Rob Reimer (Soul Care) on Demons Indwelling Christians (Mark Barnard)

Originally posted  on 7/29/2019

For full PDF version with full footnotes scroll to end of blog. 

Mark founded Blessing Point Ministries  which works to enhance the fruitfulness of healthier ministries and heal wounded congregations. He authored several books related to church health. His latest title, Screwtape versus The Church, explores the nature of corporate spiritual warfare. Mark is a father, grand father and husband of over 30 years. You can learn more @bl

Dr. Reimer’s tenure at the now defunct Alliance Theological Seminary and his deliverance ministry are well known within Alliance circles. However, I wonder how many have pondered the biblical basis for his teaching that believers are commonly inhabited by demons? 

It is my purpose to show that Dr. Reimer’s beliefs lack a credible biblical basis and to seek correction on his part. My secondary purpose is to challenge denominational leaders to look more closely into his teaching and determine if it warrants their endorsement.

I am aware of several opinions on this type of deliverance ministry. I have learned that others in the Alliance family appear to have taken a similar stance to that of Dr. Reimer’s. I know that some teach that the practice of delivering believers from demons goes back to the early church. My focus is to simply review the foundation of Dr. Reimer’s teaching and ask if we are comfortable with a ministry that rests on such a footing.

Dr. Reimer’s book, Soul Care, describes his personal journey of healing and offers lessons for Christian growth. It also contains teaching that I would consider questionable, particularly his teaching on deliverance. I have taken the liberty of summarizing the questionable aspects of Dr. Reimer’s teaching as “Suitcase Theology.” I have done this because part of his rationale for believers having indwelling demons is based on his analogy of a suitcase. He explains in Soul Care that just as a suitcase has more than one compartment in which you might keep clean clothes in one area and soiled clothing in another, so the Holy Spirit and a demon(s) can reside simultaneously in different compartments of a Christian’s soul. 

Does Suitcase Theology Rest on Accurate Interpretations of Supporting Scriptures?

The following offers an analysis of the principles behind Dr. Reimer’s deliverance teaching. It covers the six briefly stated justifications for believers having indwelling demons which he cites in his book Soul Care. These can be found in his chapter on deliverance under the heading “Christians and Demonic Influence.” 

1) Dr. Reimer’s View of the Soul: One of the unique aspects of Dr. Reimer’s teaching is his concept of the soul. He likens one’s soul to a suitcase. This foundational concept facilitates his belief that believers can be inhabited by demons. At the conference I attended he explained that a demon can occupy a separate space in the “suitcase of one’s soul” from that in which the Holy Spirit dwells, allowing both entities to inhabit the Christian simultaneously. 

Three questions arise from this analogy: (1) Does the Bible teach that the soul has a spatial aspect that can be divided into compartments? (2) Does the Bible support a differentiation between one’s soul and spirit? (3) Is the theory that a demon and the Holy Spirit can occupy distinct areas of the soul in harmony with other passages of Scripture? (I answer this question in the appendix.) 

(1) Does the Bible teach that the soul has a spatial aspect that can be divided into compartments? The Greek word, psyche, translated “soul,” is used 23 times in the New Testament. We would be hard pressed to find an occurrence where it contains a spatial aspect. Its common usages have to do with the natural and physical life of an individual, the place of feeling, that part of a human that survives death and, most importantly, to the whole person. “It carries the implication of the human self that lives before God and must give account to him.” The soul refers to the being that is a human individual. When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” he was referring to persons in the hearing of his teaching. The New Testament describes souls as whole people, individuals if you like, not as compartmentalized containers. 

No analogy is a perfect illustration of the thing it represents. However, there must be more continuity with its referent than discontinuity. Dr. Reimer’s analogy is based on an unknown and unlikely use of the word “soul” in Scripture. His analogy of the soul as a suitcase ultimately proves inadequate because it lacks continuity with the way the word is used in the New Testament.  

(2) Does the Bible support a differentiation between one’s soul and spirit? Dr. Reimer makes a distinction between one’s spirit and one’s soul. According to Dr. Reimer, when someone comes to Christ, their spirit is perfected. Their soul, however, can still be under demonic influence and needs to be delivered from demons that “take root in your soul.” Thus, the Christian, being made up of soul and spirit, can be inhabited by a demon in his soul, while the Holy Spirit operates in his spirit. Are there distinctions between man’s spirit and soul? Clinton Arnold, author of 3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare writes, “Biblical theology does not support the notion of a clear distinction between soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma) in the scriptures.” One of the odd things one notices when studying deliverance teaching is that those who hold that believers can have indwelling demons don’t agree with each other when it comes to the biblical basis for such teaching. Arnold, an advocate for Christians having indwelling demons, rightly opposes Reimer’s differentiation between soul and spirit!

In truth, Dr. Reimer would be hard pressed to untangle the overlapping usage of words such as soul/spirit/mind/heart in the New Testament. The scriptures use both soul and spirit to describe the source of emotions like sorrow (Jn. 12:27; Mt. 26:38; Mk 8:12; Jn. 13:21; Acts 17:16; 2 Pet. 2:8), joy (Lk. 1:46, 47; 1 Cor. 14:14-16; 1 Cor. 16:18; 2 Cor. 7:13; Heb. 6:18-19) and devotion (Mk. 12:30; Acts 4:32; Acts 14:2:22; Eph. 6:6; Phil. 1:27; 2:2, 19-20). 

Both “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably regarding man’s essential nature as illustrated in the first and second Adam (Gen. 2:7; John 19:30). While Matthew uses the word “soul” to describe that part of man that survives death (Mt. 10:28; 16:26), he uses “spirit” in a similar fashion (Mt. 27:50). We also see that disembodied persons are called “spirits” in Scripture (Heb. 12:23; 1 Pet. 3:19), similarly the “soul” is described as that part of man which survives death (Mt. 16:25; Jn. 12:25). That Dr. Reimer says various hindering issues can take root in your soul, rather than in one’s spirit, stands at odds with the use of the word “spirit” in Scripture (Prov. 16:18; 25:28; Eccl. 7:8; Is. 29:24; Ez. 18:31; Mal. 2:16; 2 Cor. 7:1).

How are we to understand the Bible’s usage of the words “soul” and “spirit?” We have only two possibilities. Either their meanings overlap. Or, and this is only a slight difference, the words “soul” and “spirit” differ in nuance but refer to the same thing. In either case, there is simply no space to be had between the biblical use of the words “soul” and “spirit” to allow for both the Holy Spirit and a demon to indwell different “compartments” in a believer.

I am not offering a different interpretation of selected passages which Dr. Reimer cites. Why? Because Dr. Reimer cites no Scriptural evidence for his view of the soul. Could such a scripture-less position really have gained acceptance in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a group that has long claimed the Bible as its only rule of faith and practice? It seems so. I would ask Dr. Reimer to provide additional biblically based evidence regarding his conception of the soul. 

2) Covenant and non-Covenant People: Dr. Reimer defends his position that, “Christians can have indwelling demons and need deliverance,” by stating that those Jesus delivered from demons were Jews (“covenant people”) or God-fearing Gentles (“non-covenant people”). 

Unfortunately, he does not elaborate on the significance of his line of thought. The reader is left to wonder what Dr. Reimer means. Perhaps he means; Jesus delivered demons from both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. Both groups had faith in God. Since Christians also have faith in God, they too are subject to having demons. That seems to be what he implies. Would believers be subject to demon occupation like the other groups he mentions? Dr. Reimer, if we understand him correctly, would say yes. 

This was an argument made by Dr. Ed Murphy writing in 1992. He puts unconverted Jewish synagogue attenders on spiritual par with Spirit indwelt believers. He cites the woman Jesus healed from an illness, caused by a spirit, in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus calls her a “daughter of Abraham.” This Dr. Murphy says is evidence that Christians can have demons because they too are “children of Abraham.” His approach is fraught with exegetical fallacies. Dr. Murphy cites Jn. 8:37 to prove his point, but I doubt he read the text. There Jesus clearly calls the Pharisees “Abraham’s descendants” but says they are trying to kill him. Is trying to kill Jesus a sign of believing faith, even Old Testament faith? Murphy also cites Galatians 3:29, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” Paul extends the Abrahamic covenant to Christ followers, a statement fully in line with the breadth of New Testament teaching. However, Dr. Murphy and Dr. Reimer do the reverse. They confuse Old Testament believers with New Testament believers, ignoring the qualitative difference made by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. They equate physical descendants of Abraham with spiritual ones, teaching that since the former were subject to indwelling demons the latter are too.  Equating the physical descendants of Abraham with spiritual ones is refuted by Paul in Romans 9:7/. He writes, “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” 

I would argue that while an overarching covenant runs through both Testaments, the New Covenant comes with rights and privileges that set it apart from the Old Covenant and from those outside the covenant. Among those are the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at conversion and the subsequent baptism of the Holy Spirit. According to Professor Reimer, the new birth provides no safeguard from a demon inhabiting a believer. 

 I wish Dr. Reimer had fleshed out his thoughts. As it stands, we have an allusion to two groups of people (Jews and God-fearing Gentiles) Jesus delivered from indwelling demons with no biblical explanation of how that relates to those who benefit from the New Covenant. At best Dr. Reimer offers a half-stated thought. At worst we have an unsubstantiated opinion expressed in theological language. Are Christian and Missionary Alliance leaders comfortable with unexplained statements as a basis for a controversial ministry like that of deliverance? I would call upon Dr. Reimer to provide a written answer to this concern.

3) Testing the Spirits of Other Christians: Dr. Reimer states that “testing the spirits,” citing 1 Jn. 4:1 and 1 Cor. 12:3, refers to believers appraising the spirits of other believers who might have demons. This he believes provides biblical proof that a demon can inhabit a child of God. One must note that these two verses are the only two verses Dr. Reimer references to positively substantiate his position. Other scriptures he cites are used to counter criticisms or explain why he does or does not follow certain methodologies in his deliverance ministry (such as not delivering unbelievers from demons). 

Let’s review the two passages that Dr. Reimer uses to substantiate his deliverance ministry:

1 John. 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The Apostle John warns believers to test the spirits of those who bring plausible yet spurious messages into the Body of Christ. Dr. Reimer believes that such speakers were authentic Christians who had demons. 

However, John is clearly addressing the issue of false prophets, those with the spirit of the antichrist (vs. 3). This raises doubt about the authenticity of their faith as well as their message. I would argue that having the spirit of the antichrist is about the clearest indication that one is not an authentic Christian. That their “spirits” needed testing suggests that something was off on a heart level and not just in their message’s content. 

I would further argue, that while this verse is put forth to show that we should test other believers for indwelling demons, John’s letter shows just the opposite, that these were false prophets who were not believers. This comes out in a related passage in 1 John 2:18-19. Speaking of those with this same spirit of the antichrist John writes, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” 

Dr. Reimer believes these were authentic Christian prophets. The fact that John says they had the spirit of the antichrist, were not part of the believing community (“not of us”) and needed to have their spirits tested tells a different story. I certainly believe there were prophets claiming to be Christians with a message they claimed was for God’s people. They are still around today. However, in John’s first letter we are not dealing with believers. They were unbelievers masquerading as such. 

