I have spent a few weeks looking into the colourful world of C. Peter Wagner, via two books, a number of videos online, a number of websites, and a brief look at his FB profile. His area of study is church growth and his home base is Fuller Theological Seminary in California.
The first book I read was “Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits”. Pretty fascinating read. It tracks the experience of various evangelical churches across the globe, but particularly in South America, and the various challenges, set-backs or triumphs they have achieved or suffered in their missionary efforts. Wagner looks at the reasons for these various wins or losses.
One of the key concepts is the idea of territoriality in the supernatural realm. To Wagner, this is the unseen, silent dimension which sits behind and directly informs the occurences or ‘happenings’ in our world. The spiritual realm dictates the manifestation of physical phenomena and human experience. The contention is that certain malevolent or power-seeking entities observe dominion over spiritual territory -which can often have affiliated geographical territory- and this needs to be understood and combatted, through holy observances and prayer. Often these unholy regimes will work through national agencies or be harboured within human institutions. People or groups of people can influence the supernatural using concentrated and willfully directed thought energy.
This state of affairs, this sin-stricken landscape, is an ingrained consequence of fall of man; the idea that Adam, the inclusive archetype of human kind, relinquished his God ordained dominion to the unsavoury and deleterious clasp of Satan. We are in the grueling contortions of wrestling back that power. Wagner is all about reclaiming that divinity and authority by rejecting and overpowering the forces that would see humans defiled, mistreated or destroyed.
I want to present some of the main concepts that I find interesting or thought provoking, most of which come from the book Warfare Prayer. I should say that I do not subscribe fully to this wing of protestant Christianity, but I am very interested in what C. Peter Wagner has to say. I have read quite a number of objections and protests from online sources that would cast Wagner as a charlatan or as an extremist. I figure fleshing out some of his material is worth the effort.
Idea 1: Defining demons that operate in the Spirit Realm
*St. Anthony plagued by demons, engraving by Martin Schongauer in the 1480s.
Wagner regularly return to Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”.
Wagner’s theory is that our daily trails, stresses and vicissitudes are the product of conflict in the heavenlies. Demons represent that portion of the cosmic agency that is at odds with the authority of the Most High God. It is the incompatibility of ethereal or spiritual modes of manifestation -godly and ungodly modes- that causes disharmony and a confusing disarray of human agendas. Suffering is borne of this clash in the inherent manner in which something wants to manifest itself.
In general, the bent of a demonic force is one that treats the property of God with disrespect. The property of God refers to absolutely everything, everything that is, all creation -all beings and matter. The demonic refers to those intelligences or dispositions that would use God’s property as part of an agenda or expression that is: selfish, perverted, hurtful, aggressive, domineering, greedy, jealous, impious, egotistical, competitive, oppressive, lustful, angry, idolatrous or manipulative. These things do not speak of God’s holy character. Forces that perpetuate or encourage such behaviour, or a combination of these behaviours, may be thought of as demonic. They detract from the holy character of humankind. They compromise our divine nature. Satisfaction in God, wanting to give expression to and honour to the truth, is the reverse of this.
Wagner describes various cases where human individuals or groups are infused with one or more of the insalubrious characteristics mentioned above, for instance Pastor Lorenzo facing a demonised woman, or Carlos Annacondia mounting a prayer and conversion crusade in the city of La Plata, which harboured a real stubbornness against the message of the gospel.
Wagner’s belief is that “social structures, like demonised human beings, can be delivered from demonic oppression through warfare prayer” (p.95).
Idea 2: Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare
Wagner promotes “Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare” (SLSW) which involves the practice of learning the names and assignments of demonic spirits as the first step to effective spiritual warfare. How this is supposed to be ascertained is not especially clear, but the theory is that knowing names of entities assists in confronting them. Further, SLSW involves assembling large numbers of focused intercessors -prayer agents- to identify and then pray against some identifyable malaise that might be afflicting a geographical region.
For example, as a generalisation, a town might be all about appearances and material show, and dwell too much and too overtly on status and ego. The role of the intercessor group might be to find a place of silent humility within themselves and put that into the universe, in that region, with solid and unwavering intent. They find the inverse emotion or feeling and then stay with that, planting it in the atmosphere and hoping that it is felt and noticed by those in the grasp of a ego-centered existence.
Wagner describes the conscious and planned dispersal of intercessors across a city to make a geographical grid, so that when those thoughts and sentiments are energised, they meet the city with greatest geographical effect.
This is essentially a conscious and willful battle against the forces that draw us away from God. We are all mutually implicated, and indivisible as a group, so the practiced and premeditated directing of positive or God-fearing thought enegy is something that cannot really be reversed or disregarded. The thoughts go out and meet the universe, so the likelihood of that reality changing or shifting to something brighter and more harmonious is increased.
