Chapter III. Missions to Japan
Roman missions in the sixteenth century--At the present day--Mission of the Orthodox Church--Non-episcopal missions, Baptist, Congregationalist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Salvation Army--Missionary comity.
Enough has already been said, it is hoped, about the struggles and hopes, the successes and disappointments, of that marvellous missionary effort which began with St. Francis Xavier in 1549, and was crushed for political reasons in the first twenty years of the following century, to send readers to the books which tell the story. [Probably the Letters of St. Francis for the origins and the condition of Japan at the time, the parts of Charlevoix' history (French, from the Jesuit point of view) for the course of the mission, and Marnas' "La Religion de Jesus résuscitée au Japon," are the best works on the Roman mission. Marnas begins with a short sketch of the early missions, and notes carefully every scrap of knowledge we possess, and every effort to effect an entrance during the period when Japan was closed to foreigners; but, as the title of the book shows, his main topic is the modern missions.]
As regards the methods of the Roman Church, thus much may be said.
The pains taken in oral instruction were immense, and so were the sacrifices made by the noble army of missionaries and martyrs. It was the fault of the times rather than of the men that during a short period of influence in high quarters they approved of the savage persecution of the Buddhist priests by Nobunaga, that [192/193] they opposed to pre-existing religions, not sympathy with what was good in them, but the thought that they came straight from the devil, and most of all where they had the greatest likeness to Christianity; and also that the missionaries were entangled in local politics, and at least the Jesuits, in a less degree, in trade. It was the fault of their Church system that the connections with the Pope--a foreign sovereign--were such that Japan could not suppress its civil wars, or complete its unity, or maintain its full national independence, unless it destroyed that Christianity of which many of the best Japanese recognized the moral value. It was similarly the fault of the centralized Roman system that in the course of fifty to seventy years there were very few Japanese priests at all, and that even a foreign bishop of that communion hardly ever set foot on the coasts of Japan. The first of these two faults is partially, the second is wholly, absent from their modern missions. But a third, hardly less deadly, is still strong. The Roman Church would not trust Christians with the Bible in their own language. A catechism, and at least a part of the "Imitatio," and no doubt some other books, were issued from the mission press; but when the foreign teachers were removed and access to them closed, the descendants of the old Christians were dependent for all their knowledge on the ever-decreasing remnant of what had been orally taught from generation to generation. Even formulas such as that used in Baptism, being in a foreign language, became more and more mispronounced, and less and less understood, till probably to most it became nothing more than a charm of mystic value, and a badge of admission to a religious freemasonry.
That the moral fruits of the mission were not all lost we have seen; but if the Christians had had a Bible throughout the time there might, no doubt, have arisen [193/194] heresies and divisions, but they would not have been in the utter desolation of having nothing but their memories to trust for Christian truth. The power of approach to the fountain head for renewal would have had an infinite value. [At the present time (1903) a Japanese version of the Holy Scripture, or large parts of it, is in course of preparation under the auspices of the Roman mission; but, unless Mamas' freely expressed distress at the free circulation of Bibles by Protestants is an idiosyncrasy, the old policy continues in Japan, and the Japanese version will not be for popular use.]
In most ways the present methods of the Roman mission are admirable; for instance, their quietness, due in part, no doubt, to the unpopularity and suspicion occasioned by their past history and the foreign centre of their Church; their poverty, their discipline, their persistence and ubiquity, without entering into controversy with other Christians. Or again, their high-class boarding-school in which parents feel their children to be morally safe; their care and use of the poor, the training of thousands of orphans and destitute in institutions where they imbibe Christian faith with their daily food; or again, their division of labour, by which specialists are trained and authorized for the various departments of work, so that some of them are much admired and resorted to, as thorough scholars in philosophy and science, by gentlemen of good position and influence. Their literature also is far more thorough and popular, and deals more effectively and rapidly with the religious and moral questions that the Japanese secular press is discussing than that of any other body. Of course also their unity of voice gives them a great advantage in the struggle.
But there is not perhaps a single one of these good points which has not in its train some measure of [194/195] compensating disadvantage. There are, of course, no examples among their missionaries of Christian family life; their converts have not a high reputation as a body for Christian character: but are said to be less raised than others above the moral level of the unbelievers round them. Their secrecy of method perhaps creates against them even more suspicion in Japanese minds than there need be; and it probably is due chiefly to the care with which the Bible is kept from them that without, to our knowledge, any definite proselytism on the part of other Christian bodies, the leakage from them is so considerable as it evidently is. The "Nippon Sei Kokwai" alone, though it certainly discourages proselytizing from any Christian body, probably receives from Rome annually more than the whole number which the Roman mission records as "baptized on being received from other Christian sects" in the course of 1902. There is probably a large leakage in all missions, and certainly in all missions in Japan; but the statistics published by the Roman mission, which are evidently compiled with most scrupulous care and honesty, seem to show, if we compare the total number of members of their Church with the baptisms (exclusive of those baptized at the point of death) and the annual increase, that the leakage from them must be very large indeed.
The contrast between the Roman mission, with its one hundred and eighteen foreign missionaries, and the Russian mission, with its one noble bishop working single-handed at preaching, instruction, organization, literature (including the translation of liturgy and Scripture), the father and beloved friend of all the converts, unable properly to supervise for the multiplicity of things which fall to him personally to do, is very remarkable. He stands alone among nearly twenty-five thousand Japanese followers, as shown by the statistics published. [195/196] But it cannot, we think, be doubted that, though perfectly honest, these figures are largely in excess of the fact. Within our own experience the Japanese members of the "Orthodox Church," at least in the provinces, are often very loose in their attachment. Many certainly join other Christian bodies, and many lapse and slip out of the fold. Yet, in some years at least, a comparison of figures shows that the new total is reached by merely adding the baptisms and subtracting the deaths of the year. The fact is that Bishop Nicolai is far too busy to be able personally to watch over the correction of registers all over the country--a troublesome and disheartening work at best--and his fatherly heart cannot bear to order the erasure of the name of one of his children in the faith, without more evidence that he is really lapsed than is afforded by some years' silence in perhaps a very isolated place. Still, after all deductions, the work is a marvellous one and singularly blest. May God speed it still and send good assistants, and, when that day shall come, a worthy successor to the holy and noble-hearted bishop! His converts are everywhere, for Japanese are great travellers, but chiefly in Tokyo and the north; for it is in these parts that Bishop Nicolai has done his work for more than forty years.
Looseness at the edges, and want of vigorous stimulus, such as comes from visiting missionaries whose knowledge of Western methods, and whose perhaps too restless Western energy would keep things up to the mark, are, as we have seen, the weak points of this Church. Its strength lies in its bishop, its great central cathedral to which all adherents look, with choir-singing such as cannot be heard elsewhere in Japan, and a well-appointed seminary and schools all at the same spot under the bishop's eye, and in its ungrudging expenditure for publication. The bishop thankfully accepts the admission [196/197] of members of his flock, who are out of the reach of their own pastors, to receive our ministrations, and there is full mutual regard and sympathy; but what may come when he is removed is very uncertain, the more so because, if the Roman Church in Japan is at a disadvantage through its foreign head, the Orthodox mission is unfavourably affected by its Russian source.
We have spoken separately of these two missions because they are very distinct from any others, and their adherents comprise a good deal more than half the Christians in Japan. In the non-episcopal bodies, although they fall into groups, there is far less that is distinctive in method and result, and in the main we shall content ourselves with quoting the leading statistics which they publish. They all, except one Scotch Presbyterian mission, hail from Canada or the United States, or else from Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, or Holland. Most of those from the continent of Europe are very small and unorganized, not attempting to found or support any particular religious body, but simply "to preach Christ." So far as we have seen, they show examples of singular devotion in the loneliness of up-country stations, but also of practical inefficiency, men and women being pitchforked, often with their families, into some spot where they receive their stipend, but otherwise shift for themselves as they can, both in living and in preaching. It may be Apostolic, but then St. Paul was a Roman citizen, and spoke to well-prepared members of a Jewish community and their hangers-on wherever he went. So far as our experience goes, a certain measure of general leavening with Christian ideas, and the example of a Christian life, are the principal contribution of these humble, kindly, and devoted people to the future Christianity of Japan. Such a contribution, with the constant upward flow of prayer, is not a small thing, [197/198] though it would seem that with better economy of power there might be an earlier or a richer harvest; but" Wisdom is justified of all her children."
Almost all forms of Christianity, and what lies on the edge of Christianity, may be found in Japan; nor does the multiplicity of sects do the harm that might have been expected. It involves great waste of power and resource, for overlapping can be avoided in Japan less than anywhere. Of course also it involves some friction, some jealousies, some meannesses in proselytizing or taking advantage of each other's work, though not nearly so much as we might have feared, and, what there is, probably more among the Japanese converts than among the missionaries. It also gives an excuse rather than a reason for a person, convinced but not prepared to make the necessary sacrifice to become a Christian, to say, "Which kind of Christian?"
But a greater evil than these, which yet is connected with them, is the not infrequent hurrying of baptism by missionaries who would wish to prepare thoroughly first, because it is the custom or theory of other groups, and of many of the more isolated missionaries of whom we have spoken, to baptize at a very early stage of the teaching. The half-taught and untried convert moves elsewhere, looks for a missionary, and knows no difference between one and another; is taken, naturally enough, since he is an earnest seeker and calls himself a believer, to be already a Christian in heart who has somehow missed his opportunity of baptism, and is baptized with great thanksgiving, almost without knowledge of what this act really means; and in such a case further teaching of any accurate kind is very improbable. The fear of this sometimes causes baptism in our own communion earlier than would otherwise be at all desirable, just as the prospect of a boy going to school or to sea may lead with us to [198/199] unwisely hurried confirmation; but the person so confirmed has at least been in Christian surroundings all his life, and will not afterwards be removed from the means of grace.
The only non-episcopal bodies which are found in Japan in any strength are the Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, and Baptists.
The Baptists are vigorous, but a comparatively small body. The number of Japanese Christians claimed by them in 1907 is 2373. The fact that they ignore our use of the Sacrament of Baptism for infants, and would repeat the rite, is a bar to free co-operation, similar to that which they and others feel in the way of co-operating freely with us because we insist upon episcopal ordination. But they co-operate where they can, though the fact that the acceptance of each other's ministrations cannot be mutual generates a measure of reserve in them, as in us, which might otherwise be needless.
The Congregationalists were early in the field (converts in 1907, 14,389), and in its early years their great educational institution at Kyoto, called the Doshisha, as the pioneer work of the kind, did incalculable service. A large proportion of older leaders among the Christian Japanese were educated there, and they were often drawn from a higher class in point of intelligence and leadership, and perhaps in social status, than that which now usually attends the mission schools. The reasons for this are not far to seek. For the institution was the first in the field, and therefore drew to itself all that were seeking the new learning at that early period. Moreover, there was then among ardent and impatient spirits an idea of adopting Western things wholesale, even including religion, so that enthusiasm and ambition combined to draw men thither. Since then the Doshisha, and with it the Congregational missions, have met with great [199/200] vicissitudes. Seven years ago they were in very low water, but now the institution is thriving again, and side by side with it the Christian community with which it is connected. But though its staff and plant and work may be better than ever they were, the Doshisha can never again be the place of education for the leaders of thought, society, and politics, for the higher public educational system of Japan has grown up, with the national revenue to support it, and for the leaders of the nation a national rather than a missionary, a native rather than a foreign, institution will be preferred.
The difficulty in frank co-operation with the Congregationalist body lies in that want of fixity, that local vagueness of doctrine which it seems impossible to guard against on Congregational principles. Their missionaries, so far as we know, are a noble and able group of men, staunch on the central Christian doctrines. They have fought, and for the Doshisha at least, have won with much labour and sacrifice the battle of the faith; but there is no guarantee whatever that the Japanese congregations go with them. The missionaries are not members of any Japanese Congregational Church. [Since the above was written matters have progressed, and whilst the assertion of complete independence of missionaries on the part of Japanese Congregationalists is even more pronounced than it was three years ago, we understand that a good many of the Congregationalist missionaries have enrolled themselves as members of Japanese congregations; but probably few or none of them are office-bearers in the body (1906).] The moment a congregation is independent of money support from the mission it can go its own way, and any interference of the foreign man or mission would be so strongly resented as to do more harm than good.
