Some brothers were concerned about my interests in and my study of the Chinese Classics (Ancient Chinese Classical Literature, now popularly known in China as 国学 National Learning). They were concerned that I may be misled. Chinese has an interesting term for those that are deeply involved in a topic, such as Qi Gong (Breathing and Meditation Exercises), and with a wrong step, could lead into 走火入魔, meaning runaway(out of control) fire and entering of or into the devil.
This is precisely the reason that I am studying and writing these posts about Chinese Classics. The purposes are
- to help the believers to understand the Chinese Classics and the Chinese culture better.
- to help Chinese Classics readers to differentiate the spiritual from the non-spiritual parts.
- Jesus Christ came to tell and to bring us back to our Heavenly Father God. He did not come to destroy our entire cultures (Every culture has within it the godly and the non-godly parts).
- Jesus Christ is the answer to what the ancient Chinese sages were looking for.
The oldest and the Classic of the Chinese Classics known as the I-Ching or Yi-Jing begins with the 1st hexagram 乾 as Heaven - the great beginning of Creation and the creative force, and with the 2nd hexagram 坤 as Earth - the created mother earth providing the environment for the growth all things.
Ancient Chinese believed the visible came from the invisible God. All the varieties of lives and things come from the great single source of God. The ancient Chinese studied the ways of Heaven (God) and Earth and exhorted that man must follow the ways of Heaven and Earth to have harmony - 天地人合一。 It is frequently simplified into 天人合一， unity of Heaven and Man, is the purpose of man. Is not this the purpose of Jesus Christ? Eph 1:10 "as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth"!
Chinese Classics wisdom actually begins with the fear of the Lord, God ( Prov 1:7, Job 28:28, Ps 111:10, Prov 9:10, Pro 15:33 all say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom or knowledge or insight) See Why is the Fear of the Lord the Beginning of Wisdom?. It is the Godly and Biblical kind of wisdom. Chinese wisdom is more godly than those present science teaching that does not even acknowledge the existence of God. Science explains how things work but could not provide the answers to why things work. It has no answer to what is right or wrong, and no answer for life. Science can help prolong physical life but does not give meaning to life. Ancient Chinese Classic provides the simple answer that man is to have harmony with God and environment, loving people and leaving a legacy for future generations. This is exactly what is expressed in "Ecc 12:13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man". In fact, when I first read Ecclesiastes I thought I was reading Chinese Classics. I have to check a few times that I was indeed holding a bible.
What is Missing in the Chinese Classics?
Not knowing about Jesus Christ, ancient Chinese have to rely on self to achieve harmony with Heaven and Earth. It is man's great effort of studying the ways of Heaven and Earth and then following them to achieve maturity and good character virtues. Ancient Chinese teaches self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. It is not self-denial per se like some religions. It is a pro-active concern for the people at large. Interestingly, they don't spend much time on sins but more time on the right ways. There is no use telling people what is wrong. It is more important to tell people what are the right ways that people could follow.
Ancient Chinese discovered a God of Creator of power and love. A God to be revered. A God whose ways cannot be violated or violated at our own perils. Wise Chinese, sages, try hard to reach up to God and to teach others to do the same. Unfortunately, that is a tough road to travel and not able to reach God's standards. We can see that those people's character virtues are very often much better than many Christians. Nonetheless, they fail God's standards. (I don't know what will happen to them since they were before Christ's time and had no Gospel preached to them. But if Enoch was taken away by God, we trust God to take care of those people who died without hearing about the Gospel.)
For this present time, we know the open secret of 天人合一, unity between heaven and man. It is through Jesus Christ, the God that became man to bring man to God. Having a rebirth into a new creation of a Christ in us will enable us to reach God's standards spiritually and let our soul and body be developed into the mature of the image of Christ and bringing glory to God through our behavior. Rom 12:1-2, 8:29. God is glorified through His body on earth, behaving like His Son Jesus Christ, i.e. that is you and me.
Chinese Wisdom closer to Biblical Teachings
I would boldly go one step further to say that Chinese Classics teaching of Harmony, respect for differences, integrative type of thinking is closer to the Biblical Teaching of God all-embracing love rather than a particular western type "you must be like me or else" type of teaching.
As an example, Paul did not tell the slaves to break free from their master once they are saved. Slavery is a human-made system. With a good master, slavery is good. The master is responsible for the life of the slave, including finding a wife and taking care of his children. With a bad master, slavery is bad. God's words work well under the slavery or non-slavery system. It is the human misinterpretation and misapplication of the Bible that creates problems. Paul told those who were saved to remain as they were. It is of the heart and not of the jobs. Nevertheless, if the slave can be free, then do it. The freed slave has the responsibility of making a living by himself. Some may not be able to do it!
The Ancient Chinese Classical Literature has been extended and modified by the various religions that came after them. We can see the original Zhou Yi 周易 I-Ching has become a fortune-telling book. The Dao De Jing of Lao Zi has been named a bible of some religion and with a different interpretation. The teaching of Confucius and Confucius have been deitified to become a religion and a god for worship. Hence, in the study of Chinese Classics, we need to differentiate the original source from the other spiritualized sources and distorted content.
Isn't Bible Good Enough? Why should I bother?
The Bible is good enough for salvation and development and everything. However, to bring the gospel to a culture, we need to understand the culture and connect to the culture. We need to tell and show them that Jesus is the answer to their pursuits. To reach out to the Chinese with their cultural roots (there are Chinese that have taken other cultures), perhaps we should know about their ancient classical literature to reach out to them. Show me you know me so that perhaps I can give you an ear to hear what you want to say. Of course, that is not the only way to reach out to a particular culture. There are other ways like miracles and healing of the sick that draw people to God quickly without understanding the culture. But for the longer-term growth of the converted believers, some cultural understanding is needed.
Update 5 July 2014
Ancient Chinese Wisdom and Philosophies, called Sinology, are like the Old Testament of the Bible or the Tanakh of the Jews. They are books of wisdom to teach how to live rightly with God, nature, and men. The good news of the gospel is Jesus Christ, who gives us the new transformed life to live out the teachings. Right living comes from within and not by possessions of things nor by forced by external laws. 内圣外王, inside-saint then rule outside as a king, is the teaching of Zhuang Zi and Confucius.
Update 16 Jan 2017 - God is known from His Creation
Romans 1v20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth and their words to all the world.
For related posts see Chinese Classics & The Bible Index Page
For more on Chinese Classics and I-Ching see Ancient Chinese Wisdom