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Deliverance Ministries. Another Look


Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Ministry and Seventh-day Adventists

A Report of the Biblical Research Institute

(Reproduced from Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, ed., Here We Stand [2005])

[This article highlights some of the problems in “deliverance ministry” and how we can pray for those afflicted by evil spirits. The article is Part II of the insightful report—“‘Spiritual Warfare’ and ‘Deliverance Ministry’ and Seventh-day Adventists”—that was approved by the General Conference’s Biblical Research Institute Committee (BRICOM) in 1983. See the previous article for Part I—Samuel Koranteng-Pipim]

Problems in “Deliverance Ministry”[1]

While recognizing the existence of genuine cases of demon-possession and the need of relief for the oppressed victims of Satan's control, the [BRICOM] committee nevertheless felt unable to endorse "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" as it is presently being practiced in various circles (including some among Adventists).

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 ourselves.

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. [2]

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 for himself.

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 the initiative,

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 them.

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 spirit world.)

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 "returning."

4. It is immoral to give the demon any more authority over the vocal chords of the afflicted. Hasn't the victim suffered long enough already',

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." [3]

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 and unobtrusively.

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 person."

"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 depart.

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 ignored.

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 directly.

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 demons.

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 thee."

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, O 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. [4]

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. [5]

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 the "client":

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. [6]

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 unconscionable experimentation.

"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 at exorcism.

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"[7] 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 "possession.'"

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 demon-possessed.

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." [8] 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.


With this kind of "deliverance services" in extreme doubt, is there no hope for victims of genuine demon-possession today? The committee, while unanimously recommending against certain procedures described in the preceding section, yet feels that the Lord's commission, "Cast out devils" (Matt 10:8), was given to meet the real situations that do confront God's people. The methods used, however, will be in contradistinction to the highly ritualized and sensationalized drama of the "deliverance session" which appears to borrow (however unconsciously) substantially from ancient pagan cults of Mesopotamia. There is, indeed and in fact, hope for genuine deliverance.

A. Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

"If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us," the father of a demon-possessed lad once appealed to Jesus (Mark 9:22). Jesus' immediate response was, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (verse 23). Matthew quotes the Master, in the same incident but now talking privately with the nine disciples who had been defeated in their attempts to cast out this demon earlier, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,... nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matt 17:20).

In the face of increasing activity of a supernatural nature emanating from the prince of darkness, Christians in general and Seventh-day Adventists in particular may face this distressing phenomenon with optimistic courage and confidence.

While the Scriptures clearly teach that these malevolent spirits are banded together in an organized power structure for the express purpose of subverting and destroying God's created works, and especially mankind, those same scriptures declare the unwillingness of our God "that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9).

In "every time of need" Christians are invited--indeed, commanded--by a loving Father in heaven to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help" (Heb 4:16).

Standing by the right hand of that throne (Acts 7:56) is an Intercessor who has never lied (Num 23:19); and His continual declaration is that "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). He further adds:
And I will give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand (John 10:28, 29).

Indeed, the "good news" of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that by one decisive blow at Calvary, God, by the death of His Son, effectively broke the power of Christ's mortal enemy, Satan.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He [Christ] also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb 2:14, 15).

The essence of the gospel that God now bids His servants declare is the proclamation of individual Christian liberty from the bondage of sin and Satan, here and now, through a bestowal of unmerited eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, this Life is in his Son. He that hath the Son of God hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life (1 John 5:11, 12).

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free...If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:32, 36).

While Christ lived among men on this earth He utterly defeated every demon He every confronted; and, furthermore, He gave His disciples the power to confront and cast out demonic spirits from human beings who were thus oppressed: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt 10:8).

In New Testament times, as we have already noted, the phenomenon of demon possession was a stark fact of existence:

Satanic agencies were incorporated with men. The bodies of human beings, made for the dwelling place of God, had become the habitation of demons. The senses, the nerves, the passions, the organs of men, were worked by supernatural agencies in the indulgence of the vilest lust. The very stamp of demons was impressed upon the countenances of men. Human faces reflected the expression of the legions of evil with which they were possessed. [9]

Christ did something about it; and the same author, elsewhere, adds that today "God's messengers are commissioned to take up the very work that Christ did while on this earth. They are to give themselves to every ministry that He carried on." [10]

We would add only, at this point, that our work today is not the conducting of rituals and ceremonies so common among those of the "deliverance ministry" persuasion which bear a striking resemblance to similar rites in the very heart of paganism in Old Testament times. Indeed, with Paul, "I show you a more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31).

It is neither God's intention nor His plan that the people created in His own likeness should be the plaything of Satan. In love, and by a divine initiative, our heavenly Father has in mercy provided "the weapons of our warfare." They are "not worldly"--human or naturalistic, and certainly not of pagan origin--but they are indeed "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Cor 10:4, RSV, KJV; see also Eph 6:10-18).

Therefore, the individual Christian need not falter, much less fail, if confronted by supernatural demonic forces (Eph 4:13). Rather, he/she may fight victoriously "the good fight of faith" (1 Tim 6:12), in God's strength (Phil 4:13), and then come off from that battle "in all these things ... more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (Rom 8:37).

This is the birthright of every "born-again" Christian child of God.

B. The Christian's Preparation

There are times when the Christian layperson or minister is confronted by evil spirits harassing or possessing those for whom Christ died. He/she must sense the necessity of proper and complete spiritual preparation to meet the situation. The need of such preparation is highlighted by the experience of the nine disciples of Jesus who attempted--unsuccessfully--to cast out a demon possessing a young man brought to them one day.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John were on the mount of transfiguration when the distraught father came with his demon-possessed son looking for the Lord down in the valley. Upon learning of his quest, the remaining nine disciples may well have assured the man that he need not await the indefinite return of Jesus. They themselves were eminently capable of dealing with perplexing situations such as these (see Matt 17: 14-21; Mark 9:14-29).

Now, prior to this the Twelve had been given power over unclean spirits (Matt 10:8). And still later the Seventy would experience so great success in their ministry in freeing Satan's captives that in returning to Jesus they came with great rejoicing because "the devils are subject to us through thy name" (Luke 10:17-20). Yet, strangely, upon this singular occasion, these nine men all tasted the bitter fruit of total defeat. And they privately besought Jesus to explain the cause of this humiliating failure.

Jesus' immediate response revealed a serious deficiency: They lacked "mustard- seed" faith. And to correct the situation they needed to engage in prayer and fasting--for themselves (Matt 17:20, 21).

In her inspired commentary on this passage Ellen White identifies the various causes of this celebrated failure as (1) an "unbelief" that "shut them out from deeper sympathy with Christ," (2) the "carelessness with which they regarded the sacred work committed to them," and (3) dwelling in "a state of darkness" in which they mulled over their "discouragements" (Jesus had pointed to His impending death) and their "personal grievances" (jealousy toward the three favored disciples who alone were invited to join Jesus on the mount).

Now, in order to succeed in their conquest of the kingdom of darkness, Mrs. White continues, these nine disciples needed: (1) to have their faith "strengthened by fervent prayer and fasting, and humiliation of heart;" (2) they must be "emptied of self"; and (3) they must "be filled with the.Spirit and power of God." Then they must come to God with earnest and fervent supplication in faith.

Earnest, persevering supplication to God in faith--faith that leads to entire dependence upon God, and unreserved consecration to His work--can alone avail to bring men the Holy Spirit's aid in the battle against principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in high places. [11]

Indeed, "if you have faith like this, you will lay hold upon God's word, and upon all the helpful agencies He has appointed. Thus your faith will strengthen, and will bring to your aid the power of heaven....'Nothing shall be impossible unto you.' "[12]

The human agent should ever remember that he/she has no power within himself/ herself; we are simply channels through which the divine power may be poured out to the stricken victim. This being the case, Paul's admonition is appropriate: "Let a man examine himself" to see if there is anything in the life that could possibly obstruct the flow of divine power (1 Cor 11:28). If such be found, it ought speedily be removed by the confessing and forsaking of sin, lest one's prayers be "hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). Fasting may be necessary (it is always appropriate) in the making of this self-examination.

And, in harmony with our Lord's admonition in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:16-18), this fasting should be done privately, individually. Again, long, drawn-out prayer seasons involving self-examination certainly seem contra-indicated by the thrust of this passage.

Finally, this inspired counsel may prove helpful as the Christian prepares himself for this special ministry:
In such cases of affliction where Satan has control of the mind, before engaging in prayer there should be the closest self-examination to discover if there are not sins which need to be repented of, confessed, and forsaken. Deep humility of soul before God is necessary, and firm, humble reliance upon the blood of Christ alone. Fasting and prayer will accomplish nothing while the heart is estranged from God by a wrong course of action. [13]

In such situations "the earnest prayers of His faithful followers" are necessary. [14]

C. The Afflicted One

The manner in which good and evil angels secure the compliant cooperation of the human agent is not always apparent. In some cases demonic possession may begin with the weakening of the bodily forces brought about through dissipation or circumstances causing continuing and unrelenting anxiety, to the point where the human being finally loses control of himself or herself and in some cases control passes over to the hands of unseen evil entities. The converse may also be true: Through the building up of the physical powers, self-control may be regained, even wrested from satanic forces, by the active cooperation of the human will with the power of the Holy Spirit and holy angels.

Also, control of an individual's will by demonic forces may be partial or total. Cases vary, and it is not always clear why they vary. But in cases where control is partial, it would seem appropriate--even essential--to secure the cooperation of the subject. In all instances the worker for Christ should seek to enlist the will of the afflicted on the side of Christ that he or she may be strengthened to resist the evil foe. In cases where control of the individual seems more total, it may be necessary for the Christian worker to secure the cooperation of those closest to the victim of demonic harassment and to pray on his or her behalf without this manifest consent.

There are today perhaps three groups of individuals who are particularly susceptible to the approach of demonic forces: (a) some who are emotionally disturbed; (b) some who are presently (or formerly have been) associated with spiritualistic phenomena--seances, Ouija boards, mediums, et cetera; and (c) some who make room for sin in the daily life, especially those who are professing to serve God, but who have not yet totally surrendered to His Lordship over their lives. All need help, and all need a work of preparation if satanic power is to be broken.

Instruction in Bible Truth. Before prayer is undertaken, the victim of satanic oppression should first be helped to understand certain rudimentary Christian principles, including:

1. His/her inalienable right as a confessing Christian, to live a life free from control (though not, of course, from temptation and/or harassment) of evil spirits, in harmony with the expressed will of God.

2. The biblical provision and teaching of personal victory over the evil one, through which even the thoughts may be brought into captivity to Christ (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 2:5).

3. The fact that as long as a person is himself/herself able to confess, repent, and commit his/her life to Christ, such individual is able personally to invoke the Lord's power against the enemy on the basis of Christ's victory over Satan at the cross (John 16:33).

4. The fact that Christ has already won the "great controversy" against Satan by His decisive victory at Calvary, and that He has committed to His followers a redemptive ministry to free the captives of satanic control in and through His holy name.

5. The nature and practice of importunate, "effectual fervent prayer" by the Christian (James 5:16).

6. The need for faith to believe that prayer offered in Jesus' name and for His sake will bring deliverance from Satan's control.

Ellen White makes a cogent point about the fact that there is a work for persons who are still in control who need not (indeed cannot) be done by another:

Those who have tempted the devil to tempt them will have to make desperate efforts to free themselves from his power. But when they begin to work for themselves, then angels of God whom they have grieved will come to their rescue. Satan and his angels are unwilling to lose their prey. They contend and battle with the holy angels, and the conflict is severe. But if those who have erred continue to plead, and in deep humility confess their wrongs, angels who excel in strength will prevail and wrench them from the power of the evil angels. [15]

And what is the nature of the work that the victim must do for himself/herself? First, he/she must seek the Lord earnestly. "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jer 29:13, emphasis supplied).

Then he/she must accept God's word that deliverance is possible. There are three important points in 1 Cor 10:13--temptation is the normal experience of every human being, God is faithful to those who serve Him, and a way of escape is available for all who wish to find one. '"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye re able; but will, with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

Then the counsel of James 4:7-10 is especially appropriate at this point. "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.... Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up."

And "wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word" (Ps 119:9). The mind must be focused away from self and defeat and directed upon God and victory: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Isa 26:3). Indeed, we must allow Jesus to bring into "captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor 10:5).

Power of the Will. An individual's will plays an important--even decisive--role in the success or failure of prayer upon his behalf, and it is therefore imperative that the afflicted one being prayed for understand the place and the power of the will.

While it is true that supernatural beings seem to have an incalculable advantage over human beings in the warfare thus waged, yet these angels--whether evil or good--cannot compel the will of an individual when that will is committed to Christ. Evil angels can tempt and harass; good angels can woo and bless. But evil angels cannot force the will, and good angels will not. So the surrendered human will, exercised with faith in God's Word and power, is the crucial factor in this consideration.

(Unfortunately, in some "deliverance" circles today the concept of "surrendered" has come to mean a totally passive stance on the part of the individual vis-a-vis God's control. While such practitioners would deny that they [or God] manipulate the afflicted person, the net result often comes down to a mindless abdication of the victim's human reasoning powers, instead of the combination and cooperation of "divine power and human effort" which Ellen White continually holds before us. Surrender is not passive; it is very active.)

D. Concerns and Cautions

Basic Attitudes. Church leaders have been accused by some in "deliverance ministry" as wishing to create a monopoly in which only "professionals" or "specialists"--be they clergy, medical psychiatric, or psychological--may officiate in prayer for the emotionally and physically ill. (Ironically, some of these who protest thus give evidence that they would prefer to have the monopoly in their hands.) Prayer is not the prerogative of any one group; and the church continues to hold that no practicing Christian needs an advanced academic degree in prayer before he/she can be used to minister successfully to those afflicted by Satan.

Avoid "Adventure" Approach. When after careful consideration and prayer for guidance it is decided to intercede with God for relief and victory of one afflicted by satanic power, the one who leads out and those who take part need to guard against a "morbid" curiosity, a craving for the sensational, the dramatic, a desire to witness supernatural forces in mortal combat, in short: to indulge a sort of "adventurism." Each Christian participating in this kind of personal ministry needs to examine carefully his/her motives. One thinks instinctively of the story of the seven sons of Sceva (see Acts 19:13-17). These men "played around" with exorcism, perhaps little realizing the power of the agencies with which they were dealing. They received a sound thrashing for their pains. Those same evil spirits are still around today; and those who flippantly, carelessly seek to confront demon forces could run substantial personal risks.

Avoid Inordinately Long Seasons of Prayer. Evil angels sometimes seek to prolong the season of prayer, hoping thereby to wear out the supplicants and eventually to win the day by default.

There is no evidence in Scripture that when demons were cast out by Christ or His disciples that the service was dragged on inordinately long. Jesus Himself decried the "heathen" philosophy that repetitious utterance of the same petition, in "much speaking," was the way to move effectively the hand of the Almighty (Matt 6:7; see 1 Kings 18:26). And Jesus was also down on "long prayers" (see Matt 23:14), as was also Ellen White, who had quite a little to say in warning against prolonging seasons of public or semi-public prayer. [16]

Not only are long, drawn-out prayer services unnecessary and without Scriptural foundation, they are also generally counterproductive in terms of exhausting the physical and emotional resources of all concerned.

Avoid Encouraging Over-dependence. There is a twofold danger that the one who is doing the praying will experience difficulty in confidently leaving the one prayed for in the hands of God, and also that the one being prayed for will develop an overdependence upon one or more of those who intercede in prayer on his/her behalf.

While the Christian should and will carry a burden for those under Satan's control, he/she needs to know when to "let go" and trust God to take over and do whatever is needful in the case. Christians can become genuinely trapped by these burdens for others, and it interferes not only with their ability to help others but also may interfere with their own ability to function in daily living. One may be tempted to conclude that he/she cannot trust God to handle the case in His own way and in His own time, and also that he/she can really add something to the ministry of Christ. The idea grows that somehow if I can add my sacrifice to Christ's then it will count for more in the victim's life than Christ's sacrifice without my own.

Sometimes the one for whom prayer is offered develops an unreasonable overdependence upon one or more of those who pray. While the mature Christian will certainly be called upon to supply large, personal quantities of love, care, and interest in providing personal support in prayer, study, and emotional stabilization, he/she will certainly need to avoid permitting the victim to develop a mindless, irrational overdependence by encouraging telephone calls at all times of the day or night and childish and unreasonable demands for personal attention.

While no Seventh-day Adventist Christian would ever seek to hypnotize someone for whom he/she was working to bring relief from demonic forces, there is yet a potential danger of "practical hypnosis," whereby the effective control of the believing Christian over the mind of the victim of harassment is accepted by the latter because of an undesirable overdependence upon the former.

