Here in Malaysia, many Christians fear that idols, pictures of dragons, phoenixes, etc. have evil spirits behind them. I think that these beliefs are based on Chinese traditional beliefs and are contradictory to Scripture, as well as harmful for our Christian testimony.
For example, some Christians
fear their family's religious altars might cause them demonic harm,
and in exhibiting that fear, cause non-Christians to think our God is
not so powerful. Many people have, after becoming Christians, destroyed
valuable antiques just because they happen to have dragons and
decorating them – and hence needlessly giving some non-Christians
more excuses to ridicule Christ. In many cases, people destroy clothes
and household items that have images of dragons and phoenixes on them,
even though nobody has worshipped those items, and there is no way for
a non-Christian to make the mistake of thinking that the Christian
That said, I have to also keep
in mind 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Now about food sacrificed to idols:
We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love
builds up." I want to be careful to say this in love and not in
a "pride in my own knowledge" manner that will end up being more
harmful than beneficial.
There are many injunctions
in Scripture that speak against worshipping idols. I have no
quarrel with that. But let us examine passages that talk about the
nature of idols:
"Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up'' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."
This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good."
All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy.
The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he
it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
The carpenter measures with
a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with
and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man
in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down
cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the
of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is
fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles
a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the
fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his
fill. He also warms himself and says,
"Ah! I am warm; I see the fire." From the rest he makes a god, his
idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says,
"Save me; you are my god."
They know nothing, they
understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one
stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
"Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I
roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is
left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes, a
heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say,
"Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?"
There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.
But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
The tone of all these passages
is one of derision, not of fear. The idol is portrayed as nothing. In
the New Testament, we see, indeed, that Paul also says in 1 Corinthians
8:7 "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to
we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world,
and that there is no God but one."
Hence, the reason that Paul
advised people not to eat food offered to idols was not because there's
any power in idols, but in order not to cause someone to stumble.
(1 Corinthians 8:7-13.)
Therefore, there is nothing
to fear from the presence of a picture of a dragon or phoenix, statues
of Kuan Yin, Ang Kong, or Buddha, or a Chinese calendar in the house,
except for the caution that it might stumble someone. This is why I
have no objections to my parents' statues in display cases – they
are clearly shown as objects of artwork, and not as shrines of
Yes, demons are real, and demons
do possess people, especially if the person has opened himself up to
demonic influence by playing with the occult. But a believer who
worship any idols should have no fear of idols. We should only be
not to cause a weaker brother to stumble.
Chinese traditional belief
teaches that the soul of the ancestors reside in the ancestral tablets
and altars. This is very similar to the belief of many
Christians' belief that evil spirits are present in idols.
As we have seen from the passages
above, the Bible clearly teaches that idols are mere objects – works
of human hands that have no power. If you as a Christian think they
have power, you must seriously ask yourself, "Did my beliefs in this
matter come from the Bible, or from non-Christian Chinese beliefs?"
"But wait," some may say,
"how come in 1 Samuel 5 the idol of Dagon fell down before the Ark
of the Covenant? Doesn't that prove that there is a demon inside that
statue that was forced to worship God in the Ark?" Why should we
there is a demon in the idol of Dagon? Can God not cause a statue to
topple over, demon or no demon? If idols were really houses for demons,
why did all the other passages talk of idols in the derisive manner
Another person may say "God
puts His special presence on the Mercy Seat of the Ark. Demons imitate
God. Doesn't that mean demons would inhabit idols?" Just because
demons sometimes imitate God does not mean they can do everything God
can do. In fact, we know for a fact that they cannot do
God can do. Scripture talks of demons as inhabiting people, and in one
occasion, pigs. I know of no Scripture talking about demons inhabiting
idols (if you know of any, do let me know), yet I know of many passages
that talk of idols as just dumb inanimate objects.
