On October 24, 2023, the documentary film, The Domino Revival made its debut in select theatres, featuring several prominent figures in the “Demon-slayer” camp of charismatic theology. The film features most prominently Isaiah Saldivar, Mike Signorelli, Mark Driscoll, and Vlad Savchuk.
Vlad Savchuk is an interesting figure. As the founder of Hungry Gen Church, he is a prominent figure in the realm of “Deliverance Ministry,” but not one that receives as much attention as Greg Locke, or some of the other characters with their more ridiculous demonic theatre. He has no qualms condemning common sins including porn, homosexuality, and fornication. However, whereas he speaks plenty of truth to these issues, and employs Scripture in his sermons, there are errors in his teaching that go beyond the cessation/continuation debate, and these errors derive from bad demonology.
Deliverance Ministries have attracted additional attention in a society that is increasingly captivated by the occult and new age practices. This leads to the debate on whether Christians can be possessed by the demonic while being indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Much of the premise of these Deliverance Ministries relies on the position that Christians can be “delivered” from demons after salvation while indwelled with the Holy Spirit. The Cessationist, and many on the Charismatic front too, would hold that demons cannot indwell the believer and occupy the same vessel as the Holy Spirit.
In May of 2022, Vlad Savchuk released a video entitled “7 Reasons Why Christians Can’t Have Demons” where he states that while believers should not be indwelled by a demon, “Christians have potential and some Christians have demons and require help and a ministry of deliverance.” Savchuk argues early on that, while not claiming to be an expert on Greek, other scholars contend that the Greek “daimonizomai” does not translate to “possessed” as is commonly thought but rather to be demonized, afflicted by demons, or under partial control of a demon. Simply put, Savchuk would argue that to be “daimonizomai” does not mean being under the “ownership” but is closer to “partial control” of a demonic entity. What exactly does partial control mean? Rather than answer the simple question of whether demonic control is internal or external, the lines are blurred and obfuscated.
Essentially, demonic possession is a sliding scale, and while the Gospels demonstrate that demonic possession comes in various forms with cases that are evidently more severe, like that in Matthew 8, the pattern of Scripture does not demonstrate a believer being indwelled by a demonic entity, nor is it wise to conflate demonic temptation with being indwelled by demons and in need of a deliverance. Adam was tempted by Satan, but he was not possessed or oppressed. Blaming the serpent did not mitigate the culpability of the Fall, nor should believers blame “spirits” for their lusts and other afflictions.
When it is prayed, “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” Christians acknowledge that there will be trials and temptations even Salvation. The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges that God is sovereign over our circumstances but may permit these periods to occur so that believers would be increasingly sanctified. The activities of Satan and the demonic realm are subordinate to the authority of God, thus believers pray to the one who can deliver them through the temptations, both preemptively and during the heat of the trial.
When James writes, “resist the devil,” that is external and refers to temptation. He also wrote “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). In describing the pattern of sin, temptation breeds internal desire, or concupiscence, which gives way to sin. Nowhere does Scripture suggest that external temptation, even that of Satan, leads to internal oppression. Thus, the deliverance ministry mindset misunderstands sin by downplaying the role of Man’s sinful desires which leads to sin. In other words, it is not Satan making believers habitually look at porn, go to gay bars for anonymous anal sex, or drink copious amounts of alcohol, but their own internal desires. To attribute these sins to demonic oppression, that while a possible external factor, fails to acknowledge the depravity of Man’s spiritual state apart from Christ.
Savchuk’s Hosting the Spirit
After coming out with his latest book, Host the Holy Ghost, Savchuk’s recent sermons have taken on the theme of the Holy Spirit, which while mostly innocuous has vague language surrounding the behavior of the Holy Spirit which is rife with error, and it is doubtless connected to his errant demonology. In a sermon entitled, “How Can I Keep The Holy Spirit Close?” that was delivered on October 11th, Savchuk inserts his errant theology on the Holy Spirit. On his third point, which was “The Holy Spirit will develop us if we replace complaining with communion with Him,” the wording sounds innocuous and even agreeable. He even opens this point with a seemingly positive articulate wording:
The Holy Spirit will develop you during development if you replace complaining with communion, grumbling with gratitude, and whining with worship.
So far so good. He then mentions that the Israelites in the wilderness grieved the Holy Spirit with their grumbling, which is phrasing taken from Ephesians 4:30. What starts off as a biblical lecture against complaining then mixes in error:
Complaining is to the devil what worship is to God. Worship, God inhabits it. Satan inhabits grumbling. No wonder when Israel grumbled, snakes came. When you worship, the dove comes. When you complain, the serpent comes…When demonic spirits come, they attach, they are in love; they are attracted to complaining, constantly grumbling people. The more you complain, the more you grumble, the more you are negative all the time, what begins to happen is the dove, the Holy Spirit, begins to withdraw.
Savchuk misunderstands that God imparts the Holy Spirit, not man. The Spirit does not withdraw but sanctifies and regenerates (Titus 3:5, Romans 15:16). How can a believer, especially a malcontent believer, develop the fruit of joy if the Holy Spirit withdraws His presence? Moreover, he is arguing that when the Holy Spirit withdraws, believers become susceptible to the serpents, that is demons whose “venom” can afflict them. The use of venom implies a poison circulating within the believer, not external temptation. From a Trinitarian perspective, believers do not lose the Holy Spirit, but the Father may withdraw providence and permit a period of discipline, so the error extends into how he views the divine roles.
This further is exacerbated when he treats the Holy Spirit as a power source:
Holy Spirit lives inside you and you focus on the good things, and you’re being grateful. Something happens, the presence of God is more attracted to worship, but the moment you switch—constant complaining, whining…you do that for a while, the Holy Spirit’s presence withdraws.
It is the Holy Spirit which gives believers the desire to worship God. Just as Christ does not forsake His bride, the Holy Spirit does not “withdraw,” even while grieved by the actions of the elect.
He doesn’t leave you. His sweet presence does. The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us when we grieve Him. It’s His manifest presence leaves us the same way if you grieve your spouse, they don’t divorce you. They’ll just be distant from you.
This is doublespeak regarding Eternal Security, where he does not contend that the Holy Spirit fully, 100% leaves, despite arguing that the Holy Spirit, the means by which a believer’s salvation is sealed (Ephesians 4:30), withdraws His presence. His presence alone is sweetness.
He won’t tell you a lot of times He’s grieved. In fact, He will leave, you won’t even know He left. How do I know the Holy Spirit is grieved? Peace of mind is gone, instantly. Second, the soul no longer has stillness.
These are signs of the Holy Spirit working within the believer, not withdrawing His presence. How can one repent unless convicted of their sin? Who convicts believers of their sin? He attributes the lack of peace to the subdued presence of the Holy Spirit, but it is in moments of struggle where regeneration most occurs, much like an athlete enduring pain while training to run the race set before him. The reprobate, having suppressed their conscience, might feel at peace in their sin, but the elect will never be allowed to remain at peace within their sin.
Example of King Saul
Vlad Savchuk proceeds to employ Saul as his primary example of the Holy Spirit withdrawing and the demonic snakes coming to fill the void. Savchuk explains that when the Spirit left Saul, he began to be tormented by the demons. He contends that Saul did not realize that “the dove is gone” and that because he was only looking for a musician to comfort his demons, that is why “God never delivered him and the dove never came back.”
Multiple errors: One, the presence of the Spirit on Saul was associated with that of his inauguration as king by God, not the same as the presence of the Holy Spirit within the elect; two, Saul, though anointed, was not chosen by God, but was a judgment against the people; three, the Spirit manifested in Saul in two ways: one as a sign through praise and prophesying, and the other to instigate Saul to battle (1 Samuel 11:6). Stirring a rebellious heart to anger, righteous or otherwise, is a function of the Spirit, as God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. A similar example to Saul might be found in Judas, who perhaps performed miracles in the name of Christ, but was the son of perdition. God allowing the demon to torment Saul, not to be conflated with possession, gave an avenue to groom David for his eventual reign, but deeper exegesis of Saul’s demonic struggles is not on the menu at HungryGen Church.
Balancing demonology with Scripture is not easy, but is lucrative, as any amount of time spent on VladSchool will show donations popping up from around the world. Savchuk even offers “Digital Deliverance” which requires one to first ingest 5 hours of Savchuk’s free teachings. The market of demonology is growing, so expect these sorts of elements to increase.
However, obsession with the demonic corrupts good teaching and allows the venom of impurity to afflict proper doctrines. If internal fleshly desires are attributed to demonic versus merely external temptation, the need for continuous repentance and the mortification of the flesh is neglected. If the Holy Spirit is the sealant of one’s salvation, how can the sweetness, however poorly defined, be departed when the sweetness is the provision of salvation itself, unless one rejects Eternal Security? How can the “dove be departed” yet not fully gone at the same time? He needs this incongruous proposition to be true to suggest that the Spirit can occupy a vessel that can be internally afflicted by demonic spirits.
Savchuk overly relies upon metaphorical language to supplement poor doctrine; thus his overreliance on terms like dove, venom, and sweetness, which are each ill-defined though oft repeated. There are positive elements that exist in Vlad Savchuk’s teaching, such as his ability to speak on salient issues, his unique presentation, and his seemingly happy marriage, but he is possessed by this errant demonology which ultimately distorts the Triune God as depicted in Scripture.