I had an intriguing conversation yesterday about a movie called the Exorcism of Emily Rose. I have not seen the movie but the conversation focused on the perception that if someone needs deliverance from a demon people in America often think first of the Catholic church. I think that it has something to do with the mysticism that is prevalent to some extent in that faith. The question about the movie, which I am told is based upon a true story, is that the priest commanded the demon to come out in Jesus’ name and the demon resisted and did not come out. The girl eventually dies and the priest ends up on trial.
Is deliverance, or exorcism, strictly a Roman Catholic doctrine? Certainly our brothers and sisters in Africa, parts of Asia and South America would disagree. I have spoken with many missionaries and evangelists who have had to deal with evil spirits or demons. So there is anecdotal evidence that the problem exists today. Is this superstition or Biblical?
Certainly the Bible makes it clear that demons and evil spirits exist. Jesus “traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” Mark 1:39 Over and over in the gospels Jesus drove out demons. Jesus also gave authority to His disciples to drive out evil spirits. In Mark 6 he sent out the twelve disciples. They drove out demons and healed the sick. In Luke 10 Jesus sent out the seventy two. They also rejoiced that the demons submitted to them.
In the book of Acts Peter, Paul, and Phillip amongst others drove out evil spirits. It was a common practice among the Jews, (see the sons of Sceva). Jesus in His final instructions had said that this was a sign of those who are His followers, see Mark 16. But here we come to a conundrum. In the epistles we really don’t have a lot of talk about evil spirits and demons. Other than Paul’s acknowledgement that our struggle is against them, not much is written. Paul does include distinguishing between spirits as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. But there is no how to drive out spirits section.
I suppose that those in the cessationist camp would say that once the last apostle died there was no need for miracles and healing and driving out demons. But as far as I can see if people were possessed by demons in Jesus’ day and in the days of the early church than it seems reasonable that they are present today. If demons are active today then why would God not empower His people to drive them out? Does God just leave people to suffer through demonic possession because He is done working miracles? I don’t think so. So we must be open to this need in our day. Of course in charismatic and Pentecostal circles there are many excesses when it comes to “deliverance” ministries. That’s a topic for another day. I will end with this point. We need to be aware of and prepared to deal with encountering the enemy today. It is possible that as a Christian you may encounter a person possessed by an evil spirit. That person may want to be free. Will you be prepared to help them in Jesus’ name?