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A 2-part series – Part 1
Communicating with ancestral spirits has been common practice on each continent of the earth. European, African, American, Australian and Asian nations have all their particular brand of ancestral practices that go back many millennia. Some of the European and African cultures have merged the practice of Christian worship with attempts at communication with the dead. We need to examine if this is an acceptable practice for Spirit-filled, New Testament believers who say they love and serve Jesus Christ.
Who are the ancestors?
The ancestors are past relatives who have died.
What are ancestral spirits or familiar spirits?
These are spiritual entities that claim to be the departed spirits of those who were close to or were related to us.
How are they contacted after death?
Each country and culture have various methods they use to get in touch with such spirits of the past.
Why do they want to communicate with the dead?
- Some feel that the departed have sacred wisdom for the living. These spirits were also considered wise while they were alive on earth as people; so those who contact them would not like to lose their wisdom to death.
- Others seek ancestral spirits to help them with enemies; or advise them on how to handle family business.
- Some do it to bring closure to the past, to make peace and resolve unsettled differences.
- In the end, most look for guidance and assurance of an afterlife through speaking to the dead.
Ancestors in European Culture?
Ancient Romans prayed to their ancestors to guide them and help them in their life’s journey. Small figurines would be constructed as an image representing the departed they were praying to. Later on, communicating with and praying to the ancestors was adopted by old-traditional Christian Churches. Known as the veneration of the “Saints”; Christians created traditions that contradicted much of the early Church’s teachings.
A particular traditional Church would be dedicated to a particular patron saint that specialises in specific needs. St. Christopher is the patron saint of travellers. Certain religious people pray to him and ask him to divinely protect them on their journeys. St Christopher was a real person who existed around 300 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. St Christopher was martyred by a Roman emperor. Wikipedia tells us that:
“His most famous legend tells that he carried a child, who was unknown to him, across a river before the child revealed himself as Christ. Therefore, he is the patron saint of travellers, and small images of him are often worn around the neck, on a bracelet, carried in a pocket, or placed in vehicles by Christians”.
There are many hundreds of ancestral saints honoured and prayed to today by religious Christians. In more modern times spiritists and psychic mediums mix occult and Christian traditions in their attempts to contact the dead.
Ancestors in African and Asian traditions?
Within the African tradition, as well as the many various Asian traditions, the contacting of departed spirits is facilitated by a traditional healer, witch or shamanic priest. Through various rituals, the ancestors are allegedly summoned, and communicate through the facilitator or directly with the person inquiring.
Interactions are very real and many people can confirm and testify that they have spoken to some otherworldly being from “the other side”.
What does this mean for Spirit-Filled, New Testament Believers?
To deny the existence of a person’s past is silly. It is important to acknowledge that our ancestors existed and that some have made some sort of contribution to a community, city or nation in one way or another. Celebrating a special day for the memory of that person is also a wonderful way to commemorate the efforts of the past. The Bible, however, makes it clear that while Jesus acknowledges the importance of the Jewish ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Elijah – there was nothing that those departed men could do for people in the present life. Their past actions and teachings could inspire and be a testimony but nothing more.
We should consider one real encounter with ancestors where Jesus was transfigured (transformed) and glorified before some select disciples. (See Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36).
From the Gospel according to Matthew 17:1-8 NLT, we get the following account:
“Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.
Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to Him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” He said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.”
While Jesus was a relatively new person to the Jewish community at large, Moses and Elijah were “superheroes” of the Jewish faith and nation who contributed so much to the richness of their culture. Their influence was so important to the present disciples that kept company with Jesus, that Peter still found it necessary to suggest the building of a memorial to house Elijah and Moses. This was despite the fact that Jesus was the Son of God, exalted in glory before them.
We see that our Father from Heaven responded immediately by declaring that Jesus is His beloved and that believers should LISTEN TO HIM. This voice from heaven caused the men to cower in terror. This declaration by the Father was a powerful one, and authoritative. Jesus is the one whose voice we should give our confidence to – not to the heroes of the past that we love so much. From this account, where the Father made His statement about Jesus – Moses and Elijah disappear and they are left with the most important one of the New Testament – Jesus.
This account becomes a very definitive answer for us as Spirit-filled, New Testament believers – that those heroes and ancestors of the past if they do have a voice, it means very little for us today.
The book of Hebrews 1:1-4 NLT confirms this saying: “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son, He created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and He sustains everything by the mighty power of His command. When He had cleansed us from our sins, He sat down in the place of honour at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave Him is greater than their names.”
God speaks to US through His son. Who wants the word of a dead ancestor when we can have the word of Jesus directly in our lives? Our ancestors pale in comparison to who Jesus was and is. Our ancestors are not God. Jesus is God and the Son of the Father. Our ancestors did not die for us, neither did they rise from the dead for us. Jesus died for us and He also rose again to reign forever at our Father’s right hand. Our ancestors do not cleanse us from sins. Our ancestors are not almighty creators. Why listen to mere humans when we can listen to the Lord God Almighty!
The cloud of Witnesses?
Hebrews 111:1-40 and Hebrews 12:1 the scriptures tell us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, namely the godly ancestors of the past. These are they who have died and have gone on to glory. The Bible clearly states that they are witnesses, NOT messengers.
If God wanted them to help us; if God wanted us to venerate or speak to them to ask them for help; He would have told us to do so. We forget that these witnesses are ordinary spiritual brothers and sisters who have gone before us, who ran the race well. Their example in obedience and faith is what we should follow. Their current voice carries no weight in our lives.
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