A Short History of C. Peter Wagner’s Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare in Action:Using Harold Caballeros’ “Spiritual Espionage” in Guatemala

Peter Wagner

 I wrote this to Justin Taylor on his interesting blog that critiques a newly published book, Understanding Spiritual Warfare:

Thank you for providing these clear and biblical guidelines  with your counterbalancing notes from David Powlinson’s book. They are really very helpful.  However, I am distressed that your critique of this overview of the four models of modern Spiritual Warfare ended so soon. Do you plan to continue your assessment of this work by looking at the even more wildly aberrant method of Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare propagated by Wagner? This is desperately needed, as there is little understanding in the mainstream church of the anti-gospel roots of these kinds of Warfare Prayer techniques  that he helped to popularize.

And sadly, because the heretical movement Wagner leads — the New Apostolic Reformation– has been able to masquerade as Evangelical for so long, and because their propaganda arm — the series of Transformation videos Wagner produced with George Otis, Jr. — are so effective at spinning the truth, many of their teachings and technologies have seeped into the orthodox church. The popular idea of prayer walking, for example, abandons one-on-one evangelism for marching about a neighborhood, claiming territories for the Kingdom, binding spirits that hold people and cities captive, and changing the ‘spiritual atmosphere.’ The focus is not on the person and work of Jesus Christ, but on Satan and his minions. Wagner also teaches that it is people groups who are first saved, and then individual souls. Sadly, the gospel is often not preached to those individuals, in lieu of this unbiblical focus.

Wagner’s technology of Spiritual Mapping has had a particularly malign influence in the world of missions. It again focuses attention away from the Gospel and moves it towards the heroic efforts of Spiritual Warriors who battle demonic forces, and their influence over societies. It becomes very dangerous when coupled with the authority Wagner cedes to his coalition of Super Apostles, who issue decrees based on very questionable prophecies and words of knowledge.

We see the toxic effect of these Spiritual Warfare technologies, which can demonize whole populations, in the blighted country of Guatemala  through the influence of C. Peter Wagner’s co-author, the Super Apostle and mega-church pastor Harold Caballeros. This flawed theology, combined with the  Dominionist culture of the New Apostolic Reformation that  borrows heavily from Old Testament types, created a perfect scenario for the scorched earth policies of President Rios-Montt —  a terrifying eighteen months in which the native Mayan peoples  were systematically eliminated by  death squads  because their heritage was considered satanic.

Rios-Montt presided over a short reign of terror in which an estimated 70,000 unarmed civilians were killed or disappeared, and he  is now finally on trial there for crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, one of his former generals, fellow School of the Americas alumnus Otto Perez Molina, is now president. And Molina installed International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) member, Harold Cabelleros as Foreign Minister, who is featured prominently in those Transformations videos, mentioned above. He is a long-time colleague of  Peter Wagner, he ran for president  of Guatemala himself, and is founder of El Shaddai, a 9000 member church in Guatemala City.

Harold Caballeros  has had connections to many of the controversial figures in Guatemala’s political struggles — such as church member Edward  Perisen, former head of the PNC, the national police force. According to the New York Times, several officers in the PNC were dismissed in 2007 after a series of extra judicial killings. As  reported in the Times on 3/05/07,  one PNC official said, “The officers in these squads belong to evangelical churches,  and see the extrajudicial killings of gang members, known here as `social cleansing,’ as holy work. But they also have begun to commit crimes for their own profit.”  And as Perisen  explained on a weekly television show  produced to provide police officers with the “spiritual resources they needed to combat the forces of evil” before he fled the country:

The prophet and Apostle of Christ, Brother Harold Cabelleros and his wife, the prophetess, of whom I am a humble servant, instrument and means for taking them to Power in Guatemala and having a Government of God, were charged with the moral and spiritual motivation…

Harold Caballeros

Harold Caballeros (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The death squads that still function within the PNC and the Ministry of Government, are a holy enterprise that is organized by agents and personnel from Evangelical churches that know our obligations to society…I must recognize that the story published in the New York Times on March 5 of this year is true; the “social cleansing” that, together with Carlos Vielman as Minister of Government we carried out in the institution, had to be done and must continue, as I understand has been ordered to the new authorities…it is not a justification; it is, rather, a recognition that when one is humble and is an instrument of DIVINE JUSTICE…

In a 2007 interview with Charisma magazine, C. Peter Wagner said during Caballeros’  unsuccessful bid for the Presidency in Guatemala:

“Christians in the global South are way ahead of us in this area,” Wagner said. “The values of the kingdom of God should penetrate every level of society, and they understand that. … [Caballeros is] doing it right, going right to the top and taking dominion.”

