This is a fairly lengthy article in which quite a number of books are mentioned. Personal experience leaves me questioning rather than particularly secure about what to think. I can point to some personal experience and one explicit event. Some years ago I was getting a certain amount of arthritic pain in my hands and it was worsening. In Perth, where I live, I have had a quite a lot to do with Margaret Court, former tennis champion; Margaret is a person of faith and considerable experience with healing; she had a prayer line, I stood in it, she asked me the problem, I told her, she told a spirit of arthritis to leave and my hands were instantly completely free. I turned round, went back to my seat and in that 15 seconds the pain came back; I might be slow but not so slow that I didn’t realize that if it left when addressed as a spirit it must be a spirit and that if I treated it that way it would have to obey me too; over a period of time I exerted my authority and the pain left for good. When is a spirit more than an ambience, an influence, and when is it a spiritual personality? When is a personal problem to be addressed as demonic in origin and when is it a matter for repentance and discipline?
Speaking about deliverance is clearly a vexed subject and in many ways. The word is commonly used to denote deliverance from demons/evil spirits.., though biblically it is used more frequently as simply release from danger. Moses cites God as saying, ‘I will deliver him, I will set him on high’; David prays ‘deliver me from my enemies, whose mouths and hands are full of deceit’; Paul speaks about perils and dangers from which the Lord delivered him, ‘and will deliver’. It should be noted that even when it comes simply to danger, the demonic is often implied. Psalm 91 has as its context ‘the snare of the fowler’; Paul’s perils cannot be considered apart from ‘a messenger of Satan’. However, this article is more concerned specifically with release, deliverance from demonization ( the Greek word, the only word used in the NT, translates simply as demonized – there is no term for possession or oppression, just ‘demonized’); the article discusses some issues which arise from reading a number of recent authors.
In the Bible, demons/evil spirits/unclean spirits, the 3 words perhaps being cognates, only come clearly into focus in the NT, more specifically in the ministry of Jesus, where dealing with spirits, casting them out, is frequently mentioned as part of Jesus’ ministry practice, and as a central component of the ministry He delegated to his followers. In the book of Acts, however, it should be noted as not gaining as much attention, a comparative side issue for Luke, it seems; perhaps because, as in the case of Philip in Samaria, it was a commonplace, perhaps because it was not seen as very important to emphasize except in high profile cases such as the girl in Philipi, or perhaps because the Holy Spirit did not wish to draw particular attention to this aspect in a book which is basically about ‘missions’, how the church grew. The main point to be drawn is that casting out, expelling, dealing with demons is very prominent in Jesus’ ministry, is present in that which He gave directly to the disciples, and so also in that which he left to us – ‘these signs shall follow…in My Name they shall cast out demons.’
Thus much is clear; and there is no reason to suppose that in these days the importance of this type of ministry is in any way lessened. Certainly were it so, the Bible would be clear about it, and it isn’t – the ministry of casting out demons is for us. A difficulty that might arise however, and does arise for me, is that there is such a multitudinous literature on this subject and so much of it is in some ways contradictory, inconsistent, apparently at least. It was reading an article on a book by Charles Kraft, I give you authority which prompted me to write this and attempt to collate some of the material I have read, put it up against the Bible and compare it with my own experience. It should be noted that I regard the Bible as authoritative, and yet one should ask, ‘in what way authoritative – prescriptively or descriptively?’ I once heard someone say that the book of Acts is descriptive not prescriptive, and this is certainly correct in some respects – the drawing of lots as described in ch.1, for example, is not generally regarded as good practice; and yet surely there are guidelines and on occasion instructions, so we can certainly see if particular practices stemming from individual interpretation of experience are justifiable biblically.
The main references then to dealing with unclean/evil spirits/ demons are in the 4 gospels, and this is where I first encountered them. We find that Jesus specifically cast out spirits of infirmity – deaf and dumb spirits, blind spirits and a spirit in a woman bent double. Moreover there is a general statement in Acts that Jesus ‘went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil’. Being careful with this statement we see that certainly some of the people healed were ‘oppressed of the devil’ – as it stands the statement leaves open that some who were healed were not oppressed of the devil, though it is not clear what sense that makes; it doesn’t say that they were ‘demonized’, but rather ‘under the power’ of the devil, though this presumably would also include those who fit the category (if it exists as a category) of demonized. And in fact we see that in parallel instances of healing blindness, in one case, eg Matt 12.22, Jesus dealt with a spirit while in other cases he didn’t, or not explicitly, it certainly having been within the power of the Divine Inspirer of scripture to make it explicit had He wished. However, the majority of cases of demonization explicitly said to be such are not stated to be cases of physical infirmity. For example, the first instance in both Mark and Luke concern a man with ‘an unclean spirit’ who behaves in an unruly way in the synagogue. Repeatedly Jesus cast spirits out of large numbers of people without this being stated as having to do with physical sickness, though it is commonly taking place alongside a healing ministry, for example in Matt 8.16. Thus the Syro-Phoenecian woman has a daughter who ‘has a devil’; Jesus seems to simply accept this testimony and in due course, at a distance, deals with it. It is clear that people can have more than one demon – Mary Magdalene, and the man in the Gadarene tombs; again, physical sickness is not mentioned in any of these cases.
Thus far, a brief review of Jesus’ ministry. Turning to the modern day, within my reading there is one ministry that outstandingly seems, as it is recorded, to duplicate or re-image the ministry of Jesus, that of Smith Wigglesworth. In some cases of healing he would deal with a devil, in others he wouldn’t; on a number of occasions he dealt with insane people in ways which seem very similar to Jesus. Wigglesworth’s default position seemed to be that illness came from the devil and was to be dealt with in that way. Perhaps the reason why Wigglesworth’s ministry seems to me so closely to parallel that of Jesus is the way he reports it; Wigglesworth apparently read very little, if at all, other than the Bible, and so he sounds very Biblical. Of all Pentecostal ministries, his in many ways seems to me the strongest, soundest, most devoted, simplest, so I take it as being a sort of conservative norm. Two other ministries which follow in a similar conservative Pentecostal mode are those of TL Osborn and Kenneth E Hagin. TL’s great book is Healing the Sick; the majority of the book is devoted to teaching about faith, but there are 3 or 4 chapters which deal with the topic of demons, and he makes very clear that much sickness is the result of demons. In practice, like Wigglesworth, TL’s ministry sounds like that of Jesus – the preaching of the Word of God to large crowds of people, demons becoming very agitated and then often crying out loudly, as in the account of Philip in Samaria, and leaving people when commanded to do so, deaf, blind, cancer spirits among many others, and also demons leaving people through individual ministry. Often TL would not be personally involved; he would simply preach the word of God, and just keep preaching and demons would come out. To me very telling is one story he recounts; a man with a deaf ear, with regard to whom TL says that he supposes he could just have cast the spirit out, but that he didn’t feel to do things that way; instead he sent the man home with a book to read so that faith would come, and of course it did and the man was healed. It is clear from the best practitioners that deliverance can take place quite equally through specifically casting the devil or by hearing the word of God; the devil does not like anything to do with the Holy Spirit and will often simple clear out when exposed to godly things. TL’s preaching practice was to stay until the devil quit. He preached largely in the ‘3rd world’ and he could be somewhat scathing about religious practices in the USA; he says ‘we deal with real devils’ – there are a multiplicity of accounts of violently insane people, chained up, who came to their right mind during the preaching in Africa. TL says that he thinks in churches in the US people have pretend or pet devils; this is worth thinking about. To repeat: where TL reports the large meetings they held all over the world, the results sound very very similar to what is recorded of Jesus’ meetings in the gospels.
Kenneth Hagin records as a young pastor endeavouring to bring freedom, deliverance to his church members through attempting to get rid of what I suppose TL might call pretend devils, before reaching the conclusion that if it ever did any good he couldn’t see it and that what people needed was steady Biblical preaching and teaching. Like Wigglesworth and Osborn, however, Mr Hagin certainly dealt with demons, both with regard to physical healing including addictions and insanity – what I suppose TL calls real devils! Again, this would take place with no intervention beyond the teaching of the word of God. Mr Hagin makes very explicit reference however to the spiritual gift of the discerning of spirits, recounting how the Lord gave him this specific gift so that he would know when a person’s sickness was caused by a demon. Although Wigglesworth and Osborn clearly give reference to similar gifts, it is that point that Mr Hagin becomes less what I am terming conservative in so far that he recounts seeing things, seeing demons, seeing ’into the spiritual realm’ in a way that is not referenced in the Bible and so in a way not directly verifiable from the scriptures; which is not to say of course that Jesus did not see the same things, but certainly means that the Holy Spirit did not see fit to have such things recorded; and this should give one pause for thought. Hagin has one large book substantially dealing with demons titled The Triumphant Church and 4 shorter volumes called The Satan, Demons and Demon Possession Series; the subject arises from time to time in his other books. As is his usual practice, Hagin gives the doctrine and illustrates from experience, explaining how the Lord taught him about demons. When he comes to demonization, he deals with it in physical instances as well as mental cases; he does not see this as part of normal discipleship, though he speaks of the devil’s opposition to the gospel; this however is not demonization. Both doctrine and practice are well within biblical parameters, though some of what he describes as seeing does not have direct support. He makes a distinction between demonic oppression and possession which is not stated in the Bible but is the result of years of experience. Like TL Osborn, Hagin records demons leaving people when the person is exposed to godly teaching. If I was to recommend some one thing to read, it would be Hagin; there is such a wealth of experience and Bible knowledge. A friend of Hagin’s was Norvel Hayes, who also writes on this subject in his various books.
It is also worth mentioning at this juncture the practice of Carlos Annacondia in Argentina; there are strong parallels with TL Osborn, in so far that both were engaging in large public meetings, similar one supposes to those of Jesus, and yet with diverse methods. Addressing demons, indeed for substantial portions of his services, is a prominent practice of Annacondia. Can one say other than that different people are led in different directions? His book is titled in English Listen to me, Satan. It is at least possible that with the huge growth of occultic practice in the western world – it was certainly very prevalent in Argentina – that this is the way to go. I would suggest this book as necessary reading.
Another prominent Pentecostal preacher who speaks at length in this area is Lester Sumrall; he has a book called Demons: the answer book. There is a well known account of a revival in the Philippines which was sparked by the deliverance of a girl which made national headlines. Sumrall was a great Pentecostal man.
There are other Pentecostal type ministers whom I have read, but particularly Wiggleswoth and TL Osborn seem to me very Biblical, by which I mean similar to Jesus. I become a bit more questioning when I turn to the writings of a group of men who are less of the traditional Pentecostal set, three men in particular, Derek Prince, Don Basham and Jim Croft, who were associated with each other. Derek Prince’s story is well known. He did become, from a highly intellectual background, a classical Pentecostal minister with the Assemblies of God; he recounts his own experience of being set free, delivered, from spirits which had access to him through his family background and past in occultic practices; he describes repentance from these and the power of God setting him free. Book titles include They shall expel demons. Can one doubt the reality of this experience? I think not. Prince proceeds to tell how he began to discover that many Christians were bound by these things and so to develop a ministry of deliverance, and it is about here that I begin to feel concerned because the emphasis seems to be moving away from repentance and experience with God to digging up the past, elaborately renouncing all occultic ties, generational curses being broken etc. Prince has a lot to say about Freemasonry. There is Biblical background to this, and of course Prince goes into what he sees as being the validation for it. I can’t say that I would wish to challenge his practice but I don’t see it as stated in the ministry of Jesus. However, I would suggest that his books are very important in this field. Don Basham’s account, Deliver us from Evil, is an extremely interesting book, chronicling his cautious change from a conservative pastor into full scale ‘deliverance’ ministry. It begins with instances where, as a pastor who believes in healing, he finds particular problems which don’t respond until he decides to experiment and see what happens if he deals with the matter ‘as if’ it were caused by a demon, and he finds that this works. Slowly, ministering that way expands, and like Prince it becomes something of a full time thing. An aspect that interests me very much is that after many many years in this type of ministry, often with great success, as he tells it, he finds that he himself needs deliverance from a spirit of fear which is deeply embedded in his life and, as he describes it, needing physical eviction. One cannot doubt, I think, the reality of what he describes. Jim Croft has a similar sort of story, as does the author of well-known book Pigs in the Parlour, Frank Hammond. This last gentleman describes many emotional type problems as requiring complex deliverance ministry and it is here that one may think that things have gone too far. The Biblical route seems to be that of Basham who says, in essence, that if problems, difficulties, sins, do not succumb to regular methods of spiritual discipline, crucifying the flesh, putting off the old man, putting on the new – then deliverance may be needed. Hammond’s position would be that he is dealing with just that sort of issue, but it is hard not to feel that the complexity of dealing with the demonic he describes is not what Jesus was doing. But, I like to try to be very fair and say that some people, according to the accounts one reads, seem to be very, very damaged in ways that I don’t appreciate, and those reporting their ministries with such people report some degree of success; so, while for the time being I may prefer to steer clear, to be highly critical seems a step too far. Jim Croft’s book is called Invisible Enemies. Another author worth looking at here, from the same period but a different background, is Francis MacNutt; he was Roman Catholic, and, as seems common to those of that background, his approach is thoughtful and sensitive.
