|DELIVERANCE: WHO CAN PRAY FOR DELIVERANCE?
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Nov 28 2008 08:00AM
There are many reasons you may feel you cannot pray for deliverance. If you are Roman Catholic or Episcopalian, you
probably have the impression that only a priest should do such a thing (a holy priest at that!). And if you belong to a
conservative independent congregation or mainline Protestant denomination, your church leaders may frown on your
involvement in deliverance since they may not even believe in the possibility of demonic infestation. Besides all that, if
you have seen any movies like The Exorcist, you may be scared out of your wits by the prospect of praying for exorcism.
But in the Church it has not always been so.
In the Early Church
In the early days of Christianity, all believers were assumed capable of praying for deliverance.
Witness to this belief is the end of Mark's Gospel, where the first of the five signs to "accompany those who believe" is
that "...in my name shall they cast out devils;" (Mark 16:17). Notice that those who perform deliverance here are not
necessarily apostles or elders but ordinary believers.
Then, too, after Jesus sent out the Twelve, He sent out 72 others to proclaim that "...the Kingdom of God is come nigh
unto you." (Luke 10:11). When they returned they were amazed that "...even the devils are subject unto us through thy
name." (verse 17). They were rejoicing so much that Jesus had to tone down their enthusiasm by telling them to "...but
rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." (verse 20).
The ministry of exorcism continued in the early Church. After Jesus' death Philip, the deacon ordained to oversee the
distribution of bread, evangelized Samaria and made a great impact: "For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came
out of many that were possessed with them:" (Acts 8:7).
After the death of the apostles, exorcisms were carried out with no mention of any special class of Christians to whom
the ministry of deliverance was restricted. In fact, the Church father Origen (martyred around A.D. 253) mentioned that
many Christians cast out demons" merely by prayer and simple adjurations which the plainest person can use.
Because, for the most part, it is unlettered [or illiterate] persons who perform this work." Origen added that exorcism
does "not require the power and wisdom of those who are mighty in argument." [Origen, Against Celsus, vii, 4 & 17].
Justin Martyr (who wrote still earlier, around A.D. 150) states that "many Christian men" exorcise demons that cannot be
cast out by pagans. [Justin Martyr, Apology II - To the Senate, vi]. Women cast out demons, too, women like St.
Eugenia in the third century.
Incidentally, both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (who wrote around A.D. 180) believed that Jews could perform exorcisms in
the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. [Christian Healing, Evelyn Frost, 1940].
Tertullian (who wrote around A.D. 200) went so far as to say that the noblest Christian life is "to exorcise evil spirits - to
perform cures...to live to God. [De Spectaculis, paragraph 29]. In his book The Shows he tried to convince pagans that
there was more true enjoyment in casting out evil spirits and healing the sick than in attending the pagan plays and
shows of the day. (Imagine a bishop encouraging his flock to cast out evil spirits because it is more fun than seeing an
In all those early days we find no evidence that a Christian had to be ordained to cast out evil spirits. It was possible for
any Christian to perform an exorcism.
Nevertheless, Paul did not mention exorcism among the various manifestation (gifts) of the Holy Spirit enumerated in I
Corinthians 12 - manifestations like "gifts of healing" (verse 9). Some believe that the gift of miracles (verse 10) might
refer to exorcism. It makes sense that, just as some people are specially gifted by God with gifts of healing, other
people might have gifts of exorcism. Although this power is not reserved for a special class, some believers receive it to
a greater degree.
Some early Church writers recognized that some people were specially gifted to perform exorcism, and they compared it
to the other charism (or gifts) listed by Paul.
It seems, then, that even though any Christian in the early Church might be called on to cast out demons, some were
recognized as more gifted by the Spirit in the ministry of exorcism. It was like today: All of us are called on at various
times to pray for the sick, yet some are especially gifted as healers. When Paul asks, "Do all have gifts of healing?" (I
Corinthians 12:30), the implied answer is no. So it is reasonable to expect that some Christians will be more gifted in
The Jesuit theologian Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) pointed out that in the early Church, the power to cast out demons
was given to all the faithful, both men and women. He also believed that the ability to exorcise the demon from a truly
possessed person belonged to the order of miracles and should not be attempted "without the special inspiration of the
Holy Spirit." But this is not so.
