"Taiwan is an animistic society. Most people here are actively involved in worshiping idols, at home, in temples, at shrines. They pray to them, seek guidance through divination, offer sacrifices and truly believe that these idols represent spiritual beings with power to intervene and cause good or harm.
They are not one for one replacements of God since everyone recognises the gods represented have limited powers and sphere of influence. Nevertheless they are treated in many respects the way we are to treat God.
People look to the idols (and the gods behind them) to protect them, provide for their needs, give direction, etc.
At the same time they are still prone to what we would call idolatry of the heart. i.e. they look to money, possessions, love, etc to make them feel good, happy, valuable, etc. So what they are looking for from the physical idols is not actually the same as what people like Keller & Driscoll would say we look for in our functional saviours/idols. In fact their emotional response to the idols is often one of fear or detachment, not love.
They tend to read the passages of idolatry literally since there is a one to one correlation between the biblical context and their own context. And there is a real temptation for even Christians to rely on idols, charms, divination when life gets rough.
As I mentioned, I am not opposed to use idolatry as a useful way of looking at our sins, but at the same time it strikes me that these are not identical….
There is something particularly distressing about seeing people bowing down to idols and this is confirmed in the Bible. Idol filled places like Taiwan also seem spiritually very dark. And I don't think this is just our Western sensibilities or cultural prejudice. We are no less sinful in Australia, but when a people are given over to full fledged idolatry I think there is something degrading and enslaving that we in the Western have been spared from for many generations (but are now returning to).
One of the first things done when a household repents is to rip down the idol shelf. It is quite a celebration. Christians tend to replace this with cross or more often with hanging scrolls with scripture on them.
People know we don't worship idols so they don't find it odd, in fact doing things they find taboo can be a powerful witness to the fact that Christians have all they need in Christ.
If anything, people like the atmosphere of churches and the freedom Christians have. But fear is often a barrier that stops them believing."
-- Phil Nicholson, OMF missionary to Taiwan
The last comment bears repeating: "But fear is often a barrier that stops them believing."
If you look at 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul specifically associated worship of physical idols with demon worship -- in that somehow demons particularly hang around and associate with such altars, idols and temples. That would account for the particular feeling of spiritual darkness mentioned by Phil Nicholson in his above discussion. I think the issue of demonic involvement in idol worship is a major distinction between "heart" idols and literal physical idols and altars. We all sin, and we cannot simply blame lust or greed or hatred on a demon's influence. These sins are closer to home -- "Out of the heart, the mouth speaks." In contrast, I think that in much of idol worship in Taiwan, there is in many cases an added dimension of demonic involvement.
1 Corinthians 10:14-22
"Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger that He?"
The kind of idol worship in Taiwan results in a strong bondage to fear. From what I have seen, people feel the same way about their gods and spirits they worship as a small businessman might feel about organized crime and an extortion racket where if you don't pay the "protection money" then the mafia will cause you trouble and ruin your business. And so the background culture in Taiwan constitute huge walls and barred gates to accepting the Gospel.
Praise be to God that Christ will build his church and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Christians fight with the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. By it we preach the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
1 John 4:18 "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us."
We want to thank again all of you who help send missionaries to Taiwan with your prayers and financial support. People all over the world desperately need to hear the Gospel and put their faith in Jesus.
- Joel H. Linton
(* all scripture quotes are NKJV translation)