There is grave need for a complete revaluation of Christian missions in Japan today. Post-war policies of the major Boards, the tremendous influx of independent and diverse new groups and, most of all, the sobering fact that after many decades of mission work the Christian Church in Japan has yet to make the impact so needed in that land, all combine to challenge to a new concept for spreading the gospel message, and of the Church itself.

The average Christian abroad does not have the remotest idea of what has taken place and is taking place now. He does not know what policies are now being pursued, nor of the cross-currents of conflicting opinions which have such far reaching effect for or against the evangelization of that great nation.

A Difficult Field

Japan has always been a difficult nation for Christian missions. An old culture; an advance civilization by Western standards; one of the highest literacy rates of any nation and deep rooted religious practices inherently antagonistic to the Christian faith, all of these and other factors combine to make imperative that the Gospel shall be presented in its simplicity and power and in a complete trust in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.

Where Christian missions have been carried on depending on the uncompromised Gospel and its implementation by the Spirit there have been corresponding results. Where there has been a tendency to deviate from the historical evangelical concept of the Church and her message there has been a corresponding deviation in both quantity and quality of results. Theological liberalism has more adherents in Japan than is probably the case in any other mission field of the world.

While the combination of difficulties outlined above are real and ever present, they are complicated today by matters having to do with mission policy. On the one hand we have the determined effort of some of the major Boards in America to erect an ecumenical Church on a man-made foundation and to maintain it by hidden but not the less very real ecclesiastical and financial pressures. On the other hand we have an influx of a great number of independent and often diverse groups, far out numbering the old line denominations, but lacking both in missionary experience and often in an adequate doctrine of the Church.

Because of these conflicting interests and policies missionary work in Japan is confused and confusing. To face the problems will require a work of grace and an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on all concerned. This is an end not too much to pray for, nor to expect if Christians will act as Christians should. But rest assured, it will require a work God alone can do.

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The Rise Of The Kyodan

One of the serious bones of contention today is the Kyodan or United Church of Japan. The history of its organization is of great significance. Just prior to the outbreak of World War II the Japanese government determined to insure full control of all religious forces. It passed a law naming conditions under which any religious body could secure official recognition and immunity from arbitrary police action. When Christian denominations began to apply for recognition they were first told that no applications from bodies with fewer than five thousand members would be accepted. Then when the smaller groups had formed unions among themselves to meet this requirement they were told that only one Protestant group would be recognized. Rather than be left without any legal status almost all united.

Not by the wildest stretch of imagination could such a union have taken place without extreme government pressure, although it is true that from the earliest days of Protestant Christianity in Japan many denominational leaders had been working for union. Their successors now used the government-given opportunity to the utmost. This government sponsored union was enthusiastically acclaimed in America. Most of the major mission Boards of North America decided to further it and set up the Inter-Board Committee, which agreed upon resumption of work in Japan to support only churches in the Kyodan. In this way the Japanese churches were faced with a dilemma—continue in the Kyodan and receive mission board support, or, as some felt impelled to do, follow the dictate of conscience and withdraw from this government-sponsored organization and find themselves without missionary support. That many were led to take the latter step is a tribute to their Christian convictions and courage.

Among the major denominations the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (South) took a much more liberal viewpoint. The mission and the Board agreed to cooperate with Japanese ministers and churches, formerly associated with the work of that Board, both inside and outside the Kyodan, regarding the choice as one for the Japanese themselves to make. Had all Boards taken this statesmanlike position the Kyodan would largely have disintegrated as it lacked the spiritual unity necessary for a genuinely ecumenical church.

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It is true that some smaller groups never entered the Kyodan and immediately following V-J day many other elements withdrew and assumed their former identity: Episcopalians, Lutherans, elements of the Baptist groups, Friends, Nazarenes and others. Some former Presbyterians withdrew to establish the Reformed Church of Japan, others reestablished their identity as the Shin Nikki, or new Church of Japan.

Virtually A New Denomination

Today something less than half of the Christians in Japan are in Kyodan churches and they are made up largely of Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The Committee of Cooperation, a group set up to administer the work of the Inter Board Committee and the Kyodan, is locating Methodist missionaries in fields developed by Presbyterian and Congregational missionaries.

