Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 6, 1955
NUMBER 22, PAGE 10-11b

Promoting The Gospel By Benevolence

From "Singapore-Far East Report"

(Editor's note: The following is taken from an article by Ira Rice, Jr. appearing in a recent issue of his paper. We publish it here because it gives a friendly report on the results of the benevolence-technique in foreign evangelism from one who had every reason to be sympathetic toward that kind of approach. In connection with this article we ask you to read the editorial in this issue, "Preaching Through Benevolence.")

"As we drove about the city (Tokyo), I continued to pour forth the long stream of questions that I had begun the day before. I wanted to know how many congregations (actually) we have in Japan. Brother Gurganus estimated not more than 50. Then I wanted to know how many members in Japan. He asked if I meant the number that had been baptized or the number that can be depended upon to assemble for church services at least once a week. I answered, "Both". He said that immediately following the war with Japan, when the people were floundering around in their disillusionment that Hirohito was not God after all, great multitudes would flock to services to hear the gospel of Christ. During this heady period of apparently unlimited opportunity more than 5,000 Japanese had confessed their faith in Christ and been baptized. However, as more time went by, and conditions gradually settled down in Japan, it was found that most of these "conversions" were not that at all, but mere surface obedience to teachings they did not fully understand or, in fact, believe. Hence, after the first four or five post-war years, there came a general falling away. Of the approximately 5,000 who had been baptized, Brethren Gurganus and Campbell estimated that less than 1,000 had remained faithful: and they thought the figure, actually, was closer to 500.

This estimate came as a considerable shock to me. I had heard those early post-war reports myself; and I was honestly looking for literally thousands of Christians in Japan. To find that the figure had "sloughed off", rather than increased, was disillusioning, to say the least.

I asked these brethren for their explanation, if they had one, for such a turn of affairs. They were thoughtful. Both agreed that no one thing was the actual cause. But that probably a whole combination of causes were at the root of the trouble. First, they felt that the original motives of those who had gone through the rite of baptism was largely suspect. The Japanese are highly curious people. This might account for such large crowds, immediately after the war, when Americans were new to most of the people. It might further account for the apparent "obedience" of many, who merely wanted to see what it was like, but were not really converted. Second, Japan is basically a pagan society. What this means in practice is that the actions of most Japanese are based on an entirely different set of assumptions from those enjoyed by the so-called "Christian" nations. Thus it was extremely difficult for the newly-baptized members to fit the Christian way of life into the everyday realities of the society all around them. Many simply gave up the attempt. Third, in Japan loyalty to family is the supreme loyalty. For one to go contrary to his family simply isn't done — at least almost it isn't. When the families of many of the new converts began ridiculing, questioning, and perhaps frowning on this new religion, often times the family loyalty won out over the not-too-deeply-rooted belief. Fourth, by far the greater portion of the converts were women. Since there were so few young men converted, when the younger women married, almost invariably it had to be with pagan husbands, or not at all. And, just as invariably, the pagan husbands would insist their wives give up this Christian nonsense, and go back to their former way of life. Filial loyalty once again stepped in, insofar that almost every one of the Christian women who married non-Christian husbands simply did not show up for church services any more; hence, for all practical purposes, were lost to the cause.

There were other suggestions made as to the great falling away which took place after 1949 in Japan; but, to my mind, these four causes seemed to be the most basic.

One other facet of the problem we discussed, however, should not go unnoticed. It concerns Japanese courtesy. No doubt most Westerners upon being first exposed to Japanese people on their home grounds are profoundly impressed with their elaborate politeness. Rather than shake hands, as we do, in greeting, they bow to each other. It is unthinkable on the part of homeland Japanese that one should bow to them without their bowing in return. This goes far deeper in their thinking, however, than the casual observer might suppose. Rather than it being based on discretionary politeness, it is considered as a social obligation.

This feeling of obligation extends itself far beyond such trivial matters as bowing. In the Japanese concept, if anyone does him a favor of any kind, he MUST return the favor in some way. Following the war, when Japan, defeated, downtrodden, and under military occupation, was reduced to almost indescribable poverty, the Christian missionaries, motivated by Christ's example and Apostolic teaching to do good unto all men "as oft as ye have opportunity", felt that here was opportunity indeed. Hence, they called upon the brotherhood to send food and clothing to be distributed to those who had need in Japan with whom they were in daily contact. Their thought was that such distribution would be recognized for what it was — Christianity in practice. However, now, many of the missionaries have deep misgivings as to how this was received. Rather than it melting hearts and paving the way for implanting the gospel, the American missionaries in Japan feel that, generally speaking, a far different effect resulted. There evidently were many who were baptized, thinking this would open the door to their getting a greater share of the food and clothing. But there were others, not as yet baptized, who were helped in this matter by the missionaries. Many of these had nothing in this world with which to repay these favors, which, in their concept of "courtesy", they felt they MUST repay. So, upon attending the public meetings of the missionaries, when they were invited to "be baptized", to their way of thinking this was the least they could do So they got "baptized" — not from a sense of conviction based on the gospel, but from a sense of social obligation based on Japanese "courtesy".

Thus, in Japan, the missionaries' experience with food-and-clothing distribution seems to have been largely disastrous. Those who got baptized in order to obtain more food and clothing; when the food and clothing stopped. Those who were "baptized" out of courtesy for the assistance already received; when their sense of courtesy had been satisfied, they felt no further obligation to pursue Christianity as a way of life, so they stopped. (Just how many Japanese were so motivated, it would, of course, be impossible to say. But, to our missionaries in Japan, this presents a very real problem; and in discussing it not only with George and Colis, but also with Brother Pendergrass and the brethren in Ibariki, they seemed united in their conclusion that charitable and humanitarian efforts in Japan are almost certain to elicit wrong motives among the non-Christian people. Rather than to risk further falling away caused by spurious baptisms motivated by desire for gain or social courtesy, they have eliminated the general distribution of food and clothing almost entirely from their work program, limiting themselves more to an intellectual approach through teaching, preaching and personal work. After considering what they had to report in this regard, I felt that, under such conditions, they had chosen the proper course. This is not to say, naturally, that they are against "doing good". Rather, in trying to do good, they are attempting to guard against perverse results. To one not having been actually on the ground this, doubtlessly, may be difficult to understand. However, after being there in person, and considering the problem with many of the brethren, it is my own opinion that they have chosen wisely in this.