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 Pastor I.O.Odewale

Superstition and idolatrous practices in the Church
Memory Verse: ‘Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it’ – Dt.12:32.

There are some age-long traditions in the church that have no scriptural basis. Just because no one has scrutinized them to find out if they form part of the divine revelation, they have persisted to be regarded as sacrosanct. Some of these traditions and practices lose their appeal when exposed to the searchlight of the word of God. We may be surprised to find some of them to be just superstitions or subtle overture to idolatry.

In this essay, I want to direct our attention to a few of them with the hope of setting the records right. This is not an attempt to criticise any church, but to free Christians from the burden and oppression of religion. Jesus said; ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free’ (Jn.8:32). Apostle Paul wrote: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Eph.2:8-9). We are also cautioned not to add or remove from the word of God (Dt.12:32).

The Sign of the Cross:
The sign of the cross has been with us for a long time. But it does not seem to have any basis from the word of God. It is not recorded anywhere in the bible as a sign that represents God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Some of us feel that our prayers will not be complete until we make the sign of the cross. This is the work of religion and it has practically nothing to add to our prayers before God will answer them. When we pray we should have faith in the grace and mercy of God to answer our prayers. He is a faithful God and has told us to ask in faith in His Son’s name, and we shall have whatever we ask from Him (Mk.11:23-24; Jn.14:13-14).
We are not sure of the origin of this practice but it might have originated from the time of serious Christian persecutions when Christians devised different signs of recognising each other. The ‘fish’ and the ‘sign of the cross’ became Christian identification marks.
The sign of the cross has nothing to add or reduce from the operation of grace in the life of a Christian.  It is used more like a confidence or ego booster than the means of grace.  It has no place in the scheme of salvation. It is by the blood of Jesus that we have right standing with God and are accepted in the beloved.

Finding God’s guidance through random or chance selection of a verse from the bible:
This is done by opening the bible randomly (at times) with closed eyes and fixing one’s guidance on the first verse that catches the eyes. The danger about this is that God does not act haphazardly. He may reveal His plan through the normal reading of His word. There was the story of a man who sought God’s guidance this way. As he opened his bible his eyes became fixed on Luke 12:20 where it reads: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you…… ‘”. How do you think that person would feel? Definitely, he would not be happy. But this was not God’s perfect will for him. It is not God’s will for His children to be unhappy. This is divination and a wrong use of the bible. We make a fool of ourselves when we seek the counsel of God that way. However, the bible is very clear on how we can seek God’s guidance. I will just speak briefly on it here.
We need to know that God is sovereign and does not work according to a set pattern. He deals with each person differently. Sometimes God reveal His will to us through opportunities, circumstances, the advice of friends, the wish of parents; through evaluation of one’s own abilities, personal inclination, needs of the day and through conscience.
He guides us by His word through verses that speak loudly to us as we study the bible. This may not happen by randomly opening the bible with eyes closed with the intention of wanting it to speak to you as you fix your attention on the first verse that catches your eye. It doesn’t work like that. It could be counter-productive.
God can guide us through the inner conviction that is given by the Spirit of God (Ro.8:16).
He guides us by dreams and visions (Acts 16:9-10)

Using the Bible as a protection charm:
Some people use the bible as a means of protection. They put it under their pillow when they sleep, thinking that it will keep them away from bad dreams and the attack of the enemy. Some carry it in their cars thinking that it will protect them from road accidents. Some write verses of the bible on their doors or on the windscreens of their cars as a sure means of protection.
The bible as a book has no power of its own. It is the word of God in it that has power and this power will not be manifested until we have the right faith in God’s word and are obedient to His commands. The word of God is to be believed, read and digested, and applied to our life’s situations. The Psalmist wrote: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You’ (Ps.119:11,105). God told Joshua; ‘This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success’ (Jos.1:8).
We can see that God laid emphasis on our reading, meditating and living His word in our daily lives. Well, there is nothing wrong in writing the word of God out for the purpose of evangelism or for the sake of remembering it. But the word of God should never be used as a charm or talisman. This is idolatry. The Jews once made an idol of the temple in Jerusalem by putting their faith and trust in the temple rather than in the God of the temple. For this reason God warned them and eventually removed the temple from its place when they refused to repent (Jer.7:1-15).

