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In one of our lectures in Church History and Doctrines II, our professor, Dr. Noel
Guzman, mentioned that the center of Christianity now is South Korea. Being in a Korean
sponsored seminary, I got to see how wide the scope of Christianity (Protestantism in particular)
in Korea is, not to mention the number of members in Jooan Methodist Church. I also learned
that there are already many Korean missionaries in different areas in the world including the
Philippines. Their spiritual life is also remarkable, marked by active prayer life and dedication to
attend worship services even in the dawn. With these ideas on hand, it is very interesting to know
how Korean Christianity started and how it progressed so that we will discover how it ended to
be this colossal and influential to other countries.
The vitality of Korean Christianity, I believe, is a result of the exceptional and rich
history of the peninsula paired with dynamic leadership that began in the early times. The
remarkable growth of Korean Christianity has indeed brought a lot of interrogations in the minds
of the people, for in their heart is planted a desire to achieve a similar status with the Korean
Church. Thus, this paper will answer most of those queries regarding the notable growth of the
Korean church which in one way or another aroused the interests and influence other Christians
in other countries.
This paper tackles the History of Korean Christianity, which will then lead us to the
factors or their characteristics which made them a very significant figure in the world of
Christianity today. This will also address the query on how they influenced Korea and the world
as a whole and the extent of their influence in the Christian domain.

Historical Background of Korean Christianity
The Old Religions of Korea Prior to Christianity
Prior to the outgrowth of Christianity, Koreans were already very religious. George
Herbert Jones describes the devoutness of Koreans before by saying, The Korean is a religious
man. He is no atheist. It might be said of him as Paul said of the Athenians of old; he is very
religious, for he finds gods everywhere. All nature is animated with them. He has a dim
conception of continued existence after death, as his worship of the dead clearly indicates.1
Animism in Korea, the awareness of supernatural power and fear of spirits, in a way or so,
contributed in Koreas embrace of Christianity in the long run. The vast majority of Koreans
practiced their religious life by way of six traditional expressions, namely shamanism,
Taechonkyo [The Great Religion], Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Chuntokyo

[Heavenly Way Religion].2

Shamanism is somehow related to Korean Christianity although possessing such different
characteristics with it because perspective of Koreans toward Christianity has residues
from Shamanism; like for example, they believe that Christianity is a path to material
prosperity. Shamanism is coined as the beliefs and practices related to persons called
Shamans who display magico-religious powers with the aid of spirits. Shaman is taken

11. Dr. John T. Kim, Protestant Church Growth in Korea (Canada: Essence Publishing, 1996), 29.
22. Ibid.

from the Siberian Tungusic aman 3 Korean folk religion is actually represented by
Shamanism. There is a more concrete definition of Shamanism of Korea, stated in the
thesis book of Jin Woo Lee, which he got from the Hankook Minjok Munhwa Daebaekgwa Sajon
[Encycopedia on the National Culture], "the crystallization of the religious consciousness of the
common class deeply rooted within the minds of the Korean people and is the very lively
internalized religious phenomenon."4 Shamans believe in the spirits of the heavens/air, soil,
water, house, trees and free-lance spirits. Shamans still exist at present.
Taechongkyo is Koreas oldest religion, which now has a small number of followers; yet, it has
evidently influenced succeeding religious movements. It is actually a recreation of Shamanism
but is more organized and systematized.5 It exists longer than Korean Buddhism. It exists for
approximately 4,000 years and represents the concept of triune God: creator, teacher and
temporal king whose name is Hanul (Heavenly God). The counterpart of Jesus in Taechongkyo is
Tangun, the human form of Hanul, who is the father, teacher and king of Korean people.6 In the
outburst of foreign religions, this religion slowly declined until such time it virtually ebbed.
Confucianism on the other hand, came to Korea in 1122 BC.7 Confucianism, as known by many
people, was originally from China; and Korea had practically similar Confucian doctrines with
that of China. The theological concept behind Confucianism is the unbelief in the transcendent
33. Keith Crim, Gen. Ed., Dictionary of Living Religions (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1981),
44. Jin-Woo Lee, The Influence Of Shamanism on Korean Churches and How to Overcome it (Doctor of Ministry
Thesis, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, 2000), 11.
55. Kim., 46.

66. Ibid.,
77. Charles Allen Clark, Religions of Old Korea (Seoul, Korea: The Christian Literature, 1961), 91.

personal God which is sometimes characterized as the wholly other; yet having faith in the
ultimate goodness and all-embracing divinity of human nature which is decreed by Heaven to be
completely realized through the conscious and conscientious mental activity.8 It is already not
practiced in Korea today.
Buddhism in Korea has been existing for about 1,600 years, and through that historical length, it
has achieved profound religious tradition and shaped a distinctive culture.9 Buddhism reached
the Korean soil in the late 4th century, and Korean Buddhism is characterized by Liberality of
Indigenous Culture, Protecting the nation and the people, and harmonization of Buddhist theory
and practice, which has then improved Koreans way of living with peace, self-esteem and
spiritual values.10
Taoism is not as influential as Buddhism or Confucianism, but its way of worship attracted many
Koreans since it is congruent with Koreans animistic beliefs. Taoists devised ways to harness
higher powers for humane ends.11 Taoism promised health. Strength, longetivity and fecundity;
thus it is a religion of governing the body.12 Although Koreans performed Taoism practices, it
never became an organized cult13; thus leading it to diminish in popularity.
88. George A. De Vos and Takao Sofue, eds., Religion and the Family in East Asia (London, England:
University of California Press, 1984), 112.
99. The Korean Buddhist Institute, The History and Culture of Buddhism in Korea (Seoul, Korea: Dongguk
University Press, 1993), 23.

1010. Ibid., 30-34.

1111. Huston Smith, The Illustrated Worlds Religions (United States of America: HarperCollins
Publishers, 1994), 133.
1212. Kim., 53.
1313. Clark., 128.

As part of the miscellaneous cults in Korea, the Chuntokyo cult claims to be the largest religious
body is Korea; in fact its members are approximately three or four million. The name of the
organization means Doctrine of Heavenly Way.14 Amazingly, it actually has an almost identical
belief with Christians because their emphasis in Chun Chu, Hamanim and Sangchei are the same
words Christians use to describe their personal God15(these are all one and the same Person,
which is God). It looks as if Chuntokyo is a conduit to Christianity, if ever this cult would pass
The Rise of Christianity in Korea
Koreans first touch with the Christian gospel was indirect, and came three hundred years before
Buddhism itself entered Korean territory.16 A lot of sources agreed that before Christianity
reached the Korean soil, Korea was helpless, unhappy and under tragic circumstance. It is due to
the outbreak of World War I, wherein Korean people suffered again and again in the power
struggle of the concluding decades in the nineteenth century and the first six decades of the
twentieth century because the ambitious neighbors Japan, China and Russia fought over
annexing the peninsula. When Japan won and took possession of Korea, the patriots of the said
country created an upheaval against them.17 Christianity appears to have been introduced to
Korea in the 1590s in liaison with the Japanese invasion initiated by Japanese Christians in the
army. It was in the eighteenth century, particularly 1784, that Christianity had a continuing

1414. Ibid., 144.

1515. Clark, 169-172.
1616. Clark., 220.

1717. Kenneth Scott Latourette, The Twentieth Century Outside Europe (Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), 412.

