What Has and Has Not Happened in Japan

A Missiological View: What Has and Has Not Happened in Japan

Bob Waldron

What has happened in Japan has not happened in most countries of the world. Japan has had over 100 years of exposure to churches of Christ. Very few countries in the world have ever had that length of exposure. The first missionaries from churches of Christ into South America went in 1952 or 54, depending on who you want to count. That is a very short history as compared to that introduced by the Azbills, Snodgrasses, and McCalebs.

Japan has very likely had more single women missionaries that any other country in the world. Single women have played a major role in evangelical mission circles, but not very much of a role in churches of Christ, expect for a few places in Africa and Japan. Those were strong women who would go and stay. Such as Alice Miller who served in Japan for 33 years and then died on the field.

You have had missionaries to Japan who have stayed for many years. These have been long term and for many life time missionaries. There have been a great number who have not stayed, but Japan has a rich missionary history of people who went out many years ago and stayed. Think about where we were in our church situation in the 1890’s and then think about going half way around the world for missions at the stage of development we were in at that time. That took a great deal of vision and courage and passion. For single women to go, also, was almost unheard of. Then to stay for long periods of time was unheard of. Think about the degree of commitment it took for Sarah Andrews. You have a tremendous heritage of American missionaries as well as Japanese Christians who have remained faithful so many years.

There are some things which have not happened in Japan. We have not gained a tremendous following for the Lord in Japan. The evangelicals have not done it and the mainline denominations have not do it either. We have not found any significant ways to penetrate the barriers in Japan.

I would encourage workers in Japan to be enthused with the spirit of evangelism. The slow growth and sometimes decline has to have a discouraging effect upon the church. But we must realize that there is power in the gospel. Perhaps the next person we talk to may be the person who is receptive. We must not give up on a dream for growth in Japan.

After more than a 100 years, I would encourage the Japanese churches to lead in the evangelization of Japan. I would encourage the Japanese churches to carefully consider the spiritual needs of Japan and call upon the wisest and trusted Christians and after utilizing all available resources in consultation with experienced people to determine the best approach to reaching Japan. Then out of that to come to the church in America to tell us what they need from us. We then need to listen to them. Then engage in partnership with them in the work.

Finally, we appreciate the work being done in English Bible, but at the same time we need to supplement this with long term missionaries who are trained in the Scriptures and the language before they leave the U.S. and enter the culture of Japan. We need to send people who are trained in missiology which will give them the tools to understanding culture and cross cultural communication and ways of penetrating society with the gospel.

The single most important ingredient apart from God himself is the missionary, the person who goes. After the missionary is the established church is the next most important ingredient.

Like an Onion

Though Japan is highly modern, very technological, and has many similarities to our culture, but the similarities don’t go as deep as we think. Culture is like an onion with many layers. What you see on the outside is the layer of behavior. Behaviors may be similar, but if we go to the next layer you come to the belief layer. Then next layer is the value system. Much of Christianity is preached so as to penetrate the first layer with behavior and some of the second with some change in beliefs.

At the heart of the onion is the world view of the people. The task of the church is to find out what that world view is and then speak to that world view. It is that world view which influences the value system, the belief layer, and the behavior.

What can we do to make the gospel more Asian? How can we make the Gospel the “Japanese” Gospel? The Gospel is still the Gospel, but it looks and feels Japanese.

One area is to develop a more contemplative Christianity. One of the objections which Buddhist have raised against Christianity around the world is that it concentrates on actions and activities. Christians are always doing something, but don’t spend time strengthening the inner man. They don’t spend time on meditation with the inner graces, prayer, fasting, meditation.

Secondly, Christianity must rediscover that one’s sense of wholeness and the integration of one’s life flow from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In a secular world a lot of fragmentation occurs. In Japan that fragmentation has been occurring at a rapid pace since World War II. A lot of people are living in a frantic sense with all these alliances or communities and requirements of jobs while at the same time the inner security or pillars of their inner being is crumbling. I think Christianity should provide a center with enough magnetic force that it draws the person together and provides a sense of wholeness and integration to a person’s life.

Thirdly, we must exercise the discipline to think and to write a rational, contemplative, philosophical apologetic for Christianity’s uniqueness in a way which appeals to the Oriental mind. The process should begin with a sense of humility, with a healthy respect of other people’s beliefs, and take seriously those beliefs. It should then show the beauty of Jehovah God Almighty. It should show that his holiness and power is unequal to any other deity on earth. He requires by the every essence of his being that we follow him and him only, and that we worship and respond to him out of a sense of love and reverence and awe. We need to take the time to do this.

Americans must also change their approach and style. Americans tend to emphasize preaching and teaching verbally. Japanese are more non-verbal. They measure what is said by the integrity of the person who is speaking them. We need to teach in more non-verbal ways which may mean more one-on-one mentoring. We need to find ways to express the Gospel in less individualistic ways.

Militaristic language should be avoided. We are not here to “Take Japan for Christ” as if we are mounting a military assault. It would be better to use biblical motifs from agriculture such as sowing seed, watering, harvesting a crop. This would make Christianity seem less like a foreign power coming to do damage to a culture.

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