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

IV. Prayer for the Afflicted

With this kind of "deliverance services" in extreme doubt, is there no hope for victims of genuine demon-possession today? The committee, while unanimously recommending against certain procedures described in the preceding section, yet feels that the Lord's commission, "Cast out devils" (Matt 10:8), was given to meet the real situations that do confront God's people. The methods used, however, will be in contradistinction to the highly ritualized and sensationalized drama of the "deliverance session" which appears to borrow (however unconsciously) substantially from ancient pagan cults of Mesopotamia. There is, indeed and in fact, hope for genuine deliverance.

A. Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

"If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us," the father of a demon-possessed lad once appealed to Jesus (Mark 9:22). Jesus' immediate response was, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (verse 23). Matthew quotes the Master, in the same incident but now talking privately with the nine disciples who had been defeated in their attempts to cast out this demon earlier, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,... nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matt 17:20).

In the face of increasing activity of a supernatural nature emanating from the prince of darkness, Christians in general and Seventh-day Adventists in particular may face this distressing phenomenon with optimistic courage and confidence.

While the Scriptures clearly teach that these malevolent spirits are banded together in an organized power structure for the express purpose of subverting and destroying God's created works, and especially mankind, those same scriptures declare the unwillingness of our God "that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9).

In "every time of need" Christians are invited--indeed, commanded--by a loving Father in heaven to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help" (Heb 4:16).

Standing by the right hand of that throne (Acts 7:56) is an Intercessor who has never lied (Num 23:19); and His continual declaration is that "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). He further adds:

And I will give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand (John 10:28, 29).

Indeed, the "good news" of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that by one decisive blow at Calvary, God, by the death of His Son, effectively broke the power of Christ's mortal enemy, Satan.

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He [Christ] also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb 2:14, 15).

The essence of the gospel that God now bids His servants declare is the proclamation of individual Christian liberty from the bondage of sin and Satan, here and now, through a bestowal of unmerited eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, this Life is in his Son. He that hath the Son of God hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life (1 John 5:11, 12).

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free...If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:32, 36).

While Christ lived among men on this earth He utterly defeated every demon He every confronted; and, furthermore, He gave His disciples the power to confront and cast out demonic spirits from human beings who were thus oppressed: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt 10:8).

In New Testament times, as we have already noted, the phenomenon of demon possession was a stark fact of existence:

Satanic agencies were incorporated with men. The bodies of human beings, made for the dwelling place of God, had become the habitation of demons. The senses, the nerves, the passions, the organs of men, were worked by supernatural agencies in the indulgence of the vilest lust. The very stamp of demons was impressed upon the countenances of men. Human faces reflected the expression of the legions of evil with which they were possessed. [footnote 33]

Christ did something about it; and the same author, elsewhere, adds that today "God's messengers are commissioned to take up the very work that Christ did while on this earth. They are to give themselves to every ministry that He carried on." [footnote 34]

We would add only, at this point, that our work today is not the conducting of rituals and ceremonies so common among those of the "deliverance ministry" persuasion which bear a striking resemblance to similar rites in the very heart of paganism in Old Testament times. Indeed, with Paul, "I show you a more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31).

It is neither God's intention nor His plan that the people created in His own likeness should be the plaything of Satan. In love, and by a divine initiative, our heavenly Father has in mercy provided "the weapons of our warfare." They are "not worldly"--human or naturalistic, and certainly not of pagan origin--but they are indeed "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Cor 10:4, RSV, KJV; see also Eph 6:10-18).

Therefore, the individual Christian need not falter, much less fail, if confronted by supernatural demonic forces (Eph 4:13). Rather, he/she may fight victoriously "the good fight of faith" (1 Tim 6:12), in God's strength (Phil 4:13), and then come off from that battle "in all these things ... more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (Rom 8:37).

This is the birthright of every "born-again" Christian child of God.

