Is Demonisation Still An Issue, & If So, How Should The Church Respond To It?

To my knowledge, all evangelicals, from the more conservative edge right through to the charismatic movement, believe in the ongoing existence of demons, unclean spirits or evil spirits.

However, my question in this post is not Do Demons Still Exist? but Is Demonisation Still An Issue, And If So How Do We Respond To It?

But before we get into the issues surrounding present practice, let's look at the scriptures . . .

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee . . .

. . . 35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The bible, and the Westminster Confession clearly recognise the ongoing presence of evil spirits. Biblical evangelicals all believe that the Christian life is a question of spiritual warfare and that the Christian must resist the devil in the midst of demonic assault and onslaught. However, what about this issue of demonsiation? What about those instances in scripture where we encounter individuals who seem to be given over to the power of demonic spirits? In almost all of these examples we see that these spirits inflict severe mental or physical suffering upon their victims.

So does demonisation still take place today? I've yet to meet an evangelical who would outright deny the ongoing issue of demonisation. Some say it is very common others say it is rare and really only happens in 'deepest darkest Africa' (a view more based upon rationalism and cultural snobbery than the scriptures, I think).

Deliverance ministry is one of the characteristics of pentecostal and charismatic theology and practice. Deliverance is, in other words, the actual practice of casting out demons. When I first became a Christian, as I read the scriptures, I saw that Jesus did it and the apostles did it and therefore concluded that we should do it in the exact same way too. The pentecostals and charismatics also taught this, so on the surface it appeared that their position was more biblical than the more 'conservative' Christians who did not believe that the practice of exorcism should continue.

However, having not only read a number of books which teach about deliverance, I have also been involved in a number of situations where 'deliverance' was taking place. Upon reflection, I can think of at least three situations that were particuarly awkward. While those leading the deliverance ministry were convinced they were, in the words of John Wimber "Doing the stuff", it became evident that the 'clients' were in no way helped by this experience. If anything, the experience may have hindered their faith in Christ, since all three of them were professing Christians.

This brings me to one of the major issues with contemporary deliverance ministry, deliverance ministry is often taught as being something which is only for Christians. This theory, is based on a poor interpretation of Jesus' parable about cleaning the house and binding the strong man.

Matt 12: 43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

This verse is taught as the rationale for 1) not casting demons out of people who are non-Christians, 2) Only casting demons out of Christians.

Why?

According this common theory, the empty house represents the person without Christ, therefore it is argued that to cast a demon out of a person who does not have Christ is to leave them vulnerable to more spirits coming back and taking up residence.

There are multiple major problems with this teaching — too many to cover here, but the major problem is this — nowhere in scripture was this the practice of the apostles. Paul cast a demon out of a girl who was unbeliever and it is no where suggested that the girl became a Christian. Further, the concept that a person who is regenerate can at the same time be posessed by an evil spirit is also unknown to scripture.

In my view, what we have here is another charismatic teaching which is based upon the same premise as most of the false charismatic teachings, in otherwords deliverance is offered as another quick-fix for our emotional, and sometimes moral, problems. Deliverance becomes the magic pill for emotional issues such as depression, it also becomes the magic pill for moral struggles such as lust or anger. Again– scripture acknowledges that emotional problems and temptation are part of the believer's experience, but it does not teach us that 'deliverance', in the contemporary sense, is the cure. Instead, a lifestyle of resisting temptation, faith in God's word and prayer for God's strength is the progress path of sanctification as mapped out in the scriptures.

Demons exist, they affect all people to varying degrees. According to scripture the whole unbelieving world is under the influence of Satan and the powers of darkness.

1 John 5:19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

They can also attack Christians by means of temptation, accusation or oppression. A glimpse at the levels of suffering and evil that some individuals are caught in — it is safe to conclude that some people are more under the influence of evil spirits than others — and so I would argue that there is a need for some people to be set free from severe demonic influence.

But the question is — how are people to be set free now that Jesus is no longer physically present on the earth?

I think the bible gives us the answer to that question. Let's compare two sections of the passage from Mark's gospel:

21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes

Compare this with the response to his action in casting out the demon –

27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

We see clearly that the words of Christ and the actions of Christ both carry authority and power.

The word of God has the authority to set us free

Both the word of Christ and the action of Christ – in evicting the demon – cause the crowds to be amazed and to take note of his authority.

Yet – how did Jesus drive out the demon? It was by His word.

The Gospel writer is helping us see that it is the Word of Christ which has the power to set people free. It is the word of Christ which sets people free from the more general and universal power of the enemy which keeps them in spiritual darkness, and it is the word of Christ which has the power to set free those who are more intensely afflicted by evil spirits.

Of course there is more to be said, in the chapter from Mathew we looked at briefly, Jesus also says:

Matt 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

How did Jesus say He cast out demons? By the Spirit of God. Yet again we see that the Word and the Spirit are the foundational means by which Jesus leads people to freedom. The gospel of Christ is sufficient to set people free, the gospel proclaimed in the power of the Spirit is the real deliverance ministry.

This is one of the major issues with contemporary deliverance ministry –  those who practice it, claim to have the key to greater freedom, but they unconciously undermine the very means by which people can truly be set free — the gospel. When we say believe the gospel and Christ can set you free, but then tell people that in addition to their trust in the gospel they need to undergo several sessions with a deliverance ministry team in order to be truly free — we are not really bringing people a message of freedom, we are bringing them into greater bondage.

Some might object, 'but didn't the apostles drive out demons in the name of Jesus as well as preaching the gospel?'

Yes they did, but we need to bear in mind a few things. The apostles, like Jesus were living in a transitionary phase. They were living at the period of new covenant fulfilment — the time of the messiah. Visible exorcisms were one action among many others that  acted as a sign that the Kingdom had come. It was a sign that Satan's kingdom was being overthrown and it was an indication of the apostles' authority.

However, when Luke tells us that the apostles 'cast out' demons in the 'name of Jesus' — this does not essentially mean that the apostles used Jesus' name like a magic incantation. It simply means that the demons were driven out by the authority of Christ as the Apostles ministered the Word in the power of the Spirit.

This does still happen today. As the church proclaims the gospel, in the Spirit — the words of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are still setting people free from the powers of darkness. When a person comes under the power of the gospel and is converted, the Holy Spirit moves in, and the power of darkness is driven out — or more accurately, a person is delivered from the domain of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of God. 

Col 1:13-14 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.