Exorcism and the Church

October 16th, 2012

After publishing a few posts in the Supernatural October series, I’ve noticed a little trend. People seem to be more interested in ghosts than demons. Most Christians don’t like to talk about demons because either they think evil spirits don’t exist, or they’re afraid they'll run into one if they delve too deeply into the topic. Perhaps many of them believe that demons aren’t something “thinking Christians” should really concern themselves with.

But what if demons are more common than many of us realize? What if some of our problems, addictions, and besetting sins are directly influenced by evil spiritual forces? Mental and psychological problems are a reality that a lot of people face, but what if there’s more to it in some cases?

Most psychologists and mental health professionals don’t recognize the existence of actual demonic influence at any level, whether oppression or possession. I actually don’t find this surprising. Based on my observations, many people aren’t convinced of the existence of supernatural phenomena until they have a firsthand experience. When a person participates in a legitimate deliverance or exorcism, however, and sees the changes that take place afterwards, it becomes difficult to completely ignore the spiritual part of the equation.

The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible defines exorcism as the supernatural expulsion of harmful spirits or demons from afflicted (possessed) persons or places. However, people sometimes use the word deliverance when they mean exorcism, and vice versa. Deliverance is a much broader broader term. Deliverance is being set free from some kind of evil or bondage. It can involve a number of things, including prayer, counseling, and in more intense cases, the rite or process known as exorcism. All exorcisms involve deliverance, but all deliverances don’t necessarily involve exorcism.

Various denominations and churches deal with exorcism and deliverance in different ways. Many people think of exorcism as a “Catholic thing”, but it’s not unusual to see deliverance ministries in other churches, especially charismatic and Pentecostal congregations. The Roman Catholic Church is typically very cautious about approving an exorcism, and will usually exhaust other possibilities before resorting to it. But according to this article from the ABC News archives, the Catholic Church had ten official exorcists throughout the United States in 2001. That's nine more than they had ten years earlier. According to this 2011 U.S. Catholic article, the number had reached 30 by last year. And National Catholic Register reported last month that the number is now up to 60. (NCR's article cites the rise in occult and new age involvement as the reason for needing more exorcists.)

Mainstream evangelical and mainline churches have historically shunned the ministries of deliverance and exorcism, but that needs to change. I mentioned in an earlier post that young people are fascinated by things like witchcraft and the occult in part because the church has sanitized mystery and the supernatural right out of the Christian faith. They're attracted to the dark side out of curiosity, and some of them become heavily involved in it. But what begins as innocent experimentation often turns into spiritual bondage. The big scandal is that many of the churches that bored them away in the first place don't have any idea how to get them free from evil. Some churches may not even recognize the need for anyone to be liberated! And because most establishment churches have avoided getting involved in supernatural ministries, the exorcism and deliverance landscape has become a religious Wild West with few standards and little accountability.

I predict that there will be much more interest in deliverance, exorcism, and spiritual warfare in mainline and mainstream evangelical churches in the years ahead. If these churches want to be truly effective in building the Kingdom of God, they're not going to have a choice.

Supernatural October Series: For the rest of the month, I’ll be blogging about topics like ghosts, demons, exorcism, spiritual warfare, death, Hell, witchcraft, Satanism, the occult, psychics, vampires, and Halloween. If you have any ideas or experiences you’d like to share, send a message to feedback@ministrymatters.com.

Read additional posts from this series.

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