QUESTION: Has a Lutheran Pastor ever exorcised a demon from a believer? Can a believer be possessed?
ANSWER: A story is told about Dr. Martin Luther: A possessed young woman was brought to him. He asked her to confess her faith. She recited the Apostles’ Creed. Luther drove out the demon.
Dr. Luther said, “People are possessed in two ways: some corporally, according to their humanity, and others spiritually, according to their spirit, as in the case of all the godless. In those who are corporally possessed and frenzied, the devil inhabits and vexes only the body, not the soul. So the soul remains secure and unharmed. The demons can be driven out of such people by prayer and fasting” (Martin Luther, “Table Talk” #1170, Luther’s Works, Vol. 58; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010, page 75).
Dr. Francis Pieper wrote, “Bodily possession presents an entirely different case. Also children of God may suffer this affliction (Mark 5:6, 18, 19; Luke 8:28, 38, 39); by it the devil, under God’s sufferance, takes possession of a man personally dwelling in him, so that the demoniac, bereft of the use of his reason and will, becomes the involuntary instrument of Satan. The human personality no longer functions; the devil in person becomes the acting subject. The demoniac is no longer responsible for his action” (Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, pg. 509).
Rites of exorcism have been available in the Lutheran church since the 16th century. Pastors were to use these rites to help their parishioners. These were people who had been baptized and confirmed their faith.
Into the 20th century, many Lutheran pastors and theologians taught that believers could be possessed. Added to the passages listed above, they cited the story in Job 2 and 2 Corinthians 12:7. These church fathers argued that as sin remains in the body of the converted, so, too, a demon could possess the body. Dr. Siegbert Becker (WELS) wrote: “I would be inclined to agree with Dr. Walther that we can assume that also believers can be possessed, but that they should be comforted with the assurance that the Lord Jesus has taken away their sins and will not hold them accountable for obscenities and blasphemies which they have uttered involuntarily. On the other hand, they should be reminded of the promise of God that says, ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you’” (Dr. Siebert Becker, Wizards That Peep, pg. 120).
It should be repeated that these church fathers also comforted the possessed in that they were not responsible.
This pastor does not presume to question the wisdom of the fathers. He does have a few additional thoughts.
- God did permit Satan to afflict Job’s body (Job 2:6). Satan afflicted him with sores. However, this does not seem to be demoniac possession.
- The demoniac man in Mark 5 wanted to follow Jesus after the exorcism. The text does not say that he was a believer before Jesus healed him.
- A lady is crippled by a spirit (demon). In defense of His healing, Jesus said, “So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” (Luke 13:16). It is unclear whether the phrase “daughter of Abraham” means that she was one of the children of Israel or if it means she was a believer or both.
- Jesus said, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” Luke 11:24–26). Should a demon be driven out, the empty heart needs to be filled with something. When it is filled with faith, can the demon return?
- God assures us, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
- Faith is something that cannot be seen. We confess it. We are obligated to believe those who confess to faith. We cannot know for sure if they really believe.
- Believers are the children of the eternal God. No matter what Satan does to us, we confess with Job, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19: 25–26).
- Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 8: 38–39).
Rev. Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Winter Haven, FL