English Articles

Sermon Topics Contextualized for Japan

Mitsuo Fukuda : Rethinking Authentic Christianity Network「RAC Network」

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1. Introduction

Contextualization is the methodology of facilitating the disclosure of God to a particular social group within the context of their own unique cultural forms. Contextualization is an inevitable and necessary process in order for the targeted group (hereafter referred to as “the receptors”) to understand the message. The message embraces the concept that the Bible is the source of fundamental solutions to questions the receptors ask when they encounter problems in life. The goal of contextualization is for the receptors to accept the fundamental principles of the gospel as support in their everyday lives, to establish biblical churches that are rooted in the receptor’s culture, and finally, that worship, which is the most natural and most heart-felt expression of the receptor, can be offered to the one and only God.


The goal of this essay is to offer the reader an understanding of what it means to promote contextualization in the cultural context of Japan. This is achieved by focusing on the sermon, as it holds a central place of communication in services of many modern Japanese churches.


2. Using Japanese Culture as a Medium for Communicating Christ

It happens quite often that when Japanese Christians talk about Japanese politics, economics, religion, customs, etc., they often use the western church and its theology as a filter, looking critically at Japanese culture. This tendency is closely related to identity problems of Japanese Christians. 1


Japanese Christians should not be cut off from the prescribed culture with which they associated themselves before their conversion by transferring them to a completely different culture. This isolates them the instant they accept Christ. Unfortunately, this is a reality in many Japanese churches today. It would be preferable for new Japanese Christians to establish their new relationship with God in every sphere of their lives as they receive the call to shine the light of Christ. At the same time, they should continue to live and act in accordance with the culture in which they were born and raised (Matthew 5:13-14). 2


Those who become Christians should continue to remain Japanese culturally. This can be done even though they are changed by the gospel and become a free member of the people of God. Becoming a Christian should not mean that they cease to be Japanese and become a “half-baked westerner. ”


How many opportunities for missionary evangelism must have been lost because the missionary rejected the Japanese culture, considering it a pagan, thinking that the Japanese culture had to be radically rectified (or that another culture had to replace it)! If God purifies a Japanese, He can do so by using their culture, just like other cultures, as a medium for God’s message to them. To be certain, all cultures are comprised of numerous elements that need to be reconstructed by the gospel. If, however, those communicating the gospel are careful to avoid the pagan, animistic, and corrupt aspects of the culture, this culture can be used as an arena for communication between God and humans, and as a medium to communicate the message of God to the Japanese people.


God, through Jesus’ incarnation, became like the receptors of the message to which He wanted to communicate. That is, He presented the model for communicating a message while respecting the culture of Jesus’ day and time. Truly, God placed Himself in this limited framework known as the culture of the receptor. On His own initiative, Jesus took part in the everyday life of the Jewish people and gave Himself to them. In addition, the Jewish Christians rejected exporting the Jewish culture and instead, at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29), infused the gospel into the mission fields of the day within the context of the receptors’ cultures. Jewish Christians paved the way for churches to be established using different forms, forms which were appropriate for each individual culture. They took notice of the fact that the gentile cultures could be used as arenas for communicating the gospel.


If one tries to take part in God’s mission in the cultural environment of Japan, it is necessary to communicate the gospel using Japanese cultural forms, using Japanese language and phraseology and by involving themselves in the Japanese way of life. In order to do this, Christian communicators in Japan must be cautious of being controlled by western standards in relation to theological values. It is reasonable that frequent quotation of foreign theologians and usage of terms such as, God, love, sin, redemption, soul, trinity and other specialized words often causes a sermon to sound foreign to the Japanese non-believer or one seeking after Christ. It is also possible that those who are seeking refreshment for their souls go away bored because of a continued stream of knowledge-oriented sermons which are meant to appeal to a person’s mind. In addition, perhaps a mistaken, elite identity has fermented among Japanese Christians as Christianity has cut deeply into certain aspects of their culture, blaming culture for all wrongs.


We must clearly reject the aspects of Japanese culture that oppose the truth of God’s Word. However, if we throw out even those elements which could be put to use as points of contact in mission, we will not be able to touch the heartstrings of the receptors.