“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” [Col. 2:8]
ONE PROMINENT feature of a religion in the Philippines is the veneration of the Sto. Niño. Although many are questioning its practice, different people use different arguments to justify it. In the text that heads, the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle, commands us to be very careful of deceptive arguments that are according to the traditions of men rather than according to Christ. And elsewhere, we are commanded to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” [1 Thes 5:21,22]. In addition, Jesus said, “And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a pit. [Mt 15:14]”.
The following common are arguments used to justify the veneration and worship of the Sto. Niño:
The sin of idolatry has exclusively to do with the worship of other gods. But the image of the Sto. Niño is a representation of Jesus who is God. Therefore, the worship of the Sto. Niño is not idolatry.
In response to this argument, there are two things to consider:
1. To say that the image of the Sto Niño represents Jesus is devious or dishonest.
For does anyone really believe that Jesus who rose from the grave and ascended into heaven is accurately represented by the image of the Sto. Niño? Jesus, now in heaven, is a grown up man! So how can the image represent the Lord Jesus?
Furthermore, if the image is a representation of Jesus why then are there many different kinds of Sto. Niño. There is chinese-looking Sto Niño called the, “Sto Niño de Chino” Another is a patron of the brown race called “Sto Niño de Nigro del Mundo.” There is also a European – looking Sto Niño dressed like a member of an 18th century French cavalier regiment. There is also a Sto. Niño who is a boy fisherman with a fish in his hand. He is also represented as a boy shepherd; a boy shoe maker; a boy emperor; and a host of many others. So which of these represent the Lord Jesus?
In addition, if the image is just a representation of Jesus, then why do people give greater honor to one image above the other? Everybody knowns that the Sto. Niño on the dash board of many a jeepney is given very little care and attention. But others are greatly revered.
2.To say that idolatry has to do exclusively with the worship of other gods is also empty deception. The bible makes it clear that even making & using representation of God is idolatry!
This is clear in the 10 Commandments God gave at Mount Sinai. The first commandment forbids the worship of any other gods – “You shall have no other gods before Me”. [Exodus 20:3]. But coming right after that, is the second commandment which may have omitted. And that commandment forbids making or using representations in the worship of God. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I am the Lord your God, am a jealous God” [Exo. 20:4&5a].
The plain meaning of this commandment is confirmed in God’s admonitions to the nation of Israel prior to their entrance to the land of Canaan. God said through Moses, “Watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire” [Deut.4:15]. Now why did God not appear to them in any form? Because God was afraid of something the people might do. Thus, God further said through Moses, “lest you act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth”[Deut 4:16-18]. God knew that the people had that sinful tendency to make representations of Him in violation of His second commandment. Therefore, the Lord will not appear to them in any form.
Furthermore, the violation of this commandment is clearly illustrated in the sin of the Israelites by making a golden calf. Why did the people make a golden calf? Not that they might worship other gods. But they wanted a representation of God! This is clear in Exodus 32. After making the golden calf, Aaron said, “This is your god, O Israel – who brought you out from the land of Egypt”[Ex.32:4]. In other words, that image was intended to represent God who brought the people out of Egypt with signs and wonders. In addition, Aaron said to the people after the golden calf was finished, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord” [Ex.32:5]. The celebration the people made was intended for the Lord.
How did God react to this? The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought out from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, & have worshipped it” [Exo 32:7&8]. Moreover, God said, “I have seen this people, & behold, they are an obstinate people”[Ex.32:9].
Therefore, even to make representations of God is idolatry. It is a sin against the Lord. “But what about the brazen serpent that God commanded the people to make in the wilderness?” First, it must be emphasized that the brazen serpent was not a representation of God. Moreover, what happened to that brazen serpent? We read in the scriptures, “He,” King Hezekiah, “did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to what his father David had done. He removed the high places & broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah (w/c were the common paraphernalia of idolatrous worship). He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it” [1 Kng 18:3&4]. That bronze serpent was never made to be a representation of God, nor was it ever intended to become an object to be worshipped. Thus, by destroying it, King Hezekiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord.
But what about the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ God commanded Moses to make in the wilderness? First, it needs to be stressed that there was no representation of God in the Ark of the Covenant. There were 2 cherubims covering the “mercy seat.” But there was no representation of God in it (please read Ex. 25:10-22). In addition, that ark was never to be seen by the people. It is always to be covered. For anyone who would look at it would die! (Pls. read Num 4:5,6; 1 Sam 6:19). Therefore, to use the Ark of the Covenant as a way to justify the use of representations of God is a desperate effort to try to find support in the Bible for a practice God condemns.
So the use of the image of Sto. Niño is nothing but sheer idolatry. It is a gross violation of God’s command ment. It is displeasing to God & stirs up His holy anger!
All miracles come from God. And the Sto. Niño is known to perform miracles. Therefore, the Sto Niño is God – approved.
- It is claimed that pagan idols perform miracles. That is why they are venerated. So there is nothing peculiar different about the Sto. Niño from those pagan idols.
- The supposed miracles of the Sto. Niño do not fit the biblical characteristics of a miracle. For one thing, they are trivial and are not undeniably convincing. Biblical miracles are of such that they could not be denied to be real miracles even by sceptics and critics. Thus even those who vehemently opposed Jesus Christ could not deny the factuality of the miracles He performed. We read in John 11:47, 48 what the Pharisees and the chief priest in a council said, “What are we doing? For this Man (Jesus Christ) is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
- The Bible clearly teaches that God allows counterfeit miracles to occur in judgment on those who refuse to believe the truth God has revealed. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, speaking of the Anti-Christ, says, “that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, & with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send them a deluding influence so that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2 Thess. 2:9-11).
The use of the image of the Sto Niño only serves as a gradual transition from paganism to Christianity. It serves only as a link or bridge.
When the Spaniards came, they found the Filipinos wedded to pagan practices. Therefore, they could not just introduce Christianity righ away. A link was needed and since the Filipinos were already worshipping ‘anito’ gods, the Sto Niño served as a convenient link or bridge.
In response to this argument often used by the educated, there are three things to examine:
- If the practice serves only as a link, then why are there no efforts being made to get rid of the practice? Everybody knows that in Cebu, it is being zealously promoted yearly through the “sinulog” celebrations. And the “(Roman Catholic) priests” do not preach against the practice. They encourage the people to be zealous for it.
- It must be understood that the end never justify the means. No matter how good and noble the end we have in view, we are never at liberty to use any means which is clear violation of God’s commandments. Never! Those who justify the use of the image on the grounds of that the end justifies are saying that they are wiser than God! They are saying that somehow God is wrong in forbiding the use of imgaes because it is the most convenient link between paganism and Christianity. Blasphemy!
- The method of approach used by the Apostles in evangelizing pagan societies was entirely different from the method used by the Spaniards. A careful reading of the New Testament clearly proves this. Please read: Acts 14:8-18; 17:16-31; 19:23-41; 1 Thes. 1:9,10.
The devotion to the image of the Sto Niño particularly during its annual festival is a great boost to the economy.
It greatly helps the government’s efforts to boost tourism. Besides, it helps vendors make a living by selling these images. So, why make a fuss about it?
Now what about this argument?
Well, no doubt that the devotion to the Sto. Niño does help economically. But how does God view those who make religion as a means of material gain? God abominates it. He hates it.
This is clear in the two episodes where the Lord Jesus cleanced the temple in Jerusalem – that temple which was part of the Old Covenant worship. We read, “And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seat of those who were selling doves.” [Mt.21:12]. Please read also John 2:13-17.
The image of the Sto. Niño is a matter of national identity and pride.
It makes Christianity in the Philippines distinctively Filipino. If we do away with it, then we destroy our cultural identity. But what does Scriptures say about this argument? Proverbs 14:13 reads, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” The use of the image is not a matter of pride but of shame!
Besides, the Scriptures tell us of the frightening consequence of those who practice idolatry. God in wrath will abandon any nation which practices idolatry – sexual uncleanness, sexual perversity, and callousness of heart. Please read Romans 1:18-32.
My dear reader, if you agree with those who approve of the use of the image of the Sto Niño & even go along with it, then you’ve been carried away by vain philosophy and empty deception. This practice is sin against God Almighty. And I urge you to repent of it and turn to the risen Christ for salvation. For those who continue in this practice will be cast into the lake of fire. As Rev 21:8 puts it, “but for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and socerrers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
But if you are one who is a true disciple of Christ, a true christian, then stay away from festivities in honor of the Sto. Niño. As we are exhorted in 1 Cor. 10:14, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry”. Let us never soften our stand against this abominable practice, but let us be bold to declare to the people their sins.
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