Evangelical Christians in the United States are divided over the issue of spiritual warfare. Although the New Testament exhorts believers not to fall into the “snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7) and to resist the devil, who like “a roaring lion,” is seeking to devour them (1 Peter 5:8), most evangelicals do not take these warnings seriously.
Not so in Africa, where the church is growing and it is actively fighting the demonic. This is the emphasis of an article written by Tanya M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University. In an article titled “When Demons Are Real,” Luhrmann describes her experience in attending an all-night prayer session with a charismatic evangelical church in Ghana where the worshipers were reliving Paul’s experience with a snake.
In her article, Luhrmann compares the evangelical churches in Africa with the evangelical churches in America. While evangelical churches in America emphasize the love and mercy of God, evangelical churches in Africa emphasize God’s victory over the powers of evil because they have discovered that supernatural evil is a daily reality in the world.
The following is an excerpt from Luhrmann’s article:
To be in Africa is to encounter a God different from that of a charismatic church in the United States. People say that the boundary between the supernatural and the natural is thinner there. Certainly religion is everywhere — churches and church billboards seem to be on every street — and atheists are few. American evangelicals often say that faith is more intense in Africa. There is something to this. Compared with Ghanaian charismatic Christianity, American Christianity can seem like soggy toast.
It is not just the intensity that seems different. In these churches, prayer is warfare. The new charismatic Christian churches in Accra imagine a world swarming with evil forces that attack your body, your family and your means of earning a living.
J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, a professor at Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana, argues that these churches have spread so rapidly because African traditional religion envisions a world dense with dark spirits from which people must protect themselves, and these new churches take this evil seriously in a way that many earlier missionizing Christianities did not. Indeed, I have been at a Christian service in Accra with thousands of people shouting: “The witches will die! They will die! Die! Die!” With the pastor roaring, “This is a war zone!”
The struggle against the forces of evil is real. But, there is a danger in over-promoting spiritual warfare as the primary ministry of the church. Many Christians can go overboard when dealing with spiritual warfare, just like some Christians did with the witch trials in Salem where innocent people were falsely accused of being witches and possessed by the devil.
This is what Luhrmann tries to present in her article. When people go overboard, terrifying things may happen: “In West Africa, witches are people, and sometimes, other people kill them or drive them from their homes.”
You may read the article here.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary