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Japanese pastor given ultimatum in communion dispute


A pastor of Japan’s largest Protestant denomination says he will refuse an ultimatum from church leaders to resign if he does not stop allowing unbaptised people to receive Holy Communion.

"I will ignore or refuse the recommendation," the Rev. Jiro Kitamura, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan, told Ecumenical News International.

The denomination’s executive, of which Kitamura is a member, passed a resolution in late October stating that the minister must stop giving Communion to unbaptised people in his church at Yokohama, south of Tokyo, or resign.

Kitamura received support, however, from more than 2000 people, who signed a petition demanding the withdrawal of the resolution, which the denomination’s moderator, the Rev. Nobuhisa Yamakita, had introduced.  Sixteen members of the committee, out of the 29 who were present, supported the resolution.  It followed a statement by the Rev. Tomoyuki Okamoto, chairperson of the denomination’s Faith and Order committee, that any decision by local congregations to approve sharing Holy Communion with those who had not been baptised is "void" and "violates the denomination’s rules".

Okamoto quoted the denomination’s regulations that stipulate that the church’s believers "must be registered separately as communicant members and pre-communicant members", and that, "Communicant members are those who confessed their faith and were baptised, or pre-communicants who confirmed or confessed their faith."

In a message to the denomination’s 2007 general assembly, moderator Yamakita wrote that allowing the unbaptised to receive Holy Communion, "clearly violates the constitution and rules" of the church.  Kitamura said, however, that many other churches within the denomination have been providing "open" Holy Communion since the 1970s.

Ecumenical News International