The Narrowing of the Ministry
Over the course of centuries, several factors led to the gradual narrowing of exorcism to a specially appointed group of
exorcists. We can easily see why. For one thing, it is a difficult ministry. Even the apostles were unable to exorcise the
epileptic demoniac, and they were rebuked by Jesus for being insufficiently prepared through prayer and fasting
In more severe cases, insufficient spiritual protection can be dangerous to the exorcist. And if the exorcist does not
know what he or she is doing, it can be dangerous to the person being ministered to. Victims escaping from satanic
covens are aware of this and afraid of approaching just any priest or minister for help. Their latter state could be worse
than their first.
The Order of Exorcist
As a result of these dangers, Cyprian, (Epistle LXXIV p. 10) wrote in the third century about a false prophetess who
acted as if she were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Then an exorcist showed up, "a man approved," who discerned that she
was really inspired by a wicked spirit, and not the Holy Spirit. Writes Evelyn Frost:
the Church. It is noteworthy that none of the "very many brethren," in spite of their strong faith, attempted to
exorcise this woman, nor one of the priests, but they appealed to the exorcist. This may be an indication that by
the middle of the third century, the practice of exorcism in the Church had been open to abuse and required
Another fascinating factor related to the narrowing of exorcism to a specially appointed group of exorcists in that in the
early days, adult baptism (usually at Easter or Pentecost) was preceded by a long preparation period, and exorcisms
were always performed as part of that preparation. (It was assumed that most, if not all, pagans required freeing from
demonic influence.) Sometimes these exorcisms were performed every day during the preparation period.
When exorcism was attached to baptism, the appointed officials (rather than charismatic individuals) who did the
teaching began to perform this daily exorcism, accompanied by the laying on of hands. Toward the end of the lengthy
preparation, on Holy Saturday, the bishop himself would cast out the alien spirits.
During the same period of history, those with the gift of healing did not need hands laid on them in ordination. All the
evidence needed for them to be regarded as healers was whether people actually got healed.
The next stage came about in the mid-third century when Pope Cornelius mentioned exorcist as an order among the
Roman clergy. A ritual used for ordaining exorcists in Rome in the tenth century went like this:
written, while the bishop says to him, "Receive and memorize it, and possess the power of laying hands on those
agitated by demons, whether baptized or catechumens."
Note that the Church acknowledged the possibility of baptized persons needing exorcism, in contrast to the common
belief held today (in Pentecostal churches and elsewhere) that no Christian can possibly need deliverance, only pagans.
Notice, too, that services by the tenth century were becoming increasingly formalized - "by the book," as it were.
Already the exorcists may have been losing out on the creative possibility of working individually with each demonized
person and making up prayers tailored to that person's needs, instead of repeating what was in the book.
One of the good things, though, was that the minor order of exorcist was conferred before the three so-called major
orders (priesthood, diaconate, and subdiaconate), so that an exorcist did not have to be a priest. The other three
minor orders were acolyte, lector, and porter(or keeper of the gate). Clearly, these were not lofty, sacramental
positions; and traditionally all these functions have been performed by laypersons.
Nevertheless, the exercise of deliverance ministry became more and more restricted (as things usually go in the history
of the Church), until in the Middle Ages the priest became the normal minister of exorcism. Finally in our own century, in
the time of Pope Pius XI, the ministry of exorcism was limited to the priest.
Much of this restriction was caused by centering on possession and on the increasing rarity of exorcism in European
culture. Perhaps, too, the Roman Catholic Church was embarrassed by the excesses of the Inquisition and the burning
of witches. In 1614, for example, the official Roman Ritual of the Roman Catholic Church declared that the exorcist
should not easily believe that anyone is possessed, and gave some highly unusual symptoms to help tell whether a
person was really possessed. These signs of possession included the ability to speak in an unknown tongue, the
revelation of distant or unknown things, and the manifestation of other extraordinary powers (such as levitation). Since
these signs are so unusual, the diagnosis of possession naturally became rare, and removed exorcism from ordinary
The Protestant Reformers, for the most part, de-emphasized exorcism or did away with it altogether. Most Calvinists
believed that exorcism was valid only in the early days of Christianity. Exorcism was connected in the Reformers' minds
with Popish superstition; and although the Anglicans maintained a slim belief in a need for exorcism, their 1604
convocation passed a law "which forbids any Anglican clergyman, without the express consent of his bishop obtained
beforehand, to use exorcism in any fashion under any pretext, on pain of being counted an impostor and deposed from
In that restrictive atmosphere, the question of who should perform an exorcism would hardly come up. The question,
rather, would be: Is there ever a need for exorcism?
Yet a slim belief did remain. In the Catholic Church, for instance, there persisted a recognition that Christians who were
not possessed might still need to be freed from oppression; and theologians distinguished between solemn exorcism, a
formal liturgical rite that was,
and private exorcism, in which a minister (including a layperson) could pray in his own name for someone oppressed by
St. Alphonsus Liguori (Theologia Moralis, III, p. 492 as quoted in Deliverance Prayer by Matthew and Dennis Linn,
Copyright 1981), the most prestigious moral theologian of the seventeenth century, wrote that "private exorcism is
permissible to all Christians." Most Catholic moral theologians up to our own day recommend that priests occasionally
pray quietly, even silently, for private exorcism (what we would call deliverance), especially in the confessional. Writes
the Reverend James McManus ("Exorcism in Catholic Moral Theology" in Deliverance Prayer, p. 242-251).
St. Alphonsus stated the Catholic tradition when he said that everyone may exorcise privately, but only the priest, with
permission of the bishop, may exorcise solemnly. Since this is the Catholic tradition we have to ask ourselves how we
lost sight of it and why it is that exorcism has become such a bone of contention in the modern Church. We lost sight of
our own tradition, it seems to me, because we lost sight of the basic distinctions that the moralists of the past made. We
reduced all exorcism to solemn exorcism, for which the permission of the bishop is required, and as the bishop appoints
only holy and prudent priests for such an exorcism, most high priests simply presumed that they would never have to
perform an exorcism.
Yet some reputable theologians continued to state that no special permission of the bishop was needed to perform a
private exorcism. This left the door cracked open a little bit, a door that has opened wider in recent times as the
deliverance ministry has been revived.
Still, the deliverance ministry has, over the centuries, been gradually shut down. In protestant churches it has been
almost abolished since, for the most part, a few believe in its necessity. In the Catholic tradition - Roman, Orthodox, and
Anglican-belief has remained in Satan and the need for exorcism, but in the last three centuries the ministry has been
severely restricted. In 1709, for instance, in a reaction against the excesses and abuses of the Inquisition, the Vatican
banned five manuals of exorcism, and in 1725 it instituted extensive controls.
In 1972 Pope Paul VI dropped the four minor orders, including exorcist, as steps on the way to priestly ordination, with
the assumption that exorcist was now obsolete as an order.
Part of the reason for this dropoff of belief in the need for exorcism was that experts in the field, like Fr. De Tonquedec,
the official exorcist in Paris for nearly half a century, claimed he was never convinced he had run up against a real case
of possession. Instead, he said he thought that psychotics produced the symptoms of possession through their
subconscious and through all the ceremonies surrounding exorcism. "Call the devil and you'll see him; or rather not
him, but a portrait made up of the sick man's ideas of him" was De Tonquedec's evaluation of his own work as official
exorcist (The Rite of Exorcism, Op.Cit., p. 147).
Still, in 1972 Pope Paul VI stoutly upheld the traditional belief in Satan's existence:
terrible reality. ...It is contrary to the teaching of the Bible and the Church to refuse to recognize the existence of
such a reality.
