Study Papers of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (1965 to 1982)
|151st General Synod MINUTES, MAY 18, 1973, pp. 130-136.|
STUDY COMMITTEE ON "DEMONIC ACTIVITY"
Rev. Tom Watson presented the results of a committee questionaire and introduced Rev. F. Seth Dyrness, Jr. and Rev. William Kirwan for remarks on
their study and experiences concerning demonic activity.
Rev. Seth Dyrness presented the following paper to the commissioners as part of the committee report:
It is possible to give only a cursory statement on the matter of "demonic activity today" in the time which has been allotted for this report. Therefore the brevity of the report should in no way be construed as indicating that the subject matter is of secondary importance to us as a Synod and to the total ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ. This matter is of extreme and crucial importance as I will seek to show in the following report.
I. Dominant Influences In The Present And Future
Many have predicted that the future will be dominated by manipulation from two sources—technology, and the tremendous influence of an unrestrained, non-rational mysticism. In the recent feature series on "Second
Thoughts About Man" in Time magazine the editors have stated this concerning some of the radical questioning and changes taking place in our culture today:
"... Some hail it as an evolutionary crisis, with the cells of the old humanity fairly bursting to reassemble into some more spiritual being. To others it may be a more prosaic phenomenon, the inevitable swing of the pendulum, the return to some forgotten truths—or to dangerous superstitions. ... By whatever name, there is an impending sense of change in the world of ideas. The reigning wisdom that informed and compelled the past few decades is under attack—or, at the very least, under cross-examination." (Time, April 2, 1973, p. 78)
This wisdom the editors identify as "liberalism, rationalism, and materialism. In the April 23, 1973 issue of Time in the same series we are confronted with the incredible fact that even modern science and scientists are turning to consider mysticism as a possible source for answers to questions which they have been unable to answer.
"There is a deepening disillusionment with both science and technology, as well as a new view among some scientists that there should be room in their discipline for the non-objective, mystical and even irrational. . . ." (p. 83)
The significance of this serious interest in mysticism is that some of it
has been heavily influenced by the occult. The rest of it tends to create
a vacuum in our culture and the lives of individuals into which the influences of the occult and false spiritual forces can easily flow. As we move
into what has been defined as a "post-Christian world" with its propensity
towards the mystical, the whole area of the occult is increasingly becoming
a dominant and prominent influence in our culture.
Two men who have influenced my thinking, and who are basically committed to our theological position upon the ultimate authority of the Word of God, indicate this same fact in their writings. They are Mr. Os Guinness, and Dr. Kurt Koch. For the sake of time I will quote only from Os Guinness's recent book, The Dust of Death. In the eighth chapter, "The Encircling Eyes," he states:
"With the erosion and breakdown of the Christian culture of the West, the resulting vacuum has been filled by an upsurge of ideas that would have been unthinkable when the fires of the Christian culture were high." (p. 277)
The occult is the most sinister of all current trends.
"It is far more than another compulsive spiral down which many have plunged, caught by the current of fascination with the weird and the wonderful. The trend is difficult to chart except for the points that are spectacular, silly or sinister and thus basically irrelevant to its deeper reality. At this deeper level the occult needs to be felt to be understood. So far as its future is concerned, only the gray outlines are emerging. But those are enough to quicken an appreciation of the horror of great darkness which is sweeping over the West, inexorably rolling inward like a swelling black tide . . ." (p. 277)
This is a view of the future into which we step. To the point that our
thinking is influenced by the skepticism of the rationalism of the 30's and
40's concerning the reality of demonic activity and spiritism today, we will
find ourselves hopelessly lost and confused in dealing with the influences
of it in the lives of our people, our communities, and our culture.
II. Aspects of Demonic Activity Today
Evidence of activity today which is related to Satanic forces or influence can be classified in three basic areas-Spiritism, Satanism, and Satanic oppression, possession, or harassment.
Spiritism does not involve actual Satan worship. Rather in the context of a "religious" or ritualistic setting it carries out various activities in the area of prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, and other counterfeit manifestations of true charismatic gifts due to real occult influences. Often people involved in different aspects of spiritistic activity speak of conversion and claim to have had a conversion experience and direct contact with God. However, when groups such as these are carefully examined much of their activity and teaching is clearly unbiblical arid has no relationship with the person and work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
This type of activity is the same as that which the Lord warned Israel to avoid when they entered the land of Canaan.
