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Japanese Women in Ministry’s Letter to Merritt

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter, dated May 22, 2002, was given to SBC President James Merritt during his recent visit to Japan by the women in ministry of the Japanese Baptist Convention. It was translated into English by Sachiko Sakamoto, a JBC missionary to Thailand and a 1998 graduate of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

Dear President James Merritt and all the brothers and sisters in the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention:<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Blessed be the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! May the blessings of our Lord be with you abundantly, brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention, who as “Spiritual Mother” gave birth to us Japanese Baptists.
We are the Fellowship of JBC Women Pastors and Ministers, and are extending to you our warm welcome to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Japan. Taking this opportunity, we would like to express our gratitude along with our views concerning the issue of Women in Ministry. 
First of all, let us express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to you for all the missionary works extended to Japan for more than 110 years.  We thank the Lord and praise His name because of those SBC missionaries, as they have given their lives to serve the Lord in our country, sharing the Gospel with Japanese people, planting numerous churches, as well as training pastors and ministers through theological education.  Especially, it is our greatest pleasure and privilege to mention that almost all of our group members are the women pastors and ministers in the Japan Baptist Convention, whose lives have been touched and changed by Christ through the works of those faithful SBC missionaries, women missionaries in particular.  For us Japanese Baptists, these women missionaries have been the wonderful role models of serving the Lord, and the living examples of women responding to the calls of God.  It is through their models and examples that many of us have been inspired to give our lives to Christ’s service.
Standing upon this long, historical and close relationship between SBC and JBC, allow us to take this opportunity also to express our views and concerns with regard to some points in the Baptist Faith and Message, which was amended in 1998 and revised in 2000.
In the Article IV, the Church, we read that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastors are limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Regretfully, we are very saddened and disheartened by this statement.  We understand that the basis of this Article comes from such passages of Scripture as I Timothy 2:9-15 and I Cor.11:3ff; however, it is crystal clear that the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is much more abundant in resources to discuss and define the issue of women in ministry, particularly in pastorate.  For example, the Old Testament is a vivid testimony of God using women in the work of prophecy such as Miriam and Deborah (Exodus 15:20-22, Judges 4:4ff, 5:1-31), while the New Testament gives powerful reports of God calling women to build early Christian churches as the Apostle Paul calls Priscilla “my co-worker.” (Romans 16:3)  Above all, our Lord Jesus Christ himself does not give any accounts to limit, restrict, or ban women from being engaged in pastorate.  Rather, what the Bible tells us is that Jesus is always affirming and accepting women, encouraging them to be set free from the bondage of personal sin, social discrimination, and religious prejudices permeated not only into the biblical times but also into this Century still.
It is our faith that to be biblical means, first, to hear the Word of God carefully and sincerely by reading the Bible, whose Truth consists of plural confessions and testimonies concerning Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior.  Secondly, we believe to be biblical challenges us to respond to God’s call boldly, to take part in God’s invitation to liberate, renew, and restore the whole creation through the Cross of Jesus Christ as we anticipate God’s Reign to come. Among the JBC churches, there are 360 ordained pastors now working in their local congregations, and 40 of them are women pastors with the ratio of 11%. In addition to this, we also have 14 women ministers, plus 3 women missionaries serving in Singapore and Thailand.  Praise God for using Japanese women as pastors, ministers, deacons and missionaries in such a way.
In the Article XVIII, the Family, added as an amendment in 1998, we read that “a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”  
The entire Article emphasizes the subordinate role of women as helpers of men in managing household and in nurturing children based on the Genesis.  However, an in-depth study of the Hebrew Bible tells us that the usage of the word “helper,” or “EZEL,” in Genesis 3:20 means much more than “an assistant.”  In fact, the very same word is found in such passages as Psalms 10:14, 118:6 , 121:2, describing God as “EZEL,” or “helper.”  This is just one of quite a few examples in the Bible to teach us what it means to be a helper.  The biblical helper is the one who works together, shares together, and completes together in something in a totally equal (or could be more) status. Created in God’s Image as equal co-workers and partners, women and men are the children of God, being called and commissioned by God, to stand in the forefront of God’s mission of sharing the Gospel.  We believe it significant to point out that the Apostle Paul holds this God-given egalitarian view of male and female one in Christ (Gal.3:28). 
As Baptists living in Asia, we study every year about the life and work of Lottie Moon, a pioneer Southern Baptist Woman Missionary, just as you do in your Lottie Moon Christmas Offering Week.  More than 140 years ago Ms. Lottie heard the call of God clearly, gave her whole life to bring the light of the Gospel to our neighboring country of China.  Hers is an exciting model of God’s calling of a woman, letting her engage in the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel, of preaching and teaching, and of planting churches.  Truly, it was God’s mighty work of opening the door for women to give their lives to full-time Christian services, which had been closed prior to Ms. Lottie’s times.  Following her example, a number of SBC women missionaries came to Japan.  With the love of Christ in their hearts and minds, they were sensitive enough to become aware of the low status of women in the Japanese society, compassionate enough to help them gain their rights as women and humans, and prayerful enough to encourage them to grow as women of independence in the faith in Christ.  In this Christian endeavor, they built Seinan Jo Gakuin, or the Seinan Girls’ School in Kokura, Kyushu, Japan, where they have educated and nurtured numerous Baptist women to date.
In conclusion, we again praise the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in the missionary work of the Southern Baptist Convention, as represented in the International Mission Board.  The work of SBC missionaries has liberated the lives of Japanese women, and given us the Baptist freedom to serve the Lord.  It is our sincere hope that this visit to Japan and the JBC Office will give you the opportunity to reaffirm and respect the Baptist heritage and traditions shared between JBC and SBC. 
Also, it is our earnest prayer that you will continue to keep the door open for women of next generation to serve the Lord in the Baptist churches, instead of closing it again, in whatever position God calls them to serve.
Thank you very much for your attention, and may God bless you and the Southern Baptist Convention.                                            
In Christ’ Love,
FELLOWSHIP OF JBC WOMEN PASTORS AND MINISTERS.
Rev. Yorie Ito, Representative.
c/o Japan Baptist Convention