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The famous Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon once made the following remark in relation to demon possession; ‘Satan is not inside our heart now, he entered into Judas, but he cannot enter into us; for our soul is filled by another who is well able to hold his own’a. The true believer cannot be possessed by the devil nor any of his demons. When Christ was accused of casting out devils through the power of the devil in Matthew 12, he responded by saying ‘how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house’. The devil cannot take control of one who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as every believer is, having received the Holy Spirit at their conversion, for he is the ‘strong man’ that cannot be bound by any demon. The Holy Spirit cannot dwell alongside a demon within a believer for ‘what concord hath Christ with Belial?’ Indeed no example can be found in Scripture where a demonic spirit has ever inhabited a true believer. Also it is not the norm today for people in general to be possessed by demons. Only where they voluntarily and purposefully invite demons into their lives by involvement in occult practices can people today be demon possessed. When Christ ministered upon the earth he invaded the domain of Satan, confronted demons and demonstrated his power over them. Yet this was a unique period. Satan himself realised that his ability to deceive the world would soon be greatly restrained and so was in a heightened state of activity. The ushering in of the gospel age that followed Christ’s atoning death and resurrection has resulted in Satan being bound and greatly restricted in his ability to deceive the nations.
There are however two realms of ‘Christianity’ where a belief in demon possession (of both believers and non believers), and in the power to cast out demons is very prevalent today. These are the Roman Catholic Church and the Charismatic Movement. In many cases the charismatic interest in demons borders on obsession; they see demons everywhere they go and are constantly engaged in a battle with them. Demons are knocking on their windows, demons have them confined to one room of the house, and it would seem that everywhere they go they are bothered by demons. Whatever happens to them and whatever trial they might face, it is the fault of demons. And like the Church of Rome, the strong belief exists that these demons must be cast out through the ministry of one specially anointed for the purpose.
1. Exorcism in the Roman Catholic Church
The 1973 horror film ‘The Exorcist’ (definitely not recommended viewing) tells the story of a 12 year old girl’s demonic possession and the efforts of two Roman Catholic priests to exorcise her of the demon. As with all films about supposed demon possession and exorcism the common response of those involved is to appeal to a Roman Catholic priest for help. This is due, not only to Hollywood’s view of Rome as ‘the’ Christian church, but also to the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has a particular rite of exorcism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that ‘When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcising ... Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church’b. It is worth noting that ‘exorcisms’ had diminished greatly in number by the 1960’s, only for the demand for exorcisms to increase during the 1970’s when they became popularised in many films such as The Exorcist. Incidentally it was also at this time that the Charismatic Movement began to make inroads in the Church of Rome.
The rite of exorcism cannot be performed indiscriminately by any priest but only by one who has ‘obtained special and express permission from the local ordinary’c. The ordained priest, having been to confession prior to the exorcism, is to make the sign of the cross over the possessed person, himself, and any bystanders, and sprinkle them all with holy water. The priest then prays through the Litany of the Saints, recites a number of scripture passages, and ‘casts out’ the demon by a prescribed form of wordsd. Whilst Rome may claim that their manner of casting out demons is performed according to a formula which Christ taught the disciples, the truth is that nowhere in scripture is there any description given for how demons are to be cast out. Nowhere in any of the epistles are any such instructions given, despite their being much teaching on how other aspects of the church's ministry were to be conducted.
2. Charismatics and Demons
The so called casting out of demons and exorcism has always been the preserve of the Church of Rome. Although such teaching can be found in pagan religions it has not generally been found within mainstream Christianity, with the exception of the Charismatic Movement. Many charismatics tell of constantly battling with demons, talking to demons and casting them out. If someone is sick it is the fault of demons, if they are struggling spiritually it is because of demons. The demons which troubled our parents have been passed on and are troubling us also, as some form of a generational curse. The heretical charismatic teacher T.D. Jakes said that ‘if you will look at your family tree closely you will find that you are still fighting your grandmama’s devil, you mama’s devil’e. It seems that everything which we have to contend with is the result of a demon. We no longer have to contend with the sin of lust, it is the demon of lust. No longer is greed a sin, but likewise it is a demon. Joyce Meyer has even made the claim that those who are possessed with demons literally stinkf. All that charismatics teach about demon possession and the activity of demons is very similar to what is taught by the Church of Rome, specifically the idea that believers can be possessed by demonic spirits, and that they should seek to have them cast out.
The charismatic claim of the power to cast out demons is of course based on their belief that the New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit are still available for believers today. Kenneth Hagin has claimed that ‘All believers can cast out devils in His name. Every believer has authority over demons and evil spirits in the name of Jesus’g. This is not a unusual view within the Charismatic Movement, but is mainstream with essentially every major charismatic name professing to believe in the ability to cast out demons. Some teachers will claim that they never cast out a demon until they have asked the demon its name, despite the fact that the bible explicitly forbids communicating with evil spirits (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). When the only other church that promotes exorcisms is the Roman Catholic Church, that alone ought to give us suspicion that such a practice is not of God. As we have already emphasised, nowhere in any of the pastoral epistles are instructions ever given for how demons are to be cast out. The disciples did not instruct anyone on how they were to cast out demons after they were gone. All other aspects of church practice are dealt with, but guidance for the casting out of demons in conspicuous by its absence. By their view on casting out demons the Charismatic Movement also makes the blessed name of the Lord Jesus into little more that a charm; for by simply speaking the name of Jesus the demons will be cast out. Let us never relegate the name of the Lord to such a level where we think of it as just a word which can speak and by so doing cast out a demon.
Peter Masters highlights some of the limitations which are placed upon the devil and demons today, points that are worthwhile remembering amidst the onslaught of charismatic demonology:
1. Satan may accuse us, but he cannot condemn us
2. He can tempt us to sin, as we have said, but he cannot make us sin
3. He can hear us and see us, but not read our thoughts.
4. He can fire thoughts into our heads from the outside, but he cannot make them stick, unless we let him by harbouring those thoughtsh.
All that the charismatic obsession with demons and the casting out of demons will do is take our eyes of Christ. Instead of looking Him for the forgiveness of and deliverance from the sins in our life, we will look to men for help in deliverance from 'our demons'. This has long been one of the great failings of Roman Catholic teaching; that people have looked to priests and the popes as possessing great power, with the ability to help them. The charismatic view of demons will likewise have us looking to men, to those who have some form of deliverance ministry, instead of looking to Christ. Any doctrine which moves Christ out of that pre-eminent position must be immediately and completely rejected.
Next: A return to mysticism
b ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church Part 2 Section 2 Chapter 4 Article 1 Paragraph 1673’
c ‘Code of Canon Law, Book 4, Part 2, Title 1, Canon 1172’
f Bible Answerman Radio, January 2003
g Six Enemies to Faith, Kenneth E Hagin December 01 2009
h What Satan Can And Cannot Do, The Sword and Trowel 2003, Issue 3