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Masao Takenaka

Tribute by WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia

22 August 2006

from Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
Geneva, 22 August 2006

It is with deep sorrow that we received the sad news of the passing away of our dear friend and ecumenical colleague, Prof. Dr Masao Takenaka. He was an outstanding theologian, thinker and ecumenist of our times and will be deeply missed in the ecumenical world.

A professor of Christian Ethics and Sociology of Religion, Dr. Takenaka's contribution to ecumenical social thought extended far beyond the borders of his country and region. For over five decades he played a leading role as a thinker and a spiritual guide of the ecumenical movement in Asia. An ardent supporter of grass root movements, he was the Chairman of the Urban Industrial Mission of the World Council of Churches from 1968 to 1975. He inspired and encouraged URM colleagues through his theological insights and biblical exegesis on the history of people's struggle. As Oh Jae Shik, a former director of the Commission of the Churches' Participation in Development and a devoted disciple of Dr Takenaka so aptly puts it: "Masao was not an onlooker of history. He always found himself on the front line of movements of people."

Dr Takenaka believed that the struggle for justice and human dignity must begin from one's own backyard. He was in the forefront of the struggle in Japan against Emperor worship and vehemently opposed visits of official dignitaries to the Yasukuni Shrine - a symbol of Japanese nationalism and militarism. Dr Takenaka worked tirelessly amongst his country's people to help them understand and interpret Japan's role during the war in order to forge a better understanding

with Asian people, who suffered under the Japanese imperial rule. His voice was also heard in the global ecumenical platforms, especially through the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia.

He taught Christian Ethics and Sociology of Religion in his own country, at Doshisha University, Kyoto, for 41 years and was also a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School and at Union Seminary, New York, where he shared his intellectual brilliance from an Asian cultural, social and ethical perspective.

Dr Takenaka, in his ability to mould and nurture his ecumenical commitment through his long years of deep involvement in the Student Christian Movement in Japan and in the leadership of the World Student Christian Federation, was an ardent promoter of the idea that laity must play a vital role as "the ambassadors of the Church to perform the service of the Church through their ordinary secular life to the world". While he was Vice-Chairperson of the WSCF, he echoed his assessment at the Third WCC Assembly at New Delhi in 1961 - what he termed the Four D's of Christianity - "divided, dependent, derived, and dated". He felt that such a Christianity "cannot be sold to his friends" and "the presence of Christians in the secular world is very important".

In his search to understand the implications of the spiritual meaning of culture for our earthly life in the light of Christian faith, Dr Masao Takenaka believed that "culture is not only a gift of God but also the people's identity" and that it is highly significant to consider the relationship between the Christian faith and the role of cultural expressions. He also passionately articulated his conviction that images and symbols rooted in the local culture can nurture the power of spiritual imagination and shape the human sense of responsibility.

Toward the later part of his life, Dr Takenaka became a passionate promoter and supporter of Christian art in Asia. He served as President of the Asian Christian Art Association for many years. He was acutely sensitive to how Christian faith and worship are expressed through local culture throughout the world, and might also stimulate ideas of the relationship between gospel and culture. This sensitivity infused his writing, teaching, preaching and his enormous contribution to ecumenical dialogue.

Dr Takenaka will be greatly missed in ecumenical circles for his spirited presence and great mind. We thank God for the life and witness of Dr Masao Takenaka and we offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends around the world.

May God rest his soul in eternal peace and provide patience and courage to the bereaved family as they grieve his loss.

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary