In 1965, I boarded a plane to Japan with my wife Virginia, and our children, Renee and Tim. When we arrived, we were struck by the idolatry that was prevalent everywhere. Buddhist or Shinto altars were on every street corner. Idolatry permeated Japanese culture.
It was obvious that we were a small minority as we began our public ministry in Japan at Senri New Town Baptist Church. However, God and our home church sent us to Japan to proclaim Jesus Christ, and by God’s grace, that is what we would do.
As I preached, I continually emphasized that there is only one true God, and that everything else we worship is an idol. It would have been very popular in our community to be broadminded. The people would tolerate us if we were just religious, but we were ridiculed when we taught that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
My Japanese teacher tried to teach my wife and me a theological lesson one day during our class period. “Heaven is like Mount Fuji,” she said. “There are different roads that lead to Mount Fuji. It does not make any difference which of those roads we travel, because we still reach Mount Fuji.”
She then explained to us that there were many ways to Heaven—the Buddhist way, the Shinto way, the Confucius way, the Mohammed way, and the Christ way. She insisted it really does not make any difference which of those roads that you take to get to Heaven.
I always kept my New Testament handy, and I said to Mrs. Santo, “I realize there are various roads that lead to Mount Fuji; however, according to the Bible, God’s Word, there is only one way to Heaven.” I read to her from my Japanese Bible those simple words of Jesus Christ, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (emphasis mine).
If we do not emphasize that Jesus Christ is the only way, many would be more than happy to add Christ to their many gods. For a short time we lived in the city of Minoo in an upstairs apartment rented to us by a dear elderly Japanese lady. She was one of the most religious people I had ever met. In her home sat a large altar with symbols of Buddhism and Shintoism, not really unusual in a Japanese home. But in the midst of this shrine, there was also a crucifix. She did not want to take any chances. On more than one occasion, we tried to convince her that Jesus Christ was the only way, but she never turned from her idolatry.
Even the Buddhist and Shinto priests would argue that we essentially taught the same thing. Once I was confronted on a train by a Buddhist priest who had obviously been drinking. He said in a loud voice easily heard by the people sitting around us, “We are the same. We are the same.” In other words, what he taught and what I taught were the same. I had to respond to him, “No, we are not the same. Your way and my way are greatly different.” It was not a popular position, but by God’s grace I could rest assured that I had done the right thing.
The Apostle Paul said, “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth” (Ephesians 6:13–14a). While there is a temptation to compromise the simple truth of the Gospel, we must be firm in the face of family and cultural pressure.
It is often difficult for Japanese people to leave Shintoism or Buddhism because of family tradition. We often destroyed idols to demonstrate that Jesus is the only God, not an addition to another religion. Time after time, it was wonderful to see those who worshipped the idols of Buddhism and Shintoism destroy those idols. They had come to the knowledge of the true God. “Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Psalm 115:2–3).
Not only in foreign lands, but also in our country, the name of Jesus Christ is hated and ridiculed, but it is the only name “whereby we must be saved.” He has, with His own blood, purchased salvation, and He offers it to all as a free gift. In the midst of many ways, God has commanded us to preach one Gospel to the whole world.