Christianity 201

October 16, 2015

Can a Christian Be Possessed by a Demon?

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge.
-Matthew 10:8 HCSB

14 And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to cast out the demons.
-Matthew 3:14-15 NASB

If you’re going to read a blog called Christianity 201, you have to expect there are going to be days when we look at issues! This time we’re paying a return visit to Micael Grenholm at the blog Holy Spirit Activism, who responds to today’s somewhat Pentecostal question as only a “charismactivist” (his word) can. Click the title below to read at source.

Can Christians be possessed by demons?

The Assemblies of God (AoG), the biggest Pentecostal denomination in the US, has famously argued that it is impossible for Christians to be possessed; no one who has received the Holy Spirit, they say, can be overtaken by demonic forces. This differs from the view shared by many neo-Pentecostals, charismatics, Catholics as well as many Pentecostals in the majority world (Asia, Africa and Latin America), who all say that Christians might actually become demonized.

When John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, was asked if he believed that Christians could have demons, he provokingly replied “Well yeah, I’ve cast them out of pastors!” His wife Carol wrote in her biography about her husband something like: “When we encountered a demon, we simply cast it out – without checking baptismal records. What else could we do? Wait until they become Hindus and then cast them out?”

Now, AoG-folks and like-minded may object that such allegorical evidence does not mean much compared to arguments from Scripture. Which is generally true, although in this particular case the usual claim concerning extra-Biblical supernatural phenomena – it’s a demonic deception! – is quite counterproductive. But the Bible is always important in theological matters, so let’s have a look. 

In AoG’s position paper on the topic, their arguments can be boiled down to two categories: 1) The Bible never specifically says that Christians are or can be possessed, and 2) The Bible does state that God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13) and that “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), meaning that because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in born-again believers, demonic possession is impossible.

To 1) I would respond that there are examples of faithful believers in God and Jesus who have some pretty serious problems with demons; the woman who had been disabled by a spirit in 18 years was described by Jesus as “a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years”. Being a child of Abraham is not so much about ethnicity, as it is about faith (Gal 3:7). Jesus clearly stated that his closest disciple Peter was briefly overtaken by Satan (Mt 16:23), and even though Judas clearly wasn’t a very good disciple, I think it’s very reasonable to say that he did join Jesus’ team because he actually wanted to follow Jesus radically, since Satan came and possessed him the same day he betrayed his Lord (Lk 22:3-4).

The 2) argument is even weaker: the same reasoning could be applied to sin with quite absurd consequences. God has rescued us from darkness and His Spirit within us is more powerful than the devil – therefore no Christian can sin. Most Christians would agree that it is true that God has rescued us from darkness and that no evil is within the Holy Spirit while it is equally true that we continuously fail to live up to God’s standards and fall in sin.

There is neither sin nor devils in the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit has not 100% control of us yet – that’s why we sin and that’s why some pastors can be demonized. While Christians won’t have the same amount of total possessions as some witch doctors can have – something that the Wimbers observed – we aren’t totally immune to demons unless we make sure that we are constantly sanctified through prayer and fasting.


Go Deeper: Click the title above to see the comments on this one, including a longer one that Micael really liked that offers some historical background.

December 13, 2014

Questions Arising in the matter of Spiritual Gifts

I Cor 12:4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

Today’s thoughts appeared recently at the blog of Scot McKnight and is credited to Donald Nwankwo, Pilgrim Sense. This is rich in detail and questions that often come up when people are discussing the area of spiritual gifts. The title below takes you direct to the original post at Donald’s blog.

Five Fallacies of Spiritual Gifts

It is not that uncommon to run into a believer, sometimes already contributing to their Christian community, but who still doubts they really have what could be called a spiritual gift. 1 Cor 12-14 is indispensable in studying the subject, so I kept it in view as I pondered. It is a spiritual gift because of its source, the Holy Spirit. Thinking about this, I mused to myself as I recalled some of my own (overzealous) presumptions many years ago as a new believer.  Below are some subtle misunderstandings that sometimes prompt some well meaning church members to not step up and fully embrace functions that the Head and Body have been a long time missing from them.

1.    If it is my spiritual gift, then it must be something I find easy to do.
There has been a bit of a shift in the way some people have come to understand gifting or talents. It can sometimes be seen as the undertaken where we feel the least challenge. This has some truth to it in a general sense, but also, can leave room for a misunderstanding of how things work in real life. When an individual shows aptitude in a specific area, we tend to say that’s their strength. Well then, being strength powered by the Holy Spirit, ought we not be able to serve in those areas with little or no challenge to the human side of us? Not always. The best teachers will admit that they put much energy into understanding the matter, their audience, and even moving the material from raw to a final piece that effectively teaches their specific audience. Worship coordinators will admit no less. Even givers (everyone should be a giver – but here, specifically those for whom it is considered a special area of Christian service), will admit that they have given in spite of how difficult it felt under certain circumstances. In fact, the more likely it is your gift, the more likely tougher cases within that category will tend towards you. And because it is your passion and gifting, the more likely you are to put in what it takes to have it done efficiently. It may, therefore, be said to be easy in a different sense—it is an area in which you feel a sense of inner excitement and joy unraveling, resolving or serving. For this fallacy, do not ask yourself – is this going to be easy to do? Rather ask, is it an exciting type of challenge for me?

2.    If it is my spiritual gift, then its outworking should be inexplicable by natural reasoning.
Some of us have not fully appreciated, or embraced, our gifts because they were ones that did not appear to require some mysterious spin to their explanation. Therefore, we did not think very highly of those as spiritual gifts. So then, we tend to see how a vibrant biblical teacher could have a spiritual gift but not a skilled church administrator. The term, spiritual, can be misunderstood at times. For sure, it is endowed by the Spirit (1 Cor 12), so it is definitely a spiritual gift. Let’s not forget the purpose, however, that though distributed by the Holy Spirit, it is to practically meet all sorts of growth and development need areas of the church. For this fallacy, please do not ask if this activity has a mystical spin to it to qualify it as spiritual gift. Rather ask, “Is this a valid need area in the church for which I can bring my skill, knowledge, or even honest effort?”

3.    If it is a spiritual gift, then it should not require other formal means of enhancement.
In a group conversation once, a member asked candidly, “If the Holy Spirit gives you a gift, and you go try to pursue secular training, is that not tantamount to distrusting what the Spirit gave, or trying to help Him?” In my view, it is not tantamount to helping the Spirit. It is a way to be a better steward of the talents He gave you. Think how much a person with a natural gift for empathy and encouragement would do getting training on a related skill such as listening. A growing number of churches and church-members have realized the value of training and development for individuals that show strength in various areas of service. For this fallacy, please ask, “Will such training improve some of my human limitations, working toward more effective results in the use of my gifting?”

4.    Since it is a spiritual gift, I should confine its use to the church or else it is misappropriated.
The Spirit gives gifts for the edification of the body of Christ, so what happens when we are outside of the walls of the church? God has made us as whole beings. One who is blessed with wise counsel or sympathy does not automatically become unsympathetic or full of foolish advice when they are, say, with a colleague at workplace instead of at church. The outworking, or delivery, may be different, wisely and appropriately suiting the scenarios, but we are nonetheless instruments of the Spirit. If gifts were only usable within the church, evangelists would have little opportunity to use theirs. For this fallacy, do not try unbecoming who you are, simply because you are not in religious company. Rather ask, “does the circumstance fully permit me to help; is there some glimpse of blessing a life; and will Christ be ultimately glorified?”

5.    Spiritual gifts are simply about what we do.
Obviously, spiritual gifts require deeds to be done. But the ultimate purpose does not dead-end on doing. In the end, it is about who we are becoming. In a community where individual (and group) talents are appropriately harnessed, you soon notice that there is a becoming happening to the whole body. When we view it this way, it removes some of the undue attention and nervousness. We find that we are part of a family and that the Spirit invites our participation. Following Paul in 1Cor 12, there are two levels of the gifts’ reception: first, we are given various gifts as individuals; second, these gifts, altogether, are given to the Body. And, this is so the Body can be built into a stable, solid whole under one Head, Jesus Christ!