Counter to the dying out of exorcism in the mainline churches, Catholic and Protestant, came the reawakening by
Pentecostals of the supernatural gifts at the beginning of the twentieth century, including the power to cast out evil
spirits. The Baptism of the Spirit, praying in tongues, prophecy, healing and deliverance were all awakened in a
powerful way - not without problems, but certainly awakened.
Emphasizing the priesthood of all believers, they did not separate the duties of clergy and laity in praying for
deliverance. As we still see in groups like Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, lay persons pray regularly for
deliverance. But as time went on, Pentecostal churches began to exercise more authority, with only evangelists,
pastors, and missionaries actually performing most of the exorcisms.
The rediscovery of the need for many people to be freed from demonic influence culminated in mass exorcisms - whole
congregations of people under the ministry of nondenominational leaders like Derek Prince and Don Basham who
taught extensively on the subject of spiritual warfare. Their mass exorcism ministry in the 1960s and '70s attracted a
large measure of criticism in charismatic circles, and David DuPlessis refused at times to appear on the same platform
with them as a protest to their group exorcisms. Their position, though, was that exorcism had been neglected so long,
and so many people needed it, that they had to do something, regardless of criticism, to help the many victims of
demonic oppression. We were, as they saw it, in a crisis situation.
Just as the baptism of the Spirit and a lively understanding of the ministry of laypersons spilled out into the mainline
churches through the influence of pioneers like the Episcopalian Rev. Dennis Bennett, so the gifts of healing and
deliverance were introduced to mainline churches through leaders like Mrs. Agnes Sanford and the Reverend Alfred
Price (one of the founders of the Order of St. Luke).
Nevertheless, the deliverance ministry has been received by mainline denominations with more caution and criticism
than the baptism in the Spirit, healing and even praying in tongues. Deliverance is feared because of the disgraceful
memories of the witch hunts of medieval Europe and the Salem witchcraft trials, coupled with recent horror stories of
failed exorcisms. In Germany twenty years ago, for example, two priests failed in their exorcism of a young woman, who
ended up starving herself to death. The two priests and their imprudent exorcism were blamed for her death.
In any case, caution rules in all the traditional churches. In some we even see a basic disbelief in the existence of the
So What Is the Answer?
The best solution, I (Francis MacNutt) believe, to the problem of who should perform deliverance is that we not be tied
down to a particular order of exorcist in the Church. The reason for the Church's caution is real: Not every headstrong
zealot should exercise the ministry of deliverance. Some supervision and authority are needed.
But since deliverance is a ministry that usually needs to be exercised without delay, Christians with a gift for it and who
often pray for deliverance should have general permission from their church authorities, whom they should keep
informed about what they are doing (Michael Harper, Spiritual Warfare, Copyright 1970, p. 62. These suggestions are,
in fact, carried out by the Church of England).
Unfortunately, in most places we cannot turn to religious authorities. Most have no experience themselves, either
practical or theoretical, in praying for deliverance. Nor do they understand it, because spiritual warfare (much less
exorcism) is simply not taught in most mainline seminaries. Furthermore, Satan is regarded in many seminaries as
merely a poetic symbol of evil rather than a real, personal entity. So you have a classical example of the blind leading
Yet the Church authorities are right: There are in the deliverance ministry practical difficulties and abuses. Often the
people with experience are unlettered theologically and may not be able to explain what they do to the satisfaction of
church leaders. And, what is really dangerous, some embrace simplistic solutions ("All depression is caused by
demons") and do great harm to suffering people.
In the present deteriorated situation, there is no perfect solution to our dilemma. But we can lay out a few guidelines:
Everyone can pray for deliverance, but not everyone should!
Our Involvement on Three Levels of Spiritual Warfare
To solve this practical problem, we need to be keenly aware of three levels of spiritual warfare, with varying degrees of
involvement by Christians:
First, we all need to know how to protect ourselves and our families against the attacks of evil spirits coming from
outside ourselves and how to drive off their attacks.
