by C. Peter Wagner
The subject of territorial spirits and world missions is surfacing on the agendas of many church, seminary, and mission leaders.
The subject of territorial spirits and world missions is surfacing on the agendas of many church, seminary, and mission leaders. Last year at the church growth lectures sponsored by the School of World Mission of Fuller Seminary, Timothy Warner, a former missionary to West Africa and now professor of mission at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said, "I have come to believe that Satan does indeed assign a demon or corps of demons to every geopolitical unit in the world, and that they are among the principalities and powers against whom we wrestle."
Since the subject is relatively new, however, there is no consensus of opinion. During the seven years of research that went into my How to Have a Healing Ministry Without Mating Your Church Sick (Regal Books), I met very few people who could be considered professionals in either the theory or practice of dealing with territorial spirits. I found very little data beyond the accepted wisdom about spiritual warfare in general. I will mention some exceptions further along in this article. Therefore, here I cannot make conclusions about the subject, only hypotheses.
A WORKING HYPOTHESIS
My principal calling is to obey the Great Commission. Thus, I see territorial spirits chiefly in terms of their alleged ability to prevent the spread of the gospel. In this context, note that the apostle Paul describes the perishing as people whose minds are blinded by the god of this age, "lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Cor. 4:4). Our chief end is to glorify God and Satan’s chief end is to prevent that. In the providence of God, Satan can "veil the gospel" (2 Cor. 4:3), thus preventing it from spreading.
Is it not our responsibility to seek answers to how Satan goes about this? Paul himself said, "We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices" (2 Cor. 2:11). It helps to remember that Satan does not possess God’s attributes, and, therefore, he is not omnipotent. For example, although Satan may be able to move from one place to another very quickly, still he can be in only one place at one time. Therefore, if his purpose is to blind the minds of those who have yet to receive the light of the gospel, it stands to reason that he must delegate this responsibility to others, namely, evil spirits.
How many evil spirits there are I do not know. One fascinating calculation comes from Friday Thomas Ajah, Assemblies of God church leader in Oribe, Port Harcourt, Nigeria. For years before his conversion he was a high-ranking occult leader, given the name of St. Thomas the Divine, purportedly by Satan himself. Ajah reports that Satan had assigned him control of 12 spirits and that each spirit controlled 600 demons, or 7,200 altogether. He says, ‘T. was in touch with all the spirits controlling each town in Nigeria, and I had a shrine in all the major cities." If this report is true, if s not unreasonable to speculate that there are many others like him around the world.
Demons can and do attach themselves to objects, to houses and other buildings, to animals, and to people. Jesus found a legion of demons in one man and sent them into a herd of swine. Paul warned the Corinthians not to eat meat offered to idols in the idol temples, because they would risk fellowship with demons (1 Cor. 10:20).
So, I agree when Warner says that Satan delegates high-ranking members of the hierarchy of evil spirits to control nations, regions, cities, tribes, neighborhoods, and other social networks. Their major assignment is to prevent God from being glorified in their territory, which they do by directing the activities of lower-ranking demons.
Warner tells that the village leaders where he worked in Sierra Leone had rather maliciously offered the missionaries a place called "The Devil’s Hill" on which to build their mission home. Being ignorant of "Satan’s devices," as Paul called them (2 Cor. 2:11), they accepted the offer. The first family had to leave after a series of illnesses. Subsequently, visitors who used the house would routinely become ill, only to see the symptoms relieved when they left the village. All this stopped abruptly when the missionaries finally took seriously the demonic occupation of that hill, engaged them in a power encounter, and drove them out.
Church growth research helps us to discover the degree of either resistance or receptivity to the gospel on the part of a given group.4 Therefore, it goes without saying that if this hypothesis about territorial spirits is correct, and if we could learn how to break their control through the power of God, .people’s positions on the resistance-receptivity scale could change virtually overnight.
There’s little value in this hypothesis, unless we can find some biblical warrants for it. I start with the apostle Paul’s statement that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but "against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). High-level spiritual warfare is a reality.
Jesus defended himself against the charge that he was casting out demons by "the prince of demons" by saying that you can’t plunder a strong man’s house without first binding the strong man (Mt. 12:24-29). The implication is that he himself is stronger than Satan. But if the strong man (Satan) controls a house, could he not also control a nation, or city, or tribe? The "house" is the territory controlled by Satan, or his delegated spirits, and that territory cannot be taken unless he is bound. But once the territorial spirits are bound, the kingdom of God can flow into the territory and "plunder the strong man’s goods," as it were.
