40 Years of Terror
Dr. Robert Bennet will be speaking at this year’s J-Term at Lutheran Brethren Seminary.
Read more about J-Term HERE.
Most of what we pastors know about our members comes from informal settings—over a cup of coffee in their homes, alongside the hospital bed, or at a wedding reception. As a pastor of a church of more than a thousand members, I conduct a lot of weddings. Normally, I also attend the wedding receptions to say a prayer before the meal, which gives me an opportunity to get to know my church members better. But a casual conversation at one particular wedding reception caught me a bit off guard. I present the conversation below in its entirety:
Member: Sorry that my husband and I missed church last week, pastor. We were out of town.
Me: No problem. I am sure you attend church somewhere else when you travel…
Member: Well… No, we didn’t make it to church this time.
Me: OK, but you look like you want to tell me something.
Member: Ah… Pastor, I went to a paranormal conference last weekend.
Me: Why would you do that?
Member: You see, pastor, we have ghosts in our home. They are very nice ghosts. They are the ghosts of two small children who died in a house fire more than a hundred years ago.
Me: We need to sit down and talk about this… Can you come see me in the office this week?
Member: Sure, I would like to do that. I tried to speak to one of our previous pastors about the situation, but he seemed to think there was something wrong with me and my family. Finally, he said that if I wanted help I should probably go talk to a Roman Catholic priest.
Me: No, there is nothing wrong with you. Let’s sit down and talk about these things.
Member: Thank you. I have been looking for help for so long…
Well, that is how this story began. It is very sad that members of Christian churches in America cannot get help from their pastors in areas that should be considered general pastoral care. Yet, this has been a problem for about the last hundred years in Western society. Rationalism and secularism have had devastating effects upon the Christian Church and its pastors. I discuss some of these causes in my book, I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare, but for now let me simply say that this remains a problem in our churches.
One of the most publicly recognized cases inspired the movie, The Exorcist. The movie was based on real events that took place in St. Louis, Missouri. It is not widely known that before the Roman Catholic Church was charged with the exorcism, the Lutheran Church had already failed.
Why did the Lutherans fail and the Roman Catholics succeed in delivering the young boy (movie version was a girl)? Darrell McCulley wrote and self-published a wonderful book titled, The House Swept Clean: A Biblically Balanced Pattern for Diagnosis, Exorcism, and Pastoral Care of the Victims of Demonic Possession.1 While this book is no longer in print, the PDF version can still be found. McCulley investigates the exorcism in St. Louis and describes how the Lutheran pastors failed. The Lutheran pastors simply had no idea what to do. They had not been trained to deal with the demonic. They did not even believe demonic possession to be possible. How many people have suffered under the power of the devil because Christian clergy have failed to proclaim the freedom of Jesus, who breaks the bonds of Satan?
“Why did you go to the paranormal conference?” I asked the couple sitting in my office the week after the wedding reception. The woman replied, “Because the pastor would not help me and I did not want to go to a Roman Catholic priest. It was the only other option I could think of…” At that time in my ministry I was surprised that a member of my church would seek counsel in such a non-Christian setting. However, I have learned since then that many Christians engage in such activities to find answers that they are not receiving from the Church. “So what did you learn at the paranormal conference?” Once again her response surprised me:
“I learned that these ghosts are good ghosts and that I should not be afraid of them. All I have to do is treat them nicely and ignore some of the antics and everything will be OK. So now when we see the two little children, we try to make contact with them. When they pull the sheets off the bed, we laugh. When they make noises, we just say, ‘There go the kids again.’”
This did not sound right to me. As our conversation continued, I learned that the family was sometimes very afraid for their safety. I explained to them that there was no such thing as a ghost, so the spiritual activity they were experiencing could only be demonic. I think the woman was already aware of this. She’d been telling herself a lie because the truth was too terrifying.
We read New Testament passages together—Hebrews 9:27-28, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him,” and Philippians 1:23, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” Soon the family was convinced that the spirits that appeared to them as children were neither children nor ghosts, but were in fact demons. Mental illness or overactive imaginations could also have been explanations, but I discounted them because all of the family reported seeing and hearing the same things when they were gathered in the same room.
Now everyone in the family was in agreement that the problem was demonic in nature. I explained to them that the next step was a “house blessing,” which is actually another name for an exorcism. They agreed and we set an appointment for the exorcism.
“The day is finally here,” I thought as I drove up the driveway to the old farm house. The husband and wife met me at the door. “OK, pastor, where do we start?” I asked them to give me a tour of the house and to explain to me where they were seeing most of the spirits. We proceeded room by room. In each room I read various Scripture readings, prayed prayers declaring the lordship of Jesus, and requested that peace return in Jesus’ name. In the most problematic areas of the house I spoke the words, “Be gone in the name of Jesus Christ.”
So, you ask, what was the experience like? It was plain and normal. There was nothing special, no spirits, no ghosts, no noises, absolutely nothing. So how do I know it worked? Because the family who had been stricken with fear for more than 40 years have not had a single strange encounter since the day of the exorcism. I write this almost five years after the incident and the house remains quiet and peaceful to this day. Jesus remains the defeater of sin, death and the devil. Too often we forget where our real help lies. There is safety in the name of Jesus.
Dr. Robert Bennett is Administrative Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Reese, Michigan, and Adjunct Professor of Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Visit Dr. Bennett’s blog at www.iamnotafraidblog.com
1Darrell Arthur McCulley, The House Swept Clean: A Biblically Balanced Pattern for the Diagnosis, Exorcism, and Pastoral Care of the Victims of Demonic Possession (St. Louis: Darrell A. McCulley, 2002), PDF, 5.
I Am Not Afraid is Dr. Robert Bennett’s fascinating first-hand account of spiritual warfare found within the Lutheran Church of Madagascar.