Wearing the cross or carrying it about for protection:
The cross is the symbol of Christianity. It reminds us of the prize that Jesus paid for our redemption and salvation when He died for our sins on the cross so that we might live and be reconciled to God. It is the symbol of death to self, of sacrifice, of victory over death and a new life in Christ Jesus. Since the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the cross has assumed a more dignified usage. Apart from being a symbol of Christianity, it has become a fanciful object adorned with gold and other precious metals and stones.
But out of ignorance some people have idolized the cross. They wear and carry it on them as protection over evil spirits. Some even use it to exorcize evil spirit as could be watched in films. Let me just say here that the only thing the devil fears is the name of Jesus. And anyone who wants to use the name of Jesus for that purpose must be a true believer (Mk.16:17-18). Remember the case of the seven sons of Sceva who were trying to exorcize evil spirit ‘in the name Jesus whom Paul preached’ (Acts 19:11-17).  Let me just add that the cross has no power of its own except that of the One (Jesus Christ) who was nailed to it. But Jesus is no more on the cross; He is now seated on the throne of God His Father. I am amazed when I see people carrying the cross with the image of Jesus nailed to cross as if their own Jesus is still on the cross. I always say that my own Jesus is alive and He lives for ever more! And because He lives, those who believe in Him will live. It is idolatry to concede any special powers to the cross.

The use of candles, incense and holy water:
We need to understand that some of the religious practices of the Old Testament (OT) were the shadow and the type of the One that was coming (Heb.8:1-5).  Since Jesus Christ, who was the reality came, we no longer need the shadow and the type. The candle light put on the altar in the OT church (temple) was just the symbol of the presence of Jesus Christ who is the light of the world (Jn.9:5). The incense represented His royal priesthood (Heb.9:11). It also represented the prayer of the saints that ascended to the throne of God through the mediation of our Chief High Priest (Rev.5:8).  Since Jesus now lives in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit we no longer need to represent Him by any symbol.
The holy water represented the Holy Spirit that God would pour on all believers for the washing of regeneration (Tit.3:4-5). The Holy Spirit is now physically in the Church and we no longer need any object to represent Him.
When people place their faith in the power of incense and holy water to heal and set free and not in the power of God, it means that they have made those things their gods. When we attribute the power of God to incense or holy water, we are giving the glory that is due to God to inanimate objects. But God will not allow His glory to be given to others (Isa.42:8). Today a number of Christians put unnecessary importance on incense and holy water instead of trusting in the all sufficient and inexhaustible grace of God in Christ Jesus. This is idolatry.
The hold the spirit of religion has on some people is irresistible. But Jesus said, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. Note that the use of candles or incense or the ‘so-called’ holy water cannot force the hand of God to do anything. He is a sovereign God who works according to the counsel of His will. There is nothing we can contribute or add to what Christ has already achieved for us on the cross of Calvary. It is only because of Him that we have access to the throne of grace and can ask the Father whatever we need. And anything we ask in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, we receive from Him (Jn.15:16).

Repetition of sacred words like the Hindu or Buddhist mantra:
It is the custom among some Christians to shout such words as ‘Hallelujah’ or ‘Amen’ a number of times. They believe that when they shout these words 3,7,21 or more times their prayers would be heard or their worship would become acceptable to God. There is nothing wrong in praising or worshipping God in the way we like but we should be careful of formalism in which our worship or praise is reduced to empty rituals and the flesh is gratified while the spirit is absent (Isa.29:13). We have a God whose ears are not dull to hear us and whose hands are not short to save (Isa.59:1-2). As long as we walk closely with Him and obey His commands, He will always answer us when we call and enhance our worship and praise with His presence.

We need to understand that the devil has a way of counterfeiting good things. This is what he has done with this practice mentioned above. He has secretly brought numerology cult into our system of worship whereby worshippers not only repeat sacred words but are made to bow down a number of times in different directions as they repeat them. This, at best could be described as the works of religion, but it has the trappings of idolatry. We must be careful to follow the tradition handed over to us by the early Christians and not introduce innovations of dubious origin. Numerology is an ancient science which is devoted to the study of occult significance of numbers.  The bible has warned us about seeking after esoteric knowledge except what has been revealed to us – ‘`The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law’ (Dt.29:29). We must remember that there are some secret things of heaven that has not been explained to us. When Apostle Paul was caught up into Paradise he said that he heard what he described as ‘inexpressible words, which is not lawful for a man to utter’ (2Cor.12:4). It does mean that there are some inexpressible words or usages even in the bible that we cannot understand. The fact that the angels in the vision of prophet Isaiah repeated the word ‘holy’ three times (Isa.6:3) does not mean that we should idolize ‘3’ as a sacred number. This is paganism. Yes, numbers like ‘3’, ‘7’.and ‘12’ are used repeatedly in the bible but there is no explanation anywhere as to their significance. I believe that Jesus would have revealed the importance of using these ‘special numbers’, these ‘sacred words’ and the different ‘places people should face while praying’ to His disciples when He taught them how to pray (Mt.6:7-13) if it was necessary. We should follow the teaching of our Master on all matters and the traditions of the early apostles in our Christian activities and worship rather than relying on the doctrines of men (Eph.2:19-22). You shall know the truth and the truth we set you free. Amen.

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