I will never forget my first exorcism. When I was around 15 years old, a family member came to visit us from the United States to Puerto Rico. She had been a Christian for many years, but for the last few months she had been suffering from an obsessive fear of the dark. She explained to my mother and I that she often felt as if someone was in the bedroom with her and that in order to sleep she had to turn on a light or a television.
We began to pray and ask God to take away the fear she was feeling. Suddenly, her facial expressions changed and she fell unto the floor, screeching and rolling. My reaction was to stand over her and command the demon in the name of Jesus to leave her.
After everything was over and she was composed, she could barely remember what happened. It has been many years since her exorcism, and since then, she has never again felt the obsessive fear of the dark that used to torment her.
Thanks to Hollywood, when we think of exorcisms we often associate it with green pea soup and twisting heads. But the truth is that most exorcisms are performed without much drama. The word “exorcism” comes from the Greek word: ἐκβάλλω (ekballo), which means “to bring forth, to eject, to cast out, to expel, to send away.”
The ministry of exorcism is closely associated with the ministry of healing (Luke 11: 14) and it is a sign that Jesus Christ is Lord over everything in heaven and earth (Matthew 28: 19). When Jesus sent out the 12 Apostles to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, he gave them the power to heal and to cast out demons (Luke 9: 1-2). Later on he sent 72 disciples with the same power over demons (Luke 10: 17), and upon hearing their joy over the fact that demons submitted to them, Jesus said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions (demons) and to overcome all the power of the enemy…” (Luke 10: 18).
Jesus Christ was an exorcist.
The Holy Christian Church has recognized from its inception that it is the instrument that God has called and chosen to fight against the Devil and his angels (Matthew 16: 18; Eph. 6: 12; 2 Cor. 10: 3-6, et. al.) with Jesus leading us in triumphal procession (2 Cor. 2: 14) after he disarmed the powers and authorities through his humiliation on the cross (Col. 2: 15). Though Satan is like a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), he is a defeated foe (Heb. 2: 14) and cannot harm a Christian, unless that Christian allows it through complacency (by not being “sober-minded,” “watchful” and ceasing to “resist” the devil in temptation through prayer-Matthew 26: 41).
Any Christian congregation that decidedly becomes evangelistic in its purpose and mission, in reality is going to war with the principalities and powers that hold captive the minds of unbelievers (2Cor. 4:4). Part of the Pastoral Vocation is to lead people “to a knowledge of the truth” so that they may “come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2: 25-26).
During the first 3 centuries of its existence, the Church understood the importance of its mission against the Devil (which is linked with the Great Commission- see Mark 16: 15-18), and therefore, established the office of The Exorcist in order to work closely with Catechumens (see Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, 6.43; Apostolic Constitutions 8.2.26)
This is why from early on, the Christian Church established the prayers for the “energumens” (the possessed catechumens) in preparation for their baptisms (Apostolic Constitutions 8.2.7). It was common for the Exorcists of the Church to pray over the Catechumens up to a period of about 40 days- including fasting and prayer vigils.
Before the Vatican II reforms, the Roman Catholic Church performed a lengthy exorcism on the catechumen before baptism. The Eastern Orthodox Church still performs a lengthy exorcism that includes a facing toward the West, with the Catechumen spitting and exhaling toward the Devil while renouncing him.
Dr. Martin Luther’s Baptismal Rites of 1523 and 1526 include several exorcisms performed upon the catechumen with the words: “Depart thou unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit!” Due to the Rationalistic Movement that was espoused by several Lutheran theologians and philosophers of the 18th century, the Lutheran Church quickly revised its Baptismal Rites by excluding the Rite of Exorcism from its service books. Unfortunately, even the TLH (The Lutheran Hymnal) inherited this defect. The idea that the Devil is simply a biblical metaphor captivated the minds of many Lutherans, with the exception of a few who like Dr. Martin Luther, staunchly believed in the reality and personality of our common Enemy.
In an attempt to move away from the Rationalism that still plagues the Lutheran Church, the LCMS adopted an Alternate Rite for Baptism that adapts both of Luther’s Baptismal Rites and incorporates it in our Agenda. This rite, which includes an exorcism in the very beginning, is quickly becoming the preferred rite of many Lutheran Pastors. Nevertheless, the rite of exorcism is incomplete and weak in comparison to Luther’s original ones.
Every Sunday, the Church celebrates the fact that God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1: 13-14) But how many of our friends and family members are still slaves to sin and the devil? All unbelievers (without exception) are under the dominion of the devil (1John 5:19), and it is the mission of the Church to “snatch (them) from the fire and save them.” (Jude 23)
Christians are at the epicenter of history’s war between light and darkness. 1 John 1:4-5 says: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”