B. The Christian's Preparation

There are times when the Christian layperson or minister is confronted by evil spirits harassing or possessing those for whom Christ died. He/she must sense the necessity of proper and complete spiritual preparation to meet the situation. The need of such preparation is highlighted by the experience of the nine disciples of Jesus who attempted--unsuccessfully--to cast out a demon possessing a young man brought to them one day.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John were on the mount of transfiguration when the distraught father came with his demon-possessed son looking for the Lord down in the valley. Upon learning of his quest, the remaining nine disciples may well have assured the man that he need not await the indefinite return of Jesus. They themselves were eminently capable of dealing with perplexing situations such as these (see Matt 17: 14-21; Mark 9:14-29).

Now, prior to this the Twelve had been given power over unclean spirits (Matt 10:8). And still later the Seventy would experience so great success in their ministry in freeing Satan's captives that in returning to Jesus they came with great rejoicing because "the devils are subject to us through thy name" (Luke 10:17-20). Yet, strangely, upon this singular occasion, these nine men all tasted the bitter fruit of total defeat. And they privately besought Jesus to explain the cause of this humiliating failure.

Jesus' immediate response revealed a serious deficiency: They lacked "mustard- seed" faith. And to correct the situation they needed to engage in prayer and fasting--for themselves (Matt 17:20, 21).

In her inspired commentary on this passage Ellen White identifies the various causes of this celebrated failure as (1) an "unbelief" that "shut them out from deeper sympathy with Christ," (2) the "carelessness with which they regarded the sacred work committed to them," and (3) dwelling in "a state of darkness" in which they mulled over their "discouragements" (Jesus had pointed to His impending death) and their "personal grievances" (jealousy toward the three favored disciples who alone were invited to join Jesus on the mount).

Now, in order to succeed in their conquest of the kingdom of darkness, Mrs. White continues, these nine disciples needed: (1) to have their faith "strengthened by fervent prayer and fasting, and humiliation of heart;" (2) they must be "emptied of self"; and (3) they must "be filled with the Spirit and power of God." Then they must come to God with earnest and fervent supplication in faith.

Earnest, persevering supplication to God in faith--faith that leads to entire dependence upon God, and unreserved consecration to His work--can alone avail to bring men the Holy Spirit's aid in the battle against principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in high places. [footnote 35]

Indeed, "if you have faith like this, you will lay hold upon God's word, and upon all the helpful agencies He has appointed. Thus your faith will strengthen, and will bring to your aid the power of heaven....'Nothing shall be impossible unto you.' " [footnote 36]

The human agent should ever remember that he/she has no power within himself/ herself; we are simply channels through which the divine power may be poured out to the stricken victim. This being the case, Paul's admonition is appropriate: "Let a man examine himself" to see if there is anything in the life that could possibly obstruct the flow of divine power (1 Cor 11:28). If such be found, it ought speedily be removed by the confessing and forsaking of sin, lest one's prayers be "hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). Fasting may be necessary (it is always appropriate) in the making of this self-examination.

And, in harmony with our Lord's admonition in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:16-18), this fasting should be done privately, individually. Again, long, drawn-out prayer seasons involving self-examination certainly seem contra-indicated by the thrust of this passage.

Finally, this inspired counsel may prove helpful as the Christian prepares himself for this special ministry:

In such cases of affliction where Satan has control of the mind, before engaging in prayer there should be the closest self-examination to discover if there are not sins which need to be repented of, confessed, and forsaken. Deep humility of soul before God is necessary, and firm, humble reliance upon the blood of Christ alone. Fasting and prayer will accomplish nothing while the heart is estranged from God by a wrong course of action. [footnote 37]

In such situations "the earnest prayers of His faithful followers" are necessary. [footnote 38]

C. The Afflicted One

The manner in which good and evil angels secure the compliant cooperation of the human agent is not always apparent. In some cases demonic possession may begin with the weakening of the bodily forces brought about through dissipation or circumstances causing continuing and unrelenting anxiety, to the point where the human being finally loses control of himself or herself and in some cases control passes over to the hands of unseen evil entities. The converse may also be true: Through the building up of the physical powers, self-control may be regained, even wrested from satanic forces, by the active cooperation of the human will with the power of the Holy Spirit and holy angels.

