By President Masashi Moriya, Sendai Baptist Seminary
(translated by Mizue Uchida)
About six years ago, our seminary decided to make a paradigm shift in regards to our traditional theological education and leadership training. Hans Kung in Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View and David J. Bosch in Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Japanese translation by Shinkyo Publishers) discuss the paradigm shifts that have taken place in Christian churches up until today and are suggesting new paradigm shifts for the post-modern world. The common thread running through both of these works is a rediscovery of the importance of the local church and its ministry.
I was attending a seminar in the U.S. when I encountered a fresh viewpoint along these lines, and it was as if the scales fell from my eyes. I was introduced to the writings of Bruce Winter, author of Seek the Welfare of the City: Christians as Benefactors and Citizens, as well as other Biblical theologians and scholars who were going back to take a new look at patterns of church life in the New Testament era.
Ever since that time, my colleagues and I have been wrestling with the truths found in this Biblical theology and the building up of churches based upon this theological perspective. That is, we have been grappling with how best to go about Christian education and leadership training.
Then we were struck by the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster. Our theological reflections led us to focus our attention on the necessity of putting into practice “Relief and Mission” as a united concept accompanied by a way of life—not relief for the sake of relief, or relief as a humanitarian activity, nor even relief for the purpose of mission.
This theological perspective teaches us that the church should become a community that contributes to the welfare of “the city” by using the resources, money, and personnel that have been entrusted to the church. At the same time, it requires that we seek to understand the core of God’s plan of salvation and how it strikes at the very root of how we approach today’s society and the use of our abilities, our talents, our material resources, and our human resources.
God’s People as Contributors and Benefactors to the Community
When we read Jeremiah 29:4-7, we discover a quite interesting viewpoint. In this passage, God’s people are to seek prosperity and live in a place that is neither a place of peace, nor a utopia. It is a place of paganism with different standards than that of God’s kingdom, and it is a foreign land with a different lifestyle that could hinder their normal way of life. However, God’s intention was that his people would raise families that would last for generations in this land, that they would work hard by the sweat of their brow to meet their own needs, and that they would to give to those who needed help. Furthermore, they were to do this while praying for God’s blessing on the city.
As we turn our eyes from Jeremiah’s prophecy, we are led to focus on Daniel’s life. Daniel was taken captive to a foreign country and lived there as one of God’s people. Surprisingly, Daniel worked for the prosperity of the king of this country whose policies were against God’s plan and God’s people. Daniel was a sojourner in a faraway land, served the king, lived to the best of his ability where he was placed as a member of God’s people, and died of old age there. In so doing, Daniel made an impact upon the city and the whole country. This is but one example we can see in Scripture of seeking the welfare of the city.
Models in the Plan of God’s Salvation
Daniel’s case is not an unusual model found only in the Old Testament, but clearly is to be applied to the church, as reflected in the teachings of the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:11–18) and the Apostle Paul (Rom.13:1–4; Titus 3:1, 14). Along with other teachings, these passages encourage good works and sincere obedience to civil authorities in a foreign society. Doing good works is a lifestyle consistent with the teachings of the gospel, and this means we should work hard wherever God places us.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:10–15 Paul gives a warning. His intention is to wean the busybodies of Thessalonica away from the welfare syndrome, encouraging them to use their resources to support themselves and help others, whether or not they are Christians. In other words, early Christians and churches were conscious of the fact that as individuals, families, and the community of God they were citizens of “the city” and were to seek its prosperity and welfare.
From the beginning, the church had an understanding of “Relief and Mission” as inseparable from life, and followers of Christ intentionally tried to contribute to society.
The Challenge to a Paradigm Shift
When we were struck by the unprecedented disaster of the Great East Japan Earthquake, we could not sit still. We were driven by an unseen power into the stricken areas to help in any way we could.
In the midst of the continuing recovery efforts, I am convinced that the paradigm shift we have been grappling with in relation to theological education is indeed “for such time as this.” The church should be involved in the affairs of society. We must shake off the negative image that Christians are an isolated group of people doing their utmost to stay away from the “secular” world with its lust, corruption, and idol worship. Rather, local churches all over Japan should team together to seek the prosperity of their regions with all wisdom.
If a network of like-minded churches seeking the welfare of “the city” were to have an impact upon their regions, this would eventually have an impact upon the entire society and change it. This is exactly what happened with early churches. The 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster offers us a great opportunity for just such a church paradigm shift.
However, this paradigm shift does not mean that the church needs to start something new. It means the church needs to return to what it should be in the first place.