April 15.2012 Hidenori Takahashi
Introduction: Importance of being out of your own country
It is a great pleasure for me to be in a fellowship with brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ at MCC.
I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal savior when I had an opportunity to study in the U.S. at the age of 21. I decided to dedicate my life as a pastor when I was working for a Japanese financial institute in Germany at the age of 32. This shows that, in order to make a crucial decision in my life I needed to be out of my own country, Japan.
1. Reviewing the failure of Japanese Christianity
a. Problem of the group oriented thinking
It is said that one of the reasons why Japanese people made a great success in business area is their good team work. A typical Japanese always earnestly try to respond to what his belonging group expects him to do. Because of this mentality Japanese Christian church committed great sin against the Lord and other nations especially in Asia.
People say that in Japan there are not only institutional religions like Buddhism, Shintoism, and Christianity, but also something almost like religion that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. It is Japanese mentality, often called Japanism.
In 1549 Jesuit missionary Francisco Xavier came to Japan, and the mission work by him and other missionaries was very successful. Within 50 years, there were almost 600,000 Christians in Japan. This number was about 2.4% of Japanese population at that time. There were many mass-conversions. For example, when one feudal-lord converted in one area, all the people in that area converted as well. But, when Japanese central government began persecuting Christians, almost all feudal-lord lapsed from faith. Mass-conversion came to an end with mass-apostasy.
Of course, there were many Christians, who were faithful until death and left good testimonies. However, in spite of that, within a few decades, almost all Christians were vanished in Japan. After severe persecution, for nearly 250 years, officially there were no Christian in Japan.
b. Japanese Christians worshipped Japanese Emperor
In 1868 modern Imperial Government began. Along with importing western technology, the government finally ceased prohibition of Christianity in 1873. Many missionaries from U.S. and Europe came to Japan, and a lot of Japanese intellectual people came to know Jesus. After 40 years, in 1912, the number of Protestant Christians in Japan was almost 50,000. In 1925 the number increased to 170,000. It tripled within 13 years. It was almost 0.3% of population and it is almost the same rate as it is now.
But in June 1941, during World War II, shameful thing happened in Japanese Church. All the Japanese Protestant churches were united under the pressure of Japanese militaristic regime. The purpose was to make all churches to co-operate with Japanese government’s war policy. At that time each denomination reported relatively large number of members. Officially there were 230,000 Protestant Church members registered under the United Church of Christ in Japan. Can you believe that 230,000 Christians were united under the Japanese Emperor? At that time, the United Church officially declared that they were not only Christians, but also servants of Japanese Emperor, and their primary duty was to serve for the Japanese Empire. On the day of foundation of the United Church, all the leaders of the church went to Yasukuni Shrine, which is Japanese militaries’ memorial shrine, and they worshipped Japanese gods. And almost all Japanese Christians worshipped Shinto shrines and worshipped the Emperor as a living god. A few Christians who rejected to do so were put into jail. However, Church leaders claimed that what they were doing was not religion but a part of Japanese culture.
2. “Fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.”
a. One man of you puts to flight a thousand.
What I shared is one of the greatest shame in Christian history of the world. But according to the Bible, almost the same thing happened more than 3000 years ago in Israel.
After great success of defeating pagan nations in Canaan, Joshua became old and was waiting for death. Joshua wanted to leave a lasting Legacy.
His command was simple “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” People in Canaan was bigger than Israelite and had strong weapons, so Israelite might have feared them than the Lord and compromised with them against the commandment of the Lord.
Relating to this, Joshua promised, “One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you” (23:10).
The secret of the victory was simple. “Be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you…” (23:6, 7)
There was a danger that Israelite would be mixed with remaining nations in Canaan, and that they would even mix the Law of Moses with the remaining pagan worship style.
b. Failure to cling to pagan nations instead of God of the Bible.
Before World War II, liberal theology from Germany influenced Christian leaders in Japanese church and they could not believe the Bible as the infallible word of God. Also, because of the inferiority complex to western countries, they tried to establish the new Christianity which fits to Japanese mentality. They tried to mix the teachings of the God of the Bible with remaining teachings of Japan, just as the same as Israelite did in 3000 years ago.
