John MacMillan—My Spiritual Warfare Mentor

I mentioned in an earlier blog my living mentor Ron MacDonald who began my training in deliverance ministry when I was in youth ministry at 20 years old. He was the first, but not the last, to refer me to John MacMillan’s classic original book The Authority of the Believer. His book has impacted thousands including people from a wide variety of theological backgrounds, He was known for pioneering understanding of our authority as a believer in Christ and how to exercise that authority in spiritual warfare ministry, especially in the casting out of demons.

John MacMillan was a Canadian Presbyterian lay elder and businessman who in mid-life became a missionary to China and the Philippines with The Christian and Missionary Alliance in the 1920s. Then he became an itinerant minister, magazine editor, and professor at Nyack Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary). 

I have had several spiritual warfare mentors, both living and dead, but none as rich and extensive as John MacMillan. I was mentored so much by MacMillan that I wrote a 600+ page doctoral dissertation on his life and spiritual warfare ministry. The book that emerged from the dissertation is entitled A Believer with Authority: The Life and Message of John A. MacMillan.

I felt I got to know John personally, reading through his personal diaries, given to me by his daughter-in-law. I read of his prayer life, his battles with the dark powers, his moments of victory and defeat, and his struggles and sorrows, especially his wife Isabel’s death. 

As a professor at Nyack Missionary Training Institute, MacMillan taught principles of the authority of the believer and spiritual warfare decades before it would be taught in colleges and seminaries. Just last year I was asked to develop a course in spiritual warfare for Crown College. 

MacMillan’s former students and ministry associates told me of their personal experiences with his teaching and training. He mentored dozens of students practically in spiritual warfare by developing deliverance teams, having them observe and assist him in deliverance sessions. I talked with numerous former students who were trained by MacMillan to discern demonic powers and to cast out demons. They had fascinating stories to tell.

He was a quiet, humble, soft-spoken man, but powerful in dealing with demons. He spoke and wrote of the reality of the demonic, even among believers. Even some students had been infected with demons through involvement in the occult, generational bondage and curses, counterfeit supernatural manifestions, transfer of unclean spirits, festering bitterness and unconfessed sin. Even though in some ways a veteran in casting out demons, he was still a pioneer, and thus encountered tough situations that sometimes took multiple sessions of exorcism for even months, in which hundreds of demons were cast out. 

He found over time that some cases of demonization could be resolved without casting out demons, but rather through repentance, faith confessions, and the person learning to exercise his or his personal authority as a believer, binding and rebuking spirits—a form of self-deliverance. 

This would be the technique that Dr. Neil T. Anderson, founder of Freedom in Christ Ministries, would call “truth encounter,” based on John 8:32: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Neil acknowledges: “John MacMillan’s published work on the authority of the believer greatly influenced the development of my own thinking.” I myself make frequent use of Neill Anderson’s approach, which involves taking people through seven steps to freedom in Christ through repentance, renouncing our past and the lies the devil and others have told us, and making faith confessions of the truths of Scripture and who we are in Christ. 

After dealing with people who would get partially delivered but were not willing to do what was necessary for full victory and freedom, MacMillan commented, “I am not sure I am called to go all over the country trying to deliver them.” For more than thirty years he had battled the forces of evil into his 80s, Though he wanted to help everyone, he realized he could not

A few of the many insights I learned from MacMillan include the following:

  1. You don’t have to be somebody special to exercise the authority of the believer. Every believer can if you are walking right with God.
  2. Learn to discern, first of all, whether something is from God, of the flesh, or of demonic original. All that appears supernatural is not of God.
  3. Don’t assume something is demonic. Learn to discern whether something is really demonic. There is a lot of unhealthy deliverance ministry theology and practice. 
  4. Learn to discern the level of demonic involvement. There are degrees of demonic influence or infestation in a person’s life. Casting out demons is not always necessary.
  5. Exercise your authority as a believer. Learn to bind spirits and loose people from spirits. Learn when it is appropriate to bind or loose and when it is not; when it is effective and when it is not.
  6. You don’t have to shout to do deliverance. It is not about how loud, but about the authority we have in Christ. MacMillan sometimes dispelled demons with a whisper, firmly, but quietly.
  7. Pray protection over yourself and your family according to Psalm 91,
  8. Don’t try to do deliverance in every situation. If a person is not ready to do what is necessary to be totally free, they will be demonized again. The person may get partially free, but then not be willing to deal with a particular issue or let go of an idol in their lives, and thus become enslaved again.
  9. Just because someone uses the name of Jesus doesn’t it is of God. A young woman kept repeating that she wanted to be “a Jesus girl.” MacMillan noted that though she claimed to be a “Jesus girl” she did not mention the name of Christ.  He discerned that she had been infested with a false “Jesus spirit” (2 Cor. 11:4).
  10. We can discern through asking the spirit manifesting through the person, “Has Jesus Christ come in the flesh?” If the response is negative or evasive, you know that a demon is involved.
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