August 19, 2015

A Millennial’s Reflection on Spiritual Warfare

Before delving into my blog entry, please note that this is not a typical Juicy Ecumenism article calling on the Church to strengthen its social witness on issues such as life, marriage, and religious freedom. Instead, the following piece recounts a personal experience with spiritual warfare and my own thoughts and questions that were birthed from the encounter.

My intention is not to sensationalize the supernatural. My contribution is, however, meant to remind myself and fellow Christians that supernatural, spiritual warfare is not strange or unusual; it is normal.

Consider Ephesians 6:12:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Sunday school teachers ensured that I memorized this Scripture verse as a child. Raised in a charismatic Pentecostal church, I accepted spiritual warfare as a fact. I accepted the reality of Heaven, Hell, Satan, and his demonic henchmen. I’ve witnessed the Holy Spirit manifest among Believers and, conversely, heard accounts of present-day demonic manifestations. However, these latter stories only came from visiting missionaries who were exposed to undeveloped regions of the world. Demonic possessions weren’t exactly common in my middle-America neighborhood.

Like most Millennial Americans, I admit that I am desensitized to demonic entities by the cheesy television shows about teens combating the supernatural and movies glamorizing forces of darkness. So while I accepted spiritual warfare as fact, I did not truly grasp the weight of its reality.

That is, until this summer.

Two weeks ago, I traveled to the Northeast to speak at a Christian conference tailored for Ivy League college students. The conference was hosted by Charismatic Christian leaders. So, it was no surprise to me to hear the term “spiritual warfare” assigned to everything that obstructed our journey to the conference.

At first, I found nothing odd about the airline canceling every flight to Connecticut because of a summer thunderstorm. However, my fellow conference travelers were convinced that this was, “the enemy’s intervention.” More strange and uncomfortable, at least for this introvert, was piling into a ten-passenger van full of strangers for a five hour ride to Connecticut.

To be fair, my fellow van passengers were conference speakers, leaders, and student attendees. One passenger was a young, prominent African-American worship leader who had just flown in from Los Angeles. Sick the entire van ride, he asked for our prayer. Most intriguing was that my new friend referred to his pain as an “incantation.” Immediately, doubt crept into my mind. I had never heard “incantation” used among the spiritual warfare lingo I was familiar with.

No, I’ve never had any medical training, but that didn’t stop me from offering my own diagnosis to the doubled-over worship leader. “It’s probably a kidney stone, or perhaps your appendix is rupturing,” I offered. “Should we take you to a hospital?”

“No,” he said. “I went yesterday. The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. He said I’m in perfect health.”

Still skeptical of an “incantation,” I felt compelled to pray for God to heal whatever infirmity plagued by new friend.

So far we had cancelled flights, the leadership’s late arrival to the student conference, and an ill-stricken worship leader. But I recognize now, how this was just the beginning of my encounter with spiritual warfare.

Finally, we arrived at the conference long after registration and orientation took place. But what was important is that we arrived. The worship leader sang praises to our Holy Father through his pain and all other logistics seemed to smoothly flow.

On the second day it happened.

During a lecture on the Holy Spirit, a young female student lay undetected in the fetal position under a pew crying and moaning. Few understood what was happening until her friend left the sanctuary quivering in search of help. Soon, pastors and prayer intercessors gathered around the young woman, who by this time was screaming.

I admit that my initial reaction was utter confusion. Was she hurt? Did she need help? It took me a few moments to process what I was seeing, hearing, and sensing. Then I heard the young woman speak to the ministry leaders huddled around her. It was not the voice of the young woman that I had encountered earlier in the day. Her voice was soft, but this tone was much higher pitched. But it wasn’t the sound or tone that convinced me. It was the words spoken from her mouth. The demon began to mock and taunt those praying for her. I might have been in shock, but the situation was not totally unfamiliar to me. I knew of a similar encounter in the Bible.

Acts 16:16-17 recounts the demonic manifestation within a young girl who is “possessed with a spirit of divination.” The girl, who is enslaved as a fortuneteller, spots Paul and Silas on their way to pray. The Scriptures tell us that she followed them around for days taunting them with, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” Finally, Paul gets fed up and finally puts an end to her tormentor. Verse 17 reads, “But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour.” Why it took Paul days, I’m not sure.