Thus several of the most able and eminent lights of the Congregational body--for some at least of them would still describe themselves and be described as such--cannot [200/201] be called Christian in any sense which we should acknowledge. Some of these, notably Mr. Ebina, Mr. Yokoi, and Mr. Abe, were formerly members of the governing committee of the Doshisha; but that institution has succeeded in shaking them out, and in some cases their former congregations also have replaced them by others more orthodox, if less distinguished. But what they are teaching as Congregationalists is, so far as one can judge, a philosophy of enlightened charity, deeply affected by the character and teaching of our Lord, but void of any fixed belief as to His nature, and at the very least leaving open the question of the Incarnation. Freely to act with the Congregationalists is therefore wilfully to place the younger members of the flock under influences not likely to leave them with any steady doctrinal foundation, for among students, at least, Mr. Ebina's attractive personality and large-hearted zeal is perhaps the strongest personal influence in Japan which would call itself Christian.
The Methodist body claim in 1907, 12,580 Japanese members. Here again we meet with the fact that the missionaries are members of their home Churches, and are not in organic union with their Japanese converts. [The above note applies equally to the Methodist Churches (1906).]
The Methodists are very strong in educational institutions, and very staunch in their insistence on doctrine. They exhibit something of the same tendency as at home to import rules of conduct not Scriptural into the test conditions of admission, such as making abstinence from alcohol, or specific matters in regard to Sunday observance, conditions of baptism, and securing the high character of the Church by exalting the righteous rather than by patient forbearance with the weak and wayward. But they are doing much good work, and the strictness of their discipline on such points as have been mentioned [201/202] commands not only respect but acceptance with many of their Japanese followers. It is curious that neither they nor, so far as we are aware, any missions but those of the three Episcopal Churches have any definite rules about the marriage of Christians, notwithstanding the great laxity of Japanese ideas on the matter of marriage and divorce.
Like the Methodists and Congregationalists, the Presbyterians also, who claim 15,018 members, have some strong educational institutions. Their doctrinal teaching appears to be clear, their organization strong, and if there is in some places perhaps a roughness of men or methods, we have been struck with the corresponding virtue of sincerity and avoidance of gush or exaggeration alike in missionaries and in their Japanese assistants. It is to be feared that amid the competition of the mission-field one would not always have the answer from a Japanese catechist and pastor, "We number 107 here, but fifteen or more are hardly real members;" or from the missionary, "Which of our workers have you seen? Well, you have seen our best." We need not go further into detail, except to mention that the Salvation Army, quite unimportant so far as appears in other lines, is doing some good work among criminals, and has made the important field of rescue-work in Japan practically its own, in which it has shown great courage, perseverance, and discretion in a matter far more difficult in Japan than in England. It is true that the courts of Japan have given judgment that no person can be bound by contract to commit an immoral act, or can be detained against her will in an immoral house by force of any contract. But where such houses are licensed, and their inmates are registered, and in most cases have been secured for the life by a contract for which the provider has paid a considerable sum to the [202/203] girl's relations; and where both the police and the people are generally in favour of the system, the need is extreme for both firmness and wisdom in helping the girls individually to secure the freedom to which they are legally entitled.
It is not important to speak of the history of the several missions, for except the Romans, who were taking up old threads, no claim to priority can be made by any one. [In 1907, Roman Catholics 59,437; Greek Church 29,115.] All came in as soon as they could, and none are yet fifty years old. The question of priority is chiefly important in connection with missionary comity; and we cannot explain the situation better than by quoting from "The Christian Movement in Relation to the New Life" (pp. 41, 42), published in Yokohama, in 1903, under the "Standing Committee of Co-operating Christian Missions." It is the more conclusive for our purpose because, of all the missions which can be said to co-operate in any definite sense, the Anglican mission (Nippon Sei Kokwai) can do least in the way of regarding the ministrations of other bodies as adequate for its scattered members, or "transferring" them by letters commendatory. The chairman of the committee is a Congregational missionary.
"In the smaller towns there is little trouble, but in the large towns and smaller cities it cannot be denied that there is a good deal of unnecessary jostling upon one another. Some urge a geographical division of the country among the different Churches; but in a country like Japan, where the movement of population is so marked, no geographical division is practicable, unless it be between different members of the same ecclesiastical family. However desirable it may be that an ardent Congregationalist or Baptist, on moving to a large town where there happens to be an Episcopal congregation, [203/204] should sink his denominational prejudices and join it, he is not likely to do so, if in his judgment the community is large enough to create the hope that it can sustain two Churches. In small towns he may. The case becomes less hopeful still, if it happens, as it sometimes does, that instead of a single believer there is a group large enough and optimistic enough to believe itself stronger than the one which has pre-empted the field. Most of the newer Churches now organized in Japan have grown up in large part because of this movement of population, and this kind of growth is going on all the time. It cannot easily be prevented, though under certain conditions the geographical limitations may work well. For example, Formosa is for the most part, so far as work for the Japanese is concerned, left to the Presbyterians, the Bonin Islands to the Episcopalians, the Loochoos to the Baptists and Methodists, etc.; but it would not be possible to limit the work in any of the first or even second-class cities of Japan proper to a single denomination.
"It seems clear that each case must be dealt with on its merits, and it is the hope that the Standing Committee of Co-operating Christian Missions may be of service in adjusting cases of friction which may arise. Happily such cases are not frequent. Without exception, so far as the writer is aware, the missionary communities throughout Japan have succeeded in finding common ground broad enough to admit of cordial and helpful cooperation. There is unnecessary duplication of machinery oftentimes, but even here forms of co-operation have been devised which yield much hope for the future, and it is not improbable that consolidations may occur as time goes on which will simplify these problems. For the present we may congratulate ourselves that the difficulties which do arise are, with few if any exceptions, met in a spirit of mutual respect and confidence."
Whatever may be said about "comity," it must not be supposed that "the unity for which Christ prayed" is near at hand, or even unity of the so-called "Protestant" or "Evangelical" Churches. So long as the Roman and [204/205] the Eastern Churches are practically ignored, and there is not the hope, and in many cases not even the desire, to recognize them as belonging to the one flock of Christ, the aim at "the unity for which Christ prayed" is not even approached. Indeed, the pretence to such an aim comes perilously near a vast sectarian hypocrisy. So far only as it is blind is it saved from being such; for it is inconceivable that men who believe in our Lord's Divine foreknowledge could look the facts of Christendom in the face and say that far the larger part of those who worship Him were not included in His purpose.
It is for this reason even more, it may be, than because of the radical difference in their conception of Church order, though the two things are most intimately connected, that the Anglican Communion is held back from a larger and freer measure of co-operation with either side. To give ourselves to either side would be to detach the bridge across the great dividing river from one bank or the other. A more disastrous fall from our high calling could hardly be conceived, though the loving patience required to overcome from age to age the difficulty of holding steadily to both sides is hard indeed; and the fact that the great dividing line of Christendom runs straight through the middle of our Church is a continual strain on faith and patience which needs, and we trust calls forth, an especial measure of God's grace.
The very elementary appreciation of this point of view, which as yet prevails among even the intelligent young Japanese Christians attached to the various Protestant bodies, is well illustrated by two blunders which were made in printing in their magazine, a paper on the "Possible steps towards the Unity for which Christ prayed," which the present writer had been asked to read at one of their meetings. He pointed out that [205/206] God's way to this unity could not lie in the direction of sinking differences and saying we would all be one Church, for an honest Romanist sincerely believes that his communion is the only Church; and if, ignoring his conscience, he united with others, "he would not be a good man." These vague zealots for union left out the not. In the same paper it was pointed out that schisms arise when men are zealous and keenly alive and ready to fight and die for a shred of truth as they see it. There is little danger of the Church being split by those who are lukewarm. Before "zealous" a not was inserted. In both cases, no doubt, all was honestly intended. It was inconceivable to these zealots, who were prepared to perpetuate the deeper clefts of Christendom by excluding the larger half, that one who yearned for unity could have meant what he appeared to have written.
But distant as general reunion may be, the trend is towards such partial unification as can be had. This is a matter for deep thankfulness. Little local movements may set the current for great and general ones, and the larger the body the less narrow will probably be its thoughts. Hence it is a subject of thankful rejoicing that separate "missions" are throughout Japan amalgamating into ecclesiastical organizations. Four different missionary societies, that of the Church in the United States and the Church in Canada, the C.M.S. and the S.P.G., combined with the Japanese converts connected with them to constitute the Nippon Sei Kokwai. The financial organization, the institutions, some part of the control, and except in the cities of Tokyo and Osaka the spheres of work, are distinct; but the constitution and canons, and the synods by which Church matters are governed, are common to all. Similar though probably looser treaties bind together the multitudinous missionary societies of the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the [206/207] Baptists, and the CongregationaUsts into four groups in the mission-field of Japan, and the "Standing Committee of Co-operating Christian Missions" is the outcome of a great missionary conference held in Tokyo in 1900, and is itself working, not without success, for further fellowship.