Problems Approaching Ancestral Worship In The Korean Protestant Religion Essay
Disclaimer: This work has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional academic writers. You can view samples of our professional work here.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.
Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
This paper will examine the challenges in the Korean Protestant community dealing with ancestral worship. South Korea still remains to be a strong Confucianism state, which contains rich systems of rituals. However since the Protestant church rejects all practices of ancestral worship it has become a serious problems in the Korean Christian community. Some families within the Christian community still remains to practice ancestral worship and others have switched to chudoyebe. The question of the day is, is ancestral worship a sin to honor your parents? The paper will reveal new ideologies towards ancestral worship in the Korean content, starting with the keyword “ancestral worship (jesa).”
First lets determine whether “ancestral worship” fits into the Korean ritual practice of their ancestors. This paper will distinguish between the ancient practices with the contemporary practices. Normally, this worship is practiced eight times a year on the death commemoration days from the fourth generation beyond his parents and the other four includes seasonal holidays.  Many scholars who studied ancestor worship identify there are two types of spirits (good or benevolent ancestor and evil spirit or ghost). These distinctions are made through the cause of their death. For example bad spirits is when a person commits suicide or dies in an accident and it is predicted that these spirits wonder around the world and do harm to people. However good spirits protect their descendants and family and these deaths are normal deaths.  But the contemporary ancestral worship has changed in recent years. Confucian funerals are no longer practiced since it deals with complex stages.  This represents a huge transformation in our society: concepts, values, and norms of funeral had changed which can imply our society is “changing.” Therefore we can also examine if ancestral worship had changed.
Ancestral Worship in Korea
Korea is known for its mixture of beliefs, such as up to the 14th century Korea was a Buddhist country up to the 14th century. During the Joseon dynasty (1392) the government adopted Korea as a Confucian government and even today Korea is one of the most Confucianism countries in East Asia. Ancestral worship is one of the four important Confucian rituals and it is prevalent in many countries around the world. The families make regular visits to their ancestral graves and perform the ritual. Korean families who perform these rituals perform during January 1 (sul), August 15 (chusok, lunar calendar), Hansik Day in March.
Funeral rites in a Confucianism tradition is when a person dies, the body is brought to the family and is dressed in a clean cloth. The children then will watch at the deathbed and is to fulfill obligations such as writing down the last words of their parent. Date and time is very important at death, for example they will put the clean cloth before the late breathe. When the death is confirmed, ornaments are removed and hair is loosened and the children weep bitterly. One of the family member will take the upper garment and go outside facing north and climb up on the roof and call the deceased name and repeat the name pok which means return (this is called ko bok). 
When these ceremony is over the family prepares food for the messenger (saja) who escorts the dead body to the other world (the food is prepared with three bowls of rice, vegetables, soy sauce, money and three pairs of straw shoes). Then the body is removed from the deathbed and the body is turned to the north and thumbs are tied together. The mourner will put only put one sleeve of upper garment (left side if it is father and right side if it is mother). A person who is experience will make a spirit called honbaek with string and paper. These string and paper is placed on a small box called honbaek (spirit box).
People believe in three spirits and seven souls. One will disappear with the messenger after death, one will stay with the body, and the other will wander around the world. The spirit box protects this last spirits. The seven souls are two eyes, two nostrils, two ears and the mouth. These seven souls are attached to the body after death.
The next important stage is “sup” washing of the body of the deceased. One man will bring warm water brewed with mugwort or juniper and other helpers will hold the corners which was used to cover the body. The body will be washed with a clean piece of cloth that has been soaked in water.  When the washing process is finished, finger nails and hair is cut and placed into a four small bags known as choballang, which later is placed into the coffin.
After the body is washed, the corpse is dressed in grave clothes and before the face is covered, a person will place rice on the corpse mouth and say a “hundred sacks of rice” and second time, “a thousand sacks of rice” and for the last time “ten thousand sacks of rice.” After this is done, a coin in placed on the mouth.
The body is bounded with a long cloth known as yom, where both sides are twisted so that friends and family can put money into the twisted section. This body is used to pass the twelve gates of the other world. Then the corpse is placed into the coffin, where the body is covered with coverlets (two coverlets are used one is called the “coverlets of earth” and the second one is called “coverlet of heaven”). The deceased clothes are placed into the coffin. The coffin is bound with a straw rope around its upper, middle, and lower parts.
After the coffin is bound, a screen is placed in front of the coffin and a big red cloth (the deceased name) is hung. A small table is placed where the spirit box is displayed, sometimes there are materials that the deceased person uses.
There are five different kinds of clothes (obok), The chief mourner wears the coat, hat, and leggings which are made all from hemp. The mourner needs to have a cane made from bamboo if his father has died and a cane made from paulownia if the mother deceased. When approaching the deceased, there will be three dedications of wine and two ritual bows. After this performance, the person meets with the deceased family. Food and wine is served to the people who comes to visit the funeral and at all times the visitor wears black clothing.
The last ceremony is when the four men will carry the coffin and shake it slowly up and down the four corners of the room and this is suppose to drive evil from the room.
