Monday, November 15, 2010

Dr Albert Mohler Tries To Explain Why Baptists Don't Have Exorcists or Exorcisms (Updated)

Update- Have fixed the Insanity and Demonic Possession in Patristic Thought LINK below.

Well Exorcist and Exorcism have been in the news a good bit have they not? Even some important Southern Baptist are taking note of it. See Albert Mohler's piece today On Exorcism and Exorcists: An Evangelical View. Dr. Mohler ,who I very much like to read by the way, will be in Louisiana this week speaking and preaching at the Louisiana Baptist Convention in Alexandria.

Now I actually think this article should be entitled " There are no such things as exorcisms /exorcists because there is no such thing as PRIESTS!" I do think that is his main point.

Now when you think about it it is strange for Baptists not to believe in demonic possession and exorcism. I mean scripture is full of it. Now that does not mean he does not believe in Demons as he makes quite clear. Let us get to his argument:

...........So, why is there no evangelical rite of exorcism? We “deal with angels and demons,” too, right? The media attention to the Catholic meeting raises this issue anew.

Evangelical Christians do believe in the existence, malevolence, and power of the Devil and demons. About these things, the New Testament is abundantly clear. We must resist any effort to “demythologize” the New Testament in order to deny the existence of these evil forces and beings. At the same time, we must recognize quickly that the Devil and demons are not accorded the powers often ascribed to them in popular piety. The Devil is indeed a threat, as Peter made clear when he warned: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” [1 Peter 5:8]

The New Testament is also clear that very real cases of demonic possession were encountered by Jesus and his followers. Jesus liberated afflicted individuals as he commanded the demons to flee, and they obeyed him. Likewise, the Apostle Paul performed exorcisms as he confronted the powers of evil and darkness in his ministry.

Ok so far so good however (The bolding is mine)

A closer look at the crucial passages involved reveals no rite of exorcism, however, just the name of Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel. Likewise, there is no notion of a priestly ministry of ordained exorcists in the New Testament.

The weapons of our warfare are spiritual, and the powers that the forces of darkness most fear are the name of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, and the power of his Gospel.

Evangelicals do not need a rite of exorcism, because to adopt such an invention would be to surrender the high ground of the Gospel. We are engaged in spiritual warfare every minute of every day, whether we recognize it or not. There is nothing the demons fear or hate more than evangelism and missions, where the Gospel pushes back with supernatural power against their possessions, rendering them impotent and powerless. Every time a believer shares the Gospel and declares the name of Jesus, the demons and the Devil lose their power.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no New Testament evidence that a believer in Christ can be possessed by demons. Tormented and tempted? Sure. But never possessed. Once we are united with Christ by faith and given the gift of the indwelling Spirit, there is no way a demon can possess us. As the Apostle John reminds us, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” [1 John 4:4]

So, we should respect the power of the Devil and his demons, but never fear them. We do not need a rite of exorcism, only the name of Jesus. We are not given a priesthood of exorcists — for every believer is armed with the full promise of the Gospel, united with Christ by faith, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

He then concludes with Ephesians 6:10-20. Now what to say to all that.

First I think Dr Mohler piece suffers from 3 things. Those are:

(1) A overriding background concern about the Priesthood / Clerical issue

(2) A phobia about Liturgy (his use of the word rite)

(3) A misunderstanding about what Catholics and others are talking about as to possession.

Also let me add this though I don't know this for sure. Dr Mohler might be concerned about certain Charismatic and Pentecostal elements in the Baptist Church that might be open much more to this sort of thing. There is an irony of this. While there seems to be issue of Church authority and liturgy issues lurking in his article he might very well be concerned about a breakdown of Church discipline in his faith community. Especially among growing numbers of Hispanic and Latino Evangelicals that are open to the the reality of demons and possession.

Now to his arguments.

First lets be clear that the Catholic Church demands that exorcism be done by a Priest with approval by a Bishop. From the Catechism:

1673 When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing.176 In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.177

However that the exorcist be always a Priest has not always been a requirement. This Catholic Encyclopedia article lays that out clearly. See also here.

Now for the reasons for the Priest only requirement we see today is due to various factors. First as fewer and fewer Converts came from Paganism there was less need for it. As the Catholic Encyclopedia article explains:

The change is due to the facts that the catechumenate, with which the office of exorcist was chiefly connected, has ceased, that infant baptism has become the rule, and that with the spread of Christianity and the disappearance of paganism, demonic power has been curtailed, and cases of obsession have become much rarer. It is only Catholic missionaries labouring in pagan lands, where Christianity is not yet dominant, who are likely to meet with fairly frequent cases of possession.

Further the Church was concerned about Lay people abusing and misusing the rite of exorcism. Also the Church has learned that exorcism in some cases can be quite dangerous to the person performing the exorcism.

At this time let now introduce a Eastern Orthodox source. Here is a very good interview that covers Eastern Orthodoxy viewpoint on this. See Insanity Or Demonic Possession? A good interview to read in it's entirety. The Mother says in part :

Kevin Allen: Speaking specifically for a moment on demonic possession, and I want to ask you this about the prayers of exorcism, if you can speak to this, are they always to be prayed in our tradition by the priest only?

And the reason I ask this is that I came out of a Pentecostal charismatic tradition where exorcisms, although they weren’t really called that, and casting out of demons by just normal and unskilled laity happened all the time. How do we view that and so on?

Mother Melania: We view that as dangerous and can be quite foolhardy. I do not know if only a priest can ever read the prayers of exorcism. But in The Book of Needs in the service where they give the instructions, it starts out by saying that the priest, because of the serious nature of this, should consult the bishop.

So it’s a very serious thing. Not just any priest should be casting out demons, and especially without speaking to his bishop. There are indications in the early Church that there were exorcists. That was a minor order. And it appears that a lot of what they were doing were the exorcisms of the catechumens before Baptism.

But as far as I know, there were also exorcists of people who had classic demonic possession, if you want to say that. So as far as I know, nobody now except for priests would be praying the prayers of exorcism. But there certainly may be, and there have been in the past, holy lay people with this gift. But it would be a special charism.

And there’s a great story that illustrates one of the problems with this. Elder Cleopa had a novice, and I’ll just read this to you.

After only a few months in the monastery, a novice came to the elder and said, “Father, I have a big grudge against the demons. Grant me permission to read the Exorcism of St. Basil the Great.” Father Cleopa said to him, “You? Oh my goodness! You have a grudge against the demons? May you see what a grudge they have against you. Be sure never to do such a thing. Do you hear? He came just the other day in the monastery and now he wants to curse the devil and read the Exorcism of St. Basil the Great, a great hero.” Thus the elder humbled the spiritual pride of the novice.

And see that is the big problem. It’s so easy to be proud. When you read the stories of the Fathers who do actually have this gift, they are always doing things to protect themselves from pride. And of course, if you read the account of the seven sons of Skiva in Acts, they were set on physically by the devil.

So in addition to the pride that can lead to delusions and total apostasy, you also stand a great physical danger. So yes, it is not a thing to be done lightly at all.

If anyone has read the Late Malachi Martin's book Hostage to the Devil the point of how exorcisms can be dangerous to one performing it really is hit home.

Getting back to the subject. Dr Mohler does not seem aware that as a practical manner the issue of an ordained Priesthood is not really one he should be concerned about.

We now get to the second point that seems to disturb Dr Mohler. This phobia with Liturgy or what he calls "rite". All we need is the name of Jesus and the Gospel he says. Well what exactly does he think the Rite of Exorcism entails.

Let us look at the current Roman Catholic rite for Exorcism. Now while Dr Mohler might object to the Litany of Saints the rite of Exorcism is full of the Gospel and other scripture readings. In fact it is at the core of it.

