Where does conservative thinking stand in the Korean church today? Is its position as firm numerically. as it was twenty years ago? What are its characteristics?
Criticism of the Korean Churches
Some of these questions are not easy to answer. Conservative Christian thinking in Korean Presbyterianism is being subjected nowadays to radical criticism from many sources. And no one seems happy about how things have gone in the evangelical camp.
John Smith, the Executive Secretary of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations, calls the concentration in Korea of missionaries of one theological emphasis (conservative, that is) a contributing factor to the church divisions that plague the country today. “The same results might have occurred if the emphasis had been a liberal one instead of a conservative one, but certainly the confinement of teaching to one particular representation of the Christian Gospel led to some of the difficulties that the Church has faced. Such extreme conservatism led to separation and isolation from other streams even within the Reformed tradition. It resulted in a policy that sought to protect national leaders from new ideas….The church was not ready to meet the criticisms of the more liberal Christian faith, nor the attacks of the ultra-fundamentalists from abroad.”1
Emil Brunner visited Korea in 1949 and wrote his impressions of Korean fundamentalism to the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. “The whole situation is no less than tragic. Korea is open for the Gospel but fundamentalism prevents Korea from becoming Christian! And all this because of a man-made, Judaistic theory which has nothing to do whatever with the New Testament message of Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour God-Man and the living head of the church. Please, do send missionaries who know this difference and are capable of presenting the gospel to the Korean people in a way which is not impossible to accept for any who love Truth!”2
Westerners are not the only critics either. Kim Yun Kuk, Academic Dean of the Presbyterian TheolOgical Seminary. in Seoul, presently attached to the Dong Hap (‘WCC’ group ) Presbyterian Church, writes, “Extreme conservatism often makes the situation very dangerous, and the Korean Church is in many cases nothing less than ‘extreme’ in theology.”3 Kang Won Yong, lecturer in Theology at the liberal-oriented HanKuk Seminary, in a rather blunt article speaks of “the ultra-conservative” group that finally constituted the Presbyterian Church—Koryu group.4 The theology of Pyung Yang Theological Seminary—until 1940 the training place for all of Korea’s Presbyterian ministers—he calls that of “inflexible Fundamentalism.” In similar vein, Kim Chai Chaon writes on “The Starting Point for Renewal and Unity” in the Korean church. “‘The Reformation of the Korean church must start, firstly, from a reformation of theology. As has already been stated before. the Korean church has endured much tragedy through one-sided ‘orthodox theology: So the future renewal of the Korean church must be driven in the direction of the theology of the world church (Ecumenical theology)…”5
The storm of self-analysis in the Korean church today, the self-criticism of its early history and theology, is reflected in these opinions. Conservative thinking is accused of isolationism, mysticism, dogmatism, self-imposed confinement. It is castigated for placing theology above ethics, separating the individual from his society, and raising false barriers between the church and the world. Just what is Korean evangelical thought, as it is expressed in the Presbyterian church?
It is, first of all, a pattern with a long history, a history developed and molded by missionaries. These came almost exclusively from areas in America where the Old School ideas of historic Presbyterian Calvinism dominated. The Korean church today bears that Old School conservative image still. A. J. Brown, one of the General Secretaries of the Home Board of the Presbyterian Church of the USA, describes it with a certain lack of sympathy this way: “The typical missionary of the first quarter century after the opening of the country was a man of the Puritan type. He kept the Sabbath as our New England forefathers did a century ago. He looked upon dancing, smoking and card-playing as sins in which no true follower of Christ should indulge. In theology and Biblical criticism he was strongly conservative, and he held as a vital truth the premillenarian view of the second coming of Christ. The higher criticism and liberal theology were deemed dangerous heresies. In most of the evangelical churches of America and Great Britain, conservatives and liberals have learned to live and work together in peace; but in Korea the few men who hold ‘the modern view’ have a rough road to travel, particularly in the Presbyterian group of missions.”6
Transition in Korean Church History
In many areas of the church life, this Puritan pattern reproduced itself. The so-called Nevius plan, Korea’s unique method of mission work, was forged on the Bible as the basis of all Christian work, with an elaborate system of Bible classes by which that Book could be studied and applied to the believer’s life. The twelve-point “Korean Confession of Faith,” adopted in 1907 and still in use, has been characterized by one scholar of church history as a document of “very strong Calvinistic trend.”7 And, until 1938 when its doors were closed by the Japanese, Pyung Yang Theological Seminary was the teaching center of Korea’s Puritan Calvinism. From this seminary came a theology summarized in these words by an early missionary: “The Bible is the one textbook emphasized and studied. The seminary which sets its theological impress upon all pastors alike, has been largely also in the hands of missionary teachers, but is now beginning to be transferred to the control of the General Assembly step by step. Presbyterians, with their historic Calvinistic background, accepting the Westminster standards and Presbyterian form of government has, as of old, unquestioningly accepted the Scriptures as the very word of God. On this basis the gospel story centering in the cross of Christ, with its frank Pauline supernaturalistic interpretation has been taught by the missionaries and accepted by the Korean church without reserve.”8
Pyung Yang Seminary closed its doors in 1938 because of the problem of shrine worship in Korea. A golden age in Korean theology closed with it. An institution that had been the center of conservative thinking in the Korean church for over forty years shut its doors. About this same time those missionaries who had represented conservative thinking in the church had to leave the country. Korean conservative church leaders were imprisoned or went into exile in Manchuria. All these actions shut out conservative control of the church. Ecclesiastical machinery was placed by the Japanese in the hands of those who had secured their higher educational training in liberal Japanese institutions. Conservative or evangelical theology found itself with a new posture. Now it was on the defensive, while liberalism was on the offensive.
Liberalism did not suddenly appear in Korea after 1938. It was a much older, imported product. But before 1938, conservatism was strong enough to handle it, through discipline and instruction. Now liberalism, through its cooperation with the Japanese, found a new voice. Conservative thinking could only listen to the voice, as it spoke with new power in the church.
Spokesmen for the Reformed Faith
In these early years of Korean theology, the spokesman for articulate Calvinism was often a missionary. He might have been Dr. Samuel A. Moffett, the founder of Pyung Yang Seminary, a vigorous itinerant evangelist, a born counsellor. Perhaps he was Dr. Charles A. Clark (1878–1961), the author of fifty books in the Korean language, and she in English. And, as the years progressed, Korean voices joined them. Dr. Pak Hyung Nong (b. 1897) , often called “the Machen of Korea,” had returned from studies at Princeton under Warfield, Hodge and Machen in 1928. In 1930 he became professor at Pyung Yang TheologicaJ Seminary and began his long career as one of Korea’s mOst powerful conservative voices. He qUickly found an articulate pen in the church. Almost every issue of the Presbyterian Theological Review coming from Pyung Yang Seminary contained one of his articles. In 1937 he translated Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. By 1939 four books had come from his pen, including a commentary on I Corinthians. However, then as now, his field of specialty continued to be Systematic Theology. Dr. Pak was more than a scholar, however. He was also a churchman. In the early 1930’s he challenged the presence of Kim Chai Chaon on the Pyung Yang Seminary faculty because of his pronounced liberal views. In 1934 he co-authored a committee report of the Korean General Assembly condemning denial of the Mosaic authorship of Genesis as “in opposition to section 1 of the Church Confession of Faith.” In the closing years of Pyung Yang Seminary he was joined by another Korean voice for Calvinism, who was to make a more vocal contribution in the years following liberation. That man was Dr. Pak Yune Sun, a 1936 graduate of the fledgling Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
The conservative theology these men articulated was more than just a broad form of evangelicalism. It was a positive form of Calvinism. It did not have the defensive, negative posture it later seemed to develop in weathering the attacks of liberalism. And it may not sometimes have drawn lines as sharply as refined ecclesiasts of the West might often desire. But it was Calvinism. Writing in 1953, Dr. J. c. Crane, missionary of the Southern Presbyterian Church and teacher of Systematic Theology in Pyung Yang Seminary shortly before its closing, comments on the Reformed faith presented in his classroom. “It has been the writer’s privilege to teach the basic doctrines of the Reformed faith to Korean students during most of his thirty years in Korea….It is with faith . .. in the basic strength of Reformed Theology that he has endeavored to differentiate between that statement and modem divergencies therefrom.”9 Crane’s text, still used in Korean seminaries, quotes extensively from Louis Berkhof, B. B. Warfleld, and the great Southern Presbyterian Calvinists, R. L. Dabney and R. L. Thornton.
