Plundering the strong man – deliverance ministry in practice

The Bible makes clear the reality of personal demonic spirits, and also the ministry of the church to continue Christ’s work of proclaiming the Kingdom in word and in actions through healing and casting out demons. Scripture and church history recognise different degrees of “demonization”.
1. A person can be completely controlled by powers of evil. The term “possession” is often used but has no Biblical basis. They require “exorcism and blessing” (“solemn exorcism”).
2. Others (including Christians) may be afflicted in a lesser way by the demonic and require “deliverance” (“simple exorcism”). But not all Christians with sin problems need “deliverance ministry”.
The demonic can gain a hold on a person’s life through spells, curses and the actions of ancestors. Deliverance ministry can be dramatically effective in bringing release from all kinds of problems WHEN demonic activity is present. But we need the gift of discernment to be sure that the problem is actually spiritual and not psychological.
Many sincere (especially younger) Christians find the struggle with evil discouraging and even overwhelming. It can be comforting to place the blame on demonic forces and seek the help of deliverance ministry, but this is not necessarily appropriate or wise. We fight against the world, the flesh (our old sinful nature) and the devil with all his sneaky lies and tricks, and there is no short cut to maturity and holiness. We must learn, slowly and painfully sometimes, to trust more in Christ and in His cross, to resist the devil and to crucify our old sinful nature as we put on our new nature in Christ.
This will involve ongoing repentance and renunciation of evil. Christ HAS won the ultimate victory, and we share in it! But sometimes the claims made for the level of victory over sin we should experience are un-Biblical, unrealistic and can generate discouragement. We will always be in the middle of a battle which WE must fight, in God’s strength of course. There is no easy short cut! See 1 Peter 5:6-11; James 4:6-11; 1 John 1:7-10; Gal 5:16-26; Eph 4:22-5:2 etc.; Col 3:5-10; Rom 6.
Treating all sin problems as directly demonic in origin often only allows individuals to abdicate responsibility for their own spiritual progress. Very often what is needed is not “deliverance ministry” as such but a healthy dose of confession, repentance and renunciation of evil, and an ongoing battle with the fallen human nature which is still a part of us all. “Demons” of lust and pride and jealousy and anger are much less common than the fleshly sinful habits and desires attributed to them!
ALL respectable leaders working in areas of deliverance urge that counselling and ministry must take place IN PRIVATE, not in the presence of other (especially young) Christians unless absolutely unavoidable. True deliverances are often not exciting but terrifying.
Demons are not stupid! Most agree that anyone who thinks they need deliverance probably doesn’t. Demons will not be quick to invite expulsion!
Such ministry will not usually be done “on-the-spot”. Careful preparations, case histories and prayer will be essential and often many sessions of counselling will be required. Deliverance ministry should not usually be considered without reliable advice that the problems are neither medical nor psychological in origin.
Christians requiring genuine deliverance ministry (i.e. more than just confession, prayer, repentance and renunciation) will only be those with SERIOUS spiritual problems persisting from before their conversion (and in fact they may not be Christians at all). They will be those who, DESPITE no obvious sin or illness or disobedience still have a number of MAJOR problems, e.g. physical inability to pray (i.e. to say the words), evil nightmares, voices in the head, overwhelming fears, self-violence. Lesser problems do not need “deliverance”.
The Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and this severely limits the extent of interference by demonic powers (unless they explicitly invite the demonic in, or are “targeted” by spells or curses by others who are demonised). Once demonic influences present (in rare cases) before conversion have been dealt with, further deliverance is unlikely to be required. Repeated need for “deliverance ministry” would indicate a deficiency in earlier ministry, not spiritual growth.
Deliverance ministry is valid, important and neglected in the church today. However, it can also become a major cause of pastoral problems as it is sometimes practised by those outside “mainstream charismatic” church life, who rely on their experiences and not the Word of God, and are guided by sensationalist popular literature with little theological basis.


1 John 3: 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
Matthew 12:28-29 Jesus said But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.
Colossians 2:13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Matthew 28:18, 20 Jesus said to them “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We come in the all powerful name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Lord of all, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, who died but is alive again forevermore and reigns on high, one with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus we stand against all the powers of evil in this place, protected by the cross of Christ and the blood of Christ.
Matthew 16:18 Jesus said
18 I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
In the all powerful name of Jesus Christ We bind all spirits in this place. They may not harm any person. They may not speak. They may not manifest themselves in any way. All spirits stand bound in the name of Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus Christ we break all curses against us and all persons here – their power is broken in Jesus’s name. In the name of Jesus Christ we dispell all spells cast against us and all persons here – their power is broken in Jesus’s name.
