Japan: The Missionary’s Graveyard?

Japan’s Other Disaster

By Shu Suzuki

The End of Japan

When the earthquake hit eastern Japan on March 11, 2011, an oil refinery in Chiba exploded. From my office thirty kilometers away, I saw a huge mushroom cloud from the refinery reach over a thousand meters into the sky.

The Psalmist spoke truly: the earth was founded upon the seas and established upon the floods, denying man any stability outside of God and God alone. Everything was to change in the earthquake’s aftermath. We were witnessing the end of Japan.

The impact on our lifestyle after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis was considerable. We tried to do everything as we always had, despite being continually threatened by radioactive contamination of our air, water, soil, and food.

Severely damaged nuclear reactors have been emitting enormous amounts of radioactive substances, such as cesium-134, cesium-137, plutonium, and strontium.1 The rain that falls from our sky is heavily contaminated.2

Though the probability is fairly low, it is still possible for our damaged nuclear reactors to breach. If that happens, half of Japan will be seriously contaminated by fallout. A nuclear bomb contains only eight hundred grams of uranium, but a nuclear reactor contains a million grams of uranium. In terms of radioactive contamination, the breach of a reactor is a thousand times more serious than the detonation of a nuclear bomb.

Here in the Kanto area, which includes Tokyo and Chiba, nearly all the water purification plants are themselves contaminated by radioactive fallout. Waste treatment plants face the same problems which our experts are unable to solve, meaning the contamination of our air, soil, and water will grow worse.

In the meantime, our food grows even more contaminated through the process of bioaccumulation.

Calculated risks mark our days: we cannot even walk outside without taking earthquakes or nuclear fallout into account. This extraordinary situation can only be compared to living under siege, i.e., in an actual state of war.

Our greatest concern is the long-term somatic/genetic effects of radiation exposure, a matter virtually no media outlets here will discuss. A considerable area of Japan is becoming extremely dangerous for children and young people in this regard. The future generation faces a threat that few recognize because it goes largely unreported.

Moreover, abortion has been legal in Japan since 1948. Not only have Christian churches here done nothing about it, they’ve not even bothered to warn Christians against this atrocious sin. We see almost no pro-life activism among Christians here. The Japanese churches are now reaping the long-term fruit of this dereliction: the grim demographic truth that the ecclesiastical community is shrinking through attrition as the population ages.

The population of Japan is decreasing. By the year 2050 the population will decrease by thirty million3 and by 2100 it will become one third of the present population. We now face the specter of a “super aging society,” which is nothing less than the judgment of God upon the violation of the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Compounding this problem, the next generation will suffer from “genetic impairment” triggered over time by radioactive contamination.

The Japanese government (including the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) and the Tokyo Electric Power Company are concealing what is going on at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Their official announcements invariably contain contradictions that are readily detected. They frequently hide any “unfavorable” data on nuclear reactor emission rates, the scope of contamination, etc.

During the Pacific War, most of the Japanese people were fed propaganda, being led to believe news that was fabricated to satisfy purposes of state. Sad to say, nothing has changed since then.

Besides the nuclear disaster, future large earthquakes in the Tokyo and Tokai areas are expected, since the Pacific Plate moved by twenty-four meters when the unprecedented magnitude 9.0 quake hit Japan. This geological shift will trigger the movement of the adjacent plates (the Filipino, Eurasian, and North American plates), causing massive earthquakes in the Tokai and Kanto areas (including Tokyo).

The epicenters of so-called aftershocks (some say they’re not aftershocks of the original earthquake but are actually new earthquakes arising from adjacent plates) are scattered throughout Tohoku, Kanto, Tokai, and Chubu (including Nagano prefecture). Magnitudes as high as 8.0 have sometimes been recorded for these “aftershocks.”

Under the shadow of these catastrophes, an undercurrent of apathy and powerlessness dominates every sphere of Japanese society-and the Christian churches are not exempt from it. They’ve been irrelevant to Japanese society for a long time. Due to their liberalism, dispensationalism, antinomianism, anomianism, and humanism, churches in Japan are dwindling. They have no message for Japanese society except escapism. This sort of Christianity will soon fizzle out completely. This constitutes Japan’s other disaster, which is more severe by far than the recent physical calamities that have struck our nation.

Tough Love

In the history of Christianity in Japan, missionaries have sacrificed a lot to bring the message of God’s love to our people, and often suffer setbacks after arriving in Japan. We deeply appreciate their love towards our people and nation. Because their love and sacrifice is precious, the whole ecclesiastical community should be equipped with foundational information about Japan and the Japanese people from a Christian perspective.

In terms of our Kingdom work in Japan, prepare for a Jeremiah-like situation. Love toward Japan and the Japanese people is tough love.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

Truth is the foundation of Christian love. We should know the truth. We need to see the reality. What I am going to share with you is not a rosy picture but a tough reality. First of all we need to look into the causes of the failure of Christian mission endeavors in Japan.

Some Considerations on the Failures of Japanese Churches

We need to understand the seven primary reasons that evangelism in Japan has been a devastating failure:

1) Importation of liberal theology during the early stages of church planting in nineteenth-century Japan

When the gospel first entered Japan in the nineteenth century, it carried a parasite with it: the liberal theology and higher criticism it had picked up in Germany and elsewhere. The neutered Christianity being preached was nothing less than humanism in clerical garb, since it denied the absolute authority of Scripture. It wasn’t until after World War II that a more pure, evangelical Christianity was introduced into Japan by way of the U.S.

In other words, the actual history of evangelical Christianity in Japan spans only sixty years-not 150 years! Other Asian countries such as China, Korea, and the Philippines have a much longer history of evangelism. America has a longer history yet, because the distant ancestors of its settlers had already been evangelized in Europe beginning in the fourth century A.D.

Yet, after sixty years of evangelical outreach, someone has yet to produce a good Japanese translation of the Bible-which is the most fatal of all deficiencies one can inflict upon a people.

2) Failure to build Christian families as faithful covenantal units situated within society

Up until now, one-on-one evangelism has prevailed within evangelical circles in Japan, implicitly promoting a splintered individualism in church and community. In contrast, non-Christian society has been fairly covenantal in orientation, especially in provincial areas of Japan where the combination of Buddhism and Shintoism exerts tight control to unite the community. The “division of labor” shared between these two religions is easily discerned. Shintoism provides the secular foundation and backbone of Japanese society, while Buddhism dominates the “soteriology” and “eschatology”-the spiritual concerns-of the Japanese people.

When Buddhism came to Japan, the Japanese invented the Honji-suijaku theory, which solved the dialectical problem of observing two different religions simultaneously. According to the Honji-suijaku theory, the Shinto gods are simply the manifestations of the Buddhist deities. Since both Buddhism and Shintoism lack the concept of the Creator/creature distinction, the two religions were able to merge smoothly with one another during the course of Japan’s history. The Buddhism that entered Japan was heavily influenced by Nestorian Christianity. Consequently, Buddhism provides the Japanese people with a culturally satisfying “eschatology.” This is the reason why the Japanese hold their funerals in accordance with Buddhist rites.

When Christianity came to Japan (most especially after the Meiji restoration), missionaries couldn’t help but do one-on-one evangelism, which is quite understandable. But churches failed to teach the converts the practical application of Biblical covenantalism, which is clearly taught in the Scripture. If new Christians stood firmly for Biblical truth and avoided compromise with pagan society, they were usually ostracized from society at large. The problem was, after such Christians were ostracized, they were directed towards humanism and an existentialistic worldview, perpetuating the most pernicious weaknesses that plague modern Western Christianity.

Due to the Christians’ fear of being ostracized from the Japanese community, they adopted syncretism and compromised with idolatry. They did so by paying respect to or actively worshipping the dead souls that are supposedly “divine” (because men become “gods” in the Shinto system) while also attending worship services at Christian churches and seeing no conflict in so doing. In many cases, the leaders of the Japanese Christian Church, including professors in the evangelical seminaries, endorse this sort of compromise. What is happening here is described quite clearly in the Scriptures:

“They feared the LORD and served their own gods.” 2 Kings 17:33

The other problem is marriage between non-Christians and Christians. In some cases, even pastors have encouraged it, which is the natural result of slighting the covenantal nature of marriage.

Non-believers, especially in the provincial area, are still under the influence of Shinto/Buddhist and feudal “covenantalism” that actually fortifies the covenantal nature of the family (e.g., the concept that a father/husband is the covenantal head of a family). In contrast, the prevailing Christian conception of the family as promoted through evangelism in Japan is weak and anemic. Evangelism then reaps what it has sown: the covenantal conception of the family remains poorly rooted among Christians in Japan, creating a void that keeps the nation’s Christian families weak and fragmented.

When Japan imported Western civilization, the leaders adopted Prussian/Hegelian statism. They modified it and formed “Japanese Shinto Statism” which has been the fundamental ideology of Japan. Since then it has been affecting not only Japanese non-believers but also Christians. After World War II, the existentialist worldview affected Japanese society considerably. Again, Japanese Christianity has not been free from it.

Both non-Christians and Christians are adopting the same ideology for establishing human relationships. Thus the whole of Japanese society is suffering from fragmentation of families. It is ironic that Christians in Japan are a lot more humanistic and existentialistic than non-Christians.

In most cases, Christian families are not united in the cause of Christ or the Kingdom of God. Husbands mostly spend their time with business colleagues while wives often work part-time jobs and their children are raised by the public schools. In other words, Christian families in Japan do not function properly: they fail to act as covenantal units within society because they were never taught its importance.

Because we fail to find strong leadership heading up Christian families in Japan, we don’t find it in the ecclesiastical community, either. Children don’t learn about authority or leadership from their fathers since fathers aren’t seen as providing a role model to them. When such children grow up to be leaders, they’re not well grounded on solid doctrine. They move in terms of a humanistic, syncretist, or reclusive mindset. The lack of sound leadership is one of the main causes of the failure of Japanese Christianity.

3) Misapplication of “contextualization” in terms of evangelism, church planting, and academic discipline

We possess very few records concerning Japan’s ancient history. This void has been filled by various theories concerning the roots of the Japanese people.4

Since the dawn of Japanese history, pagan pantheism and polytheism have been indigenous to its ancient tribal society. Perhaps Judaism or other influences came across from the continent and merged with the indigenous paganism, creating the deepest layer of the Japanese mindset. This is the oldest and foundational paradigm of the Japanese society and its culture.

Japan has experienced foundational cultural paradigm shifts on two occasions: when Chinese/Buddhist civilization was imported in the eighth century, and when Western/Christian civilization was imported in the nineteenth century.

The eighth century importation of Chinese/Buddhist civilization formed the so-called “traditional Japanese culture.” Buddhism was successfully planted on the Shinto soil of Japan, becoming a national/state religion in the eighth century.

The second paradigm shift that brought Western/Christian civilization to the nation began around 1850, laying the foundation for modern Japan. ( A thoughtful reader notes that: the Gospel first entered Japan in the 16th century with the Catholic missionary and associate of Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier. Xavier landed in Japan on August 15, 1549 where he and the Jesuit led “Society of Jesus” dominated the Christian mission in Japan until the end of the sixteenth century. In 1579 the Jesuits established a new town as a home for Christian converts called Nagasaki. By the end of the sixteenth century Catholics could count 300,000 converts, hundreds of churches, and two Christian colleges.)

There is a significant difference between the first paradigm shift and the second one. During the first paradigm shift, the nation’s leaders imported the elements of Chinese civilization with its religion and ideology intact. But in the second paradigm shift, the leaders of Japan meticulously and intentionally filtered out the “Christian factors” being imported as part of Western civilization, thus neutralizing them. This official purging was intensive and pervasive, as denoted by the word wakon-yosai,” which means “even though we’re outwardly importing Western culture, inwardly our Japanese-ness (Japanism) will not be changed.”

Since we have lived on four tiny islands for centuries without being invaded or colonized, we Japanese have formed a highly cohesive cultural foundation. I call it Japanism. Japanism can be described as our civil religion, but it goes far beyond that. Japanism is a defective worldview because it cannot offer you a systematic understanding of the world we live in. The foundation of Japanism is anchored upon a mixture of Shinto pantheism (original Shintoism), modified Shintoism (state Shintoism) which blends in a bit of Judeo-Christian ideology (Hirata-Shinto), Confucian philosophy, and various sects of Buddism.

In other words, Japan willfully contextualized what it imported, adopting Western civilization only on terms set by Japan itself. In the process, Hegelianism was incorporated into the system of state Shintoism, which played a decisive role as the ideological backbone of Japanese society up until the end of World War II.

Japan’s assimilation of foreign civilization spanned less than a hundred years for each of these two shifts in culture. And from these shifts, we see the unlimited capacity of the Japanese people for assimilating and contextualizing the influence of other civilizations. Japan’s total allegiance to Japanism (its indigenous humanistic outlook) provides the immutable framework within which it assimilates and contextualizes what it imports from the outside world without ever affecting its fundamental commitments.

In terms of evangelism and missiology, we have been overlooking this key fact when considering the matter of “contextualization theory.” The Japanese contextualize the gospel in their own way far better than Christian missionaries ever can! That means we should never have contextualized the message of the gospel in advance, because it then becomes of none effect.

One example of such contextual watering down of Scripture illustrates the larger problem: it is customary for Japanese Christians to avoid discussing the final judgment, focusing instead on topics like consolation and piety. The message of the final judgment is too aggressive to the Japanese, since they tend to avoid aggressiveness in their human relationships. Living in such close quarters on four small islands was made possible by avoiding confrontation as much as possible; otherwise the people could not have enjoyed peace, although it is a false peace. This is the reason why our society is cohesive and group-oriented: the Japanese people prefer to avoid confrontation. Conversely, they can be so polite they will even decline to defend themselves if confronted. These attitudes can lead to dishonesty and a reluctance to engage in counseling from Scripture.

When encountering a socially polite reception of their message, missionaries misconstrue the exchange and wrongly conclude that the Japanese are welcoming the gospel message. The missionaries don’t consider the possibility that their approach enables Japanese converts outwardly to consent to the content of the gospel and join churches without ever making a complete commitment to the faith.

In many cases, Japanese Christians will accept the gospel but are not freed from their underlying Japanism. They readily distort the message of the gospel and freely reshape it to accommodate the predominantly pagan society. When putting what they have learned of Christianity into actual practice, they modify it in the Japanese way, a way which is detrimental to the gospel itself. Such unbiblical contextualization pervades every aspect of evangelism, church planting, and academic discipline.

4) Christians’ reluctance to faithfully confront paganism’s grip upon society

Indigenous Japanese culture is generally pagan. Shintoism and Buddhism permeate every aspect of the nation. Christians often fail to discern subtle pagan influences on their customs, mindset, and daily routine. Above all, Christians fail to stand on a solid Biblical worldview, making it difficult for them to stand for the truth.

Christians here tend to accommodate themselves to the pagan society, setting in motion a never-ending series of compromises with idolatry. Since the Japanese are tightly bound by convention, poorly-grounded Christians routinely compromise with idolatry on such occasions as pagan funeral services for their family members, relatives, and supervisors.

In general, especially in provincial areas, the eldest sons of families have the responsibilities of maintaining the rituals of ancestor worship. If the eldest son is a Christian convert, this can lead to one of two results: fierce conflict replete with threats of disinheritance, or a lukewarm compromise being struck. I saw one case in which an eldest son professed faith in Christ, but fearing his family’s threats and opposition, he refused to be baptized and left the fellowship entirely.

From the beginning of Japanese church history, liberalism has influenced and preconditioned Christianity in Japan while antinomianism and anomianism have rendered the churches extremely weak and compliant in confronting persecution.

Liberalism denies the absolute authority of the Word of God. Japanese Christians tend to regard the Scripture as they possess it to be an authoritative document. In this context, they are actually allowed to bow down to idols, just so long as they do not pay respect to them. This policy is premised on the Japanese translation of the Bible, where Exodus 20:5 reads “you shall not pay respect to them” rather than “thou shalt not bow down thyself to them.”

The Japanese language can make it difficult for us to understand the message of the Bible. Every word in our language has been deeply rooted in the teachings of Buddhism and Shintoism, requiring us to redefine their meaning, word after word, if we’re to preach the gospel faithfully and accurately. In many cases, the redefinition of the words to recapture the scriptural meaning has yet to be completed.

The situation here is very different from the situation in English-speaking countries. The Japanese language has not yet been Christianized, unlike English, German, and other European languages. The message of the Bible is usually dulled by using the Japanese language. This stems from our language’s semantic and syntactical shortcomings in properly describing the Biblical worldview.

The defective nature of the Japanese language often leads to the following problems in church planting.

First, missionaries come to Japan and establish churches. Then they hand over the churches to Japanese pastors. The churches decline and cannot pass on what they have received from the missionaries to the next generation-a major reason for the decline of Japanese Christianity. But the Japanese language used by missionaries differs from that spoken by indigenous Japanese because missionaries speak Japanese while standing on the Christian worldview acquired using the English language. Many Japanese pastors don’t know how to handle the Japanese language in a Christian way, nor have they acquired a strong Christian worldview to operate from. As a result, the message of the gospel is no longer incisive. Between these factors and the shortcomings of the Japanese language, Japanese Christians fail to convey the message of the Scripture.

There is a breakdown in fidelity of communication from God to man.

Here we see how the Japanese practice of contextualization actually works. Christianity goes through a process of metamorphosis and becomes “Japanized.” Then churches lose the gospel. This process has been repeated for 150 years. As a result, we see little confrontation between Christianity and Japanese paganism throughout the entire history of modern Japan.

5) Failure to understand the historical background of Japanese society

Another reason evangelists in Japan have been unsuccessful was a failure to understand the historical background of Japanese society. Japan has more than 1500 years of history. Japanese society was likely influenced by Judaism and to some extent Nestorian Christianity.5 Shintoism itself might be strongly influenced by Judaism. But the formulation of Shinto doctrine was a complicated process. Buddhism, Confucianism, and even Roman Catholicism played an important role in its development.

Hirata Atsutane(1776-1843), a Shinto theologian, had read books written in Chinese by Roman Catholic missionaries to China (Mateo Ricci, etc.) He then modified Roman Catholic doctrines and imported them into Shintoism,6 laying the foundation of State Shintoism, called “Hirata-Shinto.” Hirata-Shinto paves the way for a smooth Westernization of Japanese society. Besides liberal Protestant Christianity, ideologies such as Hegelianism and communism were imported from the West. Since Hegelianism and communism are pagan in nature, they fit easily into the Japanese people’s outlook on family and state.

State Shintoism, once the driving force of Japanese militarism lasting to the end of World War II, remains the foundational ideology of Japan. Japanese statism is Shintoistic.

Dr. R. J. Rushdoony clearly analyzed Japanese Shinto Statism in his preface to Dr. Kun Sam Lee’s seminal volume, The Christian Confrontation with Shinto Nationalism:

The gods of Shintoism are not creative; Shintoism has no clear-cut idea of sin and morality, nor any real distinction between created and uncreated being, between the gods and men. This developing divinity present in all being is held to have a particular focus in the imperial line and in its political order, so that the state is divinized as a result of this immanent deity in all being, with its paramount manifestation in the political settlement. Western philosophies have not been able to challenge Shintoism effectively. Hegelianism has, in fact, extensively reinforced Shintoism, and Marxism, with its deification of the historical process in the dictatorship of the proletariat, has merely offered a new way of the gods and a heretical Shintoism. Western democracy, with its vox populi, vox dei concept, makes the voice of the people the voice of God and simply transfers the immanent divinity of being from the emperor to the people; deity is thus still retained for the political order but merely given a new locale.7

Since the Shinto system borrowed Christian concepts through Hirata Atsutane’s work, several deformed “Christian” doctrines are embedded in the Shinto system. For example, in the Shinto system the emperor is still “god-man” and the high priest of Shintoism. On New Year’s Day he performs the special secret ceremony called “Shihou-hai” (Prayer to the Four Quarters). It is said that in this ceremony the emperor recites an incantation which signifies that he takes on all the sin/guilt/calamity of the nation. In this rite, he acts as Messiah. This is nothing less than a violation of the Third Commandment.

General MacArthur described the former emperor Hirohito in his autobiography. MacArthur actually witnessed the emperor exercise his priestly office:

What he (the emperor) said was this: “I come to you, General MacArthur, to offer myself to the judgment of the powers you represent as the one to bear sole responsibility for every political and military decision made and action taken by my people in the conduct of war.” A tremendous impression swept me. This courageous assumption of a responsibility implicit with death, a responsibility clearly belied by facts of which I was fully aware, moved me to the marrow of my bones. He was an Emperor by inherent birth, but in that instant I knew I faced the First Gentleman of Japan in his own right.8

Japanese emperors play the messianic role in the modern history of Japan, resulting in a bizarre blend of liberal Christianity and Shintoism within Japan’s churches. If the Japanese Christians are not well equipped epistemologically and ethically, they will become victims of this blending of Shintoism and Christianity. This occurred openly in the formation of Nippon Kirisuto Kyodan (United Church of Christ in Japan) during World War II.

Japan has a long history of feudalism and decentralization which nurtured the people’s work ethic. The cultural standard had been set quite high before the opening of Japan to the world in the middle of nineteenth century. Japanese society still retains this high cultural standard. It still enjoys a low crime rate, high-level work ethics, and top-level craftsmanship as seen in its manufacturing industries.

Typical Japanese non-believers are more or less “Judeo-Christian” in conduct. This is why there was so little looting after the earthquake, when photos showed people lining up in orderly fashion for food, or food being placed, unguarded, outside of stores with nobody thinking of stealing it.

These are merely manifestations of common grace, but Japanese Christians and churches have usually failed to clarify the epistemological/ethical antithesis between Christians and non-Christians in dealing with such things. This is another reason why Japanese Christianity so readily blends with Shintoism. It is Christianity that ends up bending to the one cultural constant, Shintoism.

6) Failure to match the high quality standards of Japanese non-believers

Our situation is very different from that of developing regions elsewhere in the world. This makes evangelism in Japan extremely difficult. Average Japanese non-believers demand very high quality in everything. At the same time, they are desperately in need of relevant application of the Word of God, which only Christian Reconstructionism and theonomy provide. Thus the dispensational antinomian/anomian evangelical churches have been failing to meet the non-believers’ demands, yet another reason why Christianity in Japan has been weak and unsuccessful.

Adult non-believers pay little attention to the evangelicals. Pietistic, escapist, and existential messages mean nothing to Japanese non-believers who face life-and-death issues in business, politics, diplomacy, manufacturing, education, and science. The governing classes in Japanese society pay no attention to the evangelical culture, either. They are extremely keen consumers of art and culture. They don’t demand mediocre evangelical pop music, but the excellence of Johann Sebastian Bach. Tokyo supports and patronizes more than six professional orchestras, and there are many Japanese concertmasters in the world’s top orchestras. Unless we reach a people accustomed to living by such high standards, Japanese society won’t be changed. Only a faith that has cultural substance can speak to these needs.

7) Failure in Christian education

In most cases, the churches in Japan neglect to raise the next generation. Public education plays a significant role in de-Christianizing the children of Christian families. In Japan, Christians are not well grounded on the Christian worldview and they have little interest in having their children stand on a solid foundation. Here, education doesn’t mean giving children a Christian worldview, it only means vocational training/education. Christians thus share the same objectives as non-believers, such as entering into prestigious colleges or getting good jobs. The main focus is acceptance into Japanese society.

The antithesis between the Christian worldview and pagan worldviews is always avoided and blurred. Here in Japan, even in the case of Christian education (as practiced in “Christian schools” in Japan) we see little difference between Christian education and pagan education. This problem partly stems from the fact that we lack good Christian resources such as textbooks, curriculums, and teaching materials in Japanese. The market for Christian books or curriculums remains small.

