Conversion to Christianity via Shintoism

Conversion to Christianity via Shintoism January 29, 2009

Someone explain what happened here, as reported on the Touchstone blog:

A Japanese Lutheran scholar, who qualified first as a Shinto priest, has said he became a Christian thanks to his Shinto teacher.

“The teacher said to me, ‘As a religion, Christianity is the greatest. Because it is the teaching of Jesus who is the only Son of God’,” Toshifumi Uemura, a 49-year-old associate professor at Japan Lutheran College in Tokyo, told Ecumenical News International, adding he was surprised by his Shinto teacher’s words.

Now Uemura teaches Japanese religion, climate issues, Christianity, and comparative culture and is a sought after speaker in Japan. He maintains that ancient Shintoism may have been influenced by Judaism and Nestorianism, a sect Christians consider heretical.

It was after Sueko Mita, a teacher who was in her 60s at Tokyo’s Nakano Branch of the Kyoto-based Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine, where the “god of harvests” is worshipped, said to Uemura in June 1981, “Whether you believe it or not, God solemnly exists.”

“As I heard the words of the teacher, Jesus became a part of me,” he said. “At that moment, I thought that I must get baptised in the future to draw a clear line [on my life].”

Uemura said Mita, who was not a Christian, died in 2008, but not before she had given him a good personal grounding in Shinto teachings for 10 years. He said the teachings included phrases like those from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews 11.1, which says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

“Looking back at the 10 years now, I think that they were exactly the teachings of the Bible,” said Uemura, who is a member of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. “The fact that I became a Christian through the words of an ancient Shinto teacher makes me a conclusive witness to that.”

After 10 years of training with Mita, Uemura studied at the Shintoist-run Kokugakuin University in Tokyo to become a Shinto priest.

While on a journey on the bullet train from Tokyo to the Akama Jingu Shinto Shrine in Yamaguchi in western Japan to give thanks for his certification as a Shinto priest, he made a stopover at Nagoya in central Japan. There he attended a Christian gathering at a Pentecostal church, where he later was to be baptised at the age of 32. Afterwards he returned to Tokyo and became a Lutheran.

What does this tell us?

HT: Strange Herring

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Reminds me of stories from the book “Eternity in their Hearts.”

  • Bruce Gee

    That God’s Word acts as a virus.

    Or maybe: all roads lead to Lutheranism!

  • Paul E.

    God works in mysterious ways.

  • God can leave His box? one wonders if we will see his shinto priest teacher in heaven. Strange indeed, but God be praised.

  • JoeS

    I hate to be the lone dissenting voice, but what is the gospel in a form of Christianity that can be contained in Shintoism? Eastern religions love to take Jesus, strip him of his deity (which is the exception here), and proclaim him as a great teacher, not the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

    Does Uemura follow the risen son of God who forgives sins, or the incarnate son of God who offers wisdom? (That is an honest question, not an accusation).

  • I agree with JoeS, that caution is always in order in this type of situation.

    But my first thought was the same as that of John, that this reminded me of the book Eternity in Their Hearts, which recounts stories of missionaries using elements of culture and religion, tainted though they are, to introduce the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don Richardson also wrote Peace Child, his personal story of working with headhunters on New Guinea. The gospel didn’t make sense to these people until he was able to find an analogy in their culture, the “peace child.”

    So even though we need to be cautious to avoid syncretism in using elements non-Christian religions and cultures, God can use those elements to his glory.

  • Bruce Gee

    Joe S, Kevin N:

    The Shinto teacher, against all of his training as such, made this confession to the man:

    ‘As a religion, Christianity is the greatest. Because it is the teaching of Jesus who is the only Son of God’.

    In my opinion, this is “enough” confession to start someone down that long strange road toward Confession.

  • I suggest the following strategy. When someone is alive, such a confession is judged as likely inadequate, for safety’s sake. If you had an opportunity, you would want to help bring the person further along and make sure they understood what this meant. You would want to get the person baptized and into a church. But once someone has crossed the line into eternity, you regard the confession as likely adequate.

    I’m not certain the above is without its flaws. But when I read the New Testament, it seems that the attempt to find one viewpoint where you know where everyone is with God at all times is suspect.

    On the one hand:
    “And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?”
    (1 Peter 4:18).

    On the other:
    “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
    (Romans 11:32)

    Or on the one hand:
    Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? …nor thieves will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

    and on the other hand:
    “And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.'” (Luke 23:43)

  • Assuming that the concerns raised are not the case, we can learn from this that faith comes from hearing the Word, even if the Word is being uttered by an unbeliever.

    Yes, the teacher may not have understood what she was saying when she spoke this small, but significant, part of the Word. But that small seed has apparently found fertile ground.