The light of Christ has come into the world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. May the light of Christ fill every corner of this place driving out all darkness before it. May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding fill this place and all who enter here. May the glory of God fill this place and touch all who enter here.
“The Lord’s Prayer”
May the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit rest and remain here now and forevermore. AMEN
WHEN MINISTERING TO A PERSON who may be troubled by the demonic:
First bind the spirit(s) as above.
Then command the spirits in the all-powerful name of the Lord Jesus Christ
1. to leave
2. never to return
3. harming no-one
4. to go to the place assigned to them by the Lord of all, the Lord Jesus Christ.


Jesus was a particularly successful and powerful exorcist and `any historical picture of Jesus that does not include his activity as an exorcist will be a distortion.’ (Twelftree) Jesus’s ministry had eschatological significance as the first stage in the defeat of Satan. `The exorcisms do not illustrate the message of the downfall of the kingdom of Satan, but themselves constitute that very downfall.’ The Kingdom of God was coming through the power of the Spirit operating through Jesus (Matt 12:28 // Luke 11:20). Biblically, deliverance ministry is an integral part of Christ’s on-going commission to his church (Luke 10:17-20, John 20:21), as Acts and Church History exemplify.
The New Testament does not speak of `possession’, but rather of a person `having a demon’ or being `demonised’. `Exorcism’ is the act of casting the demonic out of a person, who is thereby `delivered’. `Demonisation’ is distinct from physical or psychiatric illness. `If we accept the gospel accounts we may suppose that any presenting symptom may (and may not) be of evil causation. Where such causation is in fact operative, medical treatment is inappropriate and “exorcism” or “deliverance” is necessary’ (Cowley) and vice versa.
`The church must not concern itself with exorcism until it first concerns itself with total healing. … The danger of even considering the deliverance ministry is that it maybe taken out of context and seen as the panacea for all ills.’ (Richards)
Diagnosing the need for deliverance – Charisma and intellect. `Discernment of the presence of the demonic and the need for exorcism is a faculty given by the Holy Spirit through the renewal of the Christian mind.’ (Twelftree) Green and Pytches value `the discernment of spirits’ as a charismatic prophetic phenomenon. A balance of case history, medical advice and charismatic gifting is surely desirable.
Indications of demonization Symptoms of demonisation recognised through church history have been preternatural strength, supernatural knowledge, indifference to pain, change in voice and personality, and strong reactions to the name of Christ and Christian things. A retrospective confirmation of diagnosis is that deliverance is sudden and complete. Twelftree finds all these to be Scriptural, for example with the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20).
Writers advocate exploring the case history for possible `points of entry’ for the demonic, noting especially the Occult. But actually `the New Testament writers are remarkably restrained in both their interest, and the imagery they use, in their demonology.’ (Twelftree)
Procedures for deliverance ministry. The church Father, Tertullian, maintained that any Christian who did not know how to exorcise deserved to be put do death!’ `What authorises an exorcist is not episcopal appointment but the gifting of the Holy Spirit (Luke), belonging to the local Church family (Matthew) and being one of the leaders of that community (James).’ (Twelftree)
Jesus simply commanded demons on his own authority. `The early church rejected the incantational form of exorcism where the power was understood to reside … in the correct wording.’ Biblically exorcism is a confrontation between Jesus and the demonic so all commands must be in the name of Jesus, specifically and directly to the demon or demons (not to the counselee). … Commands given should include `to depart’, `harming no-one’, `never to return’ and perhaps `to go to the place God appoints’. Challenging contemporary experiences. `Verbosity is an indication of a lack of discernment and spiritual powerlessness.’ (Twelftree)
… Writers justifiably stress the importance of the counsellee’s genuine desire to be set free. They commend prayer with confession and the use of Scriptures and some find praying in tongues valuable. Almost all writers advocate asking the demonic the name and number of demons present as Jesus did with Legion (Mark 5:9). Biblically exorcism is an activity of the eschatological Spirit (Matt 12:20, Acts 10:36-39)
(David Pytches advocates the following procedure.) One of the group will call down the Holy Spirit upon the one seeking help. The afflicted person will be encouraged to invite the Holy Spirit to come into his/her life … Sometimes by the infusion of the Holy Spirit (a power encounter may be manifest) demons are driven out by the same operation.
