New Horizons

Training Ministers in Japan

Stewart E. Lauer

As we celebrate the first anniversary of our return to Japan, we give thanks to the Lord for a year full of his blessings on this new missionary service to Christ and the Reformed Church in Japan (RCJ). With grateful hearts, we introduce to the readers of New Horizons the ministry of Kobe Reformed Theological Seminary (Kobe RTS), where I have begun teaching biblical studies.

The History of the Seminary

Kobe RTS was founded in 1947, a year after the founding of the RCJ. However, the roots of both go back before the Second World War, which ended in 1945. The founding twelve congregations of the RCJ, before the war, had been part of the Christian Church in Japan. The Southern Presbyterian (PCUS) Mission to Japan owned and operated Kobe Central Theological Seminary until the war forced its president, William McIlwaine (elder brother of the late OP missionary to Japan, Heber McIlwaine), to leave Japan and entrust the seminary management to Minoru Okada, a professor of New Testament and systematic theology, who had once been a student of J. Gresham Machen.

Faced with strong pressures to join in emperor worship, Professor Okada instead closed the doors of the seminary in 1942. However, he rescued part of its library and continued to operate a Bible institute along with H. Haruna (practical theology) during the remaining years of the war. (The same pressure in Korea and Manchuria, which were controlled by Japan, led to the imprisonment of Bruce Hunt and many of his Korean colleagues.)

Soon after the war ended, these men helped to found first the RCJ and then Kobe RTS. When William McIlwaine returned to teach Old Testament, and G. Tanaka (also a former Central Seminary professor) was added to teach church history, the founding faculty was complete, with Professor Okada serving as president. The Southern Presbyterian Mission cooperated with the new seminary, providing a campus and teaching staff to supplement the Japanese professors. But in the early seventies, when the PCA split off from the PCUS, the Southern Presbyterian Mission lost both Benson Caine (professor of New Testament through the sixties) and William McIlwaine to the PCA.

According to its charter, Kobe RTS is irrevocably committed to "the historic Reformed faith manifested in the Westminster Standards of Faith." That commitment continues to be maintained by the current faculty. The faculty includes President Yoshikazu Makita (systematic theology), Yasunori Ichikawa (apologetics), and part-time professors Yasuo Tomii (Old Testament), Yuichiro Yamanaka (New Testament), and Yukio Kanata (church history), along with me (biblical studies)—each an ordained minister. The regular faculty members' work is supplemented by a number of lecturers, drawn from the ministers of the surrounding Western Presbytery. Please remember in your prayers all the part-time teachers who work under the strain of long commutes combined with full-time pastorates.

The Work of the Seminary

The primary mission of Kobe RTS is to train ministerial candidates of the RCJ to serve its churches. However, some of its more than two hundred graduates are now pastors in sister Reformed churches, such as the RPCNA (Japan Presbytery), the Korean Presbyterian Church in Japan, and in various other evangelical denominations. Additionally, many students from Korea and Taiwan have come to Kobe RTS over the decades.

The Kobe RTS curriculum is similar to that of many US seminaries, with Old and New Testament studies based on Hebrew (my current responsibility) and Greek, systematics, church history, and apologetics, as well as an intensive program of training students in preaching and teaching.

Practical training includes not only formal instruction and evaluation by faculty members, but also numerous less formal opportunities to speak before the seminary community, formal assignments to RCJ congregations for ministry under a pastor, and internships during the second and third summers of the three-and-a-quarter-year program.

School days begin at 7:00 a.m., with a thirty-minute prayer meeting (led by students) and a break for a formal chapel service at 10:30 a.m. (students, faculty, and nearby RCJ pastors take turns preaching). Since Kobe RTS is considered a ministry of the church, the faculty maintains a concern for the students' training that goes much deeper than the academic content of the course work. By the time a student graduates from Kobe RTS, he has had many more opportunities to speak publicly and to lead services than students have at most Reformed seminaries in America.

The school year begins in April. We anticipate six full-time students in the entering class. Three of these men are members of the RCJ, one is from another denomination, and two are from Korean churches. These six will join the current first- and second-year students to give us a total of nineteen full-time students. Part-time students and auditors push the total student body to over thirty. Our students range in age from recent college graduates to retirees.

While half of the students entering the seminary usually come from the RCJ, "conversions" to the Reformed faith are not uncommon. Given the dearth of ministerial candidates in most denominations in Japan today and the numerous vacant pulpits in the RCJ, we are delighted not only to see men embrace the (biblical) Reformed faith, but also to play a part in filling the vital need for additional Reformed pastors. Please join us in praying that the Lord of the harvest would abundantly supply faithful laborers for this spiritually dark land.

Future Plans

I am currently carrying a light load (two courses for the next term) in order to be able to write a Ph.D. dissertation for Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. I look forward to the completion of that project, so that I can play a bigger role at Kobe RTS in inculcating a love for, and knowledge of, the whole counsel of God. Further, I hope again to play an active role in the Western Presbytery's work to establish new congregations in and around Kobe, perhaps beginning in the community around the seminary, which currently has no Reformed church closer than thirty minutes by car.

Together with my wife, Laurie, and our seven children—David (14), Stephen (13), Joshua (10), SaraJean (9), Jonathan (6), Daniel (4) and Paul (1)—I would like to thank the OPC and her Lord for the privilege of serving him in Japan.

Stewart E. ("Woody") Lauer is an OPC foreign missionary in Japan. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 1999.

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