RTS Washington, DC Professor Howard Griffith Reports on Teaching in Japan During Summer 2009
When I arrived at RTS/Washington D.C., 2 1/2 years ago, I recognized that God has given me my heart’s desire—teaching theology in seminary. But it’s never a good idea to be too comfortable—we are called to take up the cross—so I asked him to give me somewhere to serve in the developing world. Within two weeks, Pastor Dan Iverson of Mission to the World in Chiba, Japan, wrote, asking me to come teach a course there. That was the Lord’s answer. (I knew Dan because All Saints PCA in Richmond, where I served as Pastor, is a supporting church.)
With its super-technology and wealth, Japan is not exactly the developing world! But the need for the gospel there is desperate. No more than .7% of all Japanese profess any kind of Christianity. Most people are Shinto or Buddhist.
The people are kind, well educated and refined. But below the surface there is great need. I needed to visit a place where it is tough to be a Christian, and I saw the Lord building his Kingdom.
From July 17-25 I taught “God, Revelation and Scripture” (sponsored by Christ Bible Seminary of Nagoya, about 430 kilometers West of Chiba. The RTS connections were fantastic: Dan graduated from RTS/Jackson in 1984. The translator, Tokuhiro Meiri, graduated from RTS Orlando in 2000. He is the faithful Pastor of Chiharadai Christ Church near Chiba. As translator, Tokuhiro worked harder than any of us.
One morning a lady was asking a question in Japanese, about God’s unchanging nature, and his “grieving” in Genesis 6:6. Her hands were very expressive, and I said, “I understand your question.” Tokuhiro turned with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Do you understand Japanese?” The class cracked up with laughter. As it turned out, I really did understand her question! God’s eternal, comprehensive plan is unchanging—and that plan includes his evaluations of human sin in history.
Japan, I learned, is a difficult place to minister. Dan Iverson has been working there for 23 years. Christ has built the church through patience, labor and prayer. Dan and his team serve a congregation of 180 worshipers in 3 locations (massive by Japanese standards). The spiritual warfare is intense. Very few Japanese have ever been to a worship service. Typically believers make contact with non-Christians through college ministry, choir groups or English classes.
They are very committed to loving their neighbors. After about 5 years, often women in the group will ask to be baptized. Then about 3 or 4 years later, a husband will attend worship. A number of those I met were baptized as families. Despite the hostile culture, there is much faith in what Christ is doing and will do in the future. They are focused on the evangelistic task Christ has given the church, and very committed to the Reformed faith. That was obvious in their joy in the Lord and the children everywhere! Like the mustard seed in Jesus’ parable, small beginnings lead to the great Kingdom.
The class had about 30 students—missionaries and Japanese men and women. A number of the men in the church have become elders and a number are pastors or candidates—among them, Shinichi-san, Nagata-san (both father and son), and Dedachi-san. Because men cannot take off work, we held class each evening. We also held class in the morning—I taught the class twice each day. By the second week, my feet hurt from teaching in my socks!
We read Calvin’s Institutes and the Westminster Confession of Faith (two of the very few theology resources translated into Japanese). Almost no-one missed a class. They came with hunger to learn more of God, his attributes and Triune nature. They had the same questions about predestination as my Washington students. But in a polytheistic culture, it was moving to read the Word together of God’s great creation out of nothing, his absolute control and his personality. One lady was deeply moved to realize that in baptism, God has named her with his Triune Name.
Howard Griffith, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology