Personal evangelism. Chinese ancestral worship (CAW) – 25 Nov 2018

(2nd and final part.)

1)  Funeral Rites

Rites vary among Chinese dialect groups which may assign different meanings to a particular rite.  Some common ones are listed below. 

Some rites are religious in nature and Christians cannot participate in them.  Others are cultural in nature and Christians may participate in them.

(a)  A rite is deemed Religious if it fulfils any of the following purposes / meanings (N1) :-

1)  ensures the “salvation” of the deceased’s soul,
2)  protects the descendants against harm by dissatisfied ancestors,
3)  expects the ancestor to bless and protect the descendants,
4)  communicates with the deceased,
5)  worships the spirit of the ancestors, or
6)  offers sacrifices, housing, food, personal effects and hell money to the ancestors. 

The following rites are deemed Religious (N2):-


Meaning / Purpose

a)  buying water from the spirit of a stream

counter polluting effect of death

b)  placing pearl in deceased’s mouth

prevent ghost of the deceased from returning

c)  covering all mirrors in the home

counter malicious, evil spirits

d)  offering food on an altar

spiritual worship

e)  holding joss stick and bowing / praying to the deceased 

spiritual worship

f)  burning effigies / hell money

transport ancestor’s soul to netherworld

g)   preparing paper / wooden ancestor tablet

set up for worship

h)  rituals and prayers at wake and funeral

connotes idolatrous worship

b)  A rite is deemed Cultural and not Religious if the meaning / purpose is only to (N3) :-

1)  express filial piety,
2) express grief and mourning,
3)  reassert family status and solidarity, or
4)  remember the deceased.

The following rites are deemed Cultural (N4) :-


Meaning / Purpose

a)  buying coffin

preparing for funeral

b)  cleaning, dressing corpse

respect / affection

c)  wear sackcloth and mourning clothes

express filial piety and grief

d)  wreaths, banners

express condolence

e)  placing photo of deceased in front of coffin

provide information

f) funeral parade

general public notice of funeral procession

g) provide meals for family and guests

meet physical needs

h)  bowing in front of coffin without holding joss stick                 

last respect

i)  red thread

good luck symbol

j)  ang pow

good luck symbol

k) lighting candles

provide light

2)  Christian Perspective

Christians cannot engage in Religious rites because (a) Christians have to obey God’s commandment to worship only God and no other spirits and (b) God wants Christians to live according to the truth of the spiritual realm as revealed by God.

Whilst Christians cannot worship ancestor spirits,  they must venerate their ancestors.  This must be done in such a way which does not disobey God.

Heartfelt reverence of ancestors is from the heart.  It need not be represented by religious rites like using joss sticks. 

3)  Choose Heaven, Escape from Hell.   

Shenists and Taoists place great importance on CAW rituals, rites and prayers.  This confirms their belief that their souls would inevitably go to hell.

We must tell them that the Creator God loves them and wants them to go to heaven instead.  He offers direct entry into heaven.  We must share the Gospel of Salvation with them.

(Notes:- N1 to N4 (except items (h) to (k) . Reference book “FEEDING ON ASHES” by Rev. Daniel Chua Meng Wah.)

Respect all religions founded by man. 
But Trust and Obey God.

Richard Chng