Eastern Philosophy and Christianity





Introduction

This page is designed to help the Christian wondering about the propriety of martial arts in a Christianís life. It is designed to help them consider biblically what are the issues and to wrestle with them accordingly.

As Christians we have to clarify our foundational beliefs. The core of all Christian doctrine is found in an understanding of Godís written revelation of Himself, His character, His promises, and Absolute Truth. This can be found in one place only, the Bible.

For those who disagree with this presupposition, the rest of this discussion, as well as any discussion on theology, is fraught with problems so comprehensive as to make intelligible conversation nearly impossible. If one claims to believe in Jesus as Godís Son, for example, the next question would be, "how do you know Heís Godís Son?" The answer, of course, is "the Bible says it." And this is true for nearly every doctrinal issue, including whether or not practicing martial arts is appropriate for Christians.

Definitions:

Before we get into our discussion proper, there are a couple of terms we must define in order to ensure that we are understanding them in the same way.

For the sake of this document the term "Eastern Religions" will refer specifically to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. There are other "Eastern Religions" to be sure, but these encompass the vast majority of religious adherents in the regions where traditional, eastern martial arts have their origin.

This brings us to another term that needs defining "Martial Arts." Composed of two words "Martial" and "Art," weíll look at each in turn.

Martial means having to do with the military; dealing with combat or fighting.

Art has to do with the development of a creative skill or expressive ability.

Combining the two terms together to form the common term, Martial Art therefore is a process of developing a skill (art) that has to do with fighting or combat (martial). Certainly this includes the Eastern Martial Arts like Shotokan, Karate, Tai Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Isshinryu, Shorin Ryu, Judo, Jiujitsu, Kung Fu, Mu Thai, Arnis (AKA: Eskrima or Kali) as well as many others, but more broadly it also includes schools of thought from other areas of the world such as Krav Maga, Kapawara (or Capoeira), Greco-Roman Wrestling, and Boxing. So the term, "Martial Art" then refers to any system of fighting or self-defense.

General Societal Assumptions:

One final assumption must be addressed. It deals with the question of origin of Martial Arts. Many people believe that martial arts originated in Kung Fu (Wu Shu), at the Xiao Lin Monastery in Henan, China. This is questionable, but for the sake of discussion we will allow this assumption to stand, because even though it wasnít necessarily founded in a Buddhist/Taoist environment much of the development of the eastern martial arts has been in areas that are culturally immersed in Buddhism and/or Taoism (as well as Shintoism but we wonít get into that in this article). Having developed so extensively in cultures so influenced, it is reasonable to acknowledge the affect these faith systems have had upon the eastern martial arts. In addition, since Buddhism comes out of Hinduism, its influence, though less pronounced, should also be acknowledged. In essence, we want to acknowledge the fact that martial arts have been influenced by these Eastern Religions.

The Problems

Whenever a discussion on whether or not Christians should practice martial arts, there seem to be four major objections posed by those who come down against it. These areÖ

Concerns Ė

  1. Martial Arts promote Eastern Religions.
  2. Students of Martial Arts practice Eastern Religions when they Meditate.
  3. Martial Arts often require participants to Bow to their instructors and seniors, thus compelling students to worship people.
  4. Martial Arts promote violence because it teaches people to Fight.

Weíll address each of these concerns in turn.

Dealing With The Problems

I  Martial Arts Promote Eastern Religions.

The first objection goes something like this: because the roots of Martial Arts lie in eastern religions all martial arts are tainted with their philosophy, therefore, at best practicing martial arts opens the door to eastern thinking and at worst leads to and encourages the practice of a false religion(s).

Biblically, the practice of any religion other than the worship of the God of the Bible is absolutely wrong and sinful. Even the compromise of the worship of the one True God is strictly forbidden and absolutely inappropriate.

Scriptures affirming this doctrine abound. For example, each of the following scriptures explicitly forbid the worship of any God other than the triune biblical God Ė Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit. Some passages simply prohibit the worship of other gods. Others warn of the dire consequences of entering into such worship.

