Ancestors and spirits in the light of Luther’s theology

K Nurnberger


When dealing with ancestor veneration in the church we ought to listen to African spirituality, the biblical witness, the ecclesial tradition and modernity. African spirituality is characterised by remoteness of the Supreme Being, submission to ancestral authority and tight communal cohesion. Ancestor veneration was not an issue in Luther’s time, but it is possible to explore how main tenets of Luther’s theology could be applied to ancestor veneration. The hidden and revealed God: the redemptive intentions of God reassure us in times of adversity, suffering and affliction. Sola Scriptura: the claim of Yahweh eliminated ancestor veneration from the biblical tradition. Solus Christus: God is accessible in Christ and needs no ancestral mediation. Sola gratia: all conditions of acceptance are suspended. Sola fide: faith is trust in God’s promise of a redeemed life. The fruit of the gospel: faith leads to freedom and responsibility rather than submission to authority and fixed codes of conduct. Two aspects of God’s rule: believers take up critical responsibility for social structures including the family. The Lord’s Supper: the crucified Christ is identified with tangible substances so that he can be ritually present for us here and now. Finally, the Lutheran tradition is critiqued from the perspective of African spirituality: a spiritualised gospel, a truncated concept of salvation and passivity.


African spirituality;Ancestor veneration; Freedom and responsibility; Hidden God; Luther’s theology; Ritual presence; Spiritualised gospel

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ISSN 2226-2385 (online); ISSN 0028-2006 (print)

© 2014 Pieter de Waal Neethling Trust, Stellenbosch.

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