By Rev. Joshua V. Scheer
Just a few days ago Fox News published a story about Roman Catholic Bishops in the U.S. trying to recruit more exorcists who can discern when an exorcism is necessary and perform the rite. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/11/12/catholic-bishops-exorcists-needed/
What images come to mind when you think of exorcism? Most likely it’s seasoned by movies and media that we have seen over the years. An exorcism often brings up a picture of an epic battle between the exorcist and demon, a struggle filled with magic tokens (lucky charms), incantations, and miraculous things. This view is not Biblical.
First of all, in the Gospel accounts of exorcism, Jesus often only tells the demon to “shut up, get out”. There are some miraculous things that accompany an exorcism, and often strange abilities are attributed to the possessed, but the Scriptures hardly paint the picture of an epic battle. The demons are often scared of Christ and what He will do to them.
As exorcism was with Jesus, so it was with Luther. There are a few accounts here and there of Luther being involved in exorcisms (apart from the exorcism that is found in Baptism). For one example, see “Letter to Severin Schulze, June 1, 1545” in Theodore Tappert’s Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel. In this example, Luther simply advises the exorcist to lay hands on the possessed, recite the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, and follow with a Collect for Deliverance. He then advises laying on hands and reciting Mark 16:18. The Church publicly prayed for the afflicted for the next three days. It is without fanfare, certainly not the kind of exorcism that sells movie tickets, but one which reflects Lutheran theology.
For a whole set of examples of Luther on exorcism, see: on angelfire.com
Luther knew that the devil loves attention, and that God’s Word had power over any demon (for a good example of how demons sought attention, see Mark 1:21-28). On one occasion Luther remarked: “You proud devil, you would gladly see me set up a ceremony with you, but you will not experience that. I won’t do it. Do what you want, I will not give up.” His exhortations around exorcism involved the simple things of the Church, Creed, prayer (especially the Lord’s Prayer), and Scripture. These things were the things that worked in God’s time. The battle was not fought by humans, but by God. Luther’s view reflected a trust in the efficacy of God’s Word both in prayer and proclamation. It really was an exorcism with justification by grace alone at the center.
What I mean by that is that Luther’s exorcism centered on God’s gracious work. In churches founded upon salvation by works, exorcism rites take on a “pitched battle” approach between man and demon, at best with God assisting the exorcist. What you believe affects what you do. For a Roman Catholic, for a Pentecostal or Charismatic, exorcism reflects the underlying works-based view of salvation. For a Lutheran, exorcism reflects the underlying grace-based view of salvation. In fact, as Lutherans, we rejoice not in any power we may have over demons, but that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
For those who would like to divide doctrine and practice, exorcism provides another example of “as you believe that also will you do”. Another way to put it: “Everything you do says something about what you believe”.
Pastor Joshua Scheer
Redeemer Lutheran Church