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"Spiritual Warfare" and "Deliverance Ministry" 
and Seventh-day Adventists

I. Historical Backgrounds: Past, Present, and Future

It is impossible today to understand adequately phenomena in "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" without first taking into account the data available to us from the times of the Bible and the subsequent development of the post-New Testament Christian Church. Since prophecy has been defined by one writer as "history written in advance," it will not be inappropriate to include here a survey of instruction and counsel from Scripture and the pen of Ellen White concerning what the present and future may hold for God's people just before Jesus returns.

A. The Old and Intertestamentary Periods

The Mesopotamian-Canaanite world out of which the Old Testament emerged was extremely conscious of the existence of malignant spirits, and the Hebrew prophets attested in their writings to this fundamental reality even in their own culture.

On the contrary, however, demonology, while certainly present among the Hebrews, still existed in inchoate form in Old Testament times, at least as far as the inspired record attests. While there are in its pages undeniable evidences of what today we might speak of as demonic possession, there is not one single clear-cut instance of "exorcism" (the expulsion of evil spirits from persons and/or places--an especially well-known phenomenon in Sumero-Akkadian civilizations) being practiced among the Jews of Old Testament times.

Why is this so? If demons were present, why were no steps taken for their expulsion? One answer suggested by scholars is that (Jehovah) is, from beginning to end, seen as so fully in control of all situations and circumstances that the evil spirits are always seen as completely under the regulation and control of Jehovah, thus their preemptive activity is totally precluded. The problem of demonology, as far as the world of the Hebrews of antiquity is concerned, is therefore merely a peripheral one, completely overshadowed by the commanding presence and total authority of Jehovah.

A crucial distinction needs to be recognized at this point between the attitude toward the existence of demons by the Jews and that of their non-Hebrew neighbors. The Babylonians, for example, saw every illness as traceable to the work of demons (some Christians today would concur in this view). The Israelites, however, recognized that although demons indeed might cause illness, not every such manifestation is properly linked to their direct activity.

The typical non-Hebrew dweller in Mesopotamia lived his life constantly in fear and danger of evil spirits. Amulets were widely favored to ward off such encounters, but the chief recourse for protection was found in the form of ceremonies of incantation, administered by a professional priest/exorcist. In the ceremony (not unlike the practice of some in "deliverance ministry" today) the officiating priest sought to discover which demon or demons were troubling the afflicted, the better to conduct successfully the appropriate required ceremony. The ritual not only utilized certain incantation rites but also employed specific verbal formulae blurred magic, religion, and disease.

There is a remarkable--and distressing--similarity between these pagan Sumero-Akkadian rituals and those sometimes employed modern "Christian" practitioners of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry"--a concern to which we will return again and again.

Although the incantation rituals achieved great popularity in ancient Mesopotamia, there is, by way of stark contrast, a total absence of such rites in the official practices recorded among the Hebrews. Indeed, their Old Testament Scriptures inveighed heavily against the practice of magic, incantation, and exorcistic liturgies.

As the demonology of the intertestamental period developed, these evil spirits were frequently identified or associated with dispositions such as fornication or greed, an identification now revived and increasingly witnessed among believers in "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry"--a cause of growing concern among many.

In this milieu it generally came to be accepted that every kind of illness, from insanity down to lesser afflictions, was due to the immediate presence and activity of malevolent spirits. Demons came to be seen as also being capable of possessing places and events as well as people. And thus it was that ritual exorcism, once the exclusive preserve of the pagan dwellers of Mesopotamia and totally unknown in the Judaism of biblical times, now becomes commonplace along the Hebrews.

Partly perhaps because of their contact with Persian influences, the Jews in intertestament times signalled a shift in their perception of reality. Until now, demons had largely been associated with physical evil; now they become attached to ethical evil as well. This ethical opposition to God and His kingdom transforms demons into devils, and places them under the severest censure.

Thus, by the time we reach the Christian era of the first century A.D. we find the marked presence of demonology in the New Testament where Jesus and His disciples are frequently portrayed as in conflict with demonic forces. And there is a growing interest with things demonic.