Most of the accredited “Christian schools” are under tight control of the Japanese government. This makes those educational institutions completely pagan in character, despite being founded by missionary work. In other words, they’re already Japanized.

The Japanese language again contributes to this problem. For instance, the Japanese word for God, “Kami,” primarily refers to pagan gods. In every aspect of the Japanese language, we see the entrenched influence of paganism or, at best, sugar-coated paganism like Shintoism. We have not yet achieved a good translation of the Bible to replace the current defective one.

As mentioned earlier, Japanese Bibles render Exodus 20:5 as “you must not pay respect to them.” This dumbs down the Word of God for Japanese Christians. During World War II, the Japanese government forced Christians to bow down to the image of the Emperor before they began their church service-and they did bow down to it. Their ministers had taught them that it didn’t matter because they weren’t paying respect to that image.

Such compromise led to tragic results in the Christian community. In the case of the Presbyterian Church in Japan, 46 percent of the covenant children left their churches in 1997. Their parents and churches most likely failed to equip them with a Biblical worldview and an airtight Christian apologetics. We are failing to properly raise the future citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Children are raised in a pervasive atmosphere of Japanism. This happens even in Japanese Christian families. In raising their children, Christian parents fail to raise citizens for the Kingdom of God. Instead, they send their children to pagan public schools, and we lose the future generations to the kingdom of man.

A Bit of Japanology

So far I’ve touched on Japanology from the Christian perspective. But a simple way to grasp the typical non-believer’s mindset in Japan is to watch Japanese movies. Consider two representative films, Spirited Away9 and Always Sunset on Third Street.10

Spirited Away reflects the typical Japanese non-believers’ worldview. This Academy Award-winning film promotes traditional Japanese paganism. The film’s great success shows that Japanese pagan anime culture is a trendsetter for New Age spirituality.

The heroine Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl who lives in the twentieth century in modern Japan, is transferred to a “spirit world” which is traditionally pantheistic Japan. Here we see the different cultures’ coexistence, amalgamation, and conflict. This is one of the best illustrations of the Japanese mindset.

Always Sunset on Third Street depicts a non-Christian Japanese utopia void of any cultural antithesis regarding ideas, beliefs, and practice. People are all one under Japanism. There is no absolute standard of right and wrong, good and evil.

Analyzing Japanese anime culture, otaku-culture, permits us to identify the source and nature of New Age spiritualism and postmodern culture.

A Dismal Prognosis

The other day, one of the newspapers here (Nikkei) reported that more than 40 percent of major companies here are planning to leave Japan and settle down overseas within three or four years.

What’s happening now is really judgment from the Sovereign and Almighty God. But we see no signs of nationwide repentance here, while our Japanese churches are incompetent at proclaiming the truth and its relevant application.11

Are Christians like the faithful prophet Jeremiah, or more like the apostate Israelites who brought upon themselves the wrath of God? I cannot figure out which way our country and our churches are actually heading. We expect to see more judgment from God since there is no nationwide repentance.

The whole nation seems to be dying. It is a slow death since there is no solution for the nuclear disaster. Future historians might one day describe Japan as “an historic example of a nation which perished due to a nuclear disaster.”

We are afraid that “the accepted time” and “the day of salvation” might be coming to an end. Hostile nations such as China are trying to put Japan under their control. The national security of Japan is in jeopardy. The Japanese may become the Diaspora in the future.

Reconstruction

The whole Tohoku area (a major area in East Japan) was filled with rubble that was rapidly cleared thanks to our people’s strong work ethic. But we possess no treatment for radioactive rubble, contaminated water, and compromised soil.

We also see long-standing spiritual heaps of rubble in Japan’s ecclesiastical community. Evangelical Christianity enjoyed something of a “bubble economy” up until several years ago, but now we see its decline. Churches in Japan are dwindling. The number of pastors and missionaries is decreasing. Japan is called “the missionary’s graveyard.” Many children of “Christian families” are leaving Christian churches. They then marry non-believers, and the generation after is also lost to us.

Some would say, “For 150 years a tremendous amount of resources, manpower, and financial aid have been invested in these four tiny islands and we see few converts and little fruit.” Could the Lord’s injunction to “shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5) be justly applied to this people?

An undercurrent of apathy and powerlessness dominates the Japanese ecclesiastical community. Churches are losing any vision for the future (except for Christ’s Second Coming as promoted by dispensational pessimillennialism). I remember describing the problems our future generations will suffer to a good old saint, who then told me, “Well, I won’t be here if those problems arise.” The churches are indifferent to their future generations. They are simply waiting for the “rescue helicopter.” We see very little of the ecclesia militans. Our churches have already surrendered.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Proverbs 29:18

The first half of this verse clearly describes the present situation of the Japanese churches, but the key to reconstruction is the rest of the verse: “He that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The Westminster Standards are exclusively theonomic in its nature, but even Reformed circles in Japan disregard it. They take their stand on humanism instead, which has caused the devastation we see now.

