What has the Chinese New Year got to do with the Fifth Commandment?
First, a quick word on the Fifth: Honouring our parents is one way we honour and love God. (Exod 20:12) Honouring parents was tied to the promise of a land that would belong both to parents and their descendants. For Old Testament believers, living and flourishing in the Promised Land was contingent upon obeying God's commandments. Children were included in God's covenant with Israel thus they too were called to obey God in order to live in the Promised Land.
A popular Chinese proverb says: “When you drink water, remember the source.” This reflects the deep respect that many Asians traditionally have for their parents. This plays an important role in Chinese New Year’s observance.
Love and respect for parents are important to Christians. The divine counsel is: “Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” (Prov. 23:22).
The Bible also speaks highly of holding family gatherings. (See for example Job 1:4 and Luke 15:22-24). But the Lord God commands us not to practise “divination or tell fortunes, or make inquires of the dead.” (See Deut. 18:10-12)
Why this prohibition? Because the Bible reveals the true condition of the dead:
For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. (Ecc 9:5-6)
Since the dead “know nothing” and can “no more share in all that is done under the sun” they cannot help or harm us. So out of love for God, Christians should avoid any customs that involve the worship of family “spirits” or seek to gain their protection.
On the other hand, Christians should honour “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” (Eph. 3:15)
Hence, when considering Lunar New Year customs, we do well to ask: How does God view these customs? Do they have his approval? “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
A blessed time to one and all.
Pastor Robert Chew