Recently, a Taiwanese family I know dropped by unexpectedly and asked if I would care to join them for a lecture series on spiritual warfare at Westminster Theological Seminary. Would I!
Though I graduated from that seminary in 1979, I have since rarely taken advantage of its proximity to my home. (Many come from China and Korea and think it worth every mile and yuan.) Dr. Vern Poythress, once sensing my embarrassment after the umpteenth phone call seeking theological guidance, graciously told me that alumni are entitled to continuing education. (I assured him that it’s not that way with dentists; mine moans of the expense of post-graduate courses.)
It was Dr. Poythress giving this lecture, so I was doubly interested. He addressed a room of future pastors on the problem of encountering demonic influence or possession in their ministries. “When you see strange things, pray,” he counseled. “Pray and fast beforehand, asking that if there are demons involved, they will be bound, so that you can speak to the person. … If a person is visiting you in your home, and you suspect there is demonic activity, pray before he arrives. It’s all about confidence that you are a child of God.”
This was Dr. Poythress’ main emphasis—that we are children of God and this ability to confront the demonic is part of our inheritance. It is not about formulas, he insisted, citing the example of a pastor who was suddenly confronted with a madman wielding a knife. The pastor out, “Help, Jesus!” It was enough. The seven sons of Sceva were not able to evict a demon, not because they didn’t have a manual but because they didn’t know God. The demon didn’t even recognize them (Acts 19:11-15).
One time a young woman he never met phoned Dr. Poythress pleading for help regarding a demon that had taken up residence in the form of a three-foot dragon in her spine. He in turn phoned a church in Philadelphia that he had heard was experienced in this area of the Bible. They were unruffled and he passed the beleaguered woman into their hands.
How good it would be if every church was familiar with spiritual warfare and could handle whatever Satan threw at us. For we all know, at least on some level, that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Demonic activity comes in many forms, from the sweet smile of the adulteress to Satan’s more overt terrors. Let us be ready for anything that comes. For we are, by Christ’s resurrection, the children of the King.