The fact of evil spirits dominating territories surfaces in the Old Testament as well. For example, in the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:8, the Septuagint reads:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, When he separated the children of men, He set the bounds of the peoples According to the number of the angels of God.
F.F. Bruce, who suggests the Septuagint the original text, says "This reading implies that the administration of the various nations has been parceled out among a corresponding number of angelic governors are portrayed as hostile principalities and powers— the ‘world rulers of this darkness’ of Eph. 6:12"5
Brace on to point out what is implicit in Deuteronomy becomes explicit in Daniel 10, where three of these princes are named. Two of them are evil princes, the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece, and one is a good prince, Michael, called one of the chief princes.
As the story unfolds, a lesser unnamed angel who was sent by God to minister to Daniel battled the prince of Persia for 21 days and could not overcome him until Michael came to Ms rescue. If we take this account at face value, we see the awesome power that these world rulers of darkness can exercise. (See Dan. 10:10-21.)
Territorial spirits and their dominance of geographical areas are taken for granted as the histoty of Israel unfolds. Joshua rebuked the Israelites for serving gods on the other side of the river and in Egypt (Josh. 24:14). Even in Canaan the Israelites did not cleanse the land as God commanded, but "forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and Asherahs" (Judges 3:7).
Names of some of the specific principalities are mentioned, such as Succoth Benoth of Babylon, Nergal of Cuth, Ashima of Hamath, Nibhaz and Tartak of the Avites, and Adrammelech and Anammelech of the Sepharvites. (See 2 Kings 17:30-31.) The occult power of these principalities reflected in previous references in the same to witchcraft and soothsaying (2 Kings 17:17). Jeremiah refers to the fall of Babylon by such phrases as "Bel is shamed" and "Merodach is broken in pieces" (Jer. 50:2).
Perhaps a specific instance of the breaking of the power of a territorial spirit is seen in Paul’s encounter with the Elymas in eastern Cyprus. Elymas’ close relation-with the political authority, the proconsul Sergius Paulus, suggests a spiritual dominance of the region. Although the principality is not named, when a power en-the power of Elymas (called a "son of the devil"), the pronconsul believed. Satan’s attempt to blind Ms mind failed. (See Acts 13:6-13.)
Research on territorial spirits is so new that the same stories tend to get told over and over again. As time goes on, however, I do not doubt that credible stories of breaking the power of territorial spirits over areas large and small will multiply. Jamie Buckingham has told me of his sensing the presence of a specific power of evil over the city of Prague. He also reports that former Secretary of the Interior James Watt, through sensitivities acquired in his past occult dealings, perceived specific dark angels assigned to the White House.
In two of my books, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit (Servant) and How to Have a Healing Ministry (Regal), I tell eight examples of dealing with territorial spirits. Let me summarize them here.
Thailand. A wave of conversions followed when the missionaries set aside one day a week for spiritual warfare.
Uruguay-Brazil border. People who were closed to the gospel on the Uruguay side of the town’s main street became open when they crossed over to the Brazilian side.
Coste Rica. Symptoms of mental illness left a patient when she traveled to the United States, and they reappeared when, she returned to Costa Rica. Christian psychologist Rita Cabezas was told by one of the demons that they were limited to their territory and could not go to the U.S.
Navajo Reservation. Herman Williams, a Navajo Alliance pastor, suffered serious physical symptoms which left him as he crossed the reservation boundary for treatment in the city, and recurred when he entered the reservation again. The spirits causing this were traced to a witch doctor whom they later killed.
Philippines. Lester Sumrall cast a spirit out of an inmate in Bilibid Prison, which was followed by a dramatic change in the receptivity of Filipinos to the gospel.
Argentina. Omar Cabrera by prayer and fasting exercises a ministry of identifying the spirits controlling certain cities, breaks their power, and finds little subsequent resistance to God’s power for salvation and healing.
Korea. Paul Yonggi Cho attributes the contrast in receptivity to the gospel between Germany and Korea to the victories in spiritual warfare gained through the ministry of prayer of Korean Christians.
Argentina. Edgardo Silvoso reports the accelerated multiplication of churches within a radius of 100 miles of the city of Rosario after a team broke the power of the spirit of Merigildo in 1985.
Although I cannot personally attest to the validity of these case studies, they have been reported by people of integrity with reputations as credible witnesses. We all need discernment as we evaluate them further.
Here are some other reports:
Greece. Loren Cunningham of Youth With a Mission tells of an incident that happened in 1973. As 12 co-workers were praying and fasting for three days in Los Angeles, the Lord revealed to them that they should pray for the downfall of the prince of Greece. On the same day similar groups in New Zealand and Europe received the same word. All three groups obeyed and came against that principality. Within 24 hours a political coup changed the government of Greece and for the first time YWAM workers could preach the gospel in the streets.
