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John W.

Kennedy Mukyokai

Mukyokai
A brief appraisal of the No Church Movement in Japan
by John W. Kennedy

Introduction
This word ... signifies the removing of those things that are shaken as of things that
have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain (Heb. 12:27 R.V.)
The results of the past century of missionary expansion are being put to the test. The
nations of the East have come into their own, and the Christian community, maintained
by a benevolent missionary patronage, has become an anomaly. The stay upon which the
church has grown and leaned is being removed, and it must now stand or fall according to
its own inherent strength or weakness. The lack of spiritual stamina which has been
revealed over the past decade has been the cause of much heart-searching on the part of
missionaries in many lands, and has also stimulated a new spirit of enquiry into the
nature of the missionary commission. There must be few indeed who would deny or
condone the mistakes of the past, or who do not now concede that the church, as it has
developed, has left much to be desired, both in solidity and spiritual character.
What lies at the root of this failure on the part of missions to see the church solidly
established? Is it simply a weakness in method, a faulty understanding of the technique of
church-building, or is it perhaps a failure to understand the very nature of the church itself
and its vital role in the purposes of God?
The commission, Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel, has been the great
incentive of modern missions, and, Bible in hand, the Gospel of redeeming grace has been
faithfully proclaimed. Yet when the question of establishing the church has arisen, how
often the Bible has been discreetly placed to one side (albeit still open for reference!)
the denominational handbook or the book of mission rules has been taken up, and the
work of organizing the church has begun, a church based, with little question, on a traditional pattern. In the case of the institutional mission, the church has often become simply
an appendage to a social programme. It is the old story of the good being the greatest
enemy of the best. An occupation with the desire to bring people to a profession of faith
in Christ and personal committal to Him, a vital and necessary objective, or, on the other
hand, an engrossment with social service, laudable in itself, has obscured the importance
of the church as the place where all personal spiritual experience must find its consummation, and as Gods spiritual power-house, the source of every advance for the
kingdom of heaven. Instead, it has become little more than a depository for the results,
good and bad, of missionary efforts.
While the fact of the churchs lack of power has come to be generally recognised, the
reason for this state of affairs has not been so clearly seen. The common impression
seems to be that it is simply a matter of organization and control, and that the main
mistake of the past has been in the slowness of missions to foster the qualities of
leadership and responsibility within the church itself, or, to use the jargon of the present
day, the failure to build upon an indigenous foundation. Indigenize has become the
watchword of missions and the subject of endless discussion. Every new work must be
indigenous, and every established work must be indigenized. To this end countless
committees meet in countless sessions, schemes are drawn up and resolutions passed,
every mind is organized to set down clearly the outworking of this infallible indigenous
principle in every conceivable situation.
It is significant that in all the weighty deliberations centred on the indigenous church,
the whole pressure of emphasis is not on the word church but on the word indigenous.
The historical development of denominationalism is accepted as the perfectly valid
expression of the church which, if it contains little evidence of spiritual life, can be
vitalized by the technique of indigenization. To doubt this fact, of course, would be to

John W. Kennedy Mukyokai

question the spiritual authenticity of the bulk of what goes to make up the church
visible, and to pose the question, is the sum of this church visible really the church of
Jesus Christ against which He said the gates of hell should not prevail? It would also, to
the majority, appear to be the most unthinkable impertinence. Actually this basic and
most important question of all, concerning the nature of the church, has been set aside,
and the current fervour for indigenization has simply reduced the establishing of the
church once again to a matter of mechanics. The only difference from the policy of the
past is the system of organization.
But the failure of the past is not that the church has been organized wrongly, it is that
anyone should have thought the church could be organized into being at all. The church is
not a machine; it is a body. The church is not organized; the church is born.
The work of the Spirit of God goes on today as it has done down through the centuries,
and from amidst the confusion of superficial religion and lifeless orthodoxy there can be
discerned, for those who have eyes to see, companies of them that feared the Lord, and
that thought upon His name, beset no doubt with the frailties that are common to all this
fallen race, but living out their spiritual life together in a freshness and vitality that is not
of man. Wherever we see such, we need to take notice and to learn.
Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel, wrote the apostle Paul. Woe is unto us if
we obey not the Word of God, is the imperative that must bring the church into being.
The church is born in a spirit of divine compulsion to obey the Word, in a divine urge to
walk in light received. There are in many countries today groups of Christians who have
experienced the resistless power of that divine constraint. They are not new. Movements
such as Mukyokai in Japan are not a phenomenon peculiar to the past hundred years.
They are in the direct line of the generation of the church which God has brought to birth
in succeeding ages from the times of the apostles. It may be argued that they are
imperfect, but so also were the assemblies to which Paul wrote. It is complained that they
are often in disfavour with the organized church, but our Lord found little sympathy in the
orthodox Judaism of His day. It is objected that they are divisive, but Pauls association
with the synagogue at Ephesus was short-lived when it became evident that the airless
atmosphere would mean death to the Word of life. We would not be found to argue that
what is separate from the general stream of organized Christianity must be right, but
neither is it true that it must be wrong. On the contrary, history is adequate testimony to
the fact that the light of the glory of God has often shone most brightly in small
companies of devoted men and women who have had to suffer the ostracism of a
nominal Christian self-sufficiency, but who have been willing to go forth unto Him
without the camp, bearing His reproach.
Mention of Mukyokai is not altogether lacking in writings on the Christian situation in
Japan, but not infrequently it is ill-informed and biased. The following pages, however, are
not a defence of Mukyokai. A work of God must be its own defence, and what is not of
God need not be mourned if it falls. In many ways, Mukyokai mirrors the enigma that is
Japan, yet it reflects also that irresistible constraint to follow the Lord which is the mark of
the church. If through the reading of this short appraisal, some should experience that
same divine constraint and God bring to birth His church where at present it is not, unto
Him be the glory.
Madras, 1962, John Kennedy

John W. Kennedy Mukyokai

The Mukyokai Movement


In 1852 the doors of Japan, long closed to the Western world, were forcibly opened.
Years of strife and confusion followed, but finally, in 1867, in the Meiju restoration,
Mutsuhito ascended the throne; the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, and a new
day dawned for the country. The collapse of the age-long feudal system, and the
emergence of Japan from centuries of isolation, have paved the way for the building up
of a modern nation through the incredible industry and efficiency of the Japanese people.
Yet Japan has not lost her national character; in fact, the industry and other qualities
which have made her what she is today are themselves the product of the feudalism and
isolation abandoned a century ago. Japans geographical position, her size, her unique
culture have together exercised a powerful unifying influence, and have encouraged her
traditional belief that she is a nation set apart, different from others, a nation with a
special destiny. At the same time, the religio-political system of State Shinto with its
feudalistic concepts, and postulating the Emperor as the divine leader of the nation, has
fostered a spirit both of unquestioning loyalty to proven leadership and intense
patriotism. The individualistic West will always find it difficult to understand that tie of
devotion by which every Japanese identifies himself with the destiny of his country.
Japan may take advantage to the full of Western technical and material progress, but
only to build upon the foundation already laid a structure which is still essentially
Japanese, not to build some pale imitation of occidental progress. Some of us in the West
may lightly regard our national loyalty; devotion to Christ easily and naturally transcends
other allegiances; we are Christians first and British second. But not so in Japan; Japan
may not come before Christ to the devoted Japanese Christian, but he is both a Christian
and a Japanese at one and the same time. A grasp of these few, simple facts, is basic to
any understanding of the man Kanzo Uchimura and the movement, known as Mukyokai
(literally Non-Church) which he founded.
Uchimura was born in 1861 the son of a Samurai scholar, in the city of Tokyo. At least
two short accounts of his life are easily available in English, so there is no need here to
touch on aspects of his life other than those which had a direct bearing on his Christian
experience and subsequent Christian outlook. It was at the age of sixteen, as a student in
the Sapporo Agricultural School, Hokkaido, that Uchimura had his first touch with
Christianity. An American, William S. Clark, had been appointed by the Japanese
government to assist establish this school, and was given permission to use the Bible as
a text book for a course on Ethics. This eventually led to the establishment of a band of
students who had signed a Covenant of believers in Jesus drawn up by Clark himself.
The Sapporo band, as it has been called, became a vital evangelical witness in the college,
and Uchimura, from being one most opposed to Christianity, eventually signed the
Covenant. That this marked an important stage in his experience cannot be doubted, yet
on the other hand, it does not appear that this was the time when he entered into a vital
experience of a relationship with Christ. In his testimony How I became a Christian he
wrote:
The public opinion of the college was too strong against me ... They forced me to sign
the Covenant.
Nevertheless, he regarded himself committed to the cause of Christ to the extent of his
understanding, was baptized by a Methodist missionary on June 2nd, 1878, and became
a diligent worker with the Christian group in the college. Soon after his baptism, he joined
with seven others who had signed the Covenant in establishing a little church along what
they felt were New Testament lines. All went smoothly for a time, till this little group
became the object of denominational rivalry, but they stoutly maintained their independence from sectarian affiliations. At great personal sacrifice, within a comparatively
short time, they returned an amount of money which had been given to them for the
erection of a meeting place, and felt that they were really free at last. Uchimura learned
two valuable lessons from this experience which were to become keynotes of his teaching
in later years, firstly, the impoverishment of sectarianism, and secondly, the need of com-

John W. Kennedy Mukyokai

plete financial independence from the West.


Following graduation, Uchimura went to work for the Japanese government as a
specialist in ichtheology, but the few years which followed were fraught with personal
tragedy. It was partly for this reason that he decided on a trip to America. Not yet had he
found spiritual peace and rest; he was still a seeking soul.
During Uchimuras time in U.S.A. he was brought into contact with various people who
had a substantial effect on his subsequent Christian outlook. The first of these contacts
was with members of the Society of Friends or Quakers in an institution where he was
employed near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The lack of emphasis in Mukyokai groups on
baptism and the Lords supper, for example, may well be traced back to this period. An
apparently inconsequential meeting with a Minneapolis banker, David Bell, also had farreaching results. They met only for a short period in a Washington tramcar, but their
conversation turned to Christian things, and they corresponded for years. The
correspondence with this godly man, along with selected pieces of helpful Christian
literature which David Bell continuously sent, had a considerable influence on Uchimuras
thinking and the development of his spiritual life. The greatest and most basic influence
for good, however, was that of Julius H. Seelye, of whom Uchimura said: He is my father
in the faith. Seelye was president of Amherst College, Massachusetts, and it was through
him, in 1884, that God finally led Uchimura to a place of saving faith in Christ. Writing of
that experience Uchimura said:
Very important day in my life. Never was the atoning power of Christ more clearly
revealed to me than it is today. In the crucifixion of the Son of God lies the solution of all
the difficulties that buffeted my mind thus far. Christ paying all my debts can bring me
back to the purity and innocence of the first man before the fall. Now I am Gods child,
and my duty is to believe Jesus for His sake. God will give me all I want. He will use me
for His glory, and will save me in heaven at last.
It was through the influence of Mr. Seelye that Uchimura went to Hartford Theological
Seminary in 1887, but his time there was short-lived. The professional ministry did not
attract him, nor did the callous attitude of professors and students to the truth to which
they were supposed to be devoted. Theology, to Uchimura, had to be both practical and
living, and the particular brand which he found at Hartford seemed to be neither. This,
along with other considerations, turned his thoughts homewards, and, leaving his
studies, he returned to Japan.
It is against the background of these formative years of Uchimaras life that one must
consider the work to which he was to give himself in years to come. His visit to the West
had brought a good measure of disillusionment. A man of great intensity of character, he
reacted strongly against the religious superficiality of a so-called Christian country. His
spiritual experience of Christ had affected the very fibre of his being, and anything which
at one and the same time outwardly assented to the work of Christ and in practice denied
it, was abhorrent to him. Uchimura was no hypocrite, nor could he give himself halfheartedly to any cause. He was a Japanese and a Christian; his country needed Christ,
but he recognised that the West, along with its knowledge of Christian truth, contained
many other things less desirable, and many of these latter were being transferred to
countries throughout the world along with the word of the Gospel. It was against this
admixture of Christ and elements completely foreign to the truth that he so strongly
rebelled, and whether this was a predominantly American or Japanese mixture, he spoke
out against it with equal force.
It was not till some years after his return from America that Uchimura settled down to
his lifes work. First he sought his sphere in teaching, but was completely unable to fit into
the featureless mould required by mission school authorities, with the result that, in the
course of eight years, he had taught and resigned from his positions in five different
schools. Thus it was that he was criticized by the English-speaking community as a man
who would not work with them and anti-foreign. But he fared little better with his own
countrymen. In January 1891 the Imperial Rescript on Education was issued requiring all
teachers and students to bow before a portrait of the Emperor. Uchimura, scorning the
easy way out of not putting in an appearance, refused to bow at an assemblage of sixty

