Although the practice of an exorcism has enjoyed an attractiveness at various times and places in church history, the use of exorcism as a means of accomplishing sanctification, or creating conditions for successful evangelism, is a recent modernism. Where did the “demon deliverance” approach come from? Research indicates the view of spiritual warfare in this manner has only been developing since the late 1960’s.
The increased public awareness of satanic activities has sparked a renewed interest on the issue of demonic beings and their power over Christians. Today, there are a number of so-called “deliverance” ministries which seek to “exorcise” or cast demons out of people even born-again believers. Such ministries are built upon the false premise that Christians can be “demonized” or “demonically possessed.” In fact, in some cases you are even instructed to bring along a “barf bag” in case you become physically ill as the unclean spirit exits your body, demons such as “cancer,” or “lust.” Obviously, one of the great dangers in this is that it leads you to believe that you have solved a problem in your life, which in truth, you’ve not even really begun to deal with at all.
The classic texts on spiritual warfare – Ephesians 6:10-20; James 3:14-4:12; 1 Peter 5:6-11 – teach a mode of fighting the devil’s bid for lordship that centers on the Word of the living God, faith, repentance, prayer, and obedience in the power of the Spirit. There is no hint of exorcist type methods in these passages perhaps that is because the Bible does not view the problem of sin, especially in Christians, as linked to an indwelling demon who must be evicted.
Deliverance ministry believes that spiritual warfare grapples with the danger of demonic spirits taking up a type of resident and taking over in various areas of a person’s life. It is believed these spirts much like computer viruses initially come in often undetected and reside on the hard disk of the soul, thus holding people in bondage to various patterns of sin. By the way there is no ontological or fundamental distinction between the soul and spirit in Scripture. Indeed, the terms are used interchangeably, so this argument simply does not stand up to biblical scrutiny. Furthermore, the real issue is whether God and satan can co-inhabit the believer’s body which according to scripture is the temple of God 1 Cor. 6:19, which would still be the case even if one inhabited the believer’s spirit and the other the believer’s soul.
Some of the teaching on spiritual warfare proliferating today is biblically sound, but much of the teachings are of a mixed bag. Traditional doctrine regarding the Christian’s battle with the devil are constantly being replaced by sensationalism. Traditional doctrine always emphasized the protection Christ brings into the life of a believer, the defeat of the devil by the preaching of the gospel, and the believer’s victory through growth in sanctification. Throughout history it is consistently taught that a Christian defeats satan by submitting to God and resisting satanic temptation. The Christian was understood to be “victorious” over satan by remaining faithful to God despite all satanic oppression and temptation.
There is severe danger in having a perspective which sees a demon behind many if not every problem in a believer’s life. This mindset obscures our moral responsibility to walk in righteousness, as we are reminded in Romans 8:13 “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” The Bible never identifies sins such as lust, anger, and pride as spirits but rather as “deeds of the flesh.” It instructs us to “put them to death” Col. 3:5, never to cast them out. Paul tells the converts in Galatians 5:16 if we “walk by the Spirit” we “will not carry out the desire of the flesh”.
In addition, teaching that Christians can be demonized turns our attention from God to satan. It can also inspire fear in the believer where he or she should experience confidence in Christ it often makes believers dependent on those with deliverance ministries to protect them from the demons that torment them. It fosters a spiritualistic superstition that distracts the believer from both proclaiming the gospel and from personal growth in sanctification.
Perhaps the greatest danger lies in its methodology in determining truth. For, those who teach that a Christian can be inhabited or even controlled by a demon place their experience above the teaching of Scripture and deny the sufficiency of Scripture in the process. Once the church allows subjective experience to replace the objective test of Scripture on one issue, a precedent will be set for future issues. A theological Pandora’s Box of sorts will have been opened, leading to an epidemic of superstition and doctrinal deterioration.
The demonic realm of the devil and his minions depend and capitalize on our humanity working in a rhythm of sorts with our flesh serving to exacerbate its desires in an attempt to provoke us to sin. This is accomplished when we allow the intensifying our ungodly desires that are made manifest in the flesh “which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like”… Galatians 5:19-21
Scripture never teaches that a Christian can be inhabited by a demon. Nor does it teach that there is any spiritual problem for which a Christian should undergo deliverance or an exorcism. Rather, this is demonic temptation or oppression, not demonic possession that needs deliverance. It is an assault from the outside and the believer is more than well equipped to resist and overcome such attacks as it tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18.
Therefore, we can confidently rest in the victory Christ has already won over the demonic forces and we can trust God’s resources in our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. I pray God deliver us from this specious and divisive teaching, leading us to use our spiritual resources in Christ and retain the sound teaching of our evangelical heritage.