Pastoral Perspectives

No Idols Will Remain Standing

Due to my father-in-law’s mobility and health issues, it is difficult for him and his wife to sit through an entire worship service. Nevertheless, we try to help them to grow in their faith in the Lord through various ways. Apart from sharing with them some recordings of Hokkien and Chinese sermons, every time my wife, Sharon visits and wheels her father around the estate, she will take the opportunity to encourage her parents to pray to Jesus and to assure them of God’s steadfast love. 

Having witnessed first-hand the gradual change of their hearts, my wife and I are truly amazed at the way that God works to bring my in-laws unto himself. About three weeks ago, on their own initiative they requested for our help to remove the idol and family altar from their home. To us who have been praying for their salvation, this represents a significant spiritual milestone as they take steps to make a clean break from their former way of life as non-believers.

While we were rejoicing in our hearts over their decision, we were rather surprised by the response of a Christian relative. When she heard about my in-law’s request, she promptly offered to pass us some anointing oil but made no mention of wanting to help us with the removal of idol. Over a couple of WhatsApp messages, we were given this impression that the oil will offer us greater spiritual protection since we are expected be engaged in some intense spiritual warfare in the process of removing the idol and altar.

To be honest, when I first heard about the offer of anointing oil, I was rather bemused. In my mind, I was wondering whether the anointing oil is supposed to be applied on our parents-in-law, on us or on the place where the idol and family altar were once situated. Perhaps it should be for all three? 

This is because I have come across some teachings where Christians are encouraged to use the anointing oil not only on ourselves and our loved ones but also to anoint our car, house and other possessions. According to these purportedly Christian teachers, whatever we anoint is set apart and covered by God’s protection and blessing.

Although these teachers will defend the usage of anointing oil as not superstition and acknowledge that the oil itself has no power, they are also quick to assert that the anointing oil is a symbol of Jesus’ finished work. They will then go on to teach that God will never despise symbols of what Jesus has done and that when a Christian apply the anointing oil with the revelation of what Jesus has accomplished at the cross, the Christian will see God’s power move in their situation. 

In fact, some like Joseph Prince have even gone as far as to claim that in perilous times (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic), God has ordained that Christians be delivered and protected by means of the oil. Therefore, Christians should in the words of Prince, “release our faith and enjoy the benefits that He has promised us”! But if this is true, wouldn’t that mean that some Christians are missing out on God’s blessings if all that we have ever done is to offer sincere prayers unto God? 

As much as the usage of anointing oil is found in both the Old Testament (Exodus 28:41;40:9, 1 Samuel 16:13) and New Testament (Mark 6:13, James 5:14), a careful reading of these passages will help us to understand that the abovementioned teachings have taken things totally out of its proper context. To begin with, there is no mention by Jesus nor the apostles that anointing oil is to be used on our personal possessions or during some trying moments, let alone be understood to offer spiritual protection for believers. To some extent, if a Christian believes that anointing oil is necessary and efficacious for one’s physical and spiritual well-being, then his worldview does not actually differ much from that of a pagan who hopes to ward off evil by wearing an amulet or pasting talismans in his workplace or home. 

Unfortunately, as I have come to discover, this inclination to add something more unto what Jesus has accomplished through his death and resurrection is rather commonplace in certain Christian segment. To some extent, it is reflective of our idolatrous human nature where instead of living by faith in what God has clearly said in the Bible and done through Jesus Christ, we are prone to trust in what we can see, touch or do by ourselves to ensure a good outcome. 

In 1 Samuel 4:1-11 we read about the tragic defeat of Israel who had assumed that God would grant her victory over her enemies simply by bringing the ark of the covenant of the Lord into the battle field. Instead of seeking God and learning from God about how her leaders are to repent of their sins, Israel took matters into her own hands, believing that the presence of the ark itself will save the nation. 

In this episode, we see that Israel had grossly misunderstood the significance of the ark in her life. As much as God had chosen to symbolise his presence through the ark, it was never meant to be reduced to some utilitarian purposes. While it would be right for Israel to be concerned with having God’s presence, it could be said that Israel was treating God’s presence as an object to help them avoid another defeat rather than because she delighted in the person of God. 

Furthermore, it was evident that Israel was looking for God’s presence in the wrong places. When one’s motivations are wrong, even the ark can end up being an idol. In the case of Israel, she failed to defeat her enemies because she had failed to walk rightly before the Lord and not because she failed to bring along the ark into battle. 

Even though we did not bring any anointing oil on the day my wife and I went to remove the idol and family altar, we experienced peace in our hearts and in my in-laws’ home. We took heart that no spiritual forces in this world can ever stop God from delivering people from the kingdom of darkness and bringing them into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14). Indeed, thanks be to God that whatever spiritual strongholds that used to be in my-laws’ life would have already come tumbling down ever since God graciously called them unto salvation in Christ. Even before any drop of anointing oil was ever applied upon them, the blood of Christ that was once shed for their sakes is more than sufficient to save them completely for all of eternity until he comes again.