To recapitulate, the similarity between the ancient Near Eastern exorcistic rituals and that practiced today by many practitioners of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" tends to give pause to the objective Christian observer of the contemporary scene, especially in view of the absence of such rituals from the Old Testament (and, as we will note subsequently, below, basically from the New Testament as well).

The absence of exorcistic ritual from the Old Testament points to the power of Yahweh over all evil. This focus on the salvation of God points us away from excessive preoccupation with the demonic.

And the relationship between the use of demonic terminology to characterize disease, increasingly popular in certain "deliverance circles today, may merely reflect an oversensitiveness and superstitious conscience. It, unfortunately, goes beyond the biblical data to label uncritically all or most disease as directly caused by Satan.

B. The New Testament Period

The New Testament writings present the perplexing and distressing picture of demonic forces not only impinging upon but ruling over creaturely existence. The influence of these forces is portrayed throughout the New Testament, but specific case examples of demon possession and deliverance of Satan's captives are confined to the Gospels and Acts. (Concern with demonic possession and deliverance is, of course, present elsewhere in the New Testament--see Colossians and 1 Peter, for example.) We will now attempt to summarize the data from these five books.

Although the distinction probably is not significant (since both Satan and his subordinate fallen angels have the same objectives and utilize much the same modus operandi), it may yet be interesting to note that although Satan is viewed as behind and superior to all demonic Forces, except in the case of Judas, in the New Testament Satan himself is never spoken of as "possessing" an individual. Rather, he is pictured as the instigator of moral evil, the one who tempts weakened mortals to sin. Contrarily, demons or spirits are described as the agencies that possess the bodies (physical illness) or minds (mental illness) of people, but not as the powers that tempt persons to sin.

There seems to be some evidence that people became possessed because they were especially sinful (Judas is one example to the contrary that quickly comes to mind). While possession and special sinfulness may go hand in hand (Mary Magdalene may he a good case in point), in terms of the data of the New Testament itself, possession appears to be related specifically to physical and mental illness, rather than to be linked with doing sinful deeds.

With regard to possession and illness, there appears to be no precise demarcation made in the New Testament between demon possession and illness caused by other factors. Sometimes people are pictured as ill with various diseases without any mention being made of possession; at other times the same diseases are ascribed to possession. In any case, from the New Testament point of view, while not all illness is due (or even is pictured as being due) to possession, the supernatural power of evil is seen as behind all illness.

The most notable feature of possession is the substitution of the human self, ego, or personality by an alien spiritual power. This is seen especially in cases where the demons speak through the vocal chords of the demonized.

Concerning the characteristics of the demons, the following are especially notable:

1. The Gospels imply degrees of badness among the evil spirits.

2. They also correspondingly portray degrees of demon possession.

3. The demons exhibit supernatural knowledge of the identity of Jesus and the fact of their own judgment and destruction.

4. The methodology by which the demons are dispossessed of their human prey is spelled out clearly in Scripture: They are expelled by a simple, short, authoritative word of command. Interestingly, Jesus is nowhere in the Gospels called an "exorcist." And when He casts out demons there are never any long, drawn-out, time-consuming exercises. Prayer Is mentioned in connection with deliverance from demons only in one instance where the nature of the possession appears to be exceptionally severe.

Though the power to cast out demons was indeed conferred on Christ's disciples by the Lord, the New Testament--in terms of the data it supplies--is very reserved about this power being given, as far as including all people at all times.

The act and task of demon-deliverance must be understood in the Scriptures in the overall understanding of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, and the infilling of Christ's Spirit. Here it finds its ultimate significance.

There are two elements common to deliverance from demons in the Gospel and Acts accounts: (a) the mention of Jesus' name, and (b) the exercise of faith. Prayer and fasting (mentioned in only one account) are perhaps to be viewed under the broad heading of the exercise of faith. Also, certain strange (to us) acts (touching the hem of a garment, praying over handkerchiefs or aprons, standing in Peter's shadow, et cetera,) probably have more to do ultimately with the exercise of faith in Jesus than with any other factor.

