III. PROBLEMS IN "DELIVERANCE MINISTRY"
While recognizing the existence of genuine cases of
demon-possession and the need of relief for the oppressed victims of
Satan's control, the committee nevertheless felt unable to endorse
"spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" as it is
presently being practiced in various circles (including some among
There are problems with some of the philosophical underpinnings
of the contemporary "deliverance ministry,'' and these have
been examined to some extent in the previous section of this report.
The committee also viewed with deep concern some of the practices
characteristic of this specialized ministry which it deemed
potentially harmful and even dangerous. To these we will now address
A. Misuse of the Concept of "Priesthood of All
Believers" and Importunate Prayer
Central to the philosophy undergirding "spiritual warfare
and deliverance ministry" as it is presently practiced in many
places is the concept of the "priesthood of all believer;"
and the corollary of importunate prayer.
The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia defines the
"priesthood of all believers" as "the concept that
every person can approach God directly, without the services of an
intermediary human priesthood" and identifies it, rightly, as
"one of the fundamental principles of the Protestant
Reformation." As such, "it is a logical corollary of
belief in salvation by faith alone."
The concluding paragraph in this brief sketch significantly
points out how Seventh-day Adventists, in contradistinction to other
Protestants (particularly certain evangelicals) see the implications
of the doctrine:
SDAs share with Protestants generally the concept of the
priesthood of all believers. But whereas Luther, for instance,
stressed the idea of the universal priesthood of man, SDAs
emphasize the priesthood of Christ, to whom man may come directly.
Some Christians tend to amplify the doctrine of the priesthood of
all believers somewhat as follows: the father is priest of his
household. The believer is priest to the non-believer. As such, the
believer may serve as a latter-day Levitical priest and take a man's
"offering" (or the man himself) and present it to the
Lord. Thus the "priest" thereby assumes the weight of
responsibility for someone else's behavior and his/her relationship
to the Lord.
Adventists have perhaps seen the doctrine in slightly different
terms. While some hold (perhaps borrowing an idea from Roman
Catholicism) that a Christian may come to God only through the
intermediation of a human priest, who brings the supplicant grace
and salvation through the sacraments of the church, Adventists
believe that the practicing Christian does not need a human priest
(or Mary) in order to come directly before the throne of grace to
present his/her needs directly to God through Jesus, our heavenly
High Priest. We believe we certainly may pray for others with
problems, but by so doing we do not become their priest; and in so
doing we do not assume responsibility on their behalf.
Tied closely to one's view of the priesthood or all believers is
one's view of the nature and purpose of "intercessory
prayer." The "deliverance ministry" adherents see one
of the main purposes of intercessory prayer as being a vehicle by
means of which the individual Christian may "stand in the place
of" the person afflicted (and even possessed) by Satan. Thus,
as "priest," he stands as an intermediary between the
victim and Christ.
As such, this viewpoint continues, this "priest" may
confess (and/or reveal) the sins of another individual in the small
prayer group gathered for "deliverance," he/she may claim
promises or victories on behalf of the victim. And this
"priest" may even take another's sin--or even demons--upon
himself/herself, the better to free the victim and enable him/her to
deal with them.
It is possibly because of this popular connotation of
"intercessory prayer" that Ellen White herself appears
seldom to employ the term (she does speak a great deal about the
need and place for importunate prayer); and because of Ellen White's
apparent reticence to employ the term, we will seldom use it here.
A cursory examination of the Comprehensive Index of the Writings
of Ellen G. White will reveal that Mrs. White uttered numerous
cautions concerning the confessing or revealing by one person of the
mistakes and sins of another person, even in small prayer groups.
She also had much to say about what were appropriate (and
inappropriate) topics for public prayer, in contradistinction to
private ("closet") prayer.
She had a great deal to say about the place, purpose, and
function of the human will (everything, she declared, depended on
the right exercise of it, by the individual himself/ herself) and
she appears to be silent about the possibility or desirability of
one person relating and confessing another's sins. We do not find in
Scripture, or in Mrs. White's writings the provision for one
Christian to "stand in the place of'' someone else in the
capacity of priest. Contrarily, we all have a crucified, risen, and
soon-coming heavenly High Priest who directly intercedes for us all,
the Man Christ Jesus. There is no provision for "standing in
the place of" someone else for the purpose of identifying and
casting out the demons alleged to inhabit the unfortunate victim.
Nor is there provision for carrying the responsibility of the burden
of long, constant, detailed prayers for others--either for those who
are also praying for themselves or those who will not (or cannot)
pray. And there is no indication that the prayers of such a
"priest" are more efficacious than an individual's prayers
One's basic view of the "priesthood of all believers"
and of "intercessory prayer" will certainly have a bearing
upon one's attitude toward some of the activities prominent in
"spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry."
B. Dialogue With the Devil
Probably the chief characteristic running as a common thread
through almost all variations of contemporary "deliverance
ministry" is the predilection of entering into dialogue with
the spirits in which the demons are asked to identify themselves,
indicate the days, months, or years of their "possession,"
and answer other questions of a similar nature, before being
dispossessed of their prey in the name of Jesus Christ.
This practice, to which we are strongly opposed, is felt to be
not only inimical to a strong and growing Christian experience, but
entirely unnecessary as well.
Proponents defend this approach on the precedent found in
Scripture in the narrative of Christ's healing of the two demoniacs
of Gadara (see Mark 5:6-13 and Luke 8:28-33), in which Christ
demanded of the evil spirits that they identify themselves.
We feel that this is insufficient ground for basing a practice,
for the following reasons:
1. There is only one such instance recorded in Scripture. This
custom of directly addressing the demons was not the general
practice of Christ, or yet of the apostles.
2. In the one instance on record Jesus did not initiate the
conversation (yet, in contemporary "deliverance ministry,"
the initiative is invariably taken by the human
"deliverer"). Instead, Jesus waited for the demons to take
3. Even so, Jesus did not ask them to identify themselves until
after He had authoritatively demanded that they depart.
4. And, most damaging of all to the case of modern exorcists,
after ascertaining that there was more than one demon inhabiting
these afflicted men ("Our name is Legion"), Jesus did not
(a) ask them their names individually, or (b) cast them out
sequentially, one by one, as is the practice of those who would
perform this task today in His name, or (c) take hours to get rid of
We would, furthermore, offer five additional reasons for avoiding
the practice of addressing demons directly:
1. This kind of addressing of evil spirits seems to some
perilously close to, if not actually within the realm of, two-way
communication between the spirit world and humanity which is
strictly prohibited and condemned in Scripture. (In Bible times it
brought forth upon the practitioners the sentence of death. This is
how God--"who changes not"--views communication with the
2. Dialogue with the spirits generally tends toward protracted
efforts at casting out the demons, with consequent emotional and
physical exhaustion for all concerned. These humanitarian concerns
alone justify the abandonment of the practice of demanding of the
demons that they identify themselves.
3. The devils are notorious liars (it was, after all, their
master who invented the lie). And their word, therefore, is simply
not trustworthy. It is entirely possible, for instance, that in a
genuine case of demon-possession one demon might well simulate a
number of different "voices" and offer differing
identities, thus pretending to be a whole galaxy of spirits, thus
making a mockery of the whole situation by pretending to go and yet
4. It is immoral to give the demon any more authority over the
vocal chords of the afflicted. Hasn't the victim suffered long
5. Lastly, it tends to identify the Seventh-day Adventist Church
with cultic practices.
Ellen White said it best: "Our only surety is in giving no
place to the devil.... It is unsafe to enter into controversy or to
parley with him." [footnote 26]
An interesting variation on "dialoguing" is becoming
increasingly popular in certain "deliverance" circles:
instead of dialoguing with the devil, those in prayer "dialogue
with the Holy Spirit," and ask Him to reveal the nature of the
sins of the afflicted which need to be confessed, and the identity
of the individual demons which need to be summoned forth.
