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


Before any useful assessment of the validity and helpfulness of the program of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry," as it is generally beginning to be practiced among us, can be made, some basic rules must be formulated. And the drawing of three basic distinctions will help us toward that goal.

A. Avoiding an "Either-Or" Mentality

One feature in "deliverance ministry," as it is popularly being practiced today, which disturbs an increasingly large number of observers, is the tendency to view this present life in the starkest of simplistic terms--to see either a demon or a good angel involved, immediately, in every human decision and activity.

The informed Christian, we believe, will avoid two equally serious but opposite extremes as he/she relates to baffling phenomena which appear to be of supernatural origin:

1. A "Satan-made-me-do-it" mentality, in which Satan is identified as the immediate cause of every misfortune and every sinful deed; or

2. A virtual denial of the existence of Satan's "supernatural" operation in our otherwise "natural" world.

Either position is unrealistic, and is fraught with peril. Let us note why.

While we believe that ultimately all evil is traceable to Satan, the originator of sin, we do not believe that Satan or his evil angels are always directly responsible for every deviation from what we have come to understand as "normal" in human experience. Many illnesses, for instance, whether physical or mental, are simply the result of genetic inheritance, or living in a world of sin, or simply the natural consequences of our disobedience to God-given laws of health and well-being.

Having said that, we do not believe that this fact rules out the possibility of direct involvement of evil spirits in influencing human affairs and behavior. Indeed, in some circumstances supernatural entities very clearly are involved. There is a devil--as we have already declared--and he "must not be allowed to get the better of us: we know his devices all too well" (2 Cor 2:11, New English Bible; emphasis supplied).

It also appears that the father of lies in some cases operates supernaturally by simulating "natural" diseases so closely as to render them almost indistinguishable from ordinary diseases. Because of these considerations it behooves each of us to exercise extreme caution and prudence in dealing with cases of alleged demon possession.

And there are, certainly, genuine cases of demonic control or harassment. Evil angels, because of their superior intelligence, powers, and invisibility, obviously have a tremendous advantage over human beings. The only way in which they can be defeated is by the application of the Word of God and the supernatural forces of the Holy Spirit and holy angels.

It is still necessary, though to recognize a cogent point made by a recent contemporary writer [footnote 9] who (borrowing an expression from the Book of Common Prayer of the Protestant Episcopal Church [footnote 10]) provides us with a most helpful insight into the fact that the Christian is the target of three separate (but often coordinated) forces waging war against him: (a) the "flesh," (b) the "world," and (c) the "devil."

Now only in the last of these three categories is Satan seen as directly operative (although it is readily conceded that every bad thing ultimately comes from Satan, even as "every good gift and perfect gift" ultimately comes "from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17)).

The apostle (in this same passage, three verses earlier) is here indicating that at least some of the temptations that mankind faces arise merely when a man is "drawn away of his own lust [desire] and [is] enticed" (verse 14, emphasis supplied).

What we are saying here is simply this: every son or daughter of Adam has a fallen nature because of the moral "fall" of our first parents in Eden (I Cor 15:22). And that fallen nature makes it hard for us to do good, and easy for us to do evil (Jer 13:12). This inherited sinful nature is opposed to God's program for mankind, and each human being has inherited a basic predisposition (or bias, or "bent") to sin (Rom 8:7). And one of the most common New Testament words to identify this fallen nature of man is the word "flesh" (Rom 7:5, 18; 8:3, 8, et cetera).

Used in this particular way (and it should be noted in passing that "flesh" is used perhaps a dozen ways in Scripture), "flesh" here signifies in the words of Alexander Cruden, "the whole corruption and depravity of our nature." [footnote 11]

This, then, is the struggle confronting the Christian quite apart from the direct immediate temptation from Satan or his evil angels that is a continuing fact of life with which we must deal. Furthermore, Galatians 5:16-21 identifies at least 17 specific manifestations of the "flesh" in which we humans sin quite apart from any immediate external temptation from satanic agencies, quite simply and only because we have a fallen, sinful nature that always predisposes us to commit these sins.