history in Korea.18 Roman Catholicism was the first to be introduced through Korean contacts
with missionaries in China. The small minorities embraced it and there were converts; however,
severe, persistent persecutions followed which took thousands of lives, and the cessation of
persecutions only happened with the establishment of treaty relations between Korea and
Western powers.19 After the treaty relations, Christianity continued. There was an increase of
Roman Catholic missionaries from Europe and France, followed by Protestant missionaries from
United States; and the first Protestant missionaries to do so were the Presbyterians and the
Methodists, who gave way to chief growth of Protestantism in the Peninsula.20 That time then,
the Protestant converts outgrew the Roman Catholics; simply because of the Protestant inception
which is predominantly self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing.21
In sum, Christianity covered the globe in 1914,22 finally taking root in East Asia, particularly in
Korea because of the efforts of Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries. Before, Christians
comprised very small minorities, around one percent of the population. Although there had been
times that faith was driven underground in the North Korea, it thrived in the South since
thousands of Christians migrated in the South, and by 1985, one sixth of the Korean population
was held to be professedly Christian, with 1,323, 091 Protestants, 242, 034 Roman Catholics and

1818. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press, 1999),
1919. Latourette, The Twentieth Century Outside Europe, 413.
2020. Latourette, A History of Christianity, 1327-1328.
2121. Latourette, The Twentieth Century Outside Europe, 423.

2222. Latourette, A History of Christianity, 1330.

200 Russian Orthodox.23 MacCulloch describes the role of Christianity in Korean life during that
Christianitys place in Korean life and its capacity to reflect the nations suffering and
pride contrasted with the faiths lack of penetration in the culture occupying power,
Japan. Here, then, Christianity was a symbol of resistance to colonialism, not its
accompaniment. That consciousness has shaped the extraordinary dynamism of Korean
Christianity in the last half century. 24
If Christianity grew rapidly, what happened to the old religions of Korea then? Latourette
Buddhism, once strong, has been declining for centuries and was all but moribund.
Confucianism had influenced the elite but had not gripped the masses. As in China, it was
suffering from the impact of revolutionary age. Among the majority, religion was a form
of shamanism, not very far removed from animism; it could offer slight resistance to the
sophistication which came with revolutionary age. In the new and fluid society,
Christianity had an opportunity such as offered itself in peoples of primitive or nearprimitive culturesmany Koreans welcomed it with the sense of security which it gave
in a world where the inherited structures were crumbling and the hereditary beliefs about
the universe were undermined. 25
Up to the present, the root of Christianity in Korea is still solid especially in the South although it
is not necessarily the primary religion as manifested in their prayer life, way of worship and
unrelenting and active missionary works.
The Influence of Korean Christianity
Before, Europe was the center of Christianity, but by the mid-1980s, it became profusely
evident that the center of Christianity was moving to the East (and that includes Korea); and the
2323. Latourette, The Twentieth Century Outside Europe, 422-423.
2424. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York, United States of
America: Penguin Books, 2009), 902.
2525. Latourette, The Twentieth Century Outside Europe, 423.

decline of Christianity in Europe was fast-tracking.26Christianity, the most active of all

missionary religions in Korea, perceptibly made its way after years and centuries of dissonance,
leaving in its wake the mangled bodies of its martyrs, yet paving the trail for better things in
modern Chosen.27 The rich account of the rise of Christianity of Korea and the history of
persecutions made Korean Christianity firm, thus leading to the growth of their churches. Sung
Kuh Chung stated in his book that there are elements that made the Korean Church achieve
tremendous growth; but all these elements can be summed up in one sentence; the providence
of God who works all through the agesand the passion and zeal of Korean pastors.28 These
elements that contributed to the fascinating Korean church growth actually influenced other
countries in adapting the same practices so that Christianity will also boom in those places.
These practices are actually results of the trials and divisions in Korean history, making the
church grow with the spirit of unwavering faith and martyrdom.
There are distinct characteristics and activities of Korean Christians which made it very
influential and a better term to describe it would be inspiring to different areas in the world.
The Koreans were so determined to make their churches grow; and that trait motivated other
nationalities. This is confirmed by Sung in his statement, Their zeal and passion were so big
that it was a custom in the conversation among pastors who meet each other for the first time, to
ask each other, How many people do you have in your church?29
2626. G. Thompson Brown, How Koreans are Reconverting the West (United States of America: Xlibris
Corporation, 2008), 46.

2727. Clark., 257.

2828. Sung-Kuh Chung, Korean Church and Reformed Faith (Seattle, Washington: Time Printing, 1996),
2929. Sung, 21.

First is the evangelism. The cutting edge of the Korean Christianitys vision is the ministry of
evangelism. They adapted the term world evangelization as part of their goal which came from
Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."30 According
to Caber, the vision God gives begins in the local, to the regional, then to the national and then
world, for God minister in all parts of the globe.31
The Korean church highlighted evangelism for both upper and lower classes with accord.
This has an effect on other parts of the world, as stated by Sung: After all, as in seen in other
place of the world, there had not been such a criticism against Christianity, nor weakness for
communists, resulted from the indifference of evangelism for the lower society in Korea.32 One
remarkable event in Korea which led to a great deal of church growth is the Great Revival
Movement in 1907 which exploded at January 16, on a Wednesday night prayer meeting which
stimulated the peoples passion for evangelism and led them to confession and repentance. This
profound experience of faith and fervor for prayer spread all over the country and thus the
growth of the church was intensely influenced by this movement. 33 In fact, all over the world,
the revival of the church can be seen only in Brazil, Nigeria and Korea.34 This major event
played a vital role not only to Koreans but to the world en bloc, as they have adapted this event
3030. Acts 1:8, NIV

3131. Paul Yonggi Cho, ed., Church Growth Manual No. 3 (Seoul, Korea: Church Growth International,
1990), 78.
3232. Sung, 22.
3333. Sung, 23.
3434. Ibid., 31.

as well in reviving their churches. Another form of evangelism practiced by Korean Christians
that are adapted by other countries as well is the cell group ministry. Larry Lea stated one
important point about cell ministry: The pastor or main leader of the Church must believe that
the cell ministry, or the care ministry is central to Biblical revelation and is the key to church
growth and that he must be willing personally to do that ministry.35 The marked contribution of
cell group ministry to the growth of the Korean church has indeed motivated other countries to
utilize the same strategy in their churches, especially the United Methodist Church, since the idea
originated from John Wesley.
Second is the mission. Christian mission has been successful in the peninsula, partly because the
early missionaries who brought the gospel were comparatively evangelical and conservative; and
these workers tried reaching and conveyed the gospel to those who belong to both the upper and
lower rank with balance.36And at present, Korea is not only performing its mission work within
the peninsula, but extending the mission in different parts of the world. Sung affirms this by
saying, the Korean Church is moving toward the foreign missions. When constructive
criticism and appropriate adjustments are given, the Korean Christians shall follow the American
Missionaries.37 It is a fact that Koreans are very well-known for mission. Truth be told, the
Korean missionary enterprise is emerging as a powerhouse for mission.38 From the very start, the
Korean church tagged itself a missionary church; in fact, there was a case when the first seven
students graduated from the seminary, it was agreed that one of them would be sent out as a
3535. Cho., 58.
3636. Sung., 26.
3737. Sung., 31.
3838. Brown, 16.

