A reader of my blog asked me to do a simple write-up about deliverance. Not that this topic is so simple as to be exhausted in a couple of words, for ‘deliverance’ can mean different things depending on who uses it and how.
But if I understand him correctly, I suppose he wanted to know my view concerning the ‘deliverance ministry’ that often takes place generally in charismatic ministries (especially Pentecostal and Roman Catholic). Mostly concerned with exorcisms or rather ‘casting out demons,’ it happens either after that long Sunday church service or during that long Friday ‘overnight prayers,’ or even in that often small dark room next to the church auditorium. This ‘ministry’ also has the concept of generational curses or ‘sins of forefather’ theology.
Just a brief background on this teaching is proper, I presume. This belief holds that the problems we face in life today are individually judgments of God upon us for the sins committed by our forefathers, and for us to ‘break free’ from them is to confess them before God continually.
Are you struggling with lust lately? Well, it is possible that your father or uncle or mother or someone else related to you made an evil covenant with the demon of lust in the past. As for your uncontrolled anger? Now you know. Your very great great great grandmother, you see, she simply could not hold it. Her ‘wires’ often went off just at the beginning of the argument, every time. In both cases, (or in all of the cases), you were of course not present, of course. But, sorry for you, the dark forces must collect their pay from you, real creditors they are.
That sort of thought can benefit from such texts as be Ex. 20:5-6, 34:6-7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9-10, 7:9; Jer. 32:18, Neh. 1:5-6; Jer. 14:20; Dan. 9:16, and some others.
In dealing with this problem, I suggest we consider the importance of worldviews. I notice that no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we never approach any given text, including the Bible, as neutral readers. We all have lenses through which we view not only the writing but everything else. We always have prior commitments and assumptions shaped by our culture, upbringing, and experience that color the way we interpret texts.
That, I think, is pretty significant. This is the reason why, as Africans, we easily hold to the generational curse theology even with our Bibles open. We are generally animists, we see spirits hiding just behind everything, and if anything goes wrong with us, well, the demons are guilty. Indeed, our African Traditional worldviews conceived the spiritual realm as comprising of the gods and the living intermediated by demons and the spirits of our departed ancestors. The dead are not dead, so we are told, they just live through us the living.
That is why, even when we confess to be Christians, we still hold that we joined to our ancestors, to the extent that their actions affect our standing with God, the God who judges us together with them. That’s my first point.
The second presupposition we hold (of course not all of us, but most of us Africans) is this: the demons that stand between the living and the gods (or God for the ‘Christian’) still influence the communion those alive can have with God. They seem to be ready just to ruin our day. Therefore, they need to continually be taken out of the way (or cast out) before proper communion can happen with God. In the African Traditional Society, this would need a witch-doctor to happen. In the ‘deliverance ministries,’ of course, this would need ‘the man of God’, or Pastor. He is the one ‘appropriate’ for these kinds of things.
With this as our lense, we, therefore, come to the Bible and are not surprised that it confirms our concepts of the spiritual reality. And we thus don’t question our perceptions, because this has been real to us, culturally, and experientially, and it makes sense if scripture merely affirms it.
But, Is that In the Bible?
The Bible does not speak of any spatial gap between God’s dwelling and man’s. First, of course, we Christians speak of the omnipresent God. He is everywhere, every time. ‘In Him, we live, and move, and have our being.’
The biblical message of salvation is that God, who is exalted beyond all principalities and powers, is the same God incarnate. In Christianity, we speak of ‘God with us’ or Immanuel. Scrap off the image of demons and ancestors being between the living and God. God dwells with the living. That is a fundamental teaching of Christianity.
The concept here is that a Christian’s life is not separated from God by space. We live in God’s domain, the ‘kingdom of light’ (Col 1:13). There is a union that exists between God and man in Christ, brought about by God becoming Man in one Person, Christ so that the powers of darkness cannot dare approach or separate. This God-Man has taken the elect of humanity with Himself to God’s dwelling so that we are ‘seated with Him in the heavenly places’ (Eph 2:6), far above principalities.
