This is the time of the spring when many begin planning out summer vacations, and it raises the question over whether or not Christians should visit the touristy shrines of other active religions. Samuel is the listener who writes in to ask it. “Pastor John, can Christians who travel abroad visit the shrines and temples of other religions? Countries like India, China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand have places of worship that are culturally filled with wonderful art and history. One argument says it’s a great way to learn more about the culture, as long as we don’t participate in the rituals. However, another argument says that a Christian should stay far away from idol worship and demonic activity, and should not give even passive acceptance to a false god. This issue can be extended to visiting Mormon temples in Utah, or more controversially, Roman Catholic cathedrals and basilicas in Europe.” Pastor John, what would you say to Samuel?
I think this is a very appropriate question to ask. I wish more Christians were thoughtful enough and discerning enough and spiritually concerned enough to even ask the question, instead of just letting their American tourist role or their artistic role or their wanderlust control their feelings and thoughts so that they do that thing without even asking those kinds of questions. I think that’s really good that he is asking it.
“Visit shrines to magnify the greatness of Christ and the truth of God and the glory of his way of salvation.”
We are to do everything we do for the glory of God and in the name of Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). It is a sign of terrible cultural captivity and spiritual obliviousness if a Christian can go to a shrine of another religion and not feel both the heartbreak at the millions who are deceived by this religion and caution about the supernatural demonic powers of deception. It worked in their religion. All of these things are massively real, and to treat them lightly just because we’re having a vacation is a sign of serious spiritual superficiality. I love Samuel’s question. Here are some questions that I would be asking myself in order to decide where to go, and where not to go, and how to go if I go, and if I must decide whether to go to some shrine at all.
1. More important than the mere geographical going is what you believe and love and feel as you go. What are your motives in going? How have you prepared yourself spiritually for going? about the religion and the harm that it has done, say, the way Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism has led billions of people into everlasting suffering apart from God? Do you know that? Do you believe that? Do you feel that? Do you know why that is, why the religion is so destructive? Do you care? Is that part of your decision-making process, or do you just consider that irrelevant? The answer to those questions will prepare you to see things in the proper light if you choose to go.
2. Another question I would ask is, What are you required to do while you are there? Do they require tokens of respect or even honor that would compromise your allegiance to the Lord Jesus?
3. I would ask, Have you given thought to the various levels of demonic activity that might influence you? My own sense is that there are some active temples and shrines which are so dense with demonic activity that you would need to be a fairly strong Christian with your devil-resisting guard up in order not to be negatively influenced.
“Use discernment and your freedom in Christ as you examine artifacts of unbelief and common grace.”
4. What will you do? What will you say about what you saw there when you leave? I think that’s a huge question about the profitableness of going. In other words, will you simply absorb it and go on your life giving naïve tribute to pagan strengths, art strengths, building strengths? Or, will you discern how Christ is dishonored there and how God is distorted there and how the way of salvation is nullified there, and will you write something or say something? I’m just thinking an email to friends or a blog, letter, or something to a Sunday school class so that it becomes an opportunity to magnify the greatness of Christ and the truth of God and the glory of his way of salvation. Will you simply just fit the experience into your life as something normal, or will you take it as an extraordinary opportunity to glorify Jesus?
Let me give you an example. In the last several years, I visited both the Vatican in Rome, including the Sistine Chapel, and the third-largest mosque in the world in the United Arab Emirates: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. In both cases, I tried to turn those experiences — which, of course, were very impressive because the sheer size of those institutions, as well as the evidences of remarkable human skill — I tried to turn those experiences into opportunities to testify to the truth of God and Christ by speaking or writing about the nature of God revealed on the walls in the mosque and the nature of salvation and of Catholicism as revealed in the artwork in the Vatican.
5. In the final suggestion that I’ll make, I want to ask, Should you just go on talking about wonderful art, great art without any qualification when that art is the product of profound unbelief and eternally destructive false teaching is growing out of it? Does that make a difference?
In other words, in all of our conversations with people over dinner, when we come home from this trip, are we just going to gush about the greatness of the pagan artworks without any sense of brokenheartedness that such remarkable God-given human skill can be prostituted for the sake of destructive error?
"More important than if you should visit religious shrines is why you want to visit them."
They just leave that out so that doesn’t matter at all — just talk about great art and wonderful art. So many people do that about greatness in the world with no thought about, “Really, isn’t there a downside to the greatness of Hitler’s leadership?”
Those are some of my thoughts about how we should use our freedom in Christ as we move among the artifacts of unbelief and the artifacts of common grace in this world, which we are always doing, not just when we visit temples.