Second, most Christians may be called on to pray for people who are lightly oppressed or infested by evil spirits, and
some will be called on to pray frequently for those who are not possessed or severely demonized. Most Christian
counselors should be able to pray for their clients when they find evidence of demonic infestation.
There are, however, a number of Christians who should not pray for this kind of simple deliverance:
There are many other indications that, except in emergency situations, a particular person may not be equipped to pray
for deliverance. The problem is, we tend to be blind to our own faults and may think we are called to pray for
deliverance when we are blind to the damage we can cause. We tend to remember the successes we have had and
conveniently disregard our failures.
For this reason, we all need to be accountable to someone who can freely call us to task and tell us when we are
unbalanced, erratic or even harming people who have already been chewed up and hurt.
The third level of spiritual warfare involves cases in which the person is severely demonized - usually when there has
been involvement in the occult. A few Christians with a ministry of deliverance can pray for these cases of major
Here Church tradition has wisely exercised caution and described the exorcist as someone who is:
been confessed and forgiven);
inaugurated by the baptism of the Spirit to minister without fear of being invaded by the demons ourselves.
There is, indeed, always a danger that the exorcist will be hurt in a heavy exorcism. But some people take this danger
too far. The title of Malachi Martin's book Hostage to the Devil (Copyright 1976, New York: Reader's Digest Press)
indicates his personal belief that the exorcist becomes a hostage by getting involved in this warfare:
exorcism cannot be called off. There will and must always be a victor and a vanquished. And no matter what the
outcome, the contact is in part fatal for the exorcist. He must consent to a dreadful and irreparable pillage of his
deepest self. Something dies in him. Some part of his humanness will wither from such close contact with the
opposite of all humanness - the essence of evil; and it is rarely if ever revitalized. No return will be made to him
for his loss.
I (Francis MacNutt) personally view this as too grim a picture of exorcism, one that surrenders to Satan's desire to
intimidate us. If it is true that the exorcist loses life every time he gets into combat, or that, as in the case of The
Exorcist, two priests lose their lives freeing one girl from Satan (in chess terms, losing two pieces in return for one), who
would want to get into such a ministry? Beyond that, what does such a view say about the power of God? Who is
stronger - Jesus Christ, who has shackled all the principalities and powers in His triumphal procession, or Satan?
The people I know in the deliverance ministry have to face various spiritual attacks. Naturally we would expect that.
Usually these are annoying attacks from outside, as it were, like your car mysteriously stalling on the way to an exorcism.
A more authentic Christian tradition is represented by the Church father Origen, who was certain that,
by the supreme God...Who sets his divine angels to watch over those who are worthy of such guardianship, so
that they can suffer nothing from demons."
from the assaults directed by demons against the righteous. For he has never beheld the efficacy of those
words, "In the Name of Jesus," when uttered by the truly faithful, to deliver not a few from demons and demoniac
possessions and other plagues."
There are real dangers to the exorcist when dealing with severely demonized or possessed people. These can be
avoided, however, if the exorcist prays for protection, utilizing the Spirit's power that Origen spoke about. I believe that
Malachi Martin spoke the truth about some exorcists being chewed up by demonic attack, but I think much of their pain
could have been avoided if they had been further empowered through the baptism of the Spirit. It is not that they were
not effective ministers or that the Spirit was not in large measure with them. But clearly it was not enough.
Just as the apostles, who were believing, baptized Christians and who were "ordained" at the Last Supper, were not fully
empowered for ministry until Pentecost, so many ministers need more of a filling with the Holy Spirit to carry on the more
difficult parts of their ministry successfully.
You may disagree with my (Francis MacNutt's) analysis of why some exorcists "die," in part, every time they perform an
exorcism, and why they sometimes need to pound on the demons for unremitting weeks to accomplish their task. If so, I
challenge you to come up with a better solution. But one thing I believe: The exorcist who has taken all the necessary
precautions and who ministers in the power of the Holy Spirit should feel safe and protected when called upon to
perform an exorcism.
Deliverance from Evil Spirits, by Francis MacNutt, Copyright 1995, Chosen Books.
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