Deliverance from Demons in the Early Church

While not regularly practiced in all segments of the charismatic and Pentecostal community, deliverance ministry is prominently featured within some circles. Most leaders within the movement acknowledge its validity as a legitimate continuation of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles.

The rise of the charismatic movement in the 1960s engendered a corresponding increase in the practice of casting out demons. Attuned as they are to supernatural realities, charismatics take seriously the presence and influence of demonic powers in the lives of both Christians and unbelievers. It is not difficult to locate biblical support for the casting out of demons. Jesus himself is reported to have cast evil spirits out of a great number of people as he went about healing the sick. This is one of the specific areas of ministry he delegated to his disciples (Matt. 10:1, 7–8) and to all believers (Mark 16:17), along with preaching the good news, healing the sick, and raising the dead.

In some biblical narratives the presence of a demon is related to physical illness (Mark 1:23–26; Luke 9:38–42; 13:32), while in others it results in bizarre behavior, violence, divination, and the like (Matt. 8:28–32; Luke 4:33–34; Acts 16:16). In accordance with these precedents, charismatics often view intractable behavior patterns, incurable illnesses, social evils, and other problems as having their origin in demonic activity. The key to curing the difficulty is commanding the demon, by the authority of Jesus Christ, to depart from the afflicted person, group, or social system, using the New Testament accounts as a pattern.

Deliverance can and often does take place in the context of public worship. Sometimes entire services or conferences are specifically convened to deal with demonic activity and engage in spiritual warfare, and within the Pentecostal/charismatic community a significant number of ministries have arisen that specialize in deliverance. (The term exorcism is rarely used to describe this activity.)

A typical deliverance service will begin with praise and worship, after which those persons with severe problems are invited to approach the altar for prayer. The minister or another Christian worker may ask the nature of the problem or might receive a supernatural revelation about it through a word of knowledge. Sometimes the demon will be asked to identify himself. The minister then lays hands on the head of the afflicted person and commands the demon to come out in the name of Jesus. It is not uncommon for the person being delivered to cough or even vomit up a phlegm-like substance or to fall on the floor, at which point the demon is said to have departed.

Although most Pentecostals and charismatics accept the validity of deliverance ministry, not all of them practice it on a regular basis or in the same way. Some believe that Christians may be subject to demonic influence and need deliverance; others vehemently deny that anyone who has the Holy Spirit can be oppressed by other spirits. There is a stated reluctance in many circles to accord prominence to Satan by calling attention to him and his hordes. Many charismatics prefer to engage in spiritual warfare through worship, which lifts up the person of Jesus Christ instead.

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