Exorcism and deliverance in the Church

Exorcism and deliverance in the Church

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  1. The fractured tradition of exorcism and deliverance in the Church,

and the need for its recovery


After my entry into the Charismatic Renewal, I developed an interest in the ministry of exorcism. I set a goal to write a book on the different approaches to exorcism and deliverance: Catholic, the Pentecostal/charismatic, and the Protestant. I managed to do much reading and cassette listening in this area and did several exorcisms as a lay charismatic. This was the Lord’s way of showing me the literature I was reading was real. By Divine inspiration (and protection) I put aside that project. I believed I needed more time and spiritual maturity to do it – I was right.


But the knowledge I gained in this attempt helped me on more than one occasion as pastor, and when ministering at the Public Prayer Station (PPS) our church had pioneered. We took the PPS to “little Five Points” in Atlanta, a neighborhood populated by ex-hippies and New Age folk.


About the third or fourth Saturday at the Little Five Points, Carolyn and I were standing by our PPS sign, and two other prayer intercessors were a few yards away on folding chairs we had brought – we wanted to leave a nearby park bench to the locals. A tall, light skinned African American male in khaki shorts and white shirt passed by and I gave my usual invitation. [1] He stopped and considered for a second, and then stepped up to the prayer station. “Yes, I have a neighbor who is addicted to drugs and it is ruining his life.”


Carolyn and I prayed for his neighbor in proxy, by laying hands on Tom (that was not his name).  I rebuked the spirit of addiction and asked the Lord to totally set him free. The supplicant was happy with the way we prayed and went off thanking us.  I resumed my invitations to other passersby.


Ten minutes later he returned and confessed that he also had a serious drug problem. That is not an uncommon pattern, as many persons are reluctant to share their most pressing (or embarrassing need) to total strangers. But our prayers had convinced him that we could be trusted. He shared his tragic story. He was an engineer and well on his way to the American Dream. But he became addicted to cocaine, and lost his job and family, and now was on the edge of skid row. He had been a church-going man, but after his wife left him, he stopped attending.


We invited him to sit at the nearby bench and asked if he would let us pray for him by casting out the demons of addiction and anything else in him.  He agreed.  I motioned the other team members to join us. Carolyn and another team member began praying in tongues. After a few moments, I began, “In Jesus’ name I come against any and all evil spirits inhabiting and harassing Tom! I come against the spirt of addiction and I command you OUT!”


Tom shook as if he was struck by some invisible object. Carolyn immediately added, “Spirit of despair.”  She was functioning with the gift of discernment of spirits (1 Cor 12:10) and I commanded, “In Jesus name, spirit of despair, come out!” Again, Tom shook. Carolyn injected, “Spirit of suicide.” I continued, “Spirit of suicide, leave NOW!” Again, Tom quaked. “Any more?” I asked Carolyn? She prayed in tongues for a few seconds, “Spirit of rejection, from childhood.”


I continued, “Foul spirit of rejection, leave now in Jesus’ name!” Tom shook yet again. “More?” I asked.  Carolyn answered, “I don’t see anything else.” I stepped up to Tom and laid my hand on his head.  “In Jesus’ name, I ask the Holy Spirit to flow into you, and fill every empty space that the demons occupied. I command your neurological system, especially the brain, to be cleansed of all addiction to cocaine or any other drug.”  As I was praying this, I could feel the energies of God flowing into Tom. His face came alive with surprise and joy.


A few moments later he got up, declaring, “I feel like a new man. I am completely… free.” We prayed for him a little longer, asking the Lord to restore his career and family. I counseled him that he must go back to church, to get Christian fellowship and continued support to rebuff any demonic re-infestation. Tom agreed and walked away thanking us and praising the Lord.


I never heard from Tom again, so I can’t affirm that his deliverance stuck, or if he allowed the spirits to come back in and finish the ruination of his life (Matt 12:43-45). But I can affirm that he was delivered that day.


Tom was not a student radical, and assuredly it will be more difficult to get a radical to accept deliverance, but with the Lord’s help such ministry is doable. Certainly, those ministering in the universities and especially among the street radicles should not be afraid or shy to minister exorcism/deliverance.


Tom deliverance occurred back in 1987. Since then. I have a half dozen others, but always in the setting of a church, and most after I was ordained as an Anglican priest.[2] As I was ready to do the first draft of this chapter, I thought I would state that such public exorcisms are imprudent, and the successful case of Tom’s exorcism was due to God’s grace overcoming my youthful indiscretion.  Rather, exorcisms should be done with preparation and care, and at least in privacy and possibly with medical screening beforehand, etc. In effect, a PPS deliverance should not be done.