  1. NAU Exodus 20:3 "You shall have no other gods before Me."
  2. NAU Joshua 24:20 "If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you."
  3. NAU Ex. 34:14 -- "for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous Godó"
  4. NAU Deuteronomy 6:14 "You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, 15for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth."
  5. 1 Kings 18:20-40 Ė In this passage Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal and has them all executed for worshipping Baal rather than God.

The worship of any God other than the one revealed in the Bible is anathema and will result in Godís wrathful condemnation. Contrary to popular opinion in our culture today, the object of our faith and worship does matter. Sincere faith in and worship of any other god (Allah, Budda, Brahma, etc.) does not invite the biblical Godís approval. It evokes His wrath. God alone is to be worshipped.

The question remains, however, whether or not the base supposition is true. Namely, does something having its origin in a religion other than Christianity make it idolatrous necessarily? The criticism or objection as it goes says that because they have their origin in these other religions they promote those religions sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. There is no doubt that there are clear examples of the promotion of these religions in some martial arts schools or by some martial artists. The question we are asking is, "is it necessary" or "must it always be so?" Are all martial arts tainted with the philosophy of eastern religions? Does it necessarily follow that the roots of something dictate its current condition?

To disprove this universal proposition, it is necessary to find only one example of a situation in which it doesnít hold true. If one such case can be found, then it can be asserted that there may be other cases and that martial arts could fall into such a category. So, are there any examples of something that has its roots in a non-Christian religion that doesnít lead to worshiping false gods? Are their activities, practices that have their roots in another religion/culture that seem to honor God?

The answer is a resounding, "yes." Not only is there one, but there are many. Each of the following are examples of things in our culture that have their origin in a non-Christian religion, that were developed in non-Christian culture, but which have been successfully converted from their origin to be either neutral in their influence or proponents of the worship of the one True God.

  1. Democracy has its origins in ancient Greece. Greeks worshipped Zeus, etc.

  2. The names of the days of the week have their origin in Roman, Norse, and other pagan religions. (As do the names of the months.)

    1. Sunday = A day dedicated to the sun
    2. Monday = A day dedicated to the moon goddess
    3. Tuesday = Tyrís Day (Norse equivilant of Mars, the god of war)
    4. Wednesday = Wodanís Day (Norse for Odin, king of the gods)
    5. Thursday = Thorís Day (Norse)
    6. Friday = Frigg (Norse)
    7. Saturday = Saturnís Day (Roman) the Greek equivalent is Cronos
    8. You can look into the months, but they are similarly named to honor pagan idols and false gods.
  3. Missionaries today routinely adopt various aspects of the cultures (& religions) of the people they are evangelizing, convert the meanings, and allow the people to continue to practice their culture. This does not mean that they continue to worship foreign gods. For instance, Chinese continue to celebrate Chinese holidays (new years Ė spring festival, Lantern Festival, Pure Brightness Day, Dragon Boat Festival, Double Nine Festival). Christians in that culture along with the missionaries work together to come up with ways to use similar celebrations and redefine the meaning of the activities to symbolize Christian beliefs/practices. Muslim Converts must, in many cases (for safety reasons), continue to practice Muslim traditions and holidays (prayer 5X/day, Mosque, Ramadan, Friday worship) or they jeopardize their lives. But when they pray, they pray to God not Allah, when they fast for Ramadan, it is for God, not Allah. When they celebrate holidays they do so without worshiping Allah, rather they worship God.

  4. Two such cultural adaptations we are quite familiar with are Christmas (its origins are in Pagan Winter Solstice Celebration known as Saturnalia a Roman holiday honoring Saturn) and Easter (its origins are in Pagan Spring festival Ė named for the goddess, Eostre). Today both Christmas and Easter, contain many of the same images and symbols of the original pagan holiday (greens and lights for Christmas; eggs and flowers for Easter), yet the meaning of these symbols has been revised such that they now honor God and not the pagan gods they originally honored.

  5. Some Jewish practices (which were later adopted and adapted by Christians and which foreshadowed Christ) were borrowed from Pagan religions as well.

