Our study of ghosts last time raised the subject of demons. They are clearly real as recorded numerous places in the Bible. We were warned about engaging them intentionally or from dabbling in occult activities. But what happens if some ignore this warning? What do we do for those who are snared in the net of demons? The Bible also records the act of freeing people from such a predicament. It is known as an exorcism but in 23 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve never performed one (thought about it a few times, though). Do Lutherans even do exorcisms? Well, there is no such rite in the Lutheran Agenda or other sources of our confession as is found, say, among Catholics, but this is not to say we have no recourse against evil.
1. What really is an exorcism?
Exorcism is the act of expelling an evil spirit, a demon or demons, from someone. Demons can inhabit people internally. This is known as possession. When a person is possessed, they have no control over their words and actions. Often the demon makes the person do and say terrible things even to the point of inflicting harm or death on the individual. It should be distinguished from oppression where a person is afflicted from demons through outside persecution. True believers strong in the Spirit need not fear being possessed unless, of course, they foolishly invite such a thing by walking where angels fear to tread, so to speak. But we need to use the spiritual armor Christ has provided us and not recklessly go on the assault spiritually naked (Ephesians 6:10-18). We have power over the devil and his minion in the name of Jesus as we are clothed in baptismal grace. We have authority over them as we are in Christ who is seated at the right hand of God.
The means of exorcism range from simply invoking the name in Jesus in faith (not just by saying His name) to lengthy counseling and rites or ceremonies involving prayer, fasting, anointing, hymn singing, sacred vows, holy objects and Scripture reading. Some modern day exorcists are really more like therapists who meet with people presumed to be possessed. They certainly pray and such but also talk with the person about their state in an ongoing way that seems a lot like treating people with addictions. Sometimes it is concluded in this process that the person suffers more from a mental illness than actual demonic possession. It can be hard to distinguish the two sometimes.
Possession seems to vary from place to place being more common in cultures less industrialized and more animistic. Missionaries will often talk more of such demonic activity than pastors serving domestically. But as interest in the occult rises in the West, so does the potential for more possessions. It isn’t frivolous for us to consider the possibility in our discussion today.
2. So what do Lutherans do in these cases?
As in all things, we seek God’s guidance and power through His Word. Scripture records exorcism as being done through the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus drove out demons by His own authority as True God and Lord. His disciples did so, too, by the authority Jesus gave them in His Name. Faith in Christ is paramount; sometimes prayer and fasting were added when confronting particularly stubborn or powerful demons (Mark 9:14-29). The use of holy water, oils, sacred amulets, formulaic vows, various holy symbols are not found in the Bible but developed in certain circles within Christendom’s early history. As Scripture does not attest to their validity, the Lutheran Church does not recognize nor sanction their use. We speak the name of Jesus, we pray, sing hymns, read Scripture as we call upon the Presence of the Lord.
There is a wider sense of exorcism that we more commonly have in mind as Lutherans. Satan is the prince of this world. He seeks to destroy those whom Christ has died to redeem. His principle weapon is temptation to sin and to deny Christ. He tries to distract people from the Gospel. Unbelievers are under his control. We seek to set them free. We do so by proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Through the Church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament, we share the Gospel and so advance the Kingdom of Grace against Satan’s domain. Jesus has bound and beaten the devil for us already by His cross and resurrection. In this sense, we are driving evil from the lives of people whenever we preach the Gospel. It is an exorcism, too, albeit in a general sense.
We’ll close by looking at a few Bible passages relevant to our discussion.
a) Mark 1:21-28; 5:1-20
b) Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 9:1, 2, 49, 50; Acts 19:11-20
Before we continue our look at the Bible passages from last time, I’d like to quickly review some facts about the devil. We’ll do this by way of a little True or False quiz. Ready? Fold your paper so as not to look at the answers. Then just write your answer next to the question and we’ll go over the answers in a moment.
1. The devil as representing evil has always existed as the polar opposite of God who
2. God created the devil?
3. The devil is everywhere at once?
4. The devil can make us sin?
5. The Bible chronicles everything about Satan’s rebellion in Heaven?
6. The world is the devil’s domain?
7. The devil can “get inside” believers?
8. Satan’s days are numbered?
1. False. This belief that good and evil represented by God and the devil in its various forms is the false belief of dualism. It wrongly places God as a kind of equal to the devil, albeit on the side of good, in power and eternity. Only God is eternal, all powerful and all knowing. 2. False. God didn’t create the devil as the devil. He created angels with freewill and some fell from grace and were expelled from Heaven. It was then that the good angel later called Satan became the devil. Evil need not exist in the universe. Only good. Evil is merely “spoiled” goodness like a rotten egg. 3. False. Omnipresence, being everywhere at once is a divine attribute so it is exclusive to God. Satan covers a large territory and expands his influence through a network of demons but he can’t be everywhere at once. 4. False. The devil can only tempt us to sin using pride and doubt against God’s Word as his chief weapons. Then he appeals to our selfish desires but only when we bite upon his bait do we get hooked; in other words, temptation is not sin until we give into it. 5. False. The Bible, in fact, says next to nothing about the events of Satan’s rebellion and expulsion from Heaven or when it happened. Obviously it was sometime before Adam and Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden but this could be accounted for if we distinguish the temporal time within creation and the timelessness of the realm of Heaven. Jesus briefly eludes to it saying He saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven and in Revelation where John sees some of Heaven’s angels fall. (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:7-9) 6. True. John says in his first epistle that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. He is elsewhere called the prince of this world, though always, God is the ultimate Sovereign of both Heaven and earth. 7. True. Though baptized believers can’t be possessed by an evil spirit, they certainly can be oppressed by them and demons can “get inside” their heads, so to speak, as Satan did with Peter when he tried to rebuke Jesus from going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Jesus says to Peter, “Get thee behind me Satan.” (Matthew 16:23) 8. True. Jesus has already conquered the devil by His death on the cross thus fulfilling prophesy that the serpent’s head be crushed (Genesis 3:15; Phil. 2:10; Col. 2:15). Satan awaits a final judgment in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:7-10) but wrecks havoc against the Church every step of the way until then, especially in the “little season” before the world’s end.
How’d you do? Well on to our passages where we see how the Church in Christ’s name does battle with the devil until the return of our Lord. Turn to Matthew 7:21-23; Mark 1:21-28; 5:1-20; Luke 9:1, 2, 49, 50; Acts 19:11-20