The Reformed Faith in Korea

Korean author Kyung Cho Chung says in his book, Korea Tomorrow, “Just  as Buddhism and Confucianism came to Korea with the combined philosophical prestige of India and China, so Christianity brought the modern influence, together with Western Culture.” There is no doubt of the powerful impact this influx from the West made on Korea. In the late 1800’s Korea, like Japan, had long been cut off from trade and intercourse with the West, by her own choice. Korea followed Japan in opening her doors, and both experienced profound changes as a result. Japan far outstripped her smaller neighbor in tap pin g the thought and technological of the West. But Korea is perhaps to be credited with a more profound adoption of the theory of democratic form of government with a capitalistic form of economy, and certainly she has, as a nation, given for greater acceptance to Christianity. Japan’s professing Christians number but one to 180 of the population, while South Korea claims perhaps one to 14. Japan’s 36 years of domination over Korea was a history of suppression of Christianity, which alone represented a threat to the government-recognized Shintoism of Japan. Christianity in Japan today, though having freedom, seems to lack the clean break with the world, the fierce sense of identity as God’s people. (See Bible Presbyterian John Young’s recent book: The Two Empires in Japan.) In Korea, by contrast the church seeks to stand apart from party loyalty, hyper-nationalism, tradition and keenly shows her consciousness of being a “called out” people.


Fortunate for the propagation of a full-orbed Christianity, with a Calvinistic soteriology, Presbyterianism led the field in evangelizing Korea. with missionaries from America and Australia. Today the Presbyterian groups together total about double the next largest group, the Methodist churches. Of some 5280 churches of various Protestant groups in Korea, Presbyterian churches number over 3100, Methodist 1020. At least 10 other denominations share the remaining churches.


The predominance of the Presbyterian groups, however, does not accurately reflect the strength of the Reformed faith. There are various indications that even from its early days Presbyterian missionaries, though usually Calvinists, were often weak in teaching Calvinism. One Calvinistic leader in Korea has even said that though he graduated from the Pyengyang Presbyterian Seminary in North Korea he did not learn a clear Calvinism until he attended Westminster Seminary in America. However, it is clear that the great majority of the Presbyterian missionaries were conservatives in theology. But modernism and the newer forms of liberalism (Barthianism, existentialism etc.) have, of late, come to Korea in ever-increasing strength. Many bright students have gone to the West to study and have returned as teachers of modernism. The Japanese have translated and written much of similar literature which also heavily influenced Korean Christians. And Methodism in Korea has been largely liberal from its early days, exercising its own influence in doctrinal latitudinarianism, in preaching, in publishing work, and in its strong voice for church union.

Other regrettable aspects within Korean churches which the Presbyterians also share are pietism and mysticism.

Pietism shows herself in a rigoristic attitude toward prayer, in the neglect of practical measures and even of civic regulations in a pseudo-piety, other-worldliness. The broader implications of kingdom-of-God duties are too often ignored. Spirituality is often measured by outward, standardized taboos; women shall not wear make-up; smoking and using alcoholic drinks are considered sins per se.

Recent splits in the Presbyterian Church have more clearly defined their own internal ideological struggle. Three groups emerge, the first strongly liberal in theology, though containing many evangelicals; the second, a large middle-of-the-road group, conservative in theology, but urged by leaders to World Council membership and cooperating in a publishing venture with the Methodists from which come many nonReformed and some liberal titles.


The third group, the smallest of the three, presents real hope for a stronger and clearer development of the Reformed faith. This is the group led by the Korea Theological Seminary. With its 558 churches labor three missionary families of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, one couple and one single lady of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and one couple of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod.

The Korean leaders of this church are constantly urging a more consistent Calvinistic stand in the church, and 4 of the present 7 Korean faculty members of the seminary are alumni of Westminster Theological Seminary in America. One of the four has studied also at Calvin Seminary, and Faith Seminary in U.S.A., and another, president Dr. Park Yune Sun, is candidate for the Ph.D. degree in New Testament at the Free University of Amsterdam. There is a strong desire to tap the Calvinistic literature and teaching of the West, and Augustine, Calvin, Hodge, Warfjeld, Kuyper, Bavinck, Vos, Machen, and the more recent names of Crosheide, Berkouwer, Berkhof, and Van Til are the most familiar names considered leaders in Calvinistic thought here.


But a great death of educated leaders in this movement in Korea is the pressing problem of the day. Japanese suppression, Communist slaughtering of Christian leaders, years of forced suspension of education, and the fact that in many cases the Christians separated, because of Shinto-shrine bowing and modernism, while the pastors did not separate result in this that there are only 100 ordained men for 558 churches, and scarcely that many elders. And the large majority of the 70 seminary students enrolled are in a special category because their previous schooling is insufficient. These special students are exempt from taking Hebrew and Greek courses, and have not enough knowledge of English to read relevant literature. Meanwhile the younger men cannot read Japanese. In the past two years an effort has been made to develop the previous three-year preparatory course (before the three-year seminary course) into a four-year course with liberal arts curriculum; but lack of funds and faculty has prevented a well-rounded curriculum, tho ugh some 40 students are in attendance now, wit h courses in philosophy, history, literature, and a heavy emphasis on language courses, including English, German, Latin, Creek, and Hebrew. Several students are studying in America and, on their return, they will be a great asset to the Church.