Also, control of an individual's will by demonic forces may be partial or total. Cases vary, and it is not always clear why they vary. But in cases where control is partial, it would seem appropriate--even essential--to secure the cooperation of the subject. In all instances the worker for Christ should seek to enlist the will of the afflicted on the side of Christ that he or she may be strengthened to resist the evil foe. In cases where control of the individual seems more total, it may be necessary for the Christian worker to secure the cooperation of those closest to the victim of demonic harassment and to pray on his or her behalf without this manifest consent.

There are today perhaps three groups of individuals who are particularly susceptible to the approach of demonic forces: (a) some who are emotionally disturbed; (b) some who are presently (or formerly have been) associated with spiritualistic phenomena--seances, Ouija boards, mediums, et cetera; and (c) some who make room for sin in the daily life, especially those who are professing to serve God, but who have not yet totally surrendered to His Lordship over their lives. All need help, and all need a work of preparation if satanic power is to be broken.

Instruction in Bible Truth. Before prayer is undertaken, the victim of satanic oppression should first be helped to understand certain rudimentary Christian principles, including:

1. His/her inalienable right as a confessing Christian, to live a life free from control (though not, of course, from temptation and/or harassment) of evil spirits, in harmony with the expressed will of God.

2. The biblical provision and teaching of personal victory over the evil one, through which even the thoughts may be brought into captivity to Christ (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 2:5).

3. The fact that as long as a person is himself/herself able to confess, repent, and commit his/her life to Christ, such individual is able personally to invoke the Lord's power against the enemy on the basis of Christ's victory over Satan at the cross (John 16:33).

4. The fact that Christ has already won the "great controversy" against Satan by His decisive victory at Calvary, and that He has committed to His followers a redemptive ministry to free the captives of satanic control in and through His holy name.

5. The nature and practice of importunate, "effectual fervent prayer" by the Christian (James 5:16).

6. The need for faith to believe that prayer offered in Jesus' name and for His sake will bring deliverance from Satan's control.

Ellen White makes a cogent point about the fact that there is a work for persons who are still in control who need not (indeed cannot) be done by another:

Those who have tempted the devil to tempt them will have to make desperate efforts to free themselves from his power. But when they begin to work for themselves, then angels of God whom they have grieved will come to their rescue. Satan and his angels are unwilling to lose their prey. They contend and battle with the holy angels, and the conflict is severe. But if those who have erred continue to plead, and in deep humility confess their wrongs, angels who excel in strength will prevail and wrench them from the power of the evil angels. [footnote 39]

And what is the nature of the work that the victim must do for himself/herself? First, he/she must seek the Lord earnestly. "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me *with all your heart*" (Jer 29:13, emphasis supplied).

Then he/she must accept God's word that deliverance is possible. There are three important points in 1 Cor 10:13--temptation is the normal experience of every human being, God is faithful to those who serve Him, and a way of escape is available for all who wish to find one. '"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye re able; but will, with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

Then the counsel of James 4:7-10 is especially appropriate at this point. "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.... Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up."

And "wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word" (Ps 119:9). The mind must be focused away from self and defeat and directed upon God and victory: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Isa 26:3). Indeed, we must allow Jesus to bring into "captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor 10:5).

Power of the Will. An individual's will plays an important--even decisive--role in the success or failure of prayer upon his behalf, and it is therefore imperative that the afflicted one being prayed for understand the place and the power of the will.

While it is true that supernatural beings seem to have an incalculable advantage over human beings in the warfare thus waged, yet these angels--whether evil or good--cannot compel the will of an individual when that will is committed to Christ. Evil angels can tempt and harass; good angels can woo and bless. But evil angels cannot force the will, and good angels will not. So the surrendered human will, exercised with faith in God's Word and power, is the crucial factor in this consideration.

