Question: “When a people who have for generations worshiped the spirits become Christians they often adapt their local spirit worship practices into Christian rituals. How does one teach or help them break off these practices?” [Note: This comes from a native missionary in Southeast Asia.]
My Answer: Dear brother, thanks for the question. I understand that this is both a serious and a delicate matter. It is difficult for people to renounce what is basic to their culture. At ANM we have the utmost respect for individual cultural distinctives. We always try to accommodate our attitudes and practices to honor the various cultures we deal with. However, biblical values and Scriptural truth always takes precedence over culture. There is no culture that is more important than a Word-based “Christian culture.”
With that said, there are a few observations I would make.
1) We must always deal gently and patiently with new believers. We must not involve ourselves in matters that are not clearly condemned in Scripture or are of a debatable and controversial nature. Further, we must make room for personal convictions and individual applications of biblical truth (see Romans 14:1ff). Love is ever our watchword and guiding principle.
However, with love as our guiding approach, if there are practices that are obviously contrary to the plain teaching of the Bible, these must be dealt with truthfully and directly. Here are some observations that may help in this regard.
2) Idols and demons: The Bible is emphatic in declaring that there is only one true and living God (Deut. 6:4, Eph. 4:6, 1 Corinthians 8:4). All of the other so-called “gods” are false and dead deities (1 Corinthians 8:5-6, Jeremiah 16:20). The Bible also declares that these other so-called gods, the idols of the nations, are actually demonic spirits (see 1 Corinthians 10:20, Revelation 9:20, Deut. 32:17, Psalm 106:37). This is a crucial point in addressing this entire issue. It must be understood that practices involving idol worship and trafficking in spirits are actually demonic in nature. God takes this matter very seriously. Indeed, Exodus 22:20 states that anyone who worships an idol, a false demonic god, must be executed.
3) Intrinsic spiritual influence: Objects and practices that are involved in actual worship of spirits (whether they are reckoned to be “gods,” demons, spirits, ancestors, or whatever) can convey actual spiritual influence. Demonic influence may be experience by the very presence of things that have been dedicated to a demonic spirit. These things may cause harm, physical, mental or spiritual in a person’s life. For a Christian to expose himself to spirit worship, or to bring objects used in such worship into his home, is to open a door for demonic oppression. Demons can and do work through things, actual physical objects.
This is why the Bible plainly states that such objects should not be found in a believer’s house (Deuteronomy 7:26). Based on the foregoing verse, we see that there is a defiling influence in such objects. The best way to deal with these things is their total destruction, even if they have great monetary value (Deut. 7:25, Acts 19:19).
4) Occult condemned: Often the practices of local native custom are occultic in nature. They may involve contact and traffic with spirit beings. There are also usually magical and/or divinatory practices included in this type of worship. The Bible condemns the occult in no uncertain terms. Deuteronomy 18:9-14 is a classic passage in this regard. All types of spirit contact, dealing with the dead, divination, casting spells, working magic, putting people in trances, etc. are all labeled as sinful and are an “abomination” in God’s sight. In other words, God hates these practices. If we are honor the Lord and be faithful to Him, we must put away these practices—completely.
This is what the people of Ephesus did in Acts 19:18-19. Men who had practiced sorcery and divination completely gave up these practices. As an indication that they had repented of these works of darkness, they burned all their magical books, which were very valuable.
It must be emphasized that there may be powerful residual consequences from dealing with the occult. For a Christian to be completely from demonic influence after having been involved in the occult, their past practices must be renounced totally. There can be no compromise in this regard. (Other Scriptures that address the ungodly nature of the occult include Galatians 5:20, Isaiah 8:19-20, Lev. 19:31, Lev. 20:27, Rev. 21:8.)
5) Effects on our witness and Christian influence: As believers in Christ we are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). In other words, we are constant witnesses for Christ, called to let the light of His truth, His gospel, shine through us. To do this effectively requires that we not obscure our witness, or dilute the message of the Gospel. But to engage in idolatrous and occultic practices defiles us, makes us unclean (Lev. 19:31, Jeremiah 19:13). And God wants clean vessels for His use. Further, the practice of idolatry enslaves us (Galatians 4:8). If Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin, why would we choose enslavement again?
6) Complete separation from the world and total allegiance to Christ: The Bible asserts that there can be no mixing of light and darkness, righteousness and wickedness (see 2 Cor. 6:14-18). We belong to God, we are His temple (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19 and 2 Cor. 6:16). We are not to allow what is holy, consecrated to God, to be used in the service of demons. To take what is evil and wicked, and then to try to make it seem good is completely contrary to the holy and righteous God we serve (see Isaiah 5:20). Indeed, we are now children of the light, and are to have nothing to do with ways of darkness (Ephesians 5:7-11). In the Old Testament God declared that to seek after other gods was to reject His covenant and is an abomination in His sight (Deut. 17:2-5). No wonder the Bible says Christians are to “flee idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14) and to “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Indeed, our rejection of false worship is to be so thorough that we should not even mention the names of the so-called “gods” of this world (Exodus 23:13).
The bottom line is simply this: Who is going to be Lord of your life? Christ? Or some other god or spirit? Christ demands total allegiance (see 1 Cor. 10:20-22).