Q: Recently a report was aired on national television showing an exorcism done by the Roman Catholic Church. Are we to believe that there is such a thing as exorcism?”
A: Demon possession frequently is mentioned in the New Testament. When Jesus and his disciples cast out devils this was no imaginary facade. A denial of the existence of spirit-beings capable of taking over bodies of individuals or objects (such as houses), along with the possibility of the demons being removed, would require throwing out the authority of Scripture (Matt. 4: 24, Matt. 17: 14, Mark 9: 17, Luke 9: 38, Acts 16: 16, etc.). Many liberal theologians are doing just that as they seek ways to explain “rationally” any phenomenon purported to be connected with Satan. But the Bible’s admonition still stands for every generation: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” (Eph. 6: 12).
No doubt your question, however, is not whether bodily possession by demons and their sudden removal existed in the time of Jesus, but whether this actually takes place today and, if so, is there a prescribed rite of exorcism.
In history the Lutheran Church has not categorically dismissed every report of demonization and exorcism in modern times as being beyond credulity and actuality. Martin Luther even stated in his Large Catechism that the devil can be driven away by making the sign of the cross. Some of the old Lutheran liturgies had exorcism in conjunction with baptism to emphasize the new life in Christ begun in the individual who had been under Satan’s control spiritually (if not physically).
It is the opinion of this writer that demon possession still does exist in society today, but quite likely far less than the subject is hyped in the media. After all, if we Christians believe that good angels still serve us today, though unseen, why should we think evil angels cannot move around this sinful world? No doubt Christ’s work of “crushing the serpent’s head” (Gen. 3: 15) also has caused less occurrence of demonization in our world, in spite of defeated Satan’s roaming until the end of time.
The Roman Catholic Church is known for its ritual of exorcism, including the use of holy water and incantations. Scripture does not specify a rite of exorcism. The apostles exorcised by means of Jesus directly conferring miraculous power on them. We today can be certain of one solid weapon for fighting the devil in any mode in which he appears: “the sword of the Spirit”—the Word of God (Eph. 6: 17), and especially the message in that Word which tells of Christ as the sinners’ Redeemer. More than anything else, the evil angels shudder at the name of Jesus, for he is the one and only way that sinners are taken out of Satan’s clutches and given the new life!