(Unfortunately, in some "deliverance" circles today the concept of "surrendered" has come to mean a totally passive stance on the part of the individual vis-a-vis God's control. While such practitioners would deny that they [or God] manipulate the afflicted person, the net result often comes down to a mindless abdication of the victim's human reasoning powers, instead of the combination and cooperation of "divine power and human effort" which Ellen White continually holds before us. Surrender is not passive; it is very active.)

D. Concerns and Cautions

Basic Attitudes. Church leaders have been accused by some in "deliverance ministry" as wishing to create a monopoly in which only "professionals" or "specialists"--be they clergy, medical psychiatric, or psychological--may officiate in prayer for the emotionally and physically ill. (Ironically, some of these who protest thus give evidence that they would prefer to have the monopoly in their hands.) Prayer is not the prerogative of any one group; and the church continues to hold that no practicing Christian needs an advanced academic degree in prayer before he/she can be used to minister successfully to those afflicted by Satan.

Avoid "Adventure" Approach. When after careful consideration and prayer for guidance it is decided to intercede with God for relief and victory of one afflicted by satanic power, the one who leads out and those who take part need to guard against a "morbid" curiosity, a craving for the sensational, the dramatic, a desire to witness supernatural forces in mortal combat, in short: to indulge a sort of "adventurism." Each Christian participating in this kind of personal ministry needs to examine carefully his/her motives. One thinks instinctively of the story of the seven sons of Sceva (see Acts 19:13-17). These men "played around" with exorcism, perhaps little realizing the power of the agencies with which they were dealing. They received a sound thrashing for their pains. Those same evil spirits are still around today; and those who flippantly, carelessly seek to confront demon forces could run substantial personal risks.

Avoid Inordinately Long Seasons of Prayer. Evil angels sometimes seek to prolong the season of prayer, hoping thereby to wear out the supplicants and eventually to win the day by default.

There is no evidence in Scripture that when demons were cast out by Christ or His disciples that the service was dragged on inordinately long. Jesus Himself decried the "heathen" philosophy that repetitious utterance of the same petition, in "much speaking," was the way to move effectively the hand of the Almighty (Matt 6:7; see 1 Kings 18:26). And Jesus was also down on "long prayers" (see Matt 23:14), as was also Ellen White, who had quite a little to say in warning against prolonging seasons of public or semi-public prayer. [footnote 40]

Not only are long, drawn-out prayer services unnecessary and without Scriptural foundation, they are also generally counterproductive in terms of exhausting the physical and emotional resources of all concerned.

Avoid Encouraging Over-dependence. There is a twofold danger that the one who is doing the praying will experience difficulty in confidently leaving the one prayed for in the hands of God, and also that the one being prayed for will develop an overdependence upon one or more of those who intercede in prayer on his/her behalf.

While the Christian should and will carry a burden for those under Satan's control, he/she needs to know when to "let go" and trust God to take over and do whatever is needful in the case. Christians can become genuinely trapped by these burdens for others, and it interferes not only with their ability to help others but also may interfere with their own ability to function in daily living. One may be tempted to conclude that he/she cannot trust God to handle the case in His own way and in His own time, and also that he/she can really add something to the ministry of Christ. The idea grows that somehow if I can add my sacrifice to Christ's then it will count for more in the victim's life than Christ's sacrifice without my own.

Sometimes the one for whom prayer is offered develops an unreasonable overdependence upon one or more of those who pray. While the mature Christian will certainly be called upon to supply large, personal quantities of love, care, and interest in providing personal support in prayer, study, and emotional stabilization, he/she will certainly need to avoid permitting the victim to develop a mindless, irrational overdependence by encouraging telephone calls at all times of the day or night and childish and unreasonable demands for personal attention.

While no Seventh-day Adventist Christian would ever seek to hypnotize someone for whom he/she was working to bring relief from demonic forces, there is yet a potential danger of "practical hypnosis," whereby the effective control of the believing Christian over the mind of the victim of harassment is accepted by the latter because of an undesirable overdependence upon the former.

