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


While recognizing the existence of genuine cases of demon-possession and the need of relief for the oppressed victims of Satan's control, the committee nevertheless felt unable to endorse "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" as it is presently being practiced in various circles (including some among Adventists).

There are problems with some of the philosophical underpinnings of the contemporary "deliverance ministry,'' and these have been examined to some extent in the previous section of this report. The committee also viewed with deep concern some of the practices characteristic of this specialized ministry which it deemed potentially harmful and even dangerous. To these we will now address ourselves.

A. Misuse of the Concept of "Priesthood of All Believers" and Importunate Prayer

Central to the philosophy undergirding "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" as it is presently practiced in many places is the concept of the "priesthood of all believer;" and the corollary of importunate prayer.

The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia defines the "priesthood of all believers" as "the concept that every person can approach God directly, without the services of an intermediary human priesthood" and identifies it, rightly, as "one of the fundamental principles of the Protestant Reformation." As such, "it is a logical corollary of belief in salvation by faith alone."

The concluding paragraph in this brief sketch significantly points out how Seventh-day Adventists, in contradistinction to other Protestants (particularly certain evangelicals) see the implications of the doctrine:

SDAs share with Protestants generally the concept of the priesthood of all believers. But whereas Luther, for instance, stressed the idea of the universal priesthood of man, SDAs emphasize the priesthood of Christ, to whom man may come directly. [footnote 25]

Some Christians tend to amplify the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers somewhat as follows: the father is priest of his household. The believer is priest to the non-believer. As such, the believer may serve as a latter-day Levitical priest and take a man's "offering" (or the man himself) and present it to the Lord. Thus the "priest" thereby assumes the weight of responsibility for someone else's behavior and his/her relationship to the Lord.

Adventists have perhaps seen the doctrine in slightly different terms. While some hold (perhaps borrowing an idea from Roman Catholicism) that a Christian may come to God only through the intermediation of a human priest, who brings the supplicant grace and salvation through the sacraments of the church, Adventists believe that the practicing Christian does not need a human priest (or Mary) in order to come directly before the throne of grace to present his/her needs directly to God through Jesus, our heavenly High Priest. We believe we certainly may pray for others with problems, but by so doing we do not become their priest; and in so doing we do not assume responsibility on their behalf.

Tied closely to one's view of the priesthood or all believers is one's view of the nature and purpose of "intercessory prayer." The "deliverance ministry" adherents see one of the main purposes of intercessory prayer as being a vehicle by means of which the individual Christian may "stand in the place of" the person afflicted (and even possessed) by Satan. Thus, as "priest," he stands as an intermediary between the victim and Christ.

As such, this viewpoint continues, this "priest" may confess (and/or reveal) the sins of another individual in the small prayer group gathered for "deliverance," he/she may claim promises or victories on behalf of the victim. And this "priest" may even take another's sin--or even demons--upon himself/herself, the better to free the victim and enable him/her to deal with them.

It is possibly because of this popular connotation of "intercessory prayer" that Ellen White herself appears seldom to employ the term (she does speak a great deal about the need and place for importunate prayer); and because of Ellen White's apparent reticence to employ the term, we will seldom use it here.

A cursory examination of the Comprehensive Index of the Writings of Ellen G. White will reveal that Mrs. White uttered numerous cautions concerning the confessing or revealing by one person of the mistakes and sins of another person, even in small prayer groups. She also had much to say about what were appropriate (and inappropriate) topics for public prayer, in contradistinction to private ("closet") prayer.

She had a great deal to say about the place, purpose, and function of the human will (everything, she declared, depended on the right exercise of it, by the individual himself/ herself) and she appears to be silent about the possibility or desirability of one person relating and confessing another's sins. We do not find in Scripture, or in Mrs. White's writings the provision for one Christian to "stand in the place of'' someone else in the capacity of priest. Contrarily, we all have a crucified, risen, and soon-coming heavenly High Priest who directly intercedes for us all, the Man Christ Jesus. There is no provision for "standing in the place of" someone else for the purpose of identifying and casting out the demons alleged to inhabit the unfortunate victim. Nor is there provision for carrying the responsibility of the burden of long, constant, detailed prayers for others--either for those who are also praying for themselves or those who will not (or cannot) pray. And there is no indication that the prayers of such a "priest" are more efficacious than an individual's prayers for himself.

One's basic view of the "priesthood of all believers" and of "intercessory prayer" will certainly have a bearing upon one's attitude toward some of the activities prominent in "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry."

