Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

Index of Articles
Dealing with Demons
reprinted from the Winter 1993 edition of Essentials

   The second of our series on Charismatic encounters Mike Flynn ministers in the outer suburban parish of Upper Beaconsfield, in Melbourne
   I visited a local Pentecostal church recently for an appointment with their youth pastor. While I was waiting in reception I heard loud cries and screams coming from behind a door off the church foyer. It sounded like a crowd brawling in a scene from a movie so, searching for an explanation, and harking back to some of my more unusual experiences in the business world, I asked the receptionist if they were using a violent video as a training film in that room. She explained that what I could hear was a prayer meeting.
   Confronting the demonic, through in-your-face-screaming, territorial mapping and combined prayer warfare is a trademark not only of the Argentine revival (discussed in the last edition of Essentials) but, thanks to the promotion of that revival, it is a trademark of many charismatic churches in Melbourne. One American Presbyterian pastor in The Rising Revival describes his experience of an Anacondia meeting where, through loud screaming from the front, demons are driven out of those in the crowd.
  "Some people looked confused, but not so much as we who were visiting the campaign for the first time that night. Most of the crowd took the situation pretty much in their stride."1
   I suspect the locals were less taken aback by the demonic manifestations around them and the techniques used to deal with these demons because they had heard it before in that mixture of paganism and Roman Catholicism which forms the background to their culture. To put it simply, much contemporary dealing with the demonic adopts old pagan ideas and theological categories then injects them into Christianity.
   According to Mike Wakley2 , the notion of territorial spirits (malevolent spirits which are chained to a particular location) and this style of spiritual warfare gained entry to American Protestant practice through the writings of the Christian novelist Frank Peretti. In Peretti's fantasy world the real battles of history are fought behind the scenes between good and fallen angels in a dualistic, Ying-Yang universe. This is not a Biblical universe where God alone is Lord, Satan a mere creature, and the decisive spiritual battle between good and evil has already been won on the cross of Jesus Christ. Perhaps like all good fiction, in order to keep our interest in the drama alive, Peretti must make the ending genuinely uncertain.
   The practical outcome of Peretti's New Age description of the spiritual world is called strategic-level spiritual warfare. This type of prayer has four levels.
   1) Ground level – exorcism; 2) Occult level - removing sharmans, New Age channelers, witches etc; 3) Strategic level - removing territorial spirits;
   4) Spiritual mapping - which is reconnaissance through historical research and spiritual discernment to discover the names, hierarchies and locations of malevolent spiritual influences.
   Wakely points out that none of this, either in style or theology, has any Biblical precedent or command but is based only on limited and carefully selected experiences. Worse, while this form of intercession and spiritual insight is new to Christianity at least, it is not new to old fashioned paganism. Finally, it treats our own selfishness lightly. As Agnieszka Trennant3 reports on the rising obsession with possession in the American church:
   "Many Christians would rather be known as objects of demonic harassment than struggling sinners. Before exorcism, an addict is just a sinner. An addict whose addiction turns out to be demonic is a martyr for Christ."
   I suspect this neo-pagan playing upon our psychosomatic frailty has as much to do with our (post-)modern need for overwhelming experience as it does with our ancient penchant to reduce our responsibility for sin. Our computer, cinema and TV screens are bigger, our concerts and music systems surround us, our sports are more extreme, our sex is more demanding, our drugs more exotic because, frankly, we want to be overwhelmed. We crave catharsis from any source; we want to feel - anything.4 To be demonised, psychologically or spiritually, is to at least be 'real'.
   Jesus gave his disciples a clear command when it came to dealing with the demonic:
   "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:18-20)
   Our focus should not be on discovering the lairs of demons, or on naming and rebuking them, for the following reasons:
   1) We don't see in the New Testament that fear-filled obsession with the demonic which many Christians I meet carry today. This is despite the fact that the world of the New Testament was more aware of the principalities and powers than we are (see Ephesians 6, Matthew 12). What we do see instead is acknowledgement of the reality of evil and the irresistible power of Christ which treats the demonic almost as an inconvenience (Acts 16:16,17 Acts 19:11-20, Ephesians 6:10-18). There is no plea-bargaining, lengthy conversations or counselling of demons, even when military language is used of the spiritual battle. 5 What the New Testament exudes is utter confidence in the face of the spiritual forces which oppose us - they are such a spent force that every thing they bring against us is turned against them (Romans 8:35-39).
   2) The purpose of Biblical views behind the scenes of this world is to encourage faithful perseverance as Christians during trial. The views are not there to enlighten us as to the specifics of the spiritual world so we should neither fear the demonic nor try to defeat the powers with new forms of prayer. Some examples will help:
   The reader is told of the heavenly source of Job's troubles so that the reader will learn in his troubles that our faith and righteousness matter more to our God than anything we own or are. At no point is it suggested that if Job had found out the name of his accuser or traced back his family history or the history of his land or prayed better that he would have been spared his troubles.
   The book of Daniel shows us colliding kingdoms operating on earth and in heaven. The message for us in the human heroes is: while in exile, seek the good of the city, act wisely, remain faithful to your God. "....our God is able to save us from the fiery furnace but if not ... we will not bow the knee." (Daniel 3:16-18)
   In Paul's letter to the Ephesians after he describes the heavenly wealth we now possess and which is our duty to see more clearly each day, he tells us to battle the principalities and powers ranged against us by standing still! That is, remain faithful to the gospel we heard by putting it upon us as if defensive armour. The only offensive weapon in Ephesians 6 is the word of God.
   The Revelation of Jesus Christ paints the spiritual powers with a broad and impressionist brush and describes powers, which are beyond our ability to influence. The powers behind our worldly obsession with economics, military power and bankrupt philosophy are laid bare so we can see what God has, and is, doing about them and so be encouraged to persevere as Christians even to death. The strategy of spiritual warfare for us here is: "This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints." (Revelation 13:10)
   3) Jesus and the Apostles allowed for different causes behind human maladies. Reading the Gospels we see people who are afflicted by physical illness, accident, consequences of their sin or other people's, birth defects, age, political oppression, depression and grief. Only a limited category of maladies is said to have a direct link to demonic action. A toothache is best treated by prayer and a dentist, not by exorcism.
   4) The emphasis of the spiritual power of darkness is upon sin (Colossians 1:13-14). That is the threat which undermines us all and ultimately kills us. If the New Testament (or indeed the whole of Scripture) has any obsession with evil then the weight lies here. A war against sin, not demons, is the true struggle and we can't afford to be distracted from it.
   5) Demons are not famous for telling the truth about themselves. In
   1 Corinthians 10:19-22 Paul points out that the Corinthian idols are nothing, that is, they are not the great gods they purport to represent. Instead, sacrifices offered to them are offered to demons and are a participation in demonic lies. So a Corinthian may think he is offering a sacrifice to Zeus or Athenia or Hermes - powerful spiritual forces with names and personalities who were often chained to certain localities - but no, it is only a lying demon. A lie in your right hand - as Isaiah would put it (Isaiah 44:9-20).

  HOME Index of Articles  

1 The rising revival: accounts of the Argentine revival (ed. C. P. Wagner & P. Ducos; Renewal Books: Ventura, Ca.: 1998) 70

2 "A critical look at a new 'key' to evangelization" , in Evangelical Missions Quarterly (April 1995 p160)

3 "Possessed or Obsessed?" Christianity Today (September 2001 p46-63)

4 "Quick, turn something on, I'm beginning to think." Homer Simpson.

According to Christianity Today (op.cit) the rise in the number of ministries dealing directly with the demonic correlates with the rise of the overtly demonic in the entertainment industry. In our movies and in our celebrities (for example Princess Diana), to be demonised, either psychologically or spiritually, is popular because it is seen as being authentic or real - a great attraction in days of postmodern uncertainty.

5 Pablo Bottori in his article "Dealing with Demons in Revival Evangelism" (The rising revival p77) notes that as he gained more experience, he stopped yelling at demons because either it didn't work or it simply led to more violent manifestations. He now spends more time counselling people, listening to how the demonic entered their lives and even then, he admits, many do not fully respond to exorcism. This later technique appropriately owes more to Freud than to Jesus but neither method is modelled in the New Testament as a means of dealing with the possessed.