Does the Assemblies of God believe in spiritual warfare? To what extent should Christians search for and take authority over satanic and evil forces?
The Assemblies of God believes in spiritual warfare because the concept is clearly stated in Scripture. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For 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. 6:10-12).
But the Assemblies of God does not believe in spiritual warfare as it is defined and practiced by some well-meaning but misguided advocates of an unbiblical spiritual warfare. Verses are taken out of context or carried to extreme interpretations by some to arrive at meanings that go beyond the clear statements of Scripture. Or a single instance in the Bible is made a pattern for prayer and warfare against Satan when other Scripture passages do not portray the same emphasis.
In His ministry while on earth, Jesus cast out evil spirits, setting the demon-possessed free from physical infirmities accompanying the presence of evil. But on other occasions Jesus healed infirmities that resulted from natural causes, not from personal sin or demon possession (e.g., John 9:2,3). Carried to extremes, some who have misinterpreted spiritual warfare have imagined demons around every corner and location a believer travels. Some begin worship in the house of God by casting out the demons that "likely" have entered the building since the last gathering of the saints. But the only pattern of Scripture is the call for God’s presence as Christians gather for worship and edification. God’s presence guarantees that there is no power present that is not subject to His will.
Other misinterpreters of spiritual warfare take 1 Peter 5:8 out of context and use it to give Satan a power and an omnipresence which are not supported by Scripture. "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" sounds ominous. And the work of the devil must never be underestimated. But the next verse puts our authority over Satan in proper perspective. "Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings" (1 Peter 5:9). Our everyday Christian walk is not to be a litany of rebuking the devil at every turn, but rather a standing firm in the faith and resisting the temptations that Satan slyly brings against believers. To do more is to give greater credit to Satan than he deserves.
Others have taken Luke 10:19 as the basis for an aggressive assault on an omnipresent Satan. Jesus said to His disciples, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." Only God is omnipresent. Satan and his cohorts are limited to one place at a time, though there are presumably enough evil spirits to populate the earth. Yet they all are subject to the power and authority of God. The following verse brings balance to the seeming militaristic statement of Jesus. "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
Some people have been so caught up in confronting Satan at every turn that they forget to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. Though the evil one is able to attack us, he cannot defeat us, as our citizenship is in heaven. We must never forget that we are covered and protected by the blood and life that Jesus gave when He died on the Cross (2 Thess. 3:3).
The beautiful picture of the Christian soldier in Ephesians 6:13-18 is magnificent:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
We are engaged in spiritual warfare. But the soldier portrayed in the passage is not a warrior flailing wildly at an enemy he cannot see and doesn’t understand. He stands tall in the confidence that he has all the protection and weaponry he needs to meet any attack of the evil one. He is alert. And he prays for all the saints that they might be so equipped as he is.
Some take an isolated instance in which Jesus asked a demon its name (Legion, Mark 5:9) to mean that the "demon" behind every sickness or malady must first be identified and then cast out of a person. But we are not commanded in Scripture to seek or know the names of spirits in order to deliver individuals from evil.
A few believers have even wrongly adopted a belief that Christians are to be exempt from illness and pain. This faulty belief has led them to a further misguided and heretical conclusion that demons can take control of believers as well as non-believers. The Assemblies of God does not believe this is possible. The church believes that Satan can only oppress believers, but that he can never possess and control them. They are God’s property and children of His kingdom. Though demonic power was present in some of the miraculous healings and deliverances of Jesus, there were as many instances of healing natural illness that had no demonic involvement.
Naming or personalizing evil spirits has also been encouraged by biblical phrases such as "the spirit of fear" (2 Tim. 1:7) and "a spirit of infirmity" (Luke 13:11). But such an interpretation results from a poor understanding of Scripture. If there is an evil spirit of fear, then there should also be identifiable good spirits of power, love, and soundness of mind (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7). Bible scholars have always interpreted the word spirit in such instances as attitudes rather than identifiable personal spirits, either evil or good.
Some who take spiritual warfare to improper extremes conclude from the biblical account of the angel speaking to Daniel that every nation of the world has either an angel or demon crusading for its success: "Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. . . . No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince" (Daniel 10:20,21). Certainly, we are to pray for nations and peoples, asking God to send forth laborers to reach the lost with the gospel. But in our Lord’s Great Commission that we are to go into all the world with His message of salvation there is no mention of angels or demons ruling over continents, countries, and cities. Though Satan is the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), there is no evidence that we must know and understand a hierarchy of demons in order to advance the truth of the gospel. The key is that we know Christ. Instead of concentrating on Satan and how he works, we must stay in touch with the One in us who is greater than the one in the world (1 John 4:4). The gift of discernment of spirits is available for those instances when a greater understanding of the immediate presence and power of Satan is essential.
We have concerns about those who regularly teach and practice an arrogant, presumptuous involvement with satanic powers. Certainly, we need to be cautious of the evil one’s traps. For the Bible says he is deceptive and comes as a ‘roaring lion’ eager to devour. Yet we are to have no fear of Satan or of his efforts to seduce and destroy God’s children. Scripture teaches us that if we resist the devil he will flee from us (James 4:7). The preacher who dwells more on the fiery darts of Satan than on the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) as our defense and victory may unintentionally stir fear rather than faith in the hearts of hearers. Satan is real, but experiencing the presence and power of an omnipotent yet personal God is the privilege of all Spirit-filled believers.
We recognize and teach that even though God and Satan are real entities in our world today, there are also experiences in life that are not caused by or attributed to God or Satan. An accident because of a moment of careless inattention does not mean that a demon caused the mishap. God may have allowed something to happen, but neither can He be charged with responsibility. We are concerned that an overzealous preoccupation with demonic influences in our lives can result in an attitude of irresponsibility, of not feeling accountable for our own actions and failures.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching