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Worldviews in Conflict: Christian Cosmology and the Recent Doctrine of Spiritual Mapping (Part 2)

 

Third, church leaders are right in emphasizing the need for prayer, and summoning the church to a new level of spiritual warfare. It is obvious that prayer has been a key ingredient, if not the principle means, of opening missionary doors and reaching thousands of unsaved souls throughout the history of the church. This was the case in China at the close of the nineteenth century, when missionaries and church leaders made intercessory prayer a priority. In reference to the success of the China Inland Mission, Bloesch notes:

At a conference… it was agreed that the pressing need was for no less than 100 new missionaries. As they discussed this almost impossible challenge, one of them asked, “Is anything too hard for God?” The whole company then turned to earnest, passionate intercession. As they continued in prayer, the conviction seized them that their prayers would be answered affirmatively… That very year there was a marked increase in the number of those who volunteered for service… and before the year ended, 100 new missionaries were sent out.55

At the same time, while we recognize the need for spiritual warfare and prayers of intercession, we must keep our focus on communion with God, recognizing that Christ—alone—has the power to overcome Satan. Even if we grant the idea that a cosmic battle is taking place, we still must pray in the manner prescribed by the New Testament.56 Instead of identifying regional influences, we might be better to follow the example of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17. Here, the True Intercessor prays for his disciples that they may be protected (17:11-12), that they may be sanctified (v. 17), that their message would be successful (vv. 20-21), and that they would remain in unity (vv. 23-26).

Jesus’ entire earthly ministry seemed to be absorbed in comprehending and obeying the “Father’s will” (John 5:16-30), rather than identifying the particular regional spirits surrounding Galilee and Judea. He met Satan’s challenge head on, casually but forcefully (Luke 8:26-37; 9:37-43; esp. 11:14-22).57 A mere glimpse of Jesus caused demons to cringe in fear (Luke 8:28). He did not actively seek trouble but dealt with demonic forces as he encountered them during the course of his ministry.

The obedient work of Christ effectively “bound the strong man” (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22). In other words, the devil was helpless against the authority of Christ. Jesus’ strategy was simple, “…to preach good news to the poor,…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). As he approached Jerusalem for the last time, he might have sought to understand the spiritual powers that captivated it, instead he wept over the city and predicted its imminent destruction (Luke 19:41-44).

Mark characterizes the earthly ministry of Jesus by saying: “…Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God” (Mark 1:14). Clearly, Jesus saw this as his primary calling, even though he cast out every demon that appeared in his path (Mark 1:21-28). If the Master’s work focused on the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, it follows that the central job of the church remains the preaching of the gospel, as Grudem observes:

Christians just preach the gospel, and it comes with power to change lives! (Of course, demonic opposition may arise, or God himself may reveal the nature of certain demonic opposition, which Christians would then pray and battle against, according to I Cor. 12:10; II Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 6:12).58

The church in the book of Acts was also familiar with demonic attack and the devices of evil men who attempt to intimidate God’s people and impeded the spread of the Gospel. On the release of John and Peter from prison, the church gathered together and lifted their voice in one accord. They spent no time in trying to understand the names and attributes of the evil forces surrounding them, they simply called out to the most powerful force in the cosmos: the “Sovereign Lord” (Acts 4:23-31). Some Jews, on the other hand, who apparently had no relationship with Christ, tried to engage the enemy by the use of manipulation and incantation (Acts 19:13-20). They were surprised to find themselves overpowered and publicly humiliated by a demon possessed man, demonstrating the fact that there is no inherent power in rebuking the devil.59

The Apostle Paul might well have drawn conclusions about spiritual powers behind the inordinate amount of idols that adorned Athens (Acts 17:16). Instead he chose to “reason” with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks in the synagogue, and used the idols as an illustration in his message to an assembly (17:22-34). Paul’s secret weapon appears to have been his undaunted trust in God, and his courage to pray and worship in his darkest moments (Acts 16:25-26). He understood that genuine prayer breaks the chains of darkness (v. 26) and brings about the will of God (Phil. 1:19). God alone answers prayer and God—alone—must receive the glory. It is not our fancy prayers of invocation or our sophisticated methods of spiritual warfare that bring about God’s purpose, as Barth so aptly put it:

Prayer exerts an influence upon God’s action, even upon his existence… Perhaps we doubt the sincerity of our prayer and the worth of our request. But one thing is beyond doubt: it is the answer that God gives. Our prayers are weak and poor. Nevertheless, what matters is not that our prayers be forceful, but that God listens to them. That is why we pray.60

Another constructive criticism about those leading the charge in this new field is that they have largely based their research on pragmatic tests and feelings of personal inner-guidance. Pragmatism, as a distinct American philosophy, has worked reasonably well for the medical and business community, but result-oriented theology may lead to wrong-headed and destructive paths.61 C. Peter Wagner, for example, noted for his expertise in the area of church growth,62 has based much of his findings on his worldwide travels, observations and interviews with various people.63 The main thrust of his program is largely pragmatic in nature; in other words, if it works, it must be true. Other spirit-mapping proponents argue that, unless we employ the practice, “large-scale conversions are unlikely to occur.”64 This is a remarkably odd statement in view of the early church’s success and the countless revivals throughout church history.

 

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Category: Living the Faith, Winter 2002

About the Author: Larry L. Taylor, M.A., D.Min., is Affiliate Faculty at Regis University in the Denver area and formerly professor of humanities at Portland Bible College. Larry Taylor founded a church in Colorado and has 17 years of pastoral experience.

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