"When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord; and because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 18-9-13)
From the instruction of this passage we are not only able to conclude that
the reality of such activity is supported by the Scriptures, but also that it
is possible for the people of God to be influenced and deceived by it. It
is in this area that there seems to be so much confusion and misunderstanding today.
A more extreme form of spiritistic activity is found in witchcraft and the use of mediums. With the repeal of the Witch Act in England in 1951 witchcraft both in England and the United States has grown at an alarming rate and to unbelievable proportions. Today there are hundreds of witch covens across the country and the number is continuing to grow. These groups touch every strata of our society and can be found in public schools from junior high schools to Ivy League colleges, as well as in other places where it would be least likely to expect them. Their practices range from what is claimed to be the "innocent" (but dangerous because of the vulnerable exposure to spiritistic forces) rituals of White Magic to the more macabre, grotesque, and retributive rituals of Black Magic.
Others in our culture today are turning to mediums in order to have contact with deceased relatives and friends, and to find guidance for the future in the midst of the ferment, confusion, and fragmentation of life in our present society. The most well known account of this is Bishop Pike's contact with his son James shortly after he had committed suicide. Noticing certain poltergeist phenomena in his apartment after James' death, Pike felt that his son was trying to communicate with him. Consequently, he employed the services of the late medium, Arthur Ford, through whom he claimed to have reestablished communications with his son. It is interesting to note that now the late Ford is supposedly communicating through the writing activity of Ruth Montgomery. Recently she has published a book, A World Beyond, which she claims was written by Ford as he communicated the information for the book by controlling her hands through a spiritistic force as she sat at her typewriter. This book claims to give information concerning the reincarnate activity of men like Bishop Pike, John Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy.
The tendency today has been to consider such activity either with skepticism or open-minded tolerance as something which is unusual but harmless. It is true that much in the way of modern astrology, the use of the horoscope, fortune telling, palm reading, tarot cards, the Ouija boards, etc., have no connection with spiritistic forces. They usually work because of the power of suggestion or coincidence, and have a far greater psychological and emotional influence than anything else. However, all of these things can be used by spiritistic forces to draw individuals who use them into a real involvement in spiritism. For those who have become involved in spiritism in an attempt to find answers for particular needs healing, guidance, spiritual reality, etc.—the results are far from harmless. Usually two things take place: 1) There is a hardening against biblical spiritual reality, and spiritual things. 2) They often suffer from what is called the "Devil's Compensation." This is manifested by intense experiences of depression, obsession, addiction, and fear.
Because of the variety and widespread interest in this type of occult activity, it is more likely that we will be called upon to deal with situations involving spiritism rather than the next two aspects of the occult.
In his book, The Dust of Death, Os Guinness points out that this area of the occult is divided into two groups: 1) "Conservatives" who explicitly believe in the objective reality of a devil. 2) "Liberals" who demythologize
the devil and turn "the whole 'religion' into a semantic Satanism, a psychological reality with the connotations of magic." (p. 304)
The first group involves itself in the actual worshipping of Satan as you find in the Satan Churches, and the Church of the Anti-Christ. They celebrate the Black Mass which is a grotesque and vile perversion of the Roman Catholic Mass, including sadism, sex, and violence. This aspect of demonic activity is typified in films such as "Rosemary's Baby" and exemplified in real life in groups like the Manson family. Charles Manson claimed to be both Christ and Satan and rewarded his followers with sex as they worshipped him. An aspect of their life included macabre acts of violence such as the Tate-Labianaca murders.
The second group is represented by Anton LaVey with his "Church of Satan" in San Francisco, California, and the Satanic Bible published in 1968. LaVey demythologizes Satan by identifying him as the evil in man which must be "exercised rather than exorcised." Basically his philosophy tends to be neo-Nazi in that he is seeking "the creation of a police state in which the weak are weeded out and the 'achievement-oriented leadership is permitted to pursue the mysteries of black magic' " (Newsweek, August 16, 1971, p. 56). Both of these groups have made a significant impact upon American society and are spreading in their influence.
Demonic Possession and Oppression:
Probably the most disputed question concerning demonic activity today is that of the reality, nature, and extent of demonic possession and oppression at this point in history. Some would argue that with the coming of the Kingdom at the first "parousia" of Christ the power of Satan was bound to the extent that it is highly unlikely that demonic activity in the form of possession or oppression continues today. This is basically the position of Dr. Jay Adams who states:
"This curtailment or restraint (through the coming of the Kingdom) upon Satanic power and influence necessarily involved the virtual cessation of such activity by his demonic forces. This accounts for the rare incidence, if not the entire absence, of demonic possession in modern times. It is possible, of course, that demonic activity is still being curtailed as the gospel penetrates new and previously untouched communIties of the world." (The Big Umbrella, p. 118)
Others, like Dr. Kurt Koch, believe that demonic activity does continue
today to the point of possession and oppression (even in the lives of Christians for a limited period of time) and that in Christ we can claim and find
real deliverance from such demonic activity. Although there seems to be increasing evidence (some of which has been witnessed by ministers and individuals in our Synod) to support Dr. Koch's position, the lack of agreement on this question shows the need for a careful, objective, in-depth, exegetical, and definitive study of this matter in particular.
III.. How Are We To Deal With The Question of Demonic Activity?
Basically, it must not be dealt with as a curio from a remote region that is real, interesting, and sensational, but has little significance for us. The late C. S. Lewis wisely warns concerning this in his introduction to Screw-
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight." (p. 3)
If we are going to properly understand and deal with this subject we
must consciously seek to avoid both of these extremes. It is my personal
concern that we in Reformed circles are not sufficiently open to the reality
of demonic activity in the world today. Too often we have viewed Satan in the way the Neo-Orthodox theologians view God—totally other. However, the Scriptures teach us that Satan is active in seeking to destroy whatever and whoever he can (I Peter 5:8). Paul states in Ephesians 6:12 that as Christians we are in a warfare which brings us into direct encounter with the spiritual forces of evil and wickedness. He encourages the Ephesian Christians to stand against these-forces with the full armor of God. Peter also in I Peter 5:9 calls us to resist Satan in his activity. It is impossible to go into the full exegetical and theological implications of these passages here, but I am convinced that they will explain the true nature of much which has been unsatisfactorily explained today as psychological or emotional problems, or mental illness, etc.
Certainly we must be careful to be discerning and guard against the error of too quickly attributing strange activity of groups and individuals to the work of Satan. But at the same time we cannot negate Satanic activity and demonic possession. To negate the presence of Satanic activity today is difficult to defend from Scripture as well as in light of the external evidence in our Society. And as C. S. Lewis has well pointed out, to minimize the presence of demonic activity today is just as dangerous and incorrect as to be overly preoccupied with it. Consequently as we consider this subject we must heed the admonition of the Apostle John when he states: "Test ('dokimazo': examine, scrutinize, prove) the spirits" in order to discern the true source and nature of that which we hear and see. (I John 4:1)
Beyond this I think a careful study of Ephesians 6, and especially the use of the word-"ekousias"-as it relates to demonic power, and the power of Christ in Matthew 28:18, and Colossians 2:15 would be helpful in giving us understanding of how we are to deal with these forces today. We cannot challenge Satan in our own strength or wisdom. It is only through the power, wisdom, and blood of Christ who has spoiled principalities and powers and has triumphed over them that we as His servants will be able to understand and deal with demonic activity today.
Therefore in conclusion I would like to give you five points that are important to remember in dealing with this subject. 1) The reality of things done through the influence of occultic power is not to be mistaken for legitimacy. 2) The Scriptures alone are ultimately normative. 3) We must be selective and critical in choosing literature on this subject, and in evaluating different incidents and situations. We cannot be superficial, naive or unduly skeptical in this. 4) We must actively put on the whole armor of God in our personal lives. 5) We must always be alert and persevering in prayer.
It was moved and carried that the Moderator appoint a continuing committee on demonic activity and that presbyteries and churches communicate with the committee concerning questions which should be included in this study. The following men were appointed: Seth Dyrness (chairman), George Miladin, Dan Orme, Theodore Martin, Robert Nuermberger, John Sanderson, Jack Buckley.
[click here to proceed to the 1975 RPCES study on this same subject]