United Church of Christ in Japan

A report on the history of Christianity in Japan.

By TAIRA SHINOHARA, Student, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

The establishment of Nippon Kirisuto Kyodon, or the United Church of Christ in Japan, was the crowning achievement of Chris­tians in Japan during wartime. This has created some curiosity, interest, and anxiety among the Christians of America. Many believed that the achievement was the result of coercion of Jap­anese militarists. This opinion is undoubtedly true. But from the earliest days of Protestant development in Japan there has been a sizable body of sentiment favoring unification of the churches. The earliest converts, from whom the church of today has grown, were men and women who saw the future of the Protestant movement in Japan as one unified Christian im­pact upon the nation, unencumbered by the overlapping and confusion of denominations. The oldest Protestant parish in Japan is a non­denominational congregation in Yokohama, dating from 1872.

 The machinery of church union has been in operation in Japan for a good many years. The two largest branches of the Calvinist tradi­tion, the Presbyterian and the Dutch Reformed, were united years ago into one organization called the Nippon Kirisuto Kyokai, or the Church of Christ in Japan. The two largest branches of Methodism were also united into one autonomous church, which included Cana­dian Methodists.

In 1923 the National Christian Council was established. As early as 1925 it appointed a committee to deal with the special subject of church union. Nevertheless, this union could not be consummated on account of some differ­ences among church leaders.

Toyohiko Kagawa, the most outstanding Christian leader in Japan at present, organized the Kingdom of God Movement (nondenominational). The most prominent denominations and outstanding leaders were known to be sym­pathetic toward church cooperation and unity. All the leading denominations have resolutions on their records favoring church union.

Because Christians are a minority in Japan, it was felt that they needed a union to give them voice and position in society. The ordinary Japanese does not understand denomina­tional organization. There are none of the historical reasons for denominationalism ex­isting in Japan as there are in the West. De­nominationalism was one of the most distinctly foreign importations of Japanese Christianity. It held its position largely because of the Jap­anese churches' dependence upon denominations abroad for missionary support and finances.

In 1940 the bureau of religions in the minis­try of education advised the churches to unite. This aroused perplexity among Christians. Some say it was in the course of natural de­velopment; others say it was the creation of the state. A union finally emerged in 1940. It was a government ruling which then broke the shell and produced the chick. In June, 1941, the Nip­pon Kirisuto Kyodan, or United Church of Christ in Japan was formally organized, and in November, 1941, the government properly recognized it. (In the spring of the same year a similar kyodan [union] of the Roman Catho­lic Church in Japan was organized and received recognition.) Thirty-two denominations, in­cluding the Salvation Army, Y.M.C.A., and Y.W.C.A., joined the kyodan.

The Episcopalians had always worked in co­operation with other Protestants ; but when it came time to face an organic union, they hesi­tated. Its officers voted at the last to have nothing to do with the kyodan. The Episco­palians were then unrecognized, dissolved, and legally outlawed. Only sixty-eight of the 230 Episcopalian churches declared themselves to join the union.

Representatives of the the ministry of education, along with kyodan leaders, also sat in conference with Seventh-day Adventists advising them on modifying their doctrines in order to avoid entanglement with the police. But they refused and remained outside the kyodan.

Of constant fear to Japan's ruling clique was a widespread, disorganized body of public opinion, disseminating doctrines of universal­ism, pacifism, and resistance to the militarists and the emperor. It was their official ruling that Protestant heterogeneity was a threat to the unification of public opinion, and that the churches must form themselves into a more compact, easily governed organization. In short, they wanted the church in a position where they could control it. This was the reason Protestants were coerced into union in 1940 and 1941.

The headquarters of Nippon Kirisuto Kyo­dan is situated at Kanda-ku, Tokyo, formerly the headquarters of the National Christian Council. The first torisha, or director, of kyo­dan, was Mitsuru Tomita, a pastor of the Shiba Presbyterian church of Tokyo. He was suc­ceeded by Michio Kozaki, pastor of Reinanzaki Congregational Church in Tokyo in June, 1946. The catechism and basic principles of the church are:

"Believing that the Bible, the Old and New Testa­ment, is the Word of God and unerring ground of our faith and life; accepting the Apostle's Creed and the Nicean Creed, which the Ancient Church confessed based on the Scriptures, as an invaluable heritage from the Historical Church since the Reformers, we hereby express our unity in the following confession of faith:

"1.      We believe in God, our Father and Creator of the universe.

"2.      We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ the only begotten Son who came down from the heaven in the form of man for our salvation, died on the cross for the redemption of our sins, rose from the dead, as­cended to heaven and makes intercession for us to God as the eternal high priest.

"3.      We believe in the Holy Spirit who came from the Father and Son and testified to Christ's Sonship within us.

"4.      We believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God in three.

"5.      We believe that through this faith we are united with our Lord Jesus Christ, and being forgiven of our sins, justified and being sanctified, made partakers of eternal Life.

"6.      We believe that the church into which we are received through this salvation in the sacred and one body of Jesus Christ, exists as the visible church on the earth; leads us into the communion through the Holy Spirit, fulfills its duty of reconciling the world to God through the propagation of the gospel and ad­ministration of the sacraments and continues to exist until the Lord will some again and complete His king­dom."—YOSITIMT.TNE ABE, "Christian Movements in Japan," The Japan for Christ (Tokyo : Nichibei Shoin), February, 1948, vol. 3, PP. 9, 10.

The life principles of this kyodan are :

1. Make your Christian faith stronger by following closely the way of traditional Japanese moral teaching, and thus contribute your share to the future of the Japanese Empire.

"2.   Keep the doctrines faithfully, observe the Sab­bath, attend the service of worship, share the sacra­ments, and fulfill your duties to the church.

"3.   Make a practice of devotions, purify your home, .and strive to improve social morality."—R. T. BAKER, Darkness of the Sun (New York : Abingdon-Cokes­bury Press), p. 89.

Since 1946 one church after another has left the kyodan—the Japanese Episcopal Church, the Salvation Army, the Lutheran Church, the Nazarene Church, the Japan Episcopal Church, the Reorganized Holiness Church, the Kassui (Water of Life) Christian Church, and Japan Baptist Union.

The United Church has faced crisis after crisis. Some say the United Church lacks strength ; some say the United Church is indo­lent. Her officers make this assertion :

"The visible and invisible church must be one. There are too many smaller Protestant groups in Japan, thus Protestants cannot match the Catholics in the field of evangelism. Denominationalism in japan is too conspicuous. Although the United Church is young and imperfect, Iet us not be too critical, but rather try to perfect its organization, and let us endeavor to strengthen the Protestants, and make the United Church a model Protestant Church."-YosmmuNE ABC, "Strengthen the Kyodan," The Japan for Christ, October, 1947, vol. 2, p. 3.

The majority of members will be satisfied with the United Church, but a person who was once a leader in his own denomination, and not chosen as one of active position in the kyodan would lose interest in it. This would cause the believers to withdraw from the United Church.

Nevertheless the United Church once pros­pered and was highly respected. Some non-Christians wish to gain knowledge about Chris­tianity, and have asked leaders of the kyodan to study with them. So we still feel that the United Church will be helpful to a certain ex­tent in creating interest in the Christian faith in Japan today. This will be to our advantage.



Kenneth Saunders. Whither Asia? New York ; Mac­millan, 1933.

Douglas Horton. The Return to Japan. New York : Friendship Press, 1945.

T. T. Brumbaugh. Christ for All Japan. New York : Friendship Press, 1947-

Tadaichi Okumoto. "Kirisuto no Shonin, Ozaki Hi­romichi," Fukuin to Jidai, April, 1948, vol. 3, P. 4.

Yoshitaka Kumano. "Kirisuto no Shonin, Masahisa Uemura," Fukuin to Jidai, March, 1948, vol. 3, p. 3.

N. Sato. "Kami to Butsushitsu," Asahi Hyoron, February, 1948.

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By TAIRA SHINOHARA, Student, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

February 1949

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