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


During the past decade there has developed, particularly among charismatic Christian bodies in various places, a movement that has come to be known as "deliverance ministry" in which evil spirits--believed to control human beings who exhibit bizarre forms of human behavior--are "exorcised" or "cast out." Believing that Satan often harasses those whom he does not directly control, some "deliverance ministry" advocates have also developed a companion program of "spiritual warfare" by which a child of God may combat supernatural forces of evil in his or her own life experience.

Because the New Testament speaks about Christ casting out demons, and conferring upon His disciples the authority and power to do the same, interest in casting out demons has mushroomed among many Christians, particularly in evangelical circles, and a movement has developed.

It is not surprising, therefore, that some Seventh-day Adventists have been influenced by such a movement, which, at least superficially, appears to be based upon Scripture and supported by the writings of Ellen G. White.

On the other hand, others in the church, equally sincere, have raised serious questions about the sensational claims of those engaged in this "spiritual warfare" (which has developed its own vocabulary with a flavor strongly militaristic and highly aggressive) and especially "deliverance ministry."

Unfortunately differences of opinion between the two groups has often led to a polarizing effect, with some stoutly contending that the Christian believer's power over evil spirits is a God-given right that should be exercised vigorously on behalf of those believed to be victims of Satan's control, while others feel that "exorcism" is a practice to be completely avoided.

Thus the lines have been drawn in widely-separated groups of Adventists in North America particularly in recent years. In one of our colleges a teacher lost employment because of unwillingness to abandon what was believed to be a divine commission to deliver the captive victims of Satan. In one field the local conference administration sponsored seminars in how to conduct "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry." And in another, a minister was relieved of denominational employment as a retiree because his emphasis on this specialized form of "ministry" left substantial divisive controversy in its wake across the nation.

Still elsewhere, a group of indignant laymen accused their conference president (who had asked his local pastors not to allow in their pulpits ministers bringing this kind of emphasis) of violating the principle of Mark 9:38-40 and Luke 9:49-50, where Christ had commanded, "Forbid him not." The president countered by responding that for him the principle involved, rather, was that of Matthew 7:16-20 ("by their fruits ye shall know them") and Romans 16:17 ("mark them which cause divisions and offenses ... And avoid them").

What is the average Seventh-day Adventist to make of all of this? And what should be the position of our church?

Seeking to find answers that are biblical, rational, and adequate, and sensing the increasingly urgent need to provide some counsel by which to enable our members to avoid the extremes of fanaticism and pitfalls prepared for the unwary by the evervigilant enemy of all souls, the General Conference Committee on July 10, 1980, created an ad hoc "Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Study Committee" to investigate this subject in depth. Its members were charged with the responsibility of suggesting, if possible, appropriate guidelines for the world church. And it was instructed to report its findings to the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.

The personnel selected to serve on the study committee came from a broad background and depth of experience, representing a spectrum of academic disciplines. W. Richard Lesher (religious education), director of the Biblical Research Institute and more recently elected a General Conference general vice president, was named committee chairman. Roger W. Coon (communication), then pastor of the Takoma Park (MD) Church and now an associate secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate of the General Conference, was asked to serve as secretary.

Members appointed to serve included: Charles L. Anderson (psychiatry), formerly of Hinsdale (IL) Hospital; Verne R. Andress (psychology), Loma Linda University; Ivan T. Blazen (New Testament), Andrews University; Elden M. Chalmers (psychology), recently of Andrews University; D. A. Delafield (minister and Trustee, Ellen G. White Estate); John E. flick (anthropology), Loma Linda University; W. Duncan Eva (administration), General Conference general vice president; Jerry A. Gladson (Old Testament), Southern College of Seventh-day Adventists; Fritz Guy (theology), Andrews University; and Kenneth A. Strand (church history), Andrews University.

Subsequently Professors Andress and Elick were unable to attend the committee sessions, and Russell L. Staples (anthropology), Andrews University, was invited to sit with the committee.

The committee met on the campus of Andrews University for two three-day sessions, on October 27-29, 1980, and January 18-20, 1981. A preliminary draft report was subsequently reviewed by the members on a two-hour conference telephone hookup on March 16, 1981. The committee then convened again at Andrews University for what was believed to be a final session on May 11, 1982. And, lastly, the available members of the committee met at General Conference headquarters in Washington for three and one-half hours on June 15, 1982, with an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister who has become prominent in "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" at his personal and urgent request. Brought together for this special session were committee members Lesher, Coon, Delafield, Eva, and Guy; invited to augment committee representation were Robert W. Olson, Secretary, Ellen G. White Estate; J. Robert Spangler, Secretary, General Conference Ministerial-Stewardship Association; and Robert L. Woodfork, General Conference field secretary.

In its various sessions the committee interviewed a wide variety of persons--ministers, missionaries, educators, businessmen, students, housewives, and a physician--who at first had been personally and intimately involved with "deliverance ministry" and "spiritual warfare" in various situations in North America and abroad. In addition, seven committee members prepared a series of research papers, which are appended to the chairman's copy of this report.

The committee noted two extreme views prevalent within Christendom today: (1) the tendency to see the immediate presence and activity of evil spirits as the predisposing cause of every individual tragedy of human experience, and (2) the tendency to find purely naturalistic explanations and solutions for all instances of mental and emotional illness and abnormal behavior.