One other impression cannot be escaped as one observes this early Korean Calvinism. It was not merely busy with evangelism and church growth. It possessed a degree of literacy and scholarship remarkable in a Protestant church with a history of less than seventy-five years. It was a scholarship that did not fear to present new ideas to the church. The pages of the Presbyterian Theological Review (associated with Pyung Yang Seminary) assessed “The Origin of Paul’s Religion,” “Theology of the Social Gospel,” “The Oxford Group Movement,” “Brunner’s Theology of the Word,” “Barth’s View of Inspiration.” And it assessed them, not in 1950 and 1960, but in 1933 and 1935 and 1937. The searching Biblical criticism to which these ideas were subjected could hardly be called—to borrow Smith’s language—“a policy that sought to protect national leaders from new ideas.”
Attempts at Church Renewal
Liberation from the Japanese in 1945 displayed a different face to Korean conservative thinking. For years evangelicals had been locked out of church power. Now they began to knock on the door. They were on the outside, looking in. What was to be done with the continued presence of liberals and shrine-sympathizers in the liberated church?
In the southern part of Korea, not occupied by the Communists, church conservatives were released from prison and gathered to plan reform of the church. Statements of principle for the rehabilitation of the church were passed at “Cleansing Meetings,” presbyteries made formal confession of sin for shrine worship, but, as one church historian comments, there was simply no heart in it. “Since there had been no real confession of sin, the 34th General Assembly took another action rescinding the shrine action and declared a day of repentance for the original action. Again, in 1954, at the 36th General Assembly, the action was rescinded for the third time. A good many, however, felt this to be little more than a gesture, without real repentance for the sin of shrine worship.”10 Church authority remained in the hands of those who had guided the liberal church during the war years.
In connection with this emphasis on the reordering of the church, there was also a strong opposition to the liberalism of Kim Chai Choon and the Chosun Seminary on whose faculty he served. Rev. Han Sang Dong, a leader in the southern church, was especially vigorous in his criticism of Kim’s liberal views of the Bible. He was supported in these charges by Pale Yune Sun, whom we mentioned earlier in connection with his teaching at Pyung Yang Seminary. Han and Pak, with others, supported the establishment of a new seminary in the south, to carryon the old ideas of Pyung Yang Seminary. Especially from Pak Yune Sun came the insistence on the promotion of a militant Calvinism in the church. That seminary was begun in the summer of 1946, eventually developing into Koryu Seminary, an institution that has been supported for many years by the funds and prayers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Christian Reformed Church.
Divisions Within the Church
The efforts of Koryu Seminary for theological reform, however, did not reach full fruition in the church. Pak Hyung Nong had been invited to come to Pusan as the president of the new institution. Pak accepted the invitation and returned to Korea from Manchuria. But he accepted with the understanding that the seminary would receive recognition by the General Assembly. When the seminary failed to gain that recognition, Pak left Koryu Seminary in April, 1948, and went to Seoul. Following this blow, the Kyung Nam province presbytery, by a vote of 44–21, cancelled the recognition of the Koryu Seminary. In August, 1951, the presbytery went further and forbade sending students to the seminary. In May 1951, the General Assembly pushed matters to the point of cutting off the Koryu Seminary group from the Assembly. The group then formed a presbytery of its own. In July, 1951, these churches registered themselves as “the Korean Presbyterian General Assembly.”11 This is the group widely known today to readers of this journal as the Koryu group.
One of Korea’s greatest voices for Calvinism has come from its fold—Dr. Pak Yune Sun, an earlier colleague of Pak Hyung Nong at Pyung Yang Seminary, a student of Machen at Westminster Seminary and a graduate student at the Free University of Amsterdam at one time. From Dr. Pak’s ready pen have come eleven Biblical commentaries since liberation. Using a revolving fund donated by interested friends in America, Dr. Pak has completed work on the New Testament and only a few months ago finished his third work on the Old Testament, this one on Isaiah. His next work on Jeremiah should appear within the year. The method of the commentary follows a style very similar to Lange, each chapter ending with an addendum of suit~ able preaching materials, sometimes full-length sermons. In a country where churches must often be supplied by unordained evangelists whose education is limited to Bible school, Dr. Pak’s commentaries constitute a theological education in themselves. Through his books names like Herman Bavinck, Abraham Kuyper, J. Gresham Machen, B. B. Warfield have become well-known in Korea.
The division of the Korean Presbyterian Church in 1951 was not the last. Others followed. A year after Koryu group was organized, presbyteries within the remaining body began dividing again. In June, 1953, there was another body claiming to be the “legal General Assembly” of the Korean Presbyterian Church. This church was established when efforts to deal with the liberal sentiments of Kim Chai Choon and Chosun Seminary were resisted. From it came the so-called KiChang group, supported by the United Church of Canada Mission and espousing outspokenly liberal and Barthian sentiments. The very existence of this body seems to add strength to the Koryu group’s early contentions that the liberated church was neglecting to deal with liberalism in the church.
The Tragic Division of 1959
In 1959 another major division rent the Korean church. From it emerged two churches—the Korean Presbyterian Church (Hap Dong group, also called “NAE” group) and the Korean Presbyterian Church (Dong Hap group, also called “WCC” group). What happened between 1953 and 1959 to create this virulent division, denounced by men like Nelson Bell and Billy Graham, and the mission bodies of the United Presbyterian, Southern Presbyterian, and Australian Presbyterian Churches? What were the real issues behind this division insofar as they reflect on the character of Korean conservative thinking?
In general, missionary sentiment sees no issues of a doctrinal nature behind the 1959 division. Samuel Moffett writes strongly, “The division was caused by a minority clique of dissidents who preferred to split the church rather than remain and face charges of ethical misconduct…”12 Nelson Bell “would like to state categorically that the basic problem is NOT doctrinal; that there is probably no church in the world more conservative than the Korean Presbyterian Church.”13
It cannot be denied that there were many factors in the 1959 division besides doctrinal ones. In his work, Moffett has mentioned some that must be considered as possible influences. Fierce regional loyalties, the foreign dollar, factionalism, a national fondness for political maneuvering, spiritual introversion, intellectual isolationism, legalism these tendencies are neither new to Korea as a nation nor to the twentieth century as all age. Tn various degrees, they had a part to play in the division.14
A great part of the confusion comes in the charges of ethical misconduct laid against Dr. Pak Hyung Nong, the leader of the conservative element in the church. After the Communist war, the seminary of the remaining General Assembly had moved to Seoul and Dr. Pak Hyung Nong had been elected president. The seminary occupied former Japanese shrine property on South Mountain in the heart of Seoul. One missionary commentator writes, “Legal title to the property was never obtained and soon a dispute arose with the government as to its ownership. In 1958 the seminary board, with W. A. Linton as chairman, received evidence that the president of the seminary had been guilty of misusing more than $20,000 of seminary funds in an attempt to secure title to the disputed property. Because of the investigation of the seminary board, the General Assembly that year demanded the president’s resignation. Dr. Pak was thus forced to leave the seminary, but he continued to have a large following in the church who considered him to be the champion of orthodoxy…During the year tension continued to mount. Membership in the World Council of Churches was hotly debated.”15 The climax came at the General Assembly in 1959, and with it another division in the Korean church.
As we have said, many Korean observers and general missionary opinion place the blame for division on this alleged misuse of funds for which Pak Hyung Nong was responsible, as president of the seminary, and on the accompanying personality factors surrounding the affair. We are not so sure. The Koryu group had attacked liberalism in the church earlier, through its protest against shrine worship under the Japanese. The shrine was a symbol of a struggle much deeper in the church -Christianity versus liberalism. Once again, when the division of 1952 occurred and the KiChang was formed, the center of discussion was Chosun Seminary. But it was the center insofar as it represented liberalism to the Korean mind. In 1959 the same basic conflict arose again. Only now the symbol was not a shrine or a seminary but membership in the World Council of Churches.
Theological Factors in the Division
In support of these observations, it is interesting to note that this element of conservative thinking as a basic factor is being recognized in many liberal publications, as well as conservative. The Christian Century wrote, “Another major factor in the disruption is the extreme theological conservatism of Korean Christianity. The four Presbyterian denominations having missions in Korea …began their work eighty years ago following the theological standards of that day. Because of these beginnings and these results the mission board sent only conservatives to Korea, a practice which was later criticized by as staunch a conservative as Emil Brunner. As time went on, some of the board’s methods led to increased conservatism…Thus the disruption climaxed in the recent General Assembly is the delayed but inevitable result of the historic tragedies of Korean national experience with the Korean Christians’ fervid but inadequate understanding of their own faith. This situation has led to such recent actions as the branding as ‘modernist’ of a missionary who denied the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. In 1959 one presbytery attacked the orthodoxy of a conservative missionary because years ago he had inserted in his affirmation concerning the infallibility of the Scriptures the qualification ‘in matters of faith and doctrine’…”16
A similar note is struck by Korean voices. Rev. Wonl Yang Kang, lecturer at HanKuk Seminary (the new name for the old Chosun Seminary), says, “Foreign missionaries and Korean Presbyterian church leaders, whose theological footing was based on fundamentalism, were affiliated with the World Council of Churches, which was led by those theologians advocating the neo-orthodox line. The major reason was that the Presbyterian churches in the United States where they belonged were strongly upholding the ecumenical organization. Such a contradiction could not live long. Thus, within the Korean Presbyterian Church a conflict was soon touched off between those who advocated withdrawal from the WCC which was dominated by those theologians who did not believe in the verbal inspiration theory and those missionaries and their supporters who were opposed to separation from the WCC…”17 Similar comments are made in the Korean National Christian Council study pamphlet on Korea, prepared for the WCC meeting in New Delhi. “The people who oppose the WCC ecumenical movement usually hold to an ultra-conservative theological outlook.”18
Apart from liberal testimonies to the nature of the division, conservative forces in the “NAE group” quite strongly insist their battle was a theological one and not primarily one centering in personalities. The supporters of Dr. Pak Hyung Nang insisted then, and still do, that he was ousted not because of any financial misdeeds but because the liberal, ecumenical wing of the church wanted him out. In a mimeographed bulletin distributed by the General Assembly Seminary supporting Dr. Pak, the following comments were made in 1962. “During the period from the summer of 1956 to the summer of 1957, an unfortunate accident took place in the financial management of our seminary. We made an effort to purchase the land on which the seminary was operating (part of a public park on South Mountain in Seoul). For negotiation with government officials for purchase of the land, we used a man who was afterward discovered as a dishonest broker. A large sum of money, including some special gifts from America, was lost and the negotiation failed. So Dr. Pak Hyungg Nong as president of the seminary took the responsibility for the mismanagement and resigned from the seminary offices.
“In the procedure of accepting President Pak’s resignation in the seminary board of trustees and in the GA of 1958, the liberal party insisted on acceptance and the conservative party opposed it because it was thought that Dr. Pak’s resignation from seminary presidency would put the church theological education under liberal control. Dr. Pak’s resignation was accepted because the missionaries were with liberals and ran a large part of the business. This struggle aroused the consciousness in the minds of the conservative church people that they had to fight against WCC ecumenical movement in order to prevent complete swallowing of the church by the liberal forces backed up by the movement. And the fight has developed into the recent split of the church and the seminary….”19 The report goes on to accuse the missionaries of a long-time desire to remove Pak from the presidency.
Whether these judgments upon missionary sentiment are correct or not, the article certainly indicates the strong feeling in the mind of Pak’s followers that the conflict of 1959 was still one of liberal against conservative.
Since 1959, there has been no appreciable change in the church structure of Korea’s conservative forces. A too hasty marriage of the Koryu group and the NAE group ended in “divorce” in 1963 after only a two-year trial. Apart from that, the ecclesiastical picture of Presbyterianism, in terms of the larger groups, has remained relatively the same.
Characteristics of Korean Conservatism
But there are new features to Korean conservative thought in the years following 1945. At least they are features now more pronounced than they may have been in the earlier days of Korea’s history.
The voice of Korean conservative thought today is often a belligerent one. The growth and power of liberalism in the churches and seminaries has given evangelical Presbyterianism in Korea a much stronger polemic tone than it had in its earlier days. And, to liberal Korean critics like Lee Jong Sung of the new United Theological Seminary faculty, it is so negative it may be called “neo-Pharisaism.” As in America, Korean conservatives face the danger of shifting from a theological position to a mood and disposition as well. Carl Henry has drawn attention recently to the negativistic reduction that fundamentalism was forced to adopt in its struggle with American liberalism in the controversies of the 1930’s. “Its early leadership reflected balance and ballast, and less of bombast and battle. Only later did a divisive disposition show itself plunging the evangelical (i.e. fundamentalist) movement into internal conflict.”20 There is some danger that Korea can easily be repeating this pattern today.
And it is easy to see why. Korean conservatives face the same obstacles in their struggle that Machen and others clid in the Western conflict. There is a dearth of conservative literature. Funds and presses are in the hands of liberals, not conservatives. When a conservative writes, polemics must occupy a great deal of his attention. There is also a lack of leadership today. One man said. regarding the American struggle, “Except for J. Gresham Machen and a few others, the conservatives had no leader with an impressive training. Its champions were men whose principal assets were conviction and zeal, not erudition, and whose followers came primarily from rural and southern areas where academic standards fell far below those existing in other sections of the country.”21 These words could have been written about Korea. Except for voices like Pak Hyung Nong, Pak Yune Sun, and a few others, conservatives in Korea do not have a literary voice. And among their followers are the hundreds of country evangelists, without seminary training, but whose zeal and conviction are shining attributes.
Korean and Western critics, liberal and Calvinist alike, have also pointed out the great danger in Korea of fleeing social problems. One of Korea’s newest voices in conservative scholarship is that of Dr. Lee Sang Kun, a recent Ph.D. awardee of Dallas Theological Seminary, and already the author of several fine New Testament commentaries of scholastic worth. Dr. Lee, writing in the Theological Review published by his seminary in Taegu, says, “The church of Korea neither follows after society nor along with society, but goes its own direction, no matter what goes on in society. The Korean church stands by and for itself, concerned not at all about society, and does nothing for society.” Another writer, less sympathetic, speaks more strongly. “The result of all this is inevitable escapism in the Korean church…Instead of becoming a commander of the situation it tends to introvert itself within the walls of the church building. In such a situation, for many Christians, fervent prayers, emotional worship services, and Bible memorization are considered to be the essence and total sum of Christianity. At the same time, their own low moral standards and those of the society in which they live do not bother them…”22 This quotation is the language of extreme generalization. I am not sure I can at all agree with most of it. But it does point out a danger present in Korea today—an individualism that seeks to escape social ethics and commitment, a pattern of simplification that reduces the Christian faith to a separate compartment of thinking. And, if Ronald Nash is accurate in his recent work, this danger is not new to Korea. It was part of the fundamentalistic reduction in the American struggle.23
Behind this belligerent spirit and lack of social concern there may also be theological sources. Dispensationalism, in its milder forms, seems to have found its way at an early age into Korean Presbyterianism. Although not the strong antinomian type so often found in the West, it has left its mark on the church -an emphasis on the future coming of the kingdom of God that almost completely deemphasizes any present aspect of the kingdom, a spirituality akin to pietism, legislating on the use of alcohol and tobacco but showing little concern about conducting law suits in civil courts between Christian groups.24 One often wonders if the post-war church divisions are not being influenced at least in part by a nebulous dispensational spirit of second-degree and third-degree separationism so characteristic of John Nelson Darby and his immediate successors. In this same connection, would not the dispensational deemphasis of the church also play some background role in Korean Presbyterianism’s lack of serious attention to a theology of the church? And would not a dispensational spirit, oriented primarily to the future kingdom, tend to ignore the here and now of Christian social ethics and demands? I do not give the answers. I merely ask the questions.
Lack of Self-Criticism
But, beyond all these weaknesses in Korean conservative thinking today, one troubles this writer more than the others. It is the evangelical’s lack of awareness of his nature and distinctives. It is the conservative’s failure to be self-critical and engage in honest housecleaning. With the exception of unique voices like Pak Yune Sun and a very few others, Korean conservatism sometimes does not ask itself the questions that really hurt. Where are we going theologically? What state are we in now? Conservatives in Korea tend to stress more “the evangelical” part of their faith than the Calvinistic part. And sometimes they do not even understand what they fully mean by “evangelical.” Usually they mean only they are opposed to the WCC. This is largely a negative use of the term. For this same reason some in the conservative camp fear to use it.
It is this lack of theological definition and appraisal that continually causes Koreans and Westerners alike to cry, regarding the various Presbyterian bodies, “But we all believe the same; we all love the same gospel.” The gospel is never defined. The direction of Presbyterian thinking is never analyzed. It is always assumed and the question continues to go begging. Western church observers come to Korea without a knowledge of the language or theological literature of the Korean church, meet with officers and leaders of the various churches in Korea, and, on the basis of a few hours of conversation or a month of preaching in the churches, go home convinced the churches all belong to the same theological camp, or at least they belong together. This same superficiality of judgment is characteristic of Koreans as well. Everyone is so busy studying the literature and theology of the West that Korean theology is virtually ignored, except for surface judgments.
In more discouraging moments 1 would be almost willing to concede that Korean Presbyterianism, in many respects, resembles more the shape of a distorted fundamentalism, rather than the fulness of Calvinism. Carl Henry wrote of this distorted fundamentalism in the West in words that could describe the more unpleasant aspects of Korean Presbyterianism. “By some, fundamentalism is considered a summary term for theological pugnaciousness, ecumenic disruptiveness, cultural unprogressiveness, scientific obliviousness, and/ or anti-intellectual inexcusableness. By others, fundamentalism is equated with extreme dispensationalism, pulpit sensationalism, excessive emotionalism, social withdrawal, and bawdy church music.”25
In spite of all this, there are also signs of progress. Within the Presbyterian churches today encouragement seems strongest for the Koryn Presbyterian Church and the Hap Dong Presbyterian Church. As we noted in an earlier article, conservative thinking still has a strong voice in the Dong Hap group, often labelled the “WCC group” by unsympathetic observers. And there is also some evidence of self-criticism in this same group. But the leaders in this analysis have received their stimulation more from the “activistic theology” or the WCC and liberal pre-suppositions than from the neo-Calvinistic social concern of Abraham Kuyper, the philosophical orientations of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven, or the theological convictions of Machen and Warfield. A rather ominous sign for the future of this body appeared at their last General Assembly in September, 1964. There it was decided to exchange pulpits on a free basis with pastors of the KiChang group—a group self-confessedly Barthian and liberal. Yet there are growing indications that the institutions and men associated with the Koryu group and Hap Dong group want something more than some broad evangelicalism, strong enough to present a conservative message but too weak to discipline a liberal voice in the pulpit. They are looking for the substance and uniqueness that is Calvinism and their own Presbyterian heritage.
1. John Smith, “Policy Lessons from Korea,” International Review of Missions, July, 1961. pp. 324ff.
2. Quotcd in full in Chun Sung Chun, Schism and Unity in the Protestant Churches of Korea, unpublished doctoral thesis, sub· mitted to Yale University, 1955, pp. 194–195.
3. Kim, Yun Kul:, “The Korean Church Yesterday and Today,” Korean Affairs. Feb.–March, 1962, p. 101.
4. Kaung Won Yang, “The Korean Church in the World Community,” Korean, Summer, 1961, p. 119.
5. Kim Chai Choon, “The Starting Point for Renewal and Unity,” Christian Thought, May, 1964. pp. 32ff.
6. A. J. Brown, The Mystery of the Far East, Scribners, 1919, p.540.
7. L. C. Paik, The History of Protestant Missions in Korea, Pyungyang, 1929, p. 376.
8. Report of the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Korea Mission of the U.S.A. Presbyterian Church, June 30–Ju}y 3, 1934, p. 121.
9. J. C. Crane, Systematic Theology, Vol. J, English edition, Specialized Printing Company, 1953, p. vii.
10. Kim Yang Sun, History of the Korean Church (1945–1955), Religious Education Committee of the Korean Presbyterian Church, 1956, pp. 52–53.
11. Samuel Moffett ( The Christians of Korea, Friendship Press, 1962 p. 114 ) comments that “the Koryu Presbyterian Church seceded from the Presbyterian Church in Korea.” According to Kim Yang Sun’s Recount, they did not secede. They were cut off by the General Assembly, an action that Kim himself, though critical of the Koryu spirit, also condemns as a “great mistake” by the General Assembly parent body.
12. Moffett, op. cit., p. 114.
13. Quoted in editorial appearing in The Presbyterian Guardian, Vol. 29, No.2, p. 26.
14. To this list of factors influencing the division is often added the name of Carl Mcintire. Moffett says the schismatics “were enthusiastically supported by that ‘apostle of discord,’ Dr. Carl Mclntire, a professional schismatic (p. 115) . This opinion is also shared by Donald C. Barnhonse in his booklet, Scandal in Korea, The Evangelical Foundation, 1960, pp. 22-31. TIle tendency in much of the apologetic literature surrounding the division is to regard McIntire as a whipping boy. A few remarks in his defense might be appropriate. (1) His visit and influence in the battle did not come until after the Assembly division. (2) He did not take part in the creation of the division, although he most certain1y aided in its continuance. (3) McIntire’s purpose per se was not division or separation as such, but the presentation of documentation regarding the theological liberalism of the WCC.
15. C. T. Brown, Mission to Korea, Board of World Mission, Presbyterian Church U.S., 1962, p. 218. How substantial the “evidence” W35 that Dr. Linton is said by Brown to have received is, of course, far more debatable than Brown’s statement leads one to believe. Leaders of the NAE group claim that a report had been prepared for the 1959 Assembly, exonerating Pale Hyung Nong of guilt in the question, but that the disruption of the Assembly prevented the report from being accepted by the Assembly.
16. Christian Century, December 16, 1959, p. 1462.
17. Koreana, op. cit., p. 124.
18. KNCC, The Church in Korea, 1961, p. 17; cp. p. 57.
19. Bulletin, Presbyterian General Assembly Seminary, Spring, 1962, p. 112.
20. Carl Henry, “Dare We Renew the Controversy?,” Christianity Today, June 24, 1957, pp. 23ff.
21. Norman Furniss, The Fundamentalist Controversy, Yale Press, 1954, pp. 38ff.
22. Korean Affairs, op. cit., p. 102.
23. Ronald Nash, The New Evangelicalism, Zondervan, 1962, pp. 21–32.
24. Theodore Hard, “The Reformed Faith and the Korean Church,” International Reformed Bulletin, No. 14. July, 1963, p. 12.
25.Carl F. H. Henry, “What Is This Fundamentalism?” United Evangelical Action, July 15, 1956, p. 303.
Harvie M. Conn, missionary-teacher in Korea, continues his penetrating analysis of the theological currents which are sweeping the large Presbyterian churches of that land. In this article he calls attention to the weaknesses which have plagued the ranks of those who would remain faithful to the historic Christian faith. The final article in this series will appear in the next issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET.