Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Be Prepared to Stand

Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

- Psalm 27:2-3

Recently I read a book entitled, "The Two Empires of Japan", which describes the history of the clash between Christianity and Japan religion. The author specifically focuses on the sixty years prior to World War II, when through successive compromises, the church in Japan bent to the government's pressure.

By the end of the war churches had been joined into a single, national "united" church, and had followed the nation in bowing down at Shinto shrines, putting "god shelves" in their homes, worshiping the emperor, reporting their organizational decisions to the sun goddess (Amaterasu) at Ise Shrine, altered their hymns and creeds to eliminate phrases that would suggest Christ was above the emperor, and more.

Evangelized Unprepared to Stand

The author summarized some of the reasons the church was able to "compromise with apostasy" to such an incredible degree by looking at how Christianity was taught and spread in the years leading up to the government's pressure:

There was a common, erroneous appeal to accept Christianity for its superior fruits in a better civilization for Japan, rather than the preaching of the whole counsel of God. Further, the mistaken policy was also all too common of refraining from preaching the claims of Christ forthrightly over against those of the ancestral idolatry, the falsely optimistic view being held that the latter would fall off later since the people seemed to be so ready to accept Christianity. Finally, there was the failure adequately to take into account that the persistent demands for "independence" and "non-denominationalism" were all too frequently motivated primarily from a desire to adapt Christianity to the requirements of the Japanese nationalistic spirit.

Wanting to accomodate the people and not offend them, many missionaries (and later Japanese leaders who'd learned from them) sought to spread the Gospel this way, unaware of a strong cultic spirit underneath and what was being orchestrated beneath the surface in their day. But attempting to approach evangelization in this way had the effect of raising up Christians who were not prepared to withstand pressure to compromise, and finally who were not even able to consider that enduring persecution for Christ's sake was the witness God was calling them to.

More than ever, as I read the book, I was impressed that God is calling us to a life of martyrdom -- whether it ever means physically being persecuted or not, He is calling us to "martyrdom" every day. There are times that we will be afraid of how "faith" will look. There are times that we are afraid speaking of Him will be "offensive". There are times when we worry that speaking His truth will make someone less "open" to the truth, and so we think maybe perhaps if we hold back on the truth, that the person will come to it eventually...

But what happened to Christianity in Japan in the years running up to WWII screams in a haunting lesson of painful contrast, and I hear the Spirit crying out,

"No! No! Learn NOW, be prepared to stand NOW! Don't be afraid of following Me NOW. You don't know what's coming tomorrow or in the coming years. Stand for Me NOW!"

He's calling us to "die" (be martyrs) to our embarassment about Him, to "die" to our desire to please people and not look strange. He's calling us to be martyrs in this way. If we don't do it today, then we will not be able to stand when more difficult times come upon us.

He's calling us today to stand for Him, His truth and His love. If we shy from these today, we may not realize that we are weakening not only our own foundation, but the foundation of those we evangelize to. We know that as much as we love people we are ministering to, that God loves them even more than we do. Telling them His whole truth is not a "risk" to His gospel nor to His love. Telling them who He really is, and that other things are simply not Him, not the real thing, telling them this is not going to jeapordize "what could've been".

In light of what happened in Japanese history, we owe it to our 'spiritual children' (those we minister to and raise up in Him) to give them the whole Lamb. We owe it to them to not hold back because we fear offending them. God didn't hold back from putting some "difficult" things in the Bible because He knew that somewhere in our lives we would need these things. He is God, and we can't fully understand Him, but we trust that He is love. We need to give Him that same trust and respect when we present Him to people whom we love and whom we want to be saved.

The Picture

As I reeled at the painful lesson of Japanese history, I got this picture in the Spirit of being surrounded and standing for Christ and for Love. The imagery comes from a Zhang Yimou film entitled, "To Live", which tells the story of one Chinese family going through the many major social upheavals in Chinese history. At one point in the film, during the Chinese civil war, a father (who owns a puppet troupe) is snatched away from his job by the Nationalist Army and put in their ranks to fight against the Communists. He makes friends with another man like himself who is not caught up in the "cause" of the Nationalists, nor in the cause of the Communists.

After one cold night while on retreat, he and his friend wake up to find that the rest of the company of soldiers has fled on without them, leaving only the dead behind. As they forage among the dead bodies for warmer clothing and food, they suddenly realize the Communist Army is coming and they try to run away. The camera pulls back to a wide-shot as the great numbers of Communist soldiers surround the two surrendering Nationalist soldiers.

They are not executed or treated badly, but are rather taken into the Communist Army and are now on that "side". The father entertains the other Communist soldiers by putting on puppet shows for them. When the war ends (with the Communists victorious), the father goes home to his family with a certificate of how he helped the Communist Army during the "revolution".

