To my knowledge this blog hasn't tackled too many issues of church history, so this post may be more "Out of Place" than "Out of Ur." Still, I have found that the past often illuminates my understanding of my faith and the times we all inhabit. In fact, I often use historical illustrations in my sermons. Not long ago, while doing some sermon prep, I was researching Christianity in 16th century Japan (stop yawning). The story of a small group of underground believers caught my attention.

In 1549 the Jesuit missionary Xavier introduced Christianity to Japan. As the church grew rapidly to 300,000 the shoguns became uneasy with the European influence over their country. In 1641, the missionaries were expelled from Japan and Christians were required to register as Buddhists or Shintoists. Those who refused were pursued and executed. The brutal persecution cleansed Japan from virtually all Western influence.

Unknown to the shoguns, however, some continued to hold to their Christian faith. Known as Crypto-Christians, or Kakure, their external lives were indistinguishable from other Japanese. They adopted the practices, forms, and appearances of non-Christians to ensure survival. The Crypto-Christians even constructed Buddhist shrines in their homes with secret compartments where Christian icons and statues were hidden and prayers were offered to the "closet god."

The strategy of adopting Japanese cultural forms to mask their Christian faith continued for 240 years, but this survival plan backfired.

Over time the Crypto-Christians confused their Christian beliefs and their Japanese disguises. The result was the emergence of a hybrid religion no longer resembling the orthodox faith of the missionaries. When Europeans regained entrance ...

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