Ancestor worship involves religious beliefs and practices consisting of prayers and offerings to the spirits of dead relatives. Ancestor worship is found in many cultures all across the world. Prayers and offerings are made because it’s believed the spirits of ancestors live on in the natural world and are thus able to influence the futures and fortunes of the living relatives. Ancestors’ spirits are also thought to act as mediators between the living and the Creator.
Death was not the sole criterion for being worshiped as an ancestor. The person must have lived a moral life with great social distinction in order to attain that status. Ancestors are believed to influence the lives of later generations by blessing or cursing them, in essence acting as gods. So praying to them, presenting them with gifts, and making offerings are done to appease them and gain their favor.
Evidence of ancestor worship has been found at sites in the Near East in Jericho dating to the 7th century before Christ. It existed in ancient Greek and Roman cultures as well. Ancestor worship has had its greatest influence on Chinese and African religions and is found in Japanese and Native American religions where it’s better known as ancestor reverence.
What does the Bible say about ancestor worship? First, the Bible tells us that the spirits of the dead go to either heaven or hell and do not remain in the natural world (Luke 16:20-31; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-15). The belief that spirits continue to reside on earth after death and influence the lives of others is not scriptural.
Second, nowhere in the Bible are we told that the dead act as intermediaries between God and man. But we are told that Jesus Christ was given that role. He was born, lived a sinless life, was crucified for our sins, buried in a grave, resurrected by God, seen by a multitude of witnesses, ascended into heaven, and sits now at the right hand of the Father where He intercedes on the behalf of those who have placed their faith and trust in Him (Acts 26:23; Romans 1:2-5; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:3-4). There is only one Mediator between God and man, and that is God’s Son, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24). Only Christ can fill that role.
The Bible tells us in Exodus 20:3-6 that we are not to worship any god other than the Lord God. Furthermore, since diviners and sorcerers were thought to be able to contact the dead, they were also expressly forbidden by God (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:32, 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:10-11; 1 Samuel 28:3; Jeremiah 27:9-10).
Satan has always sought to supplant God, and he uses lies about worshiping other gods and even ancestors to try to lead people away from the truth of God’s existence. Ancestor worship is wrong because it goes against God’s specific warnings about such worship, and it seeks to replace Jesus Christ as the Divine Mediator between God and mankind.