This is an article from the January-February 2016 issue: Women Engaged in Church-Planting Movements Among UPGs

When Honoring Parents Trumps Christian Duty

When Honoring Parents Trumps Christian Duty

With the recent changes in China, families can now have two children. Much has been written about this and the impact of this policy. I heard about a Chinese mother who was only able to have one child, a boy.

However, that boy died in a car accident in his 20s. Now, they suffer the pain of loss, complicated by the fact that they can’t have more children, they grieve in ways most of us can not understand. I can’t imagine the pain she and her husband feel.

Think for a minute how you might feel if this were you. What would be your biggest concern.  She raised the question: who will take care of his grave when we are gone? Who will take care of our grave when we are gone?

While most westerners don’t think in those ways, it draws us into the issue of family honor. All of it is impacted by how we look at God’s law, “honor your father and your mother….” (Exodus 20:12) It is the only one of the ten commandments that comes with a promise: “that your days may be long….” Jesus chastised the religious leaders when they didn’t do this. (Matthew 15:1-9) Paul talks about this and the promise in Ephesians 6:2.

Many Christians consider the “veneration of ancestors” is a form of worship and automatically reject. But a number of Asian mission and church leaders I know take a different view. They believe taking care of parent’s graves is a great way of honoring parents. Often, they came to faith when they were younger and rejected the family’s annual trips to the grave—thus offending non-believing family. Later, one brother I know, came to believe he was wrong, and brought dishonor to his parents—which he did not need to do because of his faith.

Too often, we use biblical passages as “weapons” over others. In the U.S., the elderly are not honored, families are splintered. We don’t even understand shame and honor. So we excuse our actions under the guise of “obeying God and not man.”

So, let’s apply this to an actual situation a global worker in Thailand experienced. For context: it is very hard for us to fully grasp the profound importance to a Buddhist mother for her son to serve in the Buddhist Temple/Monastery for a short time. To some this is the main reasons younger Thai men do not believe in Christ. The Thai young man in this story had promised his mother he would serve in the Monastery before he trusted Christ. After he believed, he said he felt relieved that he didn’t have to (some Christians told him he must not.) After some discussion, the global worker asked:

“Did you borrow any money from the bank to go to school?”

Thai young man: “Yes”

Worker: “When did you borrow it?”

Young man: “As a freshman, prior to entering school.”

Worker: “That is great, you borrowed it before you came to
Christ, now there is no need to pay it back.”

Young man: “What? What do you mean?”

Worker: “You made a promise to your Mom which you no longer consider binding because you came to Christ. Why would the promise to the bank still be binding?”

The worker went on to discuss God’s sovereignty in his earlier promise. The first question to answer was if his promise was still binding—not how to keep it. Just because you may not know how to keep it doesn’t mean it is not binding. Instead of thinking, “What will the Christians think?” he should consider, “How do I become a Monk and remain loyal to Christ?”

In effect, the worker was asking: are the sovereign acts of God no longer sovereign or binding because my birth place, nation, people, parents, culture…all happened before Christ entered my life? In Christ my sins are forgiven but I am still responsible.

Another friend noted that respect for our fathers/elders often includes dimensions of covenant with family and community that new believers are not released from in Jesus. Our commitment to Christ can increase our connectedness to family and community. We know some will reject us, but often even in hostile contexts, family members see the new lifestyle of a believing brother or sister as a clear testimony of Christ’s power to change lives. Why cut off that witness unnecessarily.


Thank you for this article. As a marriage and family therapist, I appreciate the emphasis on the continuation of family relationships after conversion. The influence of those relationships continue for better or worse throughout our Christian lives, as does our responsibility within them. I’m curious how a consideration of your question for this young man - to be a Monk and a Christian - might have worked out.

“Instead of thinking, ‘What will the Christians think?’ he should consider, ‘How do I become a Monk and remain loyal to Christ?’”
… as a(nother) former Buddhist, this is, to me, an unacceptable solution. Some might cite Naaman going to help his king in the temple of Rimmon as an example, but the way my conscience is structured… he can’t; it’s idolatry. It’s pledging allegiance to another system. He’s a new convert. He needs exposure to truth, not falsehood.
There *is* an honouring of parents that can take place without those kinds of things. I’m Asian, yes, but currently living in France; far as I see it, the parents don’t place undue burdens on their children, and the children (if their parents are unconverted) pray for their parents and for their conversion. But that there *is* a completely different context… different as it is, one *can* honour their folks without necessarily obeying local custom. God *must* be obeyed over man.
I would encourage the young man to ask his mother why it was so important to her that he serve in the temple ― but to do so in all gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). If the reason is existential or “something to do with the afterlife (or rather, the lives after, seeing as we’re dealing with a Buddhist context)”, that then becomes an opportunity for him to share why Christ is better. This is one thing I was unable to do / unprepared for as a young convert, and I regret it deeply, since I made other decisions that dishonour Christ because I chose to obey my folks (in other areas; religion was and still is a non-negotiable item, but I see now that there ought to have been more).

