There is no better evidence of Satan's existence than the fact that so many Christians in this country deny it. We are a culture where even those who believe in the saving power of Christ do not necessarily believe that we actually need to be saved from anything. This is the Devil's handiwork. By pretending he isn't real, we show his fruits.
Surveys show that 30% of American Christians reject the idea of Hell. For Catholics, the number is almost 40%. It's a smaller figure — 25% — for Protestants, but that's deceptive because 40% of Protestants say they don't believe in demonic possession. They may affirm "Hell" as some kind of abstract concept, but they clearly don't accept that evil spirits are actively at work in our world.
This is not just a problem among average Christians. Plenty of pastors and church leaders have fostered this heresy either by refusing to ever acknowledge Hell or Satan in their preaching, or by outright denying them. Here's one article from an apostate pastor named Timothy Tutt who labels the Devil "make believe." Incredibly, in his defense of this position, he never so much as attempts to address the numerous New Testament passages which depict the Devil explicitly. He never even mentions them.
This form of heresy — easily the most damning heresy in the church today — is one that I noticed over and over again in the reaction to my infamous yoga column from yesterday. I don't wish to reignite that debate, but I was troubled that so many of the responses I received were based not on a defense of yoga per se, but on an outright denial of the demonic. This email is pretty well representative of so many others I read:
Matt, I couldn't care less about yoga one way or another but your talk about "evil spirits" and "demonic forces" is what drives people away from Christianity. I'm a Christian but I don't live my life in fear of "Satan." The only thing you have to believe in to be a Christian is Jesus Christ. The obsession that some of you fundies have with Hell and demons just makes us all look silly. Do you really think God would make Hell or allow people to be possessed by demons? Give me a break. Focus on telling people the Good News, not superstitions.
Whether you agree or disagree with me about yoga is not the point here. Argue against my opinion about the nature of the practice all you want, but a Christian simply must not argue against my position on the existence of evil and the fact that we can do things that may open us up to their influence. What troubled me is not that some Christians denied that yoga could have that effect; it's that some denied that anything could have that effect. "Focus on the Good News instead," they say.
But what Good News? You mean the Good News that Christ conquered evil and redeemed mankind? Well how can I proclaim Christ's conquering if I don't talk about the thing He conquered? That's like trying to tell someone about WW2 without mentioning the Nazis. Not only do you demean the achievement of the Allied Forces, but you make the whole history of the war incomprehensible. You turn Normandy into a holiday in France and Dunkirk into a nice day at the beach.
We expect secular types to laugh at any discussion of demonic spirits. That's what shallow people do when confronted with a concept they don't understand. But the really terrifying thing is that millions of Christians will join them in their mockery. I've encountered this same attitude when discussing Tarot cards and psychics and Ouija Boards, etc. The problem is not simply that professed Believers will make some argument as to why Ouija Boards or whatever could be fine, but that they'll scoff at the entire discussion as utter silliness.
"Pffft. You think there are actual demons who might possess you because you played a board game?"
Yes, I do. But you aren't laughing about the board game. You're laughing about the demons. If you took the threat of demons seriously, you would never be so flippant about it. One can only imagine these sorts of Christians rolling their eyes and snickering at Jesus as He tells them about His experiences with Satan in the wilderness.
"Pffft. You think you spoke to Satan who tempted you to turn stones into bread? Hilarious!"
In Scripture, the story is recounted just a chapter before the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ makes numerous references to "Gehenna" and "the evil one," and warns that we may be "cut down and thrown into the fire." The question of the Devil and Hell is not an ambiguous one in Scripture. We are given no room to question it. Read 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Peter 2:4; Luke 8:2; Luke 11:14; Leviticus 17:7; Genesis 3:1-7; Matthew 10:1, Matthew 12:22; Matthew 25:41; Mark 3:11; Mark 9:38; 1 Corinthians 10:20; James 2:19, Revelation 20:10.
Demons are discussed 63 times in the New Testament. Satan is cited over 30 times. Evil spirits are depicted operating within the world and, yes, entering into human beings and taking possession of them. One of the most terrible passages in the whole text is Christ's interaction with the possessed man in Mark 5:
He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
Second runner up for most nightmarish Biblical verse is this warning from the First Letter of Peter: "The Devil prowls through the world like a lion, seeking someone to devour."
We are cautioned not to be "participants with demons" (1 Cor 10:20), not to "drink the cup of demons" (1 Cor 10:21), and to be watchful for the "disguises" of Satan (2 Cor 11:14). And on and on. The Bible leaves absolutely no room for debate on this subject.
We have, in the end, only two honest options:
1) We can come to the conclusion that the Apostles, the Prophets, and Christ Himself were all a bunch of superstitious, hallucinating fools and liars. But if that is our opinion, then it makes no sense to continue calling ourselves Christians. The atheists are right and the entire thing is just a collection of ancient fables told by ignorant savages who didn't understand that all human evil is really the result of mental illness.
2) We can accept that demons are real; they are legion; they are prowling through the world seeking to devour our souls, and our struggle truly is not against any Earthly force but against the "cosmic powers of darkness" (Ephesians 6:12). We can believe, and tremble at the thought, that actual supernatural beings are hovering around us and working around the clock to guide us away from the light and into destruction. We can feel helpless against these beings, who are stronger and smarter than we'll ever be, and we can cling ever closer to God, who is our protection against the armies of Hell. We can take this threat seriously, and stop laughing about it like idiots and children, and we can take our faith seriously, because our faith is the only weapon we have and the only one we need.
Padre Pio once said that if all the devils took bodily form, they'd be so numerous as to blot out the Sun. This is a horrific thought. But the true Christian does not deny it just because it is scary. Instead he takes shelter in Christ, and he marches on forward.
Those are our two choices. Or we can settle on the comfortable and cowardly and irrational option which lies between the two. We can continue claiming Christianity, wearing it around like a fashion statement, while taking to heart only the bits and pieces that make us feel warm and snuggly inside. We can proclaim a Good that triumphed over a non-existent Evil, and a Christ who delivered us from the clutches of a make believe Devil. We can make a mockery of our faith in front of the entire world, and give a false sense of security to the very souls who are most in danger of eternal damnation.
Satan would be okay with option one, but he much prefers we choose this in-between route. Those who do become agents of Hell on Earth even as they deny the reality of Hell. They are dupes of Satan. His favorite Christians. And he hopes they never repent so that he can make their acquaintance in the afterlife.