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What is Confucianism?

Question: "What is Confucianism?"

Confucianism, a religion of optimistic humanism, has had a monumental impact upon the life, social structure, and political philosophy of China. The founding of the religion goes back to one man, known as Confucius, born 500 years before Christ. Confucianism deals primarily with moral conduct and ethical living and is often categorized as an ethical system, rather than a religion. It emphasizes the earthly, not the heavenly. The doctrines of Confucianism center upon:

1. Ancestor worship – veneration of the deceased ancestors whose spirits are believed to control the fortunes of the descendants.
2. Filial piety – devotion and obedience to and reverence of the elders of the family by the younger members.

Confucianism’s primary principles are:
1. Jen – the golden rule
2. Chun-tai – the gentlemanly man of virtue
3. Cheng-ming – the proper playing of society’s roles
4. Te – the power of virtue
5. Li – ideal standards of conduct
6. Wen – the peaceful arts (music, poetry, etc.)

The ethical system of Confucianism has much to commend it because virtue is always something highly desirable, both in an individual and a society. However, the ethical philosophy Confucius espoused was one of self-effort, leaving no room or need for God. Confucius taught that man is capable of doing all that is necessary to improve his life and his culture, relying on the virtue within himself to accomplish it. Biblical Christianity, however, teaches exactly the opposite. Not only does man lack the capacity to “clean up his act,” he is in no way able to please God on his own or to attain eternal life in heaven.

The Bible teaches that man is inherently sinful from birth (Jeremiah 17:9) and incapable of doing enough good works to make him acceptable to a holy and perfectly righteous God. “For no human being will be justified in His sight by works of the law” (Romans 3:20). Man is, simply put, in desperate need of a Savior to do that for him. God has provided that Savior in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and make us acceptable to God. He exchanged His perfect life for our sinful ones: “For He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Confucianism, like all false religions, relies on the works and abilities of man. Christianity alone recognizes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and its followers rely solely on Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross opened heaven’s door to all who believe in Him and put their trust not in themselves, but in Him alone.

Recommended Resource: Encountering World Religions by Irving Hexham

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