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Mareike Heuer 000791-011

How did Christian belief rise in South Korea and what was its role for political changes?

Introduction

Being half Korean and half German, it is of particular interest to recognise how Christianity
has spread throughout South Korea in particular, as it represents an atypical development
compared with the rest of East Asia. Certainly it is a marked change from here in China where
I have spent my last five years. Of course, both Korea and China have historically been
influenced by the ideology of Confucianism. Indeed, as I myself have noticed from my own
experience, Christianity appears to play a much more noticeable role in the daily lives of the
average South Korean than in Germany, while the Christian religion does not seem to have
any discernable impact at all in China.1 This poses the question why Christianity has
achieved such widespread influence in South Korea. Numerous researchers have argued that
there is a direct link between the expansion of Christianity and the political modernization of
South Korea throughout the 20th century.2 In that respect there is no clear distinction between
the spread of Christianity in (South) Korea and particular historical circumstances. Christian
belief in South Korea therefore must be studied within the context of historical developments
in theological, religio-cultural and socio-political spheres. What kind of beliefs made it
possible that Christianity became a source for political in South Korea? How were their linked
to a process of fighting against political oppression and later on for a democratic government?
These are the leading questions that will be researched relying on some studies about the rise
of Christianity in (South) Korea during the 20th century. For my research I had access to the
library of the Methodist Seminary in Seoul. Besides important literature, there are two
important sources providing inside information and reflection about the missionary work in
Korea during the period between 1900 and 1930: Horace G. Underwood’s The Call of Korea
Mareike Heuer 000791-011
1
In the context of East Asia, recent statistics about the number of Christians in Japan estimate that 1,56% of
Japanese are Christians. See OFM United Kingdom
(http://www.omf.org.uk/content.asp?id=8509&chachefixer=). The numbers for China are inconsistent depending
on the origin of the source. Official Chinese statistics speak of 25 Million Christians in China. Some Western
Missions believe that the true number of Christians in China is likely to be 60 Million and up. See Paul
Davenport, New Government Statistics on China’s Christians, 2000. The US DEPARTMENT of STATE
mentions the number of about 20 Million believers. See U.S. DEPARTMENT of STATE, Bureau of East Asian
and Pacific Affairs, January 2007. (http://www.state.gov./r/pa/ei/bgn/18902.htm).
2
A scholar who argues in that direction: Andrew Kim,. „Korean Religious Culture and its Affinity to
Christianity: “The Rise of protestant Christianity in South Korea,.” 2000. Sociology of Religion, 2000, 61(2),
2000, (117-133) Seoul.

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and Charles Allen Clark’s The Korean Church And The Nevius Methods.3 These two works
will be put into the context of the development of Christian beliefs in Korea and be linked to
the question which circumstances favoured the spread of Christianity in Korea during the 20th
century. In this regard, the first part will focus on the implementation of Christian belief in
Korea between 1880 and 1945 and the historical background and its theological and religio-
cultural implications while the second part will further concentrate on the socio-political
consequences of the spread of Christianity in South Korea during the second half of the 20th
century.

Korean Christianity from 1880-1945: historical background and its theological and
religio-cultural implications

In contrast to Japan and China, Christian belief is wide spread in South Korea. Of most
singularity a foreigner will notice coming to Seoul will be the thousands of Christian red
crosses on top of houses and buildings. In many subway stations and important commercial
districts, Christians try to attract people for the Christian belief. Today, Christianity is the
largest religion in South Korea with 31.67% out of a population of about 48 Million people.4
The US Department of State estimates that among half of the population actively practicing
religion, 49% are Christians.5 How did Christian belief arrive in Korea?
The first Christians arrived much later in Korea than in China and Japan. Yi Sung-hun (1756-
1801) was the first Roman-Catholic Christian, who came back from a diplomatic mission to
Beijing, where he had accompanied his father starting to preach his new faith.6 He was a
Korean who had converted himself to the catholic belief. During the first part of the 19th
century the Catholic Church in Korea had to face persecution, while under the period of King
Ch’oljong (1849-1863) things improved slowly, because he was tolerant of the new doctrine.7

Mareike Heuer 000791-011

3
Horace G. Underwood, The Call of Korea, Political – Social – Religious. (1908) Reprint: Fleming H. Revell
Company, New York.
Charles Allen Clark, The Korean Church And The Nevius Methods. (1927) Reprint: Fleming H. Revell
Company, New York.
4
OMF International UK charity (2006)
(http://www.omf.org.uk/content.asp?id=8513&cachefixer=)
5
U.S. DEPARTMENT of STATE, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, January 2007.
(http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2800.htm)
6
Donald Baker, Christianity, in John H. Koo & Andrew C. Nahm (ed.) An Introduction to Korean Culture. (177-
200), Seoul 1997, 181.
7
Andrew E. Kim, History of Christianity in Korea: From Its Troubled Beginning to Its Contemporary Success, 4.
(http://www.kimsoft.com/1997/xhist.htm)

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The arrival of Protestantism was even later. After Emperor Kojong had allowed missionaries
to found schools and hospitals, the first Protestant missionaries came to Korea in 1884.8
The following year, the American Methodist missionary Henry G. Appenzeller arrived in
Korea and in 1887, the first Methodist church was built in Seoul following the organisation of
Methodist churches and the foundation of the Hyupsung Theological College in 1907.9 The
Methodists became one of the two large denominations who took the lead in bringing
Christianity to Korea. The other important denomination in Korea was the Presbyterian
denomination. In 1912, the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church of Korea was
established under the name “The Chosun Presbyterian Church”. What were and are the core
beliefs of these denominations?

The Methodists in Korea formulated their belief during the First General Conference of the
Korean Methodist Church in 1930. The main points are reflected in the ideas that God is the
Maker and ruler of all things, Jesus Christ as their teacher and Saviour of the World and the
Holy Spirit as Gods presence is guiding for comfort and for strength.10 The spiritual source of
the Methodist Church in (South) Korea is the Wonsan Spiritual Movement ignited by Robert
A. Hardie in 1903 focussing on everyday life such as early morning prayer, Bible reading,
Sunday service, and piety in daily life.11 The symbol of the Presbyterian denomination in
South Korea is a red coloured cross in front of a green scroll. The red cross presents Christ's
blood and the grace of God's salvation at the same time. The green coloured scroll presents
the hope and the will of the Korean Presbyterian Church. Overall the symbol portrays the
hope and the will of the General Assembly to witness the evangelization not only of Korea but
of the whole world based on the salvation through Christ’s blood.12 Both denominations have
in common that they focus strongly on the Word of God and that they see Jesus as the Saviour
of the World. Daily practise is also common to both beliefs. In this regard, religious believe
and religious praxis is influenced by the American missionaries and Korean church practises
resemble more those in the USA than in Europe where practising religion is less often an
integral part of daily life. Another form of expression is the Bible-cantered approach to faith,
which was emphasized by the early missionaries like Underwood.
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8
Idba, 183.
9
History of the Korean Methodist Church (http://kmc.or.kr/new_eng/about/about03.html).
10
Idba.
11
Ibda.
12
The Presbyterian Church of Korea (http://www.pck.or.kr/Eng/Intro/introduction.asp).

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All this has to be seen in the context of Korean beliefs before the arrival of missionaries. A
traditional believe in Korea was the concept of “Hananim”. Hananim meant traditionally “god
in heaven” but was not seen in a strict personal way. Like in China, the concept of heaven
comprises two aspects: on one hand it is an objective infinite reality, the “sky”; on the other
hand it is “God” or the supreme concept.13 The will of heaven was still not regarded as God in
the Christian sense, because it lacked the idea of the Creator of the World. Korean Christians
adopted this idea of Hananim to the Christian belief of God as the Creator of the World. The
missionaries succeeded in supporting this transformation by portraying their God similar to
the concept of Hananim as someone who attends all kinds of human needs. The belief in God
was similar to the belief in Hananim a way to emphasise the fulfilment of practical wishes
through faith in Hananim in the guise of Christianity.14 Concerning the belief in Jesus as the
Saviour of the World, Korean Christians developed a new idea about leadership. Traditionally,
a leader had to be strong. Jesus gave Korean Christians the feeling that this was not all the
truth. They discovered that weakness in a leader is not necessarily negative. To identify with
Jesus means to become his disciple, both in his pattern of life and in his suffering.15 Suffering
therefore was a truly religious experience and Jesus sufferings were identified with the
sufferings of ordinary people. The Holy Spirit finally was the experience of being reborn. By
receiving the Holy Spirit, someone was transformed directly while God was speaking through
him. This experience, which became widespread in Korea, was the transformation of
Shamanistic beliefs. Shamanists could directly contact spirits and gods who would speak
through them. But in contrast to Shamanistic beliefs, the Holy Spirit was open to everybody
who became a Christian and not reserved to certain people of the Congregation as it was
reserved to Shamans. In all these cases a successful transformation of traditional beliefs
passed the way for the spiritual expansion of Christian belief.

This transformation took place at a time where many ordinary Koreans suffered under the
decline of their last dynasty at the end of the 19th century. Missionaries were the first to
establish a complete system of education implementing modern curriculum including modern
and medical sciences in schools. They founded dozens of schools at all levels. Some of the
Mareike Heuer 000791-011

13
Zhang Dainian, Key concepts in Chinese Philosophy, Beijing 2002, 4.
14
Andrew Eungi Kim, Christiany, Shamanism, and Modernization in South Korea, 2000.
(http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_2000_Spring-Summer/ai_63300897/print 4.
15
Young-gi Hong, Modernity, Tradition, and Korean Protestantism: Church Growth and Pastoral Leadership, in:
Journal of Asian Mission 3/2 (185-211), 2001, 196.

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best universities in South Korea today were founded by missionaries.16 In addition, Koreans
were opened to several key values of modernity, such as freedom, human rights, democracy
and equality.17 Already at that time, early reformers such as Yun Ch’i-ho (1865-1945) and So
Chae-p’il (1866-1951) establishing Koreas first modern newspaper Independent in 1896,
argued that “Christianity, modernization, and national independence went hand in hand. They
were thinking in particular of the United States, where they had both studied and where they
had both noticed a large Protestant population.”18 Korea was in turmoil at that time sliding
slowly under Japanese domination. Therefore it is important to realize that Protestantism now
was linked to the movement for an independent Korean country.
Horace G. Underwood who was among the first Protestant missionaries in Korea, argued in
the context of the Korean political situation, that there were three way to implement Christian
belief. Firstly, he hoped to reform and modernise the country, secondly, making the church
more important and finally helping the Koreans against the Japanese aggressions.19
Underwood found the conditions for missionary work in Korea advantageous writing in 1907:
“The progress of Christianity is unprecedented. Native churches, instead of depending on
foreign aid, are becoming self-supporting, self-governing, self-propagating.”20 And he sees
Koreans as being more open towards Christianity than the Japanese and Chinese because
they’re less bound to their old religions: “There are not as slavishly bound by superstition, not
as devoted to their old religions, not as faithful, perhaps, to the traditions of the past, as the
Chinese, nor so imitative and ambitious as the Japanese.”21 Underwood emphasizes clearly the
point between the political context and the rise for a spiritual experience that gave room for
new ways of practising faith. Contrary to China and Japan, Protestantism in particular was
seen by those who were unsatisfied with the politics at the end of the Yi-Dynasty to
modernize Korea independently from those two countries and it was a success.
It was during this period that the shaping of the characteristics of Korean churches took place.
In the beginning evangelization was spread through Bible study and prayer meetings under
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16
James Huntley Grayson, Early Buddhism and Christianity in Korea. A Study in the Emplamantation of
Religion, Leiden, 1985, 118.
17
Andrew Eungi Kim, Christiany, Shamanism, and Modernization in South Korea. (2000), 1-2.
(http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_2000_Spring-Summer/ai_63300897/print)
18
Donald Baker, 185.
19
James Jin-Hong Kim, Bible versus Guns: Horace G. Underwood’s Evangelization in Korea, in: Asia Pacific
PERSPECTIVES, Volume V, Number 1, December 2004, (33-37), 33.
(http://www.pacificrim.usfca.edu/research/perspectives)
20
Horace G. Underwood, 13.
21
Horace G. Underwood, 46.

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the leadership of evangelical missionaries from North America until 1920. Then followed a
wave of Pentecostal revival through the actions of Methodist minister Yong-Do (1901-33),
who committed himself to the flame of God’s love. 22 A third Pentecostal revival developed
after the introduction of the idea of the Holy Spirit in 1928. After the Korean War, this
movement took off during the period of Pure Gospel (Sunbogeum).
Today scholars like Park Jae Soon argue that the Korean spirit was suppressed for more than
1000 years, because the literati in particular were strongly worshiping Chinese culture. When
the modern idea of nationalism arrived in Korea in the 19th century, the national independence
movement was looking to integrate new learning from the West and the national spirit on the
basis of Christian faith.23 This movement even went so far to announce that the independence
and prosperity of a nation are based on civil rights and a free press.24 This idea provided
“inspiration and momentum to the subsequent anti-Japanese independence movement.”25
Even though the movement failed when Korea became Japanese protectorate in 1905 and five
years later a Japanese colony, for many Koreans the Christian belief now became a rebellion
against all imperial powers and political suppression. In an incident in 1911 Japanese police
charged Shinminhoe for conspiring to assassinate Governor-General Terauchi Masatake.
Shinminhoe, which means New Peoples Association, was an organization, which was
dedicated to strengthen Korean Education and the Korean economy with the aim of fighting
the Japanese in the long run, for conspiring to assassinate Governor-General Terauchi
Masatake. This took place at a town in northern Korea, which was over half Christian. Almost
700 Koreans were arrested by Colonial Authorities and 105 of them brought to trial. Most of
those indicted were Protestants.26 As a result, Protestant Christianity had gotten an even
stronger nationalist image. The idea of suffering in the name of Jesus was now a helpful
spiritual experience replacing the old idea of the “Mandate of Heaven”. Suffering was now a
personal experience which gave strength in the resistance to the Japanese oppressors. In the
independence movement of 1919, this image was further strengthened. In the same year,

22
Pentecostalism, a worldwide Protestant movement that originated in the 19th century United States, takes its
name from the Christian feast of Pentecost, which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.
Pentecostalism emphasizes a postconversion experience of spiritual purification and empowering for Christian
witness, entry into which is signaled by utterance in unknown tongues (Glossolalia / Speaking in Tongues.
Elwell Evangelical Dictionary (http://www.mb-soft.com/believe/txc/pentecos.htm).
23
Park Jae Soon, Ham Seok-heon’s National Spirit and Christian Thought: in Korean Philosophy: Its Tradition
and Modern Transformation. (519-554), Seoul 2004, 521.
24
Shin Yong-ha. The Social Thought of the Independence Club, in Korean Philosophy: Its Tradition and Modern
Transformation. (421-439),Seoul 2004, 429.
25
Idba, 439.
26
Donald Baker, 187.

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Mareike Heuer 000791-011

March 1st, 33 prominent Koreans, out of which 16 were Christian, denounced Japanese
colonial rule and asserted the Korean people’s desire for independence.27 Until today, this
event of the independent movement in 1919 is one of the most important facts in modern
Korean history. Again here, Protestantism, because of its achievement at that time, is linked
today not to Protestantism as a foreign religion, but to a religion which strengthens Korean
nationality. Charles Allen Clark, who was a missionary in Korea for more than 30 years,
wrote in 1927: “…; an independent national Church of 1610000 believers, fully self-
governing in every sense of the word, pre-eminently self-propagating, and almost self-
supporting: a Church which seems to have solved most of the problems of comity or organic
union with its neighbour churches, …yet with the most cordial relations continuing between
itself and the missionaries…”28 Clark describes how strong the Christian movement had
become, not depending anymore on the missionaries but still open towards them. And it was
the fact that many leading figures had become Christians.29 The belief in one God as Creator
and Jesus as the one who took the sufferings on his shoulders transformed this spiritual belief
into a social and political action. To resist the Japanese could be done in the name of Jesus
and God. This belief encouraged many Korean Christians and those who gave their live for
the cause of a free Korean nation became martyrs of their country.

Korean Christianity during the second half of the 20th century: the socio-political
consequences of the rise of Christian belief

After Korea was divided into North and South Korea in 1948 and the Korean War (1950-
1953), the rise of Christianity took off. The main ideas of the Independence Movement had
not been realized in South Korea and their first President, Syngman Rhee, didn’t recognize
the Korean people’s desire of freedom and independence by becoming an autocrat leader.30
Even though he cultivated the Christian government during his presidency, he ruled the
country dictatorial and undemocratic in many ways.31 Now Christian belief could spread,
because the political situation did not fulfil the hopes and dreams of many Koreans.
Mareike Heuer 000791-011
27
Idba, 187.
28
Charles Allen Clark, 18.
29
Won Sul Lee, Korean Culture and Worldview: in KOREAN CULTURE. (201-215), Seoul 1993, 215.
30
John Kie-chiang Oh. Political Tradition and Contemporary Politics and Government: in KOREAN CULTURE.
(219-243), Seoul 1993, 234.
31
Asian Studies Events at Harvard, Winter 2000. Volume IV, No. 1.
(http://www.asiaquarterly.com/content/view/62/40)

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The devastating effects of the Korean War lead to Sunbogeum movement. It was characterized
by the faith in the Holy Spirit. Many Koreans were attracted because they could find relief for
their sufferings by being reborn in an almost shamanistic way. God spoke through the
newborn believers healing them from their daily sufferings and losses.
In 1961 the authoritarian rule of Park Chung-hee began followed Chun Doo-hwan’s 19 years
later during which period South Korea enjoyed unprecedented economic growth from one of
the poorest countries in Asia into a modern industrial country/society. On the other hand a
political framework on the basis of the ideas of liberty and democracy didn’t develop. During
President Park Chung-hee’s military rule, the Christian community opposed the undemocratic
tactics of the Park regime. They mainly fought against the low-wage, export-driven
development model, which privileged the emerging business class without providing labour
rights. Particularly in the 1970’s, the contradiction between church and government became
acute after a state of national emergency had been declared by Park Chung-hee.32 Christian
belief now transformed into a model of Korean identity which on the one side was open to the
Korean experiences of history and oppression as many Korean Christians saw it and on the
other side could also be seen as the main political alternative to military dictatorship.
Christian belief appealed mainly to the underprivileged social strata, because it encouraged
ideas like equality and liberation from poverty. The Confucianism values which emphasized
the hierarchal structure of society in which the unprivileged saw their life as destiny, was not
appealing to them anymore. In the gospel they could read and feel their individuality and their
longing for a better life. Finally they had a chance to become active and change their social
life. During the military dictatorship of Chun-Doo Hwan, Christian belief spread further from
2.3 Million in 1970, 5 Million in 1980 up to 10 Million in 1990. Sung-Deuk Oak, a teacher of
the history of Korean Christianity, sees one reason for it in the development of a sense of
community in the churches among poor and middle class residents of urban areas due to
industrialization and urbanization.33
Konstantine Vassiliev, a scholar of Korean studies, states that “in the workplace, Christian
values were introduced and reinforced through programs of industrial and army chaplaincy
that were established in the 1950s and increased their influence during the 1960s and 1970s.
These programs were very successful in factories and mines because of the strategy of
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32
Idba
33
Cynthia K. Buccini, Korean Christianity School of Theology, December 13, 2004.
(http://www.bu.edu./sth/focus/2004/spring/korean/index.html)

