Creation evangelism in Japan
Great encouragement, 11 years on.
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.
Japan, a land of natural beauty where less than 1% of the population are Christian.
A recent ministry opportunity in Okinawa, Japan, was a tremendous encouragement, as well as a first hand demonstration of what happens when a church ‘picks up the ball and runs with it’ in using creation teaching in church life and outreach. But it also highlighted a huge problem coming from the West in the form of ‘help’ offered in theological education.
A traditional Japanese doll.
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.
Flickr, Shinichi Sugiyama
A traditional Japanese wedding, normally held at a Shinto shrine. On the other hand, most Japanese funerals follow a Buddhist tradition.
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?
Sumo wrestling is the national sport of Japan. It began in ancient times to entertain Shinto deities.
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.
References and notes
- Drs John Hartnett, Tas Walker and Carl Wieland Return to text.
- Toru Yasui, pers. comm. Return to text.
- Granted that many Buddhists in practice worship spirits, idols, etc. but here also Buddhism is compatible with evolutionary notions. The idea of a supreme Creator God is incompatible with all forms of Buddhism. Return to text.
Great article and very encouraging as I prepare to move to Okinawa! The Lord definitely works in mysterious ways and I look forward to helping to spread the Creation message in Okinawa.
As far as Creation Apologetics teaching, Southern California Seminary in San Diego, CA is the only curriculum that I could find (in US) that teaches the literal word of God from Genesis.
Check out their Center for Creation Studies page on SoCal Seminary website. There are videos from a debate and their annual Creation Conference. I am currently working on my Masters there and it is outstanding as the instructors are scientists who love God. They offer both resident and online courses in Creation Apologetics.
You article is fascinating and another example of what happens when we compromise the Word of God. The "gospel" literally means "good news". In order to welcome the good news, you have to understand exactly what the bad news is. Genesis tells us the bad news is that we're going to die, and die because we're sinners. Jesus conquers death. But if God created death, then Jesus atoning work on the cross is confusing at best and probably meaningless. Death started at the fall, and not before. Genesis is right. All of it is right. And you mess with this basic doctrine, you mess with the entire salvation message and you minimize the need for Jesus, or you "become a Christian" for the wrong reasons. It's all true, and it all makes sense. Now if we would just refrain from fooling with it.
Praise Jesus that more lives see the truth that the God of Abraham is! It is a pity that the Japanese were not exposed to Christianity as General MacArthur wanted.
Is CMI in a position where you can recommend or identify for us which schools and seminaries do teach a true literal, historical and grammatically correct Genesis?
This is a difficult thing to do. One problem is the nature of modern academic institutions where the principal often has little say over which staff are appointed. Some staff may be 'on the page', others not. However, an institution will tend to have a prevailing ethos, which should be readily ascertained by looking at who is invited to speak at graduation ceremonies, for example. You can glean a lot by exploring the website of an institution. Are the science faculty involved in promoting biblical creation? Are there staff who are on public record as opposing biblical creation? Are the theological faculty conservative in their theology? What does the statement of faith say? What is the vision statement? What are their aims and objectives?
We have a quiz that can be useful in finding out just where someone stands (such as a college principal or prospective new pastor or teacher): Are you a biblical creationist questionaire.
I have also seen the impact of Creation Evangelism (or more simply put - "telling the whole Gospel, Biblically") in Zambia on an outreach with missionaries there. At one village (that was led by a witchdoctor) about seventy young folk committed their lives to Christ after hearing how God had made everything "very good" but that death, disease and suffering came as a result of Adam and Eve's sin. When they realised that we have also all sinned and therefore deserve eternal punishment - but that Jesus paid for all this on the cross - they were convicted, praise God! The witchdoctor also later came to Christ in the mission hospital. So keep up the good work! Regards Mark
Great, Bro Don. Jesus said the problem was lack of labourers. Can you help answer our daily prayers for the Lord of the Harvest to thrust (same word as casting out devils) out labourers to Japan and elsewhere, labourers who will sacrifice and stay, not just hit and run. "Unless a seed of wheat falls into the ground and dies (to its own desires) it abides alone. But if it dies (to hit and run mission trips etc) it bears MUCH fruit." Some of you must stay to gain doctorates and urge out labourers. But then surely some of you or new ones with the proper vision could give up all.