What John Says Dr. Reimer’s Interpretation
False prophets have gone out into the world Christians may have indwelling demons
Do not believe every spirit Do not believe every spirit
Test the spirits of those claiming to have a message from God Test the spirits of believers within congregations who may have demons
“This is the spirit of the antichrist” These were authentic believers

The difference between the passage in 1st John and Dr. Reimer’s interpretation of it (illustrated above) shows that he makes a suspect generalization (Christians may have indwelling demons) from a specific problem (False prophets have gone out into the world). The only point of commonality between what John says and Dr. Reimer’s interpretation is the warning not to believe every spirit. Aside from that the apostle and Dr. Reimer go in different directions. 

The other verse Dr. Reimer cites, 1 Corinthians 12:3, says “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” One respected scholar tells us that the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 12 contain “notorious exegetical difficulties.” The extent to which another trusted exegetical scholar goes to harmonize these difficulties illustrates the challenges of grasping what Paul is actually saying. Dr. Reimer bases his belief that Christians can have indwelling demons on a passage that has historically challenged biblical experts. 

Gordon Fee acknowledges an interpretation akin to Dr. Reimer’s, that testing of the spirits was needed “because some Christians have actually been uttering this curse,” but labels such an interpretation as “more ingenious than realistic.” Fee concludes, “Paul’s point in context is not to establish a means of ‘testing the spirits,’ but to remind them that ‘inspired utterance’ as such is not evidence of being ‘led by the Spirit.” 

Ultimately the two verses Dr. Reimer cites as a basis for his ministry, 1 John 4:1 and 1 Corinthians 12:3, should be considered with other like portions of Scripture (1 John 2:18-19; 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Peter 1:20-2:3 and 1 Thess. 5:19-22). When considered as a whole, one gets a very different impression of who it was that needed to have their spirit’s tested. After checking the major evangelical commentaries, Matthew Henry sheds light on what moved Paul and John to write these warnings. He writes, “Many Jews, who were exorcists and magicians, went about pretending to work wonders by the Spirit of God, and many of the Gentiles pretended to inspiration.” 

We must wrestle with a couple of difficult questions, gently posed. (1) Are references to two verses of scripture enough to substantiate a ministry that propagates the idea that believers are commonly inhabited by demons? (2) Is it prudent to base a doctrine on a verse with “notorious exegetical difficulties?” (3) Are we comfortable endorsing a ministry that teaches believers have indwelling demons because the Apostle John tells us not to believe every spirit (speaking of false prophets)? Is the Christian and Missionary Alliance comfortable with Dr. Reimer’s exegesis, an exegesis that deviates from historical protestant biblical interpretation? I would call upon Dr. Reimer to provide further written biblical support for his position. 

4) Evil Spirits Survive Conversion: Dr. Reimer continues with a further rationale for believers being inhabited by demons when he writes, “If evil spirits were cast out upon conversion, then Jesus and his disciples would never have needed to do deliverance.” I am afraid that Dr. Reimer’s statement leaves us in a quandary.

Like his earlier statement regarding Jesus delivering Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, his assertion that demons do not vacate upon conversion and his insinuation that delivering converted people was the focus of Jesus’ and the disciples’ ministry lacks explanation or scriptural evidence. (Once again, this is not a matter of a difference of interpretation. Dr. Reimer supplies no Scripture for us to interpret.)  It also demonstrates a leap in logic that rests on two unsubstantiated claims. (1) Demons do not vacate a person upon conversion. (2) Freeing believers was the focus of Jesus’ and the disciples’ deliverance ministry. 

Is Dr. Reimer saying that Jesus and the disciples only cast demons out of Holy Spirit indwelt believers? Or, is he saying that those whom Jesus and his disciples cast demons out of believed in God and that put them on the same level (spiritually) as Christians? If it is the latter, is he saying that Jews and God-fearers enjoyed the same kind of relationship with God as Christians? Or, is he perhaps saying that Christians enjoy no greater protection from indwelling demons than the lost? It is hard to be unequivocal in one’s assessment because Dr. Reimer does not make himself clear. Rather he provides an assumptive leap in logic without substantiation. His conclusions flow from unsupplied evidence (a pattern throughout this section of his book). 

To what degree can one endorse a ministry that is based on a lack of evidence regarding such an important issue? I would call upon Dr. Reimer to provide further written evidence on his assertions that evil spirits are not cast out upon conversion and that believers were the focus of Jesus’ and the disciples’ deliverance ministry. 

5) Relationship of Light to Darkness: Here Dr. Reimer reconnects us to a Scripture passage, but it is one that raises difficult questions about the exegetical route he takes. He cites 2 Cor. 6:14, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness.” In this paragraph of his book, Dr. Reimer seeks to refute an argument he has heard which states that believers cannot have demons because “light has no fellowship with darkness.” 

He believes that this passage applies to believers being separate from the world. He is correct, but he goes further. Dr. Reimer then seeks to prove that darkness can be in the presence of light. To do so, he reminds us of Job chapter one when Satan stood before God. In essence Dr. Reimer is saying something like, if light has no fellowship with darkness then why is Satan in the presence of God in Job chapter one? 

Dr. Reimer puts us in the difficult position of reconciling two passages of Scripture, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. One apparently telling us that the realm of darkness does not fellowship with the realm of light and the other portraying Satan in God’s presence. How should we understand this seeming contradiction that Dr. Reimer raises?

The Greek word used for “fellowship” in the phrase, “what fellowship has light with darkness” is koinonia, a word most Christians are familiar with. It means communion or fellowship. When Paul says that darkness and light have no fellowship he is talking about incompatibility. Satan’s presence before God in Job chapter one does not mean they were having koinonia. Satan was there to give an account of himself and receive commands. 

However, based on the scene in Job chapter one, Dr. Reimer concludes “God apparently isn’t as wigged out about evil as we claim.” Such a statement runs the risk of being theologically irresponsible and borders on the fallacious. It could be seen as casting doubt on God’s character, not unlike Satan’s words to Eve “Has God said you shalt not eat from any tree in the garden?” Is Dr. Reimer’s claim that God is not “wigged about evil” an acceptable justification for the Holy Spirit sharing space with an unholy spirit inside a believer? 

Dr. Reimer brought up 2 Cor. 6:14 (“What fellowship has light with darkness?”) as something he needed to argue against. I would have preferred that he had also referenced 2 Cor. 6:15, “Or, what harmony has Christ with Belial?” or vs. 16, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (Idols often contain demonic power.) He overlooks the immediate context and more obvious references to incompatibility throughout the passage.  

As to the main point of 2 Cor. 6:14-16, yes, believers are to remain unpolluted by the world. With this I agree. But how logical is it to suggest that Christians need to “Come out from their midst and be ye separate” and at the same time believe that the Holy Spirit resides with a demon in the “midst” a child of God?  I would call upon Dr. Reimer to provide further written clarification about his beliefs regarding the relationship between the passages he cites.

6) Deliverance Limited to Believers: Dr. Reimer’s final justification for delivering believers from indwelling demons comes from Luke 11:24-26, 

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.

Dr. Reimer says (citing the passage above) that he won’t do deliverance on someone who does not have the Holy Spirit in them because not having the Holy Spirit in them would leave them open to falling into a worse condition should other familial spirits return to re-inhabit the person. 

I struggle with his line of thought for several reasons. (1) If a believer acquired a demon (post conversion), why didn’t the Holy Spirit keep the demon out in the first place? (2) And if he did not keep the demon out in the first place, how can one be assured that He will do so in the future should a cohort of demons return? (3) If a believer acquired a demon prior to conversion in what sense did Jesus bind the strong man? (Lk. 11:21-22; Mk. 3:27) (4) How does Dr. Reimer know if someone has the Holy Spirt in them? (4) Did any of the people Jesus delivered from demons have the Holy Spirit in them? (6) Should not deliverance ministry have an evangelistic aspect? 

I guess that Dr. Reimer wants to be considerate toward unsaved people with demons. Why set them up for more trouble later? But could he not deliver them and lead them to Christ? And what if they receive Christ? Alas, according to him, it seems the new birth appears inadequate to protect one from the demons’ return (since Dr. Reimer teaches that believers can acquire demons post conversion). But if the indwelling Holy Spirit proves inadequate to keep demons out, what keeps them out of any believer? What keeps them from returning to a believer once delivered? If nothing protects the saved from indwelling demons and from those that may return after one’s deliverance, why do deliverance ministry at all?

According to Dr. Reimer (as stated at his conference) 30%-40% of Christians have indwelling demons. That means, of the eighty-million evangelical Christians in the United States thirty- million or more have demons. Of the 500,000 members of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the United States, 150,000 or more have demons. Where does Dr. Reimer get such numbers? 

As an aside, much of this section of his book echoes the teaching of other deliverance authors, yet (at least in the electronic version of Soul Care) no references or footnotes are provided. Are we to assume that Dr. Reimer’s teaching is original to himself?

Let me gently ask, is the Christian and Missionary Alliance comfortable endorsing a ministry that raises as many questions, if not more, than it answers? I would call upon Dr. Reimer to further explain in writing his belief that Jesus taught us to only deliver people from demons who had Holy Spirit in them.

Of the six underlying principles of Dr. Reimer’s ministry (see the chart below) nearly all of them suffer from a lack of being fully explained. Upon reflection, several of them resemble scriptural sounding opinions without biblical substantiation. Those that do have biblical support contain exegesis that deviates from the primary meaning of the passage. We witness a lack of appreciation for context. We see passages compared to each other that are not dealing with the same kinds of issues. Half-stated arguments are offered without clarification. We wrestle with leaps in logic. (See the chart below: “The Six Underlying Principles for Deliverance as Taught in Soul Care”)

Heavy Reliance on Experience

As if to refute his opposition Dr. Reimer boldly claims, “Experience talks.” He goes on to compare those who do not agree with him to the Sadducees who did not know the scriptures or the power of God. I have qualms about the way Dr. Reimer pits his experience against other Christians who would challenge his thinking. Should not the Word and one’s experience work in conjunction with each other? Are dramatic stories of deliverance enough to substantiate a ministry that otherwise has little or no accurately interpreted biblical support? Is a worldview that allows for demonic activity sufficient to justify that demons commonly inhabit Christians?

The Six Underlying Principles for Deliverance as Taught in Soul Care
Dr. Reimer’s Supporting Premise Dr. Reimer’s Interpretation Questionable Interpretation or Not?
The soul has a spatial aspect and distinctions can be made between one’s soul and spirit. A believer may have the Holy Spirit in one’s spirit, while having a demon in his or her soul. Dr. Reimer provides no scriptural support for his position. 
Jesus delivered both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles from demons. Christians can have demons too. A half-stated argument with unclear theological support which ignores the new birth.
1 John 4:1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We are to test the spirits of other Christians who may have demons. The passage does not speak of Christians in general but warns against false prophets with the spirit of the antichrist. 
1 Corinthians 12:3 “no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” We are to test the spirits of other Christians who may have demons. A passage with “notorious exegetical difficulties” that lends itself to uncertain interpretations.
Demons do not vacate upon conversion. Jesus intended us to do deliverance upon Christians. The premise lacks explanation or scriptural support.
Disputes that light does not fellowship with darkness. (2 Cor. 6:14). Uses Job 1 to demonstrate that Satan was in God’s presence. Mistakes incompatibility for presence. Satan needed God’s permission to test Job, neither did he inhabit Job.
See Luke 11:24-26 Dr. Reimer would not do deliverance on those without the Holy Spirit in them. Jesus and the disciples regularly delivered people from demons who did not have the Holy Spirit in them.

When push comes to shove, the Bible is silent on the matter of believers being inhabited by demons. I have used the words “inhabited” or “occupied” in lieu of “possessed” as a courtesy. While Dr. Reimer and others would say that a Christian cannot be possessed, as in “owned,” by a demon (implying full control) the stories these teachers share all suggest significant influence over the lives of believers to the point of possession. 

Since the Bible is largely silent on the exact matter at hand, we have little recourse. We can let experience rule the day, determining our theology. Or, we can turn to the larger teaching of Scripture to determine if a particular teaching is in harmony with God’s Word (1 Peter 1:20-2:3). I address this in the appendix.


In the appendix I answer three questions that arise in assessing Dr. Reimer’s teaching: (1) Is Suitcase Theology in harmony with sound scriptural understanding? (2) What about exorcisms of Christians in church history? (3) What about people who claimed to be helped by Dr. Reimer’s deliverance ministry? 

Is Suitcase Theology in Harmony with Sound Scriptural Understanding?

We do not find specific teaching on demons inhabiting believers in the Bible, but do we find it consistent with related teaching? In the case of Suitcase Theology, we do not. The Bible paints a clear picture of Satan’s role in the life of a believer, and an equally clear picture of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and satanic spirits. In so doing it negates the possibility of a Christian being inhabited by a demon(s). 

Satan’s Role in the Lives of Believers: The main work of the enemy in the lives of believers focuses on tempting them away from God. After Jesus’ baptism, Matthew tells us that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be “tempted by the devil.” This is Satan’s M.O. He tempted Adam and Eve early in the creation story and does so again with Jesus early in the redemption story (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13). Both Matthew and Paul call Satan “the tempter” (Mt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5). 

In addition to tempting believers, we see several scriptures that describe the ways Satan spreads mayhem. These include: stalking (1 Peter 5:8), snaring (1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26), scheming (Eph. 6:11; 2 Cor. 2:11), robbing unbelievers of the gospel (Luke 8:12), sowing false religion (Mt. 13:39; 2 Thess. 2:9), persecution of believers (Jn. 8:44; Ro. 16:20; Rev. 2:3, 10; 3:9), deception (2 Cor. 11:14; Mt. 24:24), oppression (Acts 10:38), physical afflictions (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor. 12:7), and torment (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 12:7; 1 Tim. 1:20). The good news is that he can be resisted and has been overcome (Jas. 4:7; Eph. 6:11; Heb.2:14; Col. 2:15).

The varied expressions of the devil’s mayhem have something in common. They enter the believer’s life from without, not from within. The enemy seeks to exert influence on souls – from the outside in, not from the inside out. 

We see this in the life of the Apostle Paul. He labeled his “thorn in the flesh” as a “messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7). Paul’s example shows us that demonic attacks are real and, in his case, took the form of what most think was a physical affliction. Paul’s example is one of demonic attack from the outside in, not the inside out. 

We see the same outside – in approach in Eph. 6:16 where we are encouraged to take up the shield of faith to quench all the fiery darts of the enemy. Fiery darts sometimes find their mark. Once they do, the darts of doubt, fear, lies and affliction get internalized. In such a state, a believer could easily confuse the enemy’s external attack for an internal spirit. 

Nevertheless, Eph. 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places.” The spiritual theatre of battle is outside the soul, in heavenly places and amidst “world forces of this darkness.” That is not to say we do not wrestle internally when the enemy attacks us. Spiritual attacks can be emotional, mental or physical. But the source of the attack originates outside the believer. 

The Relationship between the Holy Spirit and Satanic Spirits: Scripture does not explicitly address the issue of believers being inhabited by demons. However, Scripture does state several premises that rule out the co-dwelling of the Holy Spirit and an evil spirit in a child of God. 

  • We serve a jealous God. From the Old Testament to the New, God jealously stakes his claim over those who belong to Him. In the Old Testament, He warned His people not to commingle with surrounding idolatrous people groups. Does it seem logical that if He forbad the intermingling of His people with idolaters, He would mingle with a demon in one of His children? Exodus 34:14 says, “for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” His name is “Jealous.” It is in God’s character to not allow competitors for the affections of His people. He is clear about this. Deuteronomy 4:24 states, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” This statement comes in the context of worshipping idols, which often contain demonic power (Duet. 32:16-17). God does not want His people engaged with demonic forces. How then could anyone suggest that He would cohabit with a demon in the heart of one of His children? 

When Paul explains why the Corinthians should give up eating meals at the idol temples He writes, 

I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (2 Cor. 10:20-22) 

Is Paul saying that if a believer eats at an idol temple, he might get a demon? No, he is saying that eating meat offered to idols is the same kind of sin that Israel committed in the wilderness by commingling with idolatrous people groups (Deut. 32). Paul articulates, in the starkest language, the utter incompatibility of believers partaking in meals offered to demons. If believers are admonished not to partake in the Lord’s Table (a symbol of His sacrifice and intimate communion) while also eating food offered to demons, how could we justify a doctrine that teaches that the Holy Spirit and a demon could cohabit a Christian? The Holy Spirit and demons are incompatible.

Biblical evidence regarding God’s jealousy for his people and his intolerance for competing gods is exhaustive and beyond the scope of this paper. One other passage of Scripture stands out though, 

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:14-18). 

We know that idols, if they are anything, represent satanic forces. We know that the “temple of the living God” is used as an analogy for both the larger body of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16) and the soul of an individual Christian (1 Cor. 6:19-20). In 2 Cor. 6, cited above, Paul is writing to Christians as individuals in the church. He uses five Greek words to describe the disparity between various traits or personages to make his point about believers not joining too closely with unbelievers. 

      • Metoxe refers to sharing or partnership. Righteousness and lawlessness have no interest in collaboration. 
      • Koinonia means an association, communion or fellowship. Paul says that between light and darkness no such fellowship exists. 
      • Sumphonesis means an agreement of someone with someone, translated as harmony by the NASB. The Apostle explains that Christ and Belial (Satan) are disharmonious toward each other.
      • Meris means share or portion. So different are Spirit dwelt believers from unbelievers that Paul says they have nothing in common. 
      • Sugkatathesis means agreement or union. Paul concludes with this thought: the “temple of the living God” (one’s body) has no connection or union with idols (symbols of demonic spirits).

Paul highlights the distinctions between believers and unbelievers with bold strokes. If believers and unbelievers are not to be unequally yoked, how could the Spirit of God and a demon be unequally yoked (for they are certainly unequal) in the same body? Are we prepared to say that Christ and Belial agree to cohabit a Christian? Such would have to be the case if the suitcase camp is right.

  • Christians are “in Christ” and “one spirit with the Lord.” One of the great themes of the book of Ephesians is that believers are “in Christ” and enjoy all the benefits, blessings and protections of being united with Him. We have been blessed “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). “He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ” (Eph. 1:9). We were included in Christ when we heard the message of truth, the gospel of our salvation. “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). We received his kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7). We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). We were once far from God, but now “in Christ Jesus” we have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). We have been made one body with other believers, “sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6) (Italics mine).

It is not only a matter of Christ being in us, but we are also in Christ. Shall we believe that while being in Christ a demon can be in us? The idea that believers can be occupied by demons stands in stark contrast to the union with Christ believers enjoy as represented in the beautiful phrase “in Christ.”

Additionally, when Paul addressed the issue of prostitution in 1 Cor. 6 he made a similar point. In contrast to becoming one flesh with a prostitute, Paul writes, “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” This speaks to an incredibly intimate relationship between the believer and the Holy Spirit. It reflects the intimacy of marriage and, as in marriage, there is no room for a third party. We also read that aside from immorality, “Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” Then, speaking to the Christian, he says, “Or, do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own?”

The child of God belongs to the Holy Spirit and He leaves no room for sexual sins that impact the condition of the person in which He dwells. If Scripture does not overlook the pollution that sexual sin causes, does it seem plausible that the Holy Spirit would overlook the presence of a demon in a person that belongs to Jesus?

The argument is sometimes made that Jesus tolerates the presence of demons in a Christian the same way he tolerates unconfessed sin in the life of a believer. We know that believers sin, unconsciously and sometimes consciously. There are times we defile the temple of the Holy Spirit and grieve the Lord. However, the temple of the Holy Spirit still belongs to the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 6:20). The child of God is his habitation. In his compassion he loves us and abides with us (though not always in fullness) when we sin. In his great compassion he remains faithful when we fail him. “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). 

Those who claim that the Holy Spirit tolerates demons in a child of God the same way He tolerates sin in a believer overlook the difference between demons and sin. Sin is not a person. Sin is the result of words, thoughts and deeds we perform that violate God’s standard of holiness. Unconfessed sin may tarnish us and hinder our relationship with God, but it is not a personage like a demon. Unconfessed sin is more like a stain than a spirit, a stain easily removed through confession (1 Jn. 1:9). We may stain our relationship with the Lord, but our position “in Christ” leaves us securely in his care and protected from demonic inhabitation.

  • Deliverance concepts in Matthew. In Matthew 12:22-29 a scene unfolds that grants insight into the question of demon occupation. In the account, Jesus delivers a demon possessed man. The Pharisees, looking for a way to discredit Jesus, accuse him of casting out demons by Beelzebul the ruler of demons. Jesus responds, “. . . how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” In this case Jesus binds the enemy and casts him out of the man by the power of the Spirit of God. Applying this to truly converted believers, there is no room for a demon in a child of God because Jesus has bound the “strongman,” the Holy Spirit having taken up residency upon conversion (Ro. 8:9).

Assessing Mathew 11:43-45 some authors see an argument (though indirect) that believers cannot be inhabited by demons. 

Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.

The main point of Jesus’ teaching is that unless a spiritual vacuum gets filled, a person’s last state will be worse than his first. However, Borgman and Ventura see another application from Jesus’ words. In their book, Spiritual Warfare, they dispel the idea of demons inhabiting believers. They write, “It appears from this text that an unclean spirit cannot take up residence in a place that is already occupied. Therefore, since the Holy Spirit permanently indwells the believer, this can never happen (Ro. 5:5). The New Testament teaches a radical break, through the redeeming work of Christ, with the power of sin and the power and dominion of Satan (Col. 1:13). We live in a new relationship based on the liberating renewing and indwelling work of Christ through His Spirit.” 

  • Evil spirits operate inside the unsaved, not the saved. We see this in Eph. 2:2. Speaking of his readers’ pre-conversion lifestyle Paul writes, “in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” Believers are no longer subject to demonic influences in the same way they were before they were saved. Paul assigns the “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” to “the prince of power of the air” (Satan). The prince of the power of the air formerly dominated believers, before they came to Christ.

