Amid reports of increased demand for exorcisms among some Roman Catholics, resources by Southern Baptists are helping to clarify the Bible’s teaching on demonic activity.
“Can a Christian be demon possessed? No,” The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) theology professor Stephen Wellum said in a video posted on the seminary’s website Feb. 28. “To be demon possessed would mean one is outside of Christ, one is dead in their sins, one is under the power of the evil one.
“Can Christians though battle against principalities and powers? Is Satan a roaring lion who’s trying to deceive and lead us astray? Yes. But that’s quite different than possession,” Wellum said, noting believers “have power over” Satan.
The 13th annual course on “exorcism and the prayer of liberation” – a Catholic class on casting out “impure spirits” among other topics – is scheduled for April 16-21 at the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, according to a press release. This year’s course has drawn some media attention in light of a February Vatican Radio report – summarized in English by USA Today – of a threefold increase in demand for Catholic exorcists in Italy alone.
Italian priest Benigno Palilla told Vatican Radio, “We priests, very often, do not know how to deal with the concrete cases presented to us,” according to USA Today’s translation. He added, “A self-taught exorcist certainly meets errors.”
The Catholic News Agency has reported on exorcism at least three times thus far in 2018, including a January report that demand for exorcisms in Ireland “has risen exponentially.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official statement of Catholic doctrine, claims, “The solemn exorcism, called ‘a major exorcism,’ can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church.”
The Catholic Church’s teachings on demonic activity and the priest’s role in fighting it appear to differ from the doctrine articulated by Wellum in SBTS’s “honest answers” video series.
Nonbelievers can be “controlled” or “possessed” by demons, Wellum said, citing Ephesians 2:2. Yet all believers “can resist [Satan]. We have power over him. Satan’s power has been defeated at the cross and in the resurrection.
“He no longer can hold death over our heads. He can no longer hold sin over our heads,” Wellum said.
The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook, published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, recommends several biblical strategies by which all followers of Christ can resist Satan’s attacks and temptations to sin:
- “Confess all known sin (1 John 1:9) with the understanding that the sin is to be abandoned.”
- Be alert “to Satan’s designs and intentions” (1 Peter 5:8).
- “Put Satan in his place,” as when Jesus rebuked him verbally in Matthew 16:23.
- “Use scripture” (Matthew 4:1-11).
- Prioritize “intimate, daily devotional time with the Lord,” which “will help us resist Satan and result in his fleeing” (James 4:7-8).
“Satan will have no power or influence over the Christian who submits constantly to the dominion of Christ, to the authority and illumination of the Word of God, to the discipline of prayer and to involvement with a dynamic group of Christian believers. This is what is meant by putting on the ‘whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil’ (Ephesians 6:11),” according to the Graham handbook.
Following a 2010 meeting on exorcism organized by Catholic bishops in Baltimore, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. explained why evangelicals “do not have a rite of exorcism, like those prescribed by the Catholic Church, in which clergy members recite prescribed words to supposedly drive away a demon.
“To adopt such an invention would be to surrender the high ground of the gospel,” Mohler wrote in a commentary. “We are engaged in spiritual warfare every minute of every day, whether we recognize it or not.”
Proclamation of the gospel, Mohler said, is the church’s greatest weapon against demon possession.
“There is nothing the demons fear or hate more than evangelism and missions, where the gospel pushes back with supernatural power against their possessions, rendering them impotent and powerless,” Mohler wrote. “Every time a believer shares the gospel and declares the name of Jesus, the demons and the devil lose their power.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)