Japanese is the main language of most of my 6 children and 13 grandchildren. Could any of you make the financial sacrifice to get a monthly creation magazine in Japanese to a great number of Japanese people plus my 19 grand(children)? Dr Usami visited me recently away up in the snowbound area of Japan. He and family would administer the thing for you (and us). Aussies have a whole "village" near us but they come for skiing! Enough said.
I am currently translating into Japanese a 1,000 page anti-evolutionary book for the internet. It's fun translating terms like Apekunny Argillite, but it takes time and toil and toll! Please canvas for sacrificial colabourers for us. It's important to enlighten people to creation and the Word but it takes self-sacrifice. But wonderfully, "Your people will be willing in the day of Your power." We expect succcess as God defines it. Be encouraged that God had us here all this time (since 1960) and fellow New Zealander Stuart (and Marion) Caldwell for all of 63 years preaching Christ to the Japanese people!
There is a Japanese magazine on creation available from Creation Research in Japan (www.sozoron.org). There are also books available in Japanese, such as The Answers Book, Stones and Bones, Refuting Evolution, as well as DVDs (see http://b-c.jp/ and http://gophertree.jp/). I have not heard of the author or the book you are translating, but I can vouch for the usefulness and accuracy of the ones that have already been translated (above).
Thanks for a fascinating article, Dr Batten. The Holy Spirit is certainly busy there(Japan) Here in South Australia, the Family Voice group have a dvd by Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian who has studied the West and found it how it used to depend on God and a true biblical interpretation- only through Bible believing scientists, missionaries etc the west became a global civilization, while his own country of India remained mired in poverty after initial advances in science,etc. once their religion denied reality as being real (if I understand correctly).
The west has ditched its Christian heritage and drifted into paganism.
All this illustrates the point--compromised missionaries will win no-one to Christ and may prove a stumbling block instead. Jesus takes a dim view of that. It is very heart warming to see the Gospel spread through straight forward creation based evangelism--there'll be many in heaven one day who can attest to that approach allowing the Holy Spirit into their hearts to convert them. It always fascinates me to read of others being converted this way. What a family reunion awaits us in eternity with Jesus!
Hello Don, as a missionary here in the southern islands of Okinawa, I felt very encouraged by your article! I whole heartedly agree - once people here have realised we were created, NOT evolved in any way - hearts have become open to Jesus. In fact, I went to a Gideons meeting here on this island of Ishigaki. The local speaker gave his testimony - basically saying he was saved with having being challenged by Genesis 1:1. If it was litterally true, then what his mother (who was a shaman, but has since become a Christian) believed was completely wrong - the 8 million gods of Japan were in fact null. Amazing testimony! If only we in the west would stop this compromising nonsense with evolution, people will be much more firm about trusting God and His very word. Please continue praying for Japan, she needs the blinders off - to know God's word IS true. Thankyou!
Thanks Eli. I appreciate your feedback.
Thank you, Dr Batten, for this report. On the one hand it is very encouraging, but on the other very concerning that evangelical missions are engaging in compromise. We'll certainly pray for the ministry and people in Japan who are standing up for the truth of Scripture.
I fully agree on the need to use Creation evangelism, firmly established christian churches included. Some years ago, I asked my pastor to invite John Pendelton [creationist missionary based in Mexico] to our church and the Christian school it used to run (in Mexico). I was very unfortunate not to get to attend his meetings--I'm a single mom and my son got extremely sick the day before his arrival--and discouraged at the church cold response.
Found in other churches a claim: God does not need science, and neither do Christians need science to believe in God. In more educated congregations, theistic evolution is the predominant belief, without noticing how it can undermine the need of a Savior.
Thank you and thank God for using you all. May your work for Him continue and overcome the barriers of ignorance.