Therefore we are told; ‘what communion has light with darkness?’ (2 Cor 6:14), and again; ‘you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3).
Secondly, because this is true, that God dwells with us, and in us, and us in Him, there are no appeasements necessary, to the powers of darkness. We don’t get them out of the way because the only existing way to the God who dwells with us and in us is Christ, in whom no powers of darkness can be. The appeasement that was necessary was to the Father and was made by His Son in the Holy Spirit, on our behalf. God accepts us only on account of Christ’s sacrifice. On this ground alone do we belong to God.
And that’s my third point. We belong to God. And since we do, we cannot be demon-possessed. To possess something is to own it. Demons do not possess us, not any longer. We once belonged to Satan and his schemes, slaves to sin and lovers of darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3; 2 Cor 4:4). But then, we were purchased, by His blood, on the cross. The procurement was real, and as whatever is procured is owned by him who pays the price (Acts 20:28, 1 Cor 6:19-20), we are not our own, and Satan lays no claim on us. We are God-possessed now, and we don’t have a dual possession. To teach that a Christian can be demon possessed is a failure to understand what Christianity is, and what the cross accomplished.
But someone will ask, what about my struggles with sin? How come our family has issues with lust? I think those are good questions. Let me say, to begin with, that your family is not the only lustful one. No family has a monopoly of sin. No single tribe for example owns murder. The teaching of scripture is that we all sin (equally) because we are in Adam first (Rom 5).
And then, in addition to the sinful nature we inherit from Adam, we sin because we see sinners sinning. And since we grow up in a family and tribe, there are evils that we grow up seeing frequently, and others we don’t. These may be called ‘cultural sins’ not that the culture invented them, but that they are more practiced there and children ‘catch’ these sinful habits. How do we overcome these?
Well, that brings me to the fourth point, namely; the place of sanctification in the Christian’s walk. More often than not, the ‘deliverance ministry’ confuses sanctification and exorcism. Let me explain.
When we were regenerated and justified, we were not inherently and entirely sanctified. I had explained the difference between positional and progressive sanctification here, and permit me not to repeat it. But the problem with seeing a demon or generational curse in each of our disobedience is that it pushes the blame on the dead, and makes us irresponsible believers.
Rather than working on having self-control, I am expected to attend a ‘deliverance’ session to have ‘the demon of lust’ cast out or to confess the sin of my lustful but dead uncle. You see what that means? The demon and my uncle are the real cause of my disobedience to God, and I am not really to blame as if I chose my fathers.
But the Bible speaks a different language. It calls us to flee sexual immorality (2 Tim 2:22), not blame the dead. It tells us that self-control is the fruit of the Spirit of God (Gal 5:23).
And then also, the other problem I find with ‘exorcism,’ as opposed to spiritual maturity and disciplines, is that it leaves the Christian in a continual state of fear. If the demon they chased out yesterday is the same one they are chasing out today, there is no victory over it. If I am to confess today the same sins, I acknowledged yesterday, did God hear me yesterday? If He did, did He forgive me? If He did, why am I repeating the confession today? Is it unbelief in His forgiveness? But if He did not hear me, what is the guarantee that today, finally, He will?
We must always examine the assumptions we bring to the text. We should question our preconceived biases and sieve them through the cross. Everything that does not magnify the Person and work of Christ we must lay aside.
Secondly, as Christians, we must know our identity. We belong to God, we are in Him, and He is in us. No weapon formed against us shall prosper.
The third point is that we must not shift the blame of our sinfulness to our ancestors. Through Adam, we all fell, and in Christ, we are restored and empowered to live free from sin. We are being sanctified, and rather than go for deliverance sessions; we should stop watching those sexually explicit movies, or hanging out in the club, or gambling centers. We should learn to control our anger rather than seek to cast out the demon of anger. These are simple and often ignored disciplines that God calls us to.
I am aware that I did not handle the key texts in the Old Testament concerning this topic. Therefore I provide sites that address that precisely, which the interested can visit, like enrichmentjournal, desiringgod, and mennoknight.
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at email@example.com