But like the story in Acts, this wasn’t the elaborate exorcism the blockbuster films portray. This scene was confusing, then pitiful, and finally joyful, as an hour and a half of prayers in Jesus’ name later, the demon(s) left the girl.

If I were reading this blog before the conference, I’m ashamed to say I’d probably be doubtful of this account. Perhaps you are thinking this very thought. Maybe you’re rationalizing the travel delays and the worship leader’s undetectable abdominal pain. Or maybe you’re skeptical of a present-day demonic manifestation.

I understand your doubt, but remember this was an Ivy League college student whose entire academic career rested in scientific evidence, facts and data. She was not seeking some warped attention. Prior to this manifestation she did not act childish or silly, but was instead very serious about her public impression. I do not doubt that she experienced—and I witnessed—a demonic possession.

With fresh eyes I have reread the accounts of Jesus driving out demons or acknowledging forces of evil. You can read them here:

Matthew 8:28-34

Mark 3:22-27

Mark 5:1-20

Mark 9:14-29

Luke 8: 26-39

Luke 11:14-23

In the end, this subject matter might make for an unusual blog entry. But writing my experience has helped me to process it. Now I am left with are certain questions. How should I respond? How do I engage in this spiritual battle beyond simply writing about it or studying? Maybe you wonder too?

*Dear readers, as a Millennial I am still learning. (Actually, I hope to always be “still learning” throughout every season of my life.) Most of our JE readers are wise, faithful Christian ministers and laity. As such, your knowledge, reflections, and comments on this issue are most welcome here.


10 Responses to A Millennial’s Reflection on Spiritual Warfare

  1. Patrick98 says:

    Yes, demonic possession and oppression are very real. They do occur here in North America. I have seen one instance of it, and heard a credible account of another. Jesus Christ sets people free. As a Presbyterian, (we are not known as charismatics 🙂 ) I say that we dismiss the supernatural at our own peril.

    • Chelsen Vicari says:

      Thank you for sharing, Patrick. I’m positive there are other charismatics like me out there who dismissed spiritual warfare in North America, especially if it doesn’t take the form we expect. A friend and I were talking and he mentioned the best form of spiritual warfare in the United States is “the enemy” convincing people the supernatural doesn’t exist at all. It is far more damaging than demonic possessions. Fear of visible evil would cause many to seek help from the Almighty.

      There is a lot of confusion or skepticism even among young Christians and probably many seasoned Christians as you point out. So I am hoping that more discussion about it will help.

  2. disqus_Lz3jwgJJZ2 says:

    Im one of the few millennial who has always been interested in the supernatural. I recommend the book The Supernatural Worldview by Cris Putnam. I believe we are seeing a rise in the supernatural but the church isn’t really discussing it.

    • Chelsen Vicari says:

      Agreed! I want the Church to start talking about it more. But I understand the caution. We of course want to protect the individuals and not add to the sensationalizing of the supernatural. But I believe there is room for intelligent discussion on the topic. I’ll check out your book suggestion. Thanks!

  3. Pedro Okoro says:

    Hi Chelsen! Thanks for an awesome and very though-provoking post. I am based in the UK. But I had a similar experience in 2013 when I was leading a deliverance conference in a city in Midwestern America, a lady came to the healing line. She was a lovely lady who was part of the praise team. I asked her what she wanted prayers for. All of a sudden, she changed and became very aggressive.
    Then she began to speak with a husky male voice.“You don’t belong to this body,” I told the demon. “You will have to come out.” In response, she lunged toward me and had to be restrained by two men.
    “I don’t want to speak to you,” I told the demon. “I want to speak to so and so.” She acted aggressively for a little while longer and then became calm. “So, and so” I said, “would you want to be rid of this demonic spirit?”
    “Yes please,” she answered in her normal female voice. I then led her to reaffirm her commitment to Jesus, to break any evil ties, and to ask the demon to stop tormenting her. At that point, I declared deliverance over her: “Right now, you foul spirit, in the name of Jesus, I command you to come out and never return to her body.” As the demon left her, a young man who was in the service, started screaming and jumping up and down, trying to take off his jacket. He said there was fire all over him. At that precise moment, the host pastor’s wife had a revelation: she saw the demon leave Janet and enter the young man. I prayed over Paul and commanded the demon to come out. I gave specific instruction for the demon to go to the waterless places to await judgement. I also declared that there would be no reinforcement for him. After that, he stopped screaming. The following day, the young man reported to me that he’d slept through the night like a baby for the first time in years.
    The story is told in my new book The Ultimate Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Learn to Fight from Victory, Not for Victory!”

  4. Benjamin McEntire says:

    Hi Chelsen!

    I’m also a Millennial and a doctoral candidate in Ashland Theological Seminary’s DMin in Formational Counseling program, and have recently finished a doctoral dissertation on the topic of exorcism and deliverance. In the dissertation I examine the practices used to liberate those suffering from demonization as they appear in sacramental, evangelical non-charismatic, and charismatic traditions, arguing for greater unity and dialogue between those involved in helping such individuals. My research involved looking at both how all the traditions view the problem of demonic bondage and then the means by which they work to solve it. I then argue for dialogue about those points. I chose the topic because of my own experiences.

    What you described is actually quite common in the USA, but isn’t widely seen because it tends to arise in settings of spiritual renewal and in contexts in which people are praying in a deliberate and specific manner for certain types of emotional/spiritual problems. I would argue that the reason for that is because one of several things can be at work: For one, the spirits’ sources of attachment to the people become threatened, or God forces them to reveal themselves so they can be removed, or they choose to manifest to distract and disrupt from what is occurring. In the case you described, it is noteworthy that the manifestation occurred during a teaching on the Holy Spirit. I have seen that happen before more than once, and believe it goes to both the spirits being threatened, for as the Holy Spirit receives more of us, they lose ground, and their efforts to distract–Spirit-empowered believers can disrupt their work.

    In practice, a growing number of ministers working with those suffering from demonization have found that we are more effective and provide a greater degree of help if we deal less with the demons and focus more on why they are attached to the people in the first place. It makes sense that there’s a rhyme and reason to demonic bondage, for presumably demons don’t just jump on random passers-by and take hold. By helping them find healing, repentance and forgiveness, or whatever else is needed to be free from the enemy, the result is that we avoid prolonged fights and a lot of unnecessary drama in the form of manifestations, and the person gains greater intimacy with Jesus Christ. That is a beautiful thing to observe!

    If you would like other book suggestions, you might look into Charles Kraft, a recently retired professor of anthropology from Fuller Theological Seminary who has written extensively on spiritual warfare and worldview issues involved in how we approach the supernatural. His book “Defeating Dark Angels” focuses more on the issue of demonization and how to address it, while “Christianity with Power” and “Confronting Powerless Christianity” deal with worldview issues. You might also look into the Barna Group’s study “Teens and the Supernatural.” Most of those involved in that study would be in their twenties now, but looking at it from the perspective of spiritual warfare makes looking at the struggle so many twenty-somethings have with the faith a bit more interesting.

    If you wanted a perspective on spiritual warfare that addresses Christian practices that span most every Christian tradition I’d recommend what I’ve written, as I’ve not encountered any text that examines everything from sacramental exorcism (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican,) evangelical non-charismatic (Reformed and dispensational denominations), and charismatic (ranging from mainline renewal authors to those in Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave churches), but it’s not currently published. At the recommendation of an Asbury Seminary professor who teaches on spiritual warfare (Stephen Seamands) I’m hoping to revise it and have it published, but since the military has decided that I would be put to better use elsewhere for awhile (I’m a chaplain), publication will have to wait. If you’d like I can send you what I’ve written or at minimum a list of resources that went into it and a description of them. You can email me at saintmichaelministries@gmail.com and I can get that to you if you like, though I suspect at this point you’ve more than enough recommendations to keep you busy!

    Thank you for drawing a bit more attention to this area of ministry. In our secular culture it’s normal for Christians to largely miss it until it confronts them directly, but nevertheless Jesus has still called us to help those suffering at the hands of the enemy. More mainstream attention to it is long overdue, so it’s good to see professional writers such as yourself openly talking about it! I look forward to seeing what becomes of this.

  5. Teresa Dickson says:

    Hi, Chelsen,
    I want to echo Benjamin’s recommendation for Charles Kraft’s Defeating Dark Angels book. I have done counseling for many years and I find his book the best of the best from the warfare counselor’s prospective.
    Do you happen to know of any evangelical pastors in the past 5-10 years who have done a good spiritual warfare study or sermon on the topic of Spiritual Warfare that would reach out to millennials today?
    Teresa

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