Saturday, February 07, 2015

Dousing strange fires

…the carriers of the Christian religion in East Africa refused to incorporate  exorcism ritual into their religious services. The reasons for this are not readily germane to the present study, but one does wonder why this deliberate avoidance of the possession phenomenon in cultures where it is experienced. 
And here is the testimony of a Luo Christian lady:
The Western missionaries do not understand the sufferings of the Africans…The Gospel is clear on this point. Jesus did give his disciples power to expel demons. If the missionaries do not use it, they are either refusing to put it at the service of Africans or they have lost it.  
The churches established by mission societies tend to disregard totally the possession and exorcism phenomenon. If a baptized member exhibits classical symptoms of possession, he is usually treated medically or disregarded entirely. In twenty years as a missionary in Tanzania and Kenya, I know of only a few cases where the "mission type" churches exorcised demons.  
I cannot help believing that this reluctance on the part of mission churches to speak and act meaningfully in the face of the possession phenomenon has contributed significantly to the startling rise of Christian independency in many areas of Sub-Sahara Africa today. Generally speaking, these independent churches confront the traditional power constellations in a forthright manner. 
In the late 1960s, for example, the Masai exorcists in the Moshi area of Tanzania were unable to cast out a strange and highly malevolent demon by traditional means. They observed, however, that people who were baptized into the Christian faith were immune to the power of the strange new demon.  
Generally speaking mission churches do not experience very significant community. The independent churches do. Donald R. Jacobs, "Possession, Trance State, and Exorcism in Two East African Communities," J. W. Montgomery, ed. Demon Possession (Bethany 1976), chap. 9.

i) MacArthurites indict charismatic theology because they think Africa is overrun with WoF quacks and heretics. And you have charismatics like Craig Keener who concede that this is a serious and widespread problem in Africa. 

However, as Jacobs explains, cessationist mission churches were completely unequipped to deal with African witchcraft and possession. That's not a live theological paradigm for them. As a result, African Christians turned to independent churches which practice exorcism. 

To some degree, the fact that the cessationist churches are totally out of their element when confronted with indigenous witchcraft and possession was a stimulus to the development of charismatic churches. To that extent, cessationists helped to create the very thing they now deplore. 

And that's not confined to Africa. The same issues resurface in Latin American and other Third World regions. 

If the most orthodox seminaries and denominations neglect to forearm missionaries who are heading into a country that's rife with witchcraft; if, indeed, they disarm missionaries by a theology that has no resources to counterattack, then they unwittingly delegate that task to less orthodox Christians. Christians with a less reliable theological tradition–not to mention outright heretics and charlatans–will take up the slack. 

However, I'd add a couple of caveats:

ii) The Bible doesn't specifically say or necessarily imply that Christians have the authority to perform exorcisms. By the same token, the Bible contains no ritual or formula for exorcising demoniacs. So we need to guard against overconfidence in that department.

Whether or not it's possible to cast out demons is something we can only find out by experience. There is, moreover, no guarantee that our efforts will be successful. Perhaps we will succeed in some cases, but fail in others. Ultimately, it's a question of God's will in any particular case.

Although Jesus was, among other things, the paradigmatic exorcist, he's not a good role model in that regard. He's not an exorcist in the familiar sense. 

Normally, exorcism is a long drawn-out process. It may take hours or days. Multiple sessions. A team of exorcists.

By contrast, Jesus simply commanded a demon to leave, and that was that. The demon had no power to effectively resist–or even to put up short-term resistance. 

iii) In cultures where witchcraft is prevalent, there's not merely the danger of genuine possession, but the danger of playing-acting. Some people are highly suggestible. They do what's expected of them. They sincerely play the role that's assigned to them. They may imagine they are possessed, and mimic symptoms of possession. But it's make-believe. 

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