Friday, June 21, 2013

Lay exorcism

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.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us (Mk 9:38-40; par. Lk 9:49-50).

This is an intriguing passage.

i) In what sense is the anonymous exorcist not “following them”? Perhaps that means he was not a Christian. Possibly a Jewish exorcist (e.g. sons of Sceva) or syncretist (e.g. Simon Magus).

ii) However, it may simply mean that he was not a “follower” in the narrow sense of being one of Christ’s handpicked emissaries. He wasn’t one of the Twelve, or one of the Seventy. But in a broader sense, Christ had many followers who weren’t formally attached to the Jesus movement. Although Christ didn’t personally choose them for ministry, they were Christian believers.

Indeed, that seems to be the point of the story, where the independent exorcist represents disciples outside the tight circle of those whom Christ directly commissioned for special service.

iii) Did the anonymous exorcist actually cast out demons? That is John’s impression. However, it’s possible that John was mistaken. Prior to Pentecost, the apostles were not inerrant teachers. So this is his fallible interpretation of what the exorcist did.

Christ’s reply doesn’t entirely settle the question, for his statement is hypothetical. Nevertheless, his approving comment assumes a positive view of the man’s motivations–and other like-minded individuals.

iv) However, the passage certainly leaves the door open for crediting the independent exorcist with success. If so, then this would be a case of “lay” exorcism. He had no ecclesiastical authorization to cast out demons. He was not a church officer. He was a freelance exorcist. Yet, at least hypothetically, Jesus sanctions the practice.

Of course, that doesn’t mean every Christian who attempts or presumes to perform an exorcism will be successful. At most it means that some Christians can pull that off.

v) What does it mean to cast out demons “in Jesus name”? Is that a formula (e.g. “The power of Christ compels you!”), or is that just a way of saying the exorcist was a Christian?

1 comment:

  1. I'm in substantial agreement with Dr. Gerry Breshears (bio) on the topic of exorcism and spiritual warfare. If anyone's interested, here's a link to his lectures on Spiritual Warfare at the Evangelical website BiblicalTraining