Church & World: Koreans Leave Christian Reformed Denomination

• John E. Kim leads 15 churches, CRC’s Second-Largest Church to secession

• First General Synod of Korean Reformed Presbyterian Church in America to meet in October; expected to have at least 9 classes, 55 congregations

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. (August 9,1993) – Long-simmering Korean dissent against trends in the Christian Reformed denomination finally boiled over at an August 2 meeting in Los Angeles attended by 30 Korean church leaders who voted to call for the formation of a new Korean denomination. The convening chairman of the preparation meeting was Dr. John E. Kim, senior pastor of Los Angeles Korean CRC whose 1440 members make it not only the largest Korean church in the denomination but also the CRC’s second largest congregation of any ethnic background. Only the 2667-member Sunshine Ministry Center in Grand Rapids is larger than Los Angeles Korean CRC.

Tentatively named the Korean Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, the new denomination’s first General Synod is scheduled to meet on October 18 and 19. According to Kim, fifteen of the CRC’s 47 Korean congregations are already committed to joining.


In addition to the 15 seceding eRC congregations—which include all of the large Korean churches in the denomination—Kim said 40 other Korean congregations, some former members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and others which are currently independent, had committed themselves to join the new denomination.

While many churches in the new body are located in California, others are spread from Hawaii to Florida. Kim said the planning committee had set a deadline of September 30 for organizing regional classes and anticipated that nine classes would be formed in various locations around the United States. After being organized, each classis will elect delegates to the denomination’s General Synod.

Exact membership numbers will not be available until the General Synod meets in October, but preliminary estimates based on the 1993 CRC Yearbook indicate that the total number of Koreans seceding is at least half of the 7500 members in 35 “Anglo” churches which have seceded to date. When the non-CRC membership totals are included, the new denomination is likely to dwarf the predominantly Anglo secession congregations in the Alliance of Reformed Churches.

Why are congregations joining the new Korean Reformed Presbyterian Church? “Because it’s Reformed and conservative and loyal to the Word of God,” according to Kim.

Kim, a graduate of the CRC’s Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, expressed annoyance at the denomination’s increasing openness to new views of theology. “I didn’t change, but the denomination changed,” said Kim. “The thing which upset me so much is the things which are developing in the CRC were never even discussed when I was in the seminary unless it was to be condemned. Now it’s become a denominational position.”

“How can the truth change in the passage of time?” Kim asked. “Truth never changes; application may differ, but in the name of new hermeneutics, old liberal theology has become crowned.”


Many of the Korean CRC’s owe their current affiliation to Kim who from 1966 to 1975 served as dean of the influential Presbyterian General Assembly Theological Seminary in Korea’s capital of Seoul. Prior to assuming his position in Korea, Kim had made extensive contacts in the CRC while studying for his Masters of Divinity degree at Calvin and his Masters of Theology degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. Calvin is the denominational seminary of the CRC; Westminster is an independent seminary which although historically associated with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church also includes a number of CRC members in its student body and faculty. Kim later received his doctorate from Temple University.

After arriving in the United States, Kim resumed his CRC contacts and in 1976 was appointed as a CRC missionary to Koreans in Los Angeles. Within two years, Kim’s church had attracted 170 members and has grown steadily since then. Kim’s reputation has drawn other Korean pastors and churches into the CRC; according to the 1993 CRC Yearbook, the denomination now has 47 Korean congregations with over 7400 members, mostly located in California.

The growth of many of the Korean churches has been spectacular, many reporting dozens of members received by evangelism each year and some reporting hundreds. Korean church growth has not been limited to increasing the size of existing churches; the CRC currently has 21 emerging Korean mission churches and eleven of its 26 organized congregations receive home missions funding for various types of evangelistic work. The 21 emerging Korean churches represent almost a quarter of the CRC’s emerging home missions churches.

One clue to the proportions of the Korean church growth is the recent date when the 26 organized congregations moved from emerging mission status to become organized congregations. Only a few did so prior to 1987. Except for the Korean CRC of Chicago, all of the Korean CRC’s were begun following Kim’s arrival in the United States.

The Christian Reformed denomination was once so mono-ethnically Dutch that a 1946 synodical report approved marriages outside the denomination on the grounds that by barring them “synod would say in effect that American citizens of Netherland descent should only marry American citizens of the same national ancestry.” In more recent years, the CRC has embarked on a concerted drive to attract minority groups. The Korean growth had been a major success story of the denomination’s efforts to become more ethnically diverse.

Although Kim was instrumental in bringing many of the congregations into the CRC, he now regrets his decision. “Now no longer is the CRC denomination loyal to the Word of God and it changes historical positions in the name of new hermeneutics,” said Kim, pointing to the current CRC debates over women in ecclesiastical office—almost universally condemned in Korean circles—as a symptom of denominational problems. “The start is already on the horizon in the name of opening all offices to women,” said Kim. “Next, who knows where this will lead? Already there is an uneasy sign that there will be more problems.”


The formation of the new denomination is not the first time that Koreans have raised red flags over the women in office issue. Following Synod 1990’s decision to open all church offices to women, pending a second approval vote in 1992, the Council of Korean Christian Reformed Churches passed a unanimous resolution against women in office.

“The Korean Council decided to pull out when the women in office issue is voted; we did that right after the 1990 synod,” said Kim. “Then we are told at in 1992 another decisive vote will be taken; so in 1991 we had another meeting and we reconfirmed that we would pull out, but in 1992 the synod revoked the previous position so we stayed in.”

The 1992 synodical vote not to allow women elders and pastors was greeted with widespread relief in Korean CRC circles. However, this year’s decision to resurface the women in office matter was the last straw for Kim and other Korean CRC leaders. “In 1993 again they revoked the previous year’s decision, so we thought it is time to leave the denomination,” said Kim.

All Korean CRC congregations were sent a letter inviting em to the August 2 meeting. Besides Kim’s church, other large congregations involved in the group include the 775-member Valley Korean CRC in Arleta, the 560-member West Bethel Korean CRC in Los Angeles, and the 414-member East Bay Korean CRC in EI Cerrito, all California churches close to Kim’s Los Angeles Korean CRC.

One key problem for many of the Korean churches is financing. Of the 47 Korean CRC’s, the 1992 yearbook indicates that 21 have at least one staff position, usually the pastor, funded by the CRC Home Missions Board; another 11 indicate no national home missions funding but have the status of emerging congregations. Only 15 are organized churches receiving no denominational home missions funding. In the CRC, organized churches sometimes receive home missions funding and emerging congregations sometimes do not, but all emerging congregations are under the sponsorship of an organized church and often receive significant help from that church.

“All of those [seceding] churches are those which are financially independent from the denomination,” said Kim. “Also, many churches expressed that they would join as soon as they become financially stabiIized.”

Darrell Todd Maurina

Reformed Believers Press Service