“How many here believe Satan is real?” I asked the nearly hundred people gathered for Sabbath School at the Village Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan on September 6. Only about a dozen hands went up. Since the whole Sabbath program, hosted by AFM, was on the topic of spiritual warfare, I hoped those who hadn’t raised their hands had simply missed my question, perhaps due to my accented English.
The Friday before, I’d had an interesting discussion with four friends, three of whom hold PhDs. They made me understand that more and more Christian scholars today don’t believe in the ontological existence of Satan. Dr. Lael Caesar gives more insight in his article “Where in the World is Satan the Devil?” (http://archives.adventistreview.org/article/4195/archives/issue-2011-1506/where-in-the-world-is-satan-the-devil). Dr. Caesar argues that, “Satan has almost completely lost his standing in the world of Christian theology.” Referring to the work of many famous and contemporary Christian scholars, such as N. T. Wright, Bart Ehrman, Robert Alden, Clark Pinnock, Elaine Pagel, and Francis Collins, Dr. Caesar points out that for most of these scholars, Satan (the devil, the adversary, the ancient serpent, the dragon) is no more seen as the traditional Biblical quasi-personal character opposing God as His enemy or archrival and creating trouble visible all over the world (1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:9, 10, 12) but as “. . . an uncertainty factor, a je ne sais quoi, in all our moral and spiritual equations” or as “a lowercase figure, and later a sinister whisperer in Jesus’ ear” or even “a fabrication of Jewish apocalyptic,” who is to be “totally ignored, unmentioned in the context of theological discourse.”
As African missionaries working in Benin, the birthplace of voodoo, for us to deny the concrete existence of Satan would be to contradict our life experiences. Direct spiritual warfare plays a huge part in our everyday ministry in Benin.
In very real terms, Revelation 12:12 warns us that Satan has come down to the inhabitants of the earth with “great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time.” Over the ages since Adam and Eve’s fall, Satan has roamed the earth spreading woe. Matthew 8:29 shows clearly that Satan is keenly aware of his limited time when the demons asked Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
Satan works in the open in many cultures where AFM missionaries serve, but he doesn’t discriminate between cultures. His violence and supernatural evil deeds are present everywhere, even in Western cultures where fewer and fewer people believe he exists. Denial of Satan’s existence in relative or absolute terms does not stop him. Rather, it frees him to sow more chaos, more insanity, more horror and fear without being challenged. Demonic works are as pervasive in the West as they are in third-world countries, though they may be less visible. People under the influence of evil spirits continue to suffer every day, living in fear and pain.
That was the case of a young man I will call Cornelius who came to me for help following my afternoon presentation about spiritual warfare that Sabbath at Village Church. Cornelius was suffering under evil influences similar to the many other demon-possession cases I have dealt with in Africa. He has been living in fear since he was 10 years old after doing some strange games with his friends in an abandoned house. Watching the Batman movie with its evil Joker character increased his fear every time he was alone or in the dark. He heard voices calling him, and he frequently experienced vertigo—typical signs of demonic possession. It took us three days and a season of fasting (Matt. 17:21) to challenge the evil spirits harassing and trying to control him. After the demons came out of Cornelius, he could see them in the room and was still very afraid. We had to anoint all of his senses so the demons couldn’t use them to influence him. For me and the brother who was assisting me, what we experienced during Cornelius’ deliverance session is a tangible example of how Satan engages in battle at every level and by every means possible. Satan and his demons are active everywhere.
I praise God that, according to one statistic, 50 percent of Christians in America still believe in the real existence of Satan and don’t let their guard down. In my African culture, virtually 100 percent of people know he exists, and most of them have firsthand experience with his evil power. Living in Benin among voodoo practitioners has made us very vigilant. Spiritual warfare is a daily experience for us.
Thank you for your prayers and support as we minister to Satan’s captives and bring them the good news that he is already a conquered foe by the almighty power of Christ!