Message Evaluating the Deliverance Movement
An Evaluation of the Deliverance Movement: Transcription of message preached by Dr. Jerry Hullinger Ephesians sermon series
We have come this evening to our fourth and final introductory message on Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare which is found in Ephesians 6 verses 10-20. And just to remind you what we have covered up until this point: in message #1 we looked at five current misconceptions of Satan, and we did that because we will not be successful in the battle unless we know whom we are fighting. In message #2 we looked at four disadvantages which Satan has when he comes against us and three advantages Satan has over us. And the reason for that message was to try to strike a balance in our view of the devil. Some Christians overestimate him and they therefore need to be reminded of his disadvantages and other Christians underestimate him and so they need to be reminded of his advantages.
And then in our third message which we gave this morning, we asked the question, given what is now our balanced perspective of Satan, how do we fight him? And we looked at the modern day spiritual warfare movement which is really a relatively recent phenomenon. And I felt it necessary to look at this because it has had such a successful infiltration into our evangelical culture. And I believe that many of the emphases within this movement has sidetracked many sincere believers and taken them away from the biblical teaching on how the Christian life is to be lived. And this will in the long run have serious consequences. And with that concern in place, I began this morning to give a general description of the movement.
And again, were we to boil down the movement into one word, that word would have to be “deliverance.” Unbelievers are held in bondage by territorial demons, and if the gospel is to have success in some particularly dark areas, then these demons must be rebuked and renounced through prayer and worship and this will allow the Gospel to do its work, thereby delivering these people from Satanic influence. On the other hand there are some believers who struggle with and are obsessed by particular sins and tendencies and illnesses, and when they cannot break from these, then another power encounter will be necessary in which the person will be delivered from this demon of lust or demon of anger or demon of kidney stones or demon of depression or whatever. And this will take place when the demon is bound and rebuked and commanded in the name of Jesus to release this person. And while there are variations within the modern day spiritual warfare movement, that very generally is the idea of what is taking place.
Now this morning, I just described the movement without giving any critique of it because there wasn’t time to do both, and so what I want to do in the message tonight is simply to critique and to pass through a biblical and theological grid what is being taught in this movement. And in doing that I want to proceed along two lines. First, I just want to make some general observations which should cause us to look with suspicion on this movement, and then second I want to comment on some specific items which are being taught in this movement which I believe don’t square with the facts we find in the Bible. And so first, let me just make some general observations, some of which are very brief, but which should cause us to be a little bit suspect of what is going on.
First, I am suspicious of any movement which does not have roots and precedent in historic, orthodox Christianity. Now I understand that there is a historical development of doctrine. I understand that some of the great teachers of the church have erred, and yet having said all of that, I am puzzled by the fact that the emphases and the methods found in the modern day spiritual warfare movement somehow managed to elude the church for 19 centuries and is not found in any of the creeds or the doctrinal statements or the rulings of any church councils or taught in any of the major, historic denominations or any of the commentaries or theologies of the great teachers of church history. That bothers me a little bit. Now don’t misunderstand me. They talked and wrote about spiritual warfare to be sure, but not the way it is being talked and written about today. Granted Luther threw his inkwell at the devil but only in recent years have the techniques and methods been developed which are so popular today.
I would also point out just so I’m not misunderstood that the Puritans wrote brilliant works on spiritual warfare on which I lean more than any modern works. Thomas Brooks wrote his classic, and I’ll be calling all of these classics so it will be a bit redundant, but Thomas Brooks wrote “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices,” William Gurnall wrote his amazing 1200 double columned page tome “The Christian in Complete Armor,” John Bunyan wrote “The Holy War” and Richard Gilpin wrote “Sacred Demonology,” and so yes they wrote about these issues but they wrote from a perspective that was grounded in orthodox theology and biblical interpretation. And so that’s the first observation which causes me a bit of concern.
A second observation which causes me suspicion is this Ephesians 6 passage. Now again I understand that one passage is not going to tell us everything about a given subject. That is why we study Systematic Theology, it brings together the teaching of the whole Bible and then lays out the doctrine, and yet at the same time I think that everyone would have to agree, regardless of where they stand on these issues, everyone would have to agree that Ephesians 6:10-20 is the main passage in the New Testament dealing with spiritual warfare. It is developed here more than in any other passage. And with that in mind, I am struck when I read this passage, that the modern methods being advocated are not found here. The silence is deafening. Surely we would have one verse out of eleven which would at least mention binding and rebuking and deliverance but there is none of that.
In fact we will see when we give our exposition of this passage that what Paul does say is not very remarkable at all. The weapons in a sense, and I speak respectfully here, the weapons are monotonous, they are the same things developed in the other epistles, and so if one wants to find a deliverance model for spiritual warfare in this passage, they are going to be disappointed. A third observation which makes me suspicious, and this follows logically from the preceding, since there is very little exegetical evidence for this movement, the authority for these teachings is going to rely heavily on personal experience and misinterpreted Scripture.