While we have had no doubt but that such prayers would find an
"answer," we are perplexed to know how effectively to
validate such responses, because the unholy spirit--Satan--the
author and father of all deception, can inject himself insidiously
A subculture spawned by "deliverance" ministry is a
school of "divine guidance" which is growing in
popularity. Based largely on the work of Joy Dawson, one Adventist
version offers twelve "Ways in Which God Speaks" to us.
The first four are entirely subjective; number five in the list is
the Word of God. Yet Ellen White, in discussing the same subject (in
which she offers three ways), lists the Word of God first, because
all subjective methods must be validated by the objective Word.
This school of thought goes on to allege that in the last days
everyone will receive the Holy Spirit in the identical manner that
Ellen White did (1 Cor to the contrary notwithstanding), and being
able to dialogue with the Holy Spirit is just one of the benefits of
this new, special relationship.
Possessors of this "gift" have an unshakable assurance
that they are right and all others who disagree--or even doubt--are
wrong. And those skeptics who do not whole-heartedly support are
automatically dismissed out of hand as being possessed by a spirit
of unbelief. Such an one might even be startled to have a
conversation with the exorcist interrupted by the individual
offering a short (and seemingly sanctimonious) prayer, right there:
'Lord, in Your name I cast out the demon of unbelief in this
"Dialoguing with the Holy Spirit" is as potentially
dangerous to those who practice this perverted form as dialoguing
with evil spirits.
C. Commanding Demons or Supplicating Christ?
Another characteristic of deliverance sessions, as commonly
carried out, is direct confrontation of the demon by
demanding--always in Christ's name, of course--that the demons
The example of Christ is sometimes cited as precedent
("Jesus...rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb
and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more
into him" [Mark 9:25]), and the further example of Paul is used
to buttress the case ("Paul, being grieved, turned and said to
the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out
of her" [Acts 16:18]). These examples are valid and must not be
It has been suggested, however, that in both of the above
instances the demon took the initiative, himself initiating the
confrontation. Because in other contexts the example offered in
Scripture is, rather, that of the Christian believer's appealing to
Christ to cast out the demon, instead of addressing the demon
In the past God used "divers manners" to communicate
with humanity (see Heb 1:1); and there is also evidence in Scripture
that He used "divers manners" in communicating with
In Jude 9 we find Christ (here called Michael, the archangel)
"contending with the devil" who disputed His intention to
resurrect Moses from his lonely grave atop Mount Nebo. Satan claimed
Moses as his own, for he had come under the dominion of Satan and
was therefore his lawful prey. Further, Jesus had not yet come to
pay the penalty-price for sin. Nevertheless, Jesus assumed
responsibility for salvation and eternal life on Moses' behalf. Yet
even here, Christ "durst not bring against him [Satan] a
railing accusation," but instead said, "The Lord rebuke
In Zechariah 3:1, 2, we find Joshua, the high priest, standing
before the angel of the Lord, while Satan was standing there
"at his right hand to resist him." Instead of rebuking the
devil directly, Joshua allowed the *Lord* to handle the matter,
"and the *Lord* said unto Satan, `the Lord rebuke thee, 0
Satan;even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not
this a brand plucked out of the fire?' " (emphasis supplied).
Direct confrontation, and direct address to the
"possessing" demon, sometimes is not only undesirable but
also pragmatically unproductive. Mark I. Bubeck, a leading exponent
of "deliverance ministry," tells of his surprising
discovery when, in the mid-1970s, he endeavored to bring freedom
from demonic powers to a young man on the brink of destruction.
