How is true biblical unity possible?
Mura-hachibu was a practice in Edo Japan of ostracizing any family or individual who did not comply with village rules and customs. The outcasts were excluded from most aspects of community life, making survival in feudal times very difficult. Naturally, this strongly motivated people to conform and to ensure their unity with the group was never questioned.
In modern day Japan, being left out of the group is still one of the most terrifying things that can happen to someone. With the internet and social media, modern versions of mura-hachibu have taken on a toxicity as powerful at silencing dissent as the repression of feudal Japan.
Even temporarily separating a child from a group as a form of discipline is considered very harsh. I remember running a program for pre-schoolers and parents at our church and sending my son out of the room for bad behaviour. I thought I was modeling good boundary-setting, but the helpers at church thought I had gone too far, and made themselves feel more comfortable by plying the ‘outcast’ with chocolate back in the kitchen!
Accordingly in Japanese society people are generally hesitant to express or even entertain a view that differs from public opinion. This might appear to be harmony and unity, but a lack of verbalised conflict is not a true meeting of minds or agreement of hearts, and so does not necessarily reflect a healthy society.
Unsurprisingly, the Japanese are drawn to the Christian value for unity that encourages humility and deference. However, this carries the risk of equating the biblical essence of unity with the Japanese value of harmony. As a result the Japanese church can tend to prioritise peaceful relationships and a sense of belonging over biblical standards and growing in Christlikeness.
Biblical unity is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit, as each believer submits to the headship of Christ. Christians have always been strangers and sojourners in this world, no matter the culture. May God give His church in Japan and across the world the courage to stand firm, and true unity that is in stark contrast to all counterfeits.
by Alison, an OMF Missionary