Do we believe in the devil, in demonic possession, and in exorcism?

Do we believe in the devil, in demonic possession, and in exorcism?

November 29, 2023

Isn’t believing in demonic possession and exorcism outdated? Now that we know of real mental health challenges, shouldn’t the church drop these outdated ideas of believing in the devil and demons? If you’ve ever heard these forms of arguments made, and if you’ve ever wondered what the church answers to such accusation, then this video is for you.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

What does the Church believe about demonic possession and exorcisms? Are these still relevant issues that the Church has to deal with? The simple and easiest answer is – you better believe it! Demonic possession and satanic attacks are very real, and the Holy Church continues to minister to people who suffer at the hands of demons every single day.

Its important to note that unfortunately, many people, and even some Christians today would like to ignore the reality of demonic warfare by simply labeling it as mental health issues. These same people accuse the church of being outdated and even scold clergy who talk of exorcisms as if they are misleading people to believe in things that they claim to be irrational. And when we speak to such people and dig a little deeper, you discover that they simply don’t believe in the devil. While they might claim to believe in Holy Scripture, they believe the idea of the devil was simply made up to control the masses and that no such being actually exists. Well the simple rebuttal to all this the following: you cannot possibly claim to believe in the Holy Bible and not believe in the devil and his legions of demons. Period.

Scripture is clear that the devil is in enmity with God and us, and that he and his legions desire our fall and separation from God.

In Genesis chapter 3 we are introduced to the serpent whom the Lord curses:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Later on John the Evangelist in the book of revelation describes this same serpent as the great dragon:

“…the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…” (Revelation 12:9)

The Lord Jesus himself, when speaking to His disciples, confirms his existence by saying:

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10-18)

And again, St Peter warns all believers to be careful by teaching:

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him…” (1 Peter 5:8)

All of these verses, and many more like them, clearly point to the existence of the devil. So to not believe in him, and deny his very existence, is to stand against the Holy Scriptures.

But what about demonic possessions and exorcisms – are they real, or is it simply people who suffer with mental illnesses? Well again, let’s turn to scripture. It is estimated that when studying the gospels, almost one third of Jesus miracles and healings were directed towards exorcising demons. Now to be clear, Jesus performed many miracles where he healed people of their bodily ailments, and that is a category on its own. Just as demonic possession is also its own category. Why then would anyone believe that Jesus’ direct ministry of liberating people from demonic possession be confused with him dealing with people who are suffering from certain forms of illnesses. In fact, the gospels themselves witness that even the demons themselves who had possessed the people, even they speak up and witness to Christ.

A great example of this is found in the gospel of Matthew, where the Lord encounters men who were demon possessed and even living in the tombs. Let’s read together:

28 When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. 29 And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

30 Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go.” (Matthew 8:28-32)

When studying this text, and many others like it, it is clear that the demons recognize the greatness of Christ. They even call Him “Son of God” and are subject to his very command and authority. The end of the passage even describes how the unclean demonic spirits were cast into the heard of swine and were drowned. The Lord would not have done so if this was simply a case of mental illness. Clearly the gospel writer wanted to faithfully convey this intriguing encounter and exchange between the Lord Jesus and these fallen demons.

Now it is this same authority of Christ that Lord himself hands down to the Church through the apostles. The Lord had sent them out two by two to spread the gospel and upon their return, they witness saying:

“Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” (Luke 10-17)

It is here that we first see the beginning of how the Lord bestows upon the Church the gift of being able to exorcise demons and to liberate those who are tormented by demonic attacks. And this gift, given to Church until today that all glory may be given to God who has given us the authority to cast out Satan. St Cyril of Alexandria explains this beautifully by saying the following:

“The authority that they [the apostles] carried to rebuke evil spirits and the power of crushing Satan was not given to them that they might be regarded with admiration. It was given to them so that Christ would be glorified by their means. Those whom they taught would believe that he was by nature God and the Son of God. He was invested with so great glory and supremacy and might, as to be even able to bestow upon others the power of trampling Satan under their feet.” [St Cyril of Alexandria – COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 64]

It was not of their own power that they were casting out demons, but rather by the power of God who is creator and master over all beings. And in being obedient to Him and calling on His name, the apostles – and now even the Church – casts out demons so that all glory may be given to God!

We later see in Scripture how Christ himself gave this power and ability to the Apostles when establishing the Church after His resurrection. He tells them in the gospel of St Mark:

“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)

The Apostles themselves then took these gifts and handed them down to their own disciples, the leaders of the Church, that the Holy Spirit may continue his work through apostolic succession. Listen to the following passage from the Apostolic Constitutions, handed down to us by the very apostles of our Lord Jesus:

“These gifts [as mentioned in Mark 16] were first bestowed on us the apostles when we were about to preach the gospel to every creature. Later they of necessity were afforded to others who had by the apostles come to believe. These gifts were not given for the advantage of those who perform them, but for the conviction of the unbelievers, that those whom the word did not persuade, the power of signs might put to shame.” [Apostolic Constitutions]

This gift of exorcising demons that possess and torment people, is preserved in the Holy Church until today, and is being used to free people from this form of spiritual suffering much more commonly than many might believe.

And so, if anyone out there still hesitates to believe in the devil, or has come to believe that demonic possession and exorcism aren’t real, then they have been deceived. The evil one continues to wage war against all humanity because he is repulsed by the fact that all humans are created in God’s image and likeness. And while we might not realize how much demonic oppression surrounds us, it is clear that the devil is hard at work attempting to ‘possess’ and oppress as many of God’s children as possible. Now, while only some in the church have the gift of Exorcism – because its is indeed a gift of the Holy Spirit not given to all – we can still do our part in fighting the good fight. Our calling is to be like to apostles – to go out into the world and with the name of Jesus reclaim all of creation back to God – starting with our hearts. Let us offer ourselves to God and ask him to liberate and free us of all that might oppress and enslave our souls. And in so doing, may we also, like the apostles, come running back to Him, excited to have participated in the work of the kingdom of God.

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