Faithful Through the Ages - Friday, August 15, 2014
Kanzo Uchimura - Leader of Japanese Independent Churches
As Lottie Moon was dying aboard ship at a port in Kobe, Japan, Kanzo Uchimura (1861 - 1930) was struggling to preach a gospel message that was culturally relevant. Born in Tokyo the son of a Confucian scholar, he enrolled at the Sapporo Agricultural College founded by William Smith Clark, an American educator. Through Clark's evangelistic zeal, the first class of students had been converted and had signed a covenant to evangelize succeeding classes of students. By the time Uchimura entered the school, Clark had returned home, but like his classmates Uchimura became part of the Sapporo Band. Though baptized by a Methodist missionary, he simply considered himself a Japanese Christian. However, when he planted a church with mission support and was later told that he must return the money if the church was not Methodist, he gave the money back and severed his ties with missionaries.
This incident spurred him to form the non-church movement in Japan, much to the chagrin of Western missionaries. His response to them was in keeping with his cultural understandings. "Why blame me for upholding Japanese Christianity while every one of them upholds his or her own Christianity?" he demanded. "Is not Episcopalianism essentially an English Christianity?" Methodists, too, were culturally oriented, as were many other denominations: "Why, for instance, call a universal religion 'Cumberland Presbyterianism'? If it is not wrong to apply the name of a district in the state of Kentucky to Christianity, why is it wrong for me to apply the name of my country to the same?"
More than a minister and evangelist, Uchimura was a writer and scholar whose works kept his reputation alive long after his death. In addition to a twenty-two volume biblical commentary, he published The Biblical Study, a monthly journal. He was also a social critic who challenged Western—and particularly American—influence on Japanese Christianity And culture in general. He lamented that Christianity had been turned into a religion of numbers and money:
Americans must count religion in order to see or show its value. . . . To them big churches are successful churches. . . . To win the greatest number of converts with the least expense is their constant endeavour. Statistics is their way of showing success or failure in their religion as in their commerce and politics. Numbers, numbers, oh, how they value numbers! . . . Mankind goes down to America to learn how to live the earthly life; but to live the heavenly life, they go to some other people.