Where do you belong? Where is your citizenship? Would people know if they saw the way you dressed, talked, acted…?
These were some of the questions raised in a sermon on Philippians that I listened to as I was out for my jog this morning (in the snow!).
It also reminded me of an orientation session we had at JLC last week. The head of KGK (Japan’s branch of IFES, the equivalent of UK’s uccf:thechristianunions) came to speak to us about the work of KGK and the life of students in Japan.
He gave us one word to sum up his main focus in reaching students in Japan for Christ – shakaijin (社会人). If you look it up in a dictionary it says something like “full-fledged member of society”. He thought that kind of definition doesn’t give the right impression. The characters literally mean “people who gather at a shrine”, a more religious nuance. In its general usage, Japanese people don’t seem to think of this religious nuance, but he said that it gives an insight into the worldview of Japanese society. In short, using this language, to be a good Japanese person means being a good shakaijin. That means personal ambition, desires, ideas, must be laid aside if they conflict with the good of the shakai (society). The shakai comes first.
He told us that in a darker period of the history of the church of Japan, before and during WW2, Christians were forced to include a time in their church services for singing praises to the Emperor and bowing to his picture. Sadly, most of them went along with it – being a good shakaijin came first, before being a ‘good’ christian.
Today the focus has shifted away from the emperor to the company. And still many Japanese christians put being a good employee, a good shakaijin, ahead of church. Because of this, he said, students don’t respect christians in church and have no role models of what it looks like to put Christ first, rather than the shakai. What is most needed in student ministry in Japan, he thought, is people to mentor them who have experienced the pressures of shakai and have stood firm and not given in.
Lest we (or I, at least) are tempted at this point to look down on Japanese christians, I wonder how often churches in the UK go against the flow of society and make a stand for Christ? I think the pressures in the UK are different, perhaps less intense. But we also have a christian heritage in the West which Japan does not have.
As I was listening to him saying these things, the question that came to my mind (perhaps yours too!) was, What do I have to offer then?! I have no experience of those pressures to be a good Japanese shakaijin, I don’t understand the culture like a Japanese person would, and I don’t know the nuances of what significance or symbolism different aspects of culture have and which must be resisted/corrected, and which can be affirmed or redeemed for Christ. (Hopefully, I will gradually learn some of these things as the years go by…).
Thankfully, he had an answer. *phew!* We, as outsiders can show that there is something bigger than the Japanese shakai. There are other societies with different pressures. There’s a whole world out there. And God made it and He is bigger than any one of those societies. He’s bigger than all of them put together. He made the universe! We can lift their eyes to see how great He is.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)
We Christians (Japanese or not) need to see that our greatest, most significant allegiance is with Christ – our citizenship is in heaven. That is primary. We are also citizens of our society, but that is secondary.
And people should see the difference that makes as we follow Christ’s model of self-sacrificial humility, put others first (Phil 2).
- May God give courage to our Japanese brothers and sisters particularly to stand up against shakai when necessary and be a loyal citizen of heaven before being a good shakaijin.
- May God give us wisdom to know how to do that too, and how to help Japanese students to do that.
- May the world look on at our ‘heavenly society’, recognise where we belong, and apply for citizenship there too.