Are you familiar with the initials SLSW? For a significant number of Christians, especially in the West, the initials are not only familiar – they are important. The initials stand for Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare.
For over twenty years now, there has been a massive amount of writing and preaching on this subject. Its famous proponents include Fuller Seminary professor Peter Wagner (Pasadena, California) and Morris Cerullo.
Why should I write about SLSW? There are three reasons for doing so. The first is that SLSW is extremely popular in some Pentecostal and charismatic churches and increasingly so in some evangelical churches. SLSW has also strongly influenced the study of mission and ‘church growth’.
Part of the landscape
Related to this is a second reason. Not only is SLSW popular but, according to Michael Reid, it has become ‘so firmly fixed on the Christian horizon that it has almost become an accepted part of the landscape’.
Possibly you know people who believe in SLSW and speak of such things as ‘territorial spirits’, ‘spiritual mapping’, ‘prayer marches’ and ‘taking cities’. There is much discussion about these things and the whole subject is treated with the utmost seriousness. In fact, it is assumed that SLSW is thoroughly biblical and represents a break-through in terms of effective evangelism.
A third reason for discussing SLSW is the recent appearance of a book entitled Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare: a Modern Mythology (Xulon Press, 2002) by Michael S. B. Reid. My intention here is to review this book and assess its message.
The book consists of an interesting introduction followed by a biblical, theological and historical study. We are then given a review of related literature, the findings of a detailed case-study, and his theological reflections.
Reid also offers us an extended and valuable bibliography on the subject. Altogether, it is a useful book which can only help those who are being misled by teachers of SLSW.
A word about the author before I proceed: he is the founder and pastor of Peniel Church in Brentwood, Essex. The church and its leader have been in the news at times for various reasons.
Michael Reid has ministered in Brentwood for twenty-eight years and has also established a school on the campus as well as a college of Higher Education which is affiliated to Oral Roberts University in the United States.
Reid’s theological background, he tells us, ‘is very broad based’. Converted and blessed through Demos Shakarian (founder of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International), then influenced by early Quaker writings, Reid was ‘enriched’ by the Puritans, the Wesleys and Whitefield.
Books by Finney, Spurgeon, Zinzendorf, Wigglesworth and Kathryn Kuhlman also ‘blessed’ and ‘inspired’ him along the way. He was also influenced by Oral and Richard Roberts, T. L. Osborn and Archbishop Benson Idahosa of Nigeria — whom Reid describes as ‘an outstanding apostle of faith of the twentieth century’ (p.30).
Here is a truly eclectic background!
It is fair to describe Reid as a ‘charismatic’ — he is a leader and bishop within the International Communion of Charismatic Churches. In 2000, Reid was also involved in establishing the Global Gospel Fellowship (GCF), described as an ‘international, interdenominational fellowship of miracle ministries’ (p.28).
This being so, why am I drawing attention to Reid’s book on SLSW? Because, rather surprisingly, Reid is extremely critical of SLSW.
He writes initially in a wider context, stating: ‘the author has encountered the devastation which false doctrine, of whatever type, wreaks in the lives of individuals. He has lived long enough to see that error re-emerges in a slightly different guise, on an almost cyclical basis … he is compelled to raise his voice in the defence of truth’ (pp.23-24). It is well said.
What about SLSW, then? Reid’s basic thesis is that SLSW is unscriptural, unnecessary and compromises revealed truth. It is an uncompromising assessment. Why does he reject SLSW? Well, that is what the book is all about. But he gives us some early indications of his reasons for opposing SLSW.
Reid insists that, ‘the concepts and teaching of SLSW have drawn people away from the eternal truths of Scripture’ (p.24). In his Foreword to the book, T. L. Osborn refers to ‘the proliferation of the quasi-pagan concepts being fostered by proponents of SLSW, and this “other gospel” must be confronted by believers of the New Testament gospel’ (p.6).
In even more detail, Reid claims that ‘SLSW debases God’s sovereign plan of salvation by suggesting that it is dependent on the intervention of men’ (pp.31-32) — in contending initially against demonic powers.
I agree with Reid that ‘the application of that truth [the gospel] which sweeps away all opposition and births the life of God within a human heart is the work of the Holy Spirit’ (p.32).
Let us, then, ask Michael Reid some questions about SLSW.
Why expose SLSW?
The author tells us clearly that he had three reasons for writing this book. First, he is not writing ‘to bring condemnation’ — rather, the book ‘comes from a heart of compassion’ (p.31). That is good and commendable.
Secondly, Reid is attempting ‘to bring back the biblical perspective that in Christ Jesus the victory is already won and redemption is a finished work’. This perspective is both biblical and worthy of emphasis.
Thirdly, the author is eager to ‘promote dialogue within the body of Christ’ rather than confrontation. Again, the approach is valid, providing that those whose teaching is opposed are indeed members of that body and not apostates.
What is SLSW?
Quoting protagonists of SLSW, Reid’s Preface describes its claim to be ‘a vital methodology empowering believers to overcome satanic powers as a necessary prelude to the work of evangelisation’ (p.9).
One of the SLSW advocates, Peter Wagner, describes SLSW as a ‘specific type of intercession. Ground-level spiritual warfare refers to the casting out of demons from people; occult-level spiritual warfare deals with shamans, New Age channelers, occult practitioners, witches and warlocks, Satanist priests, fortune-tellers and the like; and strategic-level spiritual warfare contends with “an even more ominous concentration of demonic power: territorial spirits”’ (pp.32-33; italics added for clarity).
Are there various facets to SLSW?
Yes, there are. SLSW leaders refer variously to territorial spirits (a hierarchy of demons located in particular geographical areas); ‘warfare prayer’ (overcoming the resistance by evil powers to God’s will); ‘spiritual mapping’ (identifying the location of demons by discernment and research); ‘identificational repentance’ (a technique which it is claimed can give Christians power to heal the past); and the ‘naming’ of spirits.
They also talk of the 10/40 and 40/70 Windows — areas which include nearly all of the world’s unreached peoples.
How do supporters view SLSW?
They promote it as a new, crucial weapon in evangelism (p.12). It is ‘viewed as a vital new methodology empowering believers, both as individuals and corporately, to overcome the enemy in order to gain territory for the kingdom of God’.
They also see SLSW as a ‘method of promoting spirituality in individual Christians’ (p.18).
From Fuller Seminary, Peter Wagner writes of SLSW as ‘a significant, relatively new spiritual technology God has given us to meet the greatest challenge to world missions since William Carey went to India more than 200 years ago’ (p.20).
Clearly, a lot is being claimed for SLSW.
Is SLSW biblical?
This is the crunch issue and the first of two questions Reid attempts to answer in his book (p.24). Quoting 1 Corinthians 4:6, he underlines the Apostle’s conviction ‘that the opinions of men never take precedence over the written word of God’.
So is SLSW biblical? Reid’s reasoned answer is a negative one. His biblical study of the subject extends from pages 38-82 and, on the whole, is helpful and persuasive. In the next article, I want to evaluate his contribution, looking at the brief historical overview he provides and his theological reflections.
But for the moment, let us finish with this question. Do you doubt whether the Lord is stronger than the devil?
If you are unsure, then listen to Spurgeon: ‘[Satan’s] power is gone; he is fighting a lost battle; he is contending against omnipotence. He has set himself against the oath of the Father, against the blood of the incarnate Son, and against the eternal power of the blessed Spirit’ (cited pp.76-77).
He cannot win.