Appreciate Neutral Aspects of Chinese Culture, Says Pastor

Dec 12, 2011 08:50 AM EST

Christians have historically held a variety of views on cultural practices and beliefs, ranging from complete accommodation to total rejection.

A Singapore Anglican priest sees a need for Chinese Christians to appreciate neutral aspects of their culture.

With this in mind, the Reverend Canon Daniel Tong, Vicar of Chapel of the Resurrection, wrote A Biblical Approach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs.

His hope is to help Chinese Christians better evaluate their cultural roots, and appreciate and retain non-religious and superstitious aspects of their culture.

Canon Tong sees a need for Christians to maintain a tension between sole allegiance to Christ and filial care for their family and tradition.

As he expressed the underlying message of his book, "we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but in all things, our allegiance to Christ must prevail."

The priest was responding to an email interview by The Christian Post. A new edition of his book has just been released by Armour Publishing. It was first published in 2003.

Addressing the issue with which this article started, Canon Tong highlighted that good intentions are behind many cultural practices and beliefs.

"First, let us accept that much of these practices and beliefs were not formulated for evil, but are genuine attempts at establishing social order and a connection with the spiritual," he said.

This can be seen in how red threat is given to well-wishers at funeral wakes. It is done so that ill fortune will not be attached to them.

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Christians should treasure their cultural heritage. Still, if there is ever a need to choose between culture and God, love for Jesus and obedience to His Word should come first.

In the new edition of his book, the priest suggests four principles for evaluating the compatibility of Chinese traditions and beliefs to the Christian faith.

Christians need to explore the origin of Chinese cultural traditions, and the context within which they are practiced.

There is also a need to examine various aspects and components of the Chinese culture. Finally Christians need to examine the verbal explanation given to a cultural tradition, and the non-verbal implications of its actual practice.

The book examines and offers viable, biblical alternatives to various cultural practices and beliefs. This includes major Chinese festivals, weddings, funerals and ancestral worship.

Canon Tong feels that the practice that Singapore Christians still require the greatest clarity over is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

He noted that many Christians here have grown up with some aspect of TCM. And it is enjoying a resurgence today.

"Nonetheless, most do not understand its inner workings and roots," said the priest. "I believe we should all exercise a little more discernment with regard to various TCM therapies, particularly with its acclaimed source of healing."

Christians could be misunderstood for rejecting a Chinese tradition to uphold their convictions. Refusal to conduct Chinese funeral rites for parents or pay their respects to ancestral tombs could be seen as arising from a lack of filial piety.

In such a situation, Christians should show patience, perseverance and longsuffering.

They should give family members time to accept the implications of their convictions, and hold their tongue. More importantly, they should actively care for their parents in real and practical ways while they are still alive.

It is best for Christians to establish their stand early. They should avoid waiting until major events like birthdays, weddings or funerals before doing so.

Canon Tong believes that certain Chinese traditions are non-religious and to be encouraged.

One of these is the regular family meal.

Traditionally, a Chinese family would sit down together and communion over a meal at the end of the day. Due to long working hours today, it is difficult to do so on a daily basis. Even then, a meal together at least once a week is good practice.

Another non-religious tradition is that of greeting elders with the proper address when meeting or gathered together.

"While we should be familiar and close as a family, basic courtesy of respect for our elders should still be maintained," said the priest.