The Christian life is not without spiritual struggle. That sounds pretty familiar to most of us, but what do me mean by it? Against whom do we struggle, and how do we do so? Are we supposed to be fighting against spirits?
There is a lot going on lately in the name of ‘spiritual struggle’ or ‘spiritual warfare’. Believers are getting themselves involved in tracking down, localizing, addressing, identifying and casting out demons. Or they have been delivered from demons, yet now live in fear of harbouring even more demons, or different ones. Somebody could be telling you out of the blue that he is guided by extra-biblical revelations, receives visions, engages in ‘listening prayer’ or falls in the Spirit. Others, however, are becoming increasingly confused by such practices.
Though I was no stranger to this subject, my eyes were truly opened after reading the book entitled (in translation): ‘Truly free? Deliverance Ministry brought to light’, written by Els Nannen. Although this book has not (yet) appeared in English, I would like to pass on some of her findings.
The author brings under the spotlight many people who were influential on this terrain, such as Neil T. Anderson, J.C. Blumhardt, W.C. van Dam, John Dawson, John Hofman, Doreen Irvine, Wilkin van de Kamp, E.W. Kenyon, Johan Maasbach, T.L. Osborn, W.J. Ouweneel, M.J. Paul, Leanne Payne, Graham Powell, Derek Prince, Joost Verduijn, C. Peter Wagner, David Wilkerson, etc. She describes movements such as the New Thought movement, Christian Science, the Full Gospel congregations, numerous Pentecostal circles and charismatic movements, Youth with a Mission etc. She also goes back to the early church in the first centuries after Christ. She points out that the fundamental error is evident on a reading of Genesis 3. There God points to man as the guilty party. True, we are warned against Satan because he is always deceiving, tempting, and aiming to devour us, but never is he presented as the one behind whom we can hide, on whom we can put the blame. Deliverance Ministry theologians see that differently. They blame Satan for the descent into sin at the Fall and see man more as a victim. Therefore a very different spiritual struggle arises, not against our old self, but against Satan, who is in everything. Our sins, for which we are responsible, are attributed to demons. Instead of repentance and conversion, deliverance from this demonic possession is necessary. In this way, Satan becomes the main actor, but not he alone. Since he is only a fallen angel and not omnipresent, he makes use of a network of local demons in order to maintain his grip on the whole world. These must all be tracked down and overcome in the name of Jesus. You cannot imagine what this has led to. Physical pain and psychological illnesses are also attributed to local demons, so that instead of healing, exorcism is being practised. This approach has been emphatically rejected by psychiatrists – and rightly so – though not always convincingly. For in the human psyche we cannot explain or interpret everything medically, and when scientists attempt to do so they may get into serious difficulties. A stronger and more elementary resistance is offered by the Scriptures: Do not go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6). It is foolish to want to overcome the devil, for he was already overcome on the cross of Calvary! The question is whether you accept Jesus as your Saviour and as King of your heart. Certainly we must be on our guard against the great tempter, but nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to chase after him and smoke him out. The spiritual struggle is primarily that of the Spirit against our own flesh.
What I found revealing is the distinction in Deliverance Ministry between the written and spoken Word of God. Jesus is the Word that is written in the Bible. Apart from this they expect a spoken word from the Spirit, which can contain all sorts of concrete directions and topical issues. This error is as old as Pentecost, the error that there are two ways in which God comes to us, that Son and Spirit can be parted. We believe that the triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) comes to us in the Son. The Spirit does not work alongside the Son independently. He goes out from the Father and the Son. Whoever opens himself to receiving direct revelations (outside of God’s Word) will find himself floundering in practices that seem to be without boundaries. Then, the spiritual struggle mostly entails picking up directions about demons, who are thought to be present in everything. They are presumed to be lodging in families and generations.
Through dreams and visions people attempt to discover what sins have bound their forefathers. The Scriptures give no occasion for such practices; on the contrary, such things occur on the basis of incorrect assumptions. In this way a completely different spiritual life originates: it is Satan who gets all the attention and who, with his deceiving ways, is himself ensuring that he does. Yet the Bible says that we should not give him a foothold, not any room at all. We must resist the tempter, who is as deceiving as in Paradise. We must not overestimate him, we must not underestimate him and we must certainly not approach him in an unbiblical manner.
At the same time we must keep sight of the relationship Old Testament – New Testament, of the difference in God’s blessings. Then they were mostly material; now, above all, spiritual, in Christ. Therefore we may not just commute promises of prosperity in the Old Testament into a claim of healing or good health in the present day.
The true ministry is pre-eminently liberating. Not because the works of Satan have now ceased, but because Jesus becomes King in our hearts. He makes us free, through his death and resurrection, and presents us righteous before God.
On the other hand, we derive no freedom from entering into a dialogue with demons. It is striking to see how easily the messages from evil spirits are often believed, and to see what this leads to. Bizarre to say the least – for they are deceiving spirits, are they not?! Also, the person being helped is being used as a medium, which can lead to his becoming bound by spirits, be it for the first time, or to a greater degree. These practices testify of self-exaggeration. Exorcism is not part of the spiritual armoury that God has given us (Eph. 6:10-17).