Can Christians be demonised? People who believe they are demonised usually are not. Only Christians experiencing major spiritual problems might require deliverance ministry (and they may not yet be true believers). The indwelling Holy Spirit severely limits the extent of demonic interference, unless they are explicitly invited in. Once demons present (in rare cases) before conversion have been dealt with, further deliverance is unlikely to be required. Repeated need for `deliverance’ indicates deficiencies in earlier ministry, not spiritual growth.
Treating all sin problems as directly demonic merely encourages believers to abdicate responsibility for spiritual growth. The Bible offers no short cuts to maturity and holiness. The need is not normally for `deliverance ministry’ but for confession, repentance and renunciation of evil. Demons of (e.g.) lust, jealousy and anger are much less prevalent than the fleshly habits and desires attributed to them. D.Watson writes, “We should resist frequent `deliverance ministries’ and indiscriminate exorcisms. Every malaise cannot be ascribed to satanic oppression or possession and to do so yields untold distress and may create serious disorder. … We must beware of instant formulae for deliverance.”
There are many possible explanations for beneficial effects resulting from `deliverance ministry’, other than a genuine deliverance.
(a) Writers all agree that prayer with confession and absolution (James 5:16) together with renunciation is Biblical and often highly beneficial. This may well be all that is happening in many `deliverance’ situations.
(b) Receiving ministry may increase the recipient’s faith and expectation that God can and will act in their lives.
(c) Faith can be strengthened by physical manifestations which sometimes accompany `deliverance’. However the bodily experiences are not necessarly due to demonic activity or expulsion. They might often be psychological and emotional (Pytches), or even activities of the Holy Spirit misunderstood.
(d) God often blesses even when theological understandings are wrong, because He honours the motivation of faith and love for Him. God can graciously work despite human misunderstandings.
(e) It is possible that `deliverance’ sometimes produces initial victory over sin only because the Tempter schemes to `ease up’ on the temptations after `ministry’, luring the recipient to trust in that one-off `experience’ rather than in Christ and the Cross for continuing sanctification. The fall and discouragement is then greater when temptations return more strongly. The devil `disguised as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14) can often distort and deceive.
These considerations do not dispute the reality of the spiritual experiences of many Christians `set free’ by deliverance ministry, but strongly challenge the theological interpretation of some of those experiences given by (some). Co-incidence of `deliverance ministry’ and blessings experienced need not demonstrate a causal relationship. Indeed, correlations may be generated simply by the observer’s paradigm.
J.R.Coggins and P.G.Hiebert (eds) Wonders and the Word: an examination of Issues raised by John Wimber (Winnipeg: Kindred Press 1989).
P.Cotterell Critique – Signs and Wimber’ Third Way Nov 1986 p25.
J.Goldingay (ed) Signs, Wonders and Healing (IVP 1989).
J.B.Green `Jesus and a Daughter of Abraham (Luke 13:10-17): Test case for a Lucan perspective on Jesus’ Miracles’ CBQ 51 (1989) 643-54.
M.Green I believe in Satan’s Downfall (London Hodder 1981).
M.Harper Spiritual Warfare (London Hodder 1970).
P.J.Horrobin Healing Through Deliverance: the Biblical Basis (Sovereign World 1991).
Healing Through Deliverance: 2 The Practical Ministry (Sovereign World 1995).
P.Jensen and A.Payne (eds) John Wimber: Friend or Foe (London St Matthias, 1990).
D Kammer `The Perplexing Power of John Wimber’s Power Encounters’ Churchman 106 (1992) 45-64.
H.C.Kee Medicine, Miracle and Magic in New Testament Times (CUP 1986).
F.S.Leahy Satan Cast Out: A study in Biblical demonology.
M.Perry (ed) Deliverance, Psychic Disturbances and the Occult (SPCK 1987).
D.Pytches Come Holy Spirit (Hodder 1985).
R.R.Recker Review of J.Wimber `Power Evangelism’ in Calvin Theological Review 22.2 (1987) 357-361.
J.Richards But Deliver Us From Evil (London, Darton, Longman & Todd 1974).
G.H.Twelftree Christ Triumphant: Exorcism then and now (London Hodder 1985).
Jesus the Exorcist (J.C.B.Mohr, Tubingen, 1993). D.Watson Discipleship (London Hodder, 1981).
J.Wimber and K.Springer Power Evangelism (London Hodder 1985).
Power Healing (London Hodder 1986).

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