Jr.’s, book *Twilight Labyrinth* and *Transformations* video series that were making the rounds back then … as far as I know (and I check on this periodically), Mr. Otis has not provided evidence to counter people have followed up with research and critiques on his supposed examples where strategic level prayer/warfare worked and miraculous unleashings of the Spirit’s power occurred. For instance, check out this archived research piece on the claims, realities, and references about four examples of so-called successful strategic level intervention touted in the *Transformations* video.

Activist and Theocracy Versus Isolationist and Purity

COMMENT #3

Gram3 wrote: The flip side of this, in a way, is people who live by the precautionary principle. They are the ones who are so afraid of every conceivable danger, no matter how unmeasurable or trivial it might be. You can never be too safe. And that, my friends, is why Whole Foods is so successful. It’s why both the opposite approaches of the EzzoPearls and Dr. Sears can both be regarded as Parenting Guarantees. They are actually the same product tailored for different market segments.

I think that’s really insightful, Gram3. Fear can just as easily motivate us to become isolationists (to maintain purity, get away from all unpure things, despite what Paul says about being separate from the world doesn’t mean leaving the world) and amplify our perfectionist desires to please God. More if/then formulas to “guarantee” that if we do the right thing and do it enough, then God is obligated to (fill in the blank.) (Or fill in the bank, if it’s about prosperity gospel.)

Or fear can incite us to fight back and overcome those spiritual forces of darkness – but ending up attributing too much power/control to them, relying on our own power, and white-knuckling our way through to a “victory” that Jesus has already taken care of.

It.is.insidious.

Spiritual Mapping and Warfare – Ley Lines, Aleister Crowley, Occultism, Zoroastrianism/Dualism

COMMENT #4

I don’t deny the reality of such [demonic] influences nor the evil they produce. However, to conflate the book of Daniel’s few references on (apparent) principalities and powers into a theological plot line with occult ley lines that turns out aligned with a Dan Brown novel, is unbalanced. And doctrinal imbalances can be as dangerous as doctrinal absences, can’t they? Heresies often get their springboard in *some* truth but never in the whole, coherent truth …

[After this comment, Headless Unicorn Guy posted a response to it and some of my earlier comments. In his comment, he states: “Ritual Magick. Binding and loosing and controlling supernatural beings and powers through the proper incantations. Aliester Crowley would be proud of them.” And, “Just like Medieval Angelology and Demonology; HUGE edifices of pure speculation built over generations, each generation taking the previous gen’s speculations as FACT until you had this huge elaborate edifice founded on minimal original sources.”

COMMENT #5

@ Headless Unicorn Guy: Aleister Crowley, Medieval great-chain-of-being theologies. Yup.

Interesting to browse through the Wikipedia entry on [Aleister] Crowley, and find that he was from a Plymouth Brethren family … wonder how that conservative theological background with its moderately devotional-mystical side, influenced him.

COMMENT #6

Headless Unicorn Guy said: They’re into Ley Line Geomancy now? Just this is the first time I’ve heard the term “Ley Line” in a Christianese context as opposed to Paranormal/Fringe/Occult.

numo said: They sure don’t call it that, but only because they condemn it under the name “ley lines.” It’s essentially the same thing, though. But the evil principalities are the ones who set up the boundaries; humans are supposedly able to trap and overthow them if they triangulate correctly so as to make for more effective prayer-walking and rebuking and boundary line rituals snd whatnot.

To add my comments to those: As best I can remember, I heard about ley lines in the spiritual mapping training of 1994, if not before. So, this is not something particularly new within the strategic level prayer worldview.

I picture ley lines as like the airline destination and flight-line maps at the back of the in-flight magazine. Ley lines form a sort of an occult “power grid” that is tied to the land and to certain towns and specific “hot spot sites” along those lines in between. A sort of geo-political-spiritual “principalities” map, as it were.

So, our “job” is to track the locations that form this power grid of criss-crossed lines, pray against whatever practices and places of evil are along those power lines, find boundary milestone spots (often at where several ley lines cross) and do ceremonious types of redemptive rituals there (like pray over the spots, rebuke evil spirits, I think I even recall reading about placing/burying “consecrated” articles in those places). This may all sound good, but eventually it crosses over the line into overfocus on the occult and, in my opinion, that’s when and why it starts coming across as a *National Treasure* movie-type plotline with those ley lines. Sort of like “white ops” instead of “black ops,” perhaps?

And this is not about intelligence; intellectually smart people can fall prey to spiritually bad ideas. The people I’ve known who got highly involved with this seem very sharp mentally, knowledgeable scripturally, and very serious about their faith. But neither IQ nor Bible knowledge nor sincerity never have and never will automatically equate to biblical wisdom.

