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Spiritual Warfare: Past, Present, and Future PDF  | Print |  E-mail
“Spiritual Warfare” and “Deliverance Ministry” and Seventh-day Adventists---Part 1
A Report of the Biblical Research Institute

(Reproduced from Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, ed., Here We Stand [2005])

[A new statement of belief was voted at the church's worldwide General Conference Session in July 2005 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. This new doctrinal statement highlights the power of Christ in confronting and vanquishing demonic powers, and affirms the freedom of believers from past deeds and influences. Among other things, the proposed Fundamental Belief seeks to offer hope to those living in cultures where the fight against "evil spirits" is a daily occurrence. As the church discusses the proposed 28th Fundamental Belief and its implications, members and leaders will be benefited by an insightful report--“’Spiritual Warfare’ and ‘Deliverance Ministry’ and Seventh-day Adventists”—that was approved by the General Conference’s Biblical Research Institute Committee in 1983. The article that follows is the first part of that BRICOM report. The next article will present Part II of the report, identifying some problems in the “Deliverance Ministry.” ---Samuel Koranteng-Pipim]


Seventh-day Adventists believe that behind the scenes of earthly affairs, invisible, supernatural forces of good and evil are engaged in cosmic warfare for the control of every human being (Eph 6:12). We believe in the existence of a literal, personal devil, now named Satan, who once was a perfect (and heaven's highest) angel (Ezek 28:15). Scripture further declares that Satan experienced a moral fall, took one-third of all the holy angels with him (Rev 12:4), and at the conclusion of that first war in heaven he was literally, physically, ejected, eventually coming down to planet earth (verses 7-9). Here he continues yet today, diligently waging warfare against the kingdom of God and all that is good and worthwhile in the universe. We believe that today under Satan's immediate, direct control there are multitudes of evil spirits, fallen angels, demons, allied with him in this "great controversy between Christ and Satan."

 We believe, further, that we are today living in the closing days of this earth's history, and that this warfare will intensify to an unprecedented degree as this ages-long conflict draws to its close (verse 12). Because these supernatural forces of good and evil operate largely outside the range of human knowledge and control, their nature and modes of operation are not always clear and understandable; yet we believe that these forces are real and personal.

 We also believe that it is the inalienable right of every child of God to be free from the control of Satan (though not, of course, from his temptations) through the superior power of Jesus Christ who won a supreme victory over Satan at Calvary. There, by His personal and once-for-all sacrifice, He earned the right to confer upon His followers not only eternal life in the hereafter, but also freedom from the control of Satan in this present temporal existence.

 A number of other Christians also believe all of the above doctrinal tenets surrounding the problem of evil in the universe, and they invitingly beckon Seventh-day Adventists to join with them actively in doing something constructively to combat the reign of Satan in this world. They claim that they have the power to cast out evil spirits, to drive back the supernatural forces of Satan's kingdom of darkness, and to dispossess him of his human prey. They say that we Adventists, too, may have this power--indeed, if we are truly genuine Christians, we will have this power, and that we may wield it as they do. Anything less, they affirm, is a virtual denial of the Christian faith once delivered to the saints.

 The "deliverance" sessions they conduct are impressive, dramatic, and sensational. They appear to confront Satan and his evil angels in direct combat. They seem to have power to force demons audibly to identify themselves by name, and then they boldly order them to depart the body of their victim by the superior power in the name of Jesus Christ. And the demons seem to obey!

 Now these exponents of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" invite us to join them in this challenging work which, say they, carries not only the authority but also the command of Scripture.

 Should we go along?

There are some in the church who think we should.

 There are others who are raising questions.

 To raise questions at this point is not to prove oneself a skeptic, or to impugn either the sincerity or dedication of the practitioners of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry." Nor is it a "cop-out" to escape the high risks that necessarily devolve upon anyone who dares to challenge Satan on his home ground.

 In the same sermon in which Jesus commanded, "Judge not, that ye be not judged," He also declared that "by their fruits ye shall know them" (see Matt 7:1, 16, 20). While no Christian may ever judge the character or motivation of a fellow human being, yet Christ clearly intended to convey the idea that His followers should carefully reason from cause to effect, and from effect to cause, and order their lives accordingly in a prudent fashion.

 Christianity is not predicated upon the abdication of a human being's reasoning powers. On the contrary, it places a premium upon their correct functioning--but always within the framework of faith and based upon inspired writings. Christianity, indeed, sanctifies reason and intellect, placing them upon vantage ground, all the while subordinating them to the objective control of the Word of God.

 In "deliverance ministry," as it is variously practiced at the present time by many of its enthusiastic advocates, there are a number of features which give cause for serious concern, that raise a danger signal, that sound a warning for caution. In (a) the philosophy which undergirds the movement, and in (b) the manner in which it is often practiced (interestingly, the methodology is often in a state of flux), the committee finds that which causes it to take a second look--especially in view of certain pertinent Scriptures and rather straightforward, clearcut statements from the writings of Ellen G. White which our church holds, respectfully, to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit. (For example, our church has been warned that in the very last days just such challenges to the miraculous "will bring Seventh-day Adventists to the test.") [2]

 It is, therefore, neither unkind nor unfair to draw back a moment to raise some probing, penetrating questions and to seek frank answers for such, to "test the spirits" by yardsticks provided by inspired writings. It is an area too important to trifle with, for mistakes here may affect the destiny not only of the afflicted but also the one who seeks to bring him relief.


It is impossible today to understand adequately phenomena in "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" without first taking into account the data available to us from the times of the Bible and the subsequent development of the post-New Testament Christian Church. Since prophecy has been defined by one writer as "history written in advance," it will not be inappropriate to include here a survey of instruction and counsel from Scripture and the pen of Ellen White concerning what the present and future may hold for God's people just before Jesus returns.

A. The Old and Intertestamentary Periods

The Mesopotamian-Canaanite world out of which the Old Testament emerged was extremely conscious of the existence of malignant spirits, and the Hebrew prophets attested in their writings to this fundamental reality even in their own culture.

 On the contrary, however, demonology, while certainly present among the Hebrews, still existed in inchoate form in Old Testament times, at least as far as the inspired record attests. While there are in its pages undeniable evidences of what today we might speak of as demonic possession, there is not one single clear-cut instance of "exorcism" (the expulsion of evil spirits from persons and/or places--an especially well-known phenomenon in Sumero-Akkadian civilizations) being practiced among the Jews of Old Testament times.

 Why is this so? If demons were present, why were no steps taken for their expulsion? One answer suggested by scholars is that (Jehovah) is, from beginning to end, seen as so fully in control of all situations and circumstances that the evil spirits are always seen as completely under the regulation and control of Jehovah, thus their preemptive activity is totally precluded. The problem of demonology, as far as the world of the Hebrews of antiquity is concerned, is therefore merely a peripheral one, completely overshadowed by the commanding presence and total authority of Jehovah.

 A crucial distinction needs to be recognized at this point between the attitude toward the existence of demons by the Jews and that of their non-Hebrew neighbors. The Babylonians, for example, saw every illness as traceable to the work of demons (some Christians today would concur in this view). The Israelites, however, recognized that although demons indeed might cause illness, not every such manifestation is properly linked to their direct activity.

 The typical non-Hebrew dweller in Mesopotamia lived his life constantly in fear and danger of evil spirits. Amulets were widely favored to ward off such encounters, but the chief recourse for protection was found in the form of ceremonies of incantation, administered by a professional priest/exorcist. In the ceremony (not unlike the practice of some in "deliverance ministry" today) the officiating priest sought to discover which demon or demons were troubling the afflicted, the better to conduct successfully the appropriate required ceremony. The ritual not only utilized certain incantation rites but also employed specific verbal formulae blurred magic, religion, and disease.

 There is a remarkable--and distressing--similarity between these pagan Sumero-Akkadian rituals and those sometimes employed modern "Christian" practitioners of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry"--a concern to which we will return again and again.

Although the incantation rituals achieved great popularity in ancient Mesopotamia, there is, by way of stark contrast, a total absence of such rites in the official practices recorded among the Hebrews. Indeed, their Old Testament Scriptures inveighed heavily against the practice of magic, incantation, and exorcistic liturgies.

 As the demonology of the intertestamental period developed, these evil spirits were frequently identified or associated with dispositions such as fornication or greed, an identification now revived and increasingly witnessed among believers in "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry"--a cause of growing concern among many.

 In this milieu it generally came to be accepted that every kind of illness, from insanity down to lesser afflictions, was due to the immediate presence and activity of malevolent spirits. Demons came to be seen as also being capable of possessing places and events as well as people. And thus it was that ritual exorcism, once the exclusive preserve of the pagan dwellers of Mesopotamia and totally unknown in the Judaism of biblical times, now becomes commonplace along the Hebrews.

 Partly perhaps because of their contact with Persian influences, the Jews in intertestament times signalled a shift in their perception of reality. Until now, demons had largely been associated with physical evil; now they become attached to ethical evil as well. This ethical opposition to God and His kingdom transforms demons into devils, and places them under the severest censure.

 Thus, by the time we reach the Christian era of the first century A.D. we find the marked presence of demonology in the New Testament where Jesus and His disciples are frequently portrayed as in conflict with demonic forces. And there is a growing interest with things demonic.

 To recapitulate, the similarity between the ancient Near Eastern exorcistic rituals and that practiced today by many practitioners of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry" tends to give pause to the objective Christian observer of the contemporary scene, especially in view of the absence of such rituals from the Old Testament (and, as we will note subsequently, below, basically from the New Testament as well).

 The absence of exorcistic ritual from the Old Testament points to the power of Yahweh over all evil. This focus on the salvation of God points us away from excessive preoccupation with the demonic.

 And the relationship between the use of demonic terminology to characterize disease, increasingly popular in certain "deliverance circles today, may merely reflect an over-sensitiveness and superstitious conscience. It, unfortunately, goes beyond the biblical data to label uncritically all or most disease as directly caused by Satan.

