Hidden Christians; June 10, 2018

Mark 13:13 “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Having just been on Ikitsuki Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, this sounds very real indeed. Ikitsuki is noted for “Hidden Christians,” those who became as “invisible” as possible during the persecutions of the Edo Period, particularly so because some of those did not go back to the Catholic Church when freedom of religion was established, but maintained their separate practices. There is a very nice museum on the island which records both the fishing/whaling that continues to be the major pillar of the local economy and the legacy of the Hidden Christians. We went through the museum with a young man from our church, and his comment about the modern Hidden Christians was that their practices seemed very Buddhist. I had to agree with him. Actually, they incorporate not only Buddhist but also Shinto/shamanistic practices, to the point that I understand why they felt they were no longer the same religion as Catholics. The problem was that they didn’t have the Bible left to them in a form they could read, so all they had to go on were memories of Latin mass, which they understood very little. As is touched on in the book/movie Silence, they fixated on objects, such as little crosses made of straw or sticks tied together, or even cut out of paper. They disguised Mary and the Christ Child as the goddess Kwannon, the goddess of mercy, holding a baby, either in paintings or statuettes, and those became objects of worship. As the young man from our church noted, they became very object-centered, rather than having a personal relationship with a living Lord. Whether they, or their modern descendants, are saved or not is God’s business. At first glance, it currently seems to be a different religion indeed, but then we have this verse. Many indeed were martyred, refusing to give up their faith. There is a small uninhabited island between the islands of Ikitsuki and Hirado that was used as an execution ground. It is said that the whole island was painted red with the blood of those killed, and today they collect their “holy water” from an unfailing spring on that island, to be used in baptisms and the like. Faith takes many forms, and God is the Judge.

I am regularly challenged by the martyrs of Japan. This is the first time I have known about the practices of the current Hidden Christians. I know from Church history that we have a tendency to gravitate to the physical, rather than continuing to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) I have had people insist they wanted a cross, some sort of talisman, on which to fix their faith. I find that very sad, and don’t know well how to respond. I come away from the past two days with a renewed conviction of the importance of the Word, of people reading the Bible and applying it, rather than going by liturgy or tradition. I realize that I too am at risk of fixating on forms, rather than on true worship in Spirit and in truth. As a pastor, I seek to have people focus on Jesus, rather than on me. That doesn’t mean I’m to shy away from being an example, but it does mean I’ve got to be clear that anything good they see in me is because of Him, and He is just as available to them as He is to me. We don’t face active persecution, but the temptations and pressures are no less real. Only a personal relationship with a living Lord will really carry us through.

Father, thank You for helping me digest what I’ve learned over the past two days. Thank You that the message You’ve given me for today is on digesting the Word! We expect very light attendance today for various reasons. Help me indeed focus on the unseen rather than the seen, so that You will be free to do in and through me all that You desire to do, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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