In this context, then, the cautions of Ellen White concerning one of the practical dangers of hypnosis seems particularly apt:

The theory of mind controlling mind was originated by Satan, to introduce himself as the chief worker, to put human philosophy where divine philosophy should be. Of all the errors that are finding acceptance among professedly Christian people, none is a more dangerous deception, none more certain to separate man from God, than this. Innocent though it may appear, if exercised upon patients it will tend to their destruction, not to their restoration. It opens a door through which Satan will enter to take possession both of the mind that is given up to be controlled by another, and the mind that controls. [17]

E. As We Look to the Future

Ellen White has written that satanic activity will greatly increase in these last days before Jesus returns, and we accept that declaration without equivocation. As it examined the work of many engaged in "deliverance ministry" at this time it also concluded that cases of genuine demon-possession associated with physical phenomena are still not as common today as is confidently declared by some practitioners of "deliverance ministry." However, the near future may reveal more such cases, especially in some cultures.

We fully recognize that Satan is at work in the earth today, and in certain instances he actually does control individuals in the here and now. This is an undeniable fact.

But to make "deliverance ministry" a prominent, if not the chief, work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at this time, is, we believe, to fall for yet another of Satan's specious devices: that of diverting the remnant church from its true, ultimate mission on earth--spreading the Three Angels' Messages of Revelation 14.

We have often been reminded that "we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teachings in our past history." [18] Let us, therefore, at this point examine an incident in our past history which we feel teaches a lesson that is well considered yet today.

In 1900 the devil succeeded in getting a large number of Seventh-day Adventist church members, ministers, and even at least one conference president, into a fanaticism which called forth an unsparing, direct rebuke from the Lord through His servant, Ellen White. This "holy flesh" movement (as it came to be known) was, in turn, but a repetition of an earlier fanaticism by which Satan had succeeded in seducing certain of the people of God. [19] It involved manifestation of supernatural powers that were most dramatic and sensationalistic. There was much excitement. But God was not in it; And the net effect of it all was to disgust and turn away serious-minded people who might otherwise have felt led to become members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Ellen White declared to the practitioners of this fanaticism in Indiana: "You are giving the wrong mold to the precious and important work of God." [20] Then she added that at the very end of time Satan will come in again among the remnant people, to destroy their effectiveness by getting them entangled with fanaticism involving excitement and confusion. [21]

An important distinction, perhaps, needs to be made at this point. It is clear from Ellen White's writings that after the latter rain experience has been received by the remnant people of God, there will be amazing phenomena exhibited by laity and ministers alike: "Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. Satan also works with lying wonders, even bringing down fire from heaven in the sight of men.

However, she also seems to indicate that before the latter rain is poured out upon Adventists, such miracles will not be so abundant. Indeed, the miracles of Satan, his evil angels, and their human accomplices, will be held up to Seventh-day Adventists (whose activity then is not especially characterized by the working of miracles) as proof of the legitimacy of their position and their standing with God!''[22]

Even as late as the giving of the mark of the beast, and the concomitant forbidding of the sealed saints to buy and sell, those in Babylon will be "mocking" the remnant, "threatening to destroy" them. They ridicule their "feebleness," mock at the "smallness" of their numbers. And at this time the wicked declare that they (and not the remnant) have "the truth, that miracles were among them" (and, by contradistinction, not abundant among the remnant). They will boast "that angels from heaven talked with them, and walked with them, that great power, and signs, and wonders were performed among them" (and, by distinction, not so much among the remnant), and that "the whole world was converted and in harmony with the Sunday law." [23]

More to the point, Ellen White further points out very clearly that in the last days (especially before the outpouring of the latter rain), "God's people will not find their safety in working miracles, for Satan would counterfeit any miracle that might be worked.... They are to take their stand on the living Word." [24]


We would summarize our findings briefly as follows:

1. Demonic forces of a supernatural character exist today, as they did in Bible times; and the goal now, as then, is the subversion and destruction of men and women, wherever possible, for time and for eternity.

2. We distinguish between the affliction/harassment/oppression of Satan and his evil angels on the one hand, and possession on the other. The former is the experience of acute temptation which comes to all mankind; the latter represents total control of human physiology and neurology, and is the experience of a more limited group of individuals.

3. Among various Christian bodies today there is a movement called "Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Ministry" in which dramatic and highly ritualized ceremonies (which unwittingly bear some resemblance to pagan exorcism of Bible times) are used in attempts to cast out demons.

4. The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that there is a place for ministry to those who are tempted and controlled by Satanic agencies; and, furthermore, it is not a ministry to be limited to professional clergy, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

5. The church is also highly conscious of the fact that our Lord foretold false (and apparently successful) efforts at casting out demons, by professing Christians, just prior to His second coming to this earth; and He emphatically disassociated Himself from such activity in the strongest of terms (see Matt 7:22, 23).

6. Not all forms of gross human behavior are directly instigated by Satan, nor are they, in and of themselves, necessarily conclusive evidence of demon-possession. Ellen White strongly denounced the practice in her day of certain church members who went around declaring certain persons as possessed of the devil, then prayed with them, and then pretended to cast out evil spirits. She called such work fanaticism, and said it would destroy any church that sanctioned it.

7. Because Jesus specifically warned of deceptions, especially in the days just before He returns to this earth (four times in Matthew 24 alone), the church cannot endorse many facets of "Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Ministry" as it is currently practiced by many Christians and some Seventh-day Adventists. Particularly objectionable to the church are:

a. Dialogue with demons: entering into conversation with them, asking them to identify themselves by name, asking questions of them, et cetera. The Bible and Spirit of Prophecy writings uniformly forbid human communication with the evil supernatural world of Satan and his demons.

b. Long protracted prayer seasons in which release from demonic possession is sought: there is not one instance in the Bible of such interminable, wearying exercises. The demons always left as a result of a brief, authoritative command to depart.

8. Christians may be called upon to participate, or even to lead out, in prayer services for victims of Satanic harassment or possession. An important work of personal preparation is spelled out in Scripture and in Ellen White's writings which includes close self-examination to discover the possible presence of sin which needs to be repented of, confessed, and forsaken before confrontation with the supernatural forces of evil. Fasting and prayer may be an important part of this preparatory work.

There is a place for this kind of ministry, conducted properly; but, important as it is, deliverance ministry is not to be the main thrust of the work given to Seventh-day Adventists to perform in these closing days of this earth's history.

Whether a counterfeit "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" is one of the fanaticisms into which Satan will seek to lead the remnant people of God in these last days, we cannot now say with certainty. But that the possibility exists in a very real sense, we cannot deny. And every member of the church should follow a prudent, yet positive, course of action. We believe that Jesus is an all-powerful Saviour, and that demons will be cast out of suffering souls today as in apostolic times.

Let us, however, keep in mind the counsel of the servant of the Lord as we ponder this whole question of satanic activity in our world, especially in these, its closing days:
“There are Christians who think and speak altogether too much about the power of Satan. They think of their adversary, they pray about him, they talk about him, and he looms up greater and greater in their imagination. It is true that Satan is a powerful being; but, thank God, we have a mighty Saviour, who cast out the evil one from heaven. Satan is pleased when we magnify his power. Why not talk of Jesus? Why not magnify His power and His love?” [25]


[1] “‘Spiritual Warfare’ and ‘Deliverance Ministry’ and Seventh-day Adventists,” A Report of the Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Washington, D.C., 20012, May 1983. The Foreword to the report was written by W. Richard Lesher (the then Director of the Biblical Research Institute). The entire document can be found at the following websites: www.greatcontroversy.org/documents/papers/brispwar.html and www.sdanet.org/atissue/warfare/bri.html.

[2] Priesthood of All Believers," Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (SDA Bible Commentary Series, vol. 10), rev. ed., pp. 1150-51.

[3] 3T 482-83.

[4] Bubeck, pp. 95, 96.

[5] Ibid., p. 96.

[6] Kent Philpott and D. R. Hyhmers, The Deliverance Book: A Handbook for Ministers and Those About to Have Deliverance, (Van Nuys, CA: Bible Voice, Inc., P.O. Box 7491, 1977), pp. 105ff.

[7] Ellen G. White Letter 10, 1887 (February 23); cited in Richard W. Schwarz, John Harvey Kellogg, MD (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assoc., 1970), p. 133.

[8] 1T 301.

[9] DA 36.

[10] Ellen G. White Manuscript 27, 1907 (January 22), "The New England Sanitarium;" cited in This Day With God, p. 30.

[11] DA 431.

[12] Ibid.

[13] 2T 146.

[14] 1T 299.

[15] 1T 301 (emphasis supplied).

[16] Comprehensive Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White, 2:2113.

[17] Ibid., p, 34.

[18] Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, p. 196.

[19] 2SM 33, 34.

[20] Ibid., p, 34.

[21] Ibid., pp, 37, 38. For a more complete account of the "Holy Flesh" movement and fanaticism, see also Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years (Wash- ington DC: Review and Herald, 1981), chap. 7.
[22] 2SM 52, 53.

[23] Ellen G, White Letter 6, 1884; cited in Maranatha, p. 209.

[24] 2SM 55.

[25] DA 493.