Jesus had said in the context of his mission for his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. … And these signs shall accompany those who believe: in my name they shall cast out demons” (Mark 16:15,17). Did the church do this in the years that followed? Is there evidence for this in church history? We will see there is indeed plenty of this in the writings we still have.
The Early church in the first 300 years had no State power to support them, but they did demonstrate the power of God over demons. They frequently evangelized by proclaiming Christ as victor over the false spirits, the demons, who had convinced the people of the day that they were “gods”.
The people of the day came to the early Christians (disciples), and not just their elders and leaders, to get free from the tormenting influence of evil spirits.
Clement of Rome, a man likely referred to in the Bible itself in Paul’s letters, wrote in Chapter 17
“You see, then, how important is the acknowledgment of God, and the observance of the divine religion, which not only protects those who believe from the assaults of the demon, but also gives them command over those who rule over others. And therefore it is necessary for you, who are of the Gentiles, to betake yourselves to God, and to “keep yourselves from all uncleanness, that the demons may be expelled, and God may dwell in you. And at the same time, by prayers, commit yourselves to God, and call for His aid against the impudence of the demons; for ‘whatever things ye ask, believing, you shall receive.’ Matthew 21:22 “But even the demons themselves, in proportion as they see faith grow in a man, in that proportion they depart from him, residing only in that part in which something of infidelity still remains; but from those who believe with full faith, they depart without any delay. For when a soul has come to the faith of God, it obtains the virtue of heavenly water, by which it extinguishes the demon like a spark of fire.
Recognitions (Book IV), Clement of Rome
So Clement of Rome taught that partial deliverance was possible, and so was full deliverance, when faith was “full”.
Origen, a prolific writer of the early 3rd century, had this to say in “Against Celsum”, Book I in chapter 67:
And the name of Jesus can still remove distractions from the minds of men, and expel demons, and also take away diseases; and produce a marvellous meekness of spirit and complete change of character, and a humanity, and goodness, and gentleness in those individuals who do not feign themselves to be Christians for the sake of subsistence or the supply of any mortal wants, but who have honestly accepted the doctrine concerning God and Christ, and the judgment to come.
Even earlier than this, Justin Martyr wrote these words around 160 AD: “For we do continually beseech God by Jesus Christ to preserve us from the demons which are hostile to the worship of God, and whom we of old time served… For we call Him Helper and Redeemer, the power of whose name even the demons do fear; and at this day, when they are exorcised in the name of Jesus Christ, crucified under Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, they are overcome. And thus it is manifest to all, that His Father has given Him so great power by virtue of which demons are subdued to His name, and to the dispensation of His suffering” (Dialogue, 30,3).”
In his second apology (meaning intellectual defense of the gospel), chapter 6, Justin wrote:
But “Jesus,” His name as man and Saviour, has also significance. For He was made man also, as we before said, having been conceived according to the will of God the Father, for the sake of believing men, and for the destruction of the demons. And now you can learn this from what is under your own observation. For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world, and in your city, many of our Christian men exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs.
Origen was a very learned early church theologian, some of whose ideas were rejected. But as far as the history of his times was concerned, he writes, “And there are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events, according to the will of the Logos.”
And again, in Against Celsum Book 8, Origen writes of Celsum, a proponent of demon worship, “For he has never beheld the efficacy of those words, in the name of Jesus, when uttered by the truly faithful, to deliver not a few from demons and demoniacal possessions and other plagues.”
Tertullian, an early Christian leader wrote in 197AD in the Latin Apologeticum (Defense):
“But thus far we have been dealing only in words; we now proceed to a proof of facts, in which we shall show that under different names (god and demon) you have real identity. Let a person be brought before your tribunals, who is plainly under demoniacal possession (daemone agi). The wicked spirit, bidden to speak by a follower of Christ, will as readily make the truthful confession that he is a demon, as elsewhere he has falsely asserted that he is a god. Or, if you will, let there be produced one of the god-possessed (de deo pati), as they are supposed, …. if they would not confess, in their fear of lying to a Christian, that they were demons, then and there shed the blood of the most impudent follower of Christ…. The truth is… that neither themselves nor any others have claims to deity, you may see at once who is really God, and whether that is He and and He alone whom we Christians own; as also whether you are to believe in Him, and worship Him, after the manner of our Christian faith and discipline. But at once they (the demons) will say, Who is this Christ … is he not rather up in the heavens, thence about to come again… All the authority and power we have over them is from our naming the name of Christ, and recalling to their memory the woes with which God threatens them at the hands of Christ as Judge, and which they expect one day to overtake them. Fearing Christ in God, and God in Christ, they become subject to the servants of God and Christ. So at our touch and breathing, overwhelmed by the thought and realization of those judgment fires, they leave at our command the bodies they have entered… It has not been an unusual thing, accordingly, for those testimonies of your deities to convert men to Christianity (“haec testimonia deorum vestrorum Christianos facere consuerunt”; for in giving full belief to them, we are led to believe in Christ. Yes, your very gods kindle up faith in our Scriptures, they build up the confidence of our hope. You do homage, as I know, to them also with the blood of Christians. On no account, then, would they lose those who are so useful and dutiful to them, anxious even to hold you fast, lest some day or other as Christians you might put them to the rout,—if under the power of a follower of Christ, who desires to prove to you the Truth, it were at all possible for them to lie. (Apol. 23,4-18)
Tertullian is arguing that if these spirits were really gods, they would not admit to being demons when a Christian takes authority over them. They claimed to be Greek or Roman gods when they spoke to unbelievers, but Christians were able to make them speak and confess that they were demons.
This was a powerful argument used against the pagans of the day, and helped cause many to turn to Christ.
The church today needs to recover the understanding that demons are the spiritual force leading unbelievers, and power that comes when we take authority over them in the name of Jesus Christ.
Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon, in the second century, appealed to the miracles performed not only by the apostles, but also by the brethren of his day, as proof of the validity of their faith as opposed to the claims of the gnostics, magicians and other heretics:
“For they can neither confer sight on the blind, nor hearing on the deaf, nor chase away all sorts of demons— [none, indeed,] except those that are sent into others by themselves, if they can even do so much as this. Nor can they cure the weak, or the lame, or the paralytic, or those who are distressed in any other part of the body, as has often been done in regard to bodily infirmity. Nor can they furnish effective remedies for those external accidents which may occur. And so far are they from being able to raise the dead, as the Lord raised them, and the apostles did by means of prayer, and as has been frequently done in the brotherhood on account of some necessity — the entire Church in that particular locality entreating [the boon] with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been bestowed in answer to the prayers of the saints— that they do not even believe this can be possibly be done, [and hold] that the resurrection from the dead is simply an acquaintance with that truth which they proclaim.
Irenaeus – Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 31
It should be clear that for the early Christians, the ability to drive out demons was central to their cause and missions. It should be that way troday.