by Canon Mark Pearson
If you mention the phrases “evil spirits,” “the demonic,” or “spiritual warfare” to your friends, you will probably get one of three reactions. Either they will think that you’re just kidding, or that you have taken leave of your senses, or that you have joined a cult.
Frequently the reason for their reaction is that the only connection they have to such ideas is their having read or heard about crazy or fanatic people, or their having watched a sensational Hollywood film.
I recall how decades ago a few of my friends who were not so immediately dismissive of me when I used those phrases, asked, “Where did you pick that stuff up?” My answer was not what they were expecting: “When I was getting my Master’s degree in theology at Oxford, I got to know Dom Robert (“Max”) Petitpierre (1903-1982), an Anglican Benedictine monk, very calm and gentle, well trained in psychology, who was the chief exorcist of the Church of England.
He taught me that most of the people he was called upon to minister to had problems that were psychological in their cause, not demonic, but that when confronting a genuine demonic case, the person ministering needed to know what to do. The protocols for ministry were well and long established and the theology behind the subject of spiritual warfare was grounded in the basic, historic Christian world view.
One friend who shares my off-beat sense of humor responded, “In that case, from now on I will be steering all my need-for-exorcism business your way.”
Another friend said, “This is not at all what I expected to hear from you, but it makes sense.”
Christian orthodoxy teaches that God made various ranks of supernatural beings we generally, if somewhat incorrectly, lump together under the term, “angels” (see Ephesians 6:12). While the majority of those beings who possessed free will remained loyal to God, some, led by their leader Lucifer, rebelled (see Isaiah 14:12-14, Jude 6).
These fallen angels, now called demons, and Lucifer, now called “The Devil” (which means “accuser”) and “Satan” (which means “adversary”), seek to foment rebellion against God and inflict harm on God’s people and plans. Although we know who will win in the end, much satanic harm has been done and continues to be done in the meantime.
The Devil’s Offer of “Spirituality”
One way Satan works is by offering people “spirituality” without Christ or His cross.
Many people today are spiritually starving and are looking for something that lifts them beyond the material world and the daily humdrum. Available are such things as divination, sorcery, astrology, and discerning truth and wisdom via means other than Scriptural revelation, scientific discovery, and the spiritual gifts of wisdom and discernment (see 1 Corinthians 12:8).
The Church speaks against these, not because they’re sometimes mere con games out to bilk naive people, nor because the Church is jealous, but because God said they were wrong and forbade them (see Genesis 41:8, Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Isaiah 47:12, Daniel 4:7). We warn our people against them not because they don’t work, but because sometimes they do work but leave a legacy of spiritual, emotional and sometimes even physical harm in the lives of those who practice them.
Some people, having sought guidance and power from sources other than the God of Scripture and His grace as mediated through prayer and the sacraments, have so gotten swallowed up into the demonic that their subsequent actions become evil in intent. Moreover, the power that fuels what they do is evil as well.
The Devil’s Offer of Power and Control
Another way Satan works is by offering people power and control over others. Five times in Isaiah 14:13-14 Lucifer uses the word “I” culminating with, “I will make myself like the Most High.”
While God demands that, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3), Satan seems to be saying that those who seek power at his hand can do whatever they want. Indulging one’s baser passions makes them giddy until they realize (often too late) that those who make a deal with the devil are always the losers.
No, not every problem is directly caused by a demon, although everything wrong with individuals, society and the cosmos can be traced back to original sin and the fall of the human race. Often people simply make wrong choices. They may need conversion and submission to Christ in obedience to His Word and in the fellowship of His Church, but they don’t need exorcism or deliverance.
But sometimes people do need such ministrations because there’s more afoot.
Three decades ago I was conducting a healing service in the Chapel of St. Andrew’s Seminary in Quezon City, the Philippines. During the service I noticed two students leering at me and making a mockery of the event. When they came up for prayer, I felt a strong sense of evil and foreboding. I asked them both to repeat the phrase, “Jesus is Lord.” They could not.
My prayer partner was the Most Rev. Manuel Lumpias, who was then the Presiding Bishop of the Philippine Episcopal Church. Together we commanded the evil spirits to depart in Jesus’ Name. We continued to do this for about ten minutes. Finally, they both blurted out, “Jesus is Lord,” as they fell physically and spiritually exhausted to the floor.
Bishop Lumpias and I later learned that in the years prior to seminary both had participated in occult healing services in their villages because their priests were devoted to overthrowing what they believed was an oppressive government and not to teaching the faith or ministering the sacrament of healing.
As I look over the political landscape I see the same differences of opinion we have always had, but I also see something that increasingly troubles me. I see in some not merely opinions that differ from that of others; I see evil. The looting, the arson, the intentional murders of blacks by the handful of police officers who are racist, and the intentional murders of police officers of every race, the glee some take at dismembering babies in the womb, and more, all remind me of Ephesians 6:12:
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
While a specific ministry of exorcism is generally reserved to those licensed by a bishop, each of us is called to wage spiritual warfare.
Pray regularly that God sends to us His warrior angels led by St. Michael the Archangel, that he “be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil” (The Prayer of St. Michael).
When St. Paul speaks of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18, he is not telling us merely to memorize that passage. God is commanding us through the apostle to put these things on and keep putting them on.
But it is not so we can cower just a bit less before Satan and his minions active around us. Each of us is to bind evil principalities and powers. Each of us is to take authority in the Name of Jesus against the forces of darkness. We are to go on the offensive, confident that the gates of Hell will not prevail against God’s Church (Matthew 16:18).
If we simply see the problems in society as inequality of income, education and housing, we will be missing the bigger picture. Behind the problems of society and our call as compassionate Christians to respond actively, is a battle in the spiritual realm.
And, if we fight in our own power against the demonic powers seeking to destroy the Church and to capture more fully our society, we will lose and probably wonder why. Instead, we are to go forward in the Name of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit and we are to go into battle with the defensive armor on and with the offensive spiritual weapons God gives us and we shall see victory.