When we start basing our doctrine on what somebody has experienced instead of on the solid exegesis on the Bible, then we will open ourselves up to a lot of deception. People can be mistaken, people can be fooled, people can experience things that may even be real but have come from many different sources. I mean if experience is the basis of truth, one can argue for just about anything. There are people down the road at the Christian Science Church who have been able to stop smoking and drinking. There are people who have improved their marriages by joining the Mormon Church. There are Hollywood stars who have found peace with themselves through participating in Eastern religions. Doctrine must be based on the exposition of the Scripture. That was the essence of the Reformation “Scripture alone,” that is the measuring stick. Luther said on one occasion, “I don’t care if it snows miracles everyday,” we’re going to stand on what the Word says. And so red and yellow flags go up in my mind when a movement rests heavily on experience. I believe they also rest on misinterpreted Scripture and I’ll document that when we get to some specifics.
And so those are just some general observations which cause me to be suspicious, there are several others but here are at least three, I’m bothered by the historical novelty of this movement, I’m bothered by the fact that it isn’t touched on in the central passage in the New Testament, and I’m bothered by the fact that it rests heavily on people’s experiences rather than on carefully exegeted texts of Scriptures. But now I want to move on secondly, and deal with a few of the specific problems I have with the theology of this system and the methods that are being used, and I’ll just mention some of these one at a time. Some of these will have to deal with quickly but I want to at least touch on them briefly.
The first is this business of territorial demons. And you will remember that the idea here is that demonic spirits rule geographic areas, and God is calling on the Church today to bind these demons so that these cities or towns can be evangelized. Now it is true that the demonic is organized into ranks and divisions as Paul will be telling us in this passage, but that fact is a far cry from territorial warfare and how we are to conduct evangelism. I am also aware of the passage in Daniel chapter 10 where Michael battles the “prince of the kingdom of Persia.” But I would point out that in the passage Daniel is not praying for the conversion of the people of Persia, and even if he was, one of the great men of prayer and faith was unsuccessful in his endeavors because there is no record of any revival in the kingdom of Persia, and furthermore I would point out that it is the angel Michael who is engaged in spiritual warfare, and not Daniel, Daniel is simply trying to understand the future of the nation of Israel.
I would also offer the observation on this matter, with which I’m sure you would agree, and that is: evangelism is something that is important to God. And humanly speaking, God has delegated the task of evangelism to you and me. I find it of interest therefore, that in each of the Gospels where the Great Commission is mentioned, nothing is mentioned about territorial warfare in order to give the Gospel success. I also find it curious that in the commission of Christ recorded in Acts 1, nothing is said about this. And I find it doubly curious that when 3,000 people are converted on the Day of Pentecost that no demons are addressed or bound, that no territories are claimed for the Gospel, but rather what we find is Peter preaching the Gospel, and that is sufficient in and of itself to bring multitudes to faith.
I also want to make one more important observation and then we’ll be ready to move on. You may remember when we preached through the letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation 2-3 that most of those churches resided in cities where cults and the occult were very prominent and where immorality was part of the social fabric of the day. In fact in the letter to the church at Smyrna Jesus says that the unbelieving Jews belong to the synagogue of Satan and that the devil would cast some of them into prison, and to the church at Pergamum he says that Satan’s throne is there. Again, and I know this is sounding like a broken record, but if we are to march around cities and claim cities for God and bind territorial spirits, this would be the place to tell the church. Once more the silence is deafening. The church has been called by God to preach the Gospel and live the Gospel, and when it does that, with results or without results, it has engaged in successful evangelism. And the preaching of the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to break through any kind of wickedness, and all one has to do to validate that is to read the histories of revival and awakening and reformation throughout the history of the church where entire towns were completely transformed.
Well, let’s move on to a second specific with demonic deliverance from besetting sins. And the theory once more here is that a believer can get himself or herself into a pattern of sin from which they cannot free themselves through the normal means. And so either the person themselves or an expert in doing this will bind and rebuke the demon so that the individual can be delivered from their bondage. Practically speaking then, people can get into a position where literally “the devil made them do it,” because their will belongs to their demon. Years ago when Jimmy Swaggart’s moral problems were made public, the Assemblies of God denomination to which he belonged, ordered him to refrain from preaching for one year so that he could get a handle on his problem. Evidently the denomination failed to read 1 Timothy 3, but that aside, Swaggert refused to obey this order.
The reason? He announced that he was free from his moral defect because Oral Roberts had cast out the demons from his body over the phone. Oral Roberts confirmed what Swaggert had said insisting that he saw the demons with their claws deeply embedded in Swaggert’s flesh. And since they were gone now, he could go on with his ministry. David Powlison, in his book “Power Encounters,” tells the story of Cynthia and Andrew who as husband and wife had a very destructive pattern of arguing with each other when they would get mad. And as their arguments would become worse and worse, they would attempt to bind, to rebuke and to cast out of each other the demons of anger, pride and self-righteousness. To put it in Cynthia’s words: “I saw the demon looking out of his eyes, glittering and murderous. So I said ‘demon of anger, I bind your power in Jesus’ name!’ Then I claimed the power of Jesus’ blood as my cover from all demonic assault coming through my husband.”
Needless to say, and this is where this becomes so tragic, they reinforced their hostilities toward each other, not to mention dragging the name of Christ through the mud of superstition. This becomes an appealing excuse as to why he commit the sins we commit. There is not one instance in the Bible where Jesus or the apostles dealt with moral evil or deep-rooted patterns of sinful behavior in believers by binding or rebuking demons. Now Satan and his demons can tempt us and sometimes powerfully at times, on that point there is not debate, but when we sin the responsibility lies with us.
And if we find ourselves in a pattern of sinful behavior which is difficult to shake, it is not due to demonic infiltration, but because we have neglected the means of grace which God has provided. And if we keep falling to the same sin over and over, it is not because a demon has bound our will, it is because they have found a temptation that works on us and they just keep using what works. Thomas Ice, in his fine book “Overrun by Demons” has a fine chapter entitled “The Enemy Within.” And he makes the observation that in the 21 epistles written to Christians addressing Christian living, demons are only mentioned ten times and most of those instances are just relating facts about them, and yet in the same letters, there are over 50 references to the flesh as the primary enemy of the Christian, and the term “flesh” is just one of the words used to refer to our sinful natures. And I find it very significant that in these passages where Paul mentions the very sins which cause deep-rooted, compulsive behavior, like sexual sins, like the occult, like fear, like anger, like pride and so forth, nothing is ever said about binding and rebuking demons but rather the biblical writers call for repentance and a return to the basic of Christian living. This viewpoint makes a travesty out of all the teaching we have in the epistles.
Even that woman Jezebel in Revelation 2 who is involved in immorality and idolatry and the occult and is being allowed to teach that in the Church, how does Jesus Christ, the Wonderful Counselor deal with her problem? He tells her to repent or He will come to her in judgment. Well, there is so much more I’d like to say here, but I must keep moving on. Let me say thirdly a quick word about this practice of rebuking demons and binding demons by making several observations. First, this practice is based upon misinterpreted Scripture. When Jesus talks about binding the strong man in Matthew 12, that entire passage is not dealing with the spiritual warfare of present day Christians, it is dealing with Israel committing the unpardonable sin. And Jesus is giving an evidence there that He is not demon possessed.
Another misinterpreted passage which is a basis for this practice is found in Matthew 16 and then again in Matthew 18 where Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter and tells him that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven. And we have pointed out in previous studies when we went through that passage, Jesus is giving to the church spiritual authority as an institution to boldly proclaim divine revelation and in Matthew 18 the context is dealing with church discipline not spiritual warfare. Second, the Scripture specifically says in Revelation 20 that Satan will not be bound until the future millennial reign of Christ, and so in the meantime, if we’re trying to bind him, we’re wasting our breath. Third, the Scripture never instructs us to speak to Satan or to bind Satan or to rebuke Satan. Fourth, even Michael, the great archangel, did not personally rebuke the devil but he said “the Lord rebuke you.”
A fourth specific I would like to say a word about very quickly and this has to do with the argument that Jesus and the apostles cast out demons and had encounters with the demonic, doesn’t that then set a precedent that we should do the same? Furthermore, it is argued, nowhere does Scripture say that we aren’t to do this? Now again there are so many points I would like to make, but I really want to wrap this introduction up tonight so we can move into the text, so I will just mention two things in this regard and then we’ll be through. First, we must understand that God works in different ways at different times. When Christ came to this world, He was offering to establish His literal, earthly kingdom.
And in order to validate that He was their Messiah, and in order to show them what the kingdom would be like, He performed miracles in the demonic world as well as other miracles. And He gave the apostles the same abilities to validate their ministries. And that is why Paul refers to those things as the signs or marks of an apostle. And when Jesus and the Apostles passed off the scene, history is very clear that these things left with them. And that is why the epistles do not instruct us during the church age to do these things—the kingdom is not being offered today and the foundation of the church through the apostles and prophets has already been laid. Their ministries were once-for-all, unique ministries. The second observation I would make is just for you to see the faulty logic in this entire argument: that since Christ did something we should do it or since the Bible doesn’t say this is to stop, that means it is still operative.
On April 15th in the year 2000, our 1999 federal income taxes are due. I wonder how many Christians are going to go fishing that day? Do you see my point? Jesus paid Peter’s temple tax using the coin that was in the mouth of a fish that Peter caught. Now I have not been able to find to this point in my study of the New Testament which says that that is an invalid way to get money to pay your taxes. To expect a specific passage in the epistles to void that as a way to pay taxes is absurd. Jesus and the apostles caught miraculous amounts of fish, they walked on water, they fed the hungry with very little food, they raised the dead, Jesus controlled the weather, Jesus forgave sins. To use the argument that because they did it, I can do it, is completely fallacious reasoning.
Our responsibility is to fight the good fight as we are instructed to in the New Testament epistles. John Bolt sums it up pretty well in an article in the “Calvin Theological Journal” back in 1994 when he wrote this: “Is there a war on for Christians? Undoubtedly! However, the weapons suggested by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 won’t make the headlines of the National Enquirer; they include sound doctrine, evangelical readiness, obedience, and above all prayer.”