John W. Kennedy Mukyokai

professors and over a thousand students. The whole thing was made a political issue,
and he was denounced as a traitor to his country.
In 1897 Uchimura turned seriously to writing, and soon was the chief English writer of
the Yorodzu Choho. As one who felt it a patriotic duty to bring the truth of Christ to
Japan, he began to clear the ground through his articles by attacking the evils of Japan
and urging social reforms. His conscience, however, was not satisfied with this basically
negative approach, and he soon turned to Christian journalism.
From now on my pen will talk of the world to come, not of the present. It will tell of
Heaven, not of Japan.
Uchimura contributed to or edited a number of magazines, at the same time carrying on
his Bible study meetings at which expression was given to the principles he developed.
His Bible Study Magazine was his greatest, and for a couple of years shortly before his
death he edited and published, in English, a magazine called the Japan Christian
Intelligencer. From the pages of these various publications we gain a remarkably clear
insight into the thought and character of Uchimura, and, to a great extent, Mukyokai
today reflects the character of the man himself. Uchimura knew no half measures. What
he did he did with his whole heart, and his heart ruled his head. He tended to speak or
write first and think afterwards, with the result that he sometimes wrote unwisely. It is not
surprising that he should have been misunderstood. Maybe it was a little unfortunate that
he committed so many of his thoughts to paper. There must be very few people whose
thoughts have never exceeded the bounds of the strictly orthodox, but with most, these
thoughts remain unexpressed. Uchimura, however, wrote them down, and they are still
used in evidence against him, often ignoring the repudiation which he recorded in later
years of his earlier foolishness.
Uchimuras deep spiritual experience and devotion to Christ form the subject of some
of his most passionate utterances. In 1912 he wrote,
If my Christianity is not evangelical, it is nothing. If the cross saves me not, I am not
saved. I know not how it is with others; but with me the Cross is everything. My
righteousness is in it, my sanctification and salvation as well. I know I am not a member
of any orthodox church, but orthodox or heterodox, I cannot let go from the cross of
Jesus Christ. I have a deep ethical need for it, and peace I have not without it.
Nearer the end of his life, in the Japan Christian Intelligencer of September 1927 he
wrote, What is Christian life but life lived by God in me? Life that is lived by me, be it ever
so perfect, is not Christian life ... No better definition was given to it than by St. Paul in his
Epistle to the Galatians, not indeed in form of definition, but as a statement of his
experience, he wrote, I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but
Christ lives in me and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in (by) faith, the faith
which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). I am
already dead; no longer I live; in my place lives Christ the God-life.
Uchimura was no blind follower of sectarian beliefs, and he had little time for any
whose prime concern was that people should fit into a particular mould of Christian
experience rather than that they should know the Lord. Of an experience in 1923 at
Karuizawa the hill station and missionary conference centre in Central Japan, he wrote,
An American missionary asked me, Have you received baptism of Holy Spirit? To which
I answered, I do not know. I have been a Christian for forty-six years, and for thirty
years I have been engaged in distinctly Christian works. For all these years I have not
received any help whatever from churches and missions; I earned my living and working
expenses, and that you know, in this unchristian country. Do you think I was able to do all
these without baptism of Holy Spirit in some form? The missionary was not pleased with
my answer; my idea of baptism of Holy Spirit was not exactly like his. Christianity is a
matter of life and death question with me. I have no pet doctrine to preach.
The spirit of sectarianism was, in fact, one of the chief causes of Uchimuras reaction to
much of the work of Western missions. As has already been seen, he encountered this
spirit at the very outset of his contact with Christianity, and it never ceased to be a great
burden upon his heart. In the Japan Christian Intelligencer of November 1927 he wrote,
Surely sectarianism is opposed to the very spirit of Christianity. Christ is not divided,

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and even if division is unavoidable under the present circumstances, the divided members
should love and respect one another. Someone has called Christianity the religion of
humility; and so it is, I sincerely believe. But sectarianism is the opposite of humility.
Uchimuras consuming desire, and that for which he lived out his life, was to see a
return to the simplicity that is in Christ, those who were truly the children of God through
faith in His Son living out their lives in the natural warmth and communion of that intimate
relationship with the Father and with one another, unhampered by the concern of
multitudinous traditions, forms, divisions, racial patterns and pseudo-cultural accretions
which, over the centuries, have submerged the reality of fellowship in the Spirit. Maybe, in
some respects, Uchimura went too far, but surely his object was God-owned, and many
today would do well likewise to ponder the burden of superfluous organization under
which the church is labouring, and seek a return to the Spirit-controlled spontaneity of life
in Christ which was the mark, in apostolic times, of them that believed.
It was this desire that brought Uchimura so often into serious conflict with
missionaries. He recognised both the strengths and weaknesses of foreign missions, and
spoke out against the latter in his own forthright manner. From his own experience he
knew the impoverishment of Westernization and the lack of dynamic in the message
which so many missionaries brought to Japan. His criticism, too, was amply justified,
especially when one remembers that Japan had become a centre of Christian liberalism.
But this does not mean that Uchimura was either anti-West or anti-missionary, although
he has often been misrepresented as such. He fully recognized the God-honoured nature
of a genuine missionary commission, but he looked for the Lord Himself as the basis of
Christian service, and was willing to accept nothing less.
I am often asked of my opinions on this question, Should we missionaries stay in
Japan or leave it? To which I instantly answer as follows, If you are in any doubt about
that matter, leave at once; for, I understand, Christian mission is a matter of convictions
and not of opinions. We stay when God tells us to stay; and leave when God tells us to
leave. We do not stay or leave according to mens opinions.
If there are to be foreign missionaries in Japan, they should know that God has put
them there. This was Uchimuras view, and a view no different from that of any true child
of God. In writing advice in the pages of the Japan Christian Intelligencer to young
missionaries in the country, Uchimura urges,
Oh, teach them in Christianity, in the simple Gospel, in the fundamental truths of Christianity, like the following: Except a man be born anew (as from above), he cannot see
the Kingdom of God. God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. God was in Christ
reconciling the world unto Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having
committed unto us (all true believers) the word of reconciliation. Preach these simple
truths, and their effects will be far-reaching ... Japan and the whole world need the pure,
simple Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And remarkable to say, so little is taught by
Christian missionaries in the Gospel. As I see it, Japanese Christians are already suffering
from the dearth of the Gospel, while they were given Christian civilisation more than they
can very well manage.
The last sentence is indicative of the measure to which missionary work in Japan
consisted of Christianization which was entirely void of the life of the Spirit. Uchimura
opposed this with all the fervour of his being. To him Christianity was Christ, and not a
pale imitation of Western civilization with all its evils as well as its benefits.
Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel, said the apostle Paul. Yes, woe is unto us if
we preach instead, international relations, social reforms, and the Western Civilization.
Yet, alas to see so many preachers who would preach the latter, and not the former,
the unpopular yet indispensable Gospel of Christ and Him crucified!
Thus he wrote in March 1915. Writing again for The Taiyo in October 1920 on
Christianity and Japanese Culture, he says,
Preaching which conveys European thoughts under the name of Christianity is not
welcomed, but the preaching of the real Christianity of the Bible, whoever the preacher
may be, is very earnestly listened to. Since the year before last, I have been preaching in

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the centre of Tokyo, leaving my suburban seclusion, and I have never found my audience
too small.
Uchimuras experience was based squarely on the Word of God; he believed the Bible;
he taught the Bible. He was no theologian in the formal sense, but he knew on what
ground he stood. As would anyone engaged in Christian ministry in Japan, he came up
against modernism in many forms, but he was under no illusions as to its powerlessness
to meet mans needs. In January 1930 a few months before his death, he wrote,
What is modernism in all its forms but the Christianity of the unconverted? It is an
attempt of the modern man to understand Christianity without the terrible experience of
conversion. But it is still true in this twentieth century as it was in the first, that, Except one
be born anew, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3).
Kanzo Uchimura recognised the need of a reformation within Protestantism itself, and
his insight penetrated into a problem that is coming more and more to the fore today,
that of a lifeless evangelicalism. The blatant infidelity of the Christian Higher Critic is not
the only bulwark against the faith; more subtle, and more dangerous, is the orthodoxy
which has reduced the experience of faith in Christ to a mechanical formula.
Protestantism, says Uchimura, is above Catholicism, as faith is above works. But
Protestantism is mostly faith in a formula, a noble and grand formula though it undoubtedly
is. The new Protestantism must be faith in the living Saviour, and so be raised above the
old Protestantism. It is not the Bible that saves us, but the living, personal Saviour. If
therefore, the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8:36).
A lover of Japan and a patriot, Uchimuras patriotism, nevertheless, did not blind his
eyes to the defects in his own country. Never did he use more scathing sarcasm than to
denounce rampant evils in his own beloved land, but these denunciations are almost
entirely confined to the period prior to his entry upon the field of purely Christian
journalism. The following two rather extreme quotations illustrate the depth of feeling
and poignancy with which he expressed himself, and the biting sarcasm which, in his less
mellow days, he employed in his no quarter war against cant and hypocrisy.
I am told upon patriotic ground that I must not write any bad thing about Japan and
Japanese when I write in English or any other European language, for thereby I expose
the countrys defects to beyond the seas. That is to say, when I write for this column, I
must (according to this patriotic advice) call Marquise Ito a saint, Count Okuma a learned
philosopher, Baron Iwasaki a great philanthropist, etc., etc. As if to imagine that
foreigners can get no news from vernacular accounts of these and other gentlemen from
multitudinous papers published in this country! But then, I confess, that it is not very
pleasant to call devils even by their true names. So from this day on, I will join the
company of prophets of sweet things, and be no more D but Jove or some other jolly
fellow (The Yorodzu Choho. June 12th, 1899.)
Japan has been advertised to the world as The Land of the Virtuous, of Serene Art
and Profound Rest. The whole land has been pointed out as a habitation of Artists and
Saints. Sacredness was attached to every hill, and poetry to every stream. No impurity
lived here, but all was decency, chastity and love. The land of God it has been called,
and its inhabitants were the sons of gods. Such wonderful land! and vulgarity should be
the last feature to be expected from such a land as ours. But recently, notwithstanding
all the proud assertions of our patriots, sanctity and art are rapidly disappearing from the
land, and in their places, vulgarity, powerful and invincible, is rapidly taking possession of
these beauteous isles. No spot where a fashionable god has a shrine, but vulgarity in the
most glaring form has strongly established itself there. The holy precinct of Ise has very
near it a most licentious town of Yamada. The antique shrine of Atsuta is in one of the most
unholy places in the country. Kyoto with its five thousand temples is sanctified by the
presence of as many messengers from the infernal world. It has been said that prostitutes
and Hongwanji priests are the two most effectual pioneers of Japanese civilisations; that
in Wokkaido and Rinkiu (and possibly now in Formosa also) where these two classes have
established themselves, their active colonies are sure to follow! Surely very consoling
facts to think about, those!
Certain isolated quotations from Uchimuras writings are sometimes given in order to

John W. Kennedy Mukyokai

substantiate a charge of heresy against him. Probably the most outrageous of these was
written in November 1915, maybe at a time of loneliness, beset, as Uchimura was, by
criticism from Christian and heathen alike, or maybe just to shock the staid and indolent,
which he was not averse to doing. At its worst evaluation, it is heretical, at its best, highly
ambiguous, and it was certainly unwise.
As an independent Christian I thought I stood alone in this country. But now I think
otherwise. Thirteen millions of my countrymen who profess the Jode form of Buddhism
are my brothers and sisters in faith. They take the same attitude towards their Amida
Buddha that I take towards my Jesus the Christ. Change but the object of faith, and they
are like me, and I am like them. And faith being the human side of religion, by faith we
are united in religion, and not by the object of faith. My own Christ said, Not everyone
that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth
the will of my Father which is in heaven. And that will is no other than faith.
That this statement accurately reflects Uchimuras outlook is borne out neither by the
consistency of his life nor by his subsequent writings, and it hardly seems sound judgment
that the unwise word of a moment should be held for ever and a day, despite all
subsequent confessions to the contrary, as establishing a serious departure from the way
of truth. Uchimuras position could not be put more clearly than it was by himself, later, in
the following words:
Does faith save? Of course it does, says the popular Protestantism. Only faith does
save and nothing else. But it is evident that faith by itself does not save. It is the object of
faith that saves. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who saves and not our faith. Therefore, faith
need not be great if rightly placed. To the request, Increase our faith, the Lord replied,
If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed etc (Luke 17:5-6). Even a slender faith is
enough if placed in the right object. The ban of Protestantism is in its overestimate of faith.
Much of so-called faith is not faith but works.
On March 28th 1930 Kanzo Uchimura passed quietly from this world into the next. On
the previous Sunday he had been too weak to deliver his customary Bible talk, and
someone had to read it for him. Immediately afterwards he was confined to bed, and a
couple of days later he entered the presence of the One whom it had been his lifes work
to proclaim. Thus passed from this earthly scene one of the most controversial Christian
figures in the history of Japan, a man with many of a mans human failings; an earthen
vessel, but a vessel, nevertheless, meet for the Masters use, and every inch a warrior.
The spirit of Kanzo Uchimura is still very much alive in Japan, and the controversy which
surrounded his life now surrounds those groups of people who have followed in his train.
Whatever ones opinion of these groups may be, it is an incontrovertible fact that they
have probably a greater impact upon the country than any other single Christian
communion, and the movement itself continues to expand.
What is the nature of Mukyokai as it exists today? Why does controversy continue to
surround it? What of the criticisms which are currently heard against it?
The one point in Uchimuras teaching which aroused antagonism most bitter was his
view of the Church. Otherwise, in outlook, he was conservative, and was never drawn into
the slough of Higher Criticism which has been the fate of so many Japanese Christian
leaders, even of those who were at one time known as outstanding evangelicals. The
term Mukyokai can itself be misleading. Literally it means Non-Church but this should
not be taken to mean that Uchimura denied the validity of any concept of the Church; on
the contrary, he had very decisive views on the nature of the Church; what he did not
accept was the highly traditionalized and organized church. This historical church, he
believed, was so completely overgrown with the extraneous that it no longer conveyed
any accurate ideas as to what the Church was really meant to be. Uchimuras basic
emphasis was on the Word of God, which he accepted as the supreme authority, in all
matters of faith, and through which men are brought into a living, vital relationship with
Christ.
This then is Christianity, it is at least so to me. Deliverance from sin by the atoning
grace of the Son of God. It may be more, but it cannot be less ... Christianity is not an
institution, a church, or churches; neither is it a creed, nor dogma, nor theology; neither is

