This past sunday, October 30th, was celebrated as Reformation day here in Japan. Kenny joined me at my church, and as it is a Reformed church, we sang "A Mighty Fortress is our God" by Mr Luther, though we sang it in Japanese. There was a baptism of a thirty-year-old woman, which was really exciting, and during the offering, a couple sang an arrangement of "A mighty fortress" in German, it was spectacular.
The sermon dealt with Romans 1:16-17.
16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Ken Sensei talked about the difficulties that particularly the Japanese have with expanding the church: the desire to blend and the pressure to conform. He said that in the past one hundred years, the church in Japan has not managed to expand because most Japanese Christians find it hard to be unashamed of their differences, and those who aren't Christians are rarely willing to embrace something that will label them as an "outsider" or independant thinker. The Christian population of Japan is less than 1%, as it has been for many years.
This made me think about the attitude that we have towards our Christian Herritage in the Western society and culture. We live in a time and a place that encourages individuality and independant thinking. Those who act differently, who dress differently and who live their lives differently are not always embraced but are generally described as "brave," "confident" or "daring," all of which are commonly looked upon as positive traits. We are given the go-ahead by our culture to be different and we plead shyness and pretend that what we have is something to be ashamed about. We in the West know nothing of what the "pressure to conform" really means. We have freedoms that we don't even realize: we decide what we will bring to work for lunch, we decide what colour our hair will be, we decide what we will do with our Sundays, we decide where we will go for vacation... All of these freedoms are ones that I never thought to consider before I joined this Japanese society. My co-workers (and to some extent, I) have these decisions made for them by whomever is higher up on the chain of command at work. There are proper dress codes, there are proper lunch menus, there are proper places to go and there are proper ways to think-- Christianity is not one of those ways to think. I think that sometimes we in the West wish that we had this excuse to hide our Faith- do we fear that others will see us as "typical" or "normal" in our abnormal society? We have the freedom to move, so why do we stand there with our feet nailed to the ground?