The goodness, kindness and beauty of human nature found in all cultures reflect some of the characteristics of God, in whose image Man was first created, writes Bishop Chong Chin Chung. Photo by Hiu Yan Chelsia Choi on Unsplash.
A word that is often disparaged as representing what is passé, old-fashioned, impractical, intransigent or rigid is “tradition”.
To some, it connotes superstition; handing down a tradition is often deemed regressive and propounding of obsoletes. Some even consider all traditional beliefs to be bad and at odds with Christianity and the Gospel.
Expressions of God
God has provided a general revelation to humanity, and the goodness, kindness and beauty of human nature found in all cultures reflect some of the characteristics of God, in whose image Man was first created.
Paying respects and offering festive greetings are forms of sharing our blessings with others.
Some of these qualities are seen in respect for elders, filial piety, love for the family, modesty and courtesy, sincerity and tolerance, and trustworthiness and civic-mindedness.
These find expression in all cultures ranging from the little trifles of daily life such as greeting senior family members, to occasions such as weddings and funerals, during which protocols and etiquette based on seniority and social status are followed.
Many customs of the Lunar New Year celebrations, for example, contain cultural virtues of propriety in conduct and behaviour. These include the mandatory spring-cleaning before the Lunar New Year, festive attire, festive delicacies and dishes, greetings, presenting and receiving gifts, paying respects, and celebratory ceremonies for special days during the period.
All cultures reflect some of the characteristics of God.
The reunion dinner on the eve of Lunar New Year emphasises the value of family relationships and cohesion.
In distributing hong bao to the younger generation, the seniors also give their blessing. This practice is a reminder that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Paying respects and offering festive greetings are forms of sharing our blessings with others. They may even serve to mend some fences.
All these are ancient traditions.
Keeping the faith alive
Having evolved through the ages, many of the elements that are no longer useful, appropriate or meaningful, as well as those based on superstition, have been gradually eliminated.
Christians should be encouraged to uphold fine traditions as long as they do not involve idol or ancestor worship, or contravene the Bible’s teaching, and they glorify God and bless others.
Uphold traditions as long as they do not contravene the Bible, and they glorify God and bless others.
The non-Jews that Paul preached to lived in social environments of Gentile culture, customs and practices. His exhortation to the Philippian church was to fix their thoughts on what is true, honourable, right, pure, lovely and admirable; to think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Since Paul must have lived his life this way, he appealed to them to “keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me –everything you heard me and saw me doing.” (Philippians 4:8–9)
Paul also urged the Corinthians: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offence to Jews of Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31–33)
To all our Chinese and non-Chinese fellow believers and friends: Have a blessed Lunar New Year! May the Lord’s peace and joy be with you!
This article was published in Methodist Message in 2018 and is republished with permission.