Pastor: Kneeling Down and Bowing by Christians at Funerals Is Not Idol Worship

A picture of purple flowers in the church cemetery
A picture of purple flowers in the church cemetery (photo:
By Christine Lau October 11th, 2023

Some Christians are discussing whether it is appropriate for believers to kneel down (kowtow) and bow at funerals and whether it diminishes the glory of God when they display pictures of deceased family members at home.

Pastor Shen, who has over 20 years of pastoral experience in a church in North China, shared cases he encountered in his ministry and explained how he helped believers navigate these "ritual disputes."

Kneeling down or bowing at funerals is not the same as idol worship. Pastor Shen pointed out, "An idol is something you idolize or deify. For example, some people believe that wearing a cross necklace can ward off evil or that placing a Bible by their bedside can prevent nightmares. These are acts of idolizing something and hoping to gain benefits from it, which fall into the category of idol worship."

However, if Christians kneel to show respect and filial piety for their deceased loved ones during a funeral, it does not mean they are worshiping them as if they are God. This does not constitute idol worship, he continued.

Pastor Shen also mentioned that wearing mourning clothes and displaying mourning symbols was a way to express grief and was not idol worship. But practices like burning paper offerings were indeed superstitious and idolatrous.

A male believer had a deceased family member, and according to their hometown customs, kneeling down during the funeral was a must. However, this Christian wanted to discuss with his family whether he could skip this ritual. But his family strongly disagreed and threatened to disown him, saying, "If you don't kneel down, we will kick you out and cut ties with you." In light of this situation, he sought Pastor Shen's help.

The pastor asked him, "If you are on your knees during the ritual without truly worshiping the deceased as God and you don't have a guilty conscience about it, then such a choice is permissible. This way, you can live harmoniously with your family and also bear witness to the word of God."

Pastor Shen also cited the story of the priest, Ahimelech, giving the consecrated bread to David. According to the law, the showbread was holy, and only the priests were allowed to eat it. However, God still allowed David and his followers to eat it. He said, "God judges people based on their motives."

Additionally, Shen mentioned that many believers had condemned those who chose to kneel down at funerals or keep pictures of deceased family members as a reminder, and some believers had even refused to associate with them. He added that many Christians who had experienced such situations had been hurt and tempted and eventually dared not go to church anymore.

"Everyone's experiences and understanding are different, and their lives are different," Shen said. "We cannot forcibly impose our own understanding and standards on others, nor can we condemn them. We should treat believers at different stages of faith according to their faith. If some Christians cannot reach your level of faith and do not have the same faith as you, we should accept them and not condemn them."

"Some Christians have deceased family members and do not want to kneel down. Therefore, it is excellent to communicate with their families first and seek their understanding and forgiveness. However, for some people who are afraid to discuss it with their families, cannot reach an agreement after discussing it, and ultimately choose to kneel down at the funeral, or some others feel compelled to follow customs, we should not condemn these individuals but should seek to understand them," he concluded.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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