Later, with Rios-Montt on trial for human rights violations, Wagner did some revisionist history, as is his wont, and blamed the president’s generals for the problems. But remember, that same general — Molina! —  is now in power and appointed as his foreign minister Wagner’s fellow apostle. The pastor whose church members ran death squads for God.  A man who wrote a rather interesting chapter in the book Wagner edited, Breaking Strongholds In Your City: How To Use Spiritual Mapping To Make Your Prayers More Strategic, Targeted and Effective . Caballeros writes that he had been reading the biblical verses that describe the binding of the “strong man.”  A dream was told him of three rough hands holding transparent ropes joining three specific Guatemalan cities. Then another believer named the three who held the ropes. Investigations revealed those three persons were conducting “evil works of the devil” in those three cities, through money, politics and drug dealing. After Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare, the first was jailed awaiting trial, the second lost his office, and the third’s power was greatly diminished. Caballeros said this of Spiritual mapping in the book he helped Wagner write, “Spiritual mapping is a means toward identifying the enemy. It is our spiritual espionage.”

In his chapter Harold Caballeros also described a case in which one of his El Shaddai Church’s Spiritual Mapping teams was divinely informed that a single individual was responsible for the Satanic forces oppressing a specific geographical area. God then revealed that person’s identity:

“While we were in prayer the Lord spoke and said, “Tomorrow I will give you the man’s first and last name in the newspaper.” He also told us on which page it would occur. It was something absolutely supernatural and exciting to discover right on that page the full name of the person dedicated to these activities.”

One can only guess at the means Caballeros took to deal with  this evildoer that the LORD himself identified. He does not say. But Caballeros has publicly suggested  that Catholics are not Christians and in his books claimed Guatemala and Central America are cursed due to an ancient Mayan pact with Satan. These kinds of teachings undergirded the  hundreds of massacres on Mayan villages that were carried out during the eighteen months of Rios-Montts reign of terror. One  Gospel Outreach pastor defended the killings:

“The army doesn’t massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon-possessed; they are communists. We hold brother Efraín Ríos Montt like King David of the Old Testament. He is the king of the New Testament. (pg 238)”

Because these Third Wave Hyper-Charismatics operate under an Old Testament typology, and in Exodus 22 God instructs that  a witch may not be permitted to live, we can assume that the threat to Guatemala from one of Satan’s local operating agents –remember, God himself  revealed this person to Caballeros —  was very effectively minimized. As Caballeros wrote here, “when the strong man is vanquished in a given territory, the inhabitants become free to receive the light of the gospel.”

In his writings Peter Wagner has elaborated at length about the Kingdom Now “dominion mandate”and what it means and at a 2008 NAR conference declared,

“Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership. Dominion has to do with authority and subduing and it relates to society… Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings.”

Guatemala’s history amply demonstrates that this dangerous kind of Kingdom Now Dominionism can also mean demonizing your opponents. And because some in charge of that benighted country seem to have forgotten that our “struggle is not against flesh and blood”,  and have forgotten that we are not an Old Testament Theocracy, it can also mean that when a Dominionist king goes out to war he cleanses the land of those demonic forces oppressing him with Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare. Equipped with some  hammers and guns, like in What Happened at Dos Erres. All this so the  light of the Gospel could shine. I guess.

Earlier in his career,  Wagner defended his models of church growth with a rather  blood-chilling quote

“… we ought to see clearly that the end DOES justify the means.  What else possible could justify the means?  If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method.  If, on the other hand, my method is not accomplishing the goal, how can I be justified in continuing to use it?”  (C. Peter Wagner, “Your Church Can Grow – Seven Vital Signs Of A Healthy Church”, 1976, pg. 137. – emphasis in original)

But we know that Scripture asserts that such a pragmatic approach is not a fitting frame for the Gospel.  John MacArthur says of such an approach:

But when pragmatism is used to make judgments about right and wrong, or when it becomes a guiding philosophy of life, theology, and ministry, inevitably it clashes with Scripture. Spiritual and biblical truth is not determined by testing what “works” and what doesn’t. We know from Scripture, for example, that the gospel often does not produce a positive response (1 Cor. 1:22, 23;2:14). On the other hand, satanic lies and deception can be quite effective (Matt. 24:23, 24; 2 Cor. 4:3, 4). Majority reaction is no test of validity (cf Matt. 7:13, 14), and prosperity is no measure of truthfulness (cf Job 12:6). Pragmatism as a guiding philosophy of ministry is inherently flawed. Pragmatism as a test of truth is nothing short of satanic. (Ashamed of the Gospel, xii)

The  horrifying legacy of SLSW in Guatemala  illustrates truth of these charges. Whatever its innocuous original intent, Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare has morphed into an entity with terrible consequences when it is utilized in the real world of governance by unaccountable officials and super-Apostles.