Evanston, Illinois. While teaching a class for me in 1985, John Wimber gave a report from Vineyard pastor Steve Nicholson. After six years of ministry in Evanston, he had seen little fruit. They prayed for the sick and few got well. Then he started to pray and fast seriously.
At one point, a grotesque being appeared to him, saying, "Why are you bothering me?" It eventually identified itself as a demon of witchcraft who had supervision over that area. In the heat of the battle, Steve named the city streets and claimed them for God. The spirit said, "I don’t want to give you that much." Steve replied that through Jesus he was commanding him to give up the territory. The spirit argued some more and then left.
Immediately, the sick began to get well. In a little over three months, the church more than doubled from 70 to 150, most of them new converts from witchcraft. Almost all of them had to be delivered from demons as they were being saved.
Bermuda Triangle. Kenneth McAll spent many years as a missionary surgeon in China, then returned to England as a consulting psychiatrist. In China he began a deliverance ministry and did considerable research and writing on the subject. In 1972, he and his wife were sailing through the Bermuda Triangle. Many ships and airplanes had disappeared there without a trace, but they thought that such a thing could not happen to them. It did. They were overpowered by a fierce storm, but fortunately they were rescued. McAll discovered through Ms research that in the Bermuda Triangle the slave traders had thrown overboard some two million slaves who were either too sick or too weak to be sold and then collected insurance for them.
Sensing that God was leading him to do something, McAIl recruited several Anglican bishops, priests, and others throughout England to celebrate a Jubilee Eucharist in 1977. Another was held shortly afterward in Bermuda itself. The stated purpose was to seek the "specific release of all those who had met their untimely deaths in the Bermuda Triangle." As a result, the curse was lifted. McAIl reported in 1982, "From the time of the Jubilee Eucharist until now—five years—”no known inexplicable accidents have occurred in the Bermuda Triangle."
IDENTIFYING THE SPIRITS
Those who exercise a ministry of deliverance discover the names of demons and deal with them personally. As he was ministering to the demonized Gadarene, Jesus asked the spirit’s name and it was Legion (Mk. 5:9). If this is done with demons afflicting individuals, it’s reasonable to expect that it could also be done with territorial spirits.
I first encountered this kind of spiritual warfare in Argentina with Omar Cabrera, mentioned above. Although he identified territorial spirits and broke their power regularly, his highly intuitive nature did not permit Mm to analyze for me the principles behind such a ministry.
Another Latin American, Rita Cabezas, has done considerable research on the names of Satan’s Merarchy. I will not describe her methods, except to mention that it began with her extensive psychological and deliverance practice and later evolved into her receiving revelatory words of knowledge.
She has discovered that directly under Satan are six worldwide principalities named Damian, Asmodeo, Menguelesh, Arios, Beelezebub, and Nosferasteus. Under each, she reports, are six governors over each nation. For example, those over Costa Rica are Shiebo, Quiebo, Ameneo, Mephistopheles, Nostradamus, and Azazel. Those over the U.S. are Ralphes, Anoritho, Manchester, Apolion, Deviltook, and one unnamed.
Each of these governors has been delegated certain areas of evil. For example, the list under Anoritho includes abuse, adultery, drunkenness, fornication, gluttony, greed, homosexuality, lesbianism, lust, prostitution, seduction, sex and vice, while under Apolion we find aggressiveness, death, destruction, discord, dissent, grudges, hatred, homicide, violence, and war.
Apollyon is mentioned in Revelation 9:11 as "the angel of the bottomless pit." Beelzebub is mentioned seven times in the New Testament as a "ruler of demons" (Mt. 12:24). Asmodeus is described in the Apocrypha as "that worst of demons’" (Tobit 3:8). Some of the others can be found in the Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons. Azazel and Beelzebub are mentioned in Milton’s Paradise Last, and Apollyon in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
In applying this to world missions, Jacob Lowen helps us by pointing out, "In many societies throughout Central and South America the spirit deities associated with various geographical or topographical phenomena are spoken of as their ‘owners.’" Many nomads, for example, never make camp outside their own territory until they secure permission from the spirit owner. Loewen adds, "People never own the land; they only use it by the permission of its true spirit owners, who, in a sense, ‘adopt’ them." Although Loewen doesn’t say so, I would imagine that among animistic people the names of these spirit owners of territories are well known.
RECOGNIZING THE DANGERS
It would be irresponsible to say this much about territorial spirits and the possibility of breaking their power without pointing out the risks. There are four dear dangers.