missionary.39 The influence of Korean Christianity to mission is indeed apparent. Brown quoted
Steve Moon to affirm this: Given the numerous foreign invasions and occupations the Korean
people have endured in their history, we can view Koreans heavy involvement in foreign
missions as one of the biggest surprises in the history of the missionary movements.40 The
Korean diaspora are on the move. They are migrating to Europe, Central Asia, Muslim lands; and
the way Paul began with the Jews of the Diaspora, the Korean missionaries begin with their own
people and then spread the gospel to interested listeners. As Brown quoted Dr. Jung Won Suh:
As Korean Diaspora has reached the number of approximately 6 million out of a 70
million Korean population. This ration makes it the second largest after the Jews.
Scattered throughout over 70 countries, including 2 million in China, over 1 million in
North America, about 700,000 in Japan, 400,000 in Central Asia and Russia, the Korean
diaspora is the most scattered peoples group in the world.41
This goes to show how wide the scope Korean mission is. And with these data on hand, these
gives an impression that Korean Christianity, especially in the aspect of mission, is indeed
influential. Prof. Jung Woon Suh describes the impact of Korean Christianity to world mission:
The church of a small, weak nation, the Korean church was refined like pure gold amid
many sufferings and hardships. The Korean people were scattered all over the world due
to weakness and poverty, but I believe all this did not happen by chance. This was all
simply part of Gods plan to use Korean Christians as an important instrument of the
twenty-first century world mission.
Third, Korean Christians stressed the importance of education for 100 years for they
believed that the more the churches become active for the growth; and now in Seoul, there are
approximately 300 seminaries and 4000 congregations.42 And now, all over the world, Korean
3939. Ibid., 46.
4040. Ibid., 47.
4141. Brown., 47.
4242. Sung., 29.

missionaries have established theological institutions including our very own Bishop Han
Theological Seminary.
What truly makes Korean Christianity influential? Because of the marked increase of church
growth in Korea brought about by their different visions, strategies, goals and their heart for
mission, Korean Christianity has become a role model for other nations. These are the
fundamentals why Korean Christianity is worth emulating according to Brown:
A. Missionary Theology- Professor Suh has been profoundly concerned that the theology
taught in the seminary must support the evangelical calling of the missionary
B. Practice of Prayer- Korean Christians relied on prayer for the success of their
missionary enterprise. They used prayer not as a fallback position when all else
failed; but is a habit woven into the very fabric of daily life. They hold prayer
meetings which began during the days of Korean struggles when church members
gathered to pray for peace and harmony.
C. Spirituality- The characters of the Korean Church are meekness and powerlessness;
the very characteristics of Jesus Christ. Sorrow and pain are interlaced in the Korean
church but this weakness became their strength.
D. Korean Characteristics- Koreans are known as people who are ready to undergo highrisk tasks. In other words, passionate. They also have endurance, resulting from their
past history of suffering and surviving impossible odds. They are also loyal; they are
cohesive in terms of interpersonal relations and individuals have high degree of
commitment and sacrifice for the sake of the whole body.43

4343. Brown., 75-79.

These traits, when summed up, comprise the very core why Korean Christianity has a
huge effect not only within the peninsula but to the world of Christianity in totality.

It is no doubt that the solid foundation on Korean Christianity was rooted upon their past
experience of bedlam, persecutions, pains and sufferings under war. Instead of becoming weak,
the upshot was stronger Koreans with intense spirits whose primary goal was church growth.
With their fervor for church growth, they have strengthened their ministries backed up with

theologies, which eventually led to visible church growth especially in the Christian sect. The
intense growth during the 18th centuries went on until the present age and it is so evident that it
got the attention of other countries and nations. There arose the curiosity of other areas and
Christian denominations as to what are the reasons for the progress and activeness of Korean
This paper summarized the possible factors which contributed to the growth of the
Korean Church, and these factors have somehow motivated the countries outside the peninsula to
adapt the Korean way of evangelizing and doing mission. Bishop Han Theological Seminary is
actually one of the fruits of the Korean missionary enterprise, and a product of progressive
Korean Christianity. I believe it is not only because of their strategies; their success is ingrained
from their characters which were shaped from the historical tyranny. Even if we emulate their
example, if we do not start from our very crux, and that is our inside self, our characters, our
aspiration for the growth of our Christian church will be to no avail.
However, since Korea has become the center of Christianity, it is helpful to look at how
they reached their status. Then again, the application those principles to our churches is a gradual
process especially that there are already established programs; and we will have to look into
many determinants such as the context and culture. But indeed, we cannot dispute that Korean
Christianity has indeed shook and startled the Christian world, as if awakening it from slumber.