“Tradition” is a word that is often disparaged as representing what is passé, old-fashioned, impractical, intransigent or rigid. To some, it even connotes superstition, and 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.
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.
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 respect, and celebratory ceremonies for special days during the period.
The reunion dinner on the eve of Lunar New Year emphasises the value of family relationships and cohesion. In distributing hongbao 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.
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 these 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.
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.” (Phil 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 offense 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 Cor 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!
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.
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