Deliverance Ministry in Mental Illness
The Ministry of Deliverance is an established part of spiritual activity for many religious groups. It is distinct from ministry for ‘healing’ or ‘peace’ because there is an assumption that there is actual evil present over and above a lack of health or wholeness. Groups differ in the extent to which the evil is personified and restrained, but the core principles are that this evil needs to be directly addressed and that the power of good/God is sufficient to make it leave. The term 'ministry of deliverance' is used in preference to 'exorcism' as it is less associated with unhelpful Hollywood films!
For a number of reasons, this ministry is particularly open to abuse when dealing with people with mental health problems. This is partly historical, from a time when mental illness was believed to be caused by evil influence and (whilst physical illness is now largely seen to have a biological cause) our understanding of mental illness has lagged behind. This is partly due to an unbalanced reading of books like the Bible, where passages on demonic activity seem to contain symptoms of mental illness: however it is clear that i) other passages on demonic activity are about physical illness or political groups, ii) there is a clear distinction between ‘healing’ and ‘casting out demons’ suggesting the two are separate.
There is also a need to tread carefully, because many people with mental illness will already be low in self-esteem and have been in embarrassing situations; so any ministry should aim to preserve dignity. This is another reason why the term ‘Ministry of Deliverance’ is preferred to exorcism. For the purposes of this article, demons are seen to be active today, strongly ‘oppress’ some and ‘possess’ only a few.
This is large topic and people are drawn to articles on the Mind and Soul website which can cover this in more detail. For more information on the Biblical basis of deliverance and the activity of demons, please listen to this helpful talk by Jonathan Clark [handout]. Briefly, people can have a genuine underlying faith, a sever mental illness and [for some] specific demonic activity – and all at the same time. The key thing is how to tell them apart.
A person’s faith and illness
It can be easy to label all of a person’s unusual views as due to mental illness. However just because we do not believe something does not mean it is wrong. In fact, we may be wrong. Likewise, it is wrong to label all experiences as ‘spiritual’ in origin as some may be due to illness.
Though these are not concrete rules, the following guidelines are helpful:
Faith is typically a long term thing. Rapid ‘conversion’ is possible, but for most people their faith can be seen stretching back over the years and should not be confused with a recent onset mental illness.
Core aspects of most peoples’ faith are shared [e.g. Christians tend to hold a shared set of beliefs about God, Jesus, etc]. The less ‘mainstream’ a person’s belief, the greater the possibility that it is due to illness. The same holds for intensity of behaviour such as large amounts of Bible reading when this is not their usual practice, nor that of their faith group. If a person does have an unusual belief, it can be helpful for them to know that to challenge this would probably not result in them departing from the views of the rest of the group.
Active symptoms of mental illness such as psychosis are usually quite responsive to medication – at least in part and in the short term. A trial of non-sedating medication will help with illness but will not affect a person’s true faith. Sedating medication can affect faith by suppressing a person’s whole brain, even to the point of depression in some cases. Likewise, medication will not affect demonic activity – this needs a spiritual solution. It should be possible to take medication as well as receive ministry of any kind.
How to conduct Ministry of Deliverance
Three things are vital if this is to be undertaken. First it must rest on the understanding that this Ministry works because of the power of the God to whom it appeals. As such, it does NOT rest on the volume with which the minister shouts, the number of times it is done, or the amount of tears the person sheds. Likewise, because God is sovereign [and therein lies His power!], the ministry cannot ‘manipulate’ God and there may be no result even if done right.
Secondly, person-hood must be respected. It is of no value to have people rolling on the floor, embarrassing themselves an others. As said above, the power is in God not the ministry. We must always treat people with respect.
Thirdly a clear structure should be used. One is laid out below, which interestingly is from a very charismatic church in the USA that you might think would be the most excessive; instead it is simple, respectful and discerning – and hence powerful. At the other end of the spectrum is the Catholic rite, which is liturgical and is ‘merely’ read out by the priest – but remember that the power lies in God and not in the effort of the minister. Keep it simple, and remember that there are no magic words or formula.
Most groups would say that the person does not need to be ordained, though some traditions would. It is important that the person has some experience in this area or is receiving some supervision. Hospital chaplains should be able to undertake this and are already integrated into the healthcare system. Some people will prefer someone from their own faith community. All Anglican and Catholic dioceses have a nominated person in this role, who usually has a lot of mental health experience too.
I – Interview: Ask the person what is going on [always a good start] and if they believe that an evil force is present. If there is no evil, merely pray a prayer of peace and stop there – as either the person is not ready or God is not
I – Intervene: If the person is very distressed, pray a simple prayer of peace; or a prayer to temporarily restrain the evil (but do so in a calm manner)
H – Highlight: Ask the Holy Spirit to highlight any special areas for deliverance – there may be many but one will be best to start on. As for: wounds that need healing, sins that need to be forgiven and lies that have been believed
H – Healing: Ask for general healing and allow some time for this to be felt. Apply this especially to the wounds identified above.
O – Oppose: Lead the person through a process of opposing the evil force – they need to do this, but with your help. The stages are: repent for sins and agreements with lies, and renounce verbally any demonic oppression
P – Proclaim: Speak in a calm and assertive voice (no yelling necessary). Command all demonic oppression to go in the name of Jesus
P – Pray: Ask the Holy Spirit to fill all the areas that have now been cleansed and set free and to strengthen the believer in their confidence in the love of Christ. This is also based on the principle that you need to fill the hole just created or else it will be filled again by evil
U – U walk it out: Give them time to work things through, as well as encouragement to be involved in local regular fellowship and prayer
Deliverance has real power but must be done with care and with respect.