Beware of deliverance ministries
It was a rainy April morning the week before Easter. My young nephew was visiting for a few days, and I had brought him with me to the office. Being a computer nut, he had just planted himself in front of my keyboard when the phone rang: "Pastor, can you come? We need you, and we need you now!" It was Mike, one of my newer members.
"I would, Mike, but I don't have a car here right now."
"I'll be right over!" he yelled.
While getting into Mike's car, I felt sick in my stomach when he said: "Pastor, you're about to get educated and educated fast!" Trying to figure out what he meant, my mind raced along with the car. I sensed it had something to do with the demonic.
My fears were confirmed after we arrived at the house. The atmosphere inside was hideous—I'd never witnessed anything like it. His wife, Debbie, was thrashing around on the living room sofa, evidently possessed by an evil spirit. The voice speaking through her was gravelly, bitter, and vindictive. The next three and a half hours were a blur, even though each moment seemed to drag endlessly along.
A couple I had never met sat in chairs in front of Debbie. Who were these people? They reported having already spent 10 hours trying to help her. I was shocked to hear them arguing with the demon, commanding it to admit various things. They told me a number of things they had learned about Debbie from the demon.
I asked to talk to the victim. Instantly Debbie was herself again, and I encouraged her to reach out by faith to Jesus for the help He promised her. At one point she related a vision she was seeing. Then suddenly another personality would assert itself through her.
Sometime later three others joined us: a lady from the west side of the state and another couple from a Southern state. They immediately sat down and began what I would characterize as taunting the demon. Finally someone suggested that we have a prayer season. Again we knelt. Mike prayed first, the others next, and I was last. As I prayed, I got Debbie to pray, repeating phrases after me. She confessed her sins and her need of a Saviour, asking Him to free her. As she was saying "I thank You that I have been delivered," suddenly she gave a cry, sat up, and proclaimed, "I'm free! I'm delivered!" At that moment I sensed an immediate change in the atmosphere of the room. There was, of course, much rejoicing at that point.
Was it deliverance?
As Mike drove me and my nephew back to the office, my head was spinning. I thought I had witnessed a deliverance, but I wasn't sure. I wanted to affirm Debbie's deliverance as genuine more than anything I had ever wanted before, but certain things troubled me. For one thing, the wife of the man from the South had been giving "thought messages" to the church, as if she were a prophetess. I had listened to one of her tapes, and it didn't have the "ring" of truth about it. Another thing that bothered me was the introduction to a book they gave me: You Can Be More Than a Match for Satan. The author, well known for his "deliverance ministry," used hypnotic techniques in his dealing with demons. The people who gave me the book told me I was a wonderful man of God who was going to do a wonderful work of deliverance. Their flattery bothered me. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering whether my whole church needed a ministry of deliverance from demons. I had never thought of my members that way before.
As the days passed, it seemed as though the deliverance ministry that had come to town was about to permeate my entire congregation. I learned that Debbie had experienced a second "deliverance" session ("The demons come out one at a time, you know") and that a number of my young people were going to her home to be delivered from the demons of caffeine and rock music. Several parents were upset about the whole business, wanting me to tell them what was going on.
At first I didn't take a public stand. I compiled 80 pages of data on deliverance (the church office looked like a print shop). Whenever members asked what I thought, I handed them a set and suggested they go home and study for themselves. The night we studied about demonic deliverance at prayer meeting, the room was packed.
One evening I stopped by to discuss my reservations and concerns with Debbie and Mike. "Pastor," they said, "don't question this experience! If you do, you're yielding to the demon of doubt!"
"But the Word of God, not personal experiences, is to be the final authority in religious matters."
"Here, you'd better take this and read it." Mike handed me the publication Setting Captives Free, from a group called the Intercessors. "Pastor!" Debbie exclaimed, "before this experience I could never read the Bible. Now I can't keep my nose out of the Book. Do you want me to go back to doing drugs and all the other horrible things I used to do?"
What could I say but "Of course not, Debbie"?
The crisis point
As I walked into my office the next morning I realized that the situation had reached a crisis point. There had been a blowup at Pathfinders. The leaders there had asked Mike and Debbie to cease their involvement with the club until the church elders could resolve the problem. I sat down at my desk and covered my face with my hands. All my senses and emotions were telling me to affirm Debbie's deliverance as genuine, yet I wasn't sure. More than ever before in my life, I had to have an answer from the Word.
After a brief, earnest prayer, I picked up the pamphlet that Mike had lent me and began reading it. Within two minutes the Holy Spirit showed me clearly from the Word that Debbie's deliverance was a counterfeit. I had my answer from God, but in order to affirm the truthfulness of the Word I had to deny all my senses and emotions, and it has been that way with this from that moment forward.
I wrote a brief letter to Mike and Debbie informing them of my conclusion regarding her experience, appealing for them to trust the Bible for true deliverance. They immediately severed themselves from Pathfinders and moved to a different home several miles south of the community. Later the elders concluded from their study that Debbie's experience was a form of spiritualism. Two of them visited Debbie and Mike with a written appeal listing the biblical reasons for their conclusions, requesting that they either accept their counsel or prove them wrong from the Bible. Debbie threw their letter on the floor with the comment, "I'm not going to read this kind of trash!" A few months later the church family had to disfellowship Mike and Debbie for apostasy into spiritualism.
Just what were the conclusions of the elders?
1. There is such a thing as demonic oppression, harassment, and actual possession. Both the Scriptures and the writings of Ellen White attest to this.
2. Jesus gave His church power over all evil, and there is no record of it ever being withdrawn. Our failure to conquer evil is not attributable to a divine power shortage, but rather to human negligence, as is evidenced in Matthew 17:14-18. There are many instances recorded in which Satan and his hosts suffered total defeat from Christ's followers exercising faith in His name. This can and should be the experience of the church today.
3. We are cautioned to be careful when dealing with spiritual phenomena. First John 4:1 admonishes us not to "believe every spirit," but rather to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God." * Jesus encouraged a testing of fruit (Matt.7:15-20) as a means of evaluating (this does not mean the judging of individuals). And what is the fruit of the so-called deliverance ministry? Every church under its influence has been adversely affected, some to the point of being split (see Rom. 16:17).
4. Christ's exorcisms were very brief (see Matt. 8:32; 17:18). The deliverance ministry counterfeit extends for hours. In Debbie's case it stretched 13 hours over two days.
5. Jesus never initiated conversation with any demon. Rather, the demons were the first to speak. The deliverance ministry, however, establishes dialogue with demons under the guise of asking the Holy Spirit to make them talk and identify themselves by name.
6. Jesus never let demons draw Him into extended dialogue. Matthew 8:16 says, "He drove out the spirits with a word." The most verbal interaction between Christ and the demons recorded in Scripture is that of His dealing with the demoniacs of Gadara. That brief conversation consisted of the question "What is your name?" (Mark 5:9), along with the command to "come out" (verse 8). Texts such as Mark 1:34 and Luke 4:41 indicate that Jesus normally would not even allow the demons to speak. In contrast, I have seen deliverance ministry people enter into lengthy arguments with demons, often taunting them. This is a species of spiritism, which is communication with the evil spirits.
7. When Jesus cast out demons, they all went at once. Mary's consecutive sevenfold deliverance was necessitated because she returned to her old ways seven different times. In contrast, the deliverance ministry often requires several deliverance sessions in which the demons leave "one at a time."
8. Information given by the demons, such as that about Debbie's background, is generally accepted by deliverance advocates as being factual. However, John 8:44 terms Satan a liar and the father of lies. So how can we trust anything a demon says?
9. The publication Setting Captives Free presents Mark 16:15-18 as the blue print for deliverance ministry. It promotes the gift of tongues as a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit. It also asserts that our Lord commissioned His church to do three things: (1) preach the gospel; (2) heal the sick; and (3) cast out devils.
In actual fact, first of all, the best biblical manuscripts do not even include this passage. Second, even supposing that the passage is authentic, the above interpretation would be hermeneutically unsound; there is only one command listed: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." Mark 16:17,18 lists five signs (semeion means a "sign" or "miracle," not a "command") that will follow the believers: casting out devils, speaking in tongues, taking up serpents, drinking poison, and laying hands on the sick to heal them. A review of various religious groups reveals that these signs lend themselves very well to excesses. We all know about faith healers, poison drinkers, snake handlers, and counterfeit Pentecostalism. The casting out of demons is just another form of this fanaticism that now threatens the Adventist Church.
Ellen White states: "The work of declaring persons possessed of the devil, and then praying with them and pretending to cast out the evil spirits, is fanaticism which will bring into disrepute any church which sanctions such work. I was shown that we must give no encouragement to these demonstrations, but must guard the people with a decided testimony against that which would bring a stain upon the name of Seventh-day Adventists, and destroy the confidence of the people in the message of truth which they must bear to the world."1
Without question, delusions about deliverance certainly qualifies as one of Satan's direct assaults against God's remnant church.
10. Ellen White states emphatically that "we are none of us to seek to cast out devils, lest we ourselves be cast out." 2 She also counsels: "In this period of the world's history we have altogether too great a work to begin a new kind of warfare in meeting the supernatural power of satanic agencies." 3 In contrast to this, the deliverance ministry does seek to cast out devils. It is actually their primary focus, far from the emphasis the church should have of preaching the gospel.
11. All personal problems and sins are reduced to the level of demonic possession; the deliverance ministry makes no allowance for either physical or spiritual problems. An example of this is considering allergies to be specific demons, rather than bona fide physical problems of the body. There is no recognition for legitimate suffering in the Christian life (see Heb. 5:8).
12. Individuals who experience this kind of deliverance are taught never to question their experience, lest they yield to the "demon of doubt." This makes personal experience authoritative over the Bible.
In conclusion, bear in mind that in order to affirm the truthfulness of the Word, I found it necessary to deny my senses and emotions. At first this was extremely difficult. Now, however, I regard in a new light something Peter wrote. After describing his experience at the Transfiguration, he testified that the "word of prophecy" is "more sure" (2 Peter 1:19, KJV).
More sure than what? More sure than personal experience. Believe me, I know.
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* Unless otherwise noted, texts in this article are from the New International Version.
1. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), book 2, p. 46.
2. Ellen G. White letter 96, 1900 (manuscript release 1058).
3. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 249.