Exorcising Demons: Catholics and Baptists

Some thoughts on the Catholic exorcism training event last week and the evangelical response.

Early this year, at a spiritual festival in North Africa, my wife and I were told about a demon possessed young man who was acting unusually strange in a way that was beyond his control. We were asked to do a ‘healing session’ and get rid of the demon. After giving the other spiritual “healers” in the festival first shot, he came to us, and, through prayer in the name of Jesus, that young man walked out a changed person.

Not a big deal. Happens every day all over the world. But it might interest you to know that:

1. That young man was a European, not an African.
2. I am a Baptist and not a Pentecostal.
3. My first real successful encounter happened in San Francisco. 14 demons came out. They had names.
4. That young man who was freed from the 14 demons was, in my estimation, a Christian. He was also the graduate of a Southern Baptist educational institution. Now I was told that Christians cant be possessed by demons. Either my theology was wrong, or the Southern Baptists graduated an unbeliever.
5. I think that a vigorous study of the Scriptures on how to deal with the demonic should be an integral part of any ministerial training, especially cross-cultural and global missions training. Otherwise we might sending out an army of spiritual wimps into an arena where they will get their ass kicked.

But this puts me at odds with many people, including some leaders in the American emergent church and also leaders in my own denomination.

Earlier this week, Al Mohler blogged that the “evangelical view” declares that Christians cannot be possessed by demons. This is contrary to my experience but I don’t have chapter and verse to put up a fight. Although, I am wondering why this is considered the “evangelical view” and why the official view should be decided by Western intellectuals when the majority evangelical church in the global south is far more experienced and knowlegable on this subject that we are. And some of them suggest the Western view needs revisiting.

In fact, one African church leader, writing for a Lausanne Case Study, suggests that Christians can be possessed.

“Because of the religious freedom various sects with extreme views about evil spirit are growing in number. Some of them deny that Christians can not be possessed. In reality Christians that are baptized and confess their faith are seen possessed. Demoniac attack is not limited to non Christian. The fast numerical growth of Church membership and the luck of trained man power for proper teaching is a challenge Evangelical Churches are facing.” Case Study: Demonization and the Practice of Exorcism in Ethiopian Churches, by Amsalu Tadesse Geleta

Al Mohler also insists that evangelical Christians do not need a rite of excorcism. Thats fair enough. I have seen Christians use all kinds of interfaces to deal with the supernatural, some even quite weird, and all seemed equally workable to God who overcomes our inadequacies to accomplish His purposes. But evangelical Christians, including Baptists, do need to land on a shared set of best practices if they are to approach the challenge of this ministry in an orchestrated manner.

Catholics are taking the ministry of deliverance seriously. Good. Maybe they will make up for lost time in South America where the Pentecostals stepped in with a more vigorous spirituality. But Baptists also need to be intentional and transparent and open to learning from the wider church.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

20 Comments

  • Andrew,
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this argument with people. My experience is also that Christians can have demons…and I have been a part of a good number of deliverance sessions over the years. I think what gets evangelical cockles up is the word “possessed”. People automatically think Exorcist and it just starts the conversation on the wrong foot. John Wimber was fond of rejecting the word “possessed” and speaking of demonization ‘levels’ instead. That also bears with my experience. Wimber had some solid biblical teaching on the issue as well. Usually the most extreme levels are people that have no relationship with God and have given themselves over to Satan for a long time, but I’ve also seen Christians under significant ‘control’ by a demonic presence.
    I also agree that this is mostly a non-issue outside of a Western context. We have enough trouble with physical healing, much less deliverance or other aspects of the supernatural. We certainly have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters who deal with the effects of the demonic on a daily basis.
    Peace,
    Mike

  • I can’t imagine why Christians would be exempt from possession. At the end of the day, people are people, none of us are perfect, and the simple existence of temptation, doubt, sin, etc. are enough for me to believe that we are as susceptible as anyone else.
    Great post, thanks for posting on a topic that doesn’t seem to get enough attention!

  • hear here! Yup… and know the weird quite well. I tend to use the term “squatter eviction”- esp. when it comes to “believers” – cuz really the enemy has no right to be there. Now, i could get into “door ways” and all that…. and maybe at some point i will. Suffice to say i’ve seen way too much from both realms. I’ve come to one conclusion however… and it may seem obvious on some matters… but when in the throws of such warfare no matter the method, interface or matrix like ninja format… JESUS IS the DELIVERER. I say that only because in some of it… it can feel like it’s “you against the demonic”- when really, it’s the incarnational reality that Christ lives within us, part of that mystery of the Gospel, that even allows for that terrain.
    i guess it would be kinda nice to have some cliff notes or perhaps a book called “deliverance for dummies”.
    Should be interesting how this thread plays out.
    mucho luv dude,
    xocat

  • I at first misread the title and thought it would be about exorcising baptist and catholic demons, which would’ve been even more freaky I guess…
    (I once had a muslim tell me that djinns can have the same religions as humans, so you have muslim and christian and jewish djinns, so why not baptist and catholic demons…)
    It’s a subject I feel I need to learn about more. The few things I’ve encountered taught me it’s a reality, that doesn’t even fit into my worldview sometimes, but I’m at the moment not ready at all to deal with it if it would come my way again…
    Can Christians be possessed? It would be a semantic definition problem I guess, but they sure can be influenced… Those things should not be discussed as theoretical theology when they are real to a lot of people.
    But then again in our Western materialism we don’t see it even if it stares us in the eye, and some people who do seem to see it everywhere it isn’t too… Some balance would be a good idea…
    shalom
    Bram

  • I like the phrase demonic oppression because in my experience this is more often the case. ‘Possession’ whereby someone can no longer act on their own is not so common- at least not here in my Middle Earth. There have been some possession instances but more often I find people who are harassed by demons. They can be seduced by them and act according to their program (jealousy, anger, bitterness, etc) but they are still free to choose. These people still need to be set free and that involves not an ‘exorcism’ ceremony but a real spiritual encounter whereby they recognize the demon and turn and ask Jesus for freedom.

  • semantics, yep!!!! and i try to avoid the possession/oppression framework [where did we get that from? merrill unger???] and use other vocab
    sometimes there is a fine line between ‘exorcism’ a ‘real spiritual encounter’
    back to semantics again

  • I just blogged about this and I hope to hear from some of my readers and friends on the question of those who dismiss demonic possession altogether in favor of a psychological explanation of the behavior characteristic of possession. I know what I have experienced (or at least I think I do) and I trust the experiences of my friends who have had similar experiences but how would you respond to that line of thinking? Do you know of any thoroughgoing theological / pastoral responses to the reality of demonic possession?

  • Speaking from a US Emergent perspective, I don’t know too many emergent peeps who deny the demonic per se – it’s just that those of us from Pentecostal/charismatic backgrounds (like myself) downplay it because it seemed connected to such hype and showmanship, and those not from the background, well…it’s an uncomfortable subject. I’ve personally benefited from an evangelical interpretation of Walter Wink’s work, one that affirms both the ‘personal’ and ‘institutional’ dimensions of the ‘principalities and powers,’ and sees them along a continuum with psychological disorder. I don’t know what ‘the demonic’ or ‘the devil’ *is*, but I feel reasonably confident – from my experience and those whom I trust – *that* it is.
    I agree with you though: This is something USAmerican Christians (and emergent US Christians in particular) need not avoid. Perhaps it’s high time for some 21st century cultural-spiritual exegesis.
    Oh, and as far as the ‘Christian possession’ phenomenon, it makes total sense to me. Even from a somewhat sociological perspective, who *believes* in the demonic the most in the 21st century? Christians, or cultures under the influence of Christendom. I’m not suggesting Get Rid of Christianity = Get Rid of Demons, but if you do consider ‘Religion’ one of the oppressive Powers, and Christendom as a particularly nasty manifestation of said Power…well, it makes sense.

  • Glad the Catholics are taking it seriously…not seriously enough in my estimation, unless the clergy who are being trained in this are going home and equipping the laypeople. It’s not just the priests and bishops who have authority to cast out demons, but anyone who bears Christ’s name. Sadly, most Christians are completely unaware of the power they have in Christ and of their new identity.

  • Andrew – I was curious if there was a specific ritual that you performed or was it as simple as you said “through prayer in the name of Jesus, that young man walked out a changed person.”

  • A friend posted your page on his Facebook – I was sure glad to see this 🙂 My whole family is Baptist and I know that so many of them have issues due to demonic influence but because they are like most Baptists they don’t pay any heed. One of these day I pray God will open their hearts to the truth.
    If you haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend Healing Through Deliverance by Horribin – Its a pretty informative book.
    @Cathryn – I too have thought about them in terms of squatters.

  • I think any time Christians underestimate the spiritual element of things they’re going to get their asses kicked. You really took the words out of my mouth on this one. My in-laws taught me how to pray and to deal with the spiritual element in my life, and there is real evil that is afflicting Christians. I have Christian friends who had demons cast out of them while Christian. I also know Christians who are in slavery to sin, and believe me, there is something evil at work there.
    Of course we can run to the extreme that we find an evil spirit under every rock, behind every steering wheel on the road, and behind every shopping cart at the grocery store, but we certainly ignore the supernatural to our great peril. Thanks for sharing your story here. We need it!

  • Mike,
    I agree with you. I grew up in Pentacostal/Charismatic background. I see things more now in light of the emergent perspective. I don’t deny it, however I deny its influence in me. I was part of the hype and emotional roll coster. It’s uncomfortable to look at these things from the open and scholarly view.
    I have benefited from Watler Wink’s “Powers that Be” as well. I believe the “Evil” recorded in the Bible was dealt with and finished in Redemption. Yet, the social evil that exists must be faced head on. These systems and institutions and the “personalization” fo what lies behind them must be exposed. I believe the lie that God is Violent and the structures built upon is “evil” I believe the mental health of the Church has been affected by teaching “God is Violent.” When I see God in a New light, my idea of evil shifts.
    “No one knows the precise nature of evil is, but we sure know the function of it.”_-Eugene H. Peterson.
    Our greatest fears produces systems, systems of religion absorbed with good intentions. Those who observe Oppression and those victimized by Oppression are still effected. If we suppress this in fear, we will create a new system of problems. So much of our “christian Symbols” are coded in the language of evil rather than the Victory of Christ. Someone once asked C.S.Lewis: “Did you believe in the devil?” He replied:”That one that we teach is God’s Opponent, the One in struggle with God over the Universe. No! The devil that is founded in biblical exegesis of the Victory of Christ, yes!”
    Shifting again.

  • In my own experience, I have found that everything you have shared in the article above to be true. Personally, I have also found that people get their hackles up at the term “possessed”, and like to nitpick the subject. I for the most part try to sidestep that word where possible, but I DO say one thing:
    “I don’t care HOW you think it happens, or where you think they’re located. I don’t care if they’re in, under, on, or around you, the demons have to go. I don’t care if you call it possessed, oppressed, depressed, whatever, they aren’t allowed to stay. Period. And so we need to make them go.”
    I just let people know that I’m not into an argument, but regardless of their particular view on the subject, I am serious about dealing with the demonic. Now personally, I believe and have found that ANYONE can have a spirit INSIDE of them. Again, classify it however you want, but at some point in time it has to leave their physical body for it to be no longer bothering them.
    One other thing that I find messes with people’s ideas about spirits is HOW they tend to leave. This might fit into the “best practices” category. I have found, and scripture supports the concept in theory, that demons often leave in the form of some kind of wind. It states that “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire” somewhere in the OT. Demons being fallen angels (or that being the common belief and mine as well), means to me that they are also winds, on some level.
    Often when people are getting demons kicked out of them, I notice that we (I’ve done it to myself too), tend to yawn, fart, burp, cough, sneeze, or vomit. Now, the vomiting I don’t think is wind-like, but all of the others involve something in the ‘wind’ category. And it’s a useful indicator of when something is happening, too. If the person starts yawning like crazy, farting a lot, burping, etc. then it means that whatever you’re doing is effective. It might sound silly when I say this, but I have found it to be very true. If you DO cast demons out of people regularly enough and have never observed this, watch, because you probably will after this. And if you disagree, that’s fine too. But it’s the closest thing to a physical indicator that can be used pretty much across the board that I’ve found. Mind you, there are lots of other things, like if the person who is hissing like a snake stops hissing and starts talking normally, you’ve probably made some progress there too…. =)
    As for verses in the Bible that support Christians having demons – there’s only 1 that I’m aware of, and it is open to interpretation, but if one looks at it logically, it makes sense. In Acts, Philip is down in Samaria (I think it’s Samaria) and he’s preaching, casting out demons, and baptizing. Now tell me, if he’s kicking demons out of people and THEN getting them saved/baptizing them, and if Christians CAN’T have demons, wouldn’t it be a huge time-saver if he just skipped the deliverance part and went straight to the baptizing? I mean, if I have to spend time casting out demons or just getting people saved and that’s it, then I wouldn’t EVER waste my time on deliverance. Rather, I’d just tell everyone that they have to follow Jesus if they want free from the devils, and leave it at that. But, since it doesn’t work like that, I don’t bother.

  • If the scriptures are the divine word of God and true, then a believer is not just baptized with water but with the holy spirit, who dwells within the believer. Jesus said a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. It would be impossible for a demon to take over a person who has the holy spirit dwelling in them. I have met many a preacher who, though they preach teach and perform ceremonies, are no more true Christians than Ghandi was.
    I would need to see scripture showing were a christian was ever possessed by demons. Anyone have any clear scriptures to back up the assertion of possessed Christians ?

  • Perhaps part of the problem you mention is in the vocabulary. I do see a theological problem with saying that Christians are “possessed” by the devil, or demons. You are not you own (or the devil’s) — you were bought with a price.
    The problem is that where the NT refers to people being “demonized” we often translate that as “possessed”, but that is not strictly accurate. A demonized person may be possessed OF a demon, but not necessarily possessed BY the devil.
    In the Orthodox Church baptism is preceded by not one but four exorcisms, to prise the person out of the clutches, the possession of the devil. The world lies in the power of the evil one (I Jn 1:19) and we are all citizens of the Kingdom of Satan by birth. So the first thing is to release the person from bondage to the devil, and tell the devil (the usurper) that he has no power over that person. Only then is the person free to face the west and renounce the devil, and then turn to the east, and accept Christ as King and God. In baptism, we believe, we are transferred from the authority (exousia) of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, and there is no going back, except by deliberate and conscious apostasy. We are no longer the possessions of the devil, and belong to God’s kingdom.
    So the church is a liberated zone in the midst of anemy occupied territory. See my blog post on this at:
    http://khanya.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/the-church-as-the-liberated-zone/
    But we are still surrounded by enemy-occupied territory, and while we cannot be “possessed” by the devil, we can still suffer demonic assaults, and still be demonised.

  • i think we all agree that the “possession” terminology is confusing, misleading and not even biblical.
    heres hoping that the next generation will do better in naming it.

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