As indicated above, liberalism has crept into Korea. T his is one of the results of secularizing the Christian witness in the West, and the process is now taking place in the East. As to the education needed by church leaders in view of such problems, Prof. Edmund Clowney of Westminster Seminary says in historical “Secularism and Mission,” Westminster Journal, November, ‘58:

“Leadership in the younger churches must be prepared to act on the basis of a profound theological appraisal of secularism. Whatever the specific problems may be in relation to the cultural heritage of the area, they will not exceed those created by the secularist motif of the emerging world culture. Even in areas where a ‘primitive’ culture has prevailed, the dominant problem is not the revival of a snake cult or the proliferation of pseudo-Christian sects, but the rising tide of secularistic nationalism. Theological education for leaders of the younger churches may not be simplified or second rate. The society to which they must carry the gospel is incredibly complex, a maelstrom of ancient tradition, persistent superstition, and new technology; a vortex where whirlwinds from two worlds converge. These leaders must themselves discern which truths of the Christian heritage are most needed in their particular circumstances, but the y. perhaps more than we, need the fullest resources of theological scholarship.”

To point up the need in Korea’s one denomination aimed toward a more Reformed testimony we note that of the 214 graduates to date of Korea Theological Seminary only 54 had finished college before seminary. Most of them were high school or less in preparation and graduated as special students. Yet, as Prof. Clowney says, they, perhaps more than American leaders, need the fullest resources of theological scholarship.

Five things can be don e by Christian friends in America to help this church in terms of the needs described above. They are all practicable, easily visualized things, I believe. They are not immediately considered essential missionary work by some, perhaps, but the present circumstances of the Korean church as described in this article point up their need.


About 6 years ago some $6,000 was raised through the good graces of Missionary Bruce Hunt and generous donors in the Christian Reformed Church and Orthodox .Presbyterian Church. With this money there has been published some $30,000 worth of excellent commentaries on the Bible by Dr. Park Yune Sun, covering 7 volumes, several in 2 or more editions on most of the New Testament and the book of Psalms. Most of the books commented on have, in Dr. Park’s large 500 1200 page volumes, found their first serious Korean commentator. Besides this the fund has published two printings of a concordance on the Korean Bible done by one of our ministers.

This fact is given to illustrate that worthy books call be written or translated by our Korean leaders if only funds are available to publish, and that a re-use of funds by the return of the money from book sales is a proved success. Some of the missionaries and Korean leaders of our same movement have begun a Korean branch of the International Association for Reformed Faith and Action in the past two years and with a few hundred dollars collected with difficulty from various SOurces have begun a publishing program which has now put into print Loraine Boettner’s Inspiration of the Scripture and Cornelius Van Til’s Has Karl Barth Become Orthodox? and has almost ready for the printer a volume appropriate for John Calvin’s 450th birthday and the 400th anniversary of the completion of Calvin’s Institutes—Henry Meeter’s Calvinism. All these were translated by members of our Society. Nearly ready to print, but lacking funds, is Louis Berkhof’s History of Christian Doctrines.


Theological libraries in Korea are very small. America’s Westminster has some 30,000 volumes, while ours here has 1800, most of which are English titles. Only a few hundred Christian titles exist in the Korean language, and only a fraction of them . is worth putting on Seminary and University library shelves. But English and German are taught in every high school (and English occupies more hours of instruction in high school in Korea than any other subject, I hear), and a certain percentage of college and seminary students can read English and Japanese, and even German titles. To build good libraries is a pertinent and, as some Koreans readily admit, essential part of educating future Christian leaders. But even the few available Korean Christian titles are not found in many Bible Institutes -for lack of funds. We need funds to build small deposits of Christian literature in the Korean language in the many Bible Institutes, leprosariums, and in every secular library which will include Christian books.




Many students are worthy and avid candidates for study abroad. Remember that almost no graduate work is offered in most Korean seminaries and universities. But most schools, though Willing to give acceptance and a measure of aid to the Korean candidate, cannot sufficiently guarantee his total financial needs as to sign the necessary affidavits to the American Government that the prospective foreign student will never become a public charge, as between terms, or in event of sickness. So sponsors are needed who will so guarantee. In nearly all cases, however, the student, once in America, by sacrifice and hard work manages to get along without asking the sponsor for a penny. We very much wish to find Americans of comfortable means who can sign the necessary affidavit which is the student’s biggest hurdle, besides actual travel expenses to and from America.

By scholarship we mean financial aid for the student either in America or in the Korean schools. Some American schools can give only partial scholarships, and though Korean students are willing to work, their added studies in a foreign language make it difficult to meet their expenses, and they find it hard to compete with Americans for jobs. In Korea nearly every Korean institute for education depends on student fees, for there are no taxes and endowments to undergird the main school expenses. This makes education proportionally an exceedingly expensive thing in a country of exceeding poverty. In America college tuition may cost an eighth of an average American’s income. In Korea it is perhaps a third.


Last summer Dr. Henry Stob of Calvin Seminary lectured in our Korea Theological Seminary on Christian ethics. Early this month Chaplain Harvey Smit of the Christian Reformed Church gave four lectures on Kierkegaard. These were very fine, were very rare treats, and fortunately did not cost anything to the Koreans. This form of educational stimulus to Korean Christian educators and students is very precious and worth while. Many leading Calvinistic scholars would like to come to Korea for guest lectureships or to teach full courses for a term or two. But the cost of travel is large, though missionaries would delight in sharing their homes with such visitors. Again, money can be highly profitably put to such a purpose.

Remember, these suggestions are given in reference to the particular demand for well-educated Christian leaders here. The overall missionary effort needs assistance in dozens of other ways, but this article is to call particular attention to the much neglected subject above.


Above all, pray; pray with new requests if new information stimulates and guides your prayer. And pray that the gifts He gives to men for the leadership of his flock may be recognized and the man educated and appointed, as the Spirit leads, to the great work there is to do. He is able, and He is the great Shepherd of us, His sheep.