[ADDED: Why even mention this type of geomancy which uses of geographical landscapes and locations to “divine” a place’s occult/spiritual significance via “ley lines”? Because, if a tribe or society believes this is real, it affects their paradigm of beliefs, values, personal behaviors, social organization, and cultural mandates. The same goes for overt worship of idols. For instance, Celtic paganism has the concepts of “thin spaces” where the veil between the seen/physical and unseen/spirit worlds is more easily crossed and communicated across. Also, Celtic and Nordic paganism use the intersection of lines representing the longest axis with the widest axis of their island or country as pinpointing a spiritual “vortex” or “control center,” and this is where rituals are performed and/or religious training centers or ritual sites are located. HOWEVER, that aspect of missionary theory does not justify a theology of Christian animism and the supposed ability of strategic level warfare rituals to rid a place of its controlling demonic forces/principalities and powers. ]

COMMENT #7

It took me a long time — years — to process my own experiences in the spiritual warfare movement. As part of that, I had to consider my perceptions and opinions about some friends who’d been involved in what seemed genuine confrontations with real forces of evil, and figure out how that fit with Scripture. Meanwhile, other friends seemed caught up in their strategic warrior activities and they used a lot of Bible language but their worldview seems to have so many non-biblical/anti-biblical concepts. Complicated …

Anyway, below is an excerpt from a 2008 article on Strategic Level Prayer and Spiritual Warfare. As best I can recall, I came up with this word picture early in the 2000s decade. I hadn’t read it in a few years, but I think I’m still pretty much at the same place with how I interpret spiritual warfare.

Here’s an analogy I came up with to explain what I see as the core problem. It’s like we’re doorkeepers who stand in the open doorway between two rooms. In the outer room it is fully dark. In the throne room sits Jesus and it is full of light.

Spiritual warfare praying wants us to stand in the doorway, facing into the dark room, and focusing on casting out the darkness. Some of the light from Jesus flows past us and into the dark room. We occasionally turn toward Jesus, but not for too long because our supposed job is to stand against the darkness.

But what Scripture wants of us is to stand in the doorway, facing Jesus, taking in the light. When we stand in the doorway and face Jesus, the same amount of light goes around us and into the dark room as when we go the warfare route, plus we can always turn temporarily to greet anyone who comes near because they are being drawn toward the light.

We become like whatever we focus on. If we integrate our lives around Jesus, we ourselves are transformed and can affect the people around us. It’s ironic that when we integrate our lives around how people are influenced by Satan, we ourselves become inhumane because we no longer see humans, only spiritual forces. I wonder if all abusive theologies are built around such contempt for the very people whom God loves …

[In response to this, the frequent TWW commenter numo added the two following thoughts.]

NUMO #1. @ brad/futuristguy: I’m more of the opinion that we’re supposed to quit blocking the light! And that goes far beyond the so-called spiritual warfare crew. We try so hard to create results for God that we miss him – and what he’s actually doing – entirely, because we’re so preocvupied with our own busy-ness. His commands are really pretty simple, no?

As for people burying objects and such, I’m aware that it happens, but have never sern it done or heard anyone advocate it from the pulpit (err, make that platfotm).

NUMO #2. @ brad/futuristguy: Well, it basically does amount to superstition and a kind of white magic. A lot of Wiccans have already said so, and they’re right.

COMMENT #8

Mark wrote: Forgive for asking: but can all this focus on demons prevent people from recognizing that there are angels in our midst, or even awareness of the miracles that happen each day that could mean none other than a sign of God? If we are so afraid of demons, haven’t these demons become more significant than God? I don’t deny the existence of evil spirits, but I don’t elevate them to a position that they are almost an idol. If they have become the focus of your spiritual life, they are an idol.

Bingo!

Oops … bad choice of wordz as gamblin’ in of the devil …

But actually, that’s much of the issue in a nutshell; what some may worship as idols because of their less-than-God but more-than-human powers, others in effect worship as idols because they are overfocused on casting these demonic forces out while thinking they’re doing God’s will / helping Him out.

Sometimes there really can be “sin” in “sincere.”

[ADDED: Comment #8 hints at how this system actually has more in common with the aeons in Zoroastrianism (“Persian Dualism”) than Christianity. From what I understand of the system in Persian Dualism, the ultimate good God cannot be directly approached by substantially impure beings, and so created aeons – beings lesser that itself. And those aeons created slightly lower aeons, and so forth. This eventually created a spectrum of beings from ultimate goodness to ultimate bad/evil. Humans are sort of neutral, in the middle between the forces of good and evil, like at the crossover point in some spiritual tug-of-war in which they are pulled more in one direction than the other. This does not resonate with a scriptural theology of a personal and perfect God who willing interacts directly with human beings, nor of human will and the power of choice.]

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