A few years back I was in the ordination process for the C&MA and was required to attend a few lectures in Colorado. To my joy and surprise, there were pastors attending from the Hmong District. On the last day of the event, a few gathered to listen to one pastor’s experience in casting out evil spirits. He spoke of the difficulty he and other leaders had in casting out a demon; to the point where angels had to descend down from heaven to assist them.

I can’t recall all that was said that night, but I do remember being surprised at how enamored others were by his story. Yet, this is just one of the many occurrences and stories regarding the exorcism of evil spirits. In this post, I want to challenge the validity of “deliverance ministries” against scripture.

Proponents of deliverance ministries have often used Matthew 12 to validate their positions. Relying heavily on the idea that they are advancing or laying hold of the kingdom of God by driving out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit. Arguing that the fruit that they are bearing is good fruit.[1] Frank Hammond, one of the most famous advocates of deliverance ministries, describes “deliverance” as the process of expelling demons. This is the definition that I will be adopting for this article.

Hammond believes that deliverance is an important part of the church’s relationship with God in that it is an essential element in preparing the bride of Christ. In other words, for Hammond, engaging in deliverance ministries is a sanctifying work. One in which the minister has an active role in (this is quite problematic as he suggests that demons can live within a Christian).[2]  For if Christ says that the kingdom of God is upon the one who is delivered from a demon, then shouldn’t the church (the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God) actively be involved in the ministry of deliverance?

Although Scripture clearly states that the disciples had the authority in Christ to cast out demons, I am not convinced that Scripture has commissioned the church to do the same. To clarify my position, I will first focus on three points: (1) Jesus against the demons; (2) the disciples against the demons; and (3) the Church against the demons.

I. Jesus against the demons

Jesus vs. Satan

In the wake of Jesus’s public ministry, both Matthew and Luke paint a vivid picture of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness with Satan.  This confrontation with the ancient serpent was advanced after the Holy Spirit descended on Christ (Luke 3:22, Matt. 3:16). Filled with the Holy Spirit Jesus was led to fulfill the will of God in defeating Satan.  However, the Holy Spirit not only led Jesus to resist the devil, but he also played an essential role in empowering him to conquer the demonic kingdom, thus inaugurating the Kingdom of God. Therefore as the kingdom of Satan falls, so the kingdom of God begins.[3]

In thinking about Jesus’s confrontation with Satan and the demonic kingdom, it may be helpful to see it not as something that Christ is arbitrarily doing.  Rather, he had been entrusted with the Father’s authority to do the Father’s will (John 6:38).[4] In other words, every confrontation that Jesus had with the demonic realm was intentional. His purpose was to acquire what had been offered to him by Satan as a temptation, yet only in the way that God had ordained—by obedience.[5] Therefore, it is imperative that we see Christ’s confrontation with Satan and the demonic kingdom within the categories of Christ’s active and passive obedience.

Christ suffers actively and passively

Jesus’s confrontation with Satan can be categorized under his active obedience because he comes as the second Adam (Rom. 5). He was fulfilling what the first Adam could not do. It was Adam’s priestly duty to expel the blasphemous tempter. The serpent should not have been permitted into the Garden of Eden, the place of God’s dwelling. Yet Adam failed to discharge his priestly duty and accepted the serpent as his superior.[6] He failed to subdue and to rule over all of creation as he was ordained to do. Satan challenged God’s authority by compelling Adam to choose between two masters.[7] Although Adam failed in conquering this crafty serpent, Christ came to be victorious by crushing the head of the serpent. Following Jesus’ triumph in the desert against Satan, the Synoptic Gospels portray every unclean spirit as confessing the deity of Christ, his power and victory.[8]

Jesus’ confrontation with the demonic realm can also be categorized under his passive obedience because Jesus subjected himself to the sufferings dealt by Satan. We read that when Jesus was lead into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, he subjected himself to Satan’s three temptations. Additionally, in Luke 22, Satan entered into Judas and betrayed Jesus—willingly subjecting himself to the pain and suffering that would unfold.

Furthermore, it’s helpful to understand that Christ did not enter a neutral world with no established kingdom. Even during this birth, he is sought after to be killed. He enters a world shackled by the demonic kingdom—ready to bear the miseries of this life. Miseries wrought by the demonic kingdom and the sons of the devil (John 8:44).