Sometimes this concentration of holy energy can result in major power encounters and aggressive interplay between conflicting parties. Wagner depicts some hair-raising anecdotal scenarios where power encounters combine willful sorcery or the use of violent magic to undermine the position of church members. So it is worth remembering and appreciating that these encounters are generally downplayed in our society as unreal and undeserving of attention, because they don’t fit a rationalist world view, but actually seeing their ineluctable place in shaping our reality, and understanding the dynamics, is, absolutely, an important thing. These clashes and power encounters happen to us all. Understanding how to pray and direct thought energy effectively is an integral part of success in this respect, if one is to be of assistance to everyone else.
This supernaturalistic world view encourages us to see God as an intimate and ever-present force for good, as we go about our daily business, something infused in the very fabric of our daily affairs, which can be called upon for strength and hope, and as an ultimate arbitrator, the final authority which can, without hindrance, stamp down a final outcome. Warfare prayer helps to facilitate a godly or God-fearing outcome when power encounters occur. Prayer invites God to intervene for the good of others. “Good” being synonymous with finding inner peace and freedom from hurt.
The ability to name evil spirits is not so important as to perceive the brand of sin or immorality that might be afflicting an area, and then work concertedly to combat that.
I was pretty inspired about what might be achieved with this. The prospect of sizable, organised groups of people coming together to give expression to thoughts that might shape a better world I found utterly compelling. How else are we going to do it? We must think something better into reality. The better we get at coordinated thinking, the more adroit we become at defining the shapes and characteristics of our thoughts, particularly in group situations, the better positioned we will be to craft a world we are proud of and inspired by, rather that systematically and predictably sickened by.
Idea 3: How to Pray
Wagner outlines a set of principles that will assist warfare prayer, or targeted prayer. This includes:
Submitting to God: That means be committed and obedient to God. This means being reluctant to stray from holy things. Understand that you are the property of God and your personal free will sometimes will be overridden by God’s will, since God created us and knows how to lead us and draw us to good (Himself), better than we do. Be okay with this happening. Ensure that you participate only in agendas that you are absolutely proud of. Do not enter into the spirit of ridicule or unkindness, ever. Fear God’s power. It is immense and will put us in our place in an instant. Be humble and penitent before God. Hope in God; sure He will provide, as always.
Draw Near to God: You MUST desire God’s holy presence. In prayer, desire is everything. Desire to know the truth within and remain in the silence that is with you and upon you always. This, according to Wagner, means striking up a close and trusting relationship with life. It means expecting that thoughts that are emitted in the form of questions will be answered, but generally in a completely unpredictable way. It means respecting God’s right to answer our prayers in a fashion decided by God, not in a fashion that we hope for or preempt. We need to regularly engage in a personal prayer life. This can be assisted by a prayer book or devotional literature that can promt and draw us to a holy place within. This requires time and practice and faith and belief. Not necessarily easy!
Cleanse Our Hands and Purify Our Hearts: This basically means keep yourself from evil to the greatest extent you are capable of. Give minimal attention to pursuits or behaviours that drag us away from a holy position. Do not indulge, engage or fuel sordid or harmful activities. Use quotes, prompts and images of people that represent the highest virtues and attitudes within human experience. Make this part of your reality. This will help to craft a version of yourself that approximates your highest capability.
Carefully Choose: The place (somewhere safe and quiet), the time (prefeably at the same time each day, Wagner suggests one hour, gradually bumped up from smaller timeframes), the attitude (one of quietness and sincerity and desire for God), the format (either something of your own creation, or something formal like the Lord’s prayer), the quality (aim for something genuine, enter into your thoughts and feelings with the conviction and aplomb of an actor. Mean it. Make sure it comes from you. Want and desire whatever outcome you are looking for. Sincerity is THE most important factor in prayer.)
Consider Fasting: Wager notes that fasting can help us to eneter into the spirit of not needing to slake desire. It is a statement to ourselves and God that we are strong enough and determined enough “not to want”, which connotes freedom. This is potentially a helpful exercise, rather than something essential.
Idea 4: The Reality
The purpose of the post above is to set out a few of the main concepts from Wagner’s work and consider the value or potential. Many of the objectives and theories embody a target only, and are obviously subjected to the reality that demonic or negative forces plague our existence and are difficult to extricate or abstain from altogether. If one person is participating in them, we all are, as our actions are shared.
The point is to identify some areas that could be of assistance or promise, like understanding what demonic or negative forces look like, the potential of choreographed and planned group thinking or prayer to propagate material outcomes of a positive nature (to counteract demonic influences), and to provide some of the basic tenets and practices Wagner puts forward for effective prayer. Solidarity of purpose is perhaps the most essential factor in making warfare prayer efficacious.
Renfield H. Bizarre, 07.02.16