While the committee felt that the Scriptures and the writings of Mrs. White clearly point to the reality of the demonic and to the legitimacy of counseling and importunate prayer to bring freedom and relief to victims of Satan's influence, it also recognized that these same inspired sources sound a warning against the dangers inherent in misapplication, misuse, and mishandling of this kind of ministry.

Indeed, the committee felt that in certain instances brought to its attention misuse (if not malpractice) has occurred, a misuse which has proven dangerous to the spiritual, physical, and/or emotional well-being of the individual whose healing was sought.

This cautious stance recognizes that the threefold message of Revelation 14--not the casting out of demons--is yet today the raison d'etre of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The committee's report, which is intended to be educative rather than legislative, is presented here for the reader's serious study in this day when the counsel of the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Ephesus was never more timely:

Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm (Eph 6:10-13, New American Standard Bible).

W. Richard Lesher, Director

Biblical Research Institute


Seventh-day Adventists believe that behind the scenes of earthly affairs, invisible, supernatural forces of good and evil are engaged in cosmic warfare for the control of every human being (Eph 6:12). We believe in the existence of a literal, personal devil, now named Satan, who once was a perfect (and heaven's highest) angel (Ezek 28:15). Scripture further declares that Satan experienced a moral fall, took one-third of all the holy angels with him (Rev 12:4), and at the conclusion of that first war in heaven he was literally, physically, ejected, eventually coming down to planet earth (verses 7-9). Here he continues yet today, diligently waging warfare against the kingdom of God and all that is good and worthwhile in the universe. We believe that today under Satan's immediate, direct control there are multitudes of evil spirits, fallen angels, demons, allied with him in this "great controversy between Christ and Satan."

We believe, further, that we are today living in the closing days of this earth's history, and that this warfare will intensify to an unprecedented degree as this ages-long conflict draws to its close (verse 12). Because these supernatural forces of good and evil operate largely outside the range of human knowledge and control, their nature and modes of operation are not always clear and understandable; yet we believe that these forces are real and personal.

We also believe that it is the inalienable right of every child of God to be free from the control of Satan (though not, of course, from his temptations) through the superior power of Jesus Christ who won a supreme victory over Satan at Calvary. There, by His personal and once-for-all sacrifice, He earned the right to confer upon His followers not only eternal life in the hereafter, but also freedom from the control of Satan in this present temporal existence.

A number of other Christians also believe all of the above doctrinal tenets surrounding the problem of evil in the universe, and they invitingly beckon Seventh-day Adventists to join with them actively in doing something constructively to combat the reign of Satan in this world. They claim that they have the power to cast out evil spirits, to drive back the supernatural forces of Satan's kingdom of darkness, and to dispossess him of his human prey. They say that we Adventists, too, may have this power--indeed, if we are truly genuine Christians, we will have this power, and that we may wield it as they do. Anything less, they affirm, is a virtual denial of the Christian faith once delivered to the saints.

The "deliverance" sessions they conduct are impressive, dramatic, and sensational. They appear to confront Satan and his evil angels in direct combat. They seem to have power to force demons audibly to identify themselves by name, and then they boldly order them to depart the body of their victim by the superior power in the name of Jesus Christ. And the demons seem to obey!

Now these exponents of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" invite us to join them in this challenging work which, say they, carries not only the authority but also the command of Scripture.

Should we go along?

There are some in the church who think we should.

There are others who are raising questions.

To raise questions at this point is not to prove oneself a skeptic, or to impugn either the sincerity or dedication of the practitioners of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry." Nor is it a "cop-out" to escape the high risks that necessarily devolve upon anyone who dares to challenge Satan on his home ground.

In the same sermon in which Jesus commanded, "Judge not, that ye be not judged," He also declared that "by their fruits ye shall know them" (see Matt 7:1, 16, 20). While no Christian may ever judge the character or motivation of a fellow human being, yet Christ clearly intended to convey the idea that His followers should carefully reason from cause to effect, and from effect to cause, and order their lives accordingly in a prudent fashion.

Christianity is not predicated upon the abdication of a human being's reasoning powers. On the contrary, it places a premium upon their correct functioning--but always within the framework of faith and based upon inspired writings. Christianity, indeed, sanctifies reason and intellect, placing them upon vantage ground, all the while subordinating them to the objective control of the Word of God.

In "deliverance ministry," as it is variously practiced at the present time by many of its enthusiastic advocates, there are a number of features which give cause for serious concern, that raise a danger signal, that sound a warning for caution. In (a) the philosophy which undergirds the movement, and in (b) the manner in which it is often practiced (interestingly, the methodology is often in a state of flux), the committee finds that which causes it to take a second look--especially in view of certain pertinent Scriptures and rather straightforward, clearcut statements from the writings of Ellen G. White which our church holds, respectfully, to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit. (For example, our church has been warned that in the very last days just such challenges to the miraculous "will bring Seventh-day Adventists to the test." [footnote 1])

It is, therefore, neither unkind nor unfair to draw back a moment to raise some probing, penetrating questions and to seek frank answers for such, to "test the spirits" by yardsticks provided by inspired writings. It is an area too important to trifle with, for mistakes here may affect the destiny not only of the afflicted but also the one who seeks to bring him relief.  

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