Sunday, 30 January 2011

新年蒙恩 (Blessed New Year!)

The Chinese Lunar New Year, or 春节 (chun1 jie2), normally celebrated in February, is traditionally tied to the arrival of spring, where everything starts to grow again and birds and animals return, symbolizing the new life that is about to spring forth. Some even suggest that an ancient myth involving a beast called 年 (nian2), may have had its origins from the Israel's Passover (Ex 12:1-30). Have you ever stopped to wonder why we celebrate or remember customs and traditions, particularly Chinese New Year, for those in our midst who are ethnically Chinese? Do our ethnic roots, beliefs and practices conflict with our Christian faith and testimony? It's interesting that our sermon passage for today begins, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8)

In Christian thought, there is a concept known as the Wesleyan quadrilateral, which basically suggests that there are 4 sources with which one forms theological conclusions, or how one develops his/her concept and understanding of God and faith. These were namely:
Scripture – the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments),
Tradition – the two millenia history of the Christian Church,
Reason – rational thinking & sensible interpretation and,
Experience – a Christian's personal & communal journey in Christ.

John Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture (however) is primary, revealing the Word of God 'so far as it is necessary for our salvation.'

All our practices and traditions should be weighed and examined in the light of Scripture*. This is not to say that anything that is not found or encouraged in God's Word should hence be boycotted or abandoned. There are still healthy and biblical values and principles that can be found in ancient traditions. As for the celebration of the Lunar New Year, the reunion dinner can and should be a good practice to upkeep, to reunite with family members amidst our busy schedules, as well as an opportunity to honour our parents and respect our elders and loved ones. However, at the same time, we should be careful as Christians to avoid any practices that might have superstitious or religious meanings, e.g. offerings to ancestors or deities, or even unhealthy practices like excessive drinking of alcohol and gambling.
*A good resource on this is “A biblical approach to Chinese traditions & beliefs” by Daniel Tong.

“Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial, constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble.” (1 Cor 10:23-24, 31-32)

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