Japan: The Missionary’s Graveyard?

An excellent post (itself taken from Chalcedon) on the lack of growth of the Gospel in Japan can be found at GospelBBQ. I hope that you will read the whole thing yourself: I am only going to touch on a few highlight here.

A comparison between the shrinking of the Gospel in Japan, and the shrinking of the Gospel in the West, could be fruitful, but something I will leave to others.

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.

If all the Church is interested in preaching is escape-and-retreat – as if we were a bunch of Buddhists or Hindus – then how on earth do they expect to gain the victory? Are they so self-deluded to believe that God – the Creator, Master, and Judge of All – is weaker than Satan – a lying and murderous squatter, liar, and murderer? Even in a temporary, most flimsiest of ways? Even just on earth?

How idiotic can you get?

God rules, and commands, and shapes the Creation, and everything in it.

Satan, a cruel, lying creature on the losing side of the War in Heaven, cringes before God, and works only as God permits him to – and not a step more.

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdomofGod has come upon you. – Matthew 12:28, NIV

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. – Matthew 28:18, NIV

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesusand your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. – Ephesians 1:15-22 NIV

Now, to get back to the article:

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.


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 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.

Something that is directly against Scripture, and thus the clear command of God. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” – II Corinthians 6:14

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


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.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if liberal Christians ‘missionaries’ of the 19th century encouraged this approach, even as they taught that it was A-OK to worship the Emperor…

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.

Fearing Men, rather than God.

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 waya way which is detrimental to the gospel itself. Such unbiblical contextualization pervades every aspect of evangelism, church planting, and academic discipline.

I have no doubt how God will reward this kind of insolence.

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

“Don’t cause trouble, or it might get the gays/atheists/Muslims/Establishment angry with us!”

“If we crawl on our bellies enough, maybe Our Masters will be kind, and just toss us some dog biscuits instead of a beating!”

“When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”” – Exodus 5:20-21

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.

A clean break is needed. And not just in Japan, either…

** Points to the exceedingly one-way “alliance” between conservative Christians and conservative political parties. “You go and fetch us some votes, and we coo some nice words about God… every so often… until after we have been elected… **

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. 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, 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.

Yes, even a bunch of nature-worshippers are more interested in the world of ideas than most Christians are!

Apparently, the fact that Christians are supposed to be Judges, that we are expected to be critical thinkers, has been most effectively suppressed – by the laity and the pulpit for quite some time now.

I hear that such a policy makes it far easier to command Christians to obey those who despise them… and women in particular dislike too much critical, rigorous thought. On the other hand, a nice, awishy-washy God of their deepest desires would surely never send anyone to hell…

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.

God Demands Excellence.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48

God’s People (in Japan, in America, and throughout the West) have decided to despise and hate excellence – “It’s just too hard! And what’s the purpose of shining the brass of a sinking ship?” – and so continue to be ground under the heels of those God-haters who are willing to work for a living, and put in the hard work and time needed to truly master a discipline or a skill.

You can’t beat something with nothing.

And you can’t beat hard, cold steel with cotton-candy wish fulfillment and escapism.

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.

It’s long past time that those fake Christian schools – in Japan and in the West – were unmasked for what they are, a mere control-tool of Our Contemptuous Masters… and flung into the dustbin.

It’s long past time for the Church to get serious about victory, and start paying the heavy-duty prices needed to again master the culture.

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.

The Japanese Christians crawl before their Establishment Idols… and we do the same.

God has no time or tolerance for idolatry.

Not even a little bit.

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.

I expect very little from the pulpit, there or here. Especially not from the gelded seminary men.

It will be up to far-reading, hard-working, driven Christian laymen to get the job done.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s