Nonchurch Movement

Nonchurch Movement

The Nonchurch movement (無教会, Mukyōkai) is an indigenous Japanese Christian movement which was founded by Uchimura Kanzo in 1901. The complete works of Uchimura consist of some 50 volumes: 17 primarily biblical studies, 25 volumes of theological works and 8 volumes of diaries and correspondence. Many of his disciples have likewise been well-known intellectual figures. Today the number of adherents is believed to be around 35,000 in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.


During the lifetime of Uchimura Kanzo, a graduate of Amherst College, the Nonchurch movement took several organizational forms. His direct disciples were essentially paying members of his private school. As subscribers to his magazine grew, supporters outside Tokyo sought some ongoing relationship with other Nonchurch members. Uchimura organized the Kyōyukai (教友会) in 1905, with 14 branches and 119 members. The purpose of this organization was defined in the following profession of faith:

We who believe in God and his Only Son whom he sent (into the world), uniting together, form the Kyōyukai. With the help of God the Father we shall help our comrades and live lives that are in harmony with His Sovereign Will.

Membership was restricted to individuals who had "endeavored to live the Christian life for at least a year". The guidelines for this association included a commitment to meet monthly, to spend Sunday nurturing faith and morals, and to abstain from tobacco and liquor.

They hold to no liturgy, sacraments, or ordained clergy. While most of the teachers have no formal theological training, some have extensive background in theology and biblical studies and hold academic positions in universities and theological schools. Bible study is performed in small, independent groups led by individual teachers, or "sensei", and the group often meet on a weekly basis. Each group is normally called "shukai"(Meeting) or "seisho shukai"(Bible Meeting). While many of sensei hold regular jobs outside of their role as a Bible teacher, a few are called into a full-time ministry as "dokuritsu dendosha"(an independent evangelist). When the teacher dies or retires, the study group normally dissolves, and often new groups branch out from the old group.

With its emphases on Bible studies and social criticism and its general intellectual tendencies among the adherents, the movement produced a number of prominent figures in scholarship. Among them are: Tsukamoto Toraji (biblical scholar), Yanaihara Tadao (economist and president of the University of Tokyo), Nanbara Shigeru (political scientist and also U of Tokyo president), Oga Ichiro (botanist), Sekine Masao (Hebrew scholar and Member of the Japan Academy), Nakazawa Koki (biblical scholar), and Takahashi Saburo (theologian and independent evangelist).

In Japan, the Mukyōkai members are perhaps best known for speaking out against social injustices. They were one of the strongest groups against Japanese nationalism and militarism in the 1930s and '40s, and remains today a strong force for pacifism. In the USA this was mentioned in relation to human rights activist Gordon Hirabayashi, himself a Quaker, coming from a Mukyōkai family, who immigrated to the United States.


  • Christianity, The Japanese Way by Carlo Caldarola (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979).
  • Japan's Modern Prophet: Uchimura Kanzo, 1861-1930 by John F. Howes (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2005).

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