I wrote the above report, very conflicted about the interesting variety of  sources I have had to rely upon for historical verification of the facts of this history of the NAR Apostles working in the government of Guatemala through the teachings of  Super Apostle Harold Caballeros, and the members of  his megachurch, El Shaddai. I am fully aware of the contentious history of this tormented country, particularly the critiques of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberto Menchu  by  the anthropologist David Stoll, as it has  been reported by the New York Times. It causes me no end of grief that there are no solid sources of journalism that readers of this blog would be more inclined to trust, which have an Evangelical imprimatur — such as World magazine. The only corroborating account of Rios-Monnts reign of terror under General Molina that has gravitas among Christians is this FOX news account here, http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/01/14/will-otto-perez-molinas-past-affect-guatemalas-future/ But sadly, it offers no account of the genocide’s  connection to the Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare that undergirded the ‘iron fist’ of Molina and those death squads. Or even the Christian dominionism that most journalists understand.

Nevertheless, the connections between the Dominionist Apostle and megachurch leader Harold Caballeros and the systematic elimination of the indigenous peoples of Guatemala as it filtered its way through the army of Rios-Montt and  the secret police,  who were members of El Shaddai  cannot be explained away or ignored by responsible Christian people.  It was clearly accomplished  because of the teaching of  Caballeros that the  ‘demonic oppresssion’ the country suffered could be blamed on the  indigenous peoples’ Mayan heritage. They are dangerous teachings in actual practice, and must be firmly opposed by the mainline churches.

And still,  nearly thirty years later, the blood of an estimated 200,000 civilians  in Guatemala cries out from the ground. May the Evangelical Church cry out to God with them! Oh, I long for the day of God’s perfect justice.

But let justice roll down like waters,
                                                                  and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

                                                                   Amos 5:24

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11 Comments on “A Short History of C. Peter Wagner’s Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare in Action:Using Harold Caballeros’ “Spiritual Espionage” in Guatemala”

  1. Laurie M. Says:

    This is so disturbing, but connects a few dots for me. We have one of these “apostolic” movements here in our area, btw. But what this brought to mind was a program I listened to a few months back about a massacre in a Guatemalan village decades ago. There were some passing troubling references to there being some religious overtones, but I didn’t know of what kind. Maybe you’ve already heard this: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/465/what-happened-at-dos-erres

  2. Karen Butler Says:

    Yes, Laurie, it is disturbing. Thank you for commenting. It is somewhat disheartening, the lack of outrage in the church about the terrible plight of these people– which looksas if it will continue, with the installation to power of Rios-Montts’ general, Molina — and Harold Caballeros as his foreign minister! The leftist journalists who mostly report on this subject say it is the most censored story in the United States. I would think Obama would be pleased to shed more light on this sordid tale — it has all of their favorite talking points.

    What a wonderful piece of work our culture has done to that poor benighted land! Guatemala borrowed our all our most toxic warfare technologies: our military expertise through the meticulously-engineered-to-inspire-the-most-extreme-terror-techniques of the Fort Benning counterinsurgency ‘School of the Americas’, and then this faux-scientific Spiritual technique of Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare. The combination has been catastrophic. I grieve for Guatemala extremely.

    I have listened several times to “What Happened at Dos-Erres’. I can never bring myself to hear the graphic details of the killings. I always have to shut it off, for the 15 minutes they suggest. My imagination is too vivid, and there were too many little children exhumed from that deep well. But thank you for mentioning it. I had linked it in this article–under, “guns and hammers” and it must not have been highlighted enough, so I expanded the link to include the title to that very moving journalistic piece.

    I wonder if that cook who came forward to tell the truth about what he witnessed–because his conscience could not take it anymore, was a Christian. I hope so. It would be encouraging to hear of some deep mourning and repentance among the true Christians in Guatemala.

  3. Laurie M. Says:

    Ah, I had missed that link. Thanks. I’m going to post this entry on my Facebook page.

    A doctrine which can seem harmless in one setting can be deadly in another (as we have seen with the Pearls’ teachings). People need to begin examining the fruits of these teachings. Fruit that leads to death, especially the deaths of innocents, should give us more than just pause.

    The fruit of righteousness is peace, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only legitimate means of gathering people for God’s heavenly kingdom.

  4. Bruce Wilson Says:

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks so much for writing this! – it’s especially important coming from an evangelical perspective. You’ve homed in on what I consider a key problem with Wagner’s Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare ideas, especially as elaborated by Harold Caballeros (who, other of his fellow NAR apostles have claimed, actually developed his own particular, parallel version of spiritual warfare/SLSW independently from Wagner ) — SLSW can slide into vilification of individuals, and even whole people groups, held to be under sway of, or even in league with, demonic powers (“strong men”). And that can lead, as we know, in terrible directions.

    Guatemala isn’t the only country with a horrific human rights record where Wagner’s and Caballeros’ form NAR movement has had immense influence. Another is Uganda – see: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2009/1/19/113845/387
    ( in which I document some of the larger human rights atrocities )

    What has gone on the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the last two decades almost defies belief – some estimates run to over ten million civilian deaths, from disease, hunger, militia activity, and so on. The ultimate driver of the complex conflict is the immense mineral and natural resources of the DR Congo, and so one couldn’t by any stretch pin the situation on Wagner and his NAR, but I would observe that Wagner’s apostles seem to have been troubled little, if at all, by the carnage.

    Rather, Wagner’s NAR has built close alliances with the presidents and political elites of two of the main culprits in the DR Congo conflict, Uganda and Rwanda, both of which are also, respectively, key geostrategic allies of the U.S. and the UK in East Africa.

    In Northern Uganda Wagner’s tendency has operated in close symbiosis with the Ugandan regime of Yoweri Museveni, whose troops drove hundreds of thousands of civilians of the Acholi tribe, during the mid 1990s, into concentration camps. Catholic theologian and academic Todd David Whitmore asserts this amounted to intentional, low-level genocide – and he is far from alone in that accusation. ( for a start, see: http://www.musevenimemo.org/ )

    Wagner apostle Julius Oyet, who also claims to have helped author Uganda’s notorious, so-called “kill the gays” bill, starred in the George Otis, Jr. film “An Unconventional War”, which amounts to an horrific whitewash of what actually happened to the Acholi. Dr. Adam Branch sums up that awful history here:


    Bruce Wilson

    PS – Can you point me in the direction of material showing that Caballeros had a direct connection to Rios Montt ? If that is the case, I’d very much like to write on it.

    • Karen Butler Says:

      Welcome to my blog, Bruce! I am so pleased that you approve of my article. I appreciate so much the resources Talk2Action provides on the NAR. I am not alone in respecting your vast library:http://thegreycoats.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/the-politics-of-pentecostalism/ Scroll to the bottom for their kudos. There are many of us in the Evangelical Christian community, even some in the nooks and crannies of the religious right– which is the awkward label you would perhaps apply to me, a homeschooling mom of eight who is very pro-life — who are just as appalled by this dangerous movement Wagner leads. I have been studying this group since 2007, when we had to leave the church we had attended for fifeen years because they ‘aligned themselves’ under NAR apostles, a church where one Sunday morning we viewed a Transformation video. We were not transformed, but grew more and more disturbed by what we were led into, and I was a involved for a time with a now-defunct discernment blog.

      The quote in which I express a wish for certain “solid sources of journalism” was not my opinion of your very solid piece — it refers to the pushback I have received when I published a nascent form of this article in World magazine’s now defunct blog and had considerable irate comments about the sources I cited.

      I have been considering doing a series on this subject, so thank you for jogging that desire with your information about the NAR’s role in the government of Uganda. I have been well aware of their involvement, and Lou Engle’s prevarications regarding his role in the bill making illegal, and allowing for the execution of those who practice homosexuality. I have had the unique experience of having Lou Engle of the Call once lay his hand on my head, while rocking back and forth praying for my prodigal children, way back in the day. So I follow his career with particular interest.

      I have gone back into some of my files, and cannot find the source for my observation that Callaberos discipled Rios-Montt, so I have deleted it from this article. If I find it I will definitely forward it to you. My husband and I joke that I am in enough peril from Guatemalan death squads here, so I don’t need a trained lawyer after me too, or a troop of his hired guns with cease and desist orders. I wrote this article rather hastily, to take advantage of the platform afforded by a mention of Wagner’s SLSW on an influential Evangelical blog. I am continuing to edit for errors and omissions.

  5. Onesimus Says:

    Hi Karen,
    Thanks for this article. Very informative and very disturbing.


  6. John Russell Says:

    The documented link between Rios Montt, Gospel Outreach (Verbo Church in Guatemala) and Harold Cabalerros the owner of “El Shaddai” Mega Church and the death squads is all in a book I wrote called “The Beliefs of Harold Caballeros” which is available at http://www.ventana.net

    • Karen Butler Says:

      Thank you John, for posting this link to your book. I will download your PDF, but I am not sure how soon I can get back to you with my assessment — we are in the middle of a move. Have you contacted Bruce Wilson? I will email him a link as well.