In this context, then, the cautions of Ellen White concerning one of the practical dangers of hypnosis seems particularly apt:

The theory of mind controlling mind was originated by Satan, to introduce himself as the chief worker, to put human philosophy where divine philosophy should be. Of all the errors that are finding acceptance among professedly Christian people, none is a more dangerous deception, none more certain to separate man from God, than this. Innocent though it may appear, if exercised upon patients it will tend to their destruction, not to their restoration. It opens a door through which Satan will enter to take possession both of the mind that is given up to be controlled by another, and the mind that controls. [footnote 41]

E. As We Look to the Future

Ellen White has written that satanic activity will greatly increase in these last days before Jesus returns, and we accept that declaration without equivocation. As it examined the work of many engaged in "deliverance ministry" at this time it also concluded that cases of genuine demon-possession associated with physical phenomena are still not as common today as is confidently declared by some practitioners of "deliverance ministry." However, the near future may reveal more such cases, especially in some cultures.

We fully recognize that Satan is at work in the earth today, and in certain instances he actually does control individuals in the here and now. This is an undeniable fact.

But to make "deliverance ministry" a prominent, if not the chief, work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at this time, is, we believe, to fall for yet another of Satan's specious devices: that of diverting the remnant church from its true, ultimate mission on earth--spreading the Three Angels' Messages of Revelation 14.

We have often been reminded that "we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teachings in our past history." [footnote 42] Let us, therefore, at this point examine an incident in our past history which we feel teaches a lesson that is well considered yet today.

In 1900 the devil succeeded in getting a large number of Seventh-day Adventist church members, ministers, and even at least one conference president, into a fanaticism which called forth an unsparing, direct rebuke from the Lord through His servant, Ellen White. This "holy flesh" movement (as it came to be known) was, in turn, but a repetition of an earlier fanaticism by which Satan had succeeded in seducing certain of the people of God. [footnote 43] It involved manifestation of supernatural powers that were most dramatic and sensationalistic. There was much excitement. But God was not in it; And the net effect of it all was to disgust and turn away serious-minded people who might otherwise have felt led to become members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Ellen White declared to the practitioners of this fanaticism in Indiana: "You are giving the wrong mold to the precious and important work of God." [footnote 44] Then she added that at the very end of time Satan will come in again among the remnant people, to destroy their effectiveness by getting them entangled with fanaticism involving excitement and confusion. [footnote 45]

An important distinction, perhaps, needs to be made at this point. It is clear from Ellen White's writings that after the latter rain experience has been received by the remnant people of God, there will be amazing phenomena exhibited by laity and ministers alike: "Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. Satan also works with lying wonders, even bringing down fire from heaven in the sight of men.

However, she also seems to indicate that before the latter rain is poured out upon Adventists, such miracles will not be so abundant. Indeed, the miracles of Satan, his evil angels, and their human accomplices, will be held up to Seventh-day Adventists (whose activity then is not especially characterized by the working of miracles) as proof of the legitimacy of their position and their standing with God!'' [footnote 47]

Even as late as the giving of the mark of the beast, and the concomitant forbidding of the sealed saints to buy and sell, those in Babylon will be "mocking" the remnant, "threatening to destroy" them. They ridicule their "feebleness," mock at the "smallness" of their numbers. And at this time the wicked declare that they (and not the remnant) have "the truth, that miracles were among them" (and, by contradistinction, not abundant among the remnant). They will boast "that angels from heaven talked with them, and walked with them, that great power, and signs, and wonders were performed among them" (and, by distinction, not so much among the remnant), and that "the whole world was converted and in harmony with the Sunday law." [footnote 48]

More to the point, Ellen White further points out very clearly that in the last days (especially before the outpouring of the latter rain), "God's people will not find their safety in working miracles, for Satan would counterfeit any miracle that might be worked.... They are to take their stand on the living Word." [footnote 49]

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