Christ’s active and passive obedience in his confrontation with Satan was the beginning of his victory, revealing the presence of his Kingdom. This victory, although complete in itself was a foretaste of the greater victory to come. For Christ’s victory would be renewed by every demonic encounter up to the resurrection.[9]

Christ’s victory message

The Synoptics cite several accounts of Jesus demonstrating his victory over the demonic kingdom. And his victory is always accompanied by the proclamation of the kingdom of God. However, it would be more accurate to say that Jesus’ primary focus was proclaiming the Kingdom of God, whereas the driving out of demons was supplementary to the presence of the Kingdom.  For example, in Mark 1, after Jesus’ victory over Satan, Jesus immediately starts proclaiming the good news of God. But it is only when Jesus preaches at that synagogue that the unclean spirit, hearing the voice of the Son, cries out in dreadful fear. The kingdom of God is always on the lips of Christ, but he is not always driving out demons.  Furthermore, Jesus immediately silences the unclean spirit because there is no value in his speech. In contrast, Christ speaks and his word proves valuable and effective, leaving the people in awe at the authority of his teaching.

In defeating Satan, Christ has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. His victory comes not by permitting the demons to voice their defeat. His victory comes in proclaiming the grace and mercy of God unto salvation.

II. The Disciples Against the Demons

Proclaim Christ’s victory message

The twelves disciples were also given the command to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. However, this was supplementary to their command to proclaim in the Kingdom (Matthew 10:7-8). The pronouncement of the Kingdom is central as Christ says to the disciples, “You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.” What exactly did the disciples receive without paying? Perhaps it was the authority over unclean spirits, and to heal every disease and affliction? Now, it might make sense for someone who has been healed or delivered from a demon to want to pay for the work rendered. But that wouldn’t necessarily make sense as Matthew nowhere indicates that the twelve were healed or exorcized of any demon.

What Matthew has in mind is that the disciples have received is Christ and his Kingdom. This is what the disciples are to proclaim because only this could warrant Christ’s words: “…if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”  Furthermore, the preceding verses 9-42 make no more mention of healing or casting out demons. Rather the focus is on the blessings and riches of receiving Christ. Therefore the central focus on the ministry of the disciples is not that of deliverance, but of proclamation.

Fewer demonic activity

Moving through the Gospels to Acts, one will find fewer demonic confrontations. There is no longer a great emphasis on the driving out of demons. This is ultimately the result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Through the work of Christ, Satan is utterly defeated and bound (Rev. 20:1-3). Now Satan’s binding does not mean that the disciples will not face persecution, as they surely did. Rather Satan is bound in the sense that he cannot hinder the proclamation of the gospel.[10]

With the binding of Satan, the Gospel message becomes a successful message within the Gentile nations. As scripture reveals, the prince of demons, Beelzebub can persecute the people of God. However, even in the midst of persecution, the Gospel seed still continues to grow and have success even in this age (Rom. 8:38; Matt. 16:18). This success is only possible through the work of Christ in his active and passive obedience. The Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of the disciples was not alienated from Christ.  The Holy Spirit was uniting the disciples to Christ, imputing his active and passive obedience to them. Just as the disciples would have to suffer like Christ, so too would the disciples share in the work of Christ in driving out demons. The disciples were not capable of driving out demons by their own power or wisdom; it was only through the authority granted them by Christ.[11] An authority which Christ received from the Father as the second Adam, and displayed in his defeat of Satan in the wilderness.

Paul just wants to preach

In Acts 16:16-34, Luke records the account of a slave girl who had the spirit of divination. When she saw Paul and Silas she would proclaim, “These are men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of Salvation.” She did this for many days, and Paul, having been greatly annoyed turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” There are two points of interest here in this passage. First, Paul isn’t concerned with driving out the spirit from the woman immediately. His central focus was to go back to the place of prayer so that he could continue preaching to the people who had gathered there. Secondly, the spirit identifies Paul and Silas as “the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” They’re servants who minister the Word of God. They are not servants who are known for driving out spirits. Even after being placed in prison for ridding the slave girl of the spirit, their purposes of proclaiming the gospel is advanced in prison. And in prison, the central concern of the jailers was, “what must I do to be saved?”  The Holy Spirit working in the disciples and the Apostle Paul was not fundamentally a power to drive out demons, but to proclaim the gospel (Matt. 10:20).

III. The Church Against the Demons

Experience vs. Theology

In light of the exorcisms performed by Christ and the disciples, how should the church address demonic oppression today? Some have suggested that ministers ought to accept deliverance ministries as the Lord’s solution in handling the problems of demon oppression.[12] For example, Don Dickerman, an advocate for deliverance ministries argues that ministers should lay hold of the authority that they have in Christ. He goes on to say that ministers are too timid to jump in headfirst to experience one’s identity in Christ. However, in order to lay hold of this he suggests that experience must trump theology.[13]  It is this very thinking that has led many minsters down the slippery slope of deliverance ministries.

