Do Demons Have a Postcode? Must evangelists bind territorial spirits?
In recent years there has been a growing school of thought on spiritual warfare, which emphasises the need to cast out demons from particular areas before effective evangelism can go ahead. Consider this illustration.
“Evanston, Illinois. Steve N. has preached the gospel in the area for six years with virtually no fruit. He begins some serious prayer and fasting. A grotesque, unnatural being appears to him. I growls, “Why are you bothering me?” It identifies itself as a demon of witchcraft who has dominion over the geographical area. In the heat of the warfare, (Steve) names the city streets in the surrounding area. The spirit retorts, “I don’t want to give you that much.” In the name of Jesus, (Steve) commands the spirit to give up the territory. During the next three months the church doubles in size.S. Lawson, “Defeating Territorial Demons”, Charisma and the Christian Life, April 1980,
quoted by J. MacArthur Jr, How to Meet the Enemy, 42
This approach to spiritual warfare insists that for evangelism to be effective Satan has to be bound. It is based on a belief that demons, known as territorial spirits, have a spiritual hold over particular geographical or political areas. These territorial spirits must be identified, named and bound in Jesus’ name, usually in a public display of power, before people can be won for Christ. Prayer is the main weapon. It is directed against the specific demon that is controlling a particular territory such as a street, suburb or town and takes place at key points in or around that territory.
There are some things to be commended in this approach to evangelism.
The emphasis on prayer is refreshing in the light of the many method-driven approaches to evangelism that are around these days. Not that we don’t need new methods. We should be continually looking for new ways to present the unchanging gospel truth as we seek to be all things to all men so that by all possible means we might win some (1 Cor. 9:22). But sometimes the method we use subtly replaces the need for prayer. Success can become dependent on finding the right method rather than seeking God to work in the hearts of people. We need to pray more that God will open people’s hearts and minds to the wonderful truth of the gospel.
The recognition of the spiritual battle that lies behind all true evangelism is a challenge to us. In our Western culture we have tended to play down or ignore the opposition that Satan has to evangelism and limit his activity to personal temptation. We need to be reminded that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). We must take seriously the spiritual battle in which we are involved.
However there are other aspects of this approach that should cause us concern.
There is a lack of biblical warrant for such an approach to evangelism. Those who promote it refer to Daniel 10 and the references to the prince of Persia and the prince of Egypt. These are possibly demonic rulers but they are only revealed to Daniel by an angelic being to explain why he was delayed in coming to Daniel. Daniel is given an insight into conflict in the spiritual realms but is nowhere instructed to join in that conflict by praying against these princes.
The teaching of Jesus and the apostles contains no instruction that Christians should be casting demons out of particular territories. We see them casting demons out of people but never out of geographical areas. In Mark 5 Jesus is confronted by a man who is possessed by a “legion” of demons. He sends them into a nearby herd of pigs who subsequently drown. Here Jesus casts the demons out of the man and makes no reference to the territory even though the demons had pleaded not to be sent out of the area. The lack of any clear scriptural command or precedent should make us very wary about being involved in such practices.
Much of the evidence cited to support this approach is anecdotal, from encounters with demon-possessed people. It is sometimes the words of the demons that are used to justify the practice of naming and binding territorial spirits. But we must remember that Satan is the father of lies and our understanding of the spirit world is not based on his deceptions but on what God has revealed.
The Bible does not encourage us to try to delve into the workings and structures of the evil spirit world in order to wage warfare against them. Instead we are called to resist the devil. But there is no indication that praying at specific geographic points or seeking to name and bind territorial demons has any part in this. Such behaviour is more akin to animist approaches to warding off evil spirits with various incantations than the spiritual warfare described in the Bible.
Those who promote the need to bind territorial spirits also warn against the dangers of engaging in such spiritual confrontations. Peter Wagner says, “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.”
This would seem to limit effective evangelism to a spiritual elite who have the necessary expertise to deal with territorial spirits. Everyone else must be relegated to ineffective evangelism or be discouraged from it all together. This is far from the New Testament picture of evangelism where all of God’s people are encouraged to share the good news and answer anyone who asks about their hope in Christ. It is also contrary to the testimony of church history where for centuries evangelism has been effectively carried out without any need to bind territorial spirits first.
Christ has disarmed the principalities and powers. He has defeated them through the cross (Col. 2:15). Our evangelism will be effective, not because we drive around the district binding demons on every street corner but because we proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).