On the casting out of demons
July 21, 2011 7:39 PM   Subscribe

For the sake of this question, assume everything in the Bible is true/real. Do you have to be a practicing Christian to cast out demons in the name of Jesus Christ?

Although I have not been a Christian since 2003 (I identify as agnostic though leaning towards atheism - I was Charismatic Christian in an abusive church then), I have recurrent dreams in which I see demons. (Not often.) My first instinct in the dream is to always use the name of Jesus Christ to dispel them. However, since in these dreams I know I'm not a practicing Christian, I am never sure it will work... although it usually does.

So is there anything to indicate in the Bible that you would have to be a Christian (/Catholic/Jew/Believer/Saved/Whatever) to cast out demons, or is it merely the name of Christ that does it? I know some people believe once saved always saved (OSAS) and some do not.
posted by IndigoRain to Religion & Philosophy (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ok. I would answer yes. My church (not crazy or abusive but Christian) has sermons online and through iTunes on the subject if you're interested (Mars Hill Church in Seattle - look for the Jesus and Demons sermons in Luke). It's not something people tend to talk about because it sounds crazy...but I believe the Bible is clear: a literal Satan and literal demons exist. The disciples cast out demons in Jesus' name and that is one of the spiritual gifts spoken about in the New Testament.

I would argue that those dreams are imploring you to reexamine your faith, particularly in the light of leaving an abusive church. Remember: Jesus condemns more religious people than any other group...more than prostitutes, tax-collectors, drunkards, etc combined. Religion is not what Jesus was about - religion is something we humans created.

You said that casting out the demons in Jesus' name works. That seems to be an answer there.

Please Memail me if you'd like to talk further, or I could point you directly to the sermons I mentioned. Also, when/if you're looking for a new church, the Acts 29 network is awesome.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:03 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the answer is yes, you do need to believe. In Matthew 17, you'll see this:
14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
posted by the jam at 8:08 PM on July 21, 2011

guster4lovers: "You said that casting out the demons in Jesus' name works."

Well it does work, in my dreams. But I can also fly in my dreams.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:10 PM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am fairly uniformed, and uniformly grade A pissed at what I think you are identifying as your version of Christianity, but just a silly few thoughts?

-- Do demons only belong to Jesus? I thought every organized religion had their version/take on them?

-- my, again uniformed thoughts, were that demons/angels...god/satan all had essentially the same power strength, which was what made it a fair fight, and a distinct choice for the believers or nons, and something you should be afraid of being swayed by.

You comment bothers me a little, because I have incredibly bad dreams as well ( hey last night I was in the back of a hearse with two corpses). I cant stop them, but I do my best to learn from them.

If in these dreams, calling on Jesus Christ gets you past the trauma, then I say thats a win. Whether you believe that when you wake up, I dont think that matters.

With 50 years of wisdom, and a whole lot of serious soul searching for religions and self, I really beloieve demons do exist in the best crappy horror movies on late night cable.

The things you think might be sent by the non existant Satan, are your own life stress, a bad day, as Dickens called them, "a bit of undigested beef."

Don't look above for salvation from demons, look within. Consider just for a second, that if god did give us our own minds, and control of it to make our own decisions, is is so far fetched to think that assuming he really does exist and did all the things Christianity would want us to believe, he isnt just some fat white bastard up there screwing with us for fun?

If there is a god, he lives in you. Tell him to quit fucking with you.
posted by timsteil at 8:10 PM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hoo boy. I think this exegesis isn't too far off the mark. It's thorough, at least.
posted by holgate at 8:16 PM on July 21, 2011

I am a practicing Christian, and I do believe the Bible....and I have to say the answer is somewhat ambiguous.

There were Jewish (i.e. not Christ followers) exorcists, for one thing. In Acts, where the nonchristians got in trouble was when they used the name of Jesus without belonging to Him, in essence using His name as an incantation rather than as authority delegated to them by Him.

Now, if a person calls on Jesus to help them, I don't necessarily think they have to be a Christian at the time (of course to be honest He's pretty interested in that person going on to know Him as Lord and Savior.)

Now as to you....is there any possibility that what you genuinely are is a very very very wounded Christian? He did say he wouldn't quench a smouldering wick or break a bruised reed... I think you probably would understand the metaphor.

oh, and Sys Rq, the people I have known who have needed a demonic eviction-you really really don't want to be dealing with them. They are pure evil and make people miserable. Hitler would look like a choir boy next to the best of them.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:25 PM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mark 16:17 makes it pretty clear that this is something that only believers can do - at least, it's specifically a sign of their belief. Elsewhere, the power to cast out demons is specifically bestowed on individuals by Christ - the disciples, the Seventy Two.

So, try to drink liquid poison. If it makes you sick, you're not a believer as per Mark, and so you won't be able to cast out demons, either.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:25 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Matthew 7:21-22 to me pretty definitively says non-Christians can exorcise demons using Jesus' name:

"Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
posted by kimota at 8:35 PM on July 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

[folks, let's keep this difficult question pretty narrowly tailored, okay? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:37 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sigh. I try never to get involved in prooftexting arguments because that's not how I approach the text as a scholar. But here is a saying that might help, from the Gospel of Mark (Mark 9:38-41):

38 John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ 39But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:40 PM on July 21, 2011

St. Alia of the Bunnies: "In Acts, where the nonchristians got in trouble was when they used the name of Jesus without belonging to Him, in essence using His name as an incantation rather than as authority delegated to them by Him."

Would you happen to have the chapter and verse(s) for that?

St. Alia of the Bunnies: "Now as to you....is there any possibility that what you genuinely are is a very very very wounded Christian?"

I can't think of anything that would make me believe again short of Jesus appearing in the sky and saying "yo, I'm real." (And then I'd make sure everyone else saw him too.) The God that I thought I knew - the one from that church - is no friend of mine.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:06 PM on July 21, 2011

Aquinas says that a non-believer can administer the sacrament of baptism effectively, as long as their intentions are to do so in compliance with the church. If that's the case, I don't see why a non-believer can't cast out demons in the name of Christ.
posted by duvatney at 11:10 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hm, this is a very interesting question and I think that at root it is getting at two inter-related issues:

1) What does it mean to successfully invoke the name of Jesus Christ?

2) What level of intention and belief are required to successfully cast out/away a demon?

I will try to answer these questions from a conservative protestant charismatic (henceforth CPC) perspective, but I defer to other MeFites such as St Alia in that regard, as I'm not nor have ever been an adherent to that tradition.

1) I think that the CPC tradition would indicate that the name of Jesus Christ has inherent power; that the mere use of it is what philosophers of language would call a 'speech act'. In the same way as the formulas 'Thank you' or 'With this ring I thee wed' enact the action to which they refer (that is, I have done the action of thanking you by saying the words 'Thank you', or have done the action of marrying you by saying the words 'With this ring I thee wed'), by saying that 'I rebuke you in the name of Jesus Christ' I am invoking the power of Jesus Christ to bid you (er, the demon) flee.

Further evidence that the CPC tradition (and likely the conservative Protestant tradition generally, although non-charismatics generally look with some suspicion or disdain on spiritual-warfare demons-and-angels talk) would hold this view can be found in the fact that these traditions hold quite a high view of the Third Commandment prohibition against taking the name of the Lord in vain, and would likely be offended by someone using the words 'God' or 'Jesus' in a flippant or imprecatory way.

2) However, this analogy breaks down because in the examples of speech-acts I gave above, the recipient of the action is basically passive (that is, you don't have to accept my thanks before I can be considered to have thanked you, and even if you were to say to me 'I don't want your thanks, asshole', I would still be considered to have thanked you. The marriage example is a bit more nuanced but certainly it has not always been (nor is now in many circumstances) the case that both parties are willing to be married, and I think that the traditional Western wedding ceremony retains this aspect of patriarchy.

In contrast, to invoke God, at least from a monotheistic perspective, does not necessarily bind him* to do the act requested, or any act. I think that the mainstream theological perspectives of all three of the major monotheistic religions would attest that God is radically free; that he cannot be bound by the demands of a created being except possibly insofar as God chooses to enter into a covenant with said being, in which case (and again, this has been debated) God's commitment to justice demands that God be faithful to previously agreed covenant(s).

So the question becomes, under what circumstances is God covenantally obligated to cast out demons on behalf of a human who invokes God's name (and by extension, God himself)?

On this question the CPC position (based strongly on a literalist reading of the Christian Scriptures) is unclear to me, since (as demonstrated in comments above) there are several pertinent and seemingly contradictory texts.

I suspect, though, that most CPCs would say that persons without a preexisting personal relationship with God would not be able to successfully rebuke or cast away the demon, unless God for whatever reason thought that it was important that said rebuking/casting away occur, and in that case I think that the non-believer's invoking of God can be said to be basically meaningless, since God would have acted regardless of the non-believer's invocation. But a substantial minority could as easily argue that it would be consistent with the compassionate and loving nature of God for God to intervene on behalf of and in response to a sincere invocation regardless of the invoker's faith or lack thereof. The line from David's confession-of-adultery-and-corruption-and-murder psalm (Psalm 51) comes to mind: "A broken and contrite spirit, O God, you do not despise."

tl;dr: God does what God wants to do. But he also tends to be merciful.

I do want to speak to what I hear as the issue-behind-the-issue for you, though. If these dreams are persistently causing you to worry, I encourage you to find someone you can talk & process with (not necessarily a professional therapist, maybe just a trustworthy friend) about your past experience in an abusive religious environment. I'm also more than willing to chat with you if you want to drop me a MeMail.

