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Exorcism (to drive out demons). While the Old Testament reports several cases of evil spirits afflicting humans (I Samuel 16:14; 18:10; Judges 9:23), such is subsumed under God's sovereign judgment; the Old Testament reports no exorcism. In the New Testament, however, Jesus' driving out of demons was a prominent feature of Jesus' ministry and a key sign that the kingdom of God had come and that God's Spirit was mightily at work through him (Mark 3:2030; parallels in Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). The world of Jesus' time, both Jewish and Greek, considered demon powers responsible for much ill fortune, especially sickness (see e.g., The Testament of Solomon in J. H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol I [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday], 1983 or Tobit 6-8). While the synoptic gospels report that Jesus commissioned his disciples to drive out demons as part of the gospel's liberation of the oppressed (Mark 3:15; 6:7,13: Luke 10:17-20), and Acts shows them doing so (5:16; 10:38; 16:18; 19:12), neither the Pauline nor Johannine writings report exorcisms. During the next two centuries exorcism played an important role in the spread of Christianity' promising and bringing deliverance from demons (Ferguson, 129).

Early 3rd-century documents describing baptismal rites include exorcistic abjurations as well as a period of several weeks before Easter when baptismal candidates participated in exorcistic liturgy daily to purify the person from the demonic power of past idolatrous worship (see Kelly and Webber). The Roman Catholic Church continued a rite of baptismal exorcism until the 1970s. Solemn exorcism apart from baptism is also practiced by authorized Roman Catholic priests. Lutherans, initially indifferent toward baptismal exorcism, later defended it against Calvinist opposition to it, opposition growing from a weakened sacramental theology (Martin in Swartley, Bondage, below). Exorcism apart from baptism never completely disappeared among Protestants but was rarely attempted in the face of Enlightenment rationalism and skepticism about the Devil. The Anabaptists never wrote about exorcism itself but opposed it in relation to infant baptism (Menno Simons, Writings, 252, 570, 700; Marpeck, 219). Until quite recent years, however, Mennonite baptismal vows included a vow of renunciation of Satan and all his works. In Pentecostal and Evangelical circles where exorcism is practiced the term deliverance ministry is preferred.

The relatively sparse Mennonite literature on the topic of Satan (Devil) gives almost no attention to exorcism or deliverance from evil spirits. Two articles by the Dutch Collegiant Frans Kuyper in the 17th century argue the existence of demons, but primarily for the purpose of seeking to prove to atheists the truth of spiritual realities (some stories do show prayer as the only way to quiet the overcome sufferers). Likewise a lecture by Douwe Simon Gorter (1856) affirms belief in the existence of a personal devil and good and evil spirits but does not address exorcism.

Mennonite writings on Satan often use the word devils to refer to demons (Wenger as editor of Menno's Writings, both Lepp-Reesor and Hiebert, and Hostetter, as cited under Satan). The German word Damonen or the English term demons rarely occur. This is likely due to the influence of the King James Version which translated the Greek daimonia as devils, rather than demons. The more common Mennonite use of the word demons after 1970 arose partly from use of newer Bible translations (Revised Standard Version, New International Version) as well as from worldwide missionary work, in which missionaries seeking to understand the culture of the people could not avoid the topics of demons, possession, and exorcism. Donald R. Jacobs' "Focal Pamphlet" entitled Demons (1972) arose from this context but also examined the need for and appropriate method of exorcism in the North American context. Jacobs said that great harm had been done to the gospel and missions by the Western assumption that belief in demons is superstition, making missionaries unwilling to attend to the topic. Because Western missionaries did not present Jesus Christ as the one who could defeat the demonic powers which the people experienced, the new believers accepted instead Western technology as the form of Christian power by which they were to order their lives. in contrast Pentecostal groups and growing African independent churches announced "that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, even the powers of evil spirits" (34-36).

The rise of interest in the occult in American society, the influence of the charismatic renewal movement, the turn toward inwardness and search for spiritual meaning, the continuing questions of missionaries about the gospel's deliverance from demons, the sensational movie The Exorcist, and the practice of exorcism by some Mennonites gave the topic new priority in the the 1970s and 1980s. Paul M. Miller's book, The Devil Did Not Make Me Do It (1977) sought to respond to the issues by giving basic biblical teaching on Satan and Christ's victory. He recognized Jesus' use of exorcism but resisted its use today on the basis of what he saw as a trend in the Pauline and Johannine writings to move away from exorcism and combat evil and Satan in other ways. He called instead for pastoral care of demonized persons. In a 1988 paper Miller takes the same position generally but recognizes some exceptions for those needing to be freed from bondage to occult practices and allegiances.

Two voices emerged in the 1960s to call Mennonites to consider exorcism as part of Christian ministry. In the French Mennonite setting Emile Kremer published "Les yeux ouverts" in the 1960s with the first English translation in 1969. An enlarged edition appeared in 1979 entitled Eyes opened to Satan's subtlety. The subtitle indicates the scope of treatment: The origin, nature and consequences of superstition, divination and occultism, and the full redemption through the Cross. He connected the authority to drive out demons both to the Lord's command to the disciples to do so and to the command "to bind and loose," which must be linked with honest and full confession of sins by the person in bondage (35-36). In North America Dean Hochstetler (Nappanee, Indiana) has ministered widely to people by employing exorcism when such was deemed necessary; he urged Mennonite colleges and seminaries to include training for this as part of Christian ministry. The Indiana-Michigan Conference (MC) appointed a consultation-evaluation committee for him in the late 1970s and after some years of evaluative reports from the committee ordained him for this ministry (see Gospel Herald, 79 [30 September 19861, 662-63).

The Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, Mennonite Board of Missions (MC), Oaklawn Psychiatric Center (all in Elkhart, Indiana), and the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference (MC) sponsored a consultation on "Bondage and Deliverance," July 30-August 1, 1987. Major papers examined the issue from various points of view: biblical-theological, historical, Roman Catholic and Evangelical, anthropological, psychiatric, and pastoral care. The consultation included a case presentation by a person delivered 27 years before, with a paper of documentation and interpretation by a sociologist and clinical psychologist. As these papers and their bibliographies indicate, a growing body of literature worldwide, from biblical, historical, theological and psychiatric perspectives, has brought this agenda into the forefront of the church's theological reflection and evangelistic-pastoral practice (Swartley, ed., Bondage).

Two articles in The Mennonite present an overseas story of power encounter between Christ and the demons and a North American pastor's practical learnings (Entz, Winslow). Aware of the crucial need for exorcism in a spiritist culture (Sicily), missionary Willard Eberly wrote an extensive research paper at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Virginia, USA) on "A biblical theology of exorcism." A recent social science study proposes some diagnostic distinctions between multiple personality disorders and demon possession (Isaacs, 1987); some recent psychiatric contributions discuss the topic in fresh ways (Pattison, 1977; Peck, 1983).


Augsburger, David W. Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986: 273-312.

Churchman (1980, no.3), sp. issue.

Eberly, Willard. "A Biblical Theology of Exorcism: Complete in Jesus and the Kingdom." Unpubl. paper Eastern Mennonite Seminary, 1987.

Entz, Loren. in Mennonite 101 (8 April 1986): 164-65.

Ferguson, Everett. Demonology of the Early Christian World. New York and Toronto: Edwin Mellen Press, 1984.

Isaacs, Craig T. "The Possessive States Disorder: the Diagnosis of Demon Possession." Pastoral Psychology 34, no. 4 (1987): 263-73.

Jacobs, Donald R. Demons: an Examination of Demons at Work in the World Today. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1972.

Kelly, Henry Ansgar. The Devil at Baptism: Ritual, Theology and Drama. Ithaca and London: Cornell U. Press 1985.

Kremer, Emile. Eyes Open to Satan's Subtlety. Stoke-on-Trent: M.O.V.E. Press, enlarged ed., 1979.

Marpeck, Pilgram. The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, William Klassen and Walter Klaassen, eds. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978.

Miller, Paul M. The Devil Did Not Make Me Do It: a Study in Christian Deliverance. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977.

Simons, Menno. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, trans. Leonard Verduin, ed. J.C. Wenger. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956.

Pattison,  Mansell. "Psychosocial Interpretations of Exorcism." Journal of Operational Psychiatry 8 (1977): 5-19.

Peck, M. Scott. People of the Lie: the Hope for Healing Human Evil. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

Swartley, Willard M., ed., Spiritual Bondage and Deliverance, Occasional Papers, 11. Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1988.

Twelftree, Graham H.  "The Place of Exorcism in Contemporary Ministry." St Mark's Review (September 1986): 25-39.

Webber, Robert E. Celebrating Our Faith: Evangelism Through Worship. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.

Winslow, Mark. Mennonite 100 (9 April 1985): 153.

Yoder,  Amzie. "Pastoral Care and Exorcism." Unpubl. paper, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, ca. 1985.

Author(s) Willard M Swartley
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Swartley, Willard M. "Exorcism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 29 Jul 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Exorcism&oldid=162903.

APA style

Swartley, Willard M. (1989). Exorcism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Exorcism&oldid=162903.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 285-287. All rights reserved.

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