1. Engaging in meaningless rhetoric. Many who write and teach on this subject want to reduce the approach to saying the right words. For example, if s been said that to break the power of spirits over a city, you must say, "I bind you Satan and I bind all of your emissaries, and I them to cease their activity today. I place them in a of confusion they do not know what to do. I confess joy in the city today; I confess peace in the city today in Jesus’ name."
There is nothing wrong with such a prayer, but it can too easily be used as some kind of magic formula to free an area from the enemy’s power for 24 hours, or some other period of time. People sometimes get a false sense of victory and their faith can be quenched when, after a time, it becomes clear that the victory was illusory.
2. Underestimating the enemy. Dealing with territorial spirits is major league warfare and should not be undertaken casually. I know few who have the necessary expertise, and if you do not know what you are doing, Satan will eat you for breakfast.
One of my students, Wilson Awasu, reports two tragic events in Ghana. Contrary to the warnings of the people, a pastor ordered them to cut down a tree that had been enshrined by Satanic priests. When the last branch was off, the pastor collapsed and died. Another pastor commanded that a fetish shrine be demolished. It was, and he suffered a stroke.
Timothy Warner told Fuller Seminary students, "Welcome to the war!" The purpose of this kind of ministry is to glorify God through the demonstrations of his power. But if the enemy’s power is underestimated, the opposite can occur.
3. Expecting power without prayer. The essence of prayer is a personal relationship with the Father. Prayer must accompany any attempt we make to invoke his power, because only through prayer will we know for sure what the Father himself is doing. Nothing could be more foolish than to attempt to break the power of territorial spirits, if the time, the place, and the methods turn out to be our choosing and not God’s. Only as we are intimate with the Father will we gain the spiritual perception to know what his will is in a given situation. Without prayer, we are sitting ducks for the power of darkness.
4. Overemphasizing power. Power evangelism in world missions is not a flawless formula for success. Demonstrations of God’s power by themselves never saved anyone. Jesus said as much to the seventy when they returned from their first success: "Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:20). The apostle Paul wrote: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). The gospel Paul preached was "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
The communication of this requires a balance of weakness and power. Paul said to the Corinthians, "I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling." He then went on to say that Ms preaching was not in words only, but "in demonstrations of the Spirit and of power." (See 1 Cor. 2:2-5.)
Even Jesus found that this power by did not always bring people to faith. Many of Ms mighty works were done in Chorazin Bethsaida, but cities did not repent. (See Mt 11:20-24.) Power certainly is important, but we must not overestimate its importance.
We should add a fifth danger, ignorance, and it may be the most widespread of all. Such ignorance may be intentional, because of fear, and some may be unintentional because of a lack of teaching about territorial spirits. But even among those who are aware of them, relatively few know how to go about breaking their power. For this reason, we need a lot more research. In fact, I consider this one of our most serious challenges in the days ahead.
To give one missiological example: On a recent visit to Japan, I toured the ancient city of Kyoto, which is said to be the core of Japanese culture. Not only was I enthralled by the beauty of Kyoto’s formal gardens, I was also impressed by the idolatry that pervaded the city. I wondered if Kyoto might be not only the seat of Japanese culture, but also the seat of Satan, much as Pergamos was (Rev. 2:13). It could be that the powers of darkness, directed and coordinated from Kyoto, have succeeded in blinding the eyes of the Japanese to the gospel.
For whatever reasons, our missionary investment in Japan has perhaps produced the lowest return of any nation. In spite of our many strategic conferences, our theses and our dissertations, and even our many prayer meetings for Japan, still far fewer than one percent of Japanese are practicing Christians. Quite a contrast to South Korea and China, where churches are multiplying.
I cannot help but feel that large-scale spiritual warfare could be a key in bringing Japanese to Christ. If God had called me to be a leader in the evangelization of Japan, I (1) seek God’s power to unite the various Christian factions; (2) train pastors and lay leaders in deliverance ministries; (3) look to God for ways to identify, engage and break the power of the territorial spirits that have held Japan in their clutches for centuries, I suspect that similar things could be done in other countries as well.
Because of the dangers, the engagement of territorial sprits should not be undertaken lightly. Given the high degree of risk, it is not a ministry for the fainthearted. Nevertheless, the power of the cross cannot be matched. On the cross, Jesus "disarmed principalities and powers. He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it."(Col.2:15).
My prayer is that God will raise up a new army of faithful leaders who, filled with the Holy Spirit, will learn how to apply the power of the cross against the principalities and power of darkness, thereby opening new pathways toward completing the Great Commission and bringing glory to God.
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