A lecture for the end of the week.  I saw it on a notice board and added it to my diary.  I didn’t catch the name of the lecturer, who is now based at Auckland University after several decades observing religion in Japan at close range.  He is the son of American missionaries to Japan.

What’s to say about Japanese Christianity?  The big religions of Japan are Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism and Folk Religion.  It sounds like nobody belongs to these religions.  People drop in when they need and then go again.  Ten percent of the population take part in organised religions, small minority religions out of about 300 new religions, which include Christian sects.  Christians make up 1% of the population, 1 million people.  My reaction to that is, a national Christian community of a million people, gosh! That’s a bigger number than New Zealand.  The number in Japan might expand to 2% to include people who still hold onto a Christian sensibility from church schools and similar influences.  The average length that a Japanese Christian will be involved in church life is 2.8 years.  There’s a revolving back-do0r to church life.

Japanese Christianity experimented with creating Christian movements based on ways of being Japanese, ranging from high Confucian churches to chant-based worship.  They criticised the missionary churches as ‘smelling of butter’ or ‘hardened, frozen Christianity’ with doctrines that came from foreign churches.  After a generation of charismatic founders these movements are going into rapid decline and disappearing.

Foreign-orientated independent churches, like the Full Gospel Church from South Korea, and the Universal Church of God from Brazil, are growing in Japan.  Korea has an energetic Christian market which is pushing outwards into Japan and around the globe.  They are church-planting in Japan, a situation where the Co-Prosperity Sphere is striking back.  These churches are more attractive to Korean migrants in Japan than to the Japanese population to whom they are trying to evangelise.

At the same time the church is also growing in China as the population moves into cities in huge numbers.  There are more Christians in China than in Europe on a Sunday.  Whether they can continue to grow to become statistically significant waits to be seen.  The trend could make China like South Korea and the Philippines which has big Christian populations, or like Japan and Taiwan where Christianity remains a religion from outside.

At the same time the Catholic Church in Japan is affected that it is coping with a migrant community coming from traditionally Catholic countries, such as Brazil, Peru and the Philippines.  Nominally Catholic in their home countries they are looking for communities in Japan with which to make contact.  These churches are moving from declining numbers and closing churches to including multi-cultural congregations with their own practices, including recognising Lord of Miracles Brotherhoods and El Shaddai Brotherhoods.  These congregations are challenged.  They wait to see if this will be a continuing challenge.

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