English Articles

Incarnational Approaches to the Japanese People using House Church Strategies

Mitsuo Fukuda : Rethinking Authentic Christianity Network「RAC Network」

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2. Contextualization and the Emergence of "Japanese Christianity"

When I was baptized about 25 years ago, I asked some long-time believers what percentage of the Japanese population was Christian. Their answer was that there was less than 1 percent. Nowadays, honestly I have to say that the real rate is far less than one percent. Itami city, where I live, has a population of 190,000 with 8 churches, including a Catholic church. Only 500 people participate in a Sunday worship service at least a couple of times a month - a rate of only 0.26 percent. Unfortunately this seems to be about the average for the whole country of Japan.


In the late 1980's, I came to realize that one of the major reasons for this stagnation was a lack of contextualization. The apostle Paul said, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law." (1 Cor. 9:19-21) My evaluation is that Japanese churches have largely failed to become Japanese in order to win the Japanese.


Yasuo Furuya, a Japanese theologian, wrote that the "head" of the Japanese church is like a German-established church equipped by profound theologies without evangelism and contribution for the church fund; the "hands and legs" are that of American denominationalism whose system is highly democratic; but the "heart" is full of Japanese codependency (Furuya, 1995: 38). The Japanese church is like a ghetto of intellectual elites who enjoy theological discussions and a clubby atmosphere but are not earnest in communicating God's love to their neighbors.


In the history of Japanese churches, church forms have continually been transported from Europe, the US and Canada and recently from Korea and other countries as well. They have at once been uncritically adopted and then abandoned when new success stories from other countries are introduced. For example, cell church strategies of a mega-church in Korea have been imitated by many churches in various denominations in Japan. Numerous copies of manuals on how to form regional small groups have been published. However, few churches have been successful, and no church has become like the church in Korea.


This "copy machine syndrome" has brought continual disaster to the Japanese churches. Here are six sure ways to destroy a church.


  1. Imitate the ways of a successful pastor.
  2. Use his method of evangelism and pastoral ministry.
  3. Teach the other pastor's experience as a principle or dogma.
  4. Announce that this is the only way.
  5. Communicate that other ways are sinful.
  6. Oppose those who don't employ the "correct" way.


As Harvie Conn described, Christianity in Japan (as well as other Asian countries) has largely been a "potted plant" (Conn, 1984: 246). It was transported to Japan without really being transplanted. Therefore, my concern used to be the transplantation, or "critical contextualization" (Hiebert, 1984: 75-94) of employing Japanese cultural forms in Christian communication. I tried to find the essence of Christianity in the Western churches and then leave behind the Western cultural soils as much as possible and adopt only the essence and dress it with the Japanese cultural forms (Fukuda, 1992).


However, recently I started to think about a fresh incarnation. If we could allow Christianity to emerge in Japanese soil without even considering the counterpart in foreign Christianity, it might be better. Both transportation and transplantation are based on the idea of the translation of a model whose starting point is, in the first place, a foreign idea, and which must then be interpreted and then introduced into the native soil. But a fresh incarnation emerges in the soil of a culture where the seed of God's words sprout.


The seed has already been planted in Japan. We have millions of translated Bibles and at least a couple of hundred thousand committed witnesses as well as churches, mission schools, Christian hospitals and church related publications. Our focus has to be on how to allow the Spirit of God to grow the seed. In my opinion, the house church is the ideal setting where God incarnates His heart in His church.