English Articles

Sermon Topics Contextualized for Japan

Mitsuo Fukuda : Rethinking Authentic Christianity Network「RAC Network」

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3. The Place of the Sermon in Japanese Evangelism

The sermon as a vehicle for communication, just as other approaches to communication, has limitations and advantages. To begin, allow me to discuss briefly the limitations. First, no matter how excellent preachers speak, it is difficult for them to live and model a life of obedience to the Lord simply by speaking from the podium. The receptors can only begin to learn concretely how to tie what is preached from the pulpit into their everyday lives when they are in close contact with those wearing the ministerial robes. The impassioned sermons, once delivered from the podiums, must then be lived before the receptors so they can observe the speakers’ daily life and how to cope in times of crises. One cannot communicate the values of the gospel without modeling a concrete example of how these values work themselves out in daily life. Nor is it effective to simply give the receptors a motivation for changing their way of life without also giving them a model of how to do so.


Second, in the lecture-like style found in preaching, one person speaks and many listen. This does not make possible nor allow for a detailed response on the part of the receptor, which would show they understand how to apply the scriptures to their various circumstances of life. Limiting communication to sermons makes it impossible to broaden the communication realm through interactive activities. Active participation enables the receptor to discover new truths through such activities as creating ongoing dialogs between the messengers and the receptors. Creating environments, which promote discovery, can do this. One example is breaking a large group into several smaller groups. A leader can be appointed to care for the group members, pairing newly converted believers (receptors) with mentors. Other such creative and interactive activities can be used as well.


In addition, it is necessary to be aware of the delivery limitations of the verbal-centered approach to communicating the gospel and, at the same time, not to underestimate the impact that a non-verbal message has with the receptor. Non-verbal communication occurs when receptors participate in rituals such as communion, baptism, singing hymns together, contemplation in a closed room, having close fellowship while eating lunch together after the service, the architectural space and the decoration of the sanctuary, clothing, music, smells, lighting, and the progression of the program. These non-verbal approaches are in not inferior to verbal messages.


Even though there are several limitations as noted, nevertheless, the sermon is an approach in Japanese evangelism that cannot be dismissed. This is because it is difficult to convey a large amount of information in a short amount of time by any means other than a sermon. In order to respond, in a person’s short life span, to the large variety of God’s wisdom that is available in the Bible, it is necessary to ensure the use of a means of communication which can facilitate the transference of a large amount of information. Jesus did not simply use the approaches that utilize the characteristics of the one-on-one or small group interactions, He also taught large crowds of people.


In addition, many Japanese would not reveal their true selves in front of others until they become considerably close. However, the time used in the delivery of sermon allows the receptors to be passive for a time. For the Japanese, this can be a period in which they observe the church. Even those who are already active in the church desire some time to gather information in order for them to process a new dimension of Christian truth. They give themselves some distance (time) before they arise voluntarily to a new position. The sermon is for those who have conservative tendencies, a means that God uses to prepare their hearts for a shift to a new phase that he has ready for them.


4. Three Necessary Conditions for Sermons To Penetrate the Japanese Heart

4.1 The “Good Fortune” Image

The Japanese have a sensitivity that enables them to find beauty and brilliance in everything that exists. Munesuke Mita, a famous Japanese sociologist, calls this the “consciousness of original favor” (gen-on ishiki), and contrasts it to the Hebraic consciousness of original sin.3


The Japanese have a sense of gratitude for even the smallest things in their everyday lives. I will call this a sensitivity for recognizing beauty and happiness in life and existence, the “‘good fortune’ consciousness” (okage ishiki).4


Let us think about testifying to the “blessings of God,” using the concept of “good fortune” consciousness as a point of contact. It should be easy for a Japanese to form an image of a God that causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on both the good and the bad, who provides for the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field. This is an image that we could call the “‘good fortune’ image,” in which one feels that the world is full of “good fortunes.” It is possible to use this image as the first step to communicating “grace” as the free gift a personal God, who is the source of life and who has absolute authority, gives.


This “good fortune” image is often bound up with water-related expressions in Japan, where rain is so plentiful. For this reason we can, in our sermons, depict images such as grace by using expressions like, “grace poured out,” “brimming with grace,” “overflowing grace,” and “the flow of life that purifies and gives life.” These could serve as effective conductors of communication as the receptors are lead to various aspects of the Truth.


4.2 The Message of Acceptance That Heals Wounds of Isolation

The traditional bonds of the local village, the community, and of family union have collapsed in modern Japan. The nuclear family, which was originated out of this collapse, is falling apart, too. The concepts of individuality and independence in the world are “progressing” more and more into the culture of Japan. The young are especially affected by a baptism into the rivalry of a standardized, blockaded society. They are surrounded by an abundance of highly technical information equipment such as video games, personal computers, videos, and television. Their tendency is to avoid the effort that is necessary to communicate with others by fleeing into their own private “capsule” of space. This tendency is getting ever stronger and stronger.5


In this atmosphere, the youth of Japan have forfeited their “reality for living.”6 That is, their world of actual human emotions has a tendency to lead them on a search for salvation through new religions. It is difficult to say that the church of Japan is meeting their needs sufficiently. The family of God, bound together by God’s love, should be able to win over the cell-like structure of the new religions and heal these youths’ wounds of isolation, right? The reality of becoming one with the Creator, who throughout the cosmos, puts together every activity of life into one body, solving the powerlessness, fretfulness, and isolation of humans, should win over any cult that sells the satisfaction of superhuman desires, right? Japanese Christians need to ask for the sensitivity to hear the voice of God that speaks to them: “Comfort, O comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1). They should be able to hear the cries of their fellow Japanese, the “modern day refugees.”


The message, “I am accepted just as I am,” has a big impact on modern Japanese, virtually all of whom are facing identity crises. The ordinary Japanese need the unconditional acceptance of Christ in the midst of a culture where a student continues to be evaluated by an over-emphasis on a percentile ranking and where a contributing member of society is surrounded by a company-centered community that places giving-it-all-you’ve-got as its supreme value. This message alone, however, can untie the knots of the Japanese people’s isolation, lead them into a new relationship with God, and bring them into a new position as the people of God.