When the elders of the Union Avenue Church in Memphis, Tennessee, sent out in large numbers, "Voice of Opportunity From Japan," proposing and sponsoring a vast program, many were alarmed because, first, they believed Union Avenue had set up an unscriptural, centralized arrangement, and second, because of the character of the work proposed. Hundreds of congregations contributed tens of thousands of dollars. Union Avenue handled the money and mailed out reports. Some of the enterprises proposed were nursing schools, sewing schools, community centers, cafeterias, and such like things. E. W. McMillan was the author of the plan, although it was sent out over the signature of the Union Avenue elders. The estimated initial cost to get the program under way was $419,000.00, none of which was proposed for preaching of the gospel.
I was impelled by conviction to write the book, "Living Issues," dealing in part with this program. I was so intent on not misrepresenting the proposal that I cut out what makes more than five pages of the pamphlet, and sent this to the printers as copy. Nearly five hundred copies of "Living Issues" were mailed the first day off the press. I think I am safe in saying no other book among the churches of Christ has been so widely discussed, and so universally commended, in recent years.
I have received the following letter from Japan. I doubt if I have ever received any other letter that has given me so much real joy. I thank God that such men as Brother Baggett are in Japan. They deserve and should have a liberal support from Christians, and the most sincere prayers. Would that Union Avenue would make a statement as to their position on what Brother McMillan wrote for them to sign! The gospel is the greatest power, and the Lord's plan will produce the greatest results when zealously tried. But here is the letter:
January 16, 1953 Ota-machi, Fuji-gun Ibaraki-ken, Japan Dear Brother Otey:
Tonight, while visiting one of the other preachers in this area, I chanced to see a copy of the editorial concerning your book Living Issues in the November 27, 1952 issue of the Gospel Guardian. This brother also had your book so I turned and read Chapter III concerning the work in Japan. This was my first time to see the OUTLINE — REPORT ON JAPAN which was published by Union Avenue and reprinted by you in your book. I never saw nor heard of these proposals before tonight, and I was surprised when I read them in your book. I never knew these things were suggested for the Japanese work.
Without resting a minute, I hasten to assure you that such a plan as outlined in that REPORT ON JAPAN is not now and has not been contemplated by the preachers in Ibaraki, at least since the date I arrived here — September, 1950. I cannot speak for the years before I came, nor is it my place to do so, but I can say that since 1950 at least, evangelism and the establishment of New Testament churches has been the main part of the work here, although the affairs of the college have occupied most of the space allotted to the Japanese work in the brotherhood papers. In the Gospel Guardian dated December 4, '52, Brother Doyle points out the increase in number of churches and Japanese preachers, which will show the work which has gone on here during the past few years even though that work has not gotten into the papers. I shall not repeat his report.
I can very easily see and acknowledge your criticism of the Ibaraki work provided that we were actually doing what you have thought we were doing, but please believe me when I say that we are evangelists. I think the American brethren sometimes have been deceived by the amount of attention given to the college in the papers into thinking that we spend all our time with the college. (Indeed, Brother J. A. Allen of the Apostolic Times once called us a bunch of "college professors") but such is not the case. I personally hold around a dozen meetings a year, in addition to working regularly with one church and spending my days with daily Bible classes for our preaching brethren. In addition to this (and not "in place of it") I also teach Bible every morning at the school. This is the extent of my "school work" and the same is true generally of the others here. We are evangelists.
Concerning Brother McMillan's report printed in your book, I have nothing to say. It is not my job to "explain" or to "defend" another man's statement. Only Brother McMillan can do that. But I will say that those of us who are here and who have learned to speak the Japanese language and who work with these people daily in their own tongue entertain no such feeling concerning the work here as published in that report. We know that until the gospel is firmly planted into these minds; that until the scriptures have taken hold of these people and broken them loose from their long and idolatrous past; we know that until that day, it is useless to try to teach them Democracy or anything else. The gospel must come first. And it will not be an easy job. Perhaps I sound pessimistic, but I do not expect any great growth here in my generation. And sometimes, I even wonder if my son will live to see the church taking hold and sweeping Japan as it has done through America. And yet, I should not be so pessimistic. For the gospel has taken root where it has been planted. And churches have been established (around 36 in Ibaraki alone), and people have broken completely with the past. (I wish I had time and space to tell you of some of the brethren here who have denied all for the faith.) No, it is not the gospel which disappoints me at all, but the small number of men who come to preach it here. Considering the odds. I should not be as pessimistic as I may sound above. But what can around a dozen young foreigners do with nearly 90,000,000 people, which number includes thousands of false prophets such as Catholics, Modernists (and I include all Liberals in this class), denominationalists and Buddhist priests? The answer is obvious — send more preachers. But some say — "Why not let the Japanese do their own preaching?" This is fine and we are doing that, but you cannot take a man trained in this heathen, idolatrous. Buddhist background and send him out to establish churches as soon as you baptize him. First, he must be converted, well-instructed, proved, and this takes time. "Rome was not built in a day." and neither is a gospel preacher. We have a group of preachers now whom we are training daily and who are working alongside of us in the work (although some are working independently). But it will take a few more years before they can do the work which we are doing now. At any rate, do not expect any great growth of the Kingdom here any time soon unless more preachers come here to sow the seed.
Well, I will bring this to a close. My only purpose was to point out that none of us here in Ibaraki now hold, nor have held (at least since 1950) the intention of doing the type of work outlined in the "Report" which you reprinted in your book. The purpose here is — New Testament churches. I hope this will help you to have more confidence in us and our work. I am looking forward to reading the rest of your book. All brethren should constantly he on guard against apostasy. This is one of our responsibilities and I appreciate the work which you have done, although I am sorry that you have not known the attitudes of those of us who are actually doing the work in Ibaraki.
Richard F. Baggett