Through the young man's faculties, Bubeck says,
I was in direct confrontation with a snarling, cruel, crude,
vulgar demon that had taken the same name as this young man's last
name. This wicked power was very talkative. He constantly
threatened and insulted me, the young man, and another person who
was working with me in the confrontation. After taking back ground
he was claiming against the young man, I kept commanding him to
leave and go where the Lord Jesus Christ would send him. He was
very obstinate in refusing to go. I kept quoting the truth of God
against him, but even though he was weakening, he still refused to
go. We were all near the point of physical exhaustion when finally
I quoted the promise of our Lord, "Where two or three are
gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of
them." (Matt 18:20)
After quoting this verse, I said, "This is the very truth of
God. The Lord Jesus Christ is here. Dear Saviour, this wicked
spirit is insulting You, and he's insulting us, Your servants. I
ask You now in Your presence here to put Your holy hand against
him and send him where You want him to go." Almost
immediately, a great cry came out of the young man's mouth, and he
was immediately delivered from that destroying power. [footnote
Apparently Mr. Bubeck misread the entire situation, for he had
already been "quoting the truth of God" repeatedly, but
the spirit "still refused to go." More important, however,
is the approach that did work--instantly. For when Mr. Bubeck ceased
directly commanding the demon to leave, and commenced to ask the
Lord Jesus go take charge and Himself dismiss the demon, then and
only then did the demon depart. [footnote 29]
In one instance of deliverance, Jesus told His disciples,
"This kind goeth not out by prayer and fasting" (Matt
17:21, emphasis supplied). In other instances "this kind goeth
not out" when commanded to depart--even in the name of
Christ--by the servant of the Lord, but only when Christ is
addressed directly and is asked to perform the task personally!
How much better, then, in the presence of demons--especially in
instances where they have not initiated the confrontation--for the
leader to address Christ rather than the demons, and allow Him to do
the job He is eminently qualified to perform.
D. A Ritualized Liturgy
Another objectionable feature of the conventional
"deliverance" service is the growing tendency to develop a
highly ritualized approach in which the preparatory steps are
outlined with the victim in advance. During this
"briefing" session the "deliverer" speaks in
language highly suggestible and in an authoritative manner which
bears an extremely close similarity with instructions given by a
hypnotist to a client while he is yet conscious.
One writer in the growing body of "spiritual warfare and
deliverance ministry" literature describes the preparatory
service as follows. The leader first prays for guidance,
discernment, and protection by the blood of Jesus. He then addresses
Now, C, there are three things you do not have to do. You don't
have to hurt yourself, you do not have to hurt either one of us,
and you do not have to break or damage anything in the room. You
may feel like coughing or screaming. Do that if you feel like it.
Coughing or screaming doesn't cast out the demon--only the Holy
Spirit can do that. But if you feel like coughing or screaming,
and you don't, you may be holding the demon inside. The demons
will put many strange things in your mind, like you're going
insane, that this is all a fake, that this is all psychological,
that you're going to wind up without a personality, or that other
people are going to hear about it. Don't worry, all of these are
only old tricks. None of them are true. Okay, now relax. Don't
initiate any thoughts. [footnote 30]
No such "preparations" as these are described in
Scripture! On the other hand, most victims of demonic control appear
to be highly suggestible, and the form of address by the leader of a
"deliverance" session could take the form of hypnotic
suggestion, with him in effect making a self-fulfilling prophecy by
the instructions he chooses to give.
E. Aiding and Abetting the Enemy
Acknowledging that at times it is difficult to tell whether an
harassed individual is or is not demon-possessed, practitioners of
"deliverance ministry" often nevertheless proceed with
their ministrations on the ground that "if in doubt, try it,
since there will be no harm done if the diagnosis of
demon-possession was found to be in error."
But this lingering suggestion in the mind of the victim that he
or she might be demon-possessed (even though nothing by way of proof
subsequently showed up) may work untold havoc in treating such a
victim, and there is often an even greater danger from such
"Deliverance" sessions often last several hours
(all-night sessions are not uncommon), and the experience is
generally exhausting and emotionally gruelling for all concerned.
