{13}     Culture: Christianity and Chinese Culture

53.            Do we need to reject Chinese culture when we become a Christian?

     Culture is set of characteristics in life shared by a group, including attitudes, values, goals, and practices. There is no divinely ordained culture—no culture can claim that it is the culture preferred by God. A Christian does not need to reject his culture if it does not contradict with Christianity.

     Christianity and traditional Chinese culture are similar in many important ways so few Chinese cultural features do Christians need to reject. However, some attitudes in Chinese culture are not fully compatible with Christian attitudes. In addition, some superstitious beliefs in Chinese culture are contrary to Christianity and should be rejected.

54.            Are characteristics of Chinese culture different from Christianity?

A.  Attitudes towards Self: (1) Emphasis on morality based on conscience: similar to Christianity. However, Christianity teaches that man is unable to reach God’s standard. (2) Emphasis on virtues: similar to Christianity.

B.  Attitudes towards Interpersonal Relationships: (1) Harmony as the highest good: similar to Christianity. However, Chinese sometimes cover and ignore interpersonal problems while Christianity encourages resolution of problems through love. (2) Importance of dignity and avoidance of embarrassment: somewhat different from Christianity. Christianity encourages repentance and admission of errors. (3) Avoidance of deep emotional involvement: different from Christianity. While Chinese culture de-emphasizes emotions, Christianity encourages deep and genuine fellowship.

C.  Attitudes towards the Community: (1) Family and community more important than the individual: similar to Christianity. Christianity teaches one to put others above oneself. (2) Respect of elders, filial piety: similar to Christianity. (3) Submission to authorities: similar to Christianity.

D.  Attitudes towards the Society: (1) Male domination: somewhat different from Christianity. While Christianity also emphasizes male headship in the family, it also encourages equality of sexes. (2) Favoring uniformity: somewhat similar to Christianity. Christianity also encourages unity. However, this unity is based on truth, not just consensus. (3) Emphasis on independence, not asking for help unless absolutely necessary: different from Christianity. Chinese rarely disclose their own problems, such as health problems or family conflicts. In contrast, the Christian church is one body and Christians are to help each other in all aspects of life.

E.  Attitudes towards the World: (1) Clear dichotomy of good and bad: similar to Christianity. However, Chinese morality is based on tradition and society while Christian morality is based on God’s commands. (2) Distrust of foreigners: different from Christianity. Christianity emphasizes treating other ethnic groups the same.

F.   Recent Changes:

     Today, under the communist government, many Chinese become selfish and start to think only for their own good. As a result, traditional harmony and courtesy are no long a rule. To get ahead in their education and their career, they sometimes use unethical means. Corruption frequently occurs. The “post-80 generation” becomes the “me” generation. These attitudes are different from traditional attitudes and certainly contrary to the Christian ideal.

G.  Conclusion: Traditional Chinese moral standards are in most ways similar to Christian morality, such as personal virtues and sexual ethics. However, some attitudes originated from Chinese culture are short of the Christian ideal. Chinese Christians should modify their behaviour based on the Bible. One negative Chinese cultural trait is the avoidance of emotional involvement which creates barriers for genuine fellowship between Christians.

55.            In what way does the teachings of Confucius similar to Biblical teachings?

A.  Emphasis on virtues such as gentleness and humility (Mt 11:29).

        Confucius: The Master gets it by his warmth and honesty, by politeness, modesty and yielding.

B.  Fear God (heaven) (Mt 22:37-38). The difference is in the Christian knowledge of a personal God, compared to a unknown absolute authority for Confucius.

        Confucius: A gentleman holds three things in awe. He is in awe of the Bidding of Heaven; he is in awe of great men; and he is awed by the words of the holy.

C.  Love men (Mt 22:39; Jn 15:12; 1Jn 4:7).

        Fan Ch’ih asked, “What is benevolence?” The Master said, “To love men.”

D.  Treating others well (Mt 7:12; 18:35).

        Confucius: Do not do unto others what thou wouldst not have done to thee.

E.  Do not revenge (Ro 12:19; Mt 5:43-44).

        Confucius: To show forbearance and gentleness in teaching others; and not to revenge unreasonable conduct.

F.   Importance of repentance (Mt 4:17; Lk 15:7). The difference is in the result of repentance. For Chinese, it leads to a more virtuous person. For Christianity, it leads to eternal life.

        Confucius: I pick out the good and follow it; I see the bad and shun it.

G.  Persistence in the personal convictions to do good works (Eph 2:10; Gal 6:9).

        Confucius: He who attains to sincerity is he who chooses what is good, and firmly holds it fast.

H.  Reaching for the supreme good (Jn 8:12; 2Co 5:17). The difference is in the origin of the supreme good. For Chinese, it is the conscience of man. For Christianity, God’s commands.

        Confucius: What the Great Learning teaches, is to illuminate illuminated virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.

56.            How should Christians view the Chinese worship of ancesters?

     Filial piety, the respect paid to parents, is a Biblical norm. Remembrance of the work of the ancestors is also encouraged by the Bible.

     However, some form of veneration may conflict with Biblical principles, such as offering animal sacrifices, burning paper money before tombs of ancesters (superstitions), worshipping ancestors through kneeling and kowtowing, praying to ancestors (assumption that prayers are effective).

     Some argue for external liturgies to show our reverence and they are unimportant matters. However, acts that treat dead ancestors as still being conscious or having supernatural powers are unbiblical. Further, the act of worship is for God alone.