A Limited "Christianization"
OTHER observers feel that the Christianization of the Western world was not as complete or as deep as many have believed. While the Church banned pagan religion and magic, many of the common people and clergy, too, have retained faith in it through the centuries.
Animism, or the worship of evil spirits, seems to be deep-seated in all world cultures. Despite the lofty mystical claims of the Eastern religions, the worship and appeasement of evil spirits is normative practice for vast multitudes of Buddhists, Hindus and Mohammedans. In Thailand, Japan and most Asian countries, offerings are placed in little spirit houses in front of every home. The evil spirits connected with Islam are called "jinns."
Even Talmudic Judaism, according to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, is full of nonbiblical concepts of demons. Many Jews feel that keeping commandments, prayers and the wearing of amulets are the only true defenses against demonic injury.
Thus it is evident that the so-called primitive religions are not the only ones that prescribe demon appeasement to gain favors. It is generally not part of the official religious teachings, but it is closely woven into the practices of the worshipers. These overtures to the unseen evil spirit world are found in every age, every culture and every country of the world.
When the Israelites turned from worshiping Jehovah as God and Saviour, they espoused the idol worship of the Canaanite nations around them. There is evidence that they knew these idols were the habitats of demons. Certainly in the full light of Christian revelation, Paul declares this truth vigorously: "What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons" (1 Cor. 10:19-20).
Biblical View of Demonism
Both the Old and New Testaments clearly teach that demons are invisible, but real spiritual beings who are directed by Satan, "the prince of devils." The great est amount of demon possession and activity is described in the Gospel accounts of our Lord's public ministry. Matt. 4:24 seems to differentiate between organic and emotional disorders and demon possession: "... people brought to him all those who were ill, suffering from all kinds of diseases and pains—including the devil-possessed, the insane and the paralyzed" (Phillips).
Many contemporary theologians, however, contend that people of Jesus' day labeled all emotional illnesses as demon possession. The demythologizers say that Jesus accommodated His teachings to this unscientific superstition. Other modern scholars say that Jesus used the terminology current in His day because in coming to earth He took upon Himself all the mental limitations of His contemporaries. Harvey Cox, in The Secular City, says, "The presence of repressed and projected feelings probably explains the demons of the New Testament period."
Paul Tillich had much to say about demonic forces controlling the course of history, but for him these were impersonal evil influences. He called the demonic "the perversion of the creative" in man, thus confining the demonic to merely man's own innate sinfulness.
Even some Roman Catholic theologians argue for the death of Satan and the abolition of demonology from Christian theology. In his recent work, The Devil, Demonology and Witchcraft, Henry Ansgar Kelly, a scholarly Jesuit, declares that belief in demonism is derived from local cultural superstitions rather than divine revelation.
What a contrast to the teachings of the medieval church which all too vigorously espoused all manner of exorcisms of evil spirits and caused the death of thousands of women accused of being witches and communing with demons.
It was two Dominican priests, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, who in 1486 compiled the authoritative code which civil and ecclesiastical courts employed for two centuries in recognizing and punishing witches—the Malleus Maleficarum. The influence of this tome extended beyond the days of the pre-Reformation Church down to the Puritanism of Cotton Mather, who burned the witches of Salem, Mass.
Modern psychiatry finds no place for demons. If you were to talk to most psychiatrists today about demonic possession, you might risk commitment to a hospital your self. Yet studies in psychosomatic medicine increasingly reveal how difficult it is to differentiate between emotional and organic illnesses. Emotionally disturbed patients often have concomitant physical problems and those with organic disease are emotionally affected.
An evangelical psychiatrist of my acquaintance says that even as there is difficulty in defining illness of the body and illness of the mind or emotions, there could be difficulty in recognizing demonic oppression of an individual. Certainly there are times when Satan is directly involved in organic and emotional illness. Speaking of the woman who was bowed over with an infirmity, our Lord describes her as having been "bound by Satan for 18 years" (Luke 13:16). Perhaps some conditions which psychiatry finds so baffling are ultimately a work of Satan although modern medicine sees them as merely emotional or physical.
