Project Canterbury

Chinese Ancestor Worship
A Study of Its Meaning and Its Relations with Christianity

By James Thayer Addison
Assistant Professor of Religion and Missions
in the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Published by the Church Literature Committee of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui
By the Help of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1925.


In concluding our survey of Chinese ancestor worship and its relation to Christianity, three points may be noted. One is concerned with the immediate, the others with the more distant future.

For the time being, the wisest policy for Western leaders of the Christian church in China is to continue the scientific and sympathetic study of ancestor worship [83/84] as the most important religious phenomenon in the life of the people. Such study will enable the church, as past experience has already proved, to fulfill the pressing duty of making ever more adequate and intelligent provision for the Christian expression of those motives and desires which for thousands of years have found their fulfillment in the ancestral rites. In such a gradual process, wisely guided, the Chinese church will find enrichment and attain a growing capacity to win and hold the people of China.

But we have already entered upon an era in which this growth will depend more and more completely upon Chinese leadership. Western missionaries, in the long process of education and experiment, can still offer their aid and encouragement; but the problem will ultimately be solved by the Chinese themselves. Only those who have grown up within a system in which ancestor worship is central can wisely make provision for its future evolution and sublimation. Ancestor worship still awaits treatment at the hands of those who are both truly Chinese and truly Christian. In their hands we may safely leave its destiny.

The problem of its destiny will be made easier of solution not simply by a fuller understanding of the ancestral rites and a richer development of Christian faith. The greatest single factor working towards solution will be the extension of scientific knowledge and the spread of modern thought. Within strictly religious limits a permanent conflict is always possible. Ancestor [84/85] worship, against the background of tradition, is amazingly strong. But against the new background of science and liberal thought, now so rapidly taking shape, it is vulnerable at many points. Science will surely serve as the ally of Christ's religion in purifying the worship of ancestors of all fear and falsehood so that what it contains of living truth may abide as a treasured possession.

Project Canterbury