This comes in addition to my earlier response:
Jesus *did* say, after all, that if one came to Him without preferring Him to (and the Greek word literally means ‘hating’) his loved ones and even his own soul, he could not be His disciple (Luke 14:25-35).

If I might ask ― *why* we are doing missions? What does it mean to be on missions? God wants true worshippers, not a large number of adherents; He could raise “children of Abraham” from stones (Matthew 3:9: Luke 3:8).

The fact that Scripture is “weaponised” against others in manners for which it is unintended is no excuse for us to ignore its clear dictates in murky situations, run the risk of idolatry, and dishonour the Lord who died for us.
Let God’s Word judge, sir, between you and me.

That being said, the missions worker *was* wrong to say that the bank loan need not be paid back. God doesn’t free the Christian from that obligation. It does *not* mean, though, that all obligations are to be paid; from some, one needs to “save [one]self [by] hasten[ing], and plead[ing] urgently” (Proverbs 6:3) until it is done.
What’s the difference? The key is “the fear of the Lord[, which] is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7); so all that God does with regards to obligations is to change one’s final allegiance. Only with that in mind can we discern, with wisdom, what God would have us do.

May His grace be granted us, that we might fear Him (Proverbs 1:7) and discern what His will is (Romans 12:2).


Lots of great questions Penelope.
And, lots has been written on many of them…if not all.
I’ll only address the fact that there are many other passages and biblical ideas that can be used to look at almost all of your points. For example: God tells Abram that it is through his family that the peoples will be blessed. That (and other passages and teaching) point to a core idea, namely, that God works through the family to reach the nations.
It seems to me that helps us understand the value of the family relationships at a new level (and changes the way we look at “sending missionaries” and what they might do around the world.
It also helps us understand the comparison that Jesus uses in the Luke 14 passage (which is how must commentators look at that passage…that Jesus is saying “hate in comparison for your love for me.”

Dear Mr Parsons,
We don’t quite seem to be talking on the same wavelength here. Not only do I feel that saying that “more has been written… there are other biblical ideas” on its own is a little unhelpful, but it would appear that the main thrust of both my comments was avoided.
Before we go on, let us be clear on certain things: my standpoint is “let no Biblical text be taken out of its context; the eternities of many are at stake”.

I have to disagree with you on your saying that “God[‘s] tell[ing] Abram that it is through his family that the peoples will be blessed […] point[s] to [the idea] that God works through the family to reach the nations”. That promise was made to Abraham, not to us, and is not something from which to generalise.
I’m interested in the “other passages and ideas” that you say point to the idea of the family being used to reach the nations, though. If you would share a reference or two it would be much appreciated.

As far as missions are concerned, all I find that’s crystal-clear on that is the Great Commission as well as Acts ― we have Jesus commissioning the disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to do all that I commanded you” (the disciples were *not* a biological family unit, and the Commission concerned them all); we have, in Acts, the Spirit leading the apostles (and explicitly picking out Barnabas and Saul/Paul to go at one point). That is all that I have to go on concerning both the kind of structure the missions team ought to have as well as its composition.
In light of these:
1) What is the goal of missions ― nominal adherents or disciples?
2) If conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit, who elsewhere (in the Bible) is called the Spirit of Truth ― what would the implications of the new Thai convert’s serving as a Buddhist monk be? And how ought we to be when on missions?
I’m not asking for pre-written opinions; I’m asking *you*, sir.

As regards Luke 14:25-35, we’re on the same page; there was nothing to correct in my understanding. If the word that literally means “hate” in the Greek were to be taken in its literal sense, there would be no way to apply the Second Greatest Commandment (“love your neighbour as yourself”).


On the issue of families in mission (and the Bible) see our issue of Mission Frontiers on the Family:

On your two questions:
1. I think we would agree that the goal of mission is disciples - there is no biblical idea for religious adherents…and certainly not anything “nominal.”
2. I don’t see a necessary conflict for someone in the monastery. Can’t he “meditate” on the Word or the Lord instead of nothing? I know that is simplistic.

My point in the article is to hold high our relationships with our families. Honoring parents is not countered by what Jesus said. If it were, he could be countering the whole of the O.T.—which he said he came to fulfill. Honor (and its contrast shame) is a clear Biblical idea, even if it isn’t held high in the west.

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