Visiting Temples as Christians

First and foremost I want to remind you to read this-our Creed on Culture. To reiterate, we love culture. We love the differences among people, languages, countries and customs.  Also, this is a post to Christians and for Christians. If you are not a Christian, obviously, some of this won't make sense to you, will probably be offensive to you, or you simply will disagree with it. That's totally cool. Maybe you'll still find it interesting. But for Christians, I think this is a topic to consider & something that I know I have wrestled with in the past.
 *** I am not the voice of God. (obviously) nor do I claim to be. These are simply my personal tips, understandings, opinions and beliefs. ***

Being Christians living in Asia we have gone to a million and one temples. And there are probably 100 million and one temples that we have yet to see. Going to so many temples, I've asked myself, "Why?" 

Why visit a temple?
They're Beautiful.
Often times in Asian cities temples are one of THE main attractions of the city. They are labeled on tourist maps & raved about by locals. Most Asian cities have much pride for their temples. This is totally understandable, considering most temples are gorgeous. They are often ornately decorated, bursting with color, and covered in gold. They usually have prime real estate, too. They are usually  atop famous mountains with excellent city, nature or ocean views, placed sea side or river side. Going to a city's temple usually ensures you will get a great view & most of the time temples boast the best picture spots in the city.

They can help you understand other Religions & how they have helped shape a Culture.
Temples usually offer inside peeks at a culture, their beliefs and their way of life. Understanding the predominate religion in each specific county can really help you understand the people and why they do some of the things they do. Why are there so many stray dogs running around Thailand? Why are  abortions so common in China? Why do Chinese people drink hot water so often? Why do the Japanese and Chinese often look away if someone is in trouble? Why are their crosses all over Korea's skyline? All of these cultural questions can be answered by looking at the religious beliefs that have helped shape people's thinking in the past and today. 

They can help you understand a countries' history.
So many of the temples we have seen in Asia have been there for hundreds sometimes thousands of years. Walking in to many temples is like walking in to a preserved fossil. The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is a great example of how a temple can teach you about the history of a country. 

They can help you connect with others.
I love and care about my Buddhist friends. If their faith is important to them, I want it to be important to me, too. Visiting temples and asking questions can help me better understand what my friend believes & what's important to her. If I love her, I will care about what she believes. That doesn't mean that I have to believe it or even that I think it's true, it just means that I love her and respect her thoughts and beliefs.

They help you see the world's longing for God.
Temples have shown me that people long for purpose, meaning, value and love. They long to be held in the midst of this huge Universe. They long to know God. Not all people there long for that. But every so often, I can really see on a person, that they are longing for God. They want to know Him. There in a temple, when I see that, I have this unique opportunity to pray for them. I can pray that God increase that hunger and that they find Him in Jesus.

Knowing why I go to temples is important, but knowing HOW to go in to temples is equally important to me.
How to go to a temple?
Not as in, how to get there by bus, car, train or boat etc, but how as in, how in my heart.
Go Humbly & Respectfully.
When visiting someone elses' place of worship it is important to go humbly and respectively. Take off your shoes, cover up your arms and legs, stay quiet, don't take photos. Follow the rules of respect while in a temple. Do this out of love for your neighbor, your fellow man. I don't take off my shoes out of respect for the idol. I take off my shoes in respect of the people there, whom I love. 

Stay true to your convictions & the Word.
I will take off my shoes, wash my hands and feet, stay quiet, whatever I need to do to be respectful that does not compromise my faith or go against my conviction. I will not bow to an idol. I will not kneel and pray before an idol. I will not burn incense either. Anything you do in a temple has to be with in your convictions & commitment to the Lord. If for some reason you feel very strongly about not taking your shoes off in a temple, don't go to a temple that asks that of you.

Go Prayerfully.
 When going into a temple Zachary and I always try to go prayerfully. We pray for the people we see. I especially pray for the people I see praying and children there. I pray for the people praying that they may know Jesus, someway, somehow, through their prayers. We often pray out loud. The Bible says that where two or more are gathered in my Name, there I will be. I think the Spirit is there, even in the temple. But even with that being said, temples can be very spiritually heavy places, too, so as I mention further down, go prayerfully on guard.

Go Worshipful.
My goodness at some of these places that a temple is located, it is hecka gorgeous. I can totally see why people in the past have thought to put alters there because you look at some of these places and they just shout glory be to God. They're beautiful! When we go to temples, we praise God. When we go into beautiful caves, with idols everywhere, we praise God for the beauty of the caves. Where ever we are, even surrounded by city walls, we praise Him. 

Go with Open Eyes.
When we go into temples, we want to always go with open eyes. I don't want to be distracted by the bursts of color, huge statues or tons of people taking pictures. I don't want to forget that this is a place of worship, spiritually dark and in need of light. I want to remember where I am. I don't want for one minute to view what's before me as strictly cultural or a tourist sight. These places are spiritual and filled with spiritual things. I want to see those things & pray for Jesus to come. 

Go on Guard.
Again, remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood. We are not only flesh but spiritual. There is spiritual warfare going on in those places. Go on guard. Ask the Lord to protect you. To keep your mind fixed on Him. If you are sensitive to spiritual things, temples will probably be really difficult places for you. Remember to be constantly in prayer.

Go, Listening. 
 Always, always, listen to the Spirit inside of you who leads you, whispers to you, gives you wisdom and reminds you of the words of God. There have been times that I have felt sick outside of temples or felt sick when I saw an idol. Those times, I don't care about culture or seeing this sight. I care about following the wisdom God has placed with in me and about following how the Spirit is leading me. I don't have to figure out why I feel that way, I just have to trust that the Spirit is using my body to show me what I shouldn't do and where I shouldn't go. Only God knows why some temples have been okay but other ones have not been. I could speculate about spiritual strong holds or God simply giving me opportunities to practice listening & obeying to Him, but I won't. I'll leave the why with God. I must simply obey. In Chiang Mai, Zachary had spent some time with the Lord one morning and felt very heavy for all the people & alters he saw around him. He spent some time in prayer over people we came in contact with. Later that day we ended up going to Chiang Mai's most famous temple, Doi Sutep. Because Zachary had felt such a heavy spirit earlier that morning, he knew he'd rather stay outside and pray. So, that's what he did while I went in and looked around.
Nothing is worth compromising your conviction, disobeying God, or making yourself feel uncomfortable. Trust me, nothing is worth it. I can think of the most beautiful temples we've seen, with the most beautiful views, and even those were not worth it. Don't worry! You will not miss anything. 
Do you often visit temples? What is it like for you? Do you have any other suggestions? Or any other reasons why visiting a temple is a good thing?

**As a side note, we also don't buy anything from temples that is related to idols or idol worship, small statues, paintings with Buddhist verses, etc. because we are very cautious and careful about what we put in our house. I know for each person there is a different conviction and standard, this is just what we feel strongly about.***
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Darla said...

what a lovely post! I love how you respect other cultures and religious practices. I am a Christian and I have studied other religions on purpose to get an accurate perspective and it helps me to understand so much. I would be just like you visiting the beautiful temples. What an experience.

The Rachael Way said...

Great post! As a Christian, living in China has been interesting for sure. In fact, one of my kids asked me "What's the Bible?" and it literally broke my heart (I'm a teacher). Great insight on how we as Christians should act in temples.

Beka @ Sunshine to the Square Inch said...

Thanks for sharing all of this!

I have lived in Korea and now live in Myanmar. I always have mixed feelings when I visit a temple. It is interesting to see the beauty within the temples and the creativity that God gives people but it breaks my heart to see them praying so devoutly to a god that can't hear them.

I always want to run and tell them about Jesus but I know that is NOT the approach to use.

One time we were at a huge reclining Buddha in Yangon and a man approached us. I just knew that we were to tell him about Jesus. I started talking to him and lo and behold he asked if we were Christians. He said he had read the Bible 3 times but couldn't figure out how to connect into that spiritual world. So there were, at a a temple, sharing Christ with a Buddhist who was seeking! It was truly a miracle.

My husband and I don't go to all the temples but when we do go to them we sure do have mixed feelings.

Yvonne Au said...

Thank you so much for this post! I'm about to travel to Thailand and Myanmar soon and is feeling uneasy, torn about whether it's ok to plan seeing temples in Myanmar, basically just not sure what to do so I googled to see whether any fellow Christians have some words of wisdom and advice and here I am! Very helpful tips which puts me at ease and a good reminder that at the end, whatever happens, all we need is Him and prayers.

Natalie Sapsford said...

Thank you for your guidance! My husband and I are heading to Ubud in Bali for the first time and we really hadn't put much thought into visiting temples as Christians until I started doing a bit more research into what to visit while there. I have always been very sensitive spiritually so with your information I feel a lot more at ease :) Thanks!

swirlyJEER said...

I'm currently staying here in Thailand for three weeks now. Our company has sent us here to support our fellow Thai counterparts. During weekends, we go to temples particularly in Ayuttaya. I must say, the temples are really amazingly crafted even they are just the ruins. Like the other comments, I share the same lament about how heartbreaking it is for a Christian to see people kneeling and bowing down to a lifeless idol. I prayed for them. I pray for them to know Jesus. After work today, we'll be heading for Chiang Rai to see the White Temple. It's stunningly amazing when it comes to its design and architecture. In my heart, I know, that all of this temple, nothing still compares to the Temple we know of. Jesus is Lord over all these temples.

Amanda Morris said...

Thank you so much for this article! It is exactly the insight I was looking for. I will be traveling to Japan this fall with my husband and 10yo girl, and I'm sure we will visit some temples. This helps me prepare personally and helps me know how to teach my daughter about the temples.

My husband and I traveled to Thailand many years ago and visited temples. I too had no issue with taking off my shoes to enter (I really like your explanation of respecting others there and not the idol). When we were on a tour, the tour guide knelt and suggested we did too, as she explained the temple; I did not feel comfortable kneeling so I respectfully declined. The tour guide had no problem with me not kneeling. Your article helps me realize the connection of not worshiping idols and to pray for the people there who want to connect with God. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Very knowledgeable words.. Was just fixed in a situation with what to do was called to visit idols by a friend and couldn't refuse either and this article really made me feel lighter and better and I believe God protects his children wen they r living in midst of other religion ppl. And our conviction remaining strong in such situations will lead us to not worry about guilt of visiting idols.

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