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Spiritual Warfare

What's behind such practices as generational curses,
naming and mapping, and binding and loosing?


Several years ago a friend of mine gave away his kids' cat. "God told me the cat was a familiar spirit Satan sent to destroy our family," he explained. What I never understood was why, if the cat was so dangerous, my friend gave it to some other unsuspecting and defenseless family. It's a little too easy, though, to poke fun at people who do things like that. When it comes to spiritual warfare, my friend was simply modeling what he'd seen-namely, the lack of theological clarity and critical thinking that plagues the church today.

Despite the Bible's admonition not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6), so much preaching, writing and television has been devoted to spiritual warfare that many Christians have been distracted from what the Bible really says. Such theories and practices as generational curses, naming and mapping, binding and loosing and rebuking Satan are wildly popular, but marginally biblical at best.

"Much of Christian television's emphasis on the more showy forms of what they call spiritual warfare," writes Stu Webber in Spirit, Warrior, "resembles actual biblical, spiritual warfare about as much as the World Wrestling Foundation resembles actual, competitive wrestling". l

What are some of the methods used today for waging spiritual warfare — and what does the' Bible really say?


Generational Curses

This theory is based on a passage in the Ten Commandments:

"I, the Lord your God,' am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me" (Exodus 20:5).

Proponents of this theory say the reason children of alcoholics, for example, tend to become alcoholics themselves is because of this "generational curse."

The idea that God might pass sin down as if "it was a genetic trait, however, is not only unpleasant, but also contrary to Scripture: God clearly says that each of us is responsible for his or her own sin or righteous acts.2

In Moses' day, large, extended families were the norm. The phrase "third and fourth generation" refers to all the generations living in a household — all of whom can suffer if the head of the household sins (Joshua 7:1-25). 3

For better or worse, kids tend to emulate what they see: Children whose parents practice destructive sins often fall prey to the same sins themselves. A terrible cycle, to be sure, and one we should try to help people break without giving them the extra burden (or convenient excuse) of a nonexistent curse (Ezekiel 18:14-17).


Naming and Mapping

Popular author C. Peter Wagner, among others, has done much to promote this practice. The idea is that geographic areas have "territorial spirits" governing them, and Christians will enjoy little success at ministry unless they identify and engage these spirits, often by name.

Wagner cites passages such as Luke 8:30, in which Jesus forces Legion, a horde of demons possessing a man, to name themselves. This is evidence, Wagner says, that "naming and mapping the powers" is necessary for victory, provoking his followers to seek the characteristics, territory and names of evil spirits.4

Jesus, however, identified demons by name only when dealing with Legion, indicating that the significance was his authority even over huge numbers of demons. And nowhere in the Bible do believers approach ministry by seeking out the demons in the area first. The demons' names seem pretty inconsequential, if you ask me. In all the other cases of deliverance recorded in the Bible, the demon's name never even comes up.

If you enjoy frustration, try developing a biblical recipe for casting out demons. More than 40 passages in the New Testament mention Jesus or his followers driving out demons; of those, only five incidents give any details. 5 Jesus forced demons to name themselves on one occasion, yes, but many other times he forbade them to speak at all. He cast out demons "with a word," by merely proclaiming that they were gone without even seeing the victim, by rebuking them or by commanding them to leave. 6

The Bible makes it clear that casting out demons relies on God's authority, not on any particular method. 7 On the other hand, the shaky biblical ground of Wagner's theories forces him to cite extra biblical books and prophecies, testimony from animistic tribes, apocryphal Bible books such as The Acts of Andrew and the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin! 8


Binding and loosing

Some teachers and evangelists encourage their listeners to bind Satan or other evil spirits, based on a few verses:

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19; see also Matthew 18:18).

But do these verses really tell us anything about how to deal with evil spirits? Scholars don't always agree on precisely what Jesus meant, but the two main interpretations have little to do with spiritual warfare.

Some say Jesus gave his church the keys to salvation — that is, the gospel — and thus the responsibility to rebuke sin and proclaim forgiveness. 9 Others say Jesus charged his disciples with taking the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles — that he granted them the privilege of unlocking the kingdom of heaven on earth. 10

Scholars agree on one point, though: namely, that binding and loosing is directed toward people" not demons. Notice also that although Jesus gave his church the keys to the kingdom of heaven, he alone holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18). Seems to me that the keys of death and Hades have far more to do with authority over Satan than do the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

The finer points of theology aside, I've always been more than a little confused at this whole process of binding demons. When Satan is bound in Revelation, he stays bound until he is released (Revelation 20:1-3). Not to be flippant, but if we're binding the devil and his angels week after week in church and prayer services, either we're not doing it right, someone's letting them loose behind our backs — or we're wasting our time trying to do something God neither told nor gave us the authority to do.


Rebuking the Devil

Tune in to a televangelist, and you probably won't have to wait long before you hear him or her rebuke Satan. Is this a legitimate tactic for Christians?