Advocates of deliverance ministries will state that the recipients are not necessarily unbelievers, but believers. Dickenson states that demons can possess areas of a Christian’s life. He argues that Christians can have areas in their lives that are not completely submissive to the Holy Spirit, and so these areas are doorways for demons to enter.[14] Granted, this does not mean that Christians can be completely possessed. However, when placed against Scripture, this argument cannot stand.  In Mark 1:21-28, the reader is to be shocked that there is an evil spirit in the house of God. This was a sign of the spiritual state of Israel; that they were far from God. However, to those who have the Holy Spirit, their body is a living temple, a house of God where no evil spirit can reside. How can an evil spirit bind the Spirit of God who dwells in us? Simply, it cannot. Therefore the premise of deliverance ministries is faulty on the basis of Colossians 1:13 which state, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” To say that demons can still enter believers would imply that the Kingdom of God is also a kingdom of darkness. What victory and assurance would believers have? It would render the work of Christ as insufficient.

Demonic activity today

Scripture doesn’t suggest that demons were temporary and ceased to exist after the apostolic age. On the contrary, all believers are exhorted to be alert against demonic deception (1 Tim 4:1; 1 John 4:1-3). Hence, it would be unwise for believers to profess the Bible, yet deny the reality of demonic activity today.[15]  Although demonic activity is present today, believers should not diminish the work of Christ by saying that demonic activity, power, and influence is the same prior to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. If the work of Christ in his confrontation with the demonic world is categorized within his active and passive obedience, surely Christ has accomplished victory over the demonic realm in its entirety. And if this is the case what should be at the forefront of every church is the preaching of the gospel.

What is clear among all Christians, is that the demons are no match for Christ, their creator and judge.  They have been defeated and the power that they possessed has been greatly limited by the work of Christ. Their limited power is not sufficient in itself to break through the kingdom of God for their end is already set in the lake of fire for eternal punishment. Christ is the means by which the church has victory over the demonic realm as he preserves every believer.[16]

No commission to cast out demons

The church does not have an explicit commission to cast out demons after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus declared in Matthew 28 saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” What this passage suggests is that on account of Christ’s perfect obedience, the Father has given him all heavenly and earthly authority.  The demonic kingdom has faltered, thus there is no commission to cast out demons.

IV. Conclusion

It is apparent that Scripture does not call the church to be involved in deliverance ministries. Rather, there is a clear mandate that ministers are to preach God’s Word, administer the Sacraments and be in prayer. It seems that those who are involved in deliverance ministries are simply not satisfied with the Gospel. There is an insatiable appetite for more, but the Apostle Paul declares that the Gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:6). Therefore, what need is there for “deliverance ministries?” There is none.

Now I am not neglecting the reality of spiritual warfare. I am simply stating that Scripture does not warrant “deliverance ministries.” In light of spiritual warfare, James 4:7 commands that believers are to submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee. He doesn’t offer any extravagant remedies to comfort his church other than this.

Lastly, I will appeal to Matthew 7:21-23 which states, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

What is the will of God other than to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments to His people? Prophesy, casting out demons, mighty works in the name of Christ mean nothing. Even workers of lawlessness do them. Yet what pleases God is the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Paul states that it is so absurd and foolish to those who are perishing, but for those who believe, it is the power of God for salvation. Why hinder the power of God and the clarity of the Gospel through the means of deliverance ministries when the preaching of the Word is sufficient? So sufficient that men and women have died for it.  In the end, deliverance ministries  competes with the Gospel, which is the only true nourishment and comfort for building up God’s people in holiness.

[1] Don Dickerman, When Pigs Move In: How to Sweep Clean the Demonic Influences Impacting Your Life (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2009), ix.

[2] Frank Hammond, Pigs in a Parlor: A Practical Guide to Deliverance (Kirkwood: Impact Christian Books, 2010), Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 4, Location 427.

[3] Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom of God and the Church (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1972), 32.

[4] Ridderbos, “The Kingdom Has Come,” 63.

[5] Ridderbos, “The Kingdom Has Come,” 63.

[6] Meredith G. Kline, “Covenant Judgment,” in Kingdom Prologue (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), 123.

[7] Meredith G. Kline, “Covenant Judgment,” in Kingdom Prologue (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), 123.

[8] Ridderbos, “The Kingdom Has Come,” 63.

[9] Ridderbos, “The Kingdom Has Come,” 63.

[10] Anthony Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, Robert G. Clouse, ed. (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity, 1977), p. 161.

[11] Fred Dickason, Demon Possession and the Christian (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1987), 46.

[12] Dr. Yusufu Ameh Obaje, Demon Possession and our Response as Disciples of Christ

[13] Dickerman, When Pigs Move In: How to Sweep Clean the Demonic Influences Impacting Your Life, 138.

[14] Dickason, Demon Possession and the Christian,157.

[15] Dickason, Demon Possession and the Christian, 23.

[16] Dickason, Demon Possession and the Christian, 31.

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