I have attempted to briefly describe some of the Bible’s teachings that shed light on the implausibility of Suitcase Theology. More could be said to challenge it e.g. the efficacious nature of Christ’s crucifixion (Col. 1:13), the power of his resurrection (Col. 2:12-15), the authority of Jesus’ name (Jn. 14:14), being sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), our sanctification (1 Cor. 6:11) and the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11). All these doctrines speak against the possibility of believers being inhabited by demons. While the Bible does not specifically address the question of whether a Christian can have indwelling demons, such teaching is out of harmony with sound scriptural understanding. 

What about Exorcisms of Christians in Church History?

My questioning of “Suitcase Theology” has largely been biblically based. However sometimes one hears references to exorcisms of believers in early church history. These stories are used in support of Dr. Reimer’s belief that Christians can be indwelt by evil spirits. If memory serves me correctly, Dr. Reimer briefly mentioned this historical precedent at his conference. 

To embark on a fresh study of exorcism in church history would be redundant considering those already written. I read three different treatments of the issue. The first was by Dr. Clinton Arnold in his book, “3 Crucial Question about Spiritual Warfare.” Arnold argues from early church history that Christians can have indwelling demons. Unfortunately, his poor exegesis in another section of his book, poisons the fruit of his historical research. 

The second treatment I read was by Dr. Paul King. He presents a comprehensive survey of church practice through the ages, not just the early church fathers. He traces the demonization of Christians from the early church fathers to current times, including its place in groups such as the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Assemblies of God (Interestingly, these two groups are on different trajectories regarding this subject!). King weighs the evidence and concludes that church history and experience seems to favor that Christians in some way can be demonized (infested or controlled), but not possessed (owned by). 

The third paper I read was by Dr. Oscar Skarsaune, writing for the Lausanne Movement in 2000. He wrote an article titled “Possession and Exorcism in the Literature of the Ancient Church and the New Testament.” Professor of church history at MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo and specialist in patristic studies, Skarsaune gives us the most light into early church practices. He surveyed early church writings as it related to believers being delivered from demons. His findings can be summarized thusly:

  • Participants in pagan worship were examined for demons prior to their baptism.
  • Pre-baptismal exorcism was diagnostic in nature, to reveal and heal possible possession.
  • If a candidate for baptism was found to have a demon, Tertullian writes, “he should be set aside because he did not hear the instruction with faith.”
  • “Possession does not occur in the church among baptized people.” 
  • “Baptism was seen as a seal, as a protective defense against possession.”
  • “Where Christ rules his power is at work so that demons flee.”
  • “Exorcism occurs primarily at the border between church and paganism, it is primarily a missionary phenomenon.”

Skarsaune’s finding help us understand that the early church was concerned with the presence of demons in candidates for baptism. He also observes that demonization did not occur among baptized believers. Skarsaune’s findings recognize the superiority of Christ’s power and that demons flee from it. However, his conclusions do not leave us without questions. What did Tertullian mean by “instruction with faith?” Was this a reference to the gospel or to something else? What special challenges did the early church face as it related to pagan converts? Was demon possession more common then? 

Skarsaune points out that the only reference to demon possession of a baptized believer is one mentioned by Tertullian. In that case, it appears that a Christian woman actively sought the domain of demonic power. (One wonders if a sane believer do such a thing!) Skarsaune uses this case to show the rarity of demonization among baptized believers. King cites it as an example of the prevalence of the problem. In either case, the entire account is based on the verbal testimony of a demon! How comfortable is the Christian and Missionary Alliance endorsing a teaching that is based on the statement of an evil spirit?

What can be said about all this? 

(1) In early church history, candidates for baptism were examined for demons. However, this must be seen in a different light than we would view it today. Today, people often come to Christ prior to their Baptism, sometimes long prior. It would be easy for people like Reimer, Arnold and King to read modern day practices into early church life. They are assuming that a person can come to Christ, still have demons and then get baptized. But this is not the order of things in the early church. William Barclay explains, 

Baptism in the Early Church was intimately connected with confession of faith, A man was baptized when he entered the Church. And he was entering the Church directly from paganism. Baptism marked a dividing line in his life. In baptism a man came to a decision which cut his life in two, a decision which often meant that he had to tear himself up by the roots, a decision which was so definite that for him it often meant nothing less than beginning life all over again.

Confession of faith and baptism were near synonymous in the Early Church. This explains why Skarsaune can say that there were no accounts of post baptismal possessions among believers. Salvation and baptism were united in the same occasion. I am not saying that baptism saves anyone. But in a time when Christianity was declared the state religion and the Church needed to “process” or catechize those joining the Body of Christ, baptism was the climax of that process. It was a public declaration of faith. This also sheds light on Tertullian’s comment that if a candidate for baptism was found to have a demon he should be set aside because “he did not hear the instruction with faith.” What “instruction” was that? The instruction every candidate for baptism needed to mix with faith was the gospel. Tertullian is suggesting that some may go through the pre-baptismal interview and not be believers. We have the same problem today! 

(2) Part of the novelty of Dr. Reimer’s teaching (as well as that of King and Arnold) is that a believer can be inhabited by a demon without being completely owned by it (possessed). This is not a distinction made by Early Church Fathers. Grasping the continuum between oppression and possession, cited by Reimer and others, is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. Neither have we factored in the possibility of mental illness being mistaken for demonization. The lack of clarity and biblical evidence around definitions of terms fertilizes the confusion out of which Dr. Reimer’s deliverance ministry sprouts. 

Finally, I would argue that we just do not have enough light around the Early Church Fathers to conclude that believers were delivered of demons as Reimer and others suggest. Perhaps this is of the Lord, forcing us back to the scriptures to seek answers from the Word of God. Additionally, using the Early Church Fathers as evidence is a moot point because it goes beyond Scripture as the “only divine rule of faith and practice.” Is the Christian and Missionary Alliance endorsing the Church Fathers as being authoritative as the Roman Catholic Church does?

What about People Who Claim to Have Been Helped by Dr. Reimer’s Deliverance Ministry? 

Many Christians claim to have experienced help through Dr. Reimer’s deliverance ministry. Some witnessed the help received by a spouse or a friend. Other folk struggle with Dr. Reimer’s teaching but are at a loss to explain its perceived benefits. How do we account for such experiences? 

If Dr. Reimer’s teaching that believers often have indwelling demons is not in harmony with Scripture, we must consider a few explanations. At the very least, we must consider a misdiagnosis on the part of those receiving a perceived benefit. Perhaps one’s false diagnosis (demon inhabitation) may be relieved by a false deliverance. Without a long-term study, a placebo effect cannot be ruled out. A high probability exists that both the practitioner of deliverance, as well as the subject, have mistaken external spiritual attacks for an internal evil presence. And, in God’s mercy, out of his great love for his struggling children, He applies healing in spite of the misperception. The latter, however, does not justify propagating the belief that God’s children can be inhabited by demons, which is out of harmony with the breadth of sound scriptural teaching. 

Relief may also come through public confession of one’s struggle with particular sin patterns. During Dr. Reimer’s deliverance sessions participants had to own that they have a demon inside them and are under its control to some degree. Admitting such a possibility and confessing one’s particular struggle can bring a sense of relief. This may be mistaken for “deliverance.” There are also the sad possibilities that the subject may not know the Lord in the first place or that mental illness may be involved. This would allow for demonic indwelling in one case and the appearance of it in the other. In such instances real or superficial deliverance may occur.

I hesitate to be dismissive of those who received help through this ministry. Some of these saints are my friends. However, one thing must remain clear. All personal experiences must be submitted to Scripture. Even the Apostle Paul had to have his message compared to Scripture (Acts 17:10-11). And if the outcome still be unclear, we should remember the Council of Jerusalem. Ultimately, Scripture and the counsel of godly wisdom, through a plurality of gifted leaders, should sort out experience-based teaching, such as Dr. Reimer’s. I call upon the Christian and Missionary Alliance to pursue such an examination.” 

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2 thoughts on “Rob Reimer (Soul Care) on Demons Indwelling Christians (Mark Barnard)”

  1. I can only speak to personal experiences throughout the years with my father’s ministry. God used him many times to help people who had opened the door to demonic influence in their lives to such a degree that they had physical manifestations of demons using their bodies to speak and causing them to vomit upon deliverance . Both of these people were professing Christians and the first one was even involved in an official Alliance singing group. I don’t know if what happened to them was a possession but I know that after prayer and intercession both were freed and their lives transformed. Another person became a believer and shortly thereafter had two icy hands take a hold of her hands and create such a feeling of desperation she desired to throw herself into the nearby lake. Her fiancé brought her to our home at 2:30 am and she was delivered from that demonic influence or possession. These things happened often in my dads ministry over the years and often they were new believers though in the case of the Alliance ministry worker she was a Young woman raised in the church who had been baptized and accepted as an official Alliance rep. I don’t agree or disagree with the views stated in your comments but just relate experiences that were viewed by several hundred people over various years in my fathers ministry. You discounted the doctor’s experience but I think you need to consider it not because we value that over scripture but as a testimony of what happens in cases that don’t fit in to your view.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Fabiola. I appreciate hearing about your father’s ministry. I am sure he was a great man and used of the Lord. However, you seem to assume that my worldview rules out the possibility of demon habitation/possession/influence. Personally, I have no doubt that Satan is real and inhabits many people. They need to be delivered, set free, and come to know the Lord. That is completely biblical and well within my worldview.

      However, what you are suggesting is that we use both scripture AND experience as the basis for determining what is true or not true. Unfortunately, this goes against the doctrinal statement of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. It says that the Old and New Testaments are our ONLY rule for faith and practice (emphasis mine). Sadly,when it comes to the teaching in question, many pastors and leaders in the CMA have overlooked this.

      Experiences are valuable if they confirm what is plainly taught in Scripture. But otherwise, they are unreliable. Even a witness’s testimony in a court case is not considered evidence. It’s only their testimony, their perception and experience, of what happened. Such testimonies have often proved confusing and false in the end.

      Thus, we must turn to the scriptures as to find evidence that a true believer can be inhabited by an unholy demonic spirit and THE Holy Spirit at the same time. This is where things fall apart for teachers who make a living “delivering” believers who are desperate to overcome the sin patterns in their lives. Sadly, many good Alliance folk (including leaders) have accepted and endorsed a doctrine that cannot be substantiated by the word of God.

      That Alliance leaders have allowed this teaching to be propagated for so long, without examining the scriptural basis for it, is troubling. Perhaps it is because of personal friendships with key people, fear of embarrassment, agreement with this teaching, or that the Alliance has recently faced many challenges and they want to avoid a public discussion. Or, perhaps with the many recent “updates” to our doctrinal statement, it is now seen as fluid. All this adds to the confusion that already exists around this issue.

      However, Jesus does not overlook teaching that goes beyond the warrant of Scripture and neither should we (See Rev. 2:12-17, 18-29). He calls such churches to repent of tolerating teaching that He finds objectionable. Otherwise such groups will experience increasingly painful episodes of His loving discipline (Rev. 3:19).

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