Today to all intents and purposes the Kyodan has itself become a denomination. Strange to say, the ecumenicity and cooperation such a group should be expected to extend to others is lacking. Backed by the Inter-Board Committee and the Kyodan leadership, missionaries assigned to the Kyodan are not permitted to work with non-Kyodan ministers and churches. Where denominational differences existed before, differences which were often submerged in a spirit of Christian fellowship and love, an ecclesiastical wall has been set up.

Such a policy is an admission of weakness, not of strength, and it aggravates the already confused mission and church situation. Today there are some 143 Boards and Christian organizations working in Japan. Many of these groups are very small but some are large and are continuing to grow. The largest interdenominational group is T.E.A.M., The Evangelical Alliance Mission, with over 150 missionaries.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that 90 per cent of the 2400 Protestant missionaries came to Japan after World War II. This proportion of new missionaries, many from small and often divisive groups lacking both the wisdom of years and of experience, has created problems both in the realm of general policy and also, very often, with reference to an adequate concept of the Church itself.

An Impaired Witness

The Christian Church in Japan is weak; few of her leaders have the zeal and vision needed in a nationwide program. Tithing, to be found among the Seventh Day Adventists and to a lesser degree in the Reformed Church, is otherwise almost unknown. Japanese pastors are inadequately paid and this increases the power of those who dispense mission funds. The non-cooperative spirit of the Kyodan is largely matched by a similar attitude in many of the independent groups who in some cases are suspicious of each other and in others may join in a distrust of the older denominations.

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The end result is a greatly impaired Christian witness in Japan, one totally inadequate to seize the opportunity and meet the desperate needs of that nation.

This is not a blanket criticism of any one group. Some of Japan’s finest Christians are in the Kyodan. Some of the most devoted missionaries from abroad are working in that group. Others of equal Christian faith, zeal and devotion are to be found in the noncooperating and independent groups. The Kyodan, with less than half of the church membership and only about one-fifth of the total missionary personnel working in Japan, has no right to arrogate to itself a priority it does not deserve. Nor do the other groups have the right to indulge in a wholesale condemnation of the Kyodan.

There is a desperate need today for some unifying influence in Japan, not directed towards a united ecclesiasticism but to a recognition of the fact that Japan needs Christ and that present personnel and policies are falling far short of the task.

Men inside and outside the Kyodan agree that the Billy Graham campaign of last March had a most wholesome effect on the church as a whole. But it was entirely too limited in time and scope. A nationwide campaign of gigantic proportions is needed. Japan is flooded with western movies and with propaganda of one kind or the other which presents western culture at its worst. This needs to be counteracted with the Christian message on a saturation basis. Christian films in large quantities, along with large sums spent in buying time on radio and TV networks, are needed to present the claims of Christ—not a mere system of ethics but the Gospel in all of its simplicity and power.

Many are convinced that some of the major mission Boards are missing the boat by maintaining a false ecumenicity which is doing harm to the Japanese Church, frustrating many missionaries who find themselves caught in the web of unrealism, and which is also drying up the source of giving, both in America and more important still, in the Japanese Church itself. There is a failure to measure up to the evangelistic need because of the channeling of missionary activities primarily into institutional work.

Missionary statesmanship at its very best is desperately needed, a statesmanship not now in evidence among the denominational Boards as a whole, the Japanese Christian leadership nor in the independent and interdenominational groups.

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The effective evangelization of Japan is at stake, and the time for its accomplishment may not be indefinitely prolonged.

Preacher In The Red


It was Easter Sunday morning in 1907, my third Easter in the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church. I stood before my congregation in Venice Center, N. Y., to read the Scripture lesson, as found in Matthew 28. When I came to verse 4, instead of the inspired words, “And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men,” I heard myself say, “And for fear of him the shakers did quake.” Appalled, I quickly proceeded to correct my mistake by solemnly declaring, “For fear of him the Quakers did shake and became as dead men.”

By that time solemnity was at an end!—HOWARD S. BACON, Elbridge, N. Y., retired member of the Central New York Conference of the Methodist Church.

L. Nelson Bell, M.D., F.A.C.S., missionary in China for 25 years and for 15 years a successful surgeon in Asheville, N.C., is Executive Editor of Christianity Today. At present he is making a six weeks trip to Japan and Korea.

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