Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the Rev. Dr. Bill Winston, a former fighter pilot in Vietnam and winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross, spoke in terms of spiritual warfare to the pastors gathered for his annual ministers’ conference in the Living Word sanctuary. A space, by the way, that formerly was part of a torpedo factory during World War II.

He exhorted the assembled pastors to fight against what he called “the world system which Satan the enemy promotes and controls and in which he tries to enslave people.”

Dr. N. Cindy Trimm, one of the keynote speakers at the conference, echoed Winston, saying that Christians are called to form a “divine strategic alliance” to wage “spiritual warfare.”

Workshop leader Schlyce Jimenez declared, “We are all in God’s army.”

Winston and his conference presenters subscribe to a worldview that sees two opposing forces competing for dominion in our society. One is Satan who rules the world system. The other is Christ who rules in the Kingdom of God. Winston described the differences in his book “The Kingdom of God in You.”

People in the world system are “self-conscious rather than God-conscious,” become “sense-oriented instead of Spirit-led,” and have “information in their minds rather than revelation in their hearts.”

In his book “Christ and Culture,” published in 1951, H. Richard Niebuhr used the phrase “Christ against culture” to explain a theological position in which “a clear line of separation is drawn between the brotherhood of the children of God and the world.” At this year’s conference, held over several days beginning March 26, the theme was Back to Acts – Acts being a book in the New Testament detailing the struggles of the early church in society. In this metaphysical scheme, Satan is behind every evil in the world.

“Devils are behind all the problems in the world,” Jimenez said in her workshop on signs and miracles.

Referring to a malady with which a woman in attendance said she had been diagnosed, Jimenez declared, “Scoliosis is just the doctors’ name for the work of the devil,” and she proceeded to command the “foul demon” to come out.

According to Winston, the devil has won a temporary victory and at present has dominion over society through the world system, but “as believers, we are on assignment to transform the earth for the Lord. God wants the earth restored back to him.”

Because the life of faith is viewed in terms of a military paradigm, the authority of the commander, i.e. the pastor, and the submission of the rest of the army to his authority is vital. During her keynote address on Wednesday evening, Trimm said that after her spiritual father died she was looking for someone to take his place and Bill Winston’s name “came up in my spirit.” There, in front of more than 2,000 people, she said, “I submit to you [Winston] as my covenant and covering as your spiritual daughter.” The congregation stood and cheered.

Winston is not shy about claiming and using his authority, believing that it is given to him directly by the Holy Spirit. He often uses language like “I received a revelation” and “I release you [from whatever afflicts you].” An ad for one of Living Word’s programs called the School of Ministry states, “The Holy Spirit is positioned as the lead teacher in every class.”

This emphasis on the pastor’s Spirit-given authority is an aspect of Winston’s ministry that might be hard to swallow for some liberal Christians. In most if not all mainline denominations, the obtaining of an academic degree is the most important qualification for being the minister in a church. For Winston, what gives authority to the pastor is not knowledge taught in seminaries but the leading of the “Holy Ghost.”

“Don’t get credentialed by a denomination or institution, but by God,” Trimm said to the gathering of church leaders.

Trimm’s statement reveals what might be called an anti-denominational bias at Living Word. The speakers never say that denominations are part of the world system but rather that they just haven’t heard or responded to God’s call to arms in the battle to reclaim the earth.

“If a denomination or organization is your context, you will be frustrated,” Trimm said.

Along with the subject of authority the conference speakers spoke often of power.

“If you haven’t cast out a demon in the last week, you’re not doing your job,” Jimenez said to the minister’s gathered in her workshop. “I know how to take authority.”

When Keith Hershey stated in his workshop on Outreach Ministries that Transform Our Society that “it is not enough to be anointed,” he was stating a theme frequently repeated at the conference: God wants action as well as words. It is an exhortation being heard in many Evangelical circles lately, a corrective to the idea that once you’ve been “saved” or “born again” you’re automatically living right with God.

In his introduction to the conference on Wednesday evening, Winston said that their time together was about learning how to live in the Kingdom of God, not just how to get into it.

“You’ve got to change,” Winston said. “Why are people doing the same things and expecting different results?”

When Dr. Patricia Bailey-Jones neared the end of her address Friday morning, she gave an altar call to all the ministers seated in front of her, something of a role reversal for them. One indication that the conference had made an impact on the pastors was that virtually all of them got out of their chairs and approached the stage to recommit themselves to the work that lay ahead and to receive a blessing.