Christ Himself is Our Salvation:The 150th Anniversary of Protestant Mission in Japan by Mira Sonntag, missionary  Tomisaka Christian Center, Tokyo

The Kyodan’s decision about and tentative schedule for the celebration of a century and a half of Protestant mission in Japan has been announced in previous KNL issues. Summarizing from the celebration schedule leaflet and related articles in Shinpo (The Kyodan Times), Nos. 4668, 4673, and 4674), I would like to clarify the planned events and the motivation behind them.

Despite considerable criticism, the Kyodan Executive Council has reconfirmed the year 1859 as the official beginning of Protestant mission in Japan, as that was when seven U.S. missionaries affiliated with various denominations began to share the gospel, although Christianity was still banned. The first generation of these missionaries agreed that Japan needed a unified Christian witness that transcended Western denominational divisions. While in the past, Japanese church historians have claimed that the stronger personalities of the second generation of foreign missionaries confounded the ecumenical spirit of their predecessors, today Kyodan representatives express their deepest gratitude for the work of foreign missionaries and do penance for Japanese Christians’ inability to foster and develop the evangelical enterprise due to interdenominational conflicts and the lack of unity inside the Kyodan itself.

These very open words of confession may relate to the fact that the Kyodan did not realize the goal that was set at the 100th anniversary, namely to double the number of church members. Participation in the festivities at the time had been promising, but Kyodan membership has declined. (See “50 Years of Kyodan Data,” KNL No. 352). But the emphasis of the first Protestant missionaries’ ecumenical approach also expressed the strongly felt desire for unity. The latest issue of Shinpo (The Kyodan Times) reconfirms the early postwar conclusion that “the establishment of the Kyodan as one Prostestant body in 1941 (actually due to state measures related to political alignment) has to be understood as God’s miraculous fulfillment of the first missionaries’ prayers for unity”.

How is the Kyodan then seeking to reconcile itself to become one body in Christ? The first event of the year was an anniversary service week organized by the Tokyo Association of Believers, Jan. 5-11, with six consecutive (mostly evening) worship services at Ginza, Fujimicho, Koishikawa Hakusan, Asagaya, Takaido, and Tokyo Yamate churches. Over 500 people from 12 denominations attended the services, which were all used the same scripture passage: 1 Cor. 1:18. Also, the information leaflet about the interdenominational celebrations to be held at Yokohama Pacific Hotel, July 8-9, expresses the wish that “using the same logo, the same theme, and the same prayer” will foster solidarity among Christian churches, schools, and organizations. (More information is available
Interestingly, the celebrations in Yokohama are organized by the Kyodan and the National Christian Council in Japan, together with the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association and Nihon Revival Association, which in the past have been rather shunned for their dedicated approaches to the masses. The Yokohama schedule includes artistic worship with gospel, dance, and stage performances as part of a festival on the first day. Many guests from North America and Asia (none from Europe) are on the list, and video greetings from David Yonggi Cho, Rick Warren, and other mega-church ministers will be shown during the following anniversary service.

On the second day, there will be two large-scale symposiums with ten parallel workshops dedicated to a variety of topics as well as a special music program. Among the 24 guests for this day’s program, two women will make a presentation on the history of Christian education and social welfare organizations. The program will end with a ceremony of dispatching for service. By celebrating this milestone in the history of Christianity in Japan, the organizers hope to be able to appeal to Japanese society as a whole. If “unity” is a nationwide desire, there might be a chance, but so far we will have to wait and see.
Note: For the Yokohama celebrations, the fund raising goal has been set at USR500.000.

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