- Exorcism is the act of freeing persons from the influence of, or possession by, what are believed to be demons or evil spirits. It played almost no role in the Protestant movement until the emergence of Pentecostalism in the 19th century; the practice has subsequently attracted increased interest in those circles, especially in the missionary field.The Bible depicts various cases of exorcism, most clearly in the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 8:28-34) and the apostles (Acts 16: 16-18). In the Roman Catholic Church, acts of exorcism were included in the ministrations leading to the baptism of a new member. One of the offices to which a priest is ordained is that of exorcist; however, over the centuries, the ministry to people who exhibited behaviors ascribed to evil spirits became restricted to bishops or to specially designated priests appointed by bishops.Martin Luther kept some abbreviated references to exorcism in the baptismal rite, but in the 17th century they fell into disuse. Reformed and Radical Reformation churches discarded such references from the beginning. They were also dropped by Anglicans.Under the impact of rationalism, the belief in demons and the practice of exorcism slowly withered away, though in the 20th century they have made significant return. Exorcism has reemerged in the context of literal biblical interpretation, belief in God's intervention in worldly affairs in answer to prayer, and belief in a personal devil and his demonic domain. over the centuries many missionaries came to see the deities of the people whom they hoped to evangelize as demons, a view that provided an excuse to destroy non-Christian places of worship.Exorcisms cropped up very early in the history of the Pentecostal movement; its practice increased steadily through the 20th century, especially on the mission field, where it was seen as a valuable tool in the expansion of the church into "areas of darkness." In the last generation, via the Charismatic movement, exorcism has been placed in the context of spiritual warfare. A number of "deliverance" ministries have been created that specialize in casting out demons. They point to Mark 16:17, where Jesus tells his disciples to preach the Gospel around the world, and says that the casting out of demons will be a sign of their work.Most Pentecostals/Charismatics assume that a believer who has been baptized and filled with the spirit cannot be possessed by a demon, yet they can still be harassed or victimized by demon obsession or oppression. They often assume that nonbelievers are demon possessed; some observers of the mission field credit exorcisms as a key element in the rapid spread of Pentecostalism in developing countries.Pentecostal churches vary widely in the incidence of exorcism and demonic possession. In some, it is almost absent, in others, an occasional presence. some groups invite specialized deliverance evangelists as guests to their congregations. In a few churches, the issue plays a central role.Further reading:■ George A. Birch, The Deliverance Ministry (Camp Hill, Pa.: Horizon House, 1988)■ Noel Gibson and Phyl Gibson, Evicting Demonic Intruders and Breaking Bondages (Chichester, U.K.: New Wine, 1993)■ Michael Green, I Believe in Satan's Downfall (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerd-mans, 1981)■ Derek Prince, They Shall Expel Demons: What You Need to Know about Demons - Your Invisible Enemy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Chosen Book, 1998)■ Swartley Willard Swartley, Essays on Spiritual Bondage and Deliverance (Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1988).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.