Of interest the three ancient Prayers of St Basil and one Prayer of St. John Chrysostom that is still used by the Eastern Orthodox today in their rite of Exorcism today. See those in this PDF file. On a related note see this general background on Exorcism in the Eastern Orthodox Church

Returning to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

We have it on the authority of all early writers who refer to the subject at all that in the first centuries not only the clergy, but lay Christians also were able by the power of Christ to deliver demoniacs or energumens, and their success was appealed to by the early Apologists as a strong argument for the Divinity of the Christian religion (Justin Martyr, First Apology 6; Dialogue with Trypho 30 and 85; Minutius Felix, Octavius 27; Origen, Against Celsus I.25; VII.4; VII.67; Tertullian, Apology 22, 23; etc.). As is clear from testimonies referred to, no magical or superstitious means were employed, but in those early centuries, as in later times, a simple and authoritative adjuration addressed to the demon in the name of God, and more especially in the name of Christ crucified, was the usual form of exorcism.

But sometimes in addition to words some symbolic action was employed, such as breathing (insufflatio), or laying of hands on the subject, or making the sign of cross. St. Justin speaks of demons flying from "the touch and breathing of Christians" (Second Apology 6) as from a flame that burns them, adds St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures 20.3). Origen mentions the laying of hands, and St. Ambrose (Paulinus, Vit. Ambr., n. 28, 43, P.L, XIV, 36, 42), St. Ephraem Syrus (Gregory of Nyssa, De Vit. Ephr., P.G., XLVI, 848) and others used this ceremony in exorcising. The sign of the cross, that briefest and simplest way of expressing one's faith in the Crucified and invoking His Divine power, is extolled by many Fathers for its efficacy against all kinds of demoniac molestation (Lactantius, Divine Institutes IV.27; Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 47; Basil, In Isai., XI, 249, P.G., XXX, 557, Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 13.3; Gregory Nazianzen, Carm. Adv. iram, v, 415 sq.; P.G., XXXVII, 842). The Fathers further recommend that the adjuration and accompanying prayers should be couched in the words of Holy Writ (Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis 9; Athanasius, Ad Marcell., n. 33, P.G., XXVII, 45). The present rite of exorcism as given in the Roman Ritual fully agrees with patristic teaching and is a proof of the continuity of Catholic tradition in this matter

Again there is nothing unscriptual going on here.

Now to the last point. Dr Mohler seems to think that Demonic possession is IMPOSSIBLE if one is a "born again" believer. One has to think he might have more of a movie view of possession that he is superimposing on the Catholic Church.

From the Catholic Encylopedia again:

Man is in various ways subject to the influence of evil spirits. By original sin he brought himself into "captivity under the power of him who thence [from the time of Adam's transgression] had the empire of death, that is to say, the Devil" (Council of Trent, Sess. V, de pecc. orig., 1), and was through the fear of death all his lifetime subject to servitude (Hebrews 2:15). Even though redeemed by Christ, he is subject to violent temptation: "for our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Ephesians 6:12). But the influence of the demon, as we know from Scripture and the history of the Church, goes further still. He may attack man's body from without (obsession), or assume control of it from within (possession). As we gather from the Fathers and the theologians, the soul itself can never be "possessed" nor deprived of liberty, though its ordinary control over the members of the body may be hindered by the obsessing spirit (cf. St. Aug., "De sp. et an.", 27; St. Thomas, "In II Sent.", d. VIII, Q. i; Ribet, "La mystique divine", Paris, 1883, pp. 190 sqq.).

Again from the ancient second lung of the Church the Eastern Orthodox we see something similar:
That is a somewhat confusing thing, and he’s saying this within a few pages of each other. So he’s obviously isn’t purposely saying two completely different things. So the way I understand it is that he’s talking about the deepest part of the baptized believer’s soul; that no demon can come there because the Holy Spirit resides there. But they can and do lurk in our bodies and souls.

Which leads us to a rather odd revelation to modern ears. That while being "possessed" is not a great thing according to some Saints there were far worst things.

Again from the Eastern Orthodox article a rather wonderful article that is under the title of Insanity and Demonic Possession in Patristic Thought

In this article see the sections where St John Chrysostom is talking about how (1)It is better to be possessed by a demon than by our passions and (2)where other Saints and Church Fathers talk about how Enslavement to passions is actually a worse type of demonic possession

There is of course much more that could be said on this subject. However let me tell Dr Mohler this. Come on over. There really is nothing UN Baptist about exorcisms and exorcists.

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