The net effect is to leave the patient in a state of extreme
emotional fatigue. At such times the inhibitory neural pathways are
often incapable of functioning normally, while the excitatory
pathways are discharging their impulses readily.
This means that the patient's power to resist, to control the
thoughts, is wiped out. (The effects are identical to those produced
by the brain-washing tactics of certain well-known religious cults.)
This generally accepted psychological fact, coupled with the
insights to be gained from inspired writings concerning the wiles of
Satan, ought to warn us that Satan can--and does--take advantage of
this fatigued condition to make his suggestions that will be acted
upon without resistance by the fatigued victim. He may even make his
hypnotic suggestion for a later performance, after the deliverance
session is over, one possible explanation for the fact that a large
number of individuals who have been the subject of a
"deliverance" session later exhibited recurring problems.
This is almost guaranteed by the nature of such exhausting efforts
Fatigue for the victim is not the only by-product of unduly
prolonged "deliverance" sessions. Christians who
participate in long prayer vigils may experience a delayed-
exhaustion syndrome. For a month or two the individual may exhibit a
"high," seeming to abound in physical vitality, seeming to
be able to defy the normal needs of the body for rest and sleep by
late-night or all-night prayer vigils. Their "freshness'' the
next day seems coercive clinical evidence to them that the Lord was
really working on their behalf, as well as for the afflicted. They
even cite, by way of justification, how Christ spent all night in
prayer, and came forth inexplicably refreshed the next day, ready to
resume ministering to men and fighting the devil. So there would be
great praising of the Lord after such experiences.
Nevertheless, the net effect seems to be that the body was
depleting its reservoir of life-force, its energies were being
bankrupted (Ellen White's concern expressed at one point for Dr.
John Harvey Kellogg's health because he was "living two years
in one, and I utter my protest against this" [footnote 31]
seems somehow relevant here).
And after two, three, or four months, acute aging commences to
set in. There is a "bottoming out," and cumulative
exhaustion then takes its toll in a devastating manner. The physical
deterioration is evident to all who behold it. And the law of
physics ("to every action there is an equal and opposite
reaction") and the law of scripture ("Be not deceived; God
is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also
reap" (Gal 6:7]) is proven correct again.
F. Oppression vs. Possession
A final area of concern which we have in "deliverance
ministry" as it is presently practiced in many circles is the
tendency of its proponents to equate "oppression" with
The word "oppression" (and related forms of the word)
is almost entirely an Old Testament word. It is used only twice in
the New Testament. In Acts 7:24 Stephen, in his defense, refers to
the experience of Moses in slaying an Egyptian who had
"oppressed" an Israelite. The other instance is of
particular interest as we consider "spiritual warfare and
deliverance ministry": In Acts 10:38 Peter tells "how God
anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who
went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the
devil; for God was with him."
That human beings are "oppressed" by the devil is
certainly biblical. That such "oppression" is to be
equated with "possession" by a demon is equally
unbiblical, for in Isaiah 53:7 we are told that Jesus was
"oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his
mouth." Jesus was oppressed, but Jesus certainly was never
The Bible appears to use the word "oppressed" to
describe an acute form of temptation, not possession by an evil
spirit. And Christians who are thus"oppressed" by Satan or
his evil angels do not need to call an exorcist to come and cast out
a demon, for none is there.
As we have already noted, "control" is the unique
characteristic of "possession"; how encouraging, then, is
this assurance from heaven, "Satan cannot control minds unless
they are yielding to his control." [footnote 32] If you are a
genuine member of the kingdom of God, Satan cannot control you,
though he certainly may oppress (severely tempt) you, even as he did
our Lord Jesus Christ.
How one gains power over oppression/harassment/temptation is the
subject of the following section.
Spiritual Warfare Index Back
to Part II Forward
to Part IV Prayer for the Afflicted