Hardly. "Even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' (Jude 9).

Jesus may have rebuked demons, but if Michael — the archangel Michael! — dared only pray that God himself would deal with Satan, ll what gives us the audacity to speak so carelessly about celestial beings (Jude 8)? The Bible tells us to resist the devil, not to "diss" him James 4:7).


Lowest Common Denominator

I've looked only at the mainstream of the fringe here, so to speak. Besides the above examples, there are those who teach that vomiting is a necessary part of deliverance; that Satan is female, and we'll never defeat her until this is widely known; that nearly everyone has repressed memories Satan uses to keep us in bondage; that Cologne, Germany, is a "gate of hell" responsible for more bloodshed and heresy than anything else in history; and that demons can attach themselves to inanimate objects to sneak into Christians' homes.12

Dr. Barry Davis, assistant professor of Greek and Hebrew at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon, says a common thread runs through most of these tactics.

"Any time we place a greater emphasis on what we do rather than who we serve, we'll get into error," Dr. Davis says. "If certain things have to be done a certain way to see results, is that the gospel or some magic formula?"

Most scholars agree that exorcism is no different than magic: It attempts to use a ritual or certain objects or words to manipulate demons, whereas true deliverance can be performed only with God's authority by a Christian in a right relationship with Christ. 13 This is why there's no deliverance recipe in Scripture: The method is irrelevant.

"Nowhere in the Bible," says Stu Weber, "do we see Christians using sacred objects, holy water, wooden crosses, key chains or other trinkets to combat the devil or demons. There is no mumbo-jumbo, no bargaining or exchanging in conversation with demons. In the Bible, demons are simply sent packing by the power of God based on the triumph of Christ. " 14


The Real Deal

Like the Pharisees, today's warfare preachers have taken something childishly simple and made it unnecessarily complicated. If spiritual warfare is none of the things described above, what is it?

"The real battle isn't physical," Dr. Davis says, "which means the way we fight is total reliance upon God — he fights for us."

Stu Weber adds, "The Christian fights Satan by living a holy personal life in obedient faithfulness to God. Christians should forget toying around with formulas, shows and stagecraft, and concentrate instead on personal holiness." 15

Maybe holiness and obedience aren't as spectacular as binding, loosing, rebuking, naming, mapping or vomiting — but then again, God has no need to show off. I'll take something that works over something that's spectacular any day.


1 Weber, Stu. Spirit Warrior (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2001), p. 110.

2 Jeremiah 31:30-31; Ezekiel 18:1-22.

3 Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses (New York: Schocken Books, 1983, 1986, 1990, 1995), p. 455. See also Clements, Ronald R. Exodus (Catholic Bible Commentary), Cambridge, 1972.

4 Wagner, C. Peter. Warfare Prayer (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1992), pp. 87-103, 143-160.

5 1) The Gerasene demoniac: Matthew 8:28-33; Mark 5:2-13; Luke 8:27-33. 2) The Syrophoenician woman's daughter: Matthew 15:22-28; Mark 7:25-30. 3) The demon-possessed man in Capernaum: Mark 1:23-26; Luke 4:33-35. 4) The unbelieving man's son: Mark 9:17-26; Luke 9:38-42. 5) The clairvoyant slave girl: Acts 16:16-18.

6 Mark 1:34; Luke 4:41; Matthew 8:16; Mark 7:29; Matthew 15:28, 17:18; Luke 4:35.

7 Mark 3:14-15; Luke 9:1;Acts 19:13-16.

8 Wagner, op. cit., pp. 98-101,148.

9 Walvoord, John F.; Zuck, Roy B. The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton, 1L:Victor Books, 1983) ,pp. 58, 62.

10 Unger, Merrill F. The New Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), p. 172. See also Cadbury, H.J Journal of Biblical Literature 58 (1939), pp. 231-234; Mantey, J.R. JBL 58 (1939), pp. 243-49; Via, D.O. Jr. Review and Expositor 55 (1958), pp. 22-39.

11 Walvoord and Zuck, op. cit., p. 921.

12 Farley, G.M. Satan Unmasked (Tuscaloosa, AL: Portals Press, 1979), pp. 87-107; Hawkins, Yisrayl. Unveiling Satan: Her True Identity Revealed (Abilene, TX: House of Yahweh, 1995); Littauer, Fred and Florence. Freeing Your Mind From Memories That Bind (San Bernadino, CA: Here's Life Publishers, 1988); Joyner, Rick. Epic Battles of the Last Days (New Kensington, PAc Whitaker House, 1995), pp. 155-168; Wagner, op. cit., pp. 73-86.

13 Unger, op. cit., p. 388; Walvoord and Zuck, op.cit.,p.410.

14 Weber, op. cit., p. 110.

15 Ibid.

Freelance writer Greg Hartman lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.