The casting out of demons was not an end in itself; the vacuum left by the departing devils must be filled by positive good--God's presence--lest the demons return to an empty place and make it worse than it was before, And the casting out of demons can only be properly understood in the overall context of the motif of the kingdom of God--and His kingdom in men's hearts.

It appears that the Scriptures are concerned lest potentially sensationalistic phenomena be overly magnified. In the case of "speaking in tongues" it is implicitly permitted, but tightly regulated, and placed last in all of the catalogues of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

C. The Post-New Testament Period

The earliest evidence of what might be called a Christian rite of exorcism is found in the middle of the third century (about the year A.D. 250). Here we discover the practice of a ritual conducted in conjunction with baptism. It appeared to signify the change that the baptismal candidate was making, withdrawing his prior allegiance to the realm of Satan and the demons and placing it now with the realm of Christ.

It is important that we do not confuse this kind of "exorcism" with the kind exhibited in cases where demons are believed to have taken possession of individuals and are summarily expelled. During medieval times farfetched tales of wonders of various sorts were widespread and prevalent, but it is not until the last Middle Ages that there is much reliable evidence demonstrating that much attention was given by Christians to what we today speak of as "exorcism." As a matter of fact, it appears that what little efforts at exorcism were made at this time seem more to be devoted to the matter of how to identify witches than anything else.

The formal ritual in conjunction with baptism, mentioned above, was evidently practiced generally throughout the Middle Ages in connection with a somewhat elaborate rite (which rite was condensed in the Rituale Romanum of A.D. 1614).

Interestingly, an abbreviated Form of this rite was also published in the earliest Lutheran service books. But Calvinists shunned this sort of practice, and the Lutherans themselves generally came to abandon it as well.

Perhaps must striking (and significant) for us today is the evidence from history in the early modern period (about A.D. 1600). Exorcists in England, southwest Germany, and Italy were then gaining some degree of notoriety. The ecclesiastical authorities were usually found to be questioning the procedures and/or validity of the exorcisms that were purportedly being conducted, and ecclesiastical trials of the would-be exorcists were the usual consequence for such sensationalists.

One especially striking case of the period involved an Italian monk who produced a flurry of excitement by his activity ostensibly in casting out demons. His colleagues and ecclesiastical superiors were amazed and puzzled by his success in view of the very scandalous life he was then living!

A relatively successful exorcism, therefore, is not necessarily evidence that the power of God has truly been at work.

A fact noted at this point in history has also been observed by many in more recent times: Whereas in places where devils had not previously been known to be prevalent prior to the arrival of this monk-exorcist, all manner of them seemed to crop up when he came to town.

Until the fairly recent upsurge of interest in exorcism developed, neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant Christian bodies have given much attention to the phenomenon of exorcism, at least in Western Europe and in North America. As recently us 1961 one Catholic authority could declare that exorcism was "rarely necessary in civilized lands; but foreign missionaries are sometimes called on to use it." (Protestants, generally, have tended for the most part to hold the same view.)

D. Today and Tomorrow

Inspiration has told us that the 

period of Christ's personal ministry among men was the time of greatest activity for the forces of the kingdom of darkness. For ages Satan with his evil angels had been seeking to control the bodies and the souls of men, to bring upon them sin and suffering; then he had charged all this misery upon God. Jesus was revealing to men the character of God. He was breaking Satan's power, and setting his captives free. New life and love and power from heaven were moving upon the hearts of men, and the prince of evil was aroused to contend for the supremacy of his kingdom. Satan summoned all his forces, and at every step contested the work of Christ. [footnote 2]

Then, without a break, the Lord looks down to the closing scenes of this earth's history, and prompts His special messenger to add these words full of significance to us who Live today:

So it will be in the great final conflict of the controversy between righteousness and sin. While new life and light and power are descending from on high upon the disciples of Christ [possibly a reference to the outpouring of the latter rain of the Holy Spirit prior to the close of human probation ], a new life is springing up from beneath, and energizing the agencies of Satan. Intensity is taking possession of every earthly element. With a subtlety gained through centuries of conflict, the prince of evil works under a disguise. [footnote 3]