In his book A Biblical Approach
to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs, Pastor Daniel Tong from
The idea that demons
reside in idols gives us cause for alarm, and indeed many have gone
about destroying idols for fear that if they did not, the spirits would
somehow cause them harm.
...Note that this thinking
is not in line with the teaching of the Bible and only serves to give
the wrong impression that the devil is very powerful, while our God
and we, the children of God, are weak. The teaching that evil
spirits reside in idols is an animistic perspective not supported or
encouraged by the Bible, which holds clearly to the perspective that
idols are nothing but the work of our own hands.
this frees us from the fear of being confronted with and attacked by
demons every time we encounter an idol.
The Bible teaches that
when people make offerings to idols, they are, in fact, making
to the demon/s behind the idol (1 Corinthians 10:20). That is
to say, the image of the idol serves merely as camouflage to deceive
a person into worshipping the devil, something most would not
...When a person is
caught up in the worship of the devil in this way, these disguises
for that person an idol, as he sells his
"soul" in worship to the devil. Which brings us to the point that
it is precisely our worship that the devil is after
and if we understand this, we understand that demons are not
present in idols but in the hearts and lives of all who bow down in
worship to those idols. Idols are nothing. The focus of our worship
I see a lot of harm done by
this fear of idols, dragons, phoenixes, etc, which, as I have described
above, I believe is un-Biblical and derived from Chinese traditional
beliefs rather than from God's Word. Remember that "greater is
He who is in you than He who is in the world" (1 John 4:4.)
Some people argue that while
idols are made of inanimate matter, people worshipping them will give
demons the "right" to inhabit them. I don't think this is Biblically
sound, but even if it were, it still does not mean that just because
an item has a picture of a dragon or phoenix on it that it therefore
means that a demon inhabits it.
1 Corinthians 10:25-28
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' — the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?
We can eat meat that has been
offered to idols without question, as long as it won't cause someone
to stumble. In the original context, the Pagan saying, "This has been
offered in a sacrifice," meant he was basically telling you, "Come
and participate in my worship of my idol." That was why the Christian
should not eat it for the sake of the other man's conscience: the
Christian was free to eat the food and no harm would have come to him.
However, he might have caused the Pagan to stumble because he would
have thought that the Christian was participating in worshipping his
god, and no longer faithful to Christ.
So there's nothing wrong
with the meat. We're neither better nor worse off if we eat it (1
Corinthians 8:8). Some people say, "Just say grace before eating any
food that may have been offered to idols and you'll be fine," as
if saying grace would "disinfect" it of demons (or germs)! But that
is not what the Bible teaches.
A similar application can be
made to clothing and other items with phoenixes and dragons on them.
Some people fear that just because there is printed on a bowl a picture
of a phoenix or dragon. We have already shown that there is no reason
to fear idols, and this is even less than an idol. "But someone may
have dedicated that bowl to a demon before!" Firstly, these items
are mass-produced in factories, so it's unlikely that anyone has used
them in idol worship. But secondly, even if they had been used in idol
worship, so what? The principle from eating meat offered to idols
here. If it is not likely to cause anyone to stumble, go ahead and use
In fact, sometimes not
eating will cause someone to stumble. How many parents have thought
that Christianity was against respect for parents and family unity
their Christian sons or daughters suddenly refuse to participate in
the family meal because the food may have been offered to the
Yes, I know, some parents have
adapted, because as the child continues to show respect and love, they
have become reconciled and will even provide a "non-offered-to-idols
plate" for the Christian. But I also know of others who have been
unnecessarily pushed away from Christ by such actions. Remember the
principle in Scripture is "do not cause someone else to stumble."
The offence of the Cross is enough – let us not add unnecessary
to hinder people from coming to Christ!
I hope this has been helpful. As I said before, I am very cautious that I don't become one whose knowledge has puffed me up, but rather one who is sharing the truth in love.
1. Appendix D: Images of Worship, A Biblical Approach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs, Daniel Tong, Genesis Books, Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, Singapore, 2003.