    1. Shape of temple Ė Outer, inner, holy of holies (ex 26:33)
    2. Alter designs Ė horns
    3. Ten Commandments Ė Ancient Law Codes Ė Hammurabi Codex (Exodus 20, Deut 5)
    4. Jewish Holiday Ė Pagan Seasonal Holidays (Lev 23) much like Christmas and Easter
    5. Pagan Treaties Ė adapted into Covenant (Gen 12, etc.)
    6. Even, the title for God, "El," was a term used in the Ancient Near East for God by other cultures. The Jews adopted and adapted the title, using it to refer to God (Elohim, El-Shaddai, El-Alyon, El-Elohi-Israel, etc.)

God speaks into specific cultures at specific times and uses things with which the people are familiar to communicate transcendent ideas in a temporal setting.

Borrowing from other cultures is not necessarily bad, so long as the thing borrowed is not bad in and of itself and the way it is used is to honor God. The Jews couldnít, say for example, borrow temple prostitution and adapt it to the worship of God. Christians canít use any name they choose to worship God, because God directly forbids it (Acts 4:12 no other name).

When approaching such a situation the Christian must use a critical approach. In martial arts we must examine the teachings core to the art and those offered by the instructor. The believer must weigh them against the teachings of the Bible. When we find that either the art or the instructor teaches things that go against scripture, we should refrain from studying that art or placing ourselves under the authority of such an instructor.

Some wise precautions:

  1. Examine the Instructorís world view. Is she/he a Christian?
  2. Does the published material (web site, advertising, posters, flyers, etc.) of the school reflect a Christian attitude/belief system?
  3. What sorts of things does the instructor teach during the course of a class? Do eastern ideas make their way into class discussions or instruction? How does she/he deal with that? Do they seem to embrace the thinking; deny it; or avoid it? Explore the reasons and thoughts behind her/his approach.

When people, teachings, thoughts, philosophies, or world views contradict the Bible, Christians cannot embrace and adopt them. Ultimately the student must determine whether or not the instructor holds to the same views you do? Are they within the spectrum of Christianity or are they a non-believer? There are different branches, denominations, or sects of Christians. For instance, you may be a Baptist, but the instructor may be Presbyterian. Both are Christian, but they represent different branches of the true faith. So long as the instructor is a believer, the specific branch of faith should not disqualify them. A believer should be cautious and very thoughtful before allowing an unbeliever to be their instructor or the instructor of their child since they will have great influence on the student.

Conclusion
The origins of a thing do not necessarily dictate current teachings. An examination of the current teachings must be undertaken to determine whether a specific activity contradicts, complements, or is neutral in regard to the biblical witness.

II  Students of Martial Arts Meditate.

The second objection is related to the first. It says that martial arts teach students to meditate. Since meditation comes from eastern religionsí philosophy, participation in it is tantamount to practicing a foreign religion. This is, as the first objection showed inappropriate for Christians.

As the first objection made clear, Christians must worship the God of the Bible alone and no other god. All the same passages cited above apply. (Exodus 20:3; Josh 24:20; Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 6:14; & 1 Kings 18:20-40)

Once again, the base premise is not in question. It is true that Christians cannot participate in the worship of false gods. The problem with the reasoning is, again, with the inference drawn, not the base proposition regarding the impropriety of worshiping other gods.

There are actually two problems with this line of reasoning. First, the same problems with the first objection applies here. Just because an activity comes out of another culture or religion does not make it necessarily wrong. We have to examine the practice itself. In this case, meditation is the thing we must examine.

But the second flaw with the reasoning is the assumption that meditation comes from eastern religions. In fact, this is an incorrect assumption. The practice of meditation a does not belong exclusively eastern religions. Actually, the practice doesnít even originate with eastern religions.

The practice of meditation is mentioned in the Bible in several places. The earliest place it is mentioned is in the book of Job, where Eliphazóone of Jobís friendsócondemns Job for hindering meditation that is focused upon God.

NAS Job 15:4 "Indeed, you do away with reverence, And hinder meditation before God."