B. Dialogue With the Devil

Probably the chief characteristic running as a common thread through almost all variations of contemporary "deliverance ministry" is the predilection of entering into dialogue with the spirits in which the demons are asked to identify themselves, indicate the days, months, or years of their "possession," and answer other questions of a similar nature, before being dispossessed of their prey in the name of Jesus Christ.

This practice, to which we are strongly opposed, is felt to be not only inimical to a strong and growing Christian experience, but entirely unnecessary as well.

Proponents defend this approach on the precedent found in Scripture in the narrative of Christ's healing of the two demoniacs of Gadara (see Mark 5:6-13 and Luke 8:28-33), in which Christ demanded of the evil spirits that they identify themselves.

We feel that this is insufficient ground for basing a practice, for the following reasons:

1. There is only one such instance recorded in Scripture. This custom of directly addressing the demons was not the general practice of Christ, or yet of the apostles.

2. In the one instance on record Jesus did not initiate the conversation (yet, in contemporary "deliverance ministry," the initiative is invariably taken by the human "deliverer"). Instead, Jesus waited for the demons to take the initiative,

3. Even so, Jesus did not ask them to identify themselves until after He had authoritatively demanded that they depart.

4. And, most damaging of all to the case of modern exorcists, after ascertaining that there was more than one demon inhabiting these afflicted men ("Our name is Legion"), Jesus did not (a) ask them their names individually, or (b) cast them out sequentially, one by one, as is the practice of those who would perform this task today in His name, or (c) take hours to get rid of them.

We would, furthermore, offer five additional reasons for avoiding the practice of addressing demons directly:

1. This kind of addressing of evil spirits seems to some perilously close to, if not actually within the realm of, two-way communication between the spirit world and humanity which is strictly prohibited and condemned in Scripture. (In Bible times it brought forth upon the practitioners the sentence of death. This is how God--"who changes not"--views communication with the spirit world.)

2. Dialogue with the spirits generally tends toward protracted efforts at casting out the demons, with consequent emotional and physical exhaustion for all concerned. These humanitarian concerns alone justify the abandonment of the practice of demanding of the demons that they identify themselves.

3. The devils are notorious liars (it was, after all, their master who invented the lie). And their word, therefore, is simply not trustworthy. It is entirely possible, for instance, that in a genuine case of demon-possession one demon might well simulate a number of different "voices" and offer differing identities, thus pretending to be a whole galaxy of spirits, thus making a mockery of the whole situation by pretending to go and yet "returning."

4. It is immoral to give the demon any more authority over the vocal chords of the afflicted. Hasn't the victim suffered long enough already',

5. Lastly, it tends to identify the Seventh-day Adventist Church with cultic practices.

Ellen White said it best: "Our only surety is in giving no place to the devil.... It is unsafe to enter into controversy or to parley with him." [footnote 26]

An interesting variation on "dialoguing" is becoming increasingly popular in certain "deliverance" circles: instead of dialoguing with the devil, those in prayer "dialogue with the Holy Spirit," and ask Him to reveal the nature of the sins of the afflicted which need to be confessed, and the identity of the individual demons which need to be summoned forth.

While we have had no doubt but that such prayers would find an "answer," we are perplexed to know how effectively to validate such responses, because the unholy spirit--Satan--the author and father of all deception, can inject himself insidiously and unobtrusively.

A subculture spawned by "deliverance" ministry is a school of "divine guidance" which is growing in popularity. Based largely on the work of Joy Dawson, one Adventist version offers twelve "Ways in Which God Speaks" to us. The first four are entirely subjective; number five in the list is the Word of God. Yet Ellen White, in discussing the same subject (in which she offers three ways), lists the Word of God first, because all subjective methods must be validated by the objective Word.

This school of thought goes on to allege that in the last days everyone will receive the Holy Spirit in the identical manner that Ellen White did (1 Cor to the contrary notwithstanding), and being able to dialogue with the Holy Spirit is just one of the benefits of this new, special relationship.

Possessors of this "gift" have an unshakable assurance that they are right and all others who disagree--or even doubt--are wrong. And those skeptics who do not whole-heartedly support are automatically dismissed out of hand as being possessed by a spirit of unbelief. Such an one might even be startled to have a conversation with the exorcist interrupted by the individual offering a short (and seemingly sanctimonious) prayer, right there: 'Lord, in Your name I cast out the demon of unbelief in this person."

"Dialoguing with the Holy Spirit" is as potentially dangerous to those who practice this perverted form as dialoguing with evil spirits.

C. Commanding Demons or Supplicating Christ?

Another characteristic of deliverance sessions, as commonly carried out, is direct confrontation of the demon by demanding--always in Christ's name, of course--that the demons depart.