The first rite of requiem is held on the day of the burial in front of the mourning shrine. The second rite and the third rite follow. These rites are called samu-je. After these rites the process of ancestor worship follows the normal way, namely three dedications of a glass of wine and two bows.
After three months is selected to perform the chokoh-che or final rite of weeping. People are allowed to weep continuously and after this time the mourners weeps only three times a day when he/she dedicates meals. The day after the final rite of weeping, the rite of attachment of the ancestor tablet (pi-ju) is held in cases where there is a family shrine for the ancestors at home. With the rite of the new deceased becomes an ancestor of the family. The first anniversary of the death is called sosang (small commemoration) and the second death anniversary is called taesang (large commemoration). When this is done properly that he will perform the rite of good fortune on the one hundredth day after large commoration.
These methods and rituals portray negativity in the Christian community however we should know it also represents a special relationship with the family. There are three importance of ancestral worship, 1. Tradition-this is how our ancestor have lived and it’s a continuation of our traditions passing on to the next generation. 2. Filial propriety (hyo)- Korean system is made up with Confucian structure, for example younger people bow down to elders. The Korean social system is hierarchy with age. Therefore the term “respect” portrays solidly in the system. 3. Inter-family relations-the family can come together during the ritual time and spent time with their family. For example this would be thanksgiving in the United States, where food is prepared for all families.
Re-examining the terminology “ancestral worship”
The Catholic Church started to understand the Korean culture after 1900. A new paradigm was made towards ancestral worship. Father Thomas Anthony and Father Chang Song were ignorant about memorial rituals. Foreigners saw memorial ritual as an idol worship. When Korea was colonized by Japan and Koreans were forced to believe Shinto, Catholic had greater understandings of rituals and traditions. Bowing down was a problem but eating the food was a problem to the Christian community. Later, St. Paul said, “Now, the matter about food offered to idols. It is true, of course, that all of us have knowledge as they say. Such knowledge, however, puffs a man up with pride’ but love builds up. The person who think he knows something really doesn’t know as he ought to know. But the man who loves is known by him. So then man who loves God is known by him. So then, about eating the food offered to idols: We know that an idol stand for something that doesn’t exist; we know there is only the one God. Even if there are so called ‘gods’ whether in heaven or on earth, and even though there are many these ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ yet there is for us only one God, Jesus Christ, whom all things were created and through whom we live.” (Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 8:1-6).  This is was the starting point, when Catholic community started to understand the implication that arises when taking something special from a culture and resolved this problem by accepting their culture. Unless the memorial rites are resolved, Korea will be hard country to send missionaries.
The Catholic church accepted memorial rites (ancestral worship) under certain conditions and prohibited some issues regarding memorial rites. They accepted 1. Bowing before the body, a tomb, and photograph of the decreased and a table bearing the name of the deceased. 2. Incense burning during a ritual before the body. 3. Preparing meals for the memorial rites. However they prohibited any kind of cooked or water soaked rice, paper money, shellfish or a pearl into the mouth of the dead person. 2. Offering three pairs of straw shoes for the underworld guides. 3. Cannot call out the name of deceased outside for the his soul which may be hovering in the sky. 4. Prohibits the ideal that the dead comes to the table to eat the food and lastly chanting any prayers during the memorial rite is prohibited. 
The Korean Protestant came up with an alternative which was called chudoyebe.. It was a Christian memorial service for their family. This memorial service was to replace ancestral worship. Christians were prohibited to perform Confucian ancestral ritual on the anniversary of heir ancestor’s death. It would be disrespect to their parents and ancestors if nothing happened. The chudoyebe was first introduced when Dr. J. W Heron passed away in July 1980.  The new Christian method to replace ancestral rite spread along the Korean protestant. It included seven sections; hymns, opening prayer, reading from passages, recollection of the deceased, another hymn, silent prayer and the prayer of dismissal.  Christian homes were encouraged to carry out chudoyebe instead of practicing ancestral worship. However the dilemma here is, Korean Christians practice ancestral worship according to the 2005 government consensus. According to Professor Chang Won Park’s article on “Between God and ancestors: ancestral practice in Korean Protestantism” 77.8 percent of the Korean population practice ancestral worship but looking in the total Korean population, Christians make up 29 percent. Therefore we can conclude that Christian’s participate in ancestral practices. The Korean protestant community needs to acknowledge something’s cannot be taken away and perhaps accepting the culture and tradition might increase the Christian population.
The Catholic Church understanding of the Korean culture has changed over time. Ancestral worship has defined another terminology to memorial rites. There were little minor revisions to fit into the Catholic Church however the culture and traditions has not changed significantly. The Korean Protestant church also needs to revise some parts of the memorial rites since “Christians in Korea” still remains to carry out memorial rites and it is impossible for the Christian population to grow without tradition and values of their culture such as ancestral worship (memorial rites).
Implications with the Protestant Church
There are three reasons why the protestant missionaries rejected ancestor worship. They first thought the religious sacrifice to the deceased spirit was in conflict with the commandants. 1st Commandant states, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me,’ and the second commandant states, ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’
Secondly, even though the ancestor worship supported the tenet of the immortality of the soul, the protestant missionaries did not accept the idea of how the soul could reside in a tablet in shrine, also eat the food after the worship was over, bless the deceased. The ideology that the ancestors four generation’s souls exist is the opposite of what the Christian teaching tell. The Christian bible states there are two locations after death (heaven and hell).
Thirdly, the belief that ancestral worship degraded women and accepting the first born male or sons as the heir to continue the family linage created problems. Therefore the Christian were also prohibited to eat the food or touch the food during the ritual. This was also repeated through missionaries because the bible states eating sacrificial food is against the will of God as worshipping the idol (this passage is in I Corinthians 10:21, Acts 15:29 and revelations 2:14).
The missionaries and the church stately clear to prohibit the ancestral worship through published tracts, which stated it is a form of idolatry; this document was called the Nevius’ Errors of Ancestor Worship, even though the Protestant church understands filial piety, they believed the best method was to perform good while the parents were still alive. This document failed to address any alternative method to serve after the parents passed away.
This caused many criticizes to the public. In September 1, 1920 there was a written article on this issue in Dongah Daily. Refusing and prohibiting ancestor worship was a social problem and it portrayed Christians that filial piety no longer existed. Any bows below the waist was an act of ancestor worship to any kind of picture. This made Korean Christians uncomfortable since they could not perform any sign of respect after their parents had passed away (their loyalty was not expressed to the one’s they loved).
A New Paradigm for Ancestral Worship
As the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church must acknowledge the ancestral worship. At this time let’s call the ancestral worship as deceased memorial rites because it can be referred to as tradition and culture instead of religion. First we must discuss what is acceptable and not acceptable to the deceased memorial rites. The bible has different passages against the deceased memorial rites however as mentioned many times in this paper, these tradition has existed before and after the missionaries had arrived in Korea. Therefore it is best if there was some solutions found between the Korean society and the Protestant Church.
The Korean society filial piety is very important, as seen in many places, Korean people bow down to everyone. Starting from birth and the age of five, the child bows down to parents and families members. During the preschool years, the teacher is the higher authority in school therefore students show respect to the teachers, this goes on to college. The important idea here is everyone, who is older is respected and younger generations are taught to bow and show some kind of respect. Even in the Korean church, we bow down to pastors, elders, deacons and Sunday school teachers as a sign of respect. If you deny to bow down then its shows a sign of disrespect; so the question here is we bow down in our daily life however once our elders pass away then that principle is taken away from us. Therefore this section of the paper will discuss these idea’s of what not to do and what should be allowed.
First lets start with bowing down to the deceased family members, this should be allowed because it shows some sign of respect for taking care of their children. The Korean society spends massive money on their children especially education and if the deceased family are forgotten and not taken care of after their death how will the grandchildren remember their family members. Secondly, as the Catholic church states also, we should allow incense burning and the stage of preparing food should be allowed. It is the least that a son or daughter can do for their deceased however it shouldn’t be only the son (heir) but the whole family members. The women shouldn’t be degraded in part of the deceased memorial rites.
The second part is what should not be done in the deceased memorial rites. Descentants should not believe in spirits, for example thinking that the deceased will come down to eat the food. The memorial rite should only be done as a sign of respect and not for believing spirits. The whole idea of calling out the name to call the spirit, sending out messengers, escorts, giving them the straw shoes, the toll money to pass the gates should be all prohibited. The ideology of spirits should be diminished and as mentioned before it is for fulfill filial piety and to show sign of respect to the parents. These cannot be all the idea’s however the purpose here is to come up with some solution for the Korean Protestant Church so that it does not cause any more social problems or dilemma’s living as a Korean Christian.
The Korean Protestant Church faced tremendous dilemma towards ancestral worship and even today, these issues are not resolved. Within Christian families, ancestral worship is still practiced and some perform chudoyebe. The Catholic Church later reversed ancestral worship and accepted the Korea tradition and ritual however the Korean Protestant Church is far from creating a new understanding of Korea. If the Korean Protestant Church maintains to accept ancestor worship as a form of idolatry then the Christian population will continue to decline. If simple changes and revisions were made such as deceased spirit is alive and since the bible states clearly that they cannot communicate with the living and there is only heaven or hell after death. For example the family cannot believe in any forms of spirits. The deceased memorial rites is a sign of respect and there cannot be any belief regarding spirits. It is not that simple of course but what I am trying to get through is compromise and understanding of each culture and traditions since Korea is unlikely to give up ancestral rites for a very long time. This paper has examined the background of Korean Ancestral Worship and explained why it needed to re-examine this terminology in the Korean context and lastly it explained the implications with the Korea Protestant Church. Every culture is different and unique and its our culture that shapes and molds our identity. Confucianism had been in Korea for a very long time and still holds and exists in our community. A new paradigm and understanding is need in our multicultural environment for the Korean Protestant Church to survive.
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below: