Part of our culture as black people has always and continues to include the interaction of some form with sangomas, ancestors and traditional doctors. The form of interaction with sangomas, ancestors and traditional doctors, might be different among the respective cultures but this interaction is prevalent. How should we then as Christians relate to all of this? Can we continue to be obedient Christians and still continue with this interaction with sangomas, ancestors and traditional doctors?
Scripture vs sangomas, ancestors and traditional doctors
Exodus 20:3 (ESVST)
“You shall have no other gods before me.
Other translations say no other gods besides me. Whatever translation, the first commandment is clear, we shall have no other gods except God almighty. What does this mean? How must we understand this? Look at the following verses:
2 Kings 17:35 (ESVST)
The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them,
The word Hebrew word used here for fear also means respect or reverence. This means that we shall not fear or bow to other gods, we shall not serve or sacrifice to them.
Jeremiah 25:6 (ESVST)
Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm. ’
Again we see here that we are not to serve or worship other gods
Jeremiah 35:15 (ESVST)
I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘ Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers. ’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me.
Any kind of worship, serving or bowing down or sacrifice is reserved only for the true God
Once more we see that we are not to serve other gods. Therefore my understanding based on these verses is that we shall under no circumstances, fear other gods, bow down to them, serve them, worship them or sacrifice to them. So any kind of worship, serving or bowing down or sacrifice to any other god is prohibited. This also means that these acts of fearing, bowing down, serving, worshipping or sacrificing are only reserved for one God who is the God almighty. Others might argue that these acts can be done as long as one is not doing them for a god. My argument would be that since these acts are only reserved to God almighty, any performance of these acts would indicate and declare that entity as god. So, it is not your intent but rather it is the performance of these acts that are prohibited and only reserved for God almighty.
Performance of anyone of these acts of fearing, bowing down, serving, worshipping or sacrificing for or to an entity other than God almighty is strictly prohibited and scripture says it will provoke God to anger.
What about ancestors (the dead)?
As someone who was very deep into the belief on ancestors, I believe I am in a position to can make informed comments about ancestors. Most if not all of the acts that we performed for or on behalf of ancestors, involved fearing, bowing down, serving, worshipping or sacrificing. As people we feared and respected ancestors and their wishes and believed that they had the power to either bless us or punish us. We bowed down all the time when we spoke to ancestors either at the graves or at the house. As people we served ancestors by doing what we believed to be their commands without question. Took instructions from them. Worshipped ancestors by performing worshipping ceremonies. We gave ancestors glory when we seemed to get what we wanted. Sacrificed to ancestors by slaughtering all sorts of animals. So, clearly, we regarded ancestors through our acts, as gods and therefore we were in conflict with God almighty. We were basically breaking the very first commandment of God. I remember we used to cut ourselves and shave our heads for the dead family members and this is specifically prohibited in the bible
Deuteronomy 14:1 (NLTse)
1 “Since you are the people of the L ord your God, never cut yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead.
We used sangomas and traditional doctors to communicate with the ancestors and let’s see what the bible say about that:
Leviticus 19:31 (NLTse)
“Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the L ord your God.
Leviticus 20:6 (NLTse)
“I will also turn against those who commit spiritual prostitution by putting their trust in mediums or in those who consult the spirits of the dead. I will cut them off from the community.
Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (NLTse)
For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune- telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, 11 or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the L ord. It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the L ord your God will drive them out ahead of you.
Isaiah 8:19 (NLTse)
Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead?
Consulting sangomas and traditional doctors for the purposes of consulting the dead is wrong and it is an abomination.
These are most probably not all the verses but, these are enough to indicate that consulting sangomas and traditional doctors for the purposes of consulting the dead is wrong and it is an abomination. I do not need even to explain the above verses, they are self-explanatory and cannot be misinterpreted. Consulting anyone for that matter who either receives his power from the dead or through the dead or consults the dead in any way, is wrong and is an abomination to God. That is, even if a person is a healer or a traditional pharmacist and he says that his ancestors who are dead gave him or give him the power to heal or know what medicine to give you, that also would be wrong. Giving credit to dead people for doing good or receiving good, not God, is wrong.
So any form of performance of anyone of these acts of fearing, bowing down, serving, worshipping or sacrificing for or to an entity other than God almighty is strictly prohibited and scripture says it will provoke God to anger. I spoke of sangomas and traditional doctors but any practice of fortune telling, or use of sorcery, or interpreting of omens, or engaging in witchcraft, or casting of spells, or functioning as mediums or psychics, or calling forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to God.
You cannot call yourself a Christian but continue to fear other gods, bow down to them, serve them, worship them or sacrifice to them. If you do, then you deceive yourself by claiming you are a Christian. A true Christian does not make a practice of sinning but, rather they try to sin less and less.
1 John 5:18 (NLTse)
We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them.
This is what the first commandment means and expects from us. Amen.