Guest blog by Lars Gunther.
This is a reworded and expanded version of a comment that I wrote on this blog. Micael wrote a post on the issue of demonization, arguing that a believer can indeed be a victim of demons afflicting him or her from within the body, and thus be in need of having that demon being cast “out”, and not merely cast “away”. It is clear from the depictions of how Jesus defeats the demons that they can dwell within a person and that they upon being confronted with the presence of Jesus sometimes manifest themselves or that they produce loud noises and/or shake the bodies of their victims violently during their departure. (Note that demons in the New Testament do not cause their victims to shout and/or shake all the time, but that this happens as a result of the encounter with Jesus or a follower of Jesus ministering in His authority and power.)
Instinctively western Christians, being unused to these kind of phenomena, may wish to avoid the subject. However, demons are real even if they usually hide themselves. and the question of deliverance being necessary will sooner or later appear for a follower of Jesus, trying to obey his every command (Matt 28:19-20), including the ones to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons (Matt 10:7-8).
In this post I will defend the proposition that Christians can indeed be in need of having demons cast out and the general approach to this topic as it was taught by John Wimber and his associates.
Please note that I am in this context taking a few things for granted:
1. That you already share the biblical worldview of which demonic forces are a part. Thus, I am in this post not arguing for such a worldview, but from within that worldview. I am assuming that attempts to demythologize the scriptures narrative about demons are a way of watering down the biblical worldview. Such attempts are chronocentric and ethnocentric ways of silencing the scriptures, the majority view of the Christian tradition and the overwhelming evidence of encounters with the demonic that can be seen among Christians in pentecostal/charismatic churches, especially in the majority world (Asia, Africa, and Latin America).
2. That you share a general conviction that the Bible is God’s word to us and is, among other things, the supreme guide to what a follower of Christ ought to believe and how a follower of Christ ought to behave.
3. That you believe that a normal Christian life is one where the Spirit of the Lord may manifest his presence through various workings that can be seen, heard or felt (1 Cor 12:7) and that a life in the power of the Spirit will be filled with supernatural signs of the Kingdom (Mark 16:15-20).
The question I wish to discuss is the following: Can a true believer in Jesus Christ be influenced by a demon that has taken residence inside the body of the believer, and thus be in need of having that demon being “thrown out”?
Why am I putting the question in this way?
Biblical accounts of deliverance uses the words ἐκβάλλω (ekbállo) and ἐξέρχομαι (exérchomai) and sometimes also the preposition ἐκ/ἐξ (ek/ex). The words indicate that demons are forcibly being cast out of, or compelled to leave their victims. Both in Jesus teaching about how demons seek habitation (Luke 11:24-26) and in the case of the gerasene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39) we can see that demons do indeed sometimes dwell within their victims.
The New Testament however in the original Greek does not use a word that can be correctly be translated possessed. Possession is a word that indicates total control. Some demons only cause a bodily affliction (e.g. muteness or a back problem, probably scoliosis). The teaching of Jesus mentioned above talk about being in a “worse” state when several demons take residence in an “empty house” compared to having just one demon, and the gerasene demoniac was inhabited by “Legion, for we are many” (Luke 8:30). Thus it has been argued convincingly, by John Wimber and others, that it is better to borrow the Greek word δαιμονίζομαι (daimonizomai), and speak about demonization, instead of possession.
Everyone that shares the biblical worldview will accept that Christians must struggle with demonic powers (Eph 6:12) and that demons are part of the array of evil forces that is opposing God and his people. Considering the fact that the demonic can influence us in varying degrees and that having a demon within one’s body does not equal total possession the question cannot be boolean, i.e. can a Christian be “possessed”, but to what extent can she or he be influenced and is there a line drawn between being influenced from without or being influenced from within the body. Can indeed an unclean spirit even dwell within a believer?
Method of inquiry
There is no text in the Bible specifically written to answer the question at hand. In order to establish a reasonable understanding we must consider all kinds of evidence. I will discuss the following questions, in a series of posts on this blog.
- The state of the question (this post).
- Exegetical analysis of key texts.
- The evidence from the early post-apostolic church.
- Current practice in Pentecostal-charismatic churches. (This might be more than one post.)
- The systematic theological/ontological perspective.
- Conclusion and counseling advice.
Relax, it’s only a demon!
When discussing demons it has been my experience that what guides our understanding more often than not is our emotional response. The subject might seem terrifying on many levels, and that will cause us to prefer an answer that seem as “safe” as possible.
Specific experiences or views that can affect us negatively are:
- A Christian life aligned to a first-world middle-class perspective. Even if one admits that demons are real entities and do not de-mythologize them, they have connotations of unsophistication.
- Personal experiences or hearsay about experiences of people who have been subjected to cruel and harsh methods of exorcism, perhaps where animistic practices are mixed with Christian beliefs. There was such a case in my city of origin, Borås, a while ago, that made the headlines of secular media all over the country.
- Personal experiences or hearsay about experiences of people who have been told that they have a demon, and where no amount of prayer and deliverance ministry seemingly has been able to set the supposedly afflicted person free. The problems persist, and the victim has to carry the double burden of the original problem, as well as the nightmarish idea that (s)he is harboring a demon that is able to withstand the power of the name of Jesus.
- Personal experiences or hearsay about experiences of bad teaching, promoting weird ideas of how deliverance comes and/or an emphasis on demons that makes them take too much space in the thoughts and prayer life of the believer – the “there is a demon in every bush” fallacy.
- The general notion that demons are scary. They are so out of the ordinary and evil that they can seem intimidating just as a concept.
All of these can produce a desire for a theology where demons play no practical part, where they are relegated to something that Jesus and the first Christians encountered in the first century, as something to affirm that “it happened”, so that “the Bible is true”. Or at least a theology where demonic affliction is rare in general and very limited in scope for a believer.
The first thing that must be said about demons is therefore that they are not very powerful compared to the power and authority of Christ. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ have defeated all the evil powers and authorized his followers to cast demons out. Thus, the problem is really not one of power, but discernment. Battling one’s own flesh as if it was a demon is a bad and very frustrating idea. The flesh must not be cast out, but crucified. The world cannot be “bound in the name of Jesus”, but must be confronted through a Christ like mind.
Demons are not the only type of foe a Christian have to deal with. And just as we need not freak out over the world or the flesh, we need not freak out over demons. Once properly discerned they are in many ways easier to deal with than our other foes. Thus, should you encounter a demon, so relax, it’s only a demon, a defeated foe living on borrowed time.
About the author
Lars Gunther has been a Christian since his 15th birthday in 1981. Growing up in a Church where the charismatic was welcomed, but non-frequent, he was at first attracted to the Word of faith teaching, when it appeared in Sweden in the early 80’s. However, seeing the exegetical flaws and real life problems of such teaching, the encounter with John Wimber in the mid 80’s was a profound breakthrough for him.
He became an ordained minister in the Swedish Covenant Church (today called Uniting Church/Equmeniakyrkan) in 1994. He has served as pastor in three churches. He is also active in the world of IT, especially in web development and teaching, hence his nickname “itpastorn”. He blogs in Swedish mostly about the charismatic aspect of Christian life and theology at itpastorn.nu. He tweets mostly in Swedish about life, theology, electronic freedom and web development as @itpastorn. He has a Facebook page as “gunther.bibleteacher” for all theology things too long for Twitter but too short a blog post.
He likes to study history, philosophy and natural science and watches a lot of NBA-basketball. He lives in Hestra, with his wife, Marit.