April 15.2012 Hidenori Takahashi
Introduction: Importance of being out of your own
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
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
sever persecution, for nearly 250 years, officially there were no Christian in
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
But in June 1941, during World WarⅡ, 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
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 Irael
. 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 WarⅡ, 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 WarⅡin 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.
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 WarⅡ, many Christians lost their lives because they
refused to worship Japanese Emperor nor 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 WarⅡ. 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-Moters became superior to General-Moters,
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.
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 WarⅡ, Japanese Christians chose to serve the Emperor, and
after the war many of them chose 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.
２．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.
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.
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 V
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 idle. "
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
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
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
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)
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)
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”(Rom10:17)
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.
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.
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
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
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 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 4700 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