A week ago Saturday, Ethan Sanders our favorite American PhD student here, graciously toured us all around Cambridge. As we stood in one particular sacred hall lined with plaques venerating various alumni, Nelson muttered under his breath: “Ancestor worship.” Think about it. If we saw Africans building idols and paying homage to their grandfathers the way we ooh and aah over our heroes of previous generations . . . what would we call that?
On Sunday, Nelson and I attended Saint Andrew the Great (STAG) – a very nice and lively evangelical church. It has vibrant worship with theologically weighty songs and sound exegetical preaching. We thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the service, but lining the walls were plaques commemorating dead saints from the past; one of them is prominently buried right in front of the pulpit.
How many buildings do you know built to keep the memory of our ancestors alive. Living in Washington for nine years, I was regularly awed by our great monuments to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and even Reagan. (Take a moment to reflect on much $$$ has been invested and how far people come from to venerate these ancestors.)
Let me push the point a little closer to home. Many friends of mine can hardly speak a sentence of theology without appealing to the authority of the ancestors: Calvin, Warfied, Hodge, Machen, Van Til? (I guess that betrays where I went to school.) Calvin College anyone? (BTW, that’s not where I went.) Or more broadly: “I’m Lutheran, Weslyan, Warrenian”(wait; he’s not dead yet!;-)
Not the same you say? Maybe you need to take a second look at it from a different perspective. 😉 Shall we fight our own Christianized sychronistic pagan idolatry, or will we ask a few Africans how it is that they “worship” their ancestors. (Hint: many forms of “ancestor worship” are more about keeping the memory of the ancestors alive for a few generations.) Or maybe you’d prefer to keep on calling the African ancestors animistic demons while we . . . ?
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [i.e. dead ancestors], let us . . . (Heb. 12:1).
Here’s a picture of Nelson and Peterat a shrine for Sir Isaac Newton.