The theme at the Tokyo Diocese Ministers Workshop held the other day was on “Church Finance.” Cases were introduced where profits from bazaars have been taxed these recent years, and lending its storage room for the community’s disaster prevention were not seen as a part of religious activities, and therefore became subject to taxation. Surprised at the same time, but to be honest, I was infuriated at the act of the public offices, who do not hold direct relationship to the church to limit the activities without consulting. I also felt this kind of view by the tax office is something we need to question about on our own views of the church.
“What is church?” is one of the basic themes of theology, also called ecclesiology. There is also “communion ecclesiology” which has drawn considerable attention in the field during these few years. This is just one “way of thinking” and includes many variations, but I believe this is a powerful model of the church in Japan.
Communion ecclesiology, by placing its focus on various “communions,” has a possibility of going beyond the legal and systematic understanding, and emphasizes the correlation between the universal churches spreading worldwide and the individual churches. In other words, “a church is not just a building nor a group managed as an organization. Christians work in various ways and through their creating a relationship with the surrounding, is born this ‘communion’ where the true form of church is seen.”
Within the society such as Japan, when a church attempts to form such a communion, it does not only remain in the old category of Christianity, but it stands to reason that it will form relations with the local community and various organizations. There lies the possibility for churches in Japan. I have been given the opportunity for quite a while to work at schools, and from my experiences, there is a form of a “church” within Christian schools for sure. I am convinced that Christ’s doings go beyond the realms of “Christianity.” The works of the church are done in that sense to spread in various forms this “communion” which is created in places that go beyond the framework of conventional “churches.” It is an important work of the church in Japan.
Going back to the story on tax matters, we need to question the view that limits “religious activities” to a very narrow field. Towards the idea of bazaars and cooperation with the local community not considered as “religious activities,” we must state and actually show that “Christianity is not a narrow-minded religion.” On the contrary, if churches are to turn towards the thinking that “it is good enough as long as churches hold their Sunday services,” then the act itself proves that the people themselves have affirmed to the view of the public.
When we try to create the “church is communion,” one should see the shape of the church which would never have been imagined until now. Believe that Christ is with us and works with us, so why not put our heads together?
Revd David Shintaro Ichihara
Okaya St. Barnaba’s Church