But Joshua urged that “you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day… if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you… they shall be a snare and a trap for you” (23:8,12).
This means that they need to choose whether to cling to God or cling to pagan nations. During World War II in Japan, leaders of Japanese churches thought that in order to protect church members from persecution by military regime, they should compromise with Japanese government. But such attitude was actually what was warned by Joshua.
We must remember that there is always the danger. If you cling to pagan nations, you can enjoy short term peace with them. But as Joshua warned, they shall be a snare and trap for you.
For instance, in Korea, before and during World War II, many Christians lost their lives because they refused to worship Japanese Emperor and other gods in Shinto shrines. As you know, Korean church is now so blessed by God and powerful among nations.
c. No one can serve two masters.
In Japan, the number of Christians right now is almost the same as the number before World War II. What was the problem? Just after the war, many people were attracted by Christianity, especially by American missionaries. Part of the reason was that they showed their wealth and strength. For instance, 17 years after the war, the number of Protestant Christians doubled to 360,000 in 1962. At that time, the number of Catholic Christians was 290,000. Together, the total number was 650,000, and it was 0.74% of Japanese population.
In 2006, official statistics showed that the number of Protestant Christians is 620,000 and the Catholics is 480,000, in total 1,100,000, and this is about 1% of Japanese population.
But in fact, many people had already disappeared from the church. Currently the number of officially registered active Protestant members is only 275,000, which is only 0.2% of Japanese population.
There were so many nominal Christians. Many of them were attracted by Christian cultures especially from the U.S. right after the war. But when Japanese could show success in business world better than lots of Americans, a lot of people were not attracted by Christian cultures any more. It is very simple. When Toyota Motors became superior to General Motors, people tend to think, Japanese religion is better than American one. It has been very tragic that Christianity has been seen as an American religion.
In such circumstances, the word of Joshua really hits the point.
“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (24:14, 15)
In these two verses Joshua used the word “serve” seven times. It is explained here, that our conversion is the changing of object, which means whom we will serve. During World War II, Japanese Christians choose to serve the Emperor, and after the war many of them choose to serve money. They thought that they can serve two masters at the same time. They forgot the word of our Lord Jesus, “No one can serve two masters.” (Mat. 6:24)
The problem is that we always want to challenge what Jesus says impossible, and we do not challenge what Jesus says possible. We tend to think that we can serve money and the Lord at the same time, but we tend to be afraid of proclaiming the Gospel. Although Jesus is always glad to give us wisdom and power, somehow we tend to be timid in serving the Lord.
3. A personal commitment to the Living God.
a. “As for me”—Meaning of free church movement
In any way we need to choose who is our master. And Joshua’s word “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” shows the real personal commitment to the Living God.
Actually people in Israel and in Japan have similar mentality. They stress the importance of community, and the greatest threat for them is to be kicked out from the community. They always seek favor of other community members. But here Joshua is emphasizing the personal commitment, no matter how the others would respond.
Personally I was not an evangelical free church member at first. I was a member of the liberal Lutheran church, which originally was the State church of Germany. But when I had a chance to live in Germany, I could see the roots of problems. There were so many nominal Christians, and pastors of the state church were preaching morals and philosophy instead of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. But in the free church I was able to see the living Christians, empowered by the spirit of Jesus.
I was a very typical Japanese and I always tried to meet other people’s expectations. I tended to cling to people instead of God. In the free church, on the other hand, personal commitment to God is always emphasized. Christianity is not morals nor a system, but a personal relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ.
A visible church sometimes makes great mistakes like churches in Japan or in Germany during World War II. These mistakes happened, because those organizations tried to protect themselves and compromise with political movements at that time.
Dr. James Houston, the founding principal and chancellor of Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, points out something that we all need to remember. In his book, “Joyful Exiles,” he says something like this (I have only Japanese translation…, but this is what he says)… “Organization tends to be blind to sin… it is not formed in a way to enable someone to repent… Rather, organization is intended not to believe in God and trust in Him, but to believe in oneself and trust in oneself politically… Organization itself can be an idol.”
As this warning indicates, we should be very careful that we will not trust in organization too much.