Most scholars agree that Job was written about the time Moses was writing the Pentateuch, ca. 1400BC. And if Job is an actual person (that is a matter of some debate), he lived prior to Moses. Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, wasnít even born until the 6th century BC at the earliest estimates.

Hinduism, out of which Buddhism arose, preceded it by about a thousand years in written form and longer than that in the oral tradition. The Vedas were written mostly between 1,500-1,000 BC, about the same time much of the Old Testament was being written. Both Judaism and Hinduism have a rich oral tradition that preceded the written scriptures. Some estimates of Hinduism place its beginnings with the Aryans around 4,000 BC.

In any case, it is almost certain that Judaism and Hinduism developed their philosophy of meditation with little or no influence upon each other. What exactly is Judaismís view on meditation and by extension Christian philosophy of mediation? Several passages in the Bible speak directly to the subject of meditation. They are grouped into like categories below.

  1. The Bible Portrays meditation in a positive light.

ESV Psalm 63:6bÖ IÖ meditate on you in the watches of the night;
NAU Psalm 77:6 I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, And my spirit ponders:
NIV Psalm 77:12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
NIV Psalm 119:15 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
NIV Psalm 119:27 Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.
NIV Psalm 119:48 I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees.
NIV Psalm 119:78 May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts.
NIV Psalm 119:148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.

Not only that, butÖ

  1. The Bible actually commands Mediation.

ESV Joshua 1:8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night.
NET Psalm 4:4 Tremble with fear and do not sin! Meditate as you lie in bed, and repent of your ways! (Selah)
NKJ Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.
NKJ 1 Timothy 4:15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.

Since the Bible both commends and commands meditation, one would be hard pressed to argue that martial arts are bad because they teach students meditate. The problem is that the practice of meditation can be exercised in broad ways and eastern religions practice in a ways that are vastly different than those which the biblical passages address.

What is the difference? What makes Meditation good or bad? The content of the Meditation determines its moral acceptability.

The end goal of eastern meditation is realize that the world is NOT as it seems. For Hindus that means things are illusory. Reality is vastly different than the way we perceive it. For Buddhists the goal is to realize that the universe and everything in it, include people, do not exist at all. This is what it means to empty oneís self. The end goal of Buddhist meditation is to realize and accept oneís non-existence in order to enter into that non-existence and cease. This is what Nirvana is.

The end Goal of Christian Meditation is to fill oneís self with the things of God.

  1. Godís Spirit.
  2. Godís Word.
  3. Godís Will.
  4. Godís Attitude.
  5. Godís Glory.

Both are seeking to discern the truth. But what is true is radically different in each system. For Christians it means to be filled with goodness and light. For Buddhists it means to be emptied of all.

Jesus tells a parable that describes a man emptied of evil and left empty and the danger that entails. It is a cautionary tale for all Buddhists with regard to emptying oneís self without filling the void with the things of God.

NAU Luke 11:24 "When the unclean spirit goes out of a man (emptying), it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' 25 "And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26 "Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first."

People may indeed need to be emptied of evil, selfish aspects in our spirit, but emptying ourselves, from a Christian perspective, is an incomplete action. Itís a starting point only. The Christian is then called to replace the evil with good. To fill the vacuum with the things of God, or to risk having the evil aspects return in greater degrees.

Conclusion
The practice of meditation is not evil in and of itself since the Bible not only commends it, but it commands it. The challenge is to make sure that the meditation being practiced by the Christian is done so in a Christian fashion.

III  Martial Artists are required to bow to their instructors & seniors.

The third common objection to Christians practicing martial arts is the tradition of bowing borrowed from the eastern cultures. The argument goes something like this: since bowing is a form of worship, and since Christians are to worship God alone, Christians should not participate in any activity that encourages bowing to anyone other than God.

At first glance, it seems pretty clear. Bowing is a form of worship.

ESV Psalm 95:6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
NIV Psalm 81:9b Öyou shall not bow down to an alien god.

People arenít to worship anyone but God. Therefore, people shouldnít bow to anyone other than God.

Several other biblical passages include persons in the Bible refusing to bow to someone else or refusing to allow someone to bow to them.

  1. In the first, the noble Jew, Mordecai refuses to bow down to the abhorrent Agagite, Haman.

ESV Esther 3:1 After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. 2 And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. 3 Then the king's servants who were at the king's gate said to Mordecai, "Why do you transgress the king's command?" 4 And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai's words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. 5 And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury.

  1. The second is Revelation 19 in which the angel refuses to allow John to bow down to Him.

NAU Revelation 19:10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."

  1. Another is Acts 10 in which Peter does not let Cornelius bow to him.

ESV Act 10:25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man."

At first glance, this would seem to be an air-tight argument. There is biblical commands and there are biblical examples to back it up. But upon closer inspection a few things begin to become apparent.

The first problem with this line or reasoning is the assumption that bowing is ALWAYS an act of worship. While it is clear that bowing CAN BE an act of worship, the question remains as to whether it is always necessarily an act of worship.

If there are places where the Bible records people bowing and it is not worship then the act of bowing is not inseparably linked to worship. Secondly, if there are places where the act of bowing to another person in scriptures is not condemned by scripture, then bowing to individuals can be shown to be an acceptable practice.

Before we look for examples of these two, we should take a minute to examine the passages referenced above to see if they are as strong a prohibition as suggested by those who object to bowing to people.

First, letís look at the example found in Esther. In this book, Mordecai is presented to be a God-fearing honorable Jew. His refusal to bow to the wicked Agagite Haman is often presented as an exemplary Jew whose pious lifestyle forbids him from bowing to anyone other than God, since bowing is worship and worship belongs to God alone. For several reasons the text and the story do not bear this conclusion out.

Esther 3, though it seems to suggest it, it is not a prohibition on bowing to people. What is it that the bowing is supposed to indicate in the text? Does it suggest that the people are worshipping Haman as a god? No. Look at verse 2Ö

  • 2 And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and paid homage (or honor) to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage (or honor).

One could argue that honoring someone, or paying homage to them is a form of worship, but then any honors, any ribbons, any medals, any recognition would be equally culpable.

It is not bowing as an act of worship Haman is expecting from Mordecai. Haman wants Mordecaiís respect. In chapter 5 of Esther, Haman isnít wanting Mordecai to bow, but rather to stand.

  • NAU Esther 5:9 (After Estherís meal) Then Haman went out that day glad and pleased of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordecai.

Haman is not angry that Mordecai did not bow down. Heís mad that he did not stand up. He is also mad angry that Mordecai did not "tremble" or show fear. Fear is often associated with respect in the scriptures for instance: NAU Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

So, while it is possible that Mordecaiís refusal to bow was a refusal to worship Hamanósince honor and worship can be tied togetheróit is by no means certain. Certainly Mordecai refused to honor Haman. And he certainly didnít respect him. The Esther passage alone cannot be used to defend a universal prohibition on bowing to people.

As one probes a little deeper into Mordecaiís reasons for refusing to bow, it becomes clear that itís because of Hamanís ancestry and the animosity between Jews and the Amalekites. When Mordecai is asked his reasons for refusing to bow, his answer is simple. He is a Jew. (cf. Esther 3:4) Itís a reference to his ethnicity.

Agag was the king of the Amalekites that King Saul, the first Jewish king, refused to execute even though God ordered it. It was for this reason Saul was deposed by God and David replaced him (cf. 1 Sam 15). For the Jews the Agagites are a black stain on their history. Their very existence is a reminder of their disobedience during the reign of Saul. In Esther, Hamanís lineage is made abundantly clear, repeatedly. Itís sort of like talking about Hatfields and Macoys. Mordecaiís refusal to pay honor to Haman wasnít an example of pious refusal to worship anyone other than God. It was about an ancient rivalry; an ongoing feud between two peoples.

The other two passages cited are similar.
NAU Acts 10:25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am just a man."

Peter seems to suggest that the act of bowing is reserved only for God by this statement. But notice that the text says, Cornelius fell at his feet AND worshipped Peter. Luke clarified the action of Cornelius. Cornelius was involved in two activities simultaneously. One activity is bowing. The other activity is worship. Bowing can be used in worship, but it isnít always an act of worship. When used for worship it MUST be reserved for God alone. But can bowing be used in any other fashion?

Likewise in the Revelation passage, John clarifies the act of falling at the angelís feet.
NAU Revelation 19:10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."

The act of bowing, is not necessarily worship. The act of falling at someone elseís feet isnít necessarily worship. When someone does one of these activities as a form of worship, the biblical text needs an additional comment to make it clear what is happening.

There several instances in the Bible when people bowed to other people and it clearly wasnít worship. There are cases where the Bible doesnít condemn the act of bowing to another person. Here are a few.

The Brothers to Joseph - NAU Genesis 50:18 Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." No hint of condemnation of their bowing to him. NB. There was also no hint of condemnation when Joseph had the dreams. If anything the brothers were condemned for doubting them and Joseph condemned for pride. (Gen 37)

Ruth to Boaz - NAU Ruth 2:10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?" Ė Ruth is always portrayed in a positive light, always doing what is right and committed to worshipping God. (Your God will be my God.) No hint of condemnation.

David to Jonathan - ESV 1 Samuel 20:41 And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Ė David is a man after Godís own heart. No conflict here in which God calls on a prophet to reveal Davidís sin.

Abigail to David - ESV 1 Samuel 25:23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground.

Mephibosheth to David - ESV 2 Samuel 9:6 And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, "Mephibosheth!" And he answered, "Behold, I am your servant."

King Nebuchadnezzar to Daniel - ESV Daniel 2:46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him.

Moses to Korah, et.al. - ESV Numbers 16:4 When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, - Korah was not even a righteous man, he was a rebel who turned against Godís chosen leader Moses. Moses not condemned for bowing to a man who rebelled against Godís chosen. Korah, on the other hand, is destroyed by God for his rebellion.

There is even one in EstherÖ
Esther to King Ahusueres - ESV Esther 8:3 Then Esther spoke again to the king. She fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him to avert the evil plan of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews.

Bowing to people seems to be acceptable in some cases but not in others. What makes the difference? Bowing to false gods, on the other hand, is never acceptable. Why? The answer lies in the meaning of a bow. What does bowing indicate?

Bowing is a sign of respect.

  1. In the context of worship, showing respect (through any means including bowing) should be reserved for God alone (no other gods or idols). We should not respect non-existent gods. We should never respect demons posing as gods. We should never respect false gods (Allah, Buddha, Brahma, etc.) Therefore, in the context of worship, we are to bow to God alone. Peter refused to allow Cornelius to bow because Cornelius was worshipping Peter as a God. This is reminiscent of Paul and Barnabus in Acts 14.

    NAU Acts 14:12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM."

  2. In the context of relationships it can be used to express respect to others. There is NO prohibition on what people we bow to. Moses even bowed to a man who openly defied him and instigated a rebellion. (Num 16:4) In the biblical culture if you wanted to express respect, you bowed.

  3. Mordecai did not respect Haman who was an arrogant and evil man filled with malevolence. Haman was also an Agagite, the sworn enemy of the Jews. Mordecai refused to show his respect to that sort of man.

  4. Bowing is especially appropriate in cultures that use it is a standard means to express respect and its use as such is commonly understood by the societyís members. The Ancient Near East is one of those cultures and the modern Far East mimics that culture in this respect. The martial arts context is a microcosm of a Far Eastern situation.

Bowing in martial arts, therefore, is a sign of respect and NOT worship. It is not only something that we cannot condemn, it is actually practiced in the Bible by many people and lifted up as an example of admirable behavior. Bowing is a biblical practice in which Christians can freely participate so long as they are not using it inappropriately. Christians cannot bow to idols. They cannot bow to false gods such as those found in the other world religions. And they cannot use it to worship people.

IV  Martial Arts teaches people to Fight.

The final typical objection to Christianís practicing martial arts has to with violence. The argument goes something like this. Martial Arts is about fighting. Fighting is violent. God condemns violence. Therefore Christians should not participate in Martial Arts.

Unpacking this a little, letís start with the notion that Christians should not become involved in violent activities. One might turn to Jesusí Sermon on the Mount for support of this view.

NAU Matthew 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.'39 "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." (cf. Luke 6:29)

But again, does the argument as a whole bear up under scrutiny? The first problematic assumption comes from the notion that martial arts promote violence.

One constant refrain you will hear from any good martial arts instructor is that the techniques we teach are for defense only and as a last resort.

Most martial arts instructors (even secular ones) will always emphasize the importance of looking for a way out. Whether they know it or not, the martial arts instructor who teaches his or her students various methods of avoiding violence is actually teaching a biblical principle.

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Good martial arts instructors will teach their students not to use their art to get even with someone. Again, this is biblical.

NET Romans 12:19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God's wrath, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The avoidance of violence by martial artists can frequently be seen. Many times those who practice martial arts experience a decreased need to prove themselves by fighting meaning that they are LESS violent than untrained counterparts in society There are several reasons martial artists tend to fight less.

  1. They understand their ability.
  2. They understand the danger of fighting.
  3. They experience safe sparring regularly and feel no need to enter into real fighting.

Martial arts instructors and the founders of many martial arts styles will describe the purpose of the martial art as being, "to help a person become a better person," through teaching mutual respect, taking responsibility for oneís own decisions and actions, improved physical stamina and dexterity, a determination to overcome challenges in life, confidence, self-control, as well as many other things. Some get so bold as to describe the purpose of their martial art as making better people to make the world a better place (Hwang Kee Ė Tang Soo Do, Morihei Ueshiba - Aikido)

There will always be people who abuse Martial Arts for violent ends. But consider C.S. Lewisí evaluation of a tree. Is a tree good or evil? A tree can be cut up and used to build a house, furniture, a baseball bat, or other good things. Then again, a branch can be broken off and used to club someone over the head, or to make the handle of a knife used to stab someone. This does not make the branch or the tree either good or bad. It is how it is used that that determines the morality of the action.

So, point 1 is that: Martial Arts is not all about fighting. It would be more appropriate to think of it as utilizing martial oriented training to strengthen a personís physical body and to teach them how to utilize their body in safe ways that promote longevity. This is like the original intention of college sports. They were intended to strengthen the scholarsí bodies to help make their minds sharper.

All this being said, this may not satisfy a person who is concerned that, martial arts teach people how to fight and violence has no place in the Christianís life.

The Bible is filled with examples of violence. Some condemned, but some commanded by God. So a discussion on violence in general is too broad. Letís narrow our discussion to that violence that would fall into a martial arts category of violence.

There are a few examples of people actually practicing martial arts in the Bible.

Consider Luke 7Ö
NIV Luke 7:6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

What was the manís profession? A Centurion was a professional martial artist. Consider this. A centurion was proficient in the art of the sword, hand to hand combat, and group warfare. There are many martial arts today that focus on the sword. Samurai are probably the most well known sword artists. But there are many others too, Haidung Gumdo & Kuksoolwon, Kenjutsu & Kendo, Iaido, to name a few whose primary focus is on the sword, but many others teach it as one element among many.

The centurion was a martial artist by trade. Specifically he was versed in the art of the sword as well as leadership, strategy, and warfare. To become so versed in his trade, you can be sure, took many hours of training in the various martial arts.

What was Jesusí response to the martial artistís request? Was it, "change your profession and I will heal your daughter?" Was it, "I will heal your daughter, now go and sin no more because you are a martial artist/soldier?" NO. Jesus does not even mention this manís involvement in the martial arts. Jesus does not condemn the centurion, rather He gives him the highest commendation of any person Jesus ever commends here on earthÖ 9 "When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ĎI tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.í" Whatís more, Jesus doesnít even condemn his violence or killing as a soldier (those of you who may be considering a career in the military can take comfort in this).

Also consider John the Baptistís response when soldiers came and asked him about how they should live their lives to keep from facing the judgment of God. This would have been the perfect opportunity for God to speak and condemn all martial arts and other military careers, or those that deal with violence (law enforcement for example). John could have said, turn in your swords and become merchants, but he didnít. Listen to John the Baptist speaking to martial artists.

NAU Luke 3:14 Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."

Soldiers were supposed to lead honorable lives and not to use their position for selfish gain. Nothing about violence.

Other situations in which martial artists are mentioned in the bible include:

1 Sam 17 - David who used ranged martial art (sling warfare) much like Kung Fu study archery (another form of martial art).

Gen 14 - Abraham entered into martial combat to retrieve Lot when He was kidnapped.

Judges Ė Most/All the judges: Ehud (left handed swordsman); Gideon (strategic tactician); Samson (wrestler, fighter extraordinaire).

One very important example we absolutely must consider comes from Genesis 32.

NIV Genesis 32:24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." 27 The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. 28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

Wrestling is a form of free handed sparring in martial arts where two individuals spar, using their body to cause pain in anotherís body compelling submission. Here we see a picture of God sparring with Jacob. God himself participates in wrestling, a martial art. Not only that, but Jacob is injured in the matchÖpermanently. He walked with a limp the rest of his life.

If God is participating in martial arts, Christians must conclude that the practice of martial arts is in NO WAY evil in and of itself. It is, like many activities, what you do with it that dictates its morality. The practice of martial arts is neutral. It depends on what is taught by the instructor, or how it is used by the student that determines its morality.

This final question is an important one, and it should be discussed. If the morality is based in part on the content of the instruction, how can we sanctify our practice of martial arts to ensure that is the neutral activity becomes a righteous activity? Here are some of the things we do at Brandywine Tang Soo Do to ensure that the teaching aspect of it, at least, is God-honoring.

Overview of my class.

Each class is opened with a time of stretching. During the stretch scripture is read. This gives every student the chance to hear scripture read as 1 Tim 4 teaches us we should do.

NIV 1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

Not only do we read it, but we discuss it. I try to ask questions, make statements that elucidate, challenge, motivate, or encourage my students to walk more closely with Jesus. Basically I preach a dialogical style sermon while we all stretch.

We do it while we are stretching so, we incorporate a kinesthetic aspect to our learning. Many young students struggle to sit still in class, so we engage their body as well as their mind, and hopefully their spirit all at once in order to promote greater learning and retention.

We observe a brief period of meditation after we are done stretching. This allows students to focus on the scripture we read and discussed, to clear their minds to focus on the training, and to pray silently as needed.

I close the Meditation with verbal prayer for all to hear.

Sometimes the scripture may even tie in with the focus of that dayís martial arts lesson.

This is the formal, planned inclusion of a God-honoring activities in our training, but there are also times when teachable moments happen. When issues, conflicts, disagreements, etc. arise, we turn to biblical instruction to guide our response and instruction. Students are expected to approach relationships from a Christian perspective. I handle issues from a Christian perspective. We teach mutual respect, patience, and forgiveness on and off the training floor as well as other Christian perspectives as the opportunities arise.

It is interesting to note that Paul, when describing the Christiansí struggle to live a God honoring life, employs martial arts Imagery on more than one occasion.

NIV 2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

NAU 1 Corinthians 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

The choice of this imagery by Paul; Jesusí response to the martial artist, centurion; the portrayal by the Bible of martial artists in a positive light; John the Baptistís response to the martial artists seeking salvation; and Godís own participation in a form of open handed martial art; seem to present a fairly strong case for the fact that Christians cannot conclude that the practice martial arts is inherently evil or immoral in and of itself.

Concerns from Christians to avoid needless violence and to teach their children the biblical principle of turning the other cheek, are well based. The challenge is ensuring that these concerns do not become realized through the instruction of martial arts. Christians seeking martial arts instruction should be very careful about who they select as their instruction making sure their instructor is a believer who holds to biblical teachings.

Martial arts themselves, it seems, are neutral. It is what is brought to them, and what you do with them that ultimately determines their morality.







Policies and Dojang Etiquette - Quick Reference Chart - Hyung: Origin and Meaning
Flags and Insignia - Tang Soo Do Terminology - Christianity and Martial Arts

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Revised 7/12/16