Is the church a "power spot"?

On Saturdays we try to have a family day off together, so often on Friday nights I spend a lot of time looking through tourist information and what’s-on web sites trying to think of something interesting to do. If you look at the official Kyoto city tourist information web site, you will find that the number one most accessed page was (until the new aquarium opened) Kyo Power Spots. So what’s a “power spot”? From the same page:

A place overflowing with energy which is the source of various activities. A mysterious place which gives off healing and vitality so that just by being here, your spirit is washed clean, you feel relieved and re-energised and your fortunes are restored. One could say that Kyoto, which has so many temples, shrines, spiritual sites and sacred places, thick with faith and strong in power, is a real treasure trove of power spots.

If that’s the number one most accessed page, then this is something that a lot of Japanese people are really looking for. This is one of the observations Fukuda makes in his Developing a Contextualized Church As a Bridge to Christianity in Japan (which I just happen to have published recently):

The Japanese view religious facilities as both centers of religious power and windows of the spiritual world. They are arenas at and through which the spiritual world and the power of the kami, Buddhas and other entities may be contacted, encountered, and assimilated for human benefit. It is here that the worshiper moves from the ordinary world into something special, into the powerful presence of the spiritual realm. Spiritual power is usually mediated through statues, prayers, priests and rituals, or by direct supplication.

Visitors are informed that they are entering the realm of the holy and the presence of thekami or Buddhas, by torii, a Shinto gateway, or sanmon or niomon, the Buddhist temple gateways. Many religious facilities have a temizuya, a place for ablution, which usually includes a fountain of running water, where visitors rinse out their mouths and wash their hands to cleanse themselves of pollution and evil. At temples there are the ferocious stares of the nio, and incense burners at which people may light sticks of incense as offerings, waving the smoke over themselves in a ritual gesture of purification which reinforces the purifying motif. Within the religious arena are numerous objects that illustrate the presence of the spiritual world, such as subtemples, subshrines, and images of animals (as guardians or messengers of kami). Shrines and temples are settings at which unusual concentrations of power have shown through and been manifested in the physical world.

Paul describes the church as the temple of God and the indwelling of God. In the church, people are confronted with Christ. She is a place, space, and home where they are welcomed and led to Christ, where they are nourished, shaped and renewed.

For the Japanese, there is a possibility of developing the idea of church as a window of the spiritual world, or a power center, where the One dwells who is overwhelmingly more powerful than kami. Christian communicators may be able to appeal to the Christian church as an arena where they may encounter the most powerful God. He fills all things (Eph. 4:10) and they are invited to be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19). They can experience the all-embracing and all-transcending power and grace of Christ (Eph. 2:7). The church can represent and exhibit the fullness of Christ, sharing as His body in the place and power of Christ, its Head who fills all in every way (Eph. 1:23).

Mitsuo goes on to suggest a few ways in which we can better portray our churches as the sources of spiritual energy that they really are. I don’t think we necessarily need to be consciously copying all of the outward forms of Buddhism and Shintoism, although I agree with Mitsuo that there are some things from there that we can usefully and prayerfully contextualize, but I certainly think we need to be responding to an obvious hunger in Japanese society for things transcendent and spiritual, and particularly in the realms of spiritual power. Japanese churches are often so Westernised in the way that they seek to convey the Gospel in rationalistic terms that they have missed the opportunity to convey Jesus’ spiritual message that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.

For people who have power-oriented felt needs like Japanese, rationalistic approaches simply don’t work. How many Japanese have responded to the Campus Crusade’s “Four Spiritual Laws”? A relatively low number. Christian communicators have to learn how the New Religions have attracted so many young Japanese. The newly developed religion called the Science of Happiness started with four people five years ago, but now has grown to become a two million member group. Ogata points out that several new religions, including the Science of Happiness, are part of the New Age Movement and these have been meeting the supernatural-oriented needs of many people. He also criticizes Christianity in Japan:

Most of Christianity in Japan is of the old Westernized Christianity with emphasis on its theology and doctrine. It is rational, logical and morally oriented. And it has often excluded the supernatural areas such as healings, miracles, etc. It is this spiritual dimension which the New Age Movement stresses. (Ogata, 1992:6)

In a sense I think it doesn’t even make sense to say that our churches should be “power spots.” Our churches are already “power spots”; the challenge is for us to act like it.