The nation is unified, and people work hard under great hope that things will get better and better. But the Communist system is totalitarian, and one by one the family goes through personal heartaches and observes control, paranoia, and all the painful fruits of authoritarian rule in this system that was supposed to bring them a continually improving life.

Perhaps the title of the film, "To Live", speaks of the lesson I believe God is calling us to understand, "to live" -- so that we may truly live in Him. In Jesus' words:

"Whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

- Matthew 10:39

Discerning and Our Call to Stand

In the same way, during Japan's march to WWII, it seemed as if things were getting "better and better" progress-wise in the nation. Social improvements were being made and many other apparent "fruits" of great progress. The future seemed to hold great promise. Christian writers such as William Axling wrote glowing reports and books of how rapidly Christianity was being embraced by the Japanese (I have one of his books from 1923, and it is eerie to hold).

A generation of Japanese Christian children were raised by Christian parents and missionaries who did not want to confront certain items in the nationalistic spirit -- a pride in the nation's "uniqueness", a clinging to Shinto, emperor-devotion, and "cultural" habits like praying to dead ancestors, etc. Because of this the spiritual 'children' were raised not seeing any great problem with compromising the gospel.

Like the two men being surrounded by the army in To Live, these Japanese Christians soon found the church being "surrounded" by government and societal pressure to compromise, to change sides. Because they were not raised knowing their foundation well, they easily compromised. Like the two men in To Live, these spiritual children did not completely understand the "cause" of their "army" and their "side". It was no big issue then for them to switch sides when pressure came and when surrounded.

I believe God is calling us to learn from history so that we do not repeat it. Both in Japan, in America, in our churches, and everywhere and anywhere. We need to not be ashamed of the Gospel. We need to not be ashamed to say that the Gospel is real and something else is simply false -- not the real, living God. We also need not be ashamed of our failures in history, but understand that in Him we find redemption. We need not fear proclaiming what we did in the past was simply wrong, so that today we may learn from it. We needn't fear holding up His whole truth, even if it makes our history look bad -- if we "decrease" in the eyes of others, He may still increase! We have nothing to fear in looking bad. If the Light shows our darkness, let's let the Light shine clearly so that all people can see Him!

This is a picture of that, of us standing, bruised and dirty, surrounded and "outnumbered", but holding the banner of Christ and His love. He calls us to stand for both -- for who He is, and for His love for all people. We need to remember both. If we lose our agape calling, we will end up attacking the very people Christ has died for to save. If we compromise the truth of who He is, our testimony of "love" will be corrupted and will ultimately lead us to enlist in the ranks of the attacking army (we'll end up helping the other side). We must trust that God is love, and stand firm with Him, not compromising on Him, nor compromising on His love for our enemies.

Lord, help us learn from the past! Give us eyes to see clearly and strength to stand, Lord, in Jesus' name, amen.

Bless you in Jesus!


  • At February 27, 2009 2:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey, I found your blog through my friend NB. I am currently working on a paper for a class about Christian outreach in Japan, and I was wondering if you could respond to a few questions about the difficulties for Christianity in Japan. I lived there myself for 2 and 1/2 years, so the issue is very close to my heart. I suppose you could make it a blog post yourself, or you can email me at my gmail account echoflight. Or if you are too busy, I totally understand that as well.

    These are my questions:

    1. What do you think are some of the greatest obstacles in Japan that are keeping the Japanese from Christ?

    2. What are Christians in Japan (both missionaries and the Japanese church) doing right in ministering to the Japanese people, in your opinion? For example, what kinds of Japanese people come to church?

    3. What do you think are some ways that Christians in Japan could more effectively reach out to unbelieving Japanese?

    4. Are there any negative trends in the Japanese church or Japanese missions today that could be changed or corrected?

    May God guide you,


  • At March 04, 2009 5:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is ND again! Thank you so much for your long, thoughtful response. There is certainly a lot to think about these issues. I just picked up a copy of The Two Empires in Japan, and am looking at some other books I might buy to supplement my research--such as Tomonobu Yanagita's History of Christianity in Japan, the works of Ayako Miura, and The Bells of Nagasaki. There is more written then I initially thought, but a lot of it is kind of obscure!

    I agree with a lot of what you wrote. We Christians depend way too much on form over truth, replacing the compelling, explosive truth of God with our own, often lifeless, forms and traditions. Obviously a great deal of what we need to do is tied up in prayer, but there are practical steps to take as well, and I am interested in looking into those things, too. The task is monumental, but God is bigger.

    The thing you said about the Japanese Christian church always being on the defensive, always looking inward, reminding me of something. I remember hearing about how, in Japan, church members have to have written permission from their pastor in order to change churches. So a lot of Japanese Christians, in order to avoid that kind of confrontation, when they have troubles with their church, they simply stop going. Do you know anything about this?

    Thank you again for your thoughts. God bless!


  • At October 08, 2010 12:59 AM, Anonymous Steve Finnell said…

    you are invited to follow my blog


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