The Way (church)

The Way (church)

The Way (道会, Michikai) is an indigenous Japanese "church" movement that was founded by Matsumura Kaiseki in 1907. Matsumura originally called his movement the One Heart Association, but in 1907 renamed it the "Church of Japan" and rented quarters to hold regular meetings. The following year he launced the magazine "The Way", which became the primary carrier of his new Confucian version of Christianity. In one of the early issues Matsumura laid out the purpose of the magazine as to express independent religious views, to explore psychic phenomena, to apply higher criticism to Christianity, and to integrate the culture and ideas of East and West.

Matsumura initially organized the "Church of Japan" to create a new and reformed Japanese Christianity independent of Western control. As his religious beliefs and convictions gradually came to be systematized, it became increasingly apparent that it was misleading to refer to this movement as a "Church". Ironically, it was his most sympathetic Japanese colleagues from the Unitarian Church who forced him to recognize that he had clearly departed from the Christian faith ref|AFM. To reflect this new orientation, Matsumura renamed his movement "The Way" in 1912, referring to it as a "new religion" ref|AFM.

The Teachings of The Way

In addition to the claim that he was establishing a new religion, matsumura argued that he was elaborating the basic truths shared by all the ancient religions of the world. His teachings were based on claims to personal experiences of revelation as well as on an appreciation of the "truths" contained in the "sacred" writings of Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

1. Belief in God (信神 shinjin): The most basic shared belief is faith and worship of the lord of the universe (天地主宰の神 Tenchi shusai no kami)

2. Cultivation of Moral character (修德 shūtoku).

3. Love of Neighbour (愛隣 airin)

4. Eternal Life (永生 eisei)

Matsumura defined The Way as an association dedicated to putting these four beliefs into practice in everyday life. The vows that its members recite together at the conclusion of each religious service and in daily practice are expressions of commitment to follow this way:

::We promise to hold fast to believe in God and always seek to serve him.::We promise to hold fast to the cultivation of virtue and always seek to improve and elevate our character.::We promise to hold fast to our belief in love of neighbour and always serve our nation, the universe and to humankind.::We promise to hold fast to our belief in eternal life and always live with hope.

Transformation of The Way

The religious teaching and practice described above were characteristic of The Way until the end of World War Two. In fact, members of The Way during the War years insisted that they understood it as a separate religion and not as part of Christianity. The building and worship were Japanese style, the Confucian classics and Eastern thought were always stressed, there were very few references to the Bible in lectures and sermons.

Since the end of the war, the leaders of the Way have reemphasized the Christian roots of the movement. Matsumura's successor, in fact, referred to the movement as a form of "Liberal Christianity". A sign displayed outside the headquarters of The Way in Tokyo identifies itself today with the same phrase. This new self-understanding only gradually evolved in the Postwar environment. The "anti-Shinto atmosphere" that followed Japan's defeat and the American Occupation persuaded the leaders that it was prudent to dismantle the Shinto altar in the Hall of Divine Worship and put in its place a simple table with flowers.

In 1955, Bible lectures were resumed and the use of the Bible and hymns in religious services gradually increased. The Postwar transformation was completed with the rebuilding of the Hall of Divine Worship in 1989, ths time designed like a Western church with stained-glass windows and pews. On the surface, The Way looks very much like a Christian institution today, and its high regard for Jesus' teachings about the Fatherhood of God and love of neighbour reconfirm this impression. Other traditional Christian doctrines, however, are still dismissed and the emphasis continues to be placed on the Neo-Confucian teaching regarding self-cultivation.

Notes and Further Reading

* "Suzuki, Studies of Trends in meiji Religious Thought".
* "Matsumura, A Critique of Religions".

ee also

Indigenous Christian Movements in Japan:

*Nonchurch Movement
*The Way (Church)
*Christ Heart Church
*Glorious Gospel Christian Church
*Living Christ One Ear of Wheat Church
*Christian Canaan Church
*Japan Ecclesia of Christ
*Spirit of Jesus Church
*Holy Ecclesia of Jesus
*Sanctifying Christ Church
*Original Gospel (Tabernacle)
*Life-Giving Christ
*Okinawa Christian Gospel

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