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dispatching worker-evangelists to spread the Gospel man-to-man in a natural, informal
setting.”34 Vassiliev argues that Korean modernization was mainly put into place by the
Korean people themselves.
One important consequence of the mixture of Christian belief and the claim for social changes
lead to a new Christian theology in South Korea during the 1970s: the Minjung-Theology.
While the Sunbogeum movement had emphasized on the individual spiritual experience, in
Minjung-Theology in contrast, Christian faith became an inspiration for social change. One of
the leading thinkers in the Minjung-Theology was Ham Seok-heon. During his life he stood
out of public office and resisted any kind of oppression. He identified himself with the
Christian grassroots movements and declared that the basic principle in life is to act
independently. He regarded God as the spirit of acting independently, therefore wanted “the
world he created to reach the state of life that helps itself”. He claimed that “petulance is the
habit of the slave and complaint is the property of the loser”.35 Therefore everybody should
respect ones own dignity and free oneself from political and cultural subordination and
submission.36 The essence of the Minjung-Theology in the regard of its followers was the
improvement of the social condition of the unprivileged and the claim for a political change
towards democracy. Christian identity also became a key to the family’s ability to overcome
political pressure and to win respect in their community. In this regard, the Minjung-Theology
can be linked to the Human rights movement in South Korea in the 1970’s.37 During this
period numerous Christian mission groups in South Korea were founded or further developed.
Important mission groups were the Urban Industrial mission organization, Christian student
mission organization, the Christian Faculty Fellowship, the National Council of Churches in
Korea, etc. These mission groups/organizations received leadership and coordination from the
National Council of Churches in Korea. They mainly committed themselves to protect the
human rights of workers, farmers and urban poor.38 In 1974, this council set u p a Human
Rights Commission providing legal aid for political prisoners who had protested against the
dictatorship and organized campaigns for their release. The success of the Minjung-Theology
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34
Konstantine Vassiliev, Industrialization and Christianity: The Twin Engines of Korean Modernity, 96.
(http://www.koreagsis.ac.kr/research/journal/vol8/8-06-vassiliev.pdf)
35
Park Jae Soon, 522.
36
Ibda, 523.
37
Changwon Kohn Suh, Union Theological Seminary, A formulation of Minjung Theology: Toward a
Sociohistorical Theology of Asia (Korea).
(http://www.digitalcommons.librraries.columbia.edu/dissertations/AAI8622839)
38
Theology and Minjung in Korea. An Introduction to Korean Theological development in the 1970’s, 78.
(http://www.ibiblio.org/ahkiji/wscfap/arms1974/Book%20Series/Ferment&Protest/appendix.ht)

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until 1988 was the combination of missionary and social work under political dictatorship to
improve the life conditions of the disadvantaged in the society, demanding the change of the
political system towards democracy. To be more effective, a lot of the “Minjung Missionaries”
lived and worked together with the poor in order to understand their life conditions better.
Working in the poor quarters in and around Seoul, the concept of the democratic power of the
people was introduced. They started to demand the right to have clean water or garbage
collections service from the city administration.39
In early 1987, Chun-Doo Hwan decided to retain the restricted constitution from 1972, which
meant that he wanted to continue his military dictatorship. Large demonstrations occurred,
among them many students and Christians. Roh-Tae Woo won the first democratic elections
in December 1987, setting the path towards democracy. Kim Young-Sam won the elections in
1992 followed by Kim Dae-Jung in 1997. Kim Young-Sam and Kim Dae-Jung were both
severely Christian. Kim Young-Sam had been strongly supported by evangelical leaders while
Kim Dae-Jung invited evangelical and Pentecostal pastors to lead prayer services at the
President’s house.40 In 1993, before becoming President, he expressed his strong religious
view with the following words: “All my hard trials experienced in the past – imprisonment,
frequent detention, torture and forced exiles – happened in the process of God’s redemptive
work, and in that sense, I think, I have also participated in God’s salvation project.”41 This
shows how much the Christianity is not seen as a foreign religion, but one the Korean people
can open up to and identify with.