Actually, as we know in Church history, the Reformation was realized with the following words by Martin Luther in 1521 at Imperial Congress in Worms.
Luther said, “I do not believe in Pope nor the church council. I cannot delete my statement, because I am conquered by the Word of the Bible which is shown to me clearly, and by my conscience which is bound with the Word of God.”
This confession by Luther should be the foundation for all Protestant churches. Therefore, each Christian should read the Bible by oneself first and cling to God personally, instead of clinging to church organization.
In order to make this possible, the church should first believe and teach the infallibility of the Bible, and stress the work of the Holy Spirit in each individual Christians. In this context, we EFC, firmly believe the infallibility of the Bible and the freedom of conscience.
Therefore Joshua’s confession “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” is truly the foundation of the free church movement.
b. You are not able to serve the Lord
By the way, in response to the challenge of Joshua, the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight… Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (24:16–18)
They had already experienced the blessing and goodness of the Lord and their response must have been genuine. However, they did not know how weak human hearts are.
Therefore Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” (24:19–20)
Joshua knew how Israelites were going to be attracted by pagan cultures. Those gods were gods of affluence and pleasure. They are gods that stimulate human hearts to seek worldly pleasures and do not say anything about being holy. Israelites didn’t know the personal living relationship with the Lord.
But the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” (24:21)
The reason why Joshua pointed out their weakness was to ensure that they would never forget their own response.
c. Incline your heart to the Lord.
Therefore Joshua confirmed their response and said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” (24:22)
He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (24:23)
Surprisingly they still possessed foreign gods, and Joshua urged them to throw those gods away. After that he used the different words and said “Incline your heart to the Lord.” That is, to stretch out, or, spread out their hearts, so that their hearts could be filled with the will of God, instead of demanding God to do their will.
And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” (24:24)
They responded correctly when they said to obey His voice. Original Hebrew word for “obey” is “Shema” which means “to open their hearts and listen very carefully”. People often fail to obey God, simply because they don’t listen carefully and misunderstand the will of God. That was the problem of the Pharisees, and Apostle Paul was one of them. Paul knew this failure very well from his own experience. So he said “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17)
4. Making the covenant
a. If you forsake the Lord…
To the question by Joshua people responded three times, “we will serve the Lord our God.” (24:18, 21, 24) Joshua wanted to confirm their commitment. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day… (24:25)
But the Bible tells us that soon after the death of Joshua, they abandoned the Lord and served Baal. It is hard to believe, but it is true.
In the covenant, there was always the word of curse. In this case Joshua had warned, “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” (24:20) As you all know, Israel was cursed at the end and lost their Land.
The problem was that they did not know their own hearts. They thought they could. But the Bible is clear that descendents of Adam are unable to accomplish the will of God by their own strength.
b. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law
We all know the story that Apostle Peter denied Lord Jesus three times. But Peter had never thought he would do such an unfaithful conducts. He said “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away… Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Mat.26:33, 35) His response was basically the same as Israelis at the time of Joshua.
Peter could have been cursed like Israel, but Jesus took his curse instead, and died for him on the cross. As it is written, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:13)
And Jesus was risen from the dead and appeared to Peter, and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” and Peter answered three times, “You know that I love you.” Because Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus confirmed his love three times. Peter’s third response was unique, he said, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.”
In our love there is always so called “ambivalence”. We don’t know how much contradictions and inconsistency exist in our hearts. Sometimes we even get angry with God, but Jesus knows everything. He knows our weakness.
Have you ever thought, why Peter could accomplish his love to Jesus until his death? Peter had learned his own weakness and he had received the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Peter could accomplish the will of Jesus with the Spirit of Jesus.
Conclusion: We are all the covenant family of Jesus Christ, united by the Holy Spirit.
I shared the failure of Japanese Church, because we can learn from failure much more effectively than from success. EFC Japan is still small. We have only 4,700 members, and it is about 2% of Japanese Protestant Christians. But with the lasting legacy of personal commitment to Jesus Christ and faith in the Bible, we can influence Japanese church and society. We are all the covenant family of Jesus Christ, united by His Holy Spirit.
Please pray for Japanese church so that we really repent the terrible sins of the past and make the new covenant, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Not by the will of human nature, but by the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.