With these authors arises the issue of communication with demons, and how it occurs. There is biblical precedent here of course, because Jesus had a dialogue with the demons in the Gadarene man, speaking initially it seems with the man but then directly with the demons, which were able to speak vocally through him; Jesus sought information and apparently believed what He was told. People who speak against communicating with demons point out that ‘the devil is a liar and the father of lies’; one could counter by saying that liars don’t always lie, in particular when found out. When Jesus commands demons to be quiet it seems to be to stop them making a scene. So, my not-learned-of- experience conclusion would be that limited communication might well be valuable; whether to take it as far Charles Kraft would be the issue, as discussed below, and Kenneth Hagin certainly says not to speak to demons in any way that goes beyond the account of Jesus with the man in the Gadarenes.
Then I come to a consideration of what they called the ‘Third Wave’ and people associated with John Wimber and the Vineyard churches, specifically, Peter Wagner and Charles Kraft. Wagner’s subject is Territorial Spirits developed in association with among others, I believe, Cindy Jacobs. These folks seemed and seem to have a very high view of themselves as prophets and apostles; well, ok, but my interest is in the practical value and biblical nature of what they say and teach, is it correct doctrine, regardless of how the practitioner might behave? I can’t see too much argument with the concept of territorial spirits, pretty much as described by Wagner; neither am I particularly inclined to want to dispute the reality of some of the experiences described; what I am concerned about is teaching a methodology of engaging with territorial spirits, since this is not in the Bible. It may happen in the Bible, but it is certainly not taught explicitly. In Ephesus, the believers plainly encountered the cult of Diana, but it is not said that they did anything specific about it (or that they didn’t!).Paul never did anything of that nature – or at least it is not recorded that he did, and he could he easily have told us how he engaged with territorial spirits had he wished to do so. In the main passage used to support the territorial spirit idea, that is, in Daniel, Daniel himself clearly does not engage in warfare against a spirit – he just worships God and prays. Going back to what, according to my reading, is perhaps the most outstanding evangelistic ministry since the time of Jesus, ie TL Osborn, he never spent time praying against the devil, his time was occupied worshiping God. A friend of mine, who reports having seen in India every miracle in the book of Acts and more besides, has no time for dealing with territorial spirits. On the other hand, one might like to read books by Alistair Petrie, including Releasing Heaven on Earth; accounts from Annacondia and the revival in Argentine provide further evidence of believers practicing prayer about territorial spirits; but the important point, I believe, is not what is termed ‘spiritual warfare’ , but repentance. The material by George Otis is similar to Petrie; he talks about the concept of spiritual mapping and specific repentance for past events which have brought defilement to an area. An interesting account is Anointed for Burial by Todd Burke, which tells of events in Phnom Penh prior to Pol Pot – many many conversions, but nothing of the warfare nature, except that they were led to deal with one particular case of demonization where the demon claimed to be very high ranking; in much the same way, Lester Sumrall was led to deal with the severely demonised girl in Manila, sparking a revival, just as Paul dealt with the girl in Philipi. In no case did these people ever set out to deal with a territorial spirit. Indeed, one instance I heard first hand from a seasoned WEC ‘missionary’ in what is now Burkina Faso concerned a man who took it on himself, as an ill-advised act of spiritual warfare, to cut down a village tree devoted to the local demons and the result was instant retribution, in fact death – so facing these things head on might not be wise. It is notable in the case of the Gadarene demoniac that Jesus went out of His way to go where he did and His sole purpose seems to have been to meet this man; we may assume that He was led by the Father to this action.
And so I come to what initiated writing this piece, a consideration of Charles Kraft. I read and enjoyed certain aspects of his book I Give you Authority. A particular thought that I carried away from the book and its emphasis on the authority Jesus gives us concerned a friend of mine who thought that authority with regard to his marriage means authority as it were to command, authority ‘over’, but I think that Kraft powerfully brings out that godly authority is authority to protect and bless. When it comes to deliverance, however, much of what is said goes out beyond what the Bible teaches and exemplifies. He talks, for example, about ‘putting demons in boxes’ prior to casting them out, and has extensive conversations with demons. What are we to make of things like this?
Firstly, spiritual things do not necessarily fit into our way of thinking and there are things going on that we don’t see and normally can only suppose or perhaps imagine. Imagination is something that is used a plenty, and the well known fictional works by Frank Peretti one supposes have had a big influence – he pictures demons as malevolent, ugly, vile, rather powerful beings that float around like hawks; that might be true of some of them, but other accounts describe quite different things, malevolent, yes, but often rather pitiful, ‘imps’; the fact is that we don’t even know from the Bible the exact origin of demons and whether perhaps there are classes of beings with different origins, we only know that some of them are fallen angels. I’m saying that we don’t altogether know what we are dealing with. Kraft describes his modus operandi as frequently being experimentation and since he, to my mind, writes in a characteristically sensible way, it doesn’t seem right to discount what he says.
Secondly, he does indeed write in a sensible way; what he describes seems to me much the most thoughtful of all the writers I have read who deal with demonization alongside what people in this area call inner healing. This is an entirely different emphasis from Wigglesworth, Osborn, Hagin, which I think I have made clear is to be regarded as having very strong Biblical precedent. The methodology Kraft describes is in endeavouring to help people from a pastoral stance to overcome significant problem areas which are not succumbing to normal disciplines. He describes facing opposition from people who say that the answer to all Christian problems is repentance from sin, that is, to place stress on individual responsibility. Kraft, correctly in my view; says that this is not the whole of the story – people are also sometimes – he says very frequently – victims of demonic forces. There are two sides to it – my responsibility, and victimhood. My first pastor used to liken the situation to this – if you place two or three strands of cotton thread around your fingers, you can break the bond, you can break it yourself, but should there be twenty or thirty strands you may well need a third party to come in from the outside and cut the thread with scissors; and that is what is happening with deliverance. Kraft’s constant analogy is to sin, unbelief etc causing an accumulation of rubbish in our lives, rubbish to which demons are attracted like rats to garbage; his approach therefore is to deal with the rubbish ie sin and its effects before dealing with the rats, the demons; with nothing to ‘feed on’ they leave easily. To me, as I read, it sounds sensible, with the caveat that I don’t see this in the Bible, though it seems to rest on good Biblical principles. As usual in the deliverance area there are problems. Other authors will typically say that perhaps one in ten occasions of deliverance might see demons speaking through the vocal chords of the afflicted person, but Kraft describes extensive communication with demons. What to make of this? I don’t know, except to come back to this, that Jesus dealt with demons in large numbers of people, and we are not told exactly how, just generally that he cast them out by His Word and at times ‘by the finger of God’. There is no doubt that that is what is happening when TL Osborn preached to a multitude of people and ‘demons crying out with a loud voice came out of many’, but I don’t know that it is any less the case when rather than through preaching this takes place in the counselling room under a very different methodology.
