“Is ancestral belief and/or worship contrary to or complementary to Christian belief? “
Most of you will know that I attended a funeral this weekend because of the message I sent previously. Attending this funeral has also made me realize that we are mostly dealing, especially among the black community, with those who call themselves “Christians”, those who confess Jesus to be Lord of their lives but, who also worship or believe in ancestors. In this message, I want to answer the question of whether ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship is contrary to or complementary to Christian belief or God’s Law (Commandments)?
What is ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship?
For those of you who might not understand what ancestral belief or worship is all about, in summary, it is a belief that the dead, although dead, can still have a certain amount of influence in the lives of the living. They need to be appeased through different forms of ceremonies and sacrifices. They can still interact with the living through dreams and sometimes in person. This means the dead, although dead, they are now living is some other form somewhere, and they have control over how things take place on earth and can influence them. If I have misrepresented this belief, please feel free to correct me.
Now, the question is, can you both worship God and also worship and/or believe in ancestors? Is ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship contrary to or complementary to Christian belief?
What does our Lord Jesus Christ think of tradition in relation to God’s Word?
What is tradition?
Since ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship is part of tradition, the best place to start, is to ask Jesus what He thinks of tradition in relation to God’s commandments. We will use Matt 15:1-9 for this purpose.
Before we go any further, let us define the word tradition. The Greek word translated as the word “tradition” in Matt 15, is the word “paradosis”. Paradosis means the content of instructions that have been handed down. In other words, this refers to all instructions that have been handed down to us, through our parents or elders. In this particular case we are dealing with, tradition will refer to all the instructions that our forefathers have left us with regards to ancestors, ancestral belief and/or worship.
Pharisees Confronts Jesus over His disciples not observing their tradition
So, what does Jesus say? Well, in verses 1-2, the Pharisees confronted Jesus with a question with regards to His disciples breaking the tradition of their elders, of washing their hands before they eat. They obviously must have seen them eating without washing their hands first and now they had a problem with that.
God’s Law vs Man’s Tradition – Which one are you willing to break at the expense of the other?
Jesus responded in verse 3 by turning their question against them. Jesus asked them, why do they break the commandments of God for the sake of their traditions. In other words, Jesus is accusing them of placing their traditions above God’s Commandments, to the point that they were willing to rather break God’s commandments, rather than breaking their traditions. Jesus is saying, the apostles might have broken the tradition of the elders but, they on the other hand, are willing to break God’s commandments for the sake of their tradition. Whose worse between the two? Which one would you rather break for the sake of the other, Gods commands or elder traditions? Jesus then went on to show how they have broken God’s commands for the sake of their tradition. We will discuss this in the next message.
This is a choice that Jesus is placing before you today. What is important, your traditions or God’s Commandments? Are you willing to break God’s commandments for the sake of your traditions? Or Are you willing to break your traditions for the sake of God’s commandments? If there is a conflict between your traditions and Gods commandments, which one are you willing to break?
How did the Pharisees use tradition to break God’s Law?
We saw how Jesus confronted the Pharisees with a question which exposed how they were willing to break God’s commandments for the sake of their traditions.
Now Jesus in verses 4-6, gives them an example of how they are doing this. God’s commandment says honor your parents, on the other hand, the Pharisees have created a means to nullify this command which, allows them not to honor their parents. Instead of giving money to their parents, they say, that money is for the church and therefore, cannot give the money to their parents.
Without dwelling deeper into this tradition of the Pharisees, the point is that, they had a system that allowed them to bypass God’s commandment to honor their parents. Therefore, the tradition that the Pharisees had with regards to declaring money for the church, allowed them to break God’s commandment.
What does Jesus think about those who use tradition to break God’s Law?
In verses 7-8, Jesus indicates what he thinks of people who claim to love God but use their traditions to break His commandments. Jesus calls them hypocrites who honor God with their lips but with their hearts being far away from Him. In other words, these kinds of people pay lip service to honoring God. Jesus says their worship of God is pointless. What is worse is that they teach these traditions to others as if, somehow these traditions are part of what God allows.
In Summary, Jesus is saying to you and me today that, if we claim to love God but, continue to use our traditions to break His commands, then we are hypocrites whose worship of God is pointless. There is no point for us to worship God if we do this. We are also hypocrites because we teach others that continuing to break God’s commands because of our traditions, is acceptable in the eyes of God even though it is not.
Now that we know this, do we have traditions that are not in line with God’s commandments? Specifically, Is ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship, contrary to God’s command? Is ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship, allowing us to break God’s commands?
Does ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship conflict with God’s commands and does this conflict allow us to break God’s commands?
The interaction between the dead and the living
For us to answer a question on whether ancestral belief and/ or ancestral worship is contrary to God’s commands and whether it allows us to break God’s commands, we should first establish where if any, does this ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship conflict with God’s commands and whether this conflict allows us to break God’s commands.
One of the major things about ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship, is the belief that the dead continue to live after they die, and continue to have an interaction with the living. The type of interaction differ between cultures but, all believe that there is an interaction. In my culture the interaction includes direct communication with the dead through dreams, visions and the appeasing of the dead through sacrifices. The Dead are generally regarded as having the best interest of their living families at heart and continually guide, protect and disciplines them.