Cases of demon possession, whether found in animistic cultures or more sophisticated religious milieus, could easily be confused with emotional disturbances. But the question remains: Is it not equally possible that some ailments described as emotional disturbances are actually caused or aggravated by demon possession? Naturalistic psychiatry would scoff at such a suggestion, but many missionaries have testified to restoring "demon possessed" individuals by commanding the demon in the name of Jesus Christ to come out.
Merrill F. Unger in Biblical Demonology expresses the opinion that centuries of gospel light and Christian faith act as a natural deterrent in restraining the grosser and baser power of Satan manifested in demonic possession. But is it not also possible that a Church which has lost its first century powers of discernment may fail to recognize examples of demonic possession today?
A German psychiatrist, who is a Christian, declares that he has seen cases of possession which cannot be explained from a psychiatric standpoint. Dr. A. Lechler declares that he "proceeds to expulsion" in such instances. "This often results in violent struggles of some hours' duration, with flailing, screaming, mocking, cursing, especially when the blood of Christ is mentioned." One woman patient "sensed a liberation and was able immediately to praise and give thanks to God" after the evil spirit was expelled by Lechler.
G. Campbell Morgan is representative of a large number of theological conservatives who believe demonic activity is responsible for the worldwide spiritualistic phenomena. Morgan feels that where the word "medium" is employed, "demonized man" or "demonized woman" may more properly be substituted.
Whether this is accurate or not, certainly those who "communicate" with the "dead" are entering an area explicitly forbidden by Scripture. Jehovah ordered His people Israel to avoid "the abominable practices of those nations." In particular, "There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering [to the evil spirits], any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur [one who makes horoscopes?], or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord" (Deut. 18:9-12).
Yet today a Philadelphia medium, the Rev. Arthur Ford, who aided Bishop James Pike's rather touching attempt to communicate with his dead son, is leader of an organization of Protestant clergymen called the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship. Its several thousand members, mostly from mainline denominations, engage in what they call "psychical research," but what actually includes communicating with the dead through mediums. Such "research" has been carried on for years in "spiritualist" churches across the country.
Christians who take the Bible as authoritative, however, should definitely avoid seances and all forms of communication with the spirit world. Of course, this is to be differentiated from the legitimate forms of scientific research into the areas of parapsychology and extrasensory perception.
Helmut Thielicke in Man in God's World expresses the thought that when Christ walked this earth, "the demonic powers gathered themselves together in one last effort" to preserve their doomed kingdom. He also advances the idea "that the nearer the returning Christ comes to this aeon the more energetically the Adversary mobilizes his last reserves, until the demonic excesses reach their climax and Christ returns and the new aeon of God begins."
Is it possible that rising evidence of demonism in various forms has an eschatological import? Is it because the Second Coming of Christ is near, that we are witnessing stepped up Satanic activity? Perhaps we have a clue here to the present worldwide unrest in every area of life.
Christ's Ultimate Purpose
Dr. James Kallas, a conservative Lutheran theologian, has written two recent books. He plainly declares that the central teaching of the New Testament—both in the Gospels and the Pauline epistles—is that Christ came into the world to defeat Satan and all his works. John puts it this way: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
The resurgence of occultism in its various forms may be an acceleration of demonic activity, but we should not forget that Satan accomplishes his purposes also as an angel of light. Strange, is it not, that the prince of the power of darkness is wily enough to present himself as the messenger of light? In civilized lands the Deceiver probably accomplishes his purposes more efficiently by means other than the uglier forms of possession and disorder.
Furthermore, the god of this world, as Satan is called, "has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4). It is the duty of every believer to "stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11). We are not to be ignorant of his devices, and we must resist him. This we cannot do in our own strength, but in the imparted spiritual power of our Lord and Savior who "dis armed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them . . ." (Col. 2:15).
* Reprinted by permission of Eternity Magazine. May, 1969, copyright 1969. The Evangelical Foundation, 1716 Spruce Street, Philedelphia, Pa. 19103