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it a book, the Bible, nor even the words of Christ. Christianity is a person, a living person,
Lord Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever. If Christianity is not this, the
ever-present, living HE, it is nothing. I go directly to Him, and not through churches and
popes and bishops and other useful and useless officers. I in them and they in Me. So
says He of his disciples.
This dynamic faith could not be confined within denominational barriers, and it produced a
bond that united Gods people together in the unity of the divine family. To Uchimura, this
family relationship, the witnessing unity of the Lords people with Christ and with one
another, was the Church. Thus Mukyokai is an organization in the sense that any family is
an organization, but not otherwise. Mukyokai was but a continuation of the basic
Christian principle, and the great divines of the past, Uchimura maintained, were also
Mukyokai Shugi (on the Non-church Principle).
In its public manifestation, Mukyokai consists of weekly gatherings, each led by a
teacher. These take the general form of a Western nonconformist meeting, with the
singing of hymns, prayer, and the exposition of the Word, the greater proportion of the
time being devoted to the latter. Many of the teachers have a knowledge of Hebrew and
Greek, and seek a fuller understanding of the Scriptures by turning to the original
sources. Not a few of todays Mukyokai leaders were themselves disciples of Uchimura
and, in fact, the teacher-disciple concept plays a very important part in the continuation of
the whole movement. This concept has parallels in countries throughout the East, and is
familiar to the Bible scholar in the relationship between our Lord and the twelve, and
between Paul and Timothy. Its strength, as ever against the unscriptural pastoral
system of present-day Christianity, is that disciples learn with the specific intent that they
should become teachers. This is the way in which Mukyokai has spread. As younger men,
developing under the ministry of those more mature in the faith, themselves become
proficient in the exposition of the Word, they commence other groups for the study of the
Scriptures where none exist, maybe in a home, or in a rented hall. These groups are
completely independent one of another, and are generally known by the name of the
leader. The leaders are usually professional men, often holding positions in universities or
colleges. Throughout the whole of the movement, at the present time, as far as can be
ascertained, there are only two men whose full time is given over to the ministry, and
who are supported by it. It is thus obvious that the extension of Mukyokai has not been
due to the employment of a professional clergy, but to the devotion and zeal of ordinary
individuals within the groups.
The appeal of Mukyokai is twofold, first its independence and originality to Japan;
second, its supreme concern for the development of the faith of the individual. The
history of Christianity in Japan is a sorry mixture of intrigue and political affiliations, with
the result that the general impression given by the churches is that they are an
importation. With Mukyokai this is not so; it is a distinctively Japanese expression of
Christianity and, apart from its legitimate debt to Christian scholarship of the West, is
completely independent of outside support. In Mukyokai we find the exact antithesis of
the modern mass-evangelism technique, in fact there is a conspicuous lack of evangelism
altogether according to many Western standards. Instead, the art of personal contact is
cultivated and the quiet, consistent presentation of the Scriptures is allowed to do its
work. In this way, an appeal is made to the remarkable Japanese thirst for knowledge in
those who have a sincere desire to seek the truth, and the Spirit brings life through the
Word. Exposition ranges over the whole body of Biblical truth and is not confined to what
is usually considered to be the basic facts of the Gospel. The only movement in the West
with a similar approach which comes immediately to mind is the young peoples Crusader
Union. This union of Bible classes aims to present the Gospel through the simple and
consecutive teaching of the Scriptures, and has been the means of bringing innumerable
young people into a vital and enduring experience of Christ. It is also interesting to note
that many missionaries in Japan feel that, in these post-war days, the most lasting results
have come about through personal contact rather than through the spectacular
campaigns which were a chief feature of evangelism.
What of the criticism to which Mukyokai is constantly subjected? Is it justified? In this

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respect it is almost impossible to generalize. The ordinary Christian in the West with his
denominationally directed outlook finds it most difficult to understand any movement
which has not crystallized to the point of sectarianism, yet this is most decidedly true
about Mukyokai. Uchimura feared more than anything else that the movement should
become just another denomination, and sought to guard against this himself by making
the rather strange provision that the Bible Study meeting which he had held for years in
Tokyo should be discontinued after his death. Whatever may be said for or against
Mukyokai, it is altogether remarkable that a movement so old should have maintained its
original position. Each meeting is truly independent, and many of the leaders produce
their own Bible study magazines. One of the main features of Mukyokai. In fact, is the
literature it has produced, a literature which has a generally wide circulation. But the
independence of the groups make it possible, theoretically, for Mukyokai to contain any
shade of teaching. At least one Mukyokai leader has accepted strongly Pentecostal views
and holds demonstrations of fire-walking as proof of his being filled with the Spirit. This,
of course, is an extreme case, but although leaders of other groups may not agree with
him, he has not been put out for the simple reason that, since he is not a member of any
organization, there is no means of excluding him from it. This may also be true of others,
and Mukyokai has been unfairly stigmatized through the extreme views of one or two
whose association with the movement is very remote, and whose unorthodox views are in
no way representative of those of the general run of Mukyokai leaders. The accusation of
neo-orthodoxy has stemmed mainly from the association with the movement of Professor
Emil Brunner during his period at the International Christian University, Tokyo, 1953-55.
Professor Brunner, while denying some of the fundamentals of the faith, has also a
remarkable insight into some basic Christian problems and, never bound to the orthodox
approach, was greatly attracted by some aspects of Mukyokai of which he found many
adherents in university circles. Recognising the impact of the movement on the country
and the static condition of the National Church, he felt that both would be strengthened
by a closer relationship, and sought to act as a bridge between the two. The attempt
met with very little success, and Dr. Brunner stirred up a certain amount of antagonism in
the National Church as a result. In his contact with Mukyokai, controversial theological
questions were not brought to the fore, and his theological position is little known in the
movement, much less influenced by it.
Is Mukyokai Japanese to the extent of compromise with Japanese Shinto ideology?
There is hardly a Christian group in Japan which has not been guilty of compromise at one
time or another, and the question of separation from complicity in a false religion is one
that still looms large. To such an extent is Shinto a part of the very fabric of Japanese life,
that it is almost impossible to distinguish between the cultural and the religious; the
problem of whether or not some superficially simple act is of religious significance and,
therefore, a compromise to the Christian faith, is fraught with complexities. Amongst
evangelicals alone there are wide and strong divergences of opinion. In a country where
tradition is life itself, the very thought of violating it and thus bringing insult, the greatest
of all sins, upon society, is looked upon as the wildest incredulity. Compromise, therefore,
has dogged the history of the Japanese Church, and few indeed are those who are free
from its stain.
The experience of Mukyokai during the years of the last war is interesting in this
respect. While other groups were forced into a controlled National Union of Churches
where they were obliged to take part in certain Shinto, Nationalistic practices, Mukyokai
remained free. They everywhere pleaded that they were not an organization and had no
means, therefore, of determining the direction of the movement as a whole. It is indicative
of the truth of this stand that the government had to deal with each known Mukyokai
meeting entirely on a local level. Literature was confiscated and banned; some leaders
were persecuted and others were imprisoned. This clearly demonstrates an allegiance to
the truth which has not been subject to any allegiance to tradition or native land.
Uchimura, particularly in his earlier years, sometimes spoke out very strongly on political
questions, and often found himself at variance with the powers that be. He was also an
ardent pacifist, a sure sign of independent thought in militaristic Japan, and an objection

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to taking up arms has always been and still is widely held among Mukyokai people. Some
leaders still feel it right to express an opinion on national and social questions. On the
other hand, probably the most outstanding teacher in Mukyokai circles today is
vehemently opposed to taking any part whatsoever in political matters.
A rather inept criticism of Mukyokai is that its influence is confined largely to the
educated, and it draws to a great extent from the universities of the country. While this is
true in the main, it is not to be deduced that the movement has no appeal whatsoever
outside the ranks of the intelligentsia; there are many meetings in country areas,
although most of them are led by school teachers and such like professional people. But
the majority of the Christians of Japan are drawn from the educated class, and the
proportion of those in Mukyokai is probably no greater than in any of the denominations. It is
also not completely inappropriate to remember that Japan has the highest literacy rate in
the world, and in a country where it is almost a crime to be uneducated, a ministry which
reaches the student population reaches the country at large. Yet it is true that Japans
peasant class, where the bonds of traditional Shintoism are strongest, remains largely
untouched by the truth of the Gospel.
What are the weaknesses of Mukyokai? There is something rather incongruous in
speaking about the weaknesses of a movement which, in some respects, has been such
a success. There are dangers implicit in any movement, even when it is most obviously of
the Spirit of God, dangers that some hidden fault will expand through the stress and
wear of years till the whole disintegrates. Yet it would be wrong to condemn a movement
for what it may become. God expects us to be witnesses to our own generation, not the
next, and it is easy to fall prey to the snare of being engaged in preparations for the
survival of a work after us, at the same time neglecting the witness of the present.
Mukyokai is essentially a movement of the present. Uchimuras refusal, already
instanced, to allow his meeting in Tokyo to be continued after his death is but one pointer
to this fact.
How does Mukyokai stand when viewed in the light of the New Testament standard of
the church? This is not an altogether easy question to answer. Mukyokai is certainly
militant and expanding, indicative of the zeal of its adherents in general, something
conspicuously lacking in the vast majority of churches. If its conception of the church is
mystical, it is by no means impractical. It is precisely here that one of the most enigmatic
features of Mukyokai lies. On the one hand, it is living, vital, functioning; on the other
hand, the church, as such, seems to have been disembodied altogether. It is not the
weekly gatherings of Christians that are considered to be the local church, but the
witnessing relationship of believers in any place with one another and with the Lord. Thus
no place is given to the local church as a definite company of believers working and acting
as a visible fellowship in a discipline imposed by the Lord who dwells in their midst. There is
a lack of any adequate vehicle for any adequate expression of the Lords glory. It may be
this which has given rise to the mistaken idea that the occupation of Mukyokai with the
study of the Scriptures never rises above a purely intellectual level. Superficially, this
may well appear to be the case, but any meagre association with the movement will
serve to dispel that idea as completely without foundation.
There being an insufficient recognition of the place of the local church, there is no
concept of corporate worship. This is an undoubted weakness in any Christian community,
yet the lack is no greater in Mukyokai than in the church in general where the spontaneity of
corporate worship is largely a lost art, something which badly needs to find its place again
among the people of the Lord. On the other hand, adherents of Mukyokai lay stress on
family worship, and daily the Lord is recognized in the family circle in the reading of the
Word and prayer. Another lack is in the public witness afforded through baptism and the
observance of the Lords table, the stress being-laid only on the practical realisation of
their spiritual meaning. It may also be observed that Mukyokai meetings, being simply for
individual edification through the study of the Word, are open to all seekers after the
truth, and may consist, therefore, of believers and unbelievers alike, (although the
former will be in the majority) so they do not purport to constitute a witness of a united
company of regenerate people. Yet these are generalizations, and as has already been

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said, generalizations regarding Mukyokai are almost certain to be inaccurate. There are
instances where baptism and the Lords supper have been observed, and there may well
be groups which approximate very closely to a simple, New Testament pattern of
meeting.
Having reviewed briefly the life of Kanzo Uchimura himself, it is plain that, with all his
remarkable qualities, he was somewhat of a reactionary. This same reactionary quality
characterizes Mukyokai today. Maybe it is necessary to its life and vitality inasmuch as in
any vital Christian life there is an element of reaction to the godlessness of the world and
the hypocrisy of professing Christendom. Yet in Mukyokai this spirit may not be quite
sufficiently covered by its occupation with positive Christian truth. The reason for its
existence, however, may well be the indomitable pride of denominationalism which must
continue to foster such a reaction so long as it remains, and its cure, if a lone one, may at
least partly be in a deeper and more sympathetic understanding on the part of those who
truly love the Lord.
Finally, what can we learn from Mukyokai? There are a few simple but fundamental
points of which we would do well to take note.
1. The emphasis on the straightforward teachings of the Scriptures.
In these days of perfected techniques there is a sad lack of faith in the power of the
living Word of God. All the mechanical aids to evangelism in current use and the technical
know-how cannot take the place of the Bible. They no doubt have their place, but they
must ever be subservient to Gods Word. The most lastingly effective method of
spreading the Gospel is still the plain declaration of Gods truth unadorned with other
distracting embellishments. There is ample proof of this in the mission fields of the world.
The Word has not lost its ancient power. The church in Japan, or anywhere else for that
matter will not be built up overnight, and the experience of the post-war years has
proved the inadequacy of the spectacular approach to accomplish the purposes of God. It
is God, not man, who builds His Church, and not till the foundation of His Word is patiently
and firmly laid can it be expected that God will add the living stones to the building up of
a spiritual house. Japan requires spiritual craftsmen, not mass production methods.
2. Freedom from denominationalism.
One of the blights of the mission field is the denominational system which has been
imported from the West. Even interdenominational missions have succeeded in building
up separate denominations around their own particular emphases. All this is not
inevitable, although the complexities of the situation make it by no means easy to maintain a free stand, there always being the danger of groups which do not uphold a
sectarian position being forced into it through being excluded from fellowship with
everyone else. Mukyokai has evolved no theology on the basis of which the various
groups meet; they meet purely on the ground of their concern for the understanding of
the Word of God. In this can be discerned, if only in a rudimentary form, one of the basic
elements of the local church. The denominations of today meet on the ground of a
common adherence to a closed doctrinal system, which system the church then teaches.
Not so in the Scriptures; local churches met only on the ground of their relationship with
Christ, and the church, as such, never taught, but was itself taught by the Spirit through
the various gifts of ministry entrusted to individuals. Here, then, is the essence of
denominational-ism; it has ceased to learn, has limited the infinite to a finite system, and
must, therefore, decay and disappear as a witness to the living God. Wherever a group
adopts a precise and inflexible doctrinal outlook as a standard of fellowship beyond a
relationship with the risen Christ, there the seeds of denominationalism have been sown,
and the inevitable process of death and decay will follow. It is not wrong that systems of
theology should have been developed, but the great divines of the past who developed
them were generally much greater than the church systems which have been built
around them, and none of these theologies were ever meant to be a complete definition

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of divine truth. John Robinson, the great Puritan, addressing the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620
said:
I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of the Reformed churches, who are come to
a period in religion, and will go at present no further than the instruments of their
reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther says: whatever
part of His will our good God has revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it.
And the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God,
who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented.
How applicable are these words to the general Christian situation in our own time. A
person born and brought up in completely sterile conditions falls an easy prey to maladies
prevalent in less hygienic surroundings since his restricted circumstances have made it
impossible for him to develop the capacity to combat exigencies which do not exist in his
sterilized world. How hard-pressed is a restricted, denominational outlook, be the mould in
which it is cast national or foreign, to meet the trials and temptations of the arch-enemy in
a subtly changing world. The Church alone dependent entirely upon the Spirit of God for
grace to help in time of need, for the application of His Word to the confusing
circumstances of earthly intrigue, for leadership through the maze of creation which
spurns the truth, is the Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. Uchimura
was right. Japan needs Christ and not the trappings of Western Christianity with all its
attendant traditional disputations. The world needs Christ, and Him alone. If Mukyokais
attempt to return to that basic essential inspires us to do likewise, its existence is
abundantly justified.
3. The basic pattern of the Church is a spiritual one, life in Christ.
These days in certain circles there is much concern over the New Testament pattern of the
church. Much of that concern is well founded, but there is also an unhealthy tendency to
reduce the question simply to a matter of mechanics. Where there is no spiritual life there
is no church, but where that life exists and there is complete freedom to draw from the
divine source that the life be maintained healthy and vigorous, there is the Church of
Christ. The mechanics of scriptural order certainly has its place, but that order alone does
not bring the church into being. The basic essential, the ground of the church, is life in the
Spirit and nothing else. Mukyokai, again in its search for essentials, has almost entirely
ignored the aspect of scriptural order, but the recognition of the spiritual order as the
source of a living and vital witness (not an impractical mystical concept such as our
church invisible), is one of the greatest needs of the age if the church militant and
invincible is to be a continuing reality throughout the world.
Whither Mukyokai? We cannot tell, but in the years since its inception it has weathered
many storms of criticism and distrust, and is still bearing a witness to the Christ who is our
life. Opinions may differ as to the extent of the contribution the movement has made to
the furtherance of the Gospel in Japan, but the Christian testimony in the country is
certainly stronger for the fact that Kanzo Uchimura followed his Lord and has been the
means of others doing the same. Expressed, however, imperfectly, in Mukyokai, are three
characteristics conspicuously lacking in Japans anaemic church; a spirit free from bondage to tradition; a simple stand upon the Word of God; a witnessing faith. Believers in the
groups known as Mukyokai are pressing towards the mark, stumblingly it may be, but let
others who name the name of the Lord press forward with equal tenacity of purpose to
win Christ. Then will Japan know more of the power of a risen Christ dwelling in the midst
of His people, and the testimony of a Church against which the gates of hell shall not
prevail.