 B. The New Testament Period

The New Testament writings present the perplexing and distressing picture of demonic forces not only impinging upon but ruling over creaturely existence. The influence of these forces is portrayed throughout the New Testament, but specific case examples of demon possession and deliverance of Satan's captives are confined to the Gospels and Acts. (Concern with demonic possession and deliverance is, of course, present elsewhere in the New Testament--see Colossians and 1 Peter, for example.) We will now attempt to summarize the data from these five books.

 Although the distinction probably is not significant (since both Satan and his subordinate fallen angels have the same objectives and utilize much the same modus operandi), it may yet be interesting to note that although Satan is viewed as behind and superior to all demonic Forces, except in the case of Judas, in the New Testament Satan himself is never spoken of as "possessing" an individual. Rather, he is pictured as the instigator of moral evil, the one who tempts weakened mortals to sin. Contrarily, demons or spirits are described as the agencies that possess the bodies (physical illness) or minds (mental illness) of people, but not as the powers that tempt persons to sin.

 There seems to be some evidence that people became possessed because they were especially sinful (Judas is one example to the contrary that quickly comes to mind). While possession and special sinfulness may go hand in hand (Mary Magdalene may he a good case in point), in terms of the data of the New Testament itself, possession appears to be related specifically to physical and mental illness, rather than to be linked with doing sinful deeds.

 With regard to possession and illness, there appears to be no precise demarcation made in the New Testament between demon possession and illness caused by other factors. Sometimes people are pictured as ill with various diseases without any mention being made of possession; at other times the same diseases are ascribed to possession. In any case, from the New Testament point of view, while not all illness is due (or even is pictured as being due) to possession, the supernatural power of evil is seen as behind all illness.

 The most notable feature of possession is the substitution of the human self, ego, or personality by an alien spiritual power. This is seen especially in cases where the demons speak through the vocal chords of the demonized.

 Concerning the characteristics of the demons, the following are especially notable:

 1. The Gospels imply degrees of badness among the evil spirits.

 2. They also correspondingly portray degrees of demon possession.

 3. The demons exhibit supernatural knowledge of the identity of Jesus and the fact of their own judgment and destruction.

 4. The methodology by which the demons are dispossessed of their human prey is spelled out clearly in Scripture: They are expelled by a simple, short, authoritative word of command. Interestingly, Jesus is nowhere in the Gospels called an "exorcist." And when He casts out demons there are never any long, drawn-out, time-consuming exercises. Prayer Is mentioned in connection with deliverance from demons only in one instance where the nature of the possession appears to be exceptionally severe.

 Though the power to cast out demons was indeed conferred on Christ's disciples by the Lord, the New Testament--in terms of the data it supplies--is very reserved about this power being given, as far as including all people at all times.

 The act and task of demon-deliverance must be understood in the Scriptures in the overall understanding of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, and the infilling of Christ's Spirit. Here it finds its ultimate significance.

 There are two elements common to deliverance from demons in the Gospel and Acts accounts: (a) the mention of Jesus' name, and (b) the exercise of faith. Prayer and fasting (mentioned in only one account) are perhaps to be viewed under the broad heading of the exercise of faith. Also, certain strange (to us) acts (touching the hem of a garment, praying over handkerchiefs or aprons, standing in Peter's shadow, et cetera,) probably have more to do ultimately with the exercise of faith in Jesus than with any other factor.

 The casting out of demons was not an end in itself; the vacuum left by the departing devils must be filled by positive good--God's presence--lest the demons return to an empty place and make it worse than it was before, And the casting out of demons can only be properly understood in the overall context of the motif of the kingdom of God--and His kingdom in men's hearts.

 It appears that the Scriptures are concerned lest potentially sensationalistic phenomena be overly magnified. In the case of "speaking in tongues" it is implicitly permitted, but tightly regulated, and placed last in all of the catalogues of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

 C. The Post-New Testament Period

The earliest evidence of what might be called a Christian rite of exorcism is found in the middle of the third century (about the year A.D. 250). Here we discover the practice of a ritual conducted in conjunction with baptism. It appeared to signify the change that the baptismal candidate was making, withdrawing his prior allegiance to the realm of Satan and the demons and placing it now with the realm of Christ.

 It is important that we do not confuse this kind of "exorcism" with the kind exhibited in cases where demons are believed to have taken possession of individuals and are summarily expelled. During medieval times farfetched tales of wonders of various sorts were widespread and prevalent, but it is not until the last Middle Ages that there is much reliable evidence demonstrating that much attention was given by Christians to what we today speak of as "exorcism." As a matter of fact, it appears that what little efforts at exorcism were made at this time seem more to be devoted to the matter of how to identify witches than anything else.

 The formal ritual in conjunction with baptism, mentioned above, was evidently practiced generally throughout the Middle Ages in connection with a somewhat elaborate rite (which rite was condensed in the Rituale Romanum of A.D. 1614).

 Interestingly, an abbreviated Form of this rite was also published in the earliest Lutheran service books. But Calvinists shunned this sort of practice, and the Lutherans themselves generally came to abandon it as well.

 Perhaps must striking (and significant) for us today is the evidence from history in the early modern period (about A.D. 1600). Exorcists in England, southwest Germany, and Italy were then gaining some degree of notoriety. The ecclesiastical authorities were usually found to be questioning the procedures and/or validity of the exorcisms that were purportedly being conducted, and ecclesiastical trials of the would-be exorcists were the usual consequence for such sensationalists.

 One especially striking case of the period involved an Italian monk who produced a flurry of excitement by his activity ostensibly in casting out demons. His colleagues and ecclesiastical superiors were amazed and puzzled by his success in view of the very scandalous life he was then living!

 A relatively successful exorcism, therefore, is not necessarily evidence that the power of God has truly been at work.

 A fact noted at this point in history has also been observed by many in more recent times: Whereas in places where devils had not previously been known to be prevalent prior to the arrival of this monk-exorcist, all manner of them seemed to crop up when he came to town.

 Until the fairly recent upsurge of interest in exorcism developed, neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant Christian bodies have given much attention to the phenomenon of exorcism, at least in Western Europe and in North America. As recently us 1961 one Catholic authority could declare that exorcism was "rarely necessary in civilized lands; but foreign missionaries are sometimes called on to use it." (Protestants, generally, have tended for the most part to hold the same view.)

 D. Today and Tomorrow

Inspiration has told us that the period of Christ's personal ministry among men was the time of greatest activity for the forces of the kingdom of darkness. For ages Satan with his evil angels had been seeking to control the bodies and the souls of men, to bring upon them sin and suffering; then he had charged all this misery upon God. Jesus was revealing to men the character of God. He was breaking Satan's power, and setting his captives free. New life and love and power from heaven were moving upon the hearts of men, and the prince of evil was aroused to contend for the supremacy of his kingdom. Satan summoned all his forces, and at every step contested the work of Christ. [3]

 Then, without a break, the Lord looks down to the closing scenes of this earth's history, and prompts His special messenger to add these words full of significance to us who Live today:
 So it will be in the great final conflict of the controversy between righteousness and sin. While new life and light and power are descending from on high upon the disciples of Christ [possibly a reference to the outpouring of the latter rain of the Holy Spirit prior to the close of human probation ], a new life is springing up from beneath, and energizing the agencies of Satan. Intensity is taking possession of every earthly element. With a subtlety gained through centuries of conflict, the prince of evil works under a disguise. [4]

 We are told, further, by this same writer, that it is indeed "important" for us to understand Satan's snares, that we may escape them today. In his "last campaign," Satan will move upon "some deceived souls" to advocate the idea that he does not really exist as a personal entity. [5]

 Indeed, one of his snares is the "subtle," "mischievous," and "fast-spreading" "error" that "Satan has no existence as a personal being; that the name is used in Scripture merely to represent men's evil thoughts and desires"[6]--merely a rhetorical device to personify evil. And this prediction, made more than a century ago, is more than amply fulfilled today by modern humanism.

 Whatever the popular concept may be today, the testimony of the Bible is that Jesus believed in a personal devil. Immediately upon entering into His earthly ministry, Christ was confronted by such a personage who brought nearly overwhelming temptations to Him. They conversed together (not, however, over the person of a possessed human being!), and this confrontation was real (see Matt 4:1-11).

 Then, as now, Satan worked "with all deceivableness of unrighteousness" in those who "received not the love of the truth" (2 Thess 2:10). God permits the wicked, who deliberately choose evil, to "believe a lie" through the "strong delusions" which Satan increasingly will bring as the end of time approaches (verse 11).

 And in the very last days, we are told, Satan will work with "all power and signs and lying wonders" (verse 9); even the "very elect" will be in grave danger of this deception. No less than four times in the end-time prophecy of Matthew 24 does Jesus warn of deception and urge alertness (verses 4, 5, 11, 24). And at the last Satan will work dramatically, especially in performing genuine miraculous manifestations to carry the day (Rev 13:13, 14; 16:13, 14), ultimately producing that "crowning" deception--the impersonation of the second coming of Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor 11:14). [7]

 One of the chief deceptions Satan instituted during medieval times was the palming off upon a gullible, unsuspecting public the notion that instead of his being a fallen angel of light, Satan was, instead, a horrible red-skinned creature with animal-like horns; cloven hoofs; wolf-like ears; scaly, fish-like skin; possessed of an animal-like tail with a spike at its tip; who carried a spear-like trident.

 Today most people (at least in western culture) merely laugh at such a characterization. And that suits Satan's purposes well--for men seldom fear that at which they can laugh. Furthermore, they will tend to ignore something that they don't really believe exists. [8]

 They didn't laugh at Satan' in medieval times; they feared him. And in many primitive societies today men still greatly fear a literal, personal devil. And this, too, suits Satan's purposes well; for where he can paralyze with fear, there he can win, too.

 The story of Jesus' casting out a host of demons from the two men of Gadara (Mark 5:1-20) provides five facts about the existence and activity of Satan and his evil angels, evidence that we need today to counterattack his deception that he and his cohorts do not have a personal existence:

 1. Their reality. They are real personalities. On this one singular occasion, Jesus entered into a conversation with them (which, incidentally, they initiated).

 2. Their number. They declared, in answer to Christ's demand that they identify themselves, "My name is Legion, for we are many" (verse 9). In Christ's day a Roman legion might number somewhere between three and five thousand soldiers.

