A diversion

Taking a brief diversion on my writing on holiness, I want to give some insights on a question I am often asked. Why is Japan so closed to the gospel? Why are there so few Christians here?

I want to throw up some quotes from a book I recently finished called The Unseen Face of Japan by David C. Lewis. It’s a book about Japanese culture, specifically Japanese religious practices.

At first [1870s] the Christians were drawn primarily from among the sons of the former Samurai class who studied in the mission schools and were most easily accessible to the missionaries. The samurai had lost the privileges which they had enjoyed under the Tokugawa regime [for over 250 years], so that, in comparison with other classes, the younger samurai became less attached to traditional social norms… For the most part, Japanese Christians were drawn from the educated, urban population.

However, the social characteristics of these early Christian converts ‘have sown seeds of such highbrow nature in Japanese Christianity that they have erected a barrier against the broad propagation¬† if Christianity among the common people.’Because the early Protestant converts came from the bureaucrats of the samurai class who had served under feudal domains which had been affiliated with a deposed shogunate, there developed in Japanese Christianity a ‘certain aloofness from the establishment… Once a body of believers had been drawn from the urban middle class, and once these people had organized and established churches, they promptly made their churches miniature closed societies. People of other classes, coming into contact with these cliques, felt shut out and rejected… Several studies by different scholars have shown how in subsequent decades there continued to be a conspicuous tendency for Christianity to be confined largely to the urban, educated, white-collar classes.

The next paragraph is about one of the biggest barriers to Christianity taking root in Japan. It also describes the late 1800s and hasn’t changed much:

To a large extent, evangelism was left to the professional clergy. Yamamori suggests that this could be a cultural legacy of the Buddhist and Shinto services in which the lay people are passive recipients. Missionaries and pastors were regarded as the trained specialists on Christianity. For the predominantly white-collar Japanese Christians, the heavy emphasis places on learning meant that many of them had a view of Christianity which was psychologically colored by traditional Japanese attitudes towards the ‘master-disciple’ (sensei-seito) relationship. This reinforced the monolithic leadership structure of most Japanese churches.

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