Creation evangelism in Japan
Great encouragement, 11 years on.
by Don Batten
Published: 13 February 2014 (GMT+10)
11 years on, the positive impact of the creation message is obvious. But sadly, western theology, often brought in by ‘conservative evangelical’ missionary organisations, undermines the spread of the Gospel.
The Japanese ministry came at the end of an Asian tour which started with an all-day CMI conference in Singapore with three of my colleagues.1 It was attended by over 300 mainly young professionals, and there was tremendous enthusiasm and positive feedback. Then Dr John Hartnett and I held seminars in Hong Kong and ML China via interpreters. Following that, I went on alone to Japan. This was a return invitation from the Naha Baptist Church (NBC) in Okinawa, which I had visited some 11 years ago as part of a more extensive Japan tour (this was my third visit to Japan).
NBC is the lead church of the Okinawa Baptist Convention (OBC) of 40 churches. It was quite a bit smaller 11 years ago, but today typically has ~300 attending Sunday a.m. service, with a good proportion of men and young people, which is unusual for Japan. In fact, churches often really struggle in this country.
About 70 attended the five teaching sessions, with nearly all staying for all the sessions. Toru Yasui, of Bible and Creation, Japan, in addition to translating all my talks, presented one of the seminar sessions, as well as to high school youth of the church during the all-age Sunday School (on how their school textbooks get it wrong on evolution).
There were lots of people expressing a heart-felt appreciation for the teaching. At the end, a lady took my hand, with a beaming smile and in faltering English said how today had given her a completely new way of thinking about things; “new glasses”. She was absolutely delighted and her heart-felt sharing was very encouraging to me. It reminded me of the time in my own life when I realized that I could actually believe what the Bible said about the Creation, Fall and Flood; it was almost like being born again … again.
The following especially encouraged me. Apparently it was from my visit to this church 11 years ago that the senior pastor and others realized the importance of creation evangelism (as per Acts 17 with Paul in Athens) to reaching the Japanese people with the Gospel. (One of the leadership team back then had repented in front of others of his unbelief of that portion of the Bible, a very big thing to do in that culture.)
They have consciously applied and developed what I taught back then and NBC has grown significantly since; with new, larger buildings needed, and a substantial increase in pastoral staff. I remember the senior pastor, Rev. Mamoru Kuniyoshi, being excited at the time, but to see the application since is incredibly encouraging. The senior pastor is part of a small fellowship of Japanese pastors who promote creation evangelism in Japan (one member from a Presbyterian background on the main island of Honshu visited us in Brisbane on two occasions to follow up on ideas for creation evangelism and started a new church, by conversions, in a Shinto stronghold of Japan, using creation evangelism principles).
A church culture of creation evangelism
Although other factors have no doubt been important in contributing to NBC’s growth, congregations which doubt the truth and authority of the Word of God are much more likely to be ‘hobbled’ from the get-go. Creation apologetics has clearly become part of the church’s culture. During the all-age Sunday School, before the main worship service, the adult class (about 100 people) was addressed by a lady who had been to Grand Canyon recently and she was explaining, using her own photos in Powerpoint, how Grand Canyon was a monument to the biblical flood of Noah. This warmed my heart to see this.
Also, a medical doctor who is a member of the church translated Stones and Bones, Dr Wieland’s booklet-sized introduction to the creation/evolution controversy, into Japanese (CMI’s Creation Answers Book, Refuting Evolution, and Starlight, Time and the New Physics are also now available in Japanese, thanks to the efforts of Toru Yasui).
There is good cooperation among churches on Okinawa and the OBC is the largest Christian group, so it is quite influential, with other churches interested in what NBC and the other churches of the OBC are doing with creation evangelism. NBC had organized a seminar especially for pastors of other churches for the Monday morning, with Toru Yasui.
It is all extremely encouraging; even exciting, for the future witness to Christ in Okinawa and in the rest of Japan.
I also had a couple of hours teaching at a small church near Narita airport (fitted into an 8-hour layover between flights from Okinawa and to Australia). The pastor and his wife started this church in their lounge room a few years ago and they have now acquired the property next door to accommodate the growing congregation. On a Monday afternoon about 25 parents and children crowded in to take in the teaching, eagerly taking notes (my translator here was Minoru Usami, of Genesis Japan, who produced the beautiful Old Testament genealogy poster). Again, this pastor is growing a church using creation evangelism, as is Minoru Usami (in another part of Japan south of the tsunami disaster area).
The need to unpoison the well
All this (and more) is happening in a country where western missionaries tell us repeatedly that people are quite unreceptive to the Gospel!
People are receptive, however, when the Bible is taught from the beginning to establish God as the Creator of all first! How can people understand their need for forgiveness, and a saviour, if they have no concept that God created them, so that they are accountable to Him? Or who will judge them for their sin if there is no Creator-God to whom they will be held accountable? And how can they trust the Bible on salvation if they can’t trust its history in Genesis, so foundational to the Gospel, of how sin and death entered the world?
An American missionary in Okinawa attended the Saturday sessions of the seminar at NBC. He appreciated the biblical creation message being delivered. He shared how he uses Firm Foundations: Creation to Christ (New Tribes Mission) in church planting/evangelism, and that it is effective (it uses a creation evangelism approach). Firm Foundations is now available in Japanese, which is great. He also shared how he had read material from Dr Hugh Ross (a well-known ‘old-earth’ or ‘progressive’ creationist) and it had confused him. However, he could not accept Dr Ross’s idea that Noah’s Flood was local (which is essential for all who try to marry the ‘geological ages’ of millions of years with Genesis), and so he was glad to know of Dr Sarfati’s Refuting Compromise. This deals comprehensively with Dr Ross’s false teaching about the Flood and the age of the earth, all the while claiming to be ‘conservative’ on Genesis. Sadly, Ross’s books are available in Japanese. This sort of confusion is quite destructive of Gospel witness, as the following experience underlines.
Back in 2002 a young missionary with one of the largest missionary societies working in Japan contacted CMI-Australia in Brisbane to ask about the possibility of having a speaker come to train the missionaries in creation evangelism, the approach now making such a difference. This missionary had recognized that, under the influence of Shinto/Buddhist religion, reinforced by the secular education system that teaches cosmic evolution, Japanese people had little concept of a Creator-God. Originally, the Shinto religion had a concept of a supreme Creator, but this has been lost.2 In Shinto-ism today there are millions of ‘gods’ (kami), but these are really ancestral spirits that have nothing to do with the origin of the universe or humans, and certainly won’t be judging anyone for their sins. And of course Buddhism in its purest form is really a type of atheism, compatible with evolution.3 However, when the hierarchy of the missionary organization got wind of the plans, the young missionary was told that it would not happen and he had to cancel the planned training.
Unfortunately, many missionaries are trained in institutions that depreciate the early chapters of Genesis as non-historical, or not important, and they then carry that baggage with them to the mission field. And here is a serious problem for the church in countries where the Gospel witness is beginning to grow in a serious manner; the evil influence of western theology that has been evolution-compromised. Often our brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa, South America, and the Orient look to ‘western’ seminaries for theological education. Sadly, many western theological institutions do not honour the word of God from the beginning. They advocate all manner of views except those of Jesus and the Apostles, that Genesis was written as straightforward history; the historical basis of the Gospel—the real man Adam brought death and suffering into God’s very good creation and the “last Adam” Jesus Christ brought life through his suffering and death on behalf of the lost descendants of Adam.
The unbelief regarding the historicity of Genesis promoted by even supposedly conservative missionary groups (some of the best known ‘big name’ organisations) could destroy the work of the Gospel in these countries as surely as it has done it in the once-Christian ‘West’. There are undoubtedly well-meaning people within the institutions that are causing this damage—they have often sacrificed a lot to be on the mission field—but they lack an understanding of what damage they are doing.
Our brothers and sisters in the newly Christian countries should look at the growing decadence of the West and realize where it has come from; it has come from the pathetic weakness of the church. And this, in turn, has come from the church’s desire to accommodate the secular creation myth (evolutionism with its mythical billions of years). As Josef Ton, a Romanian Baptist pastor imprisoned for his faith, said: “I came to the conclusion that there are two factors which destroyed Christianity in Western Europe. One was the theory of evolution, the other, liberal theology …. Liberal theology is just evolution applied to the Bible and our faith.” And a secular commentator said something similar: “I myself have little doubt that in England it was [uniformitarian, long-ages] geology and the theory of evolution that changed us from a Christian to a pagan nation.”
I’m sure we all know of young people with a ‘fire in their belly’ to share the Gospel who have gone off to seminary to get trained for Gospel ministry, but when they come out the fire has been well and truly quenched. Confidence in God’s Word is necessary for that zeal for the Lord that drives evangelism. Without it, the fire will go out.
Please stand with us in strengthening the arm of our brothers and sisters in these other countries to stand firm on the authority of God’s Word from the beginning, and thus continue to be effective in sharing the Gospel with those who are perishing.
Please pray for Japan, that God will multiply the work of Christians like Rev. Kuniyoshi, Toru Yasui, and Minoru Usami (and there are many others), and that more Christian leaders will come to understand the approach needed. This ‘back-to-foundations’ approach is also increasingly needed in the once-Christian countries of ‘The West’ too, where godless ideas of cosmic evolution extinguish belief in a hands-on Creator. Without such a Creator, there is simply no need for the Saviour.