There are three very popular festivals in the Philippines that honor Senior Sto. Niño every January – Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Ati-atihan Festival in Aklan and Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo. There are two main thoughts among Christians in the Philippines with regards to these festivities – one celebrates it as part of the cultural heritage of the country, and the other one condemns it as idolatry and paganistic.
Paul wrote in Romans 1:22-23, 25 “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”
What is the central point of these verses? It is foolishness to worship idols, images, or anything, and ascribe the glory of God in these things.
Going back to the feasts and festivals that we celebrate; if it is a cultural and a historical celebration, then there is nothing wrong with it. It is part of our heritage. What is wrong with it is when we start ascribing the power and glory of God in the images, relics and symbols. Those images, relics and symbols should point to God. The moment that they point only to themselves then there is something wrong with it.
Like the Bible; if we ascribe powers to it by drinking the papers in it, using it as pillows to heal our sickness or expecting miraculous powers by touching it, then there is something wrong with it. Like the cross in our churches; if we have the belief that by touching it we receive some divine power, then there is something wrong with it. The cross is there as a visible reminder for all of us that Jesus died for our sins, and He is our savior. If the cross becomes a talisman, then that is idolatry.
Baal worship has led to the downfall of Israel many times in the Old Testament. The worship of idols has violated the first law in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:3-5 says, “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…”
May we use religious symbols to enhance our worship experience, and to point us back to God. Let us not worship religious symbols because it is idolatry, and God is not delighted with it. Let us worship the Creator rather than the created things.