Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, Voice of the Martyrs Korea President, authors this special 8-part series on Kim Kyo Shin, one of the greatest martyrs in Korean Christian history whose voice needs to be heard today more than ever, by Korea and the world.
Uchimura Kanzo regarded Western Christianity as “a corrupt and impure expression of Christianity because it was obsessed with denominational competition and influenced by Western culture. He rejected it as unsuitable for non-Western people…. In his opinion, the churches in the West sought first the interests of their denomination rather than the Kingdom of God” (Hwang, 2012, 22).
Uchimura Kanzo came to this conclusion when he visited the United States in order to attend university in 1884. After experiencing America’s “vulgar culture” and its “lack of Christian moral standards,” Uchimura doubted that American Christians were qualified to teach Christianity to the Japanese (Hwang, 2012, 72). He concluded that American missionaries were more focused on extending their churches and denominations than on extending the Kingdom of God (Hwang, 2012, 23). When he returned to Japan, he saw that Japanese churches were already exhibiting these partisan characteristics. So he resolved to create a truly Japanese expression of Christianity that would be true to the original faith, not the American adaptation of it (Hwang, 2012, 23).
He began meeting with his friends in a dormitory room, which he considered a kind of “non-church.” He went on to create a magazine to carry his message (published from 1900 to 1930) and a Bible study where he taught weekly. (Hwang 2012, 23). When they gathered, they did not imitate the Western-style church service but instead followed the Confucian model of learning which Uchimura Kanzo believed was more suited to Japanese culture:
Their group was entirely democratic. They met three times a week, the meeting had no formal rituals, and they took turns to lead… Each in turn assumed the clerical and teaching responsibilities for the day. The service consisted of prayer, Bible reading, a short sermon, and personal testimonies (Hwang, 2012, 71).
In his writings, Uchimura Kanzo emphasized that he was not anti-church but that he was against the imposition of the Western church model on Japanese culture. Uchimura Kanzo said that just as English people could develop one expression of Christianity and German people another, it was right and appropriate for Japanese people to develop their own expression as well, rather than being required to imitate the American expression brought by missionaries, and judged as heretical to the degree to which they chose not to (Hwang, 2012, 76).
Of all the students Uchimura Kanzo taught over the years, it may be Kim Kyo Shin who Uchimura Kanzo said understood him the best. In his diary on October 24, 1922, Uchimura Kanzo wrote:
After my lecture on Romans at Otaejung was finished, four (out of 700) sent me a letter of appreciation till today. Among those, one from a certain man from Korea strongly touched my heart the most. He wrote, “Teacher Uchimura, I am so glad that I learned from your lectures, which I had attended 60 times with joy from beginning to end without becoming weary. Though I had permission to attend your lecture continuously since January of last year, I shed tears of gratitude because I was fortunate listening to your overview of the greatest book as the last lecture today. Children may not thank to their parents who had toiled to give everything for children. But, how a dog, that was hoping crumbs falling from children’s table but received bread as children did, can prohibit from thanking (Matthew 15:26-28). I thank you, Teacher, who withstood oppression of people and unbearable slander, calling you an enemy of the nation, at the corner of Far East, holding a holy banner of cross high and well.” When I received it from a Korean, I could not help but shedding tears of gratitude. The one who understand me the most may turn out to be a Korean in the future. (In Kim 2012, 188).
Next in Part V of this special series on Kim Kyo Shin: How To Become A Good Man Ten Years Sooner.
Hwang, S.C. 2012. A theological analysis of the Non-Church Movement in Korea with a special reference to the formation of its spirituality. Birmingham, UK: University of Birmingham.
Kim, J.C. 2012. Recollection of Kyo-Shin Kim. BibleKorea.net. Accessed November 30, 2015 at http://www.biblekorea.net/articles/Recollection_of_Kyo-shin_Kim.doc.