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Demonic Activity and Missions

Here it is. One of the least talked about, frequently avoided topics in biblically conservative circles. Demonic activity. Our Pentecostal and charismatic brothers love to talk about it. Christians around the world discuss it frequently. But, in the polite, conservative, churches in the suburban U.S. we don’t discuss it. We avoid the topic, even quietly dismiss it.

Covenantal Christians affirm the Bible is the literal Word of God, and demons existed and were active in the pages of Scripture. It is acceptable to acknowledge demons existed 2,000 years ago, but today? Most of us are secretly skeptical or outright hostile to the idea that in our post-modern world, demons are alive and busy. Come on, that kind of hokum is for the uneducated, unenlightened masses, right? C.S. Lewis said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist and a magician with the same delight.”

That pervasive attitude is why few missionaries share their demon stories when making Sunday school presentations on furlough. But, secretly, privately ask your favorite missionary if they have ever experienced demonic activity. Not the plate fell off the table or I got a flat tire kind of demonic activity. But, the strong as a bull, speaking in foreign languages, unexplainable, horrifying kind of demonic activity. A large, yet admittedly anecdotal, sampling of missionaries leads me to believe most have experience with demons. Missionaries just don’t want to talk about it because they fear you’ll have them committed, or worse, reduce their financial support.

What We Believe
Studies indicate most Americans believe in demons, and demonic possession. A 2013 YouGov survey showed 57 percent of all Americans believe in the devil, while 86 percent of born-again Christians believe in the devil. A 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found 57 percent of Americans believe someone can be possessed by a demon. The aforementioned YouGov survey said the number of born-again Christians who believe someone can be possessed by an evil spirit is 72 percent. Even the areligious believe in the supernatural. A 2012 Pew survey showed 85 percent of those who considered themselves religiously unaffiliated, still believe in the spiritual or supernatural.

Of Americans who believe in demonic possession the YouGov survey found females (54 percent) were more likely to believe than males (49 percent). Republicans (54 percent) and Democrats (51 percent) were about equal. The South (59 percent) was more likely to believe than the Midwest (45 percent). Blacks (67 percent) and Hispanics (62 percent) were more likely to believe than Whites (47 percent). The average American believes in demons and demonic possession.

What The Bible Says
The Bible has plenty to say about the Devil and demons. The word “demon(s)” appears 77 times in the New Testament, and is mentioned in 19 of its 27 books. Scripture confirms demons exist (Deut. 32:17, Ps. 106:37, Matt. 12:27). While God created everything (John 1:3), he did not create evil (James 1:13, 1 John 1:5, 1 Cor. 14:33). Demons were cast out of heaven (2 Pet. 2:4, Jude 6) and Satan is their leader (Matt 12:24). All of our sicknesses, problems and accidents cannot be attributed to Satan and his demons, however, they are active in some problems. They can cause or exploit mental and physical illness (Mark 5:1-15, Luke 11:14). Demons have strength and knowledge (Mark 1:24, 9:17-27) and they fear Jesus (Mark 1:25, 3:11-12, 9:25).

Demons can possess a person (Matt 9:32-33, 12:22, 17:18, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 22:3), but they cannot indwell a true disciple of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13, Rom. 8:37, 1 John 2:13, 5:18, 1 Pet. 1:5, 2 Cor. 6:16). However, true Christians can be harassed and negatively impacted by demons (2 Cor. 11:3-4, 13-15, 12:7, 1 Tim. 4:1-5, 1 John 4:1-3). Still, we have been given the power to resist them (James 4:7). John Calvin said, “All that Scripture teaches concerning devils aims at arousing us to take precaution against their stratagems and contrivances, and also to make us equip ourselves with those weapons which are strong and powerful enough to vanquish these most powerful foes.”

In Missions
So, why do missionaries see more demonic activity than do typical suburban church goers? Think of it like this: All Christians are active soldiers in a spiritual battle. Satan has a finite number of demons. Like any smart military tactician, Satan is going to send his troops to the front line, where the gospel is advancing rapidly or into new territory. Christian missionaries have more experience with demons than other Christians do because missionaries are at ground zero of major battles. R.C. Sproul said, “The church is the most important organization in the world. It is the target of every demonic, hostile attack in the universe. Jesus personally guaranteed that the gates of hell will never prevail against the church. He made no guarantee that the gates of hell would not be unleashed against it, however.”

Don’t let your missionary friends skulk in the shadows and hide their amazing stories of demonic activity. The mission field is not just a field for harvest, but a field for battle. Invite missionaries to unburden themselves with the horrible, amazing things they have seen on the front lines. Allow your family, your small group, and your church to be educated about the active work of demons and God’s victories. Be open, be biblical, and be prayerful for your missionary friends and their protection against demons.

Mike Pettengill has served with MTW in Honduras and Equatorial Guinea. He is now the director of MTW’s West Coast office.

Mike Pettengill, Missiology Reflection Jan 10, 2017
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