Special Report

While Christians planned to observe the centennial of Christian missions in Japan—where Protestant effort has enlisted only one-third of one per cent of the population—the Osaka crusade launched by Dr. Bob Pierce and World Vision emerged as the nation’s spectacular evangelistic development of the year. A July 4 converts’ rally in Festival Hall, a month after the three-week campaign, not only drew hundreds of young converts for additional instruction, but resulted in hundreds of conversions of their friends escorted to the meeting.

Pierce, who had travelled 15,000 miles in preaching missions in the intervening weeks, was greeted by a capacity 4,300 persons and an overflow of 2,500 lining the Dojima River. Almost one in three had not attended a meeting previously. A call for Christian commitment drew 300 seekers indoors and 284 outdoors. “Find a Bible-preaching church,” Pierce urged the converts, “and get to work there.”

The events in Osaka gained drama from the fact that, after a century of missions, Christian results are meager. Of Japan’s 91 million people, crowded into a land area the size of Montana, less than 400,000 are members of Protestant churches. The total membership of all Christian communions is 550,000. Population is growing by one million a year, so that the annual birth rate is virtually double the present Christian population. Thus the Christian percentage dwindles.

The Protestant missionary complement numbers about 1,700. Almost 400 are identified with the United Church of Japan (Kyodan) and the National Christian Council, with a constituency of about 300,000, but the remainder, the great majority, are unaffiliated evangelical missionaries representing more than 100,000 believers. Perhaps as nowhere else these missionaries are concentrated in the two metropolitan areas of Tokyo, where a population now of more than 8,500,000 presumably constitutes the world’s largest city, and Osaka, with about five million inhabitants.

Why Witness Withered

During the past generation, some of the large denominations were prone to turn conservative missionaries to Korea and liberal missionaries to Japan. Many Japanese pulpits were given over to scholarly addresses with little vital contact with the people and life; visitation lagged, and the role of the laity in the churches minimized. Evangelical missionaries, by contrast, were concerned for soul-winning but usually lacked impressive academic credentials. “Japanese missionaries are either educated liberals or uneducated holiness evangelists” ran one cliché, which survives because it mingled overstatement with a certain measure of truth. The evangelicals, moreover, were sadly fragmented; more than 200 shades of evangelical effort compete for Japanese converts.

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Buddhism holds some 42,500,000 followers through its 170 sects, with 90,210 temples and 128,763 priests. Shintoism’s two major expressions (Shrine and Sect) have 142 sects, 192,000 priests, 116,000 shrines and 89,250,000 believers. The post-war period has seen the rise of 120 new religions or cults, many being an amalgam of Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism, and Christianity. During General MacArthur’s occupation, large masses responded emotionally to some missionary appeals, but the lasting fruits were meager, and a spiritual vacuum remains in Japanese life. The Japan Bible Society has distributed more than 20 million Bible portions since the war, and estimates that one in five Japanese has read some segment of the Scriptures.

A Frustrating Field

Although evangelical Christianity is the one message that cuts squarely across the inherited religions, missionaries have found Japan a frustrating and discouraging field. The largest congregation in the nation numbers 400; the average is 40 members. The writer drove across Tokyo three times without detecting a single church. Visitors can tour the city for an entire week and never see a church building. The missionary casualty list is high. Atmospheric conditions take a physical toll; the rainy seasons and sudden shift from winter to summer leave many workers suffering from “Japan head.” Strain and overexertion compound physical with mental pressures, and there are ten mental breakdowns to one physical, with dedicated wives not unfrequently suffering nervous and physical disorders. One of the frustrations is the difficulty of language learning. Some missionaries have come and returned, unable to learn the language. Some of these problems doubtless could be met by more adequate screening of candidates in the evangelical acceptance process. The remoteness of the Japanese to foreigners is another factor, worsened by the indifference of many young missionaries to guidance from older missionaries in matters of Japanese life and culture. Conditions of immorality, including long years of licensed vice, shape a distressing social climate. In these circumstances the missionary’s devotional life sags easily, especially in the face of evangelical divisions and intramural criticism. And amid such adversity, evangelism has lacked the vitality to keep pace with the population increase.

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Encouraging Signs

The Osaka crusade lent a new surge of evangelistic hope to the Christian cause in Japan. Ironically, mass evangelism was almost blockaded by the divisions among evangelical missionaries in Tokyo, who had asked Billy Graham to delay a visit to that city. Distressed national workers then implored Bob Pierce to come to Japan’s second city for the Osaka crusade. From the north to the south of Japan 1800 prayer meetings turned the eyes of the Christian remnant to Osaka, and many of these meetings still carry on. Saturday night telecasts presented Christianity to the nation at a constructive evangelistic level. The remarkable response by hundreds of seekers—a total of 3,175 actually professed salvation—quickened the passion for the lost. National pastors visited more than half of the 7,502 seekers within three weeks. By the end of the crusade 1,867 had attended church services in 435 churches. One church received so many new members it is already engaged in a building program. Pastors’ conferences led by Dr. Paul Rees sharpened evangelistic concern, and encouraged new boldness in witness and visitation employing lay workers.

Conflict Sharpened

The Osaka thrust has set evangelism in new focus in the church life of Japan. The most responsive group falls into the 15–21 age bracket. It should be recalled, however, that 55 per cent of the Japanese population is under 25 years of age. Most of those attracted to the Osaka meetings were clerks, high school and college students and businessmen. All were reminded, in Dr. Pierce’s words, “you cannot put Jesus Christ on your ‘god shelf’ alongside the other idols. He is the one Saviour and Lord, the only Mediator between man and God.” In these dimensions the conflict between Christianity and the non-biblical religions is being sharpened with new depth and urgency in the life of modern Japan.


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