At the suggestion of another blogger I read a recent post by Dr. Albert Mohler of Louisville’s SBC Seminary. In this post he explains why “evangelicals do not have a rite of exorcism” like the Catholics. He talks about a recent conference of Catholic leaders on the subject of exorcism then tells why he thinks they are wrong. The main thrust of his argument seems to be against the formal nature of the Catholic rite. Let me say this in no uncertain terms: ALBERT MOHLER DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME.
Mohler does indicate belief in the existance of demons and he mentions the reality of daily spiritual warfare. He says,
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]
He also quotes the famous passage in Eph 6 on the whole armor of God. He contention against the Catholics is stated thus:
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.
Evangelicals do not need a rite of exorcism, because to adopt such an invention would be to surrender the high ground of the Gospel. … Every time a believer shares the Gospel and declares the name of Jesus, the demons and the Devil lose their power.
I think Dr. Mohler is wrong. I think he is wrong theologically, wrong about the Catholic rites, and I think his assertions are hypocritical. Let me tell you a little why. Since the last shall be first, let me first tell you why I think his assertion is hypocrisy. There are a number of rites used by Protestants, including the SBC in particular. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are the only two they claim, but there are many formulas used from order of worship to the Roman Road to ACTS prayer that are as firmly written in SBC stone as anything the Catholics put in Catholic stone. Baptists love to use formulas for evangelism and preaching. They don’t use the word rite, but that’s what they are. They don’t necessarily require formal training, but they are quick to condemn anyone who doesn’t use their formulas. This post is proof enough of that.
Dr. Mohler’s theology is also awry. He says in his post that the New Testament does not reveal a “rite of exorcism” (see quote above) so there is no need of anything but the “name of Jesus and proclamation of the Gospel.” Hm. Really? I would refer him (and you) to Mt 17:19-21. Jesus explained that in faith is a required component and in some cases also prayer and fasting. Faith is internal, but prayer and fasting are acts, which is to say rites. Jesus offered a specific prayer as a rite which we call the Lord’s Prayer. Yes, it is necessary to invoke the name (thus the authority) of Jesus Christ. But anyone can say the words. It isn’t simply the words – its the faith. I would agree that the specific words can vary, but the content (rite) is substantially similar and includes a command in the name of Jesus Christ. The gospels offer several examples of exorcisms. One in particular, recorded in Mk 5 and Lk 8, tells us that Jesus asked the demon’s name and commanded the demon by name. This is another specific action that is part of the exorcism rite preceding the command. Names are important. Just as it is important to invoke the name of the authority we use (Jesus Christ), it is important to name the name (invoke the name) of the demon being exorcised. There is also a naming of the specific place to which the demon is to go. In this instance the demon did not obey the command to go out until the demon’s name was used and the required destination was named. So, is there a rite? There’s not a hard and fast check list per se, but there are many specific elements involved with exorcism which may or may not be employed in any given performance (rite) of exorcism.
I’m not Catholic, but I am catholic. I’m not empowered by a seminary degree, I’m empowered by a higher authority. So are all believers, including Priests and including Dr. Mohler who believe. Having said that, I also believe it is dangerous to suggest any believer can command any demon at will. Spiritual warfare requires preparation including spiritual, mental and physical. That’s all pretty clear when you read that “whole armor” passage in Eph 6.
Dr. Mohler, please do not claim to speak for all Protestants or even all evangelicals (did you know Catholics are also evangelical?). I realize that with all that formal training and those letters before and after your name you think you speak with authority, but I would remind you that any authority you have comes from above. Jesus told us he did not come to condemn. You should be very careful about condemning your brothers in the Catholic garb. Consider first the plank in your own eye before pulling splinters from others.
Final thought – Protestant Christianity has done great harm to itself by downplaying, ignoring, and finally denying evil. Brothers and sisters are denying for need of deliverance. Exorcism may sound extreme, but that’s because it is relatively extreme and rare. Its also grossly misunderstood and mischaracterized precisely because the attitude of Dr. Mohler is so common, even among many Catholics.