Healing Line

Healing Line

Broadening the Spectrum of Deliverance Ministry for Healing

by Francis MacNutt
Nov/Dec 2005

Today’s news (September 29) brings us word that the brilliant psychiatrist author, Dr. M. Scott Peck, has died at the age of 69 of pancreatic and liver duct cancer. Dr. Peck was an extraordinarily influential author. His book, The Road Less Traveled [1978], sold more than six million copies and set a longevity record for a paperback — more than ten years on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Those of us in the healing ministry owe Dr. Peck a great debt of gratitude because of his book, People of the Lie [1983]. In this work he courageously championed the idea (radical at the time) that Satan truly exists and can directly infest some individuals as well as entire groups, such as in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. At a time when belief in a real, personal devil was not very respectable in intellectual or psychological circles, Scott Peck’s People of the Lie gave a measure of respectability to the idea of casting out evil spirits. When most seminaries and professional counselors did not deal with the issue at all, he took part in two actual exorcisms conducted by Catholic priests. We are very grateful to Dr. Peck for helping to open up the entire issue to rational discussion.

In his very last book, Glimpses of the Devil, Dr. Peck returned to the same topic of exorcism as if he wanted to make sure this contribution to the field of psychiatry would not be lost. In fact, two months ago I was on the phone with ‘Scotty’ (who was at his home in Connecticut), and we talked about the possibility of setting up a national discussion about exorcism on the internet.

Having said how indebted we are to Scott Peck, I would like to add that his mentor in exorcism was Malachi Martin. Martin’s book, Hostage to the Devil1, was a bestseller which also was influential in opening up the subject of exorcism to the general public but which, in my opinion, perpetuated several mistaken teachings. Some such teachings are still current.

The first is that only priests truly are called to cast out evil spirits. The ancient tradition of the Church, however, is that any Christian can do this (see Chapter 9 in my book, Deliverance from Evil Spirits). Historically, what happened was that because of abuses and the need for great wisdom in this ministry, the bishops eventually regulated exorcism to such an extent that only a few priests were granted permission to perform exorcisms. Today, however, it would make sense to reconsider this issue and open the possibility of giving permission to qualified Christian psychiatrists and counselors to conduct exorcisms.

Secondly, Martin perpetuated the popular belief that what we are dealing with is possession, which is very rare and, as described in his book, very dramatic. We have found, to the contrary, that ‘infestation’ and oppression are common and need to be dealt with on an everyday basis, especially by priests and ministers who should have been taught in the seminary how to do this type of healing.

Thirdly, Martin assumed, as indicated by the very title of his book Hostage to the Devil (in which the hostage is the priest who dares to perform an exorcism) that the priest who takes on an exorcism is going to get “chewed up” both physically and spiritually. This was reinforced by the fearsome movie The Exorcist, in which two priests died. As a result, any normal person is going to be frightened off from getting involved in an exorcism — that is, if he even believes in it.

Lastly, he assumes that the only way to perform an exorcism is by following the prayers in the official Ritual of Exorcism. These prayers are certainly powerful, but we have found that a large degree of freedom and spontaneity is necessary in making up prayers of deliverance suited to a particular person and the specific demons that are affecting him.

These limitations, in my estimation, greatly cut down on the mainline churches’ ministry to people who need deliverance. For example, when there are countless numbers of people sitting in church on Sunday morning who desperately need help in order to be freed of demonic influences2, the clergy still think in terms of possession and only a rare need for exorcism. On the other hand, non-denominational exorcists who widely cast out evil spirits sometimes have no knowledge of inner healing, neither do they value the knowledge of psychological illnesses. Often, they have no pastoral oversight or mentoring to enable them to minister wisely. At times they can really harm people. For example, survivors of satanic ritual abuse often give evidence of having multiple personalities. An exorcist without any background understanding of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) may try to cast out these personalities as if they were all evil spirits and, thereby, inflict great harm on the very person he is trying to help.

In short, the exorcism ministry, like the healing ministry, is basically simple in its essence when we realize that Jesus shares with us his ministry of casting out evil spirits; but if we oversimplify it and are unwilling to learn in those areas that are complex, we can destroy what was meant for blessing.

Since Malachi Martin’s understandings still have influence in some circles, I would like to make clear the changes that I think need to take place:

All Christians, especially leaders, should be taught about the existence of evil spirits and the common ways they influence many good people.

Exorcism is not to be feared if we know what we are doing and how to protect ourselves spiritually.

Qualified lay people, under some kind of oversight, should be encouraged to deal with deliverance.

One last word of appreciation for Scott Peck! At a time when people in the healing professions generally were skeptical about the reality of personal evil spirits, he was not afraid to write what he believed. He was a pioneer who helped open the entire field of counseling and psychology to the possibility of exorcism.

(Footnotes)
1(New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1976)
2Two excellent books from a Catholic perspective have been written by the official exorcist of Rome, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, in which he repeats this belief that mainly we are dealing with possession and that only a priest can ordinarily do it. One of Fr. Amorth’s books is An Exorcist Tells His Story (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999).


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Nov/Dec 2005 Issue