The example of Christ is sometimes cited as precedent ("Jesus...rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him" [Mark 9:25]), and the further example of Paul is used to buttress the case ("Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her" [Acts 16:18]). These examples are valid and must not be ignored.

It has been suggested, however, that in both of the above instances the demon took the initiative, himself initiating the confrontation. Because in other contexts the example offered in Scripture is, rather, that of the Christian believer's appealing to Christ to cast out the demon, instead of addressing the demon directly.

In the past God used "divers manners" to communicate with humanity (see Heb 1:1); and there is also evidence in Scripture that He used "divers manners" in communicating with demons.

In Jude 9 we find Christ (here called Michael, the archangel) "contending with the devil" who disputed His intention to resurrect Moses from his lonely grave atop Mount Nebo. Satan claimed Moses as his own, for he had come under the dominion of Satan and was therefore his lawful prey. Further, Jesus had not yet come to pay the penalty-price for sin. Nevertheless, Jesus assumed responsibility for salvation and eternal life on Moses' behalf. Yet even here, Christ "durst not bring against him [Satan] a railing accusation," but instead said, "The Lord rebuke thee."

In Zechariah 3:1, 2, we find Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, while Satan was standing there "at his right hand to resist him." Instead of rebuking the devil directly, Joshua allowed the *Lord* to handle the matter, "and the *Lord* said unto Satan, `the Lord rebuke thee, 0 Satan;even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?' " (emphasis supplied).

Direct confrontation, and direct address to the "possessing" demon, sometimes is not only undesirable but also pragmatically unproductive. Mark I. Bubeck, a leading exponent of "deliverance ministry," tells of his surprising discovery when, in the mid-1970s, he endeavored to bring freedom from demonic powers to a young man on the brink of destruction.

Through the young man's faculties, Bubeck says,

I was in direct confrontation with a snarling, cruel, crude, vulgar demon that had taken the same name as this young man's last name. This wicked power was very talkative. He constantly threatened and insulted me, the young man, and another person who was working with me in the confrontation. After taking back ground he was claiming against the young man, I kept commanding him to leave and go where the Lord Jesus Christ would send him. He was very obstinate in refusing to go. I kept quoting the truth of God against him, but even though he was weakening, he still refused to go. We were all near the point of physical exhaustion when finally I quoted the promise of our Lord, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt 18:20)

After quoting this verse, I said, "This is the very truth of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is here. Dear Saviour, this wicked spirit is insulting You, and he's insulting us, Your servants. I ask You now in Your presence here to put Your holy hand against him and send him where You want him to go." Almost immediately, a great cry came out of the young man's mouth, and he was immediately delivered from that destroying power. [footnote 28]

Apparently Mr. Bubeck misread the entire situation, for he had already been "quoting the truth of God" repeatedly, but the spirit "still refused to go." More important, however, is the approach that did work--instantly. For when Mr. Bubeck ceased directly commanding the demon to leave, and commenced to ask the Lord Jesus go take charge and Himself dismiss the demon, then and only then did the demon depart. [footnote 29]

In one instance of deliverance, Jesus told His disciples, "This kind goeth not out by prayer and fasting" (Matt 17:21, emphasis supplied). In other instances "this kind goeth not out" when commanded to depart--even in the name of Christ--by the servant of the Lord, but only when Christ is addressed directly and is asked to perform the task personally!

How much better, then, in the presence of demons--especially in instances where they have not initiated the confrontation--for the leader to address Christ rather than the demons, and allow Him to do the job He is eminently qualified to perform.

D. A Ritualized Liturgy

Another objectionable feature of the conventional "deliverance" service is the growing tendency to develop a highly ritualized approach in which the preparatory steps are outlined with the victim in advance. During this "briefing" session the "deliverer" speaks in language highly suggestible and in an authoritative manner which bears an extremely close similarity with instructions given by a hypnotist to a client while he is yet conscious.

One writer in the growing body of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" literature describes the preparatory service as follows. The leader first prays for guidance, discernment, and protection by the blood of Jesus. He then addresses the "client":

Now, C, there are three things you do not have to do. You don't have to hurt yourself, you do not have to hurt either one of us, and you do not have to break or damage anything in the room. You may feel like coughing or screaming. Do that if you feel like it. Coughing or screaming doesn't cast out the demon--only the Holy Spirit can do that. But if you feel like coughing or screaming, and you don't, you may be holding the demon inside. The demons will put many strange things in your mind, like you're going insane, that this is all a fake, that this is all psychological, that you're going to wind up without a personality, or that other people are going to hear about it. Don't worry, all of these are only old tricks. None of them are true. Okay, now relax. Don't initiate any thoughts. [footnote 30]

No such "preparations" as these are described in Scripture! On the other hand, most victims of demonic control appear to be highly suggestible, and the form of address by the leader of a "deliverance" session could take the form of hypnotic suggestion, with him in effect making a self-fulfilling prophecy by the instructions he chooses to give.

E. Aiding and Abetting the Enemy

Acknowledging that at times it is difficult to tell whether an harassed individual is or is not demon-possessed, practitioners of "deliverance ministry" often nevertheless proceed with their ministrations on the ground that "if in doubt, try it, since there will be no harm done if the diagnosis of demon-possession was found to be in error."

But this lingering suggestion in the mind of the victim that he or she might be demon-possessed (even though nothing by way of proof subsequently showed up) may work untold havoc in treating such a victim, and there is often an even greater danger from such unconscionable experimentation.

"Deliverance" sessions often last several hours (all-night sessions are not uncommon), and the experience is generally exhausting and emotionally gruelling for all concerned. The net effect is to leave the patient in a state of extreme emotional fatigue. At such times the inhibitory neural pathways are often incapable of functioning normally, while the excitatory pathways are discharging their impulses readily.

This means that the patient's power to resist, to control the thoughts, is wiped out. (The effects are identical to those produced by the brain-washing tactics of certain well-known religious cults.) This generally accepted psychological fact, coupled with the insights to be gained from inspired writings concerning the wiles of Satan, ought to warn us that Satan can--and does--take advantage of this fatigued condition to make his suggestions that will be acted upon without resistance by the fatigued victim. He may even make his hypnotic suggestion for a later performance, after the deliverance session is over, one possible explanation for the fact that a large number of individuals who have been the subject of a "deliverance" session later exhibited recurring problems. This is almost guaranteed by the nature of such exhausting efforts at exorcism.

Fatigue for the victim is not the only by-product of unduly prolonged "deliverance" sessions. Christians who participate in long prayer vigils may experience a delayed- exhaustion syndrome. For a month or two the individual may exhibit a "high," seeming to abound in physical vitality, seeming to be able to defy the normal needs of the body for rest and sleep by late-night or all-night prayer vigils. Their "freshness'' the next day seems coercive clinical evidence to them that the Lord was really working on their behalf, as well as for the afflicted. They even cite, by way of justification, how Christ spent all night in prayer, and came forth inexplicably refreshed the next day, ready to resume ministering to men and fighting the devil. So there would be great praising of the Lord after such experiences.

Nevertheless, the net effect seems to be that the body was depleting its reservoir of life-force, its energies were being bankrupted (Ellen White's concern expressed at one point for Dr. John Harvey Kellogg's health because he was "living two years in one, and I utter my protest against this" [footnote 31] seems somehow relevant here).

And after two, three, or four months, acute aging commences to set in. There is a "bottoming out," and cumulative exhaustion then takes its toll in a devastating manner. The physical deterioration is evident to all who behold it. And the law of physics ("to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction") and the law of scripture ("Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal 6:7]) is proven correct again.

F. Oppression vs. Possession

A final area of concern which we have in "deliverance ministry" as it is presently practiced in many circles is the tendency of its proponents to equate "oppression" with "possession.'"

The word "oppression" (and related forms of the word) is almost entirely an Old Testament word. It is used only twice in the New Testament. In Acts 7:24 Stephen, in his defense, refers to the experience of Moses in slaying an Egyptian who had "oppressed" an Israelite. The other instance is of particular interest as we consider "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry": In Acts 10:38 Peter tells "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him."

That human beings are "oppressed" by the devil is certainly biblical. That such "oppression" is to be equated with "possession" by a demon is equally unbiblical, for in Isaiah 53:7 we are told that Jesus was "oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth." Jesus was oppressed, but Jesus certainly was never demon-possessed.

The Bible appears to use the word "oppressed" to describe an acute form of temptation, not possession by an evil spirit. And Christians who are thus"oppressed" by Satan or his evil angels do not need to call an exorcist to come and cast out a demon, for none is there.

As we have already noted, "control" is the unique characteristic of "possession"; how encouraging, then, is this assurance from heaven, "Satan cannot control minds unless they are yielding to his control." [footnote 32] If you are a genuine member of the kingdom of God, Satan cannot control you, though he certainly may oppress (severely tempt) you, even as he did our Lord Jesus Christ.

How one gains power over oppression/harassment/temptation is the subject of the following section.

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