Conclusion

The identification with Christian belief in Korea succeeded because it developed in the
framework of traditional beliefs and social values. Young-gi Hong, the Vice-president of the
institute for Church Growth in South Korea, is convinced that modernity was introduced to
Korea together with protestant mission. “However”, he states “the historical fact is that the
traditional religions and culture downplayed by the Korean church have persisted in modern
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39
Idba, 76-77.
40
Historical Overview of Pantacostalism in South Korea.
(http://www.pewforum.org/surveys/pentercostal/countries/?CountryID=194)
41
Korean leader sees God’s work in his life – Kim, Dae Jung – Brief Article. National Catholic Reporter, June
30, 2000.
(http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1141/is_33_36/ai_63564700)

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Korean society over the cause of time…Confucian thought still dominates the thinking of the
majority of the Korean people and it has a continuing impact, even on the practice of Korean
Christians….it is a misconception to think that modernity has made Korea more westernized
and less traditional in the light of Koreans’ way or thinking and action.”42 Andrew Kim
emphasizes the point that the process of conversion to Christianity in Korea was a conversion
of the traditional religious form with a modern Western Doctrine.43 The society itself was and
still is based on Confucian values like positive attitude of the affairs of the world, a sustained
life style of discipline and self-cultivation, respect for authority and familial collectivism.44 On
the other hand, traditional beliefs were not fit to explain the sufferings of many Koreans
during their experiences of Japanese colonization, the division of the country, political
suppression until 1988 and social injustice.

It is compelling to see that Underwood understood the openness for the new religion and how
it would effect the future of Korea: “It seems to me that I can see plainly before me today a
new Korea – a nation emancipated, completely emancipated, politically, intellectually,
spiritually, from a thraldom of misrule, ignorance, and superstition – a Christian Korea.”45
Even though it seems to be going too far to consider South Korea as a Christian, the spiritual
experiences of God as Creator, Jesus as the example of suffering and the Holy Spirit as a way
of experiencing directly God opened the path towards a Christian faith that was compelling
for more and more Koreans and became at the same time a force for political change. During
the period from 1880 until 1945, theological and religio-cultural aspects shaped the
characteristics of Korean Christianity. This shape was strongly influenced by American
missionaries. In the tradition of Bible study and the Holy Spirit movement, Korean
Christianity was characterized by integrating these ideas into their own expression of
Christian believe as in the Sunbogeum movement. After the Korean War, this tradition were
strengthened but later, under the political and economical changes transformed into a more
political theology as the Minjung- Theology.
Today Christian organizations have become a major part of South Korean civil society. With
the establishment of new freedom within a democratic society, Korean Christians have had to
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42
Young-gi Hong., 188,189.
43
Konstantin Vassiliev, 89.
44
Kwang Yeong-Shin, Chulhee Chung. Cultural Tradition and Democracy in South Korea, 52.
(http://arts.monash.edu.au/korean/ksaa/conference/04chulheechungkwangyeongshin.pdf)
45
Horace G. Underwood, 125.

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find a new role in a society where, for the first time in a century, the absolute number of
Christians by 2000 has remained static but nevertheless the most widespread among all
religions. Its transformation is set to continue.

Words: 3998

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(http://www.asiaquarterly.com/content/view/62/40)
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(177-200), Seoul.
Buccini, Cynthia K. 2004. Korean Christianity School of Theology, December 13.
(http://www.bu.edu./sth/focus/2004/spring/korean/index.html)
Changwon Kohn Suh, Union Theological Seminary, A formulation of Minjung Theology: Toward a
Sociohistorical Theology of Asia (Korea).
(http://www.digitalcommons.librraries.columbia.edu/dissertations/AAI8622839)
Clark, Charles Allen. 1927. The Korean Church And The Nevius Methods. Reprint: Fleming H. Revell
Company, New York.
Dainian, Zhang,, 2002, Key concepts in Chinese Philosophy, Beijing.
Davenport,Paul. 2000. New Government Statistics on China’s Christians.
(http://www.worthynews.com/news-features/compass-china-survey.html) .
Elwell Evangelical Dictionary (http://www.mb-soft.com/believe/txc/pentecos.htm).
Grayson, James Huntley. 1985. Early Buddhism and Christianity in Korea. A Study in the Implementation of
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