During the past couple of centuries, the belief of Satan and evil in the world has become an abstract way of thinking. Culture tells us that Satan and evil are interesting ideas, but that is all they are. Satan would love for us to forget about him. The reality is this: Satan and his evil exist and we can’t ignore him.
One component of the ancient Baptismal Rite was always the use of the exorcism, or casting Satan out. Between the time of the Reformation and now, the use of the exorcism has fallen out of use in many churches. One cause for the exemption of the exorcism in the Lutheran Church was due to the influence of Pietism. This movement of the Church did not deny baptismal regeneration, but it did shift the emphasis of faith and Baptism to a personal commitment to God or a second birth. The results of this movement of the 19th Century diminished the importance of baptism, often rendering it a cultural, familial, and civil event. In turn, parents became indifferent to the Baptism of their children and we continue to see this still today.
However, the use of the exorcism in the Baptismal Rite is still of great importance and many churches are witnessing its reintroduction into use. In fact, when the new Lutheran Service Book came out, it included two rites for pastors to use. One of the rites is “Luther’s Baptismal Rite.” This Rite is what we have begun using at Trinity as it retains the use of the exorcism.
So why is the exorcism important? The word “exorcism” comes from the Greek word “ekballo,” which means, “to cast out.” The use of the exorcism today recognizes three things: first is original sin, which we are all born with the sin of Adam. Second, it recognizes the reality of evil in this world; evil that assaults the Christian both day and night. Third, that Baptism is solely God’s doing. Lutheran theologian Dr. David Scaer wrote:
“No one can free themselves from Satan’s grip. Exorcism is an awareness to synergism, since here God alone acts to release the believer from Satan’s grip. Not only is the use of the exorcism in baptism a statement of awareness of the supernatural power of Satan and evil, it is also a complete rejection of human righteousness.”
This is an incredibly important point made by Dr. Scaer as it emphasizes the work of Baptism as solely God’s, but also as the world’s disbelief in God increases, so Satan’s grip on civilization increases. One of the great tricks of Satan is how he has sewn himself into the very fabric of time and everyday life so that he is unnoticeable to the eye of the Christian without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whom God gives the Baptized through water and His Word in the Holy Baptism.
Martin Luther wrote, “Remember, then, that it is no joke to take sides against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child, but to burden the child with such a mighty and lifelong enemy.” (AE 53:102) Baptism is a battle line for the Christian. It reminds us that while we live in this world, Satan wishes to lead us into temptation. St. Paul says as much by writing, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Complacency in the life between the Baptismal font and the eternal joys of heaven received at the Altar is never an option for the Christian. While we rejoice in the gift of God’s name placed upon us and all the Baptized, we are reminded through the liturgy of Baptism how Satan still desires your fall and the hardening of your heart towards God. The inclusion of the exorcism in the liturgy is a wonderful reminder of the battle won by Christ on the cross of Golgotha. It’s a reminder when we are tempted, when we are scared, or feel we are being led into darkness, God gave us a lifeline. The name of Jesus is your hope and your salvation. It recognizes the battle is His and He has won your salvation and gives you the joys of heaven.