As we have seen in our study of Matthew, exorcism was a normal part of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In addition to stories like the one from the passage last Sunday, there are blanket statements in the Gospels that indicate that these stories were not isolated events, but happened on a regular basis.
Matt 4:24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.
Matt 8:16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. (cf Mark 1:32, 34, 39)
Further, Jesus gave His disciples authority to cast out demons as well, an authority which they successfully and repeatedly exercised (Matt 10:8, Luke 10:17). This has prompted some in the church today to claim that exorcism should be a regular part of the ministry of the church. Indeed, some have even created parachurch organizations dedicated to locating the demon-possessed and freeing them from the affliction.
Are these people on the right track? Should PBF start an exorcism ministry? If not, why not? Why would exorcism be such a large part of the Lord’s ministry and the ministries of the apostles, but not the modern day church?
I think there are several reasons why exorcism is not and should not be a part of the regular ministry of the church the way it was a regular ministry of Jesus and the apostles. First, demonic activity during Jesus’ earthly ministry seems to have been much greater than it is now. This does not mean that the devil and his demons are vacationing. They are very busy (1 Pet 5:8; Eph6:10-12, 16; 1Tim 3:6-7, 4:1; 2 Tim 2:24-26). And there is no reason to think that demon possession doesn’t happen today. But we simply do not see the manifold expressions of it that Jesus and the disciples encountered.
Why demonic activity was at a peak during the time of Jesus is not made explicit in Scripture. Some have conjectured that Satan was making a last ditch effort to disrupt the plan of God in Christ. That does make sense to me, but we can’t know for sure. At any rate, we simply are not confronted with demonic possession as regularly now, therefore a major emphasis on this is not necessary in the church.
Second, like the other “signs and wonders” performed by Jesus and he apostles, a major purpose for exorcism was to validate the message. Jesus reveals as much in Matt 12:28: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (cf Luke11:20). The writer of Hebrews similarly notes that the message of the gospel was validated by various signs and wonders (Heb 2:3-4). Acts19:11-20 shows that the gospel was spread as a direct result of the healings and exorcisms performed by Paul in Jesus’ name.
But now that the canon of Scripture is complete, such validating signs and wonders are no longer necessary. This is why we don’t see the same kinds of miracles and healings on a regular basis today that were prevalent in the early church. I do believe that God still performs miracles and heals, but these acts are not as prominent as they were in the apostolic era. My opinion is that the same thing is true of exorcism.
Third, there is no teaching on exorcism in the NT epistles. To me, this is the most compelling reason why exorcism is not a regular part of the ministry of the church and why it should not be actively pursued. The epistles apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to the life of the believer. They show how believers are to function for God’s glory in every area of life – the home, the church, and the community. Instruction is given on such diverse topics as how to pray, how to serve your spouse sexually, and how to endure an unjust employer (Phil 4:6-7; 1 Cor7:3-5; 1 Pet 2:18-25). Major emphasis is placed upon exalting Christ, holy living, and selfless service. We are told that through God’s Word we have everything necessary to be saved and sanctified (2 Tim3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:3-4). In other words, everything that we need in order to live the kind of life that we are called to live as believers is found in His Word.
In light of this, the epistles’ silence on the subject of exorcism is deafening. Nowhere in the NT epistles are we given instruction on how to cast out demons. The subject is even mentioned! What should this tell us? It should tell us that exorcism is not intended to be a normal function or ministry of the church. Further, a preoccupation with such things is a distraction from the mission of the church. We should major on that which is major in the NT: knowing Christ and making Him known.
Posted by Greg Birdwell