 3. Their organization. Like the Roman legions, "Satan's hosts ... are marshalled in companies, and the single company to which these demons belonged numbered no less than a legion." [9]

 4. Their supernatural power. The madmen broke the chains restraining them; and the swine (into which the demons were subsequently cast) were swept down a cliff to their destruction in the sea below.

 5. Their malignity. The bleeding, disfigured bodies and distracted minds of the two Gadarenes well illustrate what Satan will do when given an opportunity to "possess" the bodies and minds of men.

 Satan, then, is a real, personal being.

 Does that mean that everything that is strange and bizarre in our world today is evidence of the direct operation of Satan and his demons? Should we not battle against these personal attacks by the enemy of all souls?

 Before we can address that question directly, it may prove helpful to make three crucial distinctions, the better to examine their program intelligently and to decide whether it meets the criteria of inspiration, or is weighed in the balances and found wanting.


Before any useful assessment of the validity and helpfulness of the program of "spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry," as it is generally beginning to be practiced among us, can be made, some basic rules must be formulated. And the drawing of three basic distinctions will help us toward that goal.

 A. Avoiding an "Either-Or" Mentality

One feature in "deliverance ministry," as it is popularly being practiced today, which disturbs an increasingly large number of observers, is the tendency to view this present life in the starkest of simplistic terms--to see either a demon or a good angel involved, immediately, in every human decision and activity.

 The informed Christian, we believe, will avoid two equally serious but opposite extremes as he/she relates to baffling phenomena which appear to be of supernatural origin:

 1. A "Satan-made-me-do-it" mentality, in which Satan is identified as the immediate cause of every misfortune and every sinful deed; or

 2. A virtual denial of the existence of Satan's "supernatural" operation in our otherwise "natural" world.

 Either position is unrealistic, and is fraught with peril. Let us note why.

 While we believe that ultimately all evil is traceable to Satan, the originator of sin, we do not believe that Satan or his evil angels are always directly responsible for every deviation from what we have come to understand as "normal" in human experience. Many illnesses, for instance, whether physical or mental, are simply the result of genetic inheritance, or living in a world of sin, or simply the natural consequences of our disobedience to God-given laws of health and well-being.

 Having said that, we do not believe that this fact rules out the possibility of direct involvement of evil spirits in influencing human affairs and behavior. Indeed, in some circumstances supernatural entities very clearly are involved. There is a devil--as we have already declared--and he "must not be allowed to get the better of us: we know his devices all too well" (2 Cor 2:11, New English Bible; emphasis supplied).

 It also appears that the father of lies in some cases operates supernaturally by simulating "natural" diseases so closely as to render them almost indistinguishable from ordinary diseases. Because of these considerations it behooves each of us to exercise extreme caution and prudence in dealing with cases of alleged demon possession.

 And there are, certainly, genuine cases of demonic control or harassment. Evil angels, because of their superior intelligence, powers, and invisibility, obviously have a tremendous advantage over human beings. The only way in which they can be defeated is by the application of the Word of God and the supernatural forces of the Holy Spirit and holy angels.

 It is still necessary, though to recognize a cogent point made by a recent contemporary writer[10] who (borrowing an expression from the Book of Common Prayer of the Protestant Episcopal Church[11]) provides us with a most helpful insight into the fact that the Christian is the target of three separate (but often coordinated) forces waging war against him: (a) the "flesh," (b) the "world," and (c) the "devil."

 Now only in the last of these three categories is Satan seen as directly operative (although it is readily conceded that every bad thing ultimately comes from Satan, even as "every good gift and perfect gift" ultimately comes "from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17)).

 The apostle (in this same passage, three verses earlier) is here indicating that at least some of the temptations that mankind faces arise merely when a man is "drawn away of his own lust [desire] and [is] enticed" (verse 14, emphasis supplied).

 What we are saying here is simply this: every son or daughter of Adam has a fallen nature because of the moral "fall" of our first parents in Eden (I Cor 15:22). And that fallen nature makes it hard for us to do good, and easy for us to do evil (Jer 13:12). This inherited sinful nature is opposed to God's program for mankind, and each human being has inherited a basic predisposition (or bias, or "bent") to sin (Rom 8:7). And one of the most common New Testament words to identify this fallen nature of man is the word "flesh" (Rom 7:5, 18; 8:3, 8, et cetera).

 Used in this particular way (and it should be noted in passing that "flesh" is used perhaps a dozen ways in Scripture), "flesh" here signifies in the words of Alexander Cruden, "the whole corruption and depravity of our nature." [12]

 This, then, is the struggle confronting the Christian quite apart from the direct immediate temptation from Satan or his evil angels that is a continuing fact of life with which we must deal. Furthermore, Galatians 5:16-21 identifies at least 17 specific manifestations of the "flesh" in which we humans sin quite apart from any immediate external temptation from satanic agencies, quite simply and only because we have a fallen, sinful nature that always predisposes us to commit these sins.

 Next, one use of the term "world" refers to society and an environment totally pagan and unremittingly antagonistic and hostile to the living of the committed Christian life. It is geared to reinforce our internal tendencies toward evil through external stimuli.

 In the New Testament the Greek word cosmos is often translated as "world," and in this sense it "often stands for the ungodly ... or for worldly interests that lead one away from God." [13]Thus the Apostle John urges us to
 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever (1 John 2:15-17).

 In this restrictive sense, "world" then, represents a society at large, and individuals in particular, who are spiritually unrenewed and unregenerated. In John 15:18 the wicked are called the "world" because they relish and savour nothing but worldly things, and pursue nothing but worldly designs. [14]

 Ultimately this enemy-"world" is a system of social, economic, and religious philosophies and practices expressed through organizations and human personalities. But while Satan is ultimately the father-creator of this "world" complex, it may yet nevertheless operate against a Christian quite apart from the direct intervention of Satan and/or his evil angels at the personal, individual level.

 Finally, evil spirits--devils--most certainly do come in person to tempt (Eph 6:12; 1 Tim 4:1) and to make attractive to each of us both sins of commission (1 John 3:4) and sins of omission (James 4:17). They also taunt and torment (Luke 8:29; Matt 17:15; Mark 1:26). And they must certainly must be reckoned with. But the whole point being made here is this: evil spirits are not always the immediate cause of every human sin.

 Contrarily, while it is dangerous (because it is misleading) to blame Satan as the immediately predisposing cause of every sin that we commit, it is equally dangerous to deny (as do secular humanists and some Christians) that an actual being named Satan causes any sin. And today there are many who deny any supernatural causation of undesirable behavior or attitudes. Yet Seventh-day Adventists are assured, by an inspired writer, "It is Satan's special device to lead man into sin." [15]

 B. Harassment Versus Possession

A second crucial distinction that the Christian will wish to make is in the area of situations where Satan and his evil angels are admittedly active. He will wish to differentiate between the external harassment of demons (which is the universal experience of us all) and Satanic possession or control (which is the experience of a comparatively much smaller group of human beings). (By the term "possession" we here wish to designate control of human neurology and physiology--the control of an individual's higher centers, central nervous system, individual organs of the body, et cetera).

 Ellen White has written extensively upon the "Agency of Evil Spirits"[16] and "The Power of Satan." [17] [footnote 16] In the latter presentation she makes a very useful and significant distinction between (a) Satan going "to the extent of his power to harass, tempt, and mislead God's people," on the one hand, and (b) situations in which individuals had "lost control of themselves, and Satan made them do that which they detested." [18]

 Referring to this latter species of spiritualistic phenomena, Mrs. White goes on to add: "It comes so direct from his satanic majesty, that he claims the right to control all who have to do with it, for they have ventured upon forbidden ground, and have forfeited the protection of their Maker." [19]

 Thus, "Satan holds them by his power, and is not willing to let them go free. He knows that they are surely his while he has them under his special control." [20]  Mrs. White concludes by describing in detail the only way out for such "possessed" souls.

 Every one of us has, at one time or another, been "harassed, tempted, misled" by Satan. But certainly not every one of us has been "possessed"--that is, under the total control of Satan or his angels. For this reason, it is important that those who confront Satan and his angels in any kind of ministry of deliverance determine first (by earnest prayer and heart searching, subjectively, and a careful examination of the victim, objectively) whether the individual seemingly possessed is simply manifesting the symptoms of a natural illness (epilepsy, for example) which might be a form of mere harassment, or whether the individual is in fact subject to direct demonic control.

 It would be unspeakably cruel (for at least three reasons) to suggest to an emotionally disturbed or sin-laden person, in the absence of clearly coercive evidence, that he/she were "possessed" when, in fact, such a person was not demon-controlled:

 (1) It would only serve to make the suffering of a sensitive person more keen--end unnecessarily so. (2) It could, unintentionally, provide for an unstable person an excuse in evading personal responsibility and accountability for his/her actions and problems (not only thereby reinforcing deviant behavior but also retarding the chance for recovery). (3) It might serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy, actually operating in the form of hypnotic suggestion, weakening the resistance of the individual and making him/her subsequently more susceptible to actual possession!

 We recognize that often it may be difficult (if not impossible) to determine whether an individual is possessed, or merely the victim of demonic harassment. But the important thing to remember under all circumstances is that importunate prayer is always appropriate in all situations and at all times. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). Indeed, only two verses earlier James asks,
Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (verses 14, 15).

 There is a distinct danger that Christians may make an invalid dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural. God and Satan are interacting in all that goes on in the world, and with all of the processes that are operating therein. We must be sensitive to the operation of these powers and recognize that supernatural forces--both good and evil--frequently operate in many subtle, unnoticed ways, not merely in the spectacular.

 More important, we do well to remember that any given experience or phenomenon is not necessarily supernatural or satanic. God often produces supernatural phenomena (miracles, for instance). Further, evil often expresses itself in very naturalistic ways. Much can be done for disturbed persons through professional therapy (as will be noted further, below). True religion, true psychiatry, and true psychology are not in opposition to each other.

 C. Natural Illness or Supernatural Possession?

It follows, then, that a third and very necessary distinction needs to be made between "natural" mental illness on the one hand, and supernatural demon possession on the other (although we do recognize that sometimes natural mental illness may provide both the climate and occasion for Satan to work more directly).

 Many sincere Christians, unfamiliar with human physiology, are greatly surprised to discover that certain of the more gross, abnormal, bizarre forms of behavior often superficially associated with "possession" are often also present in certain kinds of mental illness in which demon possession does not to be a factor. We speak of such things as: foaming at the mouth; noisy, obscene, blasphemous utterances in unnatural, altered (and often guttural) vocal registers, or shrill, spine-chilling screams; falling into trancelike states; and violent bodily seizures in which the unfortunate victim may suddenly be thrown to the floor, or violently against walls or furniture. All of these symptoms, sometimes seen in genuine cases of demon possession, are also common responses of victims of various "natural" mental disorders. Thus the ignorance an individual concerning the nature and operation of nature's laws could (and often does) result in that person's seeking to explain these phenomena by means of the spirit world, and thus finding demons where none exist.

 (Perhaps at this point it is also worth noting the contrary truth: Some individuals who are genuinely "possessed" may exhibit perfectly normal, natural behavior--and thus are enabled to do Satan's bidding all the more effectively.)

 We quickly grant that all mental (as well as physical) illness is a by-product of sin, and may be said, in the ultimate sense, to be caused by Satan. But a knowledge of certain forms of mental illness is extremely helpful, because apparently some mental illnesses are primarily caused by biochemical, environmental, genetic factors; abuses of alcohol and/or other drugs; and simply physical illness. (Again, in some instances, Satan may also become involved more directly.)

 Unquestionably some mental illness is a genuine manifestation of direct demonic control of human neurology and physiology. But because there is no evidence that all mental illness involves demonic possession, it is crucially important that those who venture to grapple with the phenomenon of demon possession should, it possible, first have an intelligent awareness of the many and varied determinants of normal and abnormal perceptions, auditory and visual hallucinations, normal and anomalous physical sensations, speech mechanisms, emotional experiences, and thought processes before attempting to deliver a victim believed to be demon-possessed.

 In actual practice, interestingly, there are comparatively few conclusive, telltale evidences of supernatural activity in cases where demon possession is suspected. Even the following four evidences may at times be suspect:

 1. Clairvoyance. The revealing of hidden secrets of private individuals, whether present or not (and often revelations of the secret sins of the one attempting deliverance ministry)--information probably not known by any other human being.

 2. Levitation. The suspension of persons or objects in midair without any natural, physical support.

 3. Apparition. The materializing of ephemeral, spiritualistic, ghost-like beings. [21]

 4. "Tongues-Speaking." The utterance of foreign languages without the individual's prior study of such languages. In the book of Acts the three instances of "speaking in tongues" are all manifestations of their speaking established contemporaneous languages foreign to the apostles and never studied by them beforehand. However, Satan can counterfeit this legitimate gift of the Holy Spirit, and probably the context of any given manifestation must aid in determining whether it is from God or from Satan. If, for example, the speaking of recognizable foreign languages never previously studied is found in a situation involving gross bodily contortions and other highly repulsive behavioral characteristics, the phenomenon probably is not of God, but of Satan.

 If any of these four factors is present in any given phenomena, there may be a strong presumption in favor of the presence of demon possession.

 There is a place, we feel, for ministry to the mentally ill by the trained Christian psychiatrist or psychologist. Ellen White once wrote despairingly of parents who took their children to fraudulent faith healers "instead of trusting in the power of the living God and the skill of well-qualified physicians." [22]  (One wonders if Ellen White were alive today if she would not broaden the category of "well-qualified physicians" to include psychiatrists and psychologists.)

 Mrs. White also wrote, in 1908, to a husband and wife who were actively involved allegedly in casting out demons, and her inspired counsel is germane to this consideration.

 In vision Mrs. White observed Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Mackin "making some sad mistakes" in their labor for Christ. In their personal study of the Scriptures and of Mrs. White's writings these Seventh-day Adventists had come to "wrong conclusions." She therefore sounded a warning concerning their present activities, for "the Lord's work would be greatly misunderstood if you should continue to labor as you have begun." As a consequence of their "false interpretation" of inspired writings, the Mackins apparently had sought to carry on what Ellen White described as a "strange work" which included efforts at exorcism of alleged demons. And she wrote them earnestly:

 You have even supposed that power is given you to cast out devils. Through your influence over the human mind men and women are led to believe that they are possessed of devils, and that the Lord has appointed you as His agents for casting out these evil spirits. [23]

 This activity, she went on to warn them, will "endanger not only your own souls but the souls of many others," because the Mackins were using Scripture coupled with Mrs. White's writings "to vouch for the genuineness" of their messages and activities. In claiming their authority from Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy writings, Mrs. White unequivocally declared to them, "You are deceived." She characterized their work as "incorrect,... inconsistent and fanatical," which as a consequence made "twentyfold harder" the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church "in acquainting the people with the truths of the Third Angel's Message."

