A conference of Japanese Mennonites recently adopted a formal document defining what they believe collectively.
Japan Mennonite Christian Church Conference (Hokkaido) adopted a Confession of Faith during its 61st gathering May 18. The conference has 17 churches.
The core principles, as translated by Ken Shenk, who spent many years among Mennonites in Japan with Mennonite Board of Missions, a Mennonite Mission Network predecessor agency, are:
- Jesus Christ is the Word of God the Father and is revealed by the Holy Spirit.
- The church is a community of believers, which learns from the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- Believers listen to the Lord Jesus Christ, serve each other and love their neighbors.
- Believers care for creation; build peace and justice, which come from Christ; and participate in the work of the kingdom of God.
- Following Jesus’ nonviolent way of life, we as believers do not participate in war.
“These five articles make it clear that we live by the same faith as our church’s ancestors in faith, the Anabaptists/Mennonites, who put the Lord Jesus at the center of their faith and sought to listen to and follow Christ,” wrote Akira Mimoto, pastor of Tottori Mennonite Church, Kushiro, in a document translated to English.
The effort to write and adopt the Confession began about 10 years ago, said Mary Beyler, an MMN worker who serves with Mennonite congregations in Hokkaido.
The churches have been referencing historical Confessions and the Confessions of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite World Conference. But eventually they determined a Confession reflecting their unique Japanese Anabaptist perspective was needed. Beyler was part of the Confession committee.
“Some churches wanted to be able to introduce what is unique and special about Mennonites when other Christians or not-yet-Christians come to our churches,” Beyler said. “The Confession is short enough to use often in worship, to recite and to confess together.”
The Confession is also significant as the Japanese discuss possible changes to the nation’s 1947 Constitution that would restore its military’s ability to take offensive action outside of Japan’s borders. However, the Confession is not a reaction to this.
The Hokkaido conference churches have long established that their antiwar stance is because of their faith in Jesus.
In surrendering to the United States to end World War II, Japan agreed to no longer initiate war. Its Self Defense Force was established in 1954 for military support operations only. However, some politicians and Japanese citizens want the restriction lifted.
“Having nonparticipation in war as part of their Confession of Faith will serve to remind current and future Mennonites in Hokkaido that their aversion to warmaking is not just a product of the pacifist impulse that was strong in Japan after World War II,” Shenk said. “It is rooted in their faith in God and the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.”