There is a rise in Christians exploring indigenous African religions and a lot more people worship ancestors. This can be a touchy subject for a lot of Black American descendants of slavery, but the Lord placed it on my heart to share about it in this episode.
I think a lot of our desire to explore and dabble in different indigenous African religions is based on our desire to be connected to our roots. When I say our, I’m speaking from the lens of a Black American descendant of slavery.
There have been many times when I have met someone and they have asked me where I am from or who my “people” are. Especially Black people from other countries. They’ll ask where I’m from and I’ll say, “oh I’m from Florida” and they’ll look at me like I said I was from Mars or something lol. Eventually they would clarify that they were asking what country is my family from and where my ancestors were born.
The truth is, I don’t know. Slavery did a number on us in that regard. That’s the case for many Black Americans. We have no ties to the culture of the country from where we descended. I really believe that it’s because of this, we try to connect to the continent of Africa as best we know how. One of the main avenues used to try to connect to our ancestry is through tradition. This is why sites like ancestory.com and 23andme are so popular. It gives us a means of connecting to our roots and the traditions of it.
In its biblical and theological usage...
…the word tradition simply means “what is handed on.” The Hebrew word for tradition is paradosis (pa-rah-duh-sis), which means “giving over” it also means “a giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i.e., tradition by instruction, narrative, or precept.”
Since there wasn’t anyone who was able to give over anything to us from African heritage, we try to grab onto what religions we can find that seem to link us to the traditions of our ancestors.
Indigenous African Religions
When it comes to African religions, there are many. There are some religions that were brought to Africa and some religions that originated in Africa.
In this episode I’m focusing on indigenous African religions. And because the religious beliefs and practices of the people on the continent of Africa are wide and varied, I’m going to address them generally and collectively because really, for the purpose of this episode, there is no need to address any of them with specificity.
So insert whatever your favorite or preferred indigenous African religion of choice whether it be Serer of Senegal, the Yoruba of Nigeria and it’s divination system Ifa, or the Akan or Bono of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. I’m referring to all of them.
The reason I can lump them all together is because they all require the worship of a God that is not the God of the Bible. They embrace practices that either are not scriptural or that go against scripture altogether. The worship of these gods is idolatry. Not only that, but scripture tells us that these gods are idols, and these idols are actually demons. If this is the first time you’ve heard this, then I want to encourage you to listen to an episode I released previously that’s titled False Idols.
Following tradition is prime for deception
In the first episode of this exposing deception series, I broke down things that make us susceptible to being deceived. One of those things is blindly following tradition. Tradition was a huge reason why the Israelites and the Pharisees rejected Jesus while he was walking the earth before he was crucified.
The Pharisees and other Israelites rejected Jesus primarily because of their traditional religious beliefs as they were devout practicers of Judaism. In the book of Galations, the Apostle Paul gave his own experience with this, which was eye-opening for me. I randomly stumbled upon it while reading in my quiet time and immediately took some notes so that I could share it with you in this episode. I’m going to read the full text first, then i’ll break it down.
“For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism: I intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me, so that I could preach him among the Gentiles…” Galatians 1:13–16 CSB
In this letter to the church in Galatia...
…the Apostle Paul expressed to them that he was literally trying to destroy God’s church before he was radically encountered by Jesus. The thing is, he was trying to vigorously trying to destroy God’s church, all while thinking that he was doing it on behalf of God. Why? Because the traditions of his religion commanded him to do so, and that religion was the religion of his ancestors.
Paul believed that the gospel was corrupting his ancestral religion. But his religion served a version of God and enforced principles that were not accurate. As a result, Paul ended up in open rebellion against the God he was so desperately and zealously trying to serve. That word zealous means vehemently contending for a thing.
Not only was he persecuting God’s church and trying to destroy, but he was exceptional at it. He was literally a rising star in this area. So much so, that he surpassed his peers in his commitment to and pursuit of the traditions of his Jewish ancestors. Why? Because he was very proud of his heritage and blindly followed the tradition of his heritage. See why this makes a person susceptible to being deceived? Paul wasn’t being led by the Holy Spirit.
Practicing indigenous African religions is no different! Sure they may have been the religions of our ancestors, but that does not make them right. Tradition does not always equal correct.
Tradition in the Bible
Here’s what the Bible has to say about tradition. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 ESV
After the Pharisees asked Jesus why don’t his disci0ples follow the traditions of their ancestors. He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” This scripture further drives home the point that just because it is your tradition and it has been around for over a century or multiple centuries, that does not mean that it is right in the eyes of God. See Matthew 15:3.
When I read that again, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition…” the word “your” kept sticking out to me. “Your tradition.” It’s almost like Jesus was highlighting the fact that they had made these interpretations of the law up and operate in them as if it’s the law of God, when in all actuality, they were breaking God’s commandments by following their made up traditions.
Mark 7:9 gives even more to the rebuke Jesus gave to the Pharisees.
After Jesus told them that they had been abandoning the command of God in order to follow human tradition, He also said to them, “You have a fine way of invalidating God’s command in order to set up your tradition!
The Pharisees had been deceived and were blinded to it the deception because they were following the traditions of their ancestors.
Before I moved on to ancestor worship I want to talk briefly about the spread of Christianity on the continent of Africa.
Spread of Christianity on the Continent
Here’s the thing, more and more people on the continent of Africa are becoming aware of the truth of the origins of their religions and their religious practices. They see that the devil is behind them and they are fighting to break free from generational curses associated with it, as they are now first generation christians. Their warfare is on a different level and they willingly do it because they have come to the knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ.
Christianity has been labeled the religion of oppressors. This is primarily because of the belief that colonizers and enslavers brought the religion to the continent. The truth is that Christianity was brought to the continent centuries before the colonization of Africa and centuries before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Bible gives us a glimpse of one of the moments where someone from the continent is converted to Christianity and it happened in a very supernatural way—with a visitation from an angel.
The conversion of the Ethiopian official
I’m gonna try to give you the cliff notes version. An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples and apostles. This was after Jesus had been crucified. The angel told him to “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So, Phillip gets up and goes and what does he find when he gets to the place the angel told him to go? He finds an Ethiopian man. Not just any Ethiopian man—Phillip finds a high official of the queen of the Ethiopians. A man who was in charge of the queen’s entire treasury. The man had gone to worship in Jerusalem and was sitting in his chariot on his way back home. Of all the things he could have been doing, the Ethiopian man was sitting there reading the book of the prophet Isaiah out loud.
At that point, the Holy Spirit told Phillip to join the man’s chariot and when he gets in Phillip hears the man reading what he KNOWS to be the words of scripture. He asks the man if he understands what he’s reading, and the Ethiopian man was like, “ummm no. how can I understand this unless someone teaches me?” Which a lot of us can relate to when we’re reading the Bible. “Like what is this text actually saying?”
So Phillip told the Ethiopian man the good news about Jesus.
Phillip wasn’t just an apostle, he was also an evangelist. Evangelists have been described as ministers of zeal because hearts turn when people are evangelized. Evangelists are field agents. So Phillip did what evangelists do best and he ministered to the Ethiopian man and the man not only accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior, but he was water baptized.
Now, why is this in the Bible? Why did God want this included? Because remember, the bible is the inerrant word of God. If something is in there, it is because he wanted it to be. So why did He want this in there? That’s something for you to ponder on during your quiet time.
Here’s what it showed me though. It showed me that the spread of the gospel to Africa was intentional, so intentional that God intervened supernaturally and sent an angel to make sure it happened.
As a result, one of the earliest churches in the world was found to have existed in 4th century AD and it was in sub-saharan Africa, in Ethiopia.
Abuse of Christianity
There has been a ton of abuse of the Bible and of Christian principles by men. The people who enslaved Africans in America would use the Bible to justify certain actions and they had to answer for that. But the slavery in the Bible was very different than the version of slavery that came out of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
But none of this negates the truth of Christianity, which is why Christianity is growing on the continent of Africa. I pulled the religious freedom report for Nigeria a few months ago and it showed that only 2% of the population practices an indigenous African religion. The other 98% practice Christianity and Islam. The statistics from the World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett) illustrate the emerging trend of dramatic Christian growth on the continent and even estimates that in 2025 there will be 633 million Christians in Africa.
Meanwhile, Black Americans are exploring traditional African religions that millions of Africans are discovering is faulty.
Alright, I want to briefly touch on ancestral worship and seeing dead ancestors.
I went to my little Bible dictionary to get a good definition for what ancestor worship is. The Holman Bible Dictionary defines ancestor worship as the adoration or payment of homage to a deceased parent or ancestor. This practice is condemned and forbidden and in the Bible. I wanted to bring this up because I see ancestor worship being normalized more and more in subtle ways.
One way that I have seen this come up recently is through the creation of an altar. Some people create altars for their deceased loved ones. This doesn’t necessarily look like an altar in the traditional sense, like a church altar, but that doesn’t make it any less of an altar. But just to paint a picture of what it looks like, it’s an area where objects from the deceased are kept. The purpose is to honor the deceased or to welcome the spirit and nature of the deceased into the atmosphere of the home.
Altars are a place for worship, sacrifice, and offering. It allows a person to express gratitude, reverence, and confession. Often in ancestor worship all three are happening, even if not at the same time. People thank their relative and confess things to them.
Once the altar is created the person worshipping their ancestor will typically do some sort of action around it like praying, meditating, talking to their deceased relatives, or they may just light a candle. This can seem harmless but essentially what it is, is a ritual.
And that person has now made their ancestor their god. They pray to them. They revere them; consult them about decisions and thank them for their guidance during the process. You probably already know where I am about to go with this. Praying to and talking to your deceased relative is idolatry. Scripture tells us that idolators will not inherit the kingdom of God, so this is serious.
Seeing Dead Ancestors
A lot of people see dead people. They see them in their dreams and sometimes while they are awake. Let me be clear, these are NOT the people as you knew them. 99% of the time These are familiar demonic spirits that have usually been in a family for generations, so do not engage with them.
The Bible is crystal clear about God’s position on the dead, about communicating with the dead, and inquiring of the dead.
Scriptures say, “…the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth.” Ecclesiastes 9:5-6
God’s instructions for those who seek to communicate with the dead
- Leviticus 19:31: “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.
- Leviticus 20:6: If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.
A medium is a channel of communication between the earthly world and a world of spirits
Necromancers are people who conjure the spirits of the dead for the purpose of revealing the future or influencing the course of events
God’s position on those who serve as mediums
“A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:27
Rebuke those spirits in the name of Jesus because there is often a demonic spirit of death and the spirit of the grave attached to those familiar spirits you see as your relative in the dream. Rebuke those spirits by name, come out of agreement with whatever they are trying to do, and renounce whatever covenant they try to establish with you.
This is why ancestor worship is dangerous!
The Bottom Line
Here’s the bottom line: “the whole purpose of the Christian life is to be fully identified as a visible and verbal follower of Christ. That means you are constantly being reminded that you must die to any identity that is independent of Christ.” – Tony Evans
Apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 CSB
My identity in Christ is THE most important thing about me. Everything else, and I do mean everything, is second to that. I am a Christian. A born again Believer that happens to be Black.
Yes, I know what it’s like to yearn to have a knowledge of my roots but before all of that I sit in the office of a daughter to the most high God.
So now what? Do you still follow your roots even though they are faulty?
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