Can you name whose picture is attached to this blog? Here’s a hint – there is an article about him Wikipedia’s Japanese site but not in the English one. His name is James Hamilton Ballagh and he was one of the RCA first missionaries which were sent to Japan and was the co-founder of the Yokohama Kaigan Kokai, the very first Protestant church in Japan. That congregation was a part of the part the denomination which would be known as the Nihon Kirisuto Kyokai – the Church of Christ in Japan which was the denomination with which the RCA partnered prior to WWII.
During the war in order to keep in control of Christianity the Japanese government forced all the protestant denominations to combine into what is now the United Church of Christ Japan. Following the war the RCA partnered with newly formed united church. However, not all of the congregations from the Church of Christ remained in this denomination and eventually a large group of churches including the Yokohama Kaigan Chruch reformed the pre-war Church of Christ in Japan. At the time a strong sense of the importance of being self-supporting and self-sustaining they chose not to have relationships with any foreign missionary organizations.
Throughout the years there has been much contact between members of the Church of Christ in Japan and people from the RCA. People from the CCJ have attended Western Theological Seminary and RCA colleges as well. There have also been several RCA missionaries who have preached in CCJ congregations. However, it has not been until very recently that they have opened up toward having an official relationship with the RCA.
Last week the CCJ had its General Synod here in Tokyo and I was asked to give the official greetings on behalf of the Reformed Church in America. I knew going into the meeting that my role was not a part of the spot light as far as foreign guests were concerned. At this meeting the CCJ established official relationship with the Presbyterian Church of Korea. I cannot express enough how significant this was for both denominations. The 35 years of Japanese imperial rule of Korea in the first half of the 20th century was brutal and the wounds inflicted were deep. Added to this there was complicity of the church leaders in Japan with the oppression of occupied territories.
I was invited to a lunch with the leaders of the CCJ and the foreign guests of the general synod. It was very touching to witness the tears as members of both denominations spoke of the past which had divided them and the future in which they would walk together. It was an historic moment and I was there to see it.
Following lunch I stayed for the afternoon session. The second matter on the agenda was the committee which was addressing the issue of the Yasukuni Shrine which enshrines those who have died who have fought for the emperor. The Yasukuni Shrine demonstrates that the religion of emperor worship in Japan is in no way a closed chapter. Following the report, somebody from the floor asked about my opinion on the matter. Not being an official delegate at the event, a vote needed to be taken to give me the privilege of the floor which was granted without objection. I both answered his specific question about how whether or not the Yasukuni Shrine problem was widely known in the United States and also touched upon the problems that experienced in American congregations when it comes to the matter of patriotism.
Like I said, I thought my role at this meeting was relatively small in light of what was happening. Then a week later I received an email expressing hope for a deepening of the relationship between our denominations and noting that my being given privilege of the floor was a first in the history of the CCJ as that had never before been done for someone who was not a member of the CCJ. The importance of the three or four sentences I uttered on the floor pales in comparison to what happened between the PCK and the CCJ. Just the same, my presence at the meeting was not without its historical significance.