Some thoughts on the Catholic exorcism training event last week and the evangelical response.
Early this year, at a spiritual festival in North Africa, my wife and I were told about a demon possessed young man who was acting unusually strange in a way that was beyond his control. We were asked to do a 'healing session' and get rid of the demon. After giving the other spiritual "healers" in the festival first shot, he came to us, and, through prayer in the name of Jesus, that young man walked out a changed person.
Not a big deal. Happens every day all over the world. But it might interest you to know that:
1. That young man was a European, not an African.
2. I am a Baptist and not a Pentecostal.
3. My first real successful encounter happened in San Francisco. 14 demons came out. They had names.
4. That young man who was freed from the 14 demons was, in my estimation, a Christian. He was also the graduate of a Southern Baptist educational institution. Now I was told that Christians cant be possessed by demons. Either my theology was wrong, or the Southern Baptists graduated an unbeliever.
5. I think that a vigorous study of the Scriptures on how to deal with the demonic should be an integral part of any ministerial training, especially cross-cultural and global missions training. Otherwise we might sending out an army of spiritual wimps into an arena where they will get their ass kicked.
But this puts me at odds with many people, including some leaders in the American emergent church and also leaders in my own denomination.
Earlier this week, Al Mohler blogged that the "evangelical view" declares that Christians cannot be possessed by demons. This is contrary to my experience but I don't have chapter and verse to put up a fight. Although, I am wondering why this is considered the "evangelical view" and why the official view should be decided by Western intellectuals when the majority evangelical church in the global south is far more experienced and knowlegable on this subject that we are. And some of them suggest the Western view needs revisiting.
In fact, one African church leader, writing for a Lausanne Case Study, suggests that Christians can be possessed.
"Because of the religious freedom various sects with extreme views about evil spirit are growing in number. Some of them deny that Christians can not be possessed. In reality Christians that are baptized and confess their faith are seen possessed. Demoniac attack is not limited to non Christian. The fast numerical growth of Church membership and the luck of trained man power for proper teaching is a challenge Evangelical Churches are facing." Case Study: Demonization and the Practice of Exorcism in Ethiopian Churches, by Amsalu Tadesse Geleta
Al Mohler also insists that evangelical Christians do not need a rite of excorcism. Thats fair enough. I have seen Christians use all kinds of interfaces to deal with the supernatural, some even quite weird, and all seemed equally workable to God who overcomes our inadequacies to accomplish His purposes. But evangelical Christians, including Baptists, do need to land on a shared set of best practices if they are to approach the challenge of this ministry in an orchestrated manner.
Catholics are taking the ministry of deliverance seriously. Good. Maybe they will make up for lost time in South America where the Pentecostals stepped in with a more vigorous spirituality. But Baptists also need to be intentional and transparent and open to learning from the wider church.