The starting point for the reconstruction of Japan must be “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). This repentance and faith should be thorough, exhaustive, and radical, embodying three key elements.

1)   The Ultimate Authority
of the Scripture

2)   The Law of God

3)   Vision for the future

1) The Ultimate Authority of the Scripture

Many Japanese Christians were bombarded with man-centered theologies such as Arminianism, which leads them into subjectivism. Their subjectivism leads them into skepticism, and they are further weakened.

Establishing six-day creationism is vitally important for the Japanese church. The majority of Japanese churches won’t adopt it, since their worldview is strongly influenced by evolutionism due to liberal and modernist theology. They are predisposed to accept evolutionism and repose faith in human reason. Six-day creationism provides a clear litmus test for Japanese churches.

Japanese Christians must equip themselves with Van Tillian presuppositional apologetics to stand firmly on Scripture. Epistemological/ethical self-consciousness is the key to bearing the most fruit for Christ the King. Paul’s prayer below is about the epistemological/ethical self-consciousness of Christians:

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.” Philippians 1:9-10

We should be epistemologically/ethically self-conscious, even when we watch a movie such as Star Wars.

2) The Law of God

Ralph Swanson, a missionary to Japan, published a small bilingual (English/Japanese) booklet in 1978 entitled The Law of God. In the reference section he cites Dr. R. J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law. This was probably the first encounter the Japanese ecclesiastical community ever had with the Institutes! Ralph Swanson’s booklet insightfully pointed out the problem of evangelicalism:

During the last half of the 20th century, we are seeing an accelerated movement against Law and Authority. Since God is the ultimate authority and lawgiver, this rebellion may be seen as increasing sin against the Law of God. Unfortunately, this has not been restricted to the “world” but is quite obvious in much of the visible church also. The Law has fallen into disuse, and ignorance about its meaning is widespread … Regrettably, practices and attitudes from the western world have a great influence in Japan. The churches often reflect the same weaknesses as seen in America and in other countries … The Law of God has received little attention in many places … After the coming of our Lord Jesus and His command to preach the Gospel to the ends of the world, we can see the effect of God’s Law in many countries and in many eras. Outward conformity to God’s Law occurred among the general populace in periods of religious revival even in the unregenerate. This can especially be noted in Europe, in the countries where the Protestant Reformation took place with its return to Biblical teaching, and also in Great Britain and America in the 18th and 19th centuries …12

Swanson published several booklets and these booklets laid a strong theological foundation for me as a newborn Christian in 1979. However, the evangelical community at large paid almost no respect to Swanson’s important work.

The law of God defines sin and grace, and without His law we cannot understand the meaning of grace and love. Antinomians and anomians cannot consistently or fully preach the true gospel. We need to preach the law of God to preach the gospel faithfully.

The law of God is the foundation for cultural reconstruction, and especially so for the Japanese people. Biblical case laws and their practical/casuistic applications should be introduced to the governing classes in the Japanese society. The law of God defines Christian love. Apart from the law of God, churches cannot teach or practice true love, but only a deceitful humanistic love that constitutes abominable rebellion against the almighty God.

As Ralph Swanson pointed out, the law of God gives the Christian great strength-especially in time of persecution.13 The fact that God’s law was not respected among Japan’s churches led to their apostasy during World War II.

Ralph Swanson’s son, Pastor Kevin Swanson, states:

It is hard to know what God’s plans are for Japan. The fact that Japan has never had a solid Gospel presentation (thanks to the weakness of western Christianity, and apostate Judaism), may allow for an opportunity some time in the future.

Think tanks run by Christian Reconstructionists might be an effective vehicle in shaping a solid gospel presentation for the Japanese people. We also need good examples, starting with Christian families that faithfully serve the Lord, since people will catch the vision when it’s embodied in a consistent living example.

3) Vision for the future

Rev. P. Andrew Sandlin describes the present situation of the modern church in America.

The anemia and irrelevance of the modern church springs largely from the disposal of this world-conquering, postmillennial vision that fueled Christian culture in this country through much of the nineteenth century. The modern retreatist has reduced the Christian Faith to an existential panacea, the church to a psychotherapeutic clinic, and the Christian to a self-absorbed religious consumer. Evangelism is limited to tract distribution and rescue-mission work, mere soul saving … Hollywood vomits vile antinomian filth, and churches embrace every mystical New Age heresy imaginable.14

Since the American churches are the trendsetters exporting this pattern to Japan, we see exactly the same phenomenon here.

Dispensational premillennalism is widely accepted among churches in Japan. Even the Reformed and Presbyterian Christians adopt it. Those who don’t adopt it turn to amillennialism. As Dr. Rushdoony pointed out, neither of these two eschatological views speak to the problems inherent in politics, economics, education, science, work, art, agriculture and so on.15

The churches in Japan are like a Toyota with broken wipers being deluged by a cloudburst. Since they cannot see, they cannot move. Their compromised doctrine means they’re pressing the brake and accelerator pedals of the car at the same time, with the same result: the Toyota still cannot move.

God always graciously provides a vision for the future to His people. Postmillennialism is the theology of Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 13:30, 14:7-9). Vision determines conduct. We need to clarify our vision. Christians and churches need to renew their vision continuously lest they stagnate. Repentance is about direction while faith is about the goal. The vision we have will determine the nature of our repentance and faith. A Biblical eschatology which provides vision allows us to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

As yet no casuistic interpretations of Scripture have been provided to the Japanese people, meaning most Japanese Christians have never heard of the practical application of Biblical case law. Such a strategy is inexpensive and would be far more effective among Japanese non-believers than status quo church-planting and mass evangelism. Internet technology can facilitate a renewed outreach to Japan along these lines for maximal cultural impact.

Conclusion

So far the church in Japan has not been successful, and we know the reasons behind its many setbacks. We should understand the reality of Japan and Japanese society. The approach towards Japanese non-believers should be casuistic (providing a practical application of Scripture in terms of the law of God). Christians should stand on the presupposition of the ultimate authority of the Scripture. They should be equipped with a rigorously Biblical approach to reality. To serve the Lord and extend His Kingdom, Christians must become epistemologically/ethically self-conscious by deepening their Biblical vision to include generations not yet born (Ps. 22:31).

His Compassions Fail Not

As we in Japan face our national crises, the following verses echo in our hearts.

It is of the LORD’s mercies that
we are not consumed, because
his compassions fail not.

(Lamentations 3:22)

Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:4-5)

The Lord is so merciful unto us, though we see His wrath upon this nation. We are so thankful that our Lord has been providentially protecting us. Whatever happens to us, we are in His hands.

May the whole ecclesiastical community be benefited by our experiences so that the Kingdom of God will be extended and His glory manifested over all the world.

*****

© 2011, copyright jointly held by Shu Suzuki (author), Martin Selbrede (editor), and The Chalcedon Foundation (publisher) per Dr. Suzuki’s request.

1. As pointed out by Arnold Gundersen, an expert witness in the investigation of the earlier Three Mile Island accident.

2. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q3ljfLvHww and http://enenews.com/explosion-danger-reactor-1-worker-4-hydrogen-found-pipe-leading-containment-vessel-mainichi-danger-explosion-4

3. According to The Statistics Bureau and the Director-General for Policy Planning of Japan.

4. One of the more interesting hypotheses is that the Japanese are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel after the Diaspora. The architectural structure and ceremonial rites of the Ise Grand Shrine exhibits a striking likeness to the tabernacle worship described in the Old Testament.

5. http://www5.ocn.ne.jp/~magi9/isracame.htm

6. Ku Sam Lee, The Christian Confrontation with Shinto Nationalism (Cherry Hill, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1966), 26-27.

7. Ibid., v.

8. Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964), 288.

9. http://www.amazon.com/Spirited-Away-Hayao-Miyazaki/dp/B00005JLEU/ref8

10. http://www.amazon.com/Always-Sunset-Street-Classic-Japanese/dp/B005JAALEG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1323559946&sr=8-2

11. If it is true that the Japanese were descended from either the ancient Jews or Christians, it would imply that Japan’s history is marked by an apostasy spanning over a thousand years. Will Japan become like Judah which fell into the captivity, or like Jerusalem which the Romans leveled in A.D. 70?

12. Ralph Swanson, The Law of God, A Handbook for Christians (Karatsu Japan: Scripture Truth Publications, 1978), 6-8.

13. Ibid., 10-12.

14. P. Andrew Sandlin, “Editor’s Introduction,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction XV (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon, 1998), 5.

15. Ibid., 10-11.

Shu Suzuki is a physician who became a Christian in 1979 through the ministry of Rev. Richard P. Chase, an American evangelist. Rev. Chase discipled Shu using the King James Bible, through which Shu acquired skill in English. Early in his Christian walk, he encountered the booklets published by Scripture Truth Publications (founded by Ralph Swanson). Shu was later discipled by Rev. Timothy Pietsch, founder of Tokyo Bible Church. Rev. Pietsch, an old friend of Rev. Kevin Swanson, strongly encouraged Shu, while still an unmarried young man, to homeschool any children he might have later.

Shu and his wife Chieko first homeschooled their three children in Japanese because it was their mother tongue, but they found greater potential in homeschooling in English, so they switched the family’s academic language to English. The fact that Shu learned the Bible in English was the foundation for this decision. He and his wife have homeschooled their children for more than twenty-two years and their three children are now studying in colleges in the U.S.

Article from Chalcedon.edu

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This entry was posted in All-Encompassing Gospel, Law of Christ, Worldview/Culture, Z-Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Japan: The Missionary’s Graveyard?

  1. Pingback: Japan: The Missionary’s Graveyard? | Across the Stars

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