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Spiritual warfare is the concept that demons attempt to thwart Good and the will of God. Some believe this "warfare" to be manifested in multiple ways, including by demonic possession, demonic harassment, by attacks on a person's thoughts, relationships, or life with God.

Contemporary Evangelical circles are particularly interested in the concept of spiritual warfare. Some Evangelicals believe that when someone is attacked by demons or fallen spirits, the targeted person can combat the attack by prayer, fasting, consulting with their spiritual advisers, and perhaps also by a process known as casting out demons.

Scriptural basis

A scriptural basis for the concept of spiritual warfare is found in the Epistle to the Ephesians, where Paul metaphorically arms the Christian with weapons and armor that recall those of a Roman centurion:

The "helmet of Salvation" and the "breastplate of Righteousness" are included in the Messianic prophecy of , which predates the Roman Republic and its legionary army calling into question its inspiration.

Traditional demonology

Major traditions of Western Christianity — including Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant — acknowledge a belief in the reality (or ontological existence) of a fallen angel known as the Devil and Satan. This affirmation is reinforced in the writings of the Church Fathers, in the Councils and Creeds of the early Church, and in the later confessional documents of some Christian denominations.

The doctrinal position of some Western Christian Church traditions is that Satan and other fallen angels, or demons, are spiritual entities that exist and sometimes manifest their presence in the world. These entities exist to deceive humanity. Their primary mission is to thwart God's purposes on earth, and to prevent non-believers from placing faith in Christ and to prevent Christians from being effective disciples of Yeshua (Jesus). Satan is referred to as "the father of lies" (St. John 8:44) and as "the accuser of our brothers" (Revelation 12:10).

Demonic references

Biblical passages that highlight the subject of demons are principally found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul's epistles focus on the victory of Christ over principalities and powers. The Book of Revelation portrays the casting down of Satan and of Satan's being bound forever due to the triumph of Christ in the Resurrection. Other passages concerning demons and angels are scattered throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Outside of the biblical canon, demonology is found in pseudepigraphal writings, such as the First Book of Enoch, and in the post-New Testament writings of the early fathers such as The Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius's epistle to the Ephesians, and Origen's Contra Celsum.

Possibly the clearest and most detailed example of spiritual warfare in the Bible can be found 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.

The traditional response of the Church has been to positively confess and proclaim the supremacy and victory of Christ in his resurrection from the dead over all things, including the Devil, demons or fallen angels. In the early church, the rite of exorcism took various forms including prayer, laying-on of hands, fasting, and sprinkling holy water. Church Fathers such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian attest to the importance of invoking the name of Christ against a demon.

Other early rites involved the repelling of demons prior to a candidate's undergoing baptism. The candidate would participate in various rituals intended to cleanse demonic influences (Clementine Recognitions). During the rite of baptism the candidate would publicly renounce Satan, while the water was consecrated. See also sign of the cross

In the Roman Catholic tradition the rite of exorcism was placed under strict guidelines by Pope Paul V in the Roman Ritual (12, 13). Further definition came in the early Twentieth century from Pope Pius XI.

Roman Catholicism

In modern times the views of individual Roman Catholics have tended to divide into traditional and more modern understandings of the subject. An example of a more modern view of the demonic is found in the work of the Dominican scholar Richard Woods' The Devil.

The traditional outlook is represented by Father Gabriele Amorth who has written two books on his personal experiences as an exorcist for the Vaticanmarker: An Exorcist Tells His Story, and An Exorcist: More Stories. Francis MacNutt, who was a priest within the Roman Catholic Charismatic Movement, has also addressed the subject of the demonic in his writings about healing.

Reformation and Post-Reformation

The practice of exorcism was also known among the first generation of teachers and pastors in the Lutheran Reformation. Johannes Bugenhagen Pomeranus was the pastor of the Wittenbergmarker town church and officiated at Martin Luther's wedding. In a letter addressed to Luther and Melanchthon dated November 1530, Pomeranus recounted his experience of dealing with a young girl who showed signs of demon possession. Pomeranus' method involved counseling the girl concerning her previous baptismal vows, he invoked the name of Christ and prayed with her. (Letter reproduced in Montgomery, Principalities and Powers).

The Anglican-Puritan writer William Gurnall wrote a lengthy three-volume work The Christian in Complete Armour that was published between 1662 and 1665. In this work Gurnall stressed the place of reading Scripture, prayer and the name of Christ.

Protestant Evangelicals

In the American revival tradition among evangelicals, prominent preachers such as D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, R. A. Torrey and Billy Graham have all affirmed their belief in the existence of the demonic and had occasions to recount some of their own spiritual warfare encounters. In the nineteenth century, one of the major evangelical authorities on demon possession was the missionary to China, John Livingston Nevius.

During the late twentieth century, evangelical writers such as Mark Bubeck and Merrill Unger presented their theological and pastoral response to demonic phenomena. The problem of demon possession and spiritual warfare became the subject of a Christian Medical Association symposium that was held in 1975. This symposium brought together a range of evangelical scholars in biblical studies, theology, psychology, anthropology, and missiology (see Montgomery, Demon Possession).

One of the very significant German writers is the Lutheran Kurt Koch whose work has influenced much of both evangelical and charismatic thought in the late twentieth century. The impact of his ideas has been recently examined by the folklore specialist Bill Ellis.

Popular interest in spiritual warfare increased markedly after the release of the film The Exorcist in 1973.

Pentecostal and charismatic perspectives

Spiritual warfare has become a prominent feature in some pentecostal and charismatic churches. The concept is well embedded in Pentecostal history, particularly through Jessie Penn-Lewis's book War on the Saints arising from the Welsh Revival in the early twentieth century. However, Jessie Penn-Lewis preaches a very different kind of spiritual warfare than that preached by the third-wave Charismatic movement of today - notably C. Peter Wagner and Cindi Jacobs. Other Pentecostal and charismatic pastors include Don Basham and Derek Prince, who have emphasized claiming the power of the blood of Christ.

The concept of spiritual warfare has been applied by Pentecostals to the Christian's spiritual growth in holiness or what is technically called sanctification. A preacher may discern that parishioners are experiencing obstacles in their faith, prayer life and general spiritual well-being. That process of discernment may yield an awareness of spiritual oppression caused by a combination of personal sin and demonic influence. The obstacles are then removed through prayer, delivering a parishioner from demonic possession, and breaking down false beliefs about God. Dr. Ed Murphy is the author of a modern 600-page tome on the subject from the point of view of deliverance ministry entitled The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare.

Pentecostals and charismatics have also applied the concept in the task of evangelism and worldwide missions. Former missionaries such as Charles Kraft and C. Peter Wagner have emphasized the problem of demonology on the world mission fields and the need to drive demons out.

Mapping” involves research and prayer to locate specific individuals who are then accused of witchcraft, or individuals, groups, or locations that are thought to be victims of witchcraft or possessed by demons, against which spiritual warfare is then waged.

A popular fictional portrayal of spiritual warfare is found in the novels by Frank E. Peretti, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, and Darrin J Mason, Ominous.

Controversy and assessments

From inside the evangelical tradition a number of concerns have been raised about the current emphasis on spiritual warfare. Robert Guelich of Fuller Theological Seminarymarker has questioned the extent to which spiritual warfare has shifted from its basic moorings as a metaphor for the Christian life. He is disturbed to find spiritual warfare metamorphosing into "spiritual combat" techniques where Christians seek power over demons. Guelich argues that Paul's writings in the Epistle to the Ephesians are focused on proclaiming the peace of God and nowhere specify any techniques for battling demons. He also finds that the novels of Frank Peretti are seriously at odds with both the gospel narratives on demons and Pauline teaching.

Missions specialists such A. Scott Moreau and Paul Hiebert have detected traces of animist thought encroaching on both evangelical and charismatic discourses about the demonic and spiritual warfare. Hiebert indicates that a dualist cosmology now appears in some spiritual warfare texts and it is based on the Greco-Roman mystery religions and Zoroastrian myths. However, Hiebert also chastises other evangelicals who have absorbed the modern secular outlook and have tended to downplay or even ignore the demonic. Hiebert speaks of the flaw of the excluded middle in the thinking of some evangelicals who have a cosmology of God in heaven and humans on earth, but have ignored the "middle" realm of the angelic and demonic.

The excesses of unsubstantiated allegations made in the satanic ritual abuse phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s has also prompted critical reviews. Some apologists in the Christian countercult movement have expressed concerns that spiritual warfare techniques seem at times to have been based on spurious stories and anecdotes without careful discernment and reflection. Some of these general concerns have been expressed by apologists like Elliot Miller (Christian Research Institute), and Bob and Gretchen Passantino in various articles published in the Christian Research Journal. Others, such as Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott, have called into question the claims of alleged ex-Satanists like Mike Warnke and Lauren Stratford whose stories have subsequently influenced many popular books about spiritual warfare and the occult. Bill Ellis's work, Raising the Devil, has detected the presence of folkloric stories about the occult and demons circulating in evangelical and charismatic circles, which later become accepted as unquestioned facts.

In 2000 an international collaborative attempt was made by evangelicals and charismatics in the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization to reach some common agreement about spiritual warfare. The conference gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, and yielded a consultation document as well as many technical papers published as the book Deliver Us from Evil.

Other viewpoints

Other perspectives that move in a therapeutic line include Christian author William Bandlwin in his popular book Spirit Releasement Therapy, and healer and author Ken Page uses a similar approach. M. Scott Peck accepts the reality of demons, with remedial help framed in a healing psychotherapeutic framework in his book People of the Lie.

The Islamic concept of Jihad is also occasionally used to refer to a spiritual struggle against sin.

See also


Further reading and listening

  • Media:*Spiritual Warfare I-II—The Story of Stephen Morin Margy Mayfield Broadcast CD
  • Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist tells his story, translated by Nicoletta V. MacKenzie (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999).
  • Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist - More Stories, translated by Nicoletta V. MacKenzie (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002).
  • Donald Grey Barnhouse, The Invisible War (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965).
  • William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974 [reprint of edition published 1864]) or (Diggory Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1846857959)
  • Frank Hammond and Ida Mae Hammond, Pigs in the Parlor: A Practical Guide To Deliverance (Kirkwood: Impact Books, 1973).
  • Thomas Ice and Robert Dean, Overrun By Demons (Eugene: Harvest House, 1990).
  • Kurt Koch, Occult ABC (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978).
  • D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-13 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976).
  • D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977).
  • Francis MacNutt, The Power to Heal (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1977).
  • Francis MacNutt, Deliverance From Evil Spirits (Grand Rapids: Chosen, 1995).
  • "A Reformation-Era Letter on Demon Possession" translated and reproduced in John Warwick Montgomery, Principalities and Powers, revised edition (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), pp. 196–205.
  • John Warwick Montgomery, ed., Demon Possession (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1976).
  • A. Scott Moreau, Tokunboh Adeyemo, David G. Burnett, Bryant L. Myers & Hwa Yung, eds., Deliver Us From Evil: An Uneasy Frontier in Christian Mission (Monrovia: MARC, 2002).
  • Ed Murphy, The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare, revised ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
  • John Livingston Nevius, Demon Possession and Allied Themes (Old Tappan: Revell, 1894).
  • B. J. Oropeza, 99 Answers to Questions about Angels, Demons and Spiritual Warfare (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
  • Jessie Penn-Lewis, War On The Saints, 9th ed., (New York: Thomas Lowe, 1973) or the (Unabridged Edition from Diggory Press, 2005, ISBN 978-1905363018)
  • Ray C. Stedman, Spiritual Warfare (Waco: Word, 1975).
  • Merrill F. Unger, What Demons Can Do To Saints (Chicago: Moody, 1991).
  • C. Peter Wagner, ed., Territorial Spirits (Chichester: Sovereign World, 1991).
  • Joe Beam, Seeing the Unseen: Your Guide to Spiritual Warfare (West Monroe: Howard Books, 1994).
  • Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil (San Francisco: Harper Reissue edition (October 1992) ISBN 0-06-065337-X)


  • Clinton E. Arnold, 3 Questions About Spiritual Warfare (Grand rapids: Baker, 1997).
  • Michael Cuneo, American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty (London/New York: Bantam, 2002).
  • Bill Ellis, Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religious Movements, and the Media (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000).
  • Robert A. Guelich, "Spiritual Warfare: Jesus, Paul and Peretti," Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 13/1 (1991), pp. 33–64.
  • Paul G. Hiebert, "Biblical Perspectives on Spiritual Warfare," in Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), pp. 203–215.
  • A. Scott Moreau, "Religious Borrowing as a Two-Way Street: An introduction to animistic tendencies in the Euro-North American context," in Christianity and the Religions, Edward Rommen and Harold Netland, eds. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1995), pp. 166–183.
  • Robert J. Priest, Thomas Campbell and Bradford A. Mullen, "Missiological Syncretism: The New Animistic Paradigm," in Spiritual Power and Missions, Edward Rommem, ed., (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1995), pp. 143–168.
  • Derek Prince, "Spiritual Warfare, Headquarters: The Heavenlies, The Battlefield: Our Minds!" 1987

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