Many congregations and pastors who hold to the Book of Concord of 1580 as a true exposition of Holy Scripture and a correct exhibition of the doctrines of the Evangelical Church (Lutheran Service Book Agenda 2006, 166) have maintained the Rite of Exorcism in their orders for public baptisms. Holy Baptism, as far as the devil is concerned, is no joke. Nor is Baptism a treat for the baptised’s Old Adam. Both are slain, for the unholy cannot remain in the Presence of the Holy. In reality, in the heavenly realms, every time someone is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the devil falls (cf. Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:8; Isaiah 14:12).
Each human outside of Christ is unholy. That is because every person is conceived and born in sin (cf. Job 15:14; Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:12-14, 19; Ephesians 2:3). Adam’s sin is inherited by every one of his descendants from the moment of conception, save one – Jesus, Son of Mary and Son of God. That means that all humans actually come to life as sinners, possessions of the devil, and enemies of God. They, we, are all, before the Word comes, the temples of the Old Evil Foe (cf. Revelation 12:12). Therefore, he, and his minions, are to be driven from us.
From her earliest days, the Church of the New Testament drove forth the demons from those to whom the Word was coming (Matthew 12:28; Mark 6:13; Luke 9:1; 10:17; Acts 8:5-7; 19:11-17). By the High Middle Ages, the practice of driving the devil from baptismal candidates had been so overlain with mystery that the clear words that explain what God is accomplishing through His Word had become obscured in the Public Services of the Church.
Therefore, to return the Church to a more clear, simple understanding of God’s Word’s work preparatory to and during Holy Baptism, Dr. Martin Luther, in 1523 AD, abbreviated the rite of exorcism. The Baptismal Order began with the words we translate: “Depart O unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit!” Following the prayer for the one to be baptized, Dr. Luther wrote words that exhorted the devil to acknowledge his judgement and called him to give glory to the One True God. The devil is then commanded to depart with trembling and fear, having been conquered by the Word of God. At the end of that lengthy admonition, the pastor states: “I adjure you, O unclean spirit, by the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit that you come out of and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ! Next, after the reading of the Gospel of St. Mark, (10:13-16), the pastor declares the words of Jesus, (Mark 7:34) Ephphatha, that is, be opened! Finally, the congregation renounces the devil, and all his works, and his ways, prior to confessing the Apostle’s Creed. Following these words, and the tradition of anointing the candidate with oil, the candidate’s name is attached to the Name of God with the washing (sprinkling, pouring, immersion) with water.
Why so many exorcisms in the Order for Holy Baptism? Perhaps Jesus’ words recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel provides a sufficient reason (12:43-45; cf. Luke 11:24-26).
Over the last five centuries, individual’s and congregations’ understanding for how terrible and serious a condition each unbaptized person has before God has diminished. There are many historical factors for this – the Enlightenment, Pietism, Rationalism (in no particular order or weight), the rise of the “self-made” man or woman, the devil’s teaching that somehow people are conceived with some good in us – all have contributed to a diminishing of the biblical understanding of man’s (infant, child, youth or adult man or woman) status as sinner.
By retaining the Rite of Exorcism in the Baptismal Liturgy, the Church has kept an opportunity to teach how serious this “falleness” is, and can, through bold proclamations against the devil, teach what a blessing and joy it is to receive the Holy Spirit with the Water and Word of Holy Baptism. Rather than inviting the devil into one by ignoring his presence in all the unbaptized, the Church proclaims boldly his overthrow (James 4:7), and reminds herself, and all her members, who our enemies truly are: the devil, the world, and, yes, even our own sinful flesh. And, the Good News that one dies with Christ, and rises to new life in Him with the Water and the Word, brings us comfort in our battles with our defeated enemies (Romans 6:4; 16:20).