Palmer Becker of Kitchener, Ont., told Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary graduates that, as followers of Jesus, they have not only been given a mandate to teach, but also to cast out broken and evil spirits.
“We might define these spirits in different ways and have different methods for casting them out, but the mandate stands,” said Becker, a church leader, pastor, missionary, author, educator and member of Waterloo North Mennonite Church in Waterloo, Ont., during the May 6 service at College Mennonite Church.
Becker, a 1965 AMBS graduate and recipient of the seminary’s 2018 Alumni Ministry and Service Recognition, spoke on the biblical stories of Jesus freeing a man from an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-28), and sending his disciples out to teach others about God and to cast out evil spirits (Mark 3:13-15).
He noted that exorcisms played a major role in Jesus’ ministry. “Jesus didn’t go around looking for people who were demon-possessed,” he said, noting, though, that Jesus consistently responded to people according to their needs.
He pointed out that, while people in many parts of the world still assume the presence of spirits, western cultures tend to seek solutions to problems through education, research and technology, often neglecting the spiritual aspects of life.
“However, many people in our world, both secular and religious, are realizing that not everything can be explained in natural and materialistic terms,” he observed. “It really comes down to the question, ‘Do we or do we not believe in spiritual reality?’”
He noted that the 16th-century Anabaptist movement emphasized the essential role of the Holy Spirit in empowering followers of Jesus to live faithfully. He also shared a brief testimonial from Barbara Nkala of Zimbabwe, the regional representative for southern Africa for Mennonite World Conference, about the influence of the Holy Spirit on church growth in Africa.
Becker said he believes in the activity of the Holy Spirit and the existence of evil spirits, but acknowledged, “the great distance that exists in time, culture and context between the ways in which spirits were experienced in New Testament times and how they are experienced today.”
He explored several ways of understanding the word “spirit,” proposing that an evil or negative spirit is “any settled thought or attitude that is contrary to the Spirit of God.”
How then does one cast out evil or unclean spirits? Becker named three methods—therapy and counseling by trained professionals; exorcism; and an approach that “emphasizes listening and the caring presence of compassionate people”—and shared three examples from his ministry in which he was called on to deal with fearful and oppressive spirits and the occult.
He also shared that the Anabaptist tradition offers an infrastructure for fulfilling Jesus’ mandate through three core values: “Jesus is the centre of our faith; community is the centre of our life; and reconciliation is the centre of our work.”
There were no Canadians among the 21 graduating students this year.