Thursday, May 23, 2013

I am an exorcist but no demon needs to tremble in my presence

I was going to post about what makes an Anglican an Anglican but checking in to Stuff I see we have a priest here who has held the office of Diocesan Exorcist while not believing in demons.So let's hold what makes an Anglican until tomorrow (hint: South Carolina is Anglican) and consider this wonderful illustration of what may be wrong with our church: saying one thing and believing another.

The background to the local news item is the global item about the Pope performing an exorcism (or did he?) on a man in a wheelchair. Natch our local press goes to a go-to-guy to get comment and who better than a former diocesan exorcist who does not believe in demons.

Actually our Catholic Archbishop does not come out too well in this item. Though required by canon law to have a diocesan exorcist, he does not have one!

For the record, I am with Michael Hewat, also quoted in the article. I do not have a lot of experience in this area, but I believe that beyond the realm we call psychosis and neurosis, the devil and his minions can gain and retain a foothold on lives and houses. When we discern that, we should pray for deliverance.

For local Christchurch readers with long memories, one of the most memorable experiences of my curacy was being part of an exorcism performed in a house where the manifestation was the sound of a ticking clock. The then Diocesan Exorcist was Archdeacon Peter Witty. It was definitely a case of watch, listen, learn and never forget.

Back to our present day colleague who does not believe in demons. I see his comments as illustrative of something which is a problem in our church today: saying one thing openly with our lips and believing another privately in our hearts.

Here are a few other examples:

What we say: "We are proud of being a three tikanga church."

What we believe: Our church is not working. There are many problems as a result of being a three tikanga church which we are not addressing.

What we say: "We think gay people in same sex partnerships should be able to be ordained."

What we believe: Our parish needs a married vicar who has a young family to help regrow the Sunday School.

What we say: "Our prayer book is an amazing taonga of which we are very proud, especially when we hear how popular it is in North America."

What we believe: For next Sunday's service I can make whatever changes to the prayer book I want in order to make it relevant to 2013.

What we say: "We think its great that we are the kind of church which can make radical decisions such as electing the bare-footed, dreadlocked Justin Duckworth to be Bishop of Wellington."

What we believe: Apart from one or two bold decisions like that, we haven't got many clues on how to turn our aging, declining church around.

You may be able to supply more!

PS A few days ago I posted two links to a series of three Living Church essays. The third essay, Beyond Provincialism by Colin Podmore is now posted.


Michael Reddell said...

Sometimes I wonder why I left the Anglicans, and then I read stories like this one about Michael Blain. It is beyond sad as a commentary on the church which played such a key role in evangelising these islands

Anonymous said...

It's quite possible that this man did good to people in distress, despite his lack of belief in evil spirits. I don't doubt that they exist, but have never been comfortable with the luxuriant demonology of many Pentecostalists. Some calm listening is always a good thing.


Peter Carrell said...

I agree Martin that good likely has been done; and excess should be avoided.

James Stewart said...

Peter, I have been following your blog now for some time. It is a breath of fresh air among the confusion and revisionist theology which seems to be ACANZP. Anyway, re this particular post I was immediately reminded of 2 Timothy 3:5, "holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power." Perhaps this may also be indicative of much else that goes on among us! Regarding the diabolical, I have found useful the experience of the well known psychiatrist Scott Peck, who relates in his book, "People of the Lie", incidents of possession which became apparent after all traditional explanations and attempts to ameliorate presenting factors were exhausted. These were influential in his conversion to Christ.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Michael and James for your comments!

Bryden Black said...

Two comments, one re the TLC Sic et Non post, Beyond Provincialism, the other on the diabolical.

These three articles from The Living Church highlight again the entire question of an Anglican Communion Covenant. Yes; it may these days be pretty well a dead-duck in some quarters, certainly in ACANZ&P. For all that, the actual matter of ecclesial interdependence and how to express a due catholicity wont go away since it’s basic to the Christian Faith (which was one reason I foisted upon ADU bloggers that extract from Lions Work re apostolicity). So folks, when we are prudent enough perhaps we can revisit the matter: say, in 2021?!

As for the diabolical: if only 7% of what passes for possession in some Penty circles, that’s enough! In fact, I’m sure (ala Screwtape) that if the real thing can hide behind (due to deflection) what are strictly alternatives - e.g. psychosis, depression, Parkinsons, epilepsy; social conflict resolution mechanisms - then Satan has already seduced us! My own personal ministry experience-&-understanding has had to deal with both places and people needing exorcism. End of story ... well; not quite!

Father Ron Smith said...

"The background to the local news item is the global item about the Pope performing an exorcism (or did he?) on a man in a wheelchair. Natch our local press goes to a go-to-guy to get comment and who better than a former diocesan exorcist who does not believe in demons." - Dr. Peter Carrell -

Perhaps the Pope was merely exercising his normal priestly function of administering Healing? There is plenty of biblical evidence of this - and at the hands of Jesus!

Anything inimical to the Spirit of Jesus may perhaps - in the old-fashioned understanding of
what was going on in the N.T., - be considered to be 'exorcism'.

This was no doubt the intention of one of the Gafcon Primates at Lambeth 1998, when he tried to 'exorcise' an English priest whom he thought 'possessed' by 'a spirit of homosexuality'. I do remember the terrific scandal this caused at the time - not least among the English Bishops and Clergy.

There were such 'insights' given in the early charismatic movement in N.Z. in the 1960s. I remember some well-meaning (but ill-advised) lay people, going on expeditions of 'exorcism', to which they felt called by God. I also remember the terrible results of some of these amateur 'dealings with spirits'.

For me as a priest, in these better-informed days, the simple recitation of the Lord's Prayer, with its inclusion of the phrase: "Deliver us from evil", might just provide the necessary protection of the person being prayed for - as well as the one who praying - with the godly objective of prayer for healing of the afflicted person. I guess Jesus knew the power of the Lord's Prayer when he asked his disciples to pray it.

I do have a prevailing feeling that classical exorcism should only be resorted to in extremis, where the obvious destructive behaviour of a person is counter to the safety of either themselves, their family, or the community. Delving by well-meaning amateurs can cause disasters to both parties.

I'll always remember the sound advice of Father Ken Prebbles of St. Paul's Synonds St., Auckland, in a group session on this matter. He said the The DEevil is always keen to have our attention focussed on him. It is often best to ignore him, and to focus on the healing power of God. I have found this to be a very important corrective to excessive 'fear of the devil'.

This is surely why Bishops are very careful of whom they elect to carry out this function. It is not a task for puffed-up amateurs.

The mediaeval understanding of the practise of exorcism might best be left to bishops, and their canonically-appointed experts.

mike greenslade said...

Kia ora Peter.
Interesting points you make here. The tension between what we agree with in our thinking and what we hold to be true in our hearts can be both creative and constraining. It reminds me of Bosco's reflections on metaphors and literalism.
The holding to a concept that has 'had it's day'is an ongoing issue for us in a world of rapidly changing information. For example, the concept you refer to as 'neurosis' is no longer considered a useful tag in defining mental health issues. As understanding has developed, so has our description of what we see. What we once saw as supernatural is now often recognised as a part of this world. I guess the devil is in the detail!

Bryden Black said...

Must be the Season of Pentecost: Ron and I in some agreement!

Have you come across John Richards' But Deliver Us From Evil: An introduction to the demonic dimension in pastoral care (DLT, 1974)? He ran a series of seminar workshops back in the day while I was training. I have always thanked God for him and the opportunity he gave us for VERY balanced teaching and advice, with solid stories/case studies. I venture his ministry still stands up in 21st C, together with Frank Lake's!

Peter Carrell said...

No, I don't know that book.

Father Ron Smith said...

I'll always remember Evangelist Agnes Sandford's visit to New Zealand. Her advice on the subject of the deliverance ministry is that this is best left to clerical experts. Amateurs in this field may wreak untold damage - not only to themselves but also to the person - or the entity - they are seeking to 'deliver'. Agnes also spoke of the fact that most of the 'disturbed' people coming forward for this type of ministry are not 'possessed' by demons (the ultimate case for 'deliverance') but rather suffering 'oppression'. which is something different.

What is needed in this dangerous area, is the precious gift of 'discernment of spirits', which is the gift of very few people.

IMHO, no-one should lust after a specific 'deliverance' ministry. If they did I might question their motivation.

Remember how the demons treated Jesus' disciples when they first tried out their ministry in this area. They barely escaped with their lives.

And then, when the disciples had become a little more expert in the ministry of deliverance, we have the words of Jesus from Luke 10:20-

"Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven!