A Japanese Perspective on American Christianity from 1926
His name was Kanzo Uchimura.
Uchimura was a prominent Christian leader in Japan during the early part of the twentieth century. He was born in Japan during the end of the previous century to a prominent family. He grew up, as many of the Japanese elite of that era, ascribed to Confucion philosophy. He was eventually confronted with Christianity through the work of Methodist missionaries from America and became a believer.
Over time, however, he became disillusioned with aspects of Western Christianity, establishing what he considered a thoroughly Japanese Christian movement. My goal here is not to evaluate the merits of this approach but to leave you with a snippet from his writings. He was a prolific writer and started a journal called the Japan Christian Intelligencer.
In one of his articles, he summarized his thoughts on American Christianity as it existed nearly a century ago. I am including a snippet I pulled from Ruth Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. You can read more about Uchimura in her biographical sketch of him.
Americans themselves know all too well that their genius is not in religion…. Americans are great people; there is no doubt about that. They are great in building cities and railroads…. Americans have a wonderful genius for improving the breeds of horses, cattle, sheep and swine; they raise them in multitudes, butcher them, eat them, and send their meat-products to all parts of the world. Americans too are great inventors. They invented or perfected telegraphs, telephones, talking and hearing machines, automobiles … poison gasses…. They are great in democracy…. Needless to say, they are great in money…. They first make money before they undertake any serious work…. To start and carry on any work without money is in the eyes of the Americans madness…. Americans are great in all these things and much else; but not in Religion, as they themselves very well know…. 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. It is no special fault of Americans to be this-worldly; it is their national characteristic; and they in their self-knowledge ought to serve mankind in other fields than in religion.
Remember, this critique of American Christianity was penned almost a century ago. If you are like me though, you may find his points hitting close to home. He writes, “Americans must count religion in order to see or show its value.” That statement right there is worth pondering for a while.
How does a statement like this confront your church, your ministry, your heart?