Exorcisms for Modern Times

Exorcism, healing of the Gadarene demoniac
Matt 8:28-34, Healing of the Gadarene Demoniac

Matt 8:28-34 is weird all by itself. It features a naked guy, stronger that chains, howling in a graveyard and terrifying townspeople. Need we say more? Add the special effects and twisted imaginations of ‘Hellywood’ and the images ‘exorcism’ conjures in our minds become outright bizarre.

Independent Fundamental Baptists, the broader evangelical version of fundamentalism and mainline believers share this in common: they see exorcisms as the special preserve of eccentrics, Charismatics, occasional mystic, and perhaps Roman Catholic exorcism specialists.

The gospels make exorcisms seem fairly routine in Jesus’ ministry. One explanation is that as spiritual oppression deepened as his ministry began. Another sees exorcisms as a demonstration of God’s power, with the cross itself as an ultimate exorcism. Jo 12:31 says:

‘Now judgment is upon this world;
now the ruler of this world will be cast out.’

Speaking to ongoing US political crisis, Morton Guyton recently wrote:

‘God raised up Pharaoh so that God’s power might be made known through the wrath he pours out on Egypt’ [Ex 9:16].

He also makes this extraordinary observation:

‘I think the evangelical church today is like the Gerasene demoniac. We’ve been shrieking in the tombs of culture war with a louder and shriller pitch every year.’

And he asks this stunner:

‘What if God did in fact raise up Donald Trump as a means of pouring out his wrath on the religious right who have been blaspheming his name for the past three decades?’

As I see it, any attempt to recruit God for our partisan interests is unwise. But this does not invalidate Guyton’s point. Morton also asks:

‘What if the next four years will be the political Chernobyl that completely destroys the political power of the religious right forever?’

Justice requires that punishment fit the crime. He rightly notes that this sometimes means living with the consequences of getting what we want.

President Trump faced much criticism on the campaign trail and on his first 100 hours in office. And it is well deserved. But is the import of what is transpiring around us truly understood? President Trump:

  • Packed senior cabinet positions with generals, including those that supervise the military.
  • His inaugural address invoked ‘absolute loyalty to America;’ partisanship didn’t matter so long as citizens [embodied by Trump] hold the power.
  • In that speech he said twice that ‘America first’ must now be the rule.
  • He emphasizes military power as key.
  • He is introducing legislation to further expand the already gigantic U.S. military machine.

The question begging to be asked, but which our subservient media will never ask, is this: What do you do differently if you’re planning a coup?

I don’t intend to offer a place to speculate about answers. It I do believe that we are in a precarious situation. A Reichtag fire incident [by terrorism or a false flag operation] could lead to many changes very quickly.

It isn’t my intention to be alarmist. But acknowledging the unhealthy environment in which we live does lead us to ask, ‘how we get here.’ Here, Morton Guyton perhaps speaks most pointedly:

‘I think the evangelical church today is like the Gerasene demoniac. We’ve been shrieking in the tombs of culture war with a louder and shriller pitch every year.’

In the past, I’ve connected spiritual power and culture. I’ve noted that:

‘Moses’ confrontation of Pharaoh has the character of an exorcism. The struggle of Moses and Pharaoh manifests itself in the competing claims of Yahweh, God of Israel, and Egypt’s gods.’

And I said that:

‘The claims, magicians, miracles and plagues that follow are a wrestling of spiritual power, evil and good, each to subdue the other.’

However far some think our society has departed from the Biblical mind, events currently unfolding attest that the same forces which have always dominated history are the ones which continue to impel us into the future.

This leads to the point that Morton Guyton is correct to say that the operative power of hatemongering, warmongering, uber-nationalist, racist, anti-everything which so often finds refuge and strength in confessing Christian circles means one thing:

Evangelical Christianity stands in need of an exorcism.

Patriot Pastors and Strange Alliances

Meet the Patriot Pastors

Days before the November 2006 election, Christianity Today published a piece on ‘Patriot Pastors.’ Authored by Nate Anderson, this CT focuses in good measure on the Ohio Restoration Project [ORP]. And the ‘Holy Ghost invasion’ rhetoric plus the ‘man your battle stations’ with the ‘lock and load’ stuff is no SFL invention. People actually say things like that.

Anderson continues:

Their top policy concerns are (1) the right to life (i.e., an end to abortion), (2) maintaining a godly definition of marriage, (3) preserving a parent’s right to discipline and educate, and (4) defending the rights of Christians and their churches to “teach biblical values in the public square.”

Anderson mentions mailing lists and online accessible prayer warriors [only 100,000 of them in ’06] described as a ‘”mighty army” ready to do battle.’ The rightness or wrongness of these or other issues is not the concern. At issue is the propriety of the attaching purported Christian witness work to modern partisan campaigns.

Paul who referenced soldiery by way of spiritual analogy [1Co 9:7; Phi 2:25; 2Ti 2:3-4; Phm 1:2] also stated the weapons of our warfare are not physical but spiritual [2Co 10:3-5]. Despite Biblical analogies to military matters, militarized language doesn’t express the heart of the Gospel.

Anderson’s dated article shows that the terminology of secular jihadism has been in fundamentalist culture for some time. And we saw the result of such thinking as many aligned with the powers of this age during the most recent US federal election.

And final page of this five page piece acknowledges that the IRS has contacted ORP. Interesting language describes the relationship between ORP and Russell Johnson’s Fairfield Christian Church.

‘While legally separate, the ORP and Fairfield Christian overlap significantly.’

Fundamentalists would never tolerate such unbiblical blurring of lines IF they existed between churches. But where politics is concerned, fundyland throws the rules out the window. Anything becomes acceptable, and we have the President-elect to prove it.

It’s amazing that people supposedly so spiritually attuned to God can at the same time be so dead to things of God. But since this is ‘politics,’ they can get away with anything.

Weighing the Spiritual Powers II


Approach to Spiritual Powers — Cont’d:

This is the second in the ‘Spiritual Warfare Series.’ The first is here.

6] For good or ill, spiritual power is embedded deeply in human culture. Babel’s tower was constructed to consolidate power in defiance of God. It coordinated materials, social labor, technology and public vision to hinder their scattering across the earth [Ge 11:4], defying the cultural mandate to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ [Ge 1:28]. So God confused their language and they scattered anyway. It took Pentecost to end that language division.

But Yahweh’s response to Babel had another component. Babel was built also to ‘make a name for ourselves’ [Ge 11:4]. While Babel tried to make itself great and make a great name for itself, the next chapter says:

‘Yahweh said to Abram, “go from your country, from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great’ [Ge 12:1-2];

Much of the wrong in our culture results from a failure to discern the difference between our making ourselves and our name great, and YHWH making Abram a great nation, and making his name great. As malevolent, spiritual power is deeply embedded in culture, confronting it is difficult and exhausting work. It can be deeply counter-cultural and unpopular. But that confrontation is absolutely necessary. This leads to …

7] Moses’ confrontation of Pharaoh has the character of an exorcism. The struggle of Moses and Pharaoh manifests itself in the competing claims of Yahweh, God of Israel, and Egypt’s gods. Pharaoh’s derisive question, [presumably what we would call a rhetorical question] puts it this way:

“Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go” [Ex 5:2].

The claims, magicians, miracles and plagues that follow are a wrestling of spiritual power, evil and good, each to subdue the other. Relevant also are issues as authority, recognition and obedience. The unstated question of Ex 5:2, ‘to whom do we listen,’ matters in any society of people.

8] Prevailing ideologies and narratives assume demonic nature. So rather than aligning with them, our Christian responsibility is to unmask earthly powers, to reveal their true character, and to direct the nations away from such powers manifested in ideologies and narratives, and to Jesus Christ.

The role of ideology and narrative becomes apparent by comparing these two, closely related texts:

‘Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me’ [Ex 20:1-3].

Note the blatant contradiction of Ex 20 :1-3 with Ex 28:1-4.

‘”This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”‘ [Ex 32:1-4].

The first commandment does not begin with, ‘you shall have no other gods.’ The narrative of Yahweh as the God who led Israel out of Egypt is also belongs to the commandment. They are inseparable. This means that Aaron’s account of national origins is not only false but it is blasphemous. It stands in direct violation of the first commandment.

I have addressed civil religion with some stridency. There is a reason for it. I take a dim view on church/state relations, and I tend to see the ‘Christian nation’ thing [whatever the nation] as bent toward heresy. Whenever God and nation are slung together, my instinctual response is to think Babel, Egypt, Moses and Aaron.

As I see it, the role of prevailing ideologies and narratives in the Roman empire is a significant part of John’s theological strategy in ‘Revelation.’ It is also why the faithful church will NEVER embrace the world or be embraced by it. At the very best, earthly powers EVER behold the faithful church through a jaundiced eye. We err to expect better.

Weighing the Spiritual Powers I

Approaching Spiritual Warfare

This is the first of several posts in which I reply to a reader request for perspective on spiritual powers and demons. This arises from an earlier post on Preaching and Discovering Incarnation. As I see this as a matter of some importance, I don’t intend to post the whole series in sequence; I’ll publish instead as study and reflection happily furnishes something worth saying on topic. However I will attach the tag, ‘Spiritual Warfare Series’ so that interested parties can isolate the series and read related posts.

An Approach to Spiritual Powers:

I’ve said that I find a discussion of spiritual powers to be challenging area. Today, I name some of the reasons and issues for this.

1] My tradition doesn’t give this area great attention. And it’s a huge task. It is possible to read all Scripture as an intersection of the kingdom of God and of kingdom of Darkness in human affairs. This relates to that part of our tradition devoted to prophetic ministry [not as ‘last things’ but as study/meditation/discernment/warning/directing] which calls us back to Christ and calls us to engage in practices of spiritual warfare.

2] My own thinking here is in flux. And I use flexible language depending on my focus, and as my own understanding of such things expands. For example, I sometimes reference spirituality to to speak of character or spiritual alignment. Sometimes I mean origin or source or spiritual power. Or I may describe opposition to God and his rule in Christ, or to the infliction of misery, blindness or oppression on humanity and the cosmos. This can hold true whether of human or of demonic sources.

3] The relevant data includes far more than references to spirit beings. And often, the meaning of events is not clear at the time. Example: Moses’ confrontation of Pharaoh has the character of an exorcism. But we may not clue into this until we ponder power relations and the miracles of Pharaoh’s priests, with Moses’ miracles performed by God’s power.

4] I associate with the spirit[ual] world the demonic with the ‘powers’ of this age as referenced in Ro 8:38 [death, principalities, powers, and all created things that endeavor (vainly) to separate us from God’s love in Christ] and in Ep 6:12 [rulers, powers, forces of darkness, spiritual wickedness, etc.]. So ‘earthly’ powers are not neutral or benign, but are fallen. Demonic character can be manifested in many ways/things.

5] The cross is essentially an exorcism.

‘”Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out”‘ [Jo 12:31].

The word, ‘cast out’ [ballo] is the same used in Jesus’ exorcisms. The verb is identical. This allows inquiry to follow multiple paths. One is the ‘Satan as a defeated foe’ idea that we associated with Christus Victor theology. Again, this has ramifications for our understanding of the nature of our Christian existence, of assurance of God’s grace, of last things, and more.

I find it challenging to address spiritual warfare because the topic is not small, and I don’t always find Scripture clear on this matter. In addition to the obvious vocabulary, the Bible also employs various narrative forms on topic. God willing, I’ll touch on a few more of those tomorrow. Blessings!