The Original Gospel movement originated outside of the institutionalized church and is an outgrowth of the Non-church movement. Our purpose is to prove through our lives that one is truly saved by the living Christ who can meet each one’s needs. With the anointment of the Holy Spirit, we have made strenuous efforts of advancing the Original Gospel movement.
* * *Professor Otto A. Piper of Princeton Theological Seminary is one of the most brilliant scholars and theologians in the New Testament studies. His primary interest lies in “Heilsgeschichte” or salvation history. While his biblical realism has influenced many contemporary New Testament scholars, the broad spectrum of his theological pursuits will not allow us to categorize him under a single label. Born in Lichte, Germany, in 1891, he received his education and taught at Göttingen and Münster Universities, until he was forced to leave his country because of his stand against the Nazi. He came to Japan in November 1963, as the guest speaker of the Original Gospel movement.
Professor Otto Piper
Judging the work of the Protestant missionaries in Africa and Asia in its relation to present cultural tendencies, one can say that with a few minor exceptions they have Westernized the people to whom they announced the gospel. The gospel message itself in its Protestant presentation would reflect the experience and mentality of Northern Europe. The same observation holds good for the way of life the missionaries taught. They had to reckon with the fact that practically the whole daily life of the converts had originally been molded by their pagan religion, and would therefore insist that the separation from the former practices be as complete as possible.
Conversion to Christianity does not mean this pagan belief is discarded; it lingers on for generations. No wonder that Japanese are looking for a type of ministry that gives evidence of spiritual power. The result is thousands of small congregations not affiliated with the organized churches but rather formed around people who manifest their spiritual power in ways that combine Christian and indigenous features. The missionaries insisted that Christians keep away from them. But this stern discipline cut the native Christian off from the most exciting and enjoyable part of their own national life and dried up the source of his most natural happiness.
Churches in Conflict
In Japan, the National Church of Japan (Kyodan) was forced upon the numerous denominations during the last war by the Japanese government to be organized as one sect. But the fact that it does not grow numerically is paradoxically due in the first place to the developed state of its theology. The ministers are preoccupied with academic theology, and thus with the theoretical problems of the West rather than with the spiritual needs of the Japanese people.
The type of organized fellowship characteristic of Western Protestantism is an alien element in the Far East. The missionaries came from denominations in which the specific character of Christianity had become articulate in some kind of theology. But theology is the result of a typically Western attitude. It rests upon the belief that the nature and the work of God can be apprehended in a rational way. All the prerequisites of such an understanding of the Christian faith are lacking in Japan. Inasmuch as theology is accepted, it is in the pursuit of Western ideals. Where the Christian religion has entered into the life of the people, it manifests itself in charismatic enthusiastic meetings in whose center the Spirit-powered leader stands.
Gradually, some Japanese Christians began to react against this impoverishment of indigenous life. Much more in keeping with the Japanese character is the No-Church movement, which received its impetus from Kanzo Uchimura (1861-1930). Its approximately 200 groups are engaged in efforts to understand what the Bible message means for one’s personal life. There is no strict organization; each group consists of a leader and from 50 to 200 people who meet with him regularly. Some of the pioneers of this movement were masters of literary style and poets who tried to wed the genius of Japanese mentality with the Word of God. But the movement now seems to be in a state of stagnation.
A Protestant Third Force
A considerable step further in the process of indigenization is the Original Gospel movement, whose leader is Professor Ikuro Teshima. For some time he was associated with the No-Church movement, and his tabernacles resemble the No-Church assemblies in many respects. But the movement, with its 35,000 members, has become a “third force” in Japanese Protestantism and has a considerable influence upon the ministers of the Kyodan and the denominational churches.
With the emphasis it places upon the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit, it resembles the Pentecostal movement. But it differs from Pentecostalism in two regards. Whereas in Western Protestantism the sin and the forgiveness of sin have been central, the stress falls here on soteria, wholeness and healing. The Holy Spirit is expected to enable the Christian to live a full life. Absence of legalism in any form and naturalness place the Original Gospel movement so near to certain forms of Japanese Buddhism that missionaries are prone to speak of syncretism. But that is precluded by its strict biblicism. The other characteristic feature is spiritual discipline. By methods like those of Buddhism, the believers raise themselves into a state of ecstasy and claim to experience the work of the Spirit in their hearts. But ecstasy is not a means of mystical contemplation, as with the ancient Egyptian monks, rather it enables people to live joyfully a Christian life of fellowship and live in a non-Christian, often hostile environment.
Indigenization and Westernization are in many respects conflicting themselves. The ecumenical movement has on the whole bypassed the charismatic movements, and these in turn have looked with suspicion upon the manner in which the World Council of Churches and its Commission on Mission have envisaged the problem of church unity. Starting from the Western axiom that truth is basically propositional, the churches united in the WCC have attempted to provide a theological statement that would express their oneness in Christ. It is true that theologians in India and Japan have attempted to inject indigenous elements into the ecumenical discussion. But interesting as is their confrontation of classical theology with mythical or metaphysical elements of Hinduism or Buddhism, the debate remains thereby within the confines of a Western type of rational thought that is worlds apart from the speculative and meditative literature of the Far East. The charismatic movements, in turn, depend so obviously on the authority of their leaders that the emphasis falls on diversity rather than on oneness.
If the political development in Asia and Africa provides any clue at all, Christianity in these continents is moving toward diversity and particularism rather than organizational unity. While the “fraternal workers” that the churches of Europe and America sent to those countries will plead for continuation and strengthening of ecclesiastical organization, they will find it increasingly difficult to overcome the resentment against their “Western” concept of the Church. In order to combine the satisfaction of indigenous needs and wishes with solid, visible unity, for Protestantism, much will depend on a deepened understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and on a new type of fellowship (koinonia) willing to recognize the diversity of charismatic gifts.
The Original Gospel movement has proved to be a powerful force in indigenization of Christianity in the Far East. Unfortunately enough, we have failed to fully realize the real meaning of this movement until recently.