We are told, further, by this same writer, that it is indeed "important" for us to understand Satan's snares, that we may escape them today. In his "last campaign," Satan will move upon "some deceived souls" to advocate the idea that he does not really exist as a personal entity. [footnote 4]

Indeed, one of his snares is the "subtle," "mischievous," and "fast-spreading" "error" that "Satan has no existence as a personal being; that the name is used in Scripture merely to represent men's evil thoughts and desires" [footnote 5]--merely a rhetorical device to personify evil. And this prediction, made more than a century ago, is more than amply fulfilled today by modern humanism.

Whatever the popular concept may be today, the testimony of the Bible is that Jesus believed in a personal devil. Immediately upon entering into His earthly ministry, Christ was confronted by such a personage who brought nearly overwhelming temptations to Him. They conversed together (not, however, over the person of a possessed human being!), and this confrontation was real (see Matt 4:1-11).

Then, as now, Satan worked "with all deceivableness of unrighteousness" in those who "received not the love of the truth" (2 Thess 2:10). God permits the wicked, who deliberately choose evil, to "believe a lie" through the "strong delusions" which Satan increasingly will bring as the end of time approaches (verse 11).

And in the very last days, we are told, Satan will work with "all power and signs and lying wonders" (verse 9); even the "very elect" will be in grave danger of this deception. No less than four times in the end-time prophecy of Matthew 24 does Jesus warn of deception and urge alertness (verses 4, 5, 11, 24). And at the last Satan will work dramatically, especially in performing genuine miraculous manifestations to carry the day (Rev 13:13, 14; 16:13, 14), ultimately producing that "crowning" deception--the impersonation of the second coming of Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor 11:14). [footnote 6]

One of the chief deceptions Satan instituted during medieval times was the palming off upon a gullible, unsuspecting public the notion that instead of his being a fallen angel of light, Satan was, instead, a horrible red-skinned creature with animal-like horns; cloven hoofs; wolf-like ears; scaly, fish-like skin; possessed of an animal-like tail with a spike at its tip; who carried a spear-like trident.

Today most people (at least in western culture) merely laugh at such a characterization. And that suits Satan's purposes well--for men seldom fear that at which they can laugh. Furthermore, they will tend to ignore something that they don't really believe exists. [footnote 7]

They didn't laugh at Satan' in medieval times; they feared him. And in many primitive societies today men still greatly fear a literal, personal devil. And this, too, suits Satan's purposes well; for where he can paralyze with fear, there he can win, too.

The story of Jesus' casting out a host of demons from the two men of Gadara (Mark 5:1-20) provides five facts about the existence and activity of Satan and his evil angels, evidence that we need today to counterattack his deception that he and his cohorts do not have a personal existence:

1. Their reality. They are real personalities. On this one singular occasion, Jesus entered into a conversation with them (which, incidentally, they initiated).

2. Their number. They declared, in answer to Christ's demand that they identify themselves, "My name is Legion, for we are many" (verse 9). In Christ's day a Roman legion might number somewhere between three and five thousand soldiers.

3. Their organization. Like the Roman legions, "Satan's hosts ... are marshalled in companies, and the single company to which these demons belonged numbered no less than a legion." [footnote 8]

4. Their supernatural power. The madmen broke the chains restraining them; and the swine (into which the demons were subsequently cast) were swept down a cliff to their destruction in the sea below.

5. Their malignity. The bleeding, disfigured bodies and distracted minds of the two Gadarenes well illustrate what Satan will do when given an opportunity to "possess" the bodies and minds of men.

Satan, then, is a real, personal being.

Does that mean that everything that is strange and bizarre in our world today is evidence of the direct operation of Satan and his demons? Should we not battle against these personal attacks by the enemy of all souls?

Before we can address that question directly, it may prove helpful to make three crucial distinctions, the better to examine their program intelligently and to decide whether it meets the criteria of inspiration, or is weighed in the balances and found wanting.

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