  7. Karen Butler Says:

    I wrote at the Gospel Coalition about the public policy think tank Heritage Foundation’s silence about Rios-Montt and Molina’s human rights background:


    “I know of one clear case of Heritage’s blindness to justice towards the poor while favoring powerful interests. So it is not implausible at all, their indifference, and very clear in the case of the poor indigenous peoples of Guatemala under the governments of Rios Montt and his generals — to whom Heritage gave its approval,http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1985/05/the-new-guatemala-deserves-us-support and never retracted, even when the man had been convicted of genocide by his own courts.

    Heritage continues to ignore the atrocities that even FOX NEWS clearly reports: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/01/14/will-otto-perez-molinas-past-affect-guatemalas-future/

    They detail the ways that Molina was responsible for the scorched earth policies that resulted in massive atrocities:

    “While he denies that he was in the region during the time when the worst massacres took place, documents and video evidence place Pérez Molina in Quiché during the violent summer of 1982. Guatemalan military papers uncovered by the NSA reveal that by 1982 the armed forces had secretly tapped Pérez Molina for operations in the Ixil Triangle – a region of Quiché that saw 2744 people killed between January 1982 and late December 1983.”

    And Molina promises to rule his people with that same iron fist.

    Yet Heritage backs this man without a single word,http://blog.heritage.org/2012/01/13/can-a-conservative-minded-leader-save-guatemala/ not even a single caveat, concerning his controversial past. This is a true injustice,it is simply unchristian — to be silent about the atrocities that took place at Dos Erres is to be complicit in them. It was professing Christians doing spiritual warfare who massacred those innocent children with machetes and clubs, and it is professing Christians who keep silent about them.

  8. Karen Butler Says:

    Another attempt to bring light on these dangerous teachings at Tim Challies site:http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/spiritual-warfare#disqus_thread

    Bravo that the authors say this in the book, “When we put on God’s armor, we are doing more than applying a technique or method. We are doing something personal; we are putting on Christ Himself.”

    Christians doing Spiritual Warfare will always go astray when the focus is off the person and work of Christ Jesus and on various prayer technologies. Our fallen nature that yearns for control seeks out formulas and methodologies, for example C. Peter Wagners’ Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare, popular among Charismatics. These unbiblical strategies for taking dominion over the unseen world tend to demonize people groups and lead us to forget that our battle is not against real flesh and real blood but against powers in the heavenlies. But terrible theology has terrible consequences, and nowhere is this more evident than in the country of Guatemala, where Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare was weaponized under the direction of Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles member Harold Caballeros, and led to the slaughter of nearly 70,000 indigenous Mayan and Catholic peoples whose religions were seen as ‘demonic.’ I write about it here https://thenface2face.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/a-short-history-of-c-peter-wagners-strategic-level-spiritual-warfare-in-action-guatemala/

    I tried to bring attention to this more than a year ago on Justin Taylors’ site, but it got no traction. Perhaps because the Heritage Foundation gave current president Molina –Rios-Montts general who oversaw the elimination of those peoples– a clean bill of health. FOX NEWS reported truthfully about this mans atrocities.http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/01/14/will-otto-perez-molinas-past-affect-guatemalas-future/ Yet Heritage backs this man without a single word,http://blog.heritage.org/2012/01/13/can-a-conservative-minded-leader-save-guatemala/ not even a single caveat, concerning his controversial past.

    This is a true injustice, and it is simply unchristian. To be silent about the atrocities that took place in Guatemala is to be complicit in them. It was professing Christians doing spiritual warfare who massacred unarmed civilians, and it is professing Christians who continue to keep silent about them.

    Perhaps that is one of the blessings of the ‘Strange Fire’ conference. Perhaps the church understands a little better the toxic nature of these kinds of teachings, and there will be a greater outcry. Because we can no longer legitimize murder in the name of a so-called Christian God. Before he fled the country, the head of Guatemala’s national police force said this, “The death squads that still function within the PNC and the Ministry of Government, are a holy enterprise that is organized by agents and personnel from Evangelical churches that know our obligations to society…” What a twisted view of the world! That is perversion. Caballeros has blood on his hands. But he is now Molina’s Foreign Minister

    God, please bring your justice to the people of Guatemala who have suffered so long! Bring the true gospel to that benighted land. Help your people to speak out courageously against these malevolent forces hiding under the guise of Christianity.

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