Another area to consider has to do with the way demons were viewed by the Church Fathers, who broadly equated them with ‘passions’; this view is investigated or better, perhaps, pursued by Daniel Bourguet, particularly in Spiritual Maladies and Spiritual Discipline. Here, temptation is seen as coming very specifically from the devil, and, when yielded to, comes increasingly to result in a habit, and a demon being resident in a person’s life. However, the simple equation of a ‘passion’ such as anger with a demon does not seem to be the Biblical picture, and Daniel Bourguet evidently feels unable to go so far. Kenneth Hagin tells of a vision in which he was shown how a person becomes demonized. First a thought is suggested by a demon; it might at first be resisted, but then the person begins to entertain the thought; the person then increasingly becomes obsessed with the thought allowing greater and greater demonic access until finally the demon actually enters fully into the person. This is clearly similar to the patristic picture, but does not identify the passion with the demon; indeed James specifically tells us that we are ‘drawn away by our own lust and enticed’, so the ‘passion’ is our own, and therefore, in my view, not to be identified with the demon. I think we can see here the need both for demons to be cast out, and for repentance, according to the Kraft model. Personally, I would confirm the sudden and cruel entrance of a demonic force into a person after a period of time spent messing around on the edges of evil practices and ideas.
We should also consider large scale demonization, of institutions and societies. The renunciation of old ways and ‘gods’ by people groups, or of the social mores of their people by new converts coming out of peoples explicitly engaged with demons, is a commonplace of missionary type activity. See Behind the Ranges, biography by Mrs Howard Taylor of Fraser of Lisuland, and HA Baker, Under his Wings. A friend was recently in East Timor; when the village headman specifically renounced allegiance to ancestral spirits, he was immediately healed. The religion of Islam would seem to be an obvious example of a movement of thought and practice with a powerful ‘supernatural’, spiritual force behind it of a most evil nature; the account of Mohammed’s original demonization is most explicit, and seems to confirm the process mentioned in the previous paragraph – here was a man with a serious problem and history of rejection, who was interested in God but wide open to the sudden entrance into his life of a powerful demon representing itself as the angel Gabriel. Events in Germany in the 1930’s would seem to be another example of individuals, and one in particular, powerfully impacted by occultic forces then being able to bring a whole country substantially under their sway. Some interesting, though at points questionable, books by Walter Wink, particularly Unmasking the Powers, make a case for institutional demonization; that an institution comes to have a life of its own, and that this is empowered by a ‘power’, that is a demon. The literature on territorial spirits would seem to link up well with this.
There are a couple more books to mention before a conclusion. These are, firstly, The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare by Ed Murphy; this is a large and comprehensive look at many aspects to do with demons. It could be described as compendious; and perhaps as essential reading. Interestingly he tells of his own ‘nervous breakdown’ which was a result of ‘burn-out’, itself a result of imbalance in his thinking and lifestyle. Contrary to the advice of friends who said it was demonic and needed direct action as such, he got better from purely medical treatment, rest and a new appreciation of Christ and His teaching. It troubles me a little that his bibliography, for example, contains no reference to Hagin or TL Osborn; there is some prejudice against “Faith” teaching, where really it is a very strong strand of Christian teaching; in Murphy’s case he might also just not know about such ministries. There is a close look at many scriptures and many aspects of ministry in this book. Secondly, we can mention Healing through Deliverance by Peter Horrobin, the founder of Ellel Ministries, an international ministry with a focus in this area. Again, this is an extensive book; it closely and persuasively examines some aspects of the Scriptures and then relates experience.
In the forward to this particular book, Derek Prince writes, “I have come to believe that deliverance from demons is, at this time, the most urgently needed ministry in the Body of Christ.” This may seem a rather strong statement; for myself, I am persuaded that people are frequently delivered from evil and from demons purely by association with the Word of God and without explicit deliverance; be that as it may, there is not much point quarrelling with those led to focus on deliverance; Annacondia may be the exemplar of such a view. Every Christian needs to know his or her personal authority over the devil; we also may need to be humble enough to seek help from those with more experience. So, authority in the Name of Jesus is our starting point, and all the books mentioned above and more besides will prove helpful to explore. We should not be ‘ignorant of the devil’s wiles’. Jesus’ victory over Satan and demons is a very prominent aspect of the New Testament in which we live.