But I received a check in my spirit about taking this approach. And I was reminded by the Holy Spirit of the exorcisms in the Gospels. In the New Testament exorcisms were done by Jesus, his Apostles and disciples in public, with no lengthy preparation. Exorcisms occurred as immediate, unplanned confrontations with the demonic. In fact, in the first ministry campaign Jesus’ disciples reported back with great joy that they had healed the sick and cast out demons (Luke 10:17) There was no hint there of special preparations, ministry ordinations, nor of privacy concerns, which have become a modern fetish. Rather, exorcism was an integral part of the healing ministry. In the Gospels, when a person is sick from a disease, hands are laid on and the disease cast out (command mode), but when the sickness or disorder is due to a demon, the demon is cast out. It is all a seamless ministry of restoring wellness.


As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Mtt 10:6-8)


Similarly, in the early church, exorcism was a lay matter in the hands of those gifted in that ministry. Irenaeus of Lyons, Bishop and writer against heretics wrote:


“Those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform miracles, so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe in Christ and join themselves to the Church . . . others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole.[3]


Our attitude towards exorcism and deliverance ministries, and our ability to accept the plain biblical evidence, is distorted by multiple factors. In the secular West there is a strong prejudice to disbelieve in the reality of the supernatural and reduce demonic manifestations to instances of abnormal psychology.


Not surprisingly, the poverty of Protestant tradition on exorcism produced by the theology of cessationism has left little to say about the topic, leaving a tremendous ignorance gap. This leads many Protestant ministers, especially those influenced by liberal theology, to dismiss demonic activities and manifestations as psychological abnormalities.[4] Also, the predominance of the Roman Catholic traditions on exorcism, as portrayed in the film “The Exorcist,” has sown certain distortions. In fact, it is among the Pentecostals and charismatics that the Protestant wing of Christianity has substantially recovered a robust and biblical practice of exorcism and deliverance as a routine practice. [5]


Theological confusion about exorcism and deliverance is exacerbated by a raging theological divide, fueled mostly by the non-charismatic Evangelical wing of Protestantism. Certain Evangelicals claim that a Christian cannot possibly be possessed or infected by demonic entities. The constant experience of ministers who actually venture out in this field should put that theory to rest. Cases like Tom, i.e., persons who are Christian but have slid in their spiritual lives, come up frequently. Scripturally, the account of Ananias and Sepphira (Acts 5:1-3) a born-again and Spirit-filled couple in the Jerusalem Jewish/Christian community who let Satan “fill their hearts” is biblical proof enough that at times Christians need deliverance ministry.


A limited recovery of exorcism and deliverance ministry in Protestantism came via Nineteenth Century Protestant missionaries in Asia and Africa. There missionaries encountered societies where the Gospel had never been preached and the demonic presence overt. The most famous example of this was the work of the Rev. John Nevius, perhaps the most distinguished American missionary in a century filled with heroic and dedicated missionaries. He came to China out of seminary a convinced cessationist, as all his colleagues. He was led by the example of his own converts. They read the Bible simply and without its cessationist overlay, and understood that demons were real, and could be exorcised by the name of Jesus for the healing of their friends and neighbors. This was a general pattern for many missionaries in Asia and Africa. The native lay exorcists not only taught the ministry of exorcism to their Protestant missionary teachers, but also did most of the actual ministry in this area.[6]


That lesson from the 1900s was mostly ignored or rationalized away as pertaining only to non-Christian countries, and therefore unnecessary in Europe and America. It was forgotten until a few evangelical scholars half a century later began a new series of investigation into the occult and demonology.[7] Many mainline ministers, especially in the liberal

persuasion still dismiss the matter of the demonic and exorcism as mere “superstition” or misdiagnosed as abnormal psychology.[66]


The Catholic tradition has many good points and is especially useful in dealing with persons who are seriously infected by the demonic – possessed. That is, a person’s behavior is dominated by a demonic spirit, and which may manifest bizarre phenomenon. This was well represented in the movie the “Exorcist,” based on the book of the same name, and which in turn was based on a real case.[8] Such total possession is very rare (and very destructive). I personally have never encountered anything that severe, but the literature on such severe possessions is consistent throughout the ages and should not be doubted even if it makes one uncomfortable.


But the Catholic understanding of possession and exorcism, with the priest as lead minister, leaves unanswered and under-ministered the whole issue of lessor spirits and lesser states of demonic infestation. For instance, Tom, the engineer, was not “possessed” in the classic sense, but he had a spirit of addiction and other spirits.[9]  The Catholic lack in this area came home to me when I watched the excellent PBS program “The American Experience” on President John Kennedy.  As president, and even before, he had repeated trysts and affairs in spite of having a beautiful wife.  Kennedy was asked by a friend why he had so many of these, and he answered, “I am compelled to do that…”[10]President Kennedy was not “possessed” in the Catholic definition of the word, but he did need serious deliverance ministry for a spirit of fornication and other attaching spirits. No priest or anyone else ministered to him in that way, and more than likely would have defined Kennedy’s situation as needing repentance, confession and the practice of self-control, but not necessarily an issue of demonic influence.


The Episcopal/Anglican tradition (my tradition) has no cannon or written rules as to who can lead in exorcism and deliverance ministry. Significantly, one of the questions of the Episcopal catechism, found in the Book of Common Prayer, is:

  1. Who are the ministers of the Church?
  2. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops,

priests, and deacons.[11]


Further questions in the catechism reveal that the Bishops and priest administer the sacraments. But the issue of healing prayer, and deliverance/exorcism (which were never defined as sacraments in any Christian church) is left unmentioned.


When I first encountered the Charismatic renewal as a Roman Catholic in the 1970s, our prayer group often worshiped together with an Episcopal group at St. Philips’ Cathedral. There the Dean of the Cathedral, and a leader of the charismatics in that church, was the Rev. David Collins. He was prominent in the Episcopal Church as the leader of the Episcopal House of Deputies, a very prestigious and responsible position. Dean Collins was an excellent priest and preacher, but it was his wife Jenny who had the anointing for deliverance and exorcism ministry. Whenever some case presented itself at the Cathedral that might have demonic origins, the person was referred to Jenny.[12] This is not to say that having an ordained, trained and designated clerical exorcist is not useful.  In my own denomination there is in fact such a diocesan position, and that person, just like a designated Catholic exorcist, handles the most serious cases of possession.


On the issue of lay exorcism ministry, let me share my favorite story on this. When I was pastor of San Lazaro in Marietta, I taught my congregation the healing ministry using the Hunter materials which includes instruction on deliverance. We demonstrated healing at practically every service as someone or another would invariably have some ailment or bring someone who did. Several in the congregation took this to heart and flowered in that ministry.


On one occasion we had a serious deliverance right in the middle of a service. Demons really do not like intense praise music and will often act up during its performance. The lady manifesting was one of our regulars, and a good Christian. However, she had played with the Ouija Board in her youth, and a demon got in (not a rare occurrence). My assistant priest and several lay persons cast the demon out right then and there as I went on to do Holy Communion – I figured the practical experience of an exorcism is better than any sermon I could give. In fact, the following Sunday I preached about exorcism and answered the congregation’s questions about the matter.


Years later, after I had retired from the church, I received a call form Ruben, one of my elders. I could hear chaotic background noises. He said, “Padre Bill, I am at church, but the priest is gone. We have a lady with a demon here; I need your help in casting him out.”  (More noise and commotion.) “Oh wait, I remember. I will call back.” Phone hangs up. Ten minutes later he calls, “I remembered, and I cast the demon out. Everything is OK here. Thank you.”  I answered, “Good job Ruben, blessings to your family.”  When I hung up I felt God was telling me, “Good job, Bill, you taught them well.”


All of which is to say that, in spite of the disdain of this type of ministry by many clergy, and certainly their opposition to lay persons doing anything like this in public, Tom’s exorcism at the park bench was in perfect Biblical order. Some one in every PPS team should be prepared to address and confront the demonic, or at least have some knowledge on this topic – as in reading some of the basic books on deliverance I am suggesting in the resource section (below).


Sadly, it is still true that many Christians who are mature and experienced in prayer have had little teaching on the issue of deliverance/exorcism. It is safe to say that in a majority of Protestant seminaries the topic is not taught. I recall a sad instance back in the 1980’s when I attended for a season a noted Methodist seminary (and ultimately left, disgusted with its predominantly liberal and even apostate faculty). In a course on missions every student had to present his paper in class. I did a project on the  Pastor His, who had been evangelized by the famous missionary Hudson Taylor. His developed a powerful healing and deliverance ministry to those oppressed by opium.  After my presentation, which included a brief bibliography of useful books on exorcism, the fellow students came to me privately and thanked me for the presentation and bibliography. I remember clearly (though it was almost forty years ago) one telling me, “Thank you, what you gave in class was the only instruction I have received on exorcism in my three years here.”  I doubt the situation is much changed at that seminary.


Suggested readings on deliverance/exorcism:

So here is my “catch up” list.  Exorcism is not rocket science, and in fact very exciting and inspiring reading once one understands the authority that every Christian has over the demonic.

Randy Clark. The Biblical Guidebook to Deliverance (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2015.  Terrific and practical.

Frank and Ida Mae Hammond. Pigs in the Parlor. A Pentecostal view. The chapter on schizophrenia is a classic. Very useful.

James Kallas. The Stanward View: Studies in Pauline theology. (Philadelphia, Westminster, 1966). Sadly, this work is out of print and hard to get. It is a masterpiece of biblical theology which shows how central battling the demonic is to the Gospel. Kallas shows that Paul understood Jesus’ ministry as principally that of undoing the havoc and sin produced by Satan’s intrusion into the earth.

Francis MacNutt.  Deliverance from Evil Spirits (Chosen: 1995). Marvelously balanced and intelligent view of the demonic and the Christian’s responsibility to do deliverance ministry as part of the healing ministry.

John L. Nevius, Demon Possession and Allied Themes (London: George Redway, 1897). Modern editions in print.  This classic work is worth reading today.


[1] This is taken from my book, The Public Prayer Station, used by permission.

[2] In the Western Church, especially after the Middle Ages, the ministry of exorcism was increasingly restricted to ordained clergy. Pentecostals do not put much credence in ordination as a criterion for the ministry of exorcism, and recognize the ability to cast out demons as a universal Christian characteristic, although certain person are recognized as especially gifted in this ministry.


[3] Irenaeus, Against Heresies.

[4] On the important, and lamentably ignored, issue of confronting the Kingdom of Satan as one of the chief duties of the Church, see the classic work by James Kallas, The Stanward View: Studies in Pauline theology. (Philadelphia, Westminster, 1966).

[5] There is a recent work that covers the topic of comparative exorcism ministry, including the Protestant variety, but it is marred by a bias against the Pentecostal tradition: James M. Collins’, Exorcism and Deliverance Ministry in the Twentieth Century (Milton Keynes: Patternoster, 2009). I have not written the book on comparative exorcism yet, but many of my writings deal with the demonic, as for instance this posting: “If it Quacks Like a Duck: The Discovery of the Demonic by Secular Psychiatrists,” Pentecostal Theology (blog). Posted Nov. 8, 2018.    https://www.pentecostaltheology.com/if-it-quacks-like-a-duck-the-discovery-of-demons-by-secular-psychiatrists/

[6] William De Arteaga, “ The Holy Spirit Gives a Lesson in Chinese,”  Pneuma Review.  Posted May 10, 2014.


[7] Collins, Exorcism, chapter four.


[8] William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist (New York: Harper & Row, 1971). A discussion of the original case upon which the novel and movie were based is found in, Howard Newman’s, The Exorcist: The Strange Story Behind the Film (New York: Pinnacle, 1974).


[9] I believe these lesser sprits to be the “elemental spirits” mentioned by Paul in Gal 4:3 and Col 2:8 and are more “psychic clusters” than demonic entities with intact personalities.


[10] PBS, “JFK” The American Experience series. Aired Nov. 11, 2013. Access to the entire program is at: http://www.pbs.org/video/2365118698/


[11] Book of Common Prayer, 1979 “The Catechism.”


[12] For the story of the Collins’ joint ministry to the charismatic community in Georgia, see Dean David Collins’ autobiography, There is a Lad Here (Darien: Darien News, 1996).  Dean Collins passed to his heavenly reward in 2017, “full of years” – he was a naval officer in World War II.

William DeArteaga

William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations.

1 Comment

  • Reply August 19, 2021

    George Hartwell

    Very fine, clear writing. No doubt inspired by the Holy Spirit and also based on a depth of experience and scholarship. The Hunters, Charles and Francis deserve a mention in the bibliography as there teaching ministry was very practical and helpful.

    Thank you for this, William.

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