Question? Is it biblical to believe in the interaction between the dead and the living?
For an answer to this, we will use a couple of scriptures. First, Luke 16:19-31, then Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 and 2 Kings 22:20.
Firstly, what can we learn about the dead in Luke 16:19-31? There is a debate on whether Luke 16:19-31 is a parable or not. Whatever the answer is, it doesn’t change the teaching that Jesus gives us about the dead.
There were two men, one rich and the other poor called Lazarus. Both died. Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s side and the rich man went to hades or the place of the dead. There was no break in time between the death of Lazarus and him being carried by the angels. Likewise, there was no delay in the rich man finding himself in hades. There is no intermediate place between earth and hades. Once you die, you are either in hades or in Abraham’s side immediately. All this is in verses 22-23.
This is a very important lesson as we now know that when a person dies, they go either straight to hades or on the side of Abraham. We will later see that the place where Abraham was and hades, are very close to one another, in fact, it’s only a chasm dividing them.
What happens to the rich man and Lazarus in hades and on the side of Abraham?
With Lazarus, we are told in verse 25 that he is being comforted. What about the rich man? We are told three things (1) In hades, he is being tormented (v23)(2) in hades, he is in the flame burning (v24)(3) he is in anguish from physical torment (v24).
What could the rich man do while in hades?
(1) in hades, he could see and speak to those on Abraham’s side (v24), (2) he could recognize who the people are on Abraham’s side (v23), (3) he could still remember his earthly family (vs 27-28), (4) he wanted to warn his family to repent so that they don’t come where he is (vs 27-28), (5) he recognized that he couldn’t warn his family himself, hence he asked Abraham to send someone (vs 28-28), (6) he also recognized that the only interaction between the dead and the living, was if the dead person was raised from the dead, hence he asked Abraham to raise someone from the dead. (7) the only thing he was concerned about was the repentance of his family.
What could the rich man not do?
1) in hades he could not interact with his family, other wise he would not have asked Abraham for help 2) although he still remembered his family, we know that he could not see them, because according to 2 Kings 22:20, the dead cannot see what happens on earth.
2 Kings 22:20 (NLT)
20 So I will not send the promised disaster until after you have died and been buried in peace. You will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this city.’”
So they took her message back to the king.
They could not see the disaster because they will be dead.
Lessons from Luke 16 regarding the dead and the living
Therefore, from Luke 16, we learn a valuable lesson with regards to the dead. Although they can still remember their families who are still living, they cannot interact with them, no matter how much they want to. Secondly, they are only concerned about one thing with regards to their families who are still alive, and that is, they are concerned about their salvation. The Dead want the living to repent. That is all they care about. If we could speak to our families that have passed on, according to this scripture, the only thing they would tell us is to repent and be saved.
What does this mean? Is it possible for the dead, while dead, to interact with the living? According to this scripture, the answer is no, and even if they could interact with us, the only thing they care about and the only thing they would tell us, is to repent and be saved. I live you with the words of the dead rich man in hades, that showed how concerned he was about the salvation of his family
Luke 16:27-30 (ESV Strong’s)
27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
Ecclesiastes 9 regarding the dead
We have seen how Jesus commanded us not to break God’s commandments for the sake of our traditions. We also saw from the story/parable that Jesus told about Lazarus and the rich man that, dead people cannot communicate directly with living people, and if they could, all that they would tell us, is to repent.
Now knowing this, let us look at Ecclesiastes 9:5-6.
Verse 5 contrast the living and the dead. It says that the living at least know that they are going to die, but the dead know nothing. This Word nothing means exactly that, nothing! The verse continues to say that the dead are no longer rewarded since the memories of all that they have done is forgotten.
Verse 6 then mentions examples of things that have been forgotten and that is things like their love, hate and envy. All these have perished, have been forgotten. In other words everything they have done is forgotten, even the simple things like their love, hate and envy. Then verse 6 continues to say the dead have no more part to play on earth. They have no more fellowship with what is on earth.
Therefore, two major statements that we read from these two verses is that (1) the dead know nothing at all and, (2) the dead play no more part on earth and have no more fellowship with what is on earth.
Lessons from Ecclesiastes 9 regarding the dead
What does this mean? Well, if the dead know nothing at all, then we the living have no business speaking to or asking the dead for anything. We know better than them. If they no longer can play a part on earth, then asking them for help or speaking to them in any way is pointless, since they can no longer have any influence on earth. This also means sacrificing to the dead with an intention to ask anything from them, or to thank them for something or to ask for their blessings or protection, is all pointless. They have done nothing, they cannot do anything and they will not do anything. Why? They know nothing and play no part on earth.
The Bible is very cleat that the dead cannot play any role on earth or in the lives of the living. They cannot speak to you and cannot help you in any way. If they could help you or speak to you, they would ask you to repent and be saved. Therefore, it is unbiblical to believe that the dead can help you or influence your life or the lives of others in any way. Ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship is clearly then contrary to God’s Law.
Ancestral belief and/or ancestral worship is actually a sin, and the same as an attempt to interact with the dead. For more on that, click here
I know this is difficult to hear if you believe in ancestral worship. Remember what Jesus said, we cannot break God’s commandments for the sake of our traditions. This is the time to make a choice.