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Empowered to Serve: an interview with French L. Arrington

At times the church seems to be too pragmatic, willing to do whatever works to attract crowds and raise money. What difference does it make if we succeed in building hundreds of megachurches if the people who attend them have no real loyalty to Christ and the kingdom of God, and reject the traditions and morality that make one a Christian? The people of God may use secular models for teaching, evangelism, organization, etc. and may draw from secular wisdom, but the church should ask itself this question: are such models and ideas compatible with the teaching of God’s Word and the church’s loyalty to Christ? Too often Pentecostal/charismatics have adopted methods of modernity without theological reflection. Success driven models need to be replaced with spiritual, biblical ones.

PR: Among Pentecostal/charismatics, there is a lot of emphasis today on the demonic. Where do you think the emphasis should be centered? How would a healthy emphasis on demonology affect the use of spiritual gifts?

Arrington: Too much emphasis has been placed on the demonic by Pentecostals and charismatics. They have a fascination with demons in their deliverance ministries and theologies. Blaming evil spirits for most of the problems of life, they tend to deny human responsibility. Paul recognized the reality of the demonic, but he also emphasized the power of sin. More emphasis needs to be placed on the human condition as fallen and consideration given to many mental problems as the result of the human condition. The need is to recognize that much so-called demon activity is emotional and psychological in nature.

True biblical reflection will show that esoteric knowledge about demons and their activity cannot be found in Scriptures. From the Word of God we can understand the nature of the powers of darkness. No doubt, in experience the demonic can be irritating and frustrating. Yet demons are under the sovereign rule of God, as was “a messenger of Satan” that tormented Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7). Satan can be used by God as an instrument of discipline.

Jesus is the model for dealing with demons. When He came across a demon, He took care of business. He did not take the powers of darkness lightly nor did He go around looking for demons. Unlike some Pentecostal/charismatics, Jesus was never obsessed with thoughts about the demonic. He would rather speak about the fall and the defeat of the chief of demons, Satan.

It is imperative, however, that Spirit-filled believers take seriously the biblical doctrine of demons and be able to exercise the authority of Christ to set people free from demonic oppression or possession. The gifts of the Spirit, especially the gifts of discernment and exorcism, are crucial in meeting the needs of those under the influence or control of demonic powers. In the New Testament a number of the demon-possessed manifested symptoms of physical illness. By exercising the gift of discernment a believer would know to whether to pray for physical healing or to prepare to cast out demons.

Pentecostal/charismatics believe strongly in the spiritual realm and should advocate spiritual warfare when appropriate. The heavy emphasis should not be on the demonic, but on Christ’s triumph over Satan and the extension of this victory to the believer.

PR

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Summer 2004

About the Author: French L. Arrington, Ph.D., has served as a pastor, was on the faculty of Lee University for seventeen years, and was on the faculty of the Church of God Theological Seminary (now Pentecostal Theological Seminary, from 1981-2002) until his retirement. A respected lecturer and Pentecostal educator, he is the author of numerous books and articles including being a general editor of the Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary and author of Encountering the Holy Spirit: Paths of Christian Growth and Service.

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