Next, one use of the term "world" refers to society and an environment totally pagan and unremittingly antagonistic and hostile to the living of the committed Christian life. It is geared to reinforce our internal tendencies toward evil through external stimuli.

In the New Testament the Greek word cosmos is often translated as "world," and in this sense it "often stands for the ungodly ... or for worldly interests that lead one away from God." [footnote 12] Thus the Apostle John urges us to

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever (1 John 2:15-17).

In this restrictive sense, "world" then, represents a society at large, and individuals in particular, who are spiritually unrenewed and unregenerated. In John 15:18 the wicked are called the "world" because they relish and savour nothing but worldly things, and pursue nothing but worldly designs. [footnote 13]

Ultimately this enemy-"world" is a system of social, economic, and religious philosophies and practices expressed through organizations and human personalities. But while Satan is ultimately the father-creator of this "world" complex, it may yet nevertheless operate against a Christian quite apart from the direct intervention of Satan and/or his evil angels at the personal, individual level.

Finally, evil spirits--devils--most certainly do come in person to tempt (Eph 6:12; 1 Tim 4:1) and to make attractive to each of us both sins of commission (1 John 3:4) and sins of omission (James 4:17). They also taunt and torment (Luke 8:29; Matt 17:15; Mark 1:26). And they must certainly must be reckoned with. But the whole point being made here is this: evil spirits are not always the immediate cause of every human sin.

Contrarily, while it is dangerous (because it is misleading) to blame Satan as the immediately predisposing cause of every sin that we commit, it is equally dangerous to deny (as do secular humanists and some Christians) that an actual being named Satan causes any sin. And today there are many who deny any supernatural causation of undesirable behavior or attitudes. Yet Seventh-day Adventists are assured, by an inspired writer, "It is Satan's special device to lead man into sin." [footnote 14]

B. Harassment Versus Possession

A second crucial distinction that the Christian will wish to make is in the area of situations where Satan and his evil angels are admittedly active. He will wish to differentiate between the external harassment of demons (which is the universal experience of us all) and Satanic possession or control (which is the experience of a comparatively much smaller group of human beings). (By the term "possession" we here wish to designate control of human neurology and physiology--the control of an individual's higher centers, central nervous system, individual organs of the body, et cetera).

Ellen White has written extensively upon the "Agency of Evil Spirits" [footnote 15] and "The Power of Satan." [footnote 16] In the latter presentation she makes a very useful and significant distinction between (a) Satan going "to the extent of his power to harass, tempt, and mislead God's people," on the one hand, and (b) situations in which individuals had "lost control of themselves, and Satan made them do that which they detested." [footnote 17]

Referring to this latter species of spiritualistic phenomena, Mrs. White goes on to add: "It comes so direct from his satanic majesty, that he claims the right to control all who have to do with it, for they have ventured upon forbidden ground, and have forfeited the protection of their Maker." [footnote 18]

Thus, "Satan holds them by his power, and is not willing to let them go free. He knows that they are surely his while he has them under his special control." [footnote 19] Mrs. White concludes by describing in detail the only way out for such "possessed" souls.

Every one of us has, at one time or another, been "harassed, tempted, misled" by Satan. But certainly not every one of us has been "possessed"--that is, under the total control of Satan or his angels. For this reason, it is important that those who confront Satan and his angels in any kind of ministry of deliverance determine first (by earnest prayer and heart searching, subjectively, and a careful examination of the victim, objectively) whether the individual seemingly possessed is simply manifesting the symptoms of a natural illness (epilepsy, for example) which might be a form of mere harassment, or whether the individual is in fact subject to direct demonic control.

It would be unspeakably cruel (for at least three reasons) to suggest to an emotionally disturbed or sin-laden person, in the absence of clearly coercive evidence, that he/she were "possessed" when, in fact, such a person was not demon-controlled:

(1) It would only serve to make the suffering of a sensitive person more keen--end unnecessarily so. (2) It could, unintentionally, provide for an unstable person an excuse in evading personal responsibility and accountability for his/her actions and problems (not only thereby reinforcing deviant behavior but also retarding the chance for recovery). (3) It might serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy, actually operating in the form of hypnotic suggestion, weakening the resistance of the individual and making him/her subsequently more susceptible to actual possession!

