Witches are real, but don’t be afraid

How I'm learning to minister among people devoted to witchcraft

Flying monkeys are terrifying. When I was a child, CBS would play The Wizard of Oz every year, and like good Americans, every year our family would watch Dorothy get whisked away from her black-and-white Kansasian world into the colorful and magical land of Oz, complete with a Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys. Those flying monkeys, along with the Wicked Witch they served, were the things that nightmares are made of, and I think through the years I have had my share of nightmares involving that ugly witch and her pets.

I used to be comforted by the thought: “They aren’t real.” The Wizard of Oz is just a story. Witches and flying monkeys don’t really exist. The thought that there are no witches or flying monkeys gave me freedom from my fear, and this comforting realization should’ve brought me safely into adulthood, except for the singular fact that wicked witches, as opposed to the flying monkeys, are absolutely very real.

Witchcraft expresses real demonic power.

Of course, the cartoonish figure of the Wicked Witch of the West (or her sister in the East) is not real, but witches, nevertheless, are real. And the power that they possess is incredibly effective.

Those of us who come from the West are predisposed to argue against witchcraft by arguing for the non-existence of its power. In the same way our parents told us, “There’s no such thing as monsters,” we want to argue with devotees to witchcraft that the power of witchcraft is a fraud, a trick no different from a magician who performs in Las Vegas. It’s interesting that the Bible, which is extremely interested in witchcraft, never argues against witchcraft in this way.

The reason for this is because the authors of the Bible understood the demonic origins of false religious practices like witchcraft. Demonic power undergirds idolatrous worship (Deut 32:17; Ps 106:37; 1 Cor 10:20), and Satan uses such false practices to blind the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor 4:4).

While deception is certainly part of the great power of witchcraft, it is not biblical to argue that the power of witchcraft does not exist. It is a combination of genuine demonic power and deceit. If witchcraft was empty of genuine supernatural power, then it wouldn’t be the powerful force that it was and is both around the world and throughout human history. People believe and practice witchcraft because they’ve experienced it, and seeing is believing.

We must argue for the superiority of Jesus.

Because they’ve experienced the power of witchcraft firsthand, many people, even after claiming to believe in Christ, remain deeply devoted to these demonic practices. How do we address this continued devotion to the practices of antichrist?

When I first moved to Malawi and witnessed the prevalence of witchcraft among those who claimed to be Christians, I first thought that I needed to gain substantial knowledge about these practices in order to refute them and to direct people to put their faith fully in Christ. Because I thought I needed this extensive knowledge, I was extremely reluctant to address these practices in my preaching and teaching, since I was largely ignorant of what I was talking about.

But when I was studying the book of Ephesians, I realized that even though witchcraft was extensively practiced in Ephesus and to some degree continued to plague the church (see Acts 19:11–20), Paul did not confront the problem by specific arguments against specific practices. Did Paul know details about these practices? Maybe or maybe not. The point is that he did not confront the problem with these types of arguments. Instead, he confronted the problem by arguing for the absolute superiority of the power of God revealed through Jesus Christ.

This gave me confidence to address the same problem in the same way as the Apostle Paul. While it is helpful to have a general understanding of what we might call the “witchcraft worldview” — how people devoted to witchcraft see witchcraft as a solution to their problems — it is not necessary to know what various charms or ceremonies specifically mean.

Instead of arguing against what someone has genuinely experienced — “Witchcraft isn’t real” — or arguing against specific practices — “X practice is bad because of A, B, and C” — Paul teaches us to argue for the superiority of Christ over every spiritual power. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in the heavens “far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:21), and we simply need to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened to know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength” (Eph 1:18–19). To put it simply, to argue the inferiority witchcraft, you simply need to argue the superiority of Jesus.

To argue the inferiority witchcraft, you simply need to argue the superiority of Jesus.

We have to take a step of faith.

But arguing Jesus’ superiority is not enough. At some point, people must take an actual step of faith. When God sovereignly places us in situations where we must choose to trust him or not, we must reject our idols and embrace Christ.

A couple of months ago, a pastor came to visit me along with two of his church members. For several months, this particular church had been going through a dispute over the land where their church meets. When the man from whom they had bought their land died, his relatives attempted to seize the church property. We had helped the church hire a lawyer to defend their rights in court, and because their case was strong, the judge in the case had issued a restraining order on those trying to take the land from the church and had given the church permission to continue meeting in their building while the case was being decided.

During this meeting, however, the pastor asked me to provide the church with money to buy another plot of land. I was confused by this since everything indicated that the church would win the court case and have their building fully restored to them. Upon further investigation, however, the pastor and his church members admitted that they were afraid to use the building because of the powerful witchcraft their opponents would use against them, even if they won the court case.

My initial reaction was to scold them for their lack of faith and childlike fear of witchcraft, but I felt the Holy Spirit stopping me and reminding me, “I’ve put my church in this situation for their good.” 

So instead of scolding them, I encouraged them. God wanted them to put their faith in him so that he could demonstrate the vastly superior power of Jesus Christ. They needed to return home to fast and pray, and then use their building in faith that no harm would come to them. Their church was afraid because they had experienced the power of witchcraft, but God had placed them in this situation so they could experience his incomparable might.

I haven’t heard a report from this church since their visit. I don’t know what they did when they got back home, but I do know that if they take a step of faith, then God will vindicate and strengthen their faith. God desires to teach his people that Christ is seated above every power and that God has “seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).

These precious children of God know very well what many of us from the West do not: Witchcraft is very, very real. But they still need to learn not to be afraid. They learn this by hearing the word of God speak to Christ’s superiority and by taking steps of faith that will create opportunities to experience God’s great power. Witchcraft is real, but Jesus is greater.

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Joshua Hutchens

Joshua Hutchens

Joshua Hutchens (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a missionary to Malawi and president of Gospel Life. Before becoming president of Gospel Life, he served as a pastor in Kentucky. He is married to Stacy Leigh, and they have five children.

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