*Male pronouns used for the sake of readability. No assumption of non-incarnate divine gender is implied.
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:36 PM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mark 9:26-29: The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

You could infer from that last bit that there's a variety of different kinds of demon, only some of which require actual prayer to be cast out. I suppose that as an ex-Christian you can't really pray, so maybe your dream-demons are the kind that go away if you just say "Jesus" in a loud voice.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:41 AM on July 22, 2011

Are the dreams bugging you, or are you just curious about the text of the Bible? Because if they're making you anxious while you're awake then it might be worth learning a bit about the little bit of science we know about dreams.

To the best of my recollection, dreams are a way of processing information we've taken in during the day, helping it get fixed into long-term memory. We take the series of unconnected images this creates and make a linear narrative out of it, not because we need to but because that's just what brains do out of habit when faced with unusual sequences. So when you see a demon in your dreams, your previous experience is providing a familiar image or metaphor, but it doesn't have any particular significance beyond 'hey, there's something in my daily information that seems threatening.' Since none of it is real, you may be able to take the role of IndigoRain, Demon Exorcist, in your dreams much the same as you might take on the role of IndigoRain, champion Quidditch player in a different dream. Or blow the demons away with a bazooka. I'm fairly certain that if in the dream you remember you're an agnostic, you've got enough control of the narrative to decide on whatever 'solution' you think will be most entertaining or satisfying.

And maybe see if you can identify a source of stress in your life and improve it. Of course, if you were just curious about the text and not actually concerned about the dreams, then this atheist can't help much :)
posted by harriet vane at 3:47 AM on July 22, 2011

Acts 19:11-17:

11 God was performing extraordinary [e]miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. 13 But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:11 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

It would all depend on the belief paradigm of the demons, wouldn't it? If a demon is afraid of Jesus, it shouldn't matter who brings his name up, and the converse would also be true. It's the same principle that explains why crosses don't have any effect against Jewish vampires.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:40 AM on July 22, 2011

posted by zarq at 6:59 AM on July 22, 2011

[if this is in MetaTalk please take anything you think might be derailly there and not here, thanks]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:32 AM on July 22, 2011

It is hard to know where to draw the boundary on this one. To try to stay on track then...

I think, according to the Bible, various people can cast out demons with varying temporary or permanent success, Jesus' name being the minimum requirement. These people should be particularly attentive to the demon-possessed person's current and future spiritual state, and not "half-do" the job. To do the job properly seems to require spiritual preparedness and a right motivation, based on various different Bible passages.

For instance, in Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus seemed concerned about casting out demons without then thinking about the person's ensuing spiritual status:

43 “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

In other words, the goal is to be set free and stay free. I can't help thinking this needs advice from a trusted advisor.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will out myself here as a magician. I recognize that there are masters and saints in every faith, but I don't relate much to the modern Christian religion. So that's the perspective I'm writing from. Salt to taste.

I am not what I would call a Christian, but Western ceremonial magic is a system heavily influenced by the Christian paradigm, and there are many magicians who identify as Christians. One branch of Western ceremonial magic traditionally deals with demons and trying to get them to do your bidding (which is likely the inspiration for the Faust story, for instance). I personally do not work with demonic magic because I already have enough problems, but there are genuine "good" spiritual reasons that people do so, though the reasons are long and complex and not germane to the OP. But even though I don't practice the stuff, I read a lot about it, mainly because it's fucking fascinating.

The rough concept behind demonic magic is that there is a hierarchy: God, angels, humans, demons. Everyone in the hierarchy works for God, even the demons, but the demons are unruly, wrong-side-of-the-tracks kind of personalities. The angels are awesome and powerful but they are more like God's "help." Picture a celestial Downton Abbey.

God and humans have a special relationship. It's humankind that God is really interested in, either because humans are gods themselves, or are becoming gods, or are the sons and daughters of God -- whatever you like. So therefore we do have a limited ability to order around Dad's hired help. But the angels are like the governesses and butlers; they may help us but they are unlikely to put up with any shit.

The demons will help, too, but they're a bit feral and they may toy with you or try to manipulate the situation to their own benefit or just outright screw you over. I'm losing my English country manor metaphor here, but demons are more like hardened criminals, and they will try to take whatever advantage they can, generally speaking.

What scares the demons the most is reminding them who your father is. The name of Jesus Christ works swimmingly, if that's the name you know him by. And obviously it helps to "believe." But if you're dealing with demons already, you probably believe on some level. Where there's smoke, there's fire.
posted by gentian at 6:04 PM on July 22, 2011

obiwanwasabi: "Mark 16:17 makes it pretty clear that this is something that only believers can do"

kimota: "Matthew 7:21-22 to me pretty definitively says non-Christians can exorcise demons using Jesus' name: "

So this looks to be one of the contradictory issues in the Bible. Marking as best answer those who did cite the Bible, as I really just asked a factual question. I am not delusional nor suicidal, and I don't think demons are really after me, just to set all your minds at ease.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:00 PM on July 22, 2011

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