We recognize that often it may be difficult (if not impossible) to determine whether an individual is possessed, or merely the victim of demonic harassment. But the important thing to remember under all circumstances is that importunate prayer is always appropriate in all situations and at all times. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). Indeed, only two verses earlier James asks,

Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (verses 14, 15).

There is a distinct danger that Christians may make an invalid dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural. God and Satan are interacting in all that goes on in the world, and with all of the processes that are operating therein. We must be sensitive to the operation of these powers and recognize that supernatural forces--both good and evil--frequently operate in many subtle, unnoticed ways, not merely in the spectacular.

More important, we do well to remember that any given experience or phenomenon is not necessarily supernatural or satanic. God often produces supernatural phenomena (miracles, for instance). Further, evil often expresses itself in very naturalistic ways. Much can be done for disturbed persons through professional therapy (as will be noted further, below). True religion, true psychiatry, and true psychology are not in opposition to each other.

C. Natural Illness or Supernatural Possession?

It follows, then, that a third and very necessary distinction needs to be made between "natural" mental illness on the one hand, and supernatural demon possession on the other (although we do recognize that sometimes natural mental illness may provide both the climate and occasion for Satan to work more directly).

Many sincere Christians, unfamiliar with human physiology, are greatly surprised to discover that certain of the more gross, abnormal, bizarre forms of behavior often superficially associated with "possession" are often also present in certain kinds of mental illness in which demon possession does not to be a factor. We speak of such things as: foaming at the mouth; noisy, obscene, blasphemous utterances in unnatural, altered (and often guttural) vocal registers, or shrill, spine-chilling screams; falling into trancelike states; and violent bodily seizures in which the unfortunate victim may suddenly be thrown to the floor, or violently against walls or furniture. All of these symptoms, sometimes seen in genuine cases of demon possession, are also common responses of victims of various "natural" mental disorders. Thus the ignorance an individual concerning the nature and operation of nature's laws could (and often does) result in that person's seeking to explain these phenomena by means of the spirit world, and thus finding demons where none exist.

(Perhaps at this point it is also worth noting the contrary truth: Some individuals who are genuinely "possessed" may exhibit perfectly normal, natural behavior--and thus are enabled to do Satan's bidding all the more effectively.)

We quickly grant that all mental (as well as physical) illness is a by-product of sin, and may be said, in the ultimate sense, to be caused by Satan. But a knowledge of certain forms of mental illness is extremely helpful, because apparently some mental illnesses are primarily caused by biochemical, environmental, genetic factors; abuses of alcohol and/or other drugs; and simply physical illness. (Again, in some instances, Satan may also become involved more directly.)

Unquestionably some mental illness is a genuine manifestation of direct demonic control of human neurology and physiology. But because there is no evidence that all mental illness involves demonic possession, it is crucially important that those who venture to grapple with the phenomenon of demon possession should, it possible, first have an intelligent awareness of the many and varied determinants of normal and abnormal perceptions, auditory and visual hallucinations, normal and anomalous physical sensations, speech mechanisms, emotional experiences, and thought processes before attempting to deliver a victim believed to be demon-possessed.

In actual practice, interestingly, there are comparatively few conclusive, telltale evidences of supernatural activity in cases where demon possession is suspected. Even the following four evidences may at times be suspect:

1. Clairvoyance. The revealing of hidden secrets of private individuals, whether present or not (and often revelations of the secret sins of the one attempting deliverance ministry)--information probably not known by any other human being.

2. Levitation. The suspension of persons or objects in midair without any natural, physical support.

3. Apparition. The materializing of ephemeral, spiritualistic, ghost-like beings. [footnote 20]

4. "Tongues-Speaking." The utterance of foreign languages without the individual's prior study of such languages. In the book of Acts the three instances of "speaking in tongues" are all manifestations of their speaking established contemporaneous languages foreign to the apostles and never studied by them beforehand. However, Satan can counterfeit this legitimate gift of the Holy Spirit, and probably the context of any given manifestation must aid in determining whether it is from God or from Satan. If, for example, the speaking of recognizable foreign languages never previously studied is found in a situation involving gross bodily contortions and other highly repulsive behavioral characteristics, the phenomenon probably is not of God, but of Satan.

If any of these four factors is present in any given phenomena, there may be a strong presumption in favor of the presence of demon possession.

There is a place, we feel, for ministry to the mentally ill by the trained Christian psychiatrist or psychologist. Ellen White once wrote despairingly of parents who took their children to fraudulent faith healers "instead of trusting in the power of the living God and the skill of well-qualified physicians." [footnote 21] (One wonders if Ellen White were alive today if she would not broaden the category of "well-qualified physicians" to include psychiatrists and psychologists.)

Mrs. White also wrote, in 1908, to a husband and wife who were actively involved allegedly in casting out demons, and her inspired counsel is germane to this consideration.

In vision Mrs. White observed Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Mackin "making some sad mistakes" in their labor for Christ. In their personal study of the Scriptures and of Mrs. White's writings these Seventh-day Adventists had come to "wrong conclusions." She therefore sounded a warning concerning their present activities, for "the Lord's work would be greatly misunderstood if you should continue to labor as you have begun." As a consequence of their "false interpretation" of inspired writings, the Mackins apparently had sought to carry on what Ellen White described as a "strange work" which included efforts at exorcism of alleged demons. And she wrote them earnestly:

You have even supposed that power is given you to cast out devils. Through your influence over the human mind men and women are led to believe that they are possessed of devils, and that the Lord has appointed you as His agents for casting out these evil spirits. [footnote 22]

This activity, she went on to warn them, will "endanger not only your own souls but the souls of many others," because the Mackins were using Scripture coupled with Mrs. White's writings "to vouch for the genuineness" of their messages and activities. In claiming their authority from Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy writings, Mrs. White unequivocally declared to them, "You are deceived." She characterized their work as "incorrect,... inconsistent and fanatical," which as a consequence made "twentyfold harder" the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church "in acquainting the people with the truths of the Third Angel's Message."

And in a message to the churches in California, warning them of the "strange work" of the Mackins, Mrs. White declared unequivocally:

I was shown that it was not the Spirit of the Lord that was inspiring Brother and Sister L [the Mackins], but the same spirit of fanaticism that is ever seeking entrance into the remnant church. Their application of Scripture to their peculiar exercises is Scripture misapplied. The work of declaring persons possessed of the devil, and then praying with them and pretending to cast out the evil spirits, is fanaticism which will bring into disrepute any churchwhich sanctions such work. [footnote 23]

Even more to the point are these next solemn and impressive words of Mrs. White which perhaps have a special application to misguided souls attempting "deliverance ministry" as it is commonly perceived end practiced today: "We are none of us to seek to cast out devils, lest we ourselves be cast out." [Footnote 24]

What conclusions may reasonably be inferred from these two directives from one given heaven-inspired messages for the remnant church today?

1. Obviously not every person who appears to be demon possessed is in fact demon possessed.

2. Not every Christian who names the name of Christ is called upon by God to engage in the work of casting out evil spirits. (This point is interesting, if for no other reason than the fact that many who are engaged in contemporary "deliverance ministry" claim that this power to cast out demons is the God-given birthright of every Christian, whether minister or layman; and the failure to exercise it is a virtual denial of the Christian faith.)

3. While there are situations which may come to our attention in which it is appropriate, through importunate prayer, to cell upon divine aid to expel evil spirits, none should presumptuously go out of his/her way in seeking to confront these evil agencies, lest unwittingly they go in their own armor and be defeated by the devil. For even if one appears to succeed in casting out demons, it is entirely possible that the prince of evil will triumph at the last.

4. To attempt to cast out a demon when none, in fact, is present, is potentially harmful physically, emotionally, and spiritually, to both the "victim" and to the Christian leader, and renders a disservice to the cause of God which actually could retard its progress.

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