March 11: First Reformed Church in Japan

Our post today is excerpted from The St. Louis Evangelist, 13.15 (14 April 1887): 1, col. 5-6.

The first Protestant Christian church in Japan was organized at Yokohama on the 11th of march, 1872. It consisted of 11 members , and most of them were young men who were learning English from the Rev. Mr. Ballagh; and at the same time he had given them instruction in regard to the Creator of all things and eternal life as reveal through His Son. To profess Christ then was in violation of the laws of the country; and it was nearly one year after that the edicts against Christianity were removed from the public places, and then it was claimed that the law was still unchanged, but being so well understood, any further notice of it was unnecessary.

Rev. Mr. Ballagh, of the Reformed Mission, was the acting pastor of this congregation until 1878. Owing to a dislike of Christianity which had arisen, on account of the evils brought upon the country by the Jesuits, to a general indifference, or attachment to their heathen systems, as well as fear of incurring the penalty which was attached to the avowal of Christianity, the number who attended the services was very small, and at times the work seemed quite discouraging.

There were no hymns then in the Japanese language, and no Japanese with a knowledge of either vocal or instrumental music. Only an imperfect translation of the gospel of Matthew by Rev. Mr. Goble had been published, and there was nothing in the way of Christian literature except some few works in Chinese. These were an important help, but of course were only available to the limited number who could read the Chinese.

As the rays of the sun falling upon the iceberg, and the soft winds from the South will in time disintegrate and melt it away, so the light of divine truth slowly but gradually dispelled the various obstacles that hindered the growth of a true and spiritual religion in this land. The earnest prayers of God’s people were heard, the influences of consecrated and happy lives were seen and felt, and the Holy Spirit set his seal to the labors of His faithful servants.

After about two years a branch church was formed in Tokyo, and was the beginning of a large work in the capital of the empire. A gradual increase in the attendance necessitated the erection of a large and suitable place for worship, and in 1875 a fine stone church was erected, and $1,000 given by the native Christians of the Sandwich Islands was employed in this way to extend the gospel of Christ in Japan. From the very first the question arose as to what should be the name and polity of this organization, and also of the other churches that should be established in Japan. As in other matters the spirit of independence was very strong among the Japanese, and the general wish and purpose was that the churches should hold allegiance to no foreign body, but grow up as one in faith and practice, and in accordance with the circumstances and necessities of the case.

This church at Yokohama has grown to be a great power for good. Already nine different churches have been formed through the efforts of its members, and a nucleus exists for similar organizations in many other places. Fifteen preachers and evangelists have been sent out, and among them are some of the most active and efficient workers in the country. The whole number received upon profession has been 736 and 31 by letter. The present membership is 441. Of this number 224 are men, 185 women and 22 children.

The celebration of the 15th anniversary was a most enjoyable occasion. The church was dressed with flags and ornamented with evergreens and flowers. A large and select audience filled the house, and among them were many missionaries and native pastors from Tokyo and other parts of the country. A good number of representatives from churches not connected with the united body were also present, and as opportunity offered extended their hearty congratulations.

A historical account of the beginning and growth of the church and Christianity in Japan, was one of the important features of the occasion. It was most gratifying to all to hear that since this church had been organized the number of Christians had increased to upwards of 16,000, and the native pastors and evangelists to 256, besides 109 in preparation for the ministry.

The music was led by a Christian Japanese lady who presided at the organ, and the singing was hearty and very enjoyable. Translations have been made of a large number of the favorite hymns, and with a considerable number of original productions have furnished a very extensive hymnology.  These hymns are sung everywhere and enjoyed fully as much as at home.

At the close of the service refreshments were served in the foreign style to the various missionaries and other invited guests. After this there was another meeting in the evening at which there were four addresses.

The afternoons and evenings of the two succeeding days were devoted to a series of meetings having the character of evangelistic services. The largest theatre was rented for this purpose and was well filled by a large and appreciative audience.

The fine stone building occupied by the congregation has a seating capacity of above 300, and yet it is fast becoming too small for the wants of the constantly increasing audience. A gallery has been constructed and in this way the room for other hearers has been made.

This brief sketch is a simple index of the growth of Christianity in Japan. May the next fifteen years prove equally as prosperous. The same period of similar success and Japan will no longer be dependent upon other countries for the gospel, but as in the case of the Sandwich Islands will be sending out her representatives to the regions beyond.

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