 And in a message to the churches in California, warning them of the "strange work" of the Mackins, Mrs. White declared unequivocally:

 I was shown that it was not the Spirit of the Lord that was inspiring Brother and Sister L [the Mackins], but the same spirit of fanaticism that is ever seeking entrance into the remnant church. Their application of Scripture to their peculiar exercises is Scripture misapplied. The work of declaring persons possessed of the devil, and then praying with them and pretending to cast out the evil spirits, is fanaticism which will bring into disrepute any churchwhich sanctions such work. [24]

 Even more to the point are these next solemn and impressive words of Mrs. White which perhaps have a special application to misguided souls attempting "deliverance ministry" as it is commonly perceived end practiced today: "We are none of us to seek to cast out devils, lest we ourselves be cast out.”[25]

 What conclusions may reasonably be inferred from these two directives from one given heaven-inspired messages for the remnant church today?

 1. Obviously not every person who appears to be demon possessed is in fact demon possessed.

 2. Not every Christian who names the name of Christ is called upon by God to engage in the work of casting out evil spirits. (This point is interesting, if for no other reason than the fact that many who are engaged in contemporary "deliverance ministry" claim that this power to cast out demons is the God-given birthright of every Christian, whether minister or layman; and the failure to exercise it is a virtual denial of the Christian faith.)

 3. While there are situations which may come to our attention in which it is appropriate, through importunate prayer, to cell upon divine aid to expel evil spirits, none should presumptuously go out of his/her way in seeking to confront these evil agencies, lest unwittingly they go in their own armor and be defeated by the devil. For even if one appears to succeed in casting out demons, it is entirely possible that the prince of evil will triumph at the last.

 4. To attempt to cast out a demon when none, in fact, is present, is potentially harmful physically, emotionally, and spiritually, to both the "victim" and to the Christian leader, and renders a disservice to the cause of God which actually could retard its progress.

[The next chapter of this book [Here We Stand] will present Part II of the BRICOM report, highlighting some problems in “Deliverance Ministry” and how we can pray for those afflicted by evil spirits---Samuel Koranteng-Pipim]


[1]    “’Spiritual Warfare’ and ‘Deliverance Ministry’ and Seventh-day Adventists,” A Report of the Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Washington, D.C., 20012, May 1983. The Foreword to the report was written by W. Richard Lesher (the then Director of the Biblical Research Institute). Lesher sums up the findings of the BRICOM. “The committee noted two extreme views prevalent within Christendom today: (1) the tendency to see the immediate presence and activity of evil spirits as the predisposing cause of every individual tragedy of human experience, and (2) the tendency to find purely naturalistic explanations and solutions for all instances of mental and emotional illness and abnormal behavior. While the committee felt that the Scriptures and the writings of Mrs. White clearly point to the reality of the demonic and to the legitimacy of counseling and importunate prayer to bring freedom and relief to victims of Satan's influence, it also recognized that these same inspired sources sound a warning against the dangers inherent in misapplication, misuse, and mishandling of this kind of ministry. Indeed, the committee felt that in certain instances brought to its attention misuse (if not malpractice) has occurred, a misuse which has proven dangerous to the spiritual, physical, and/or emotional well-being of the individual whose healing was sought. This cautious stance recognizes that the threefold message of Revelation 14--not the casting out of demons--is yet today the raison d'etre of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The committee's report, which is intended to be educative rather than legislative, is presented here for the reader's serious study in this day when the counsel of the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Ephesus was never more timely [Quoting Eph 6:10-13].”  The entire document can be found at the following websites: and

[2]    Selected Messages, bk 2, p. 53 (hereafter indicated as 2SM) See also pp. 48-55. Unless otherwise indicated, all sources are found in the writings of Ellen G, White.

[3]    The Desire of Ages, p. 257 (hereafter abbreviated as DA).

[4]     Ibid.

[5]    Testimonies for the Church, 1:341 (hereafter abbreviated as 1T, 2T, etc.).

[6]    The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, p. 524 (hereafter abbreviated as GC).

[7]     See also Ibid., pp. 624-25.

[8]    See 1T 295 and GC 516.

[9]    GC 514.

[10]    Mark I. Bubeck, The Adversary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975).

[11]    The Litany, p. 24.

[12]    Cruden's Dictionary of Bible Terms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1958), p. 110.

[13]    Article "World," Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, rev. ed,, p. 1183 (1st ed., pp. 1152-53).

[14]    Cruden, p. 380.

[15]    Christ's Object Lessons, p. 156 (emphasis supplied).

[16]    GC 511-517.

[17]    1T 341-47.

[18]     Ibid., pp. 341, 343 (emphasis supplied).

[19]    Ibid., p. 343 (emphasis supplied).

[20]    Ibid.

[21]    f only one person sees the ghost-like form, it may well be merely an hallucination. However, it several individuals see it, there exists the stronger probability of its being a spiritualistic manifestation.

[22]    Prophets and Kings, p. 211.

[23]    2SM 45.

[24]     Ibid., pp. 46. For background on this singular case, see "The Ralph Mackin Story" in Review and Herald, August 10, 17 and 24, 1972; republished in a White Estate shelf document, "Charismatic Experiences in Early Seventh-day Adventist History."

[25]     Ellen G. White Letter 96, 1990 (emphasis supplied).