Korea and the Cults

Status
Not open for further replies.

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I would like to introduce the state of Christianity in Korea, a country that has also given rise to a number of strange and dangerous pseudo-Christian cults.

Despite having been introduced only towards the end of the 19th century, the gospel in Korea has had to contend with various heresies, the number of which is seemingly disproportionate to the size of the country. This post deals with the state of Christianity and the cults in South Korea, since Christians in North Korea, so far as we can tell, likely make up a small and heavily persecuted minority. From what I have read and heard of the state of Christianity there, it appears that Bibles are so rare that the believers must scribble out pages of Scripture by hand, or they must memorize them. Some have nothing but the Ten Commandments.

In South Korea, the Catholic Church is the largest ‘Christian’ body. Among Protestants, Presbyterians form the largest group. There are several Presbyterian denominations, one of which is very conservative. The others, including the largest Presbyterian denomination (of which I am a member) are sadly slipping into liberalism. Another large denomination is the Methodists, who came to evangelize around the same time as the Presbyterians. There are a few Baptist churches. So-called ‘full gospel churches’ seem fairly numerous; until recently they were regarded as heretics.

2005 Census Statistics
Protestantism 18.3%
Roman Catholicism 10.9%
Korean Buddhims 22.8%
Other 1%
No religion 46.9%

The liberal slide is quite slow compared to churches in the West – Korea is generally a conservative society; however, the younger generation is exhibiting a marked change in values, and, unfortunately, imitation of Western social mores.

It seems to me that the Korean church has been failing to keep false teaching in check. Conservative Korean Christians still view the Seventh Day Adventists as heretics, yet Korean churches have in many cases opened wide the doors to floods of false teaching. Korean Christianity appears heavily influenced by Pentecostalism and Charismatic teachings. This is evident in worship and church organization. (This country is home to a number of megachurches.) In my experience, you will have a hard time finding a confessional Presbyterian Church, or a churchgoer who has heard of the Reformed confessions. So-called Presbyterian congregations are inflected with prosperity teachings. Some of my wife’s relatives attend a ‘Presbyterian’ church under the pastorship of a ‘prophetess’ whose ‘prophecies’ seem invariably to have to do with wealth and success.


Meanwhile, cults seem overabundant for a national population of around 50 million. There is the odd Mormon missionary from Utah. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a notable presence, although I have never seen anyone talking to them. They seem more numerous than in my home country of Canada. They make quite a fuss over military service, which is mandatory for Korean men.


There are the ‘Moonies’, officially the Unification Church, a large cult famous for their mass weddings. They follow the teachings of Moon Sun-Myung, who wrote their principal religious text, The Divine Principle, but they do maintain some loose attachment to the Bible. Their beliefs are far off the deep end. From what I can find, membership estimates are uncertain, ranging from 250,000 to 1 million, and across more than 100 countries.


I have personally encountered evangelists for another bizarre cult, Hananimeui Kyohoe, (‘God’s Church’). They are notable for their teaching about a mother god, a cosmic spouse to God the Father. Using the same Bible as mainline Korean Protestants, they base their entire understanding on Galatians 4 (which supposedly demonstrates that believers ‘need a mother’) and Revelation 22:17 – ‘The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come...’ The bride in this text is taken to mean the mother god.

The reason they hold this absurd interpretation is that the male founder of the cult died. He had proclaimed himself to be God, living in Seoul. So his wife was left at the reigns of the entire organization and had to justify her leadership. So, she is a goddess, living somewhere in Seoul. Hananimeui Kyohoe do not seem to have as significant a presence as some of the other cults.


These are a few of the cults and false teachings you might encounter here in Korea. There is one more, however, which I find more dangerous than the rest. They are called Shinchunji (‘New Heaven New Earth’). Their beliefs revolve around their leader, in whom alone, they say, dwells the ‘Spirit of Jesus’. Shinchunji are a particular threat because they literally send sleeper agents into churches (of all sizes) and bible studies, and even seminaries. They will conceal themselves for years, even ten years if they have to. In that time they will seek to slowly alter individual believers’ ideas about God and the Bible. (These liars also use the same Bible.) Once they convert someone, that person is brainwashed and sent out to infect some other church.

In a megachurch these sleeper agents can be harder to detect. Last year in my own church at least on of these was outed. I have heard stories that some of these agents, concealing for years their intentions, have even become ministers. If those stories are true, they reveal a frightening determination.


The trouble is that all these cults employ the same ‘Christian’ terminology: sin, grace, love, etc. But when a member of Shinchunji says, ‘Jesus loves you,’ what he or she means is that the cult leader living is Seoul, who alone is endowed with the ‘spirit of Jesus’, loves you. It is frightening to see unschooled churchgoers misled by such falsehoods. The young in the faith are especially at risk.

But, if you ask me, it is not too surprising to see when the confessions and catechisms have been discarded. Yet I take comfort in the knowledge that none of God's elect will be deprived of their salvation.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
A side note about the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung: His grandfather on his mother’s side was a Protestant pastor. The influence of Christian religion is evident even from a cursory view of the leader-worship enforced in that sad country.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
That's both sad and fascinating, Tom. In Romans 16, Paul seems to recognize that the very obedience of the Romans made them a target for false teachers.
 

johnny

Puritan Board Sophomore
Yes thank you Tom, that was very interesting. :)

Just a thought on sleeper agents in the church...
Would it be fair to simply call them tares? Or is that one step worse???
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
That was quite interesting and scary at the same time. However, I wonder what the churches in American would sound like to others if someone gave an in-depth description of each type of church. I wonder what we would think if we heard it ourselves. We might end up saying, "Very interesting and scary at the same time." about our own churches.
 

Beezer

Puritan Board Freshman
My wife is Korean and I've always been interested in comparing and contrasting Christianity in Korea with the U.S. My wife's parents live with us and they are members of a church that belongs to the Korean American Presbyterian Church(KAPC) denomination. My wife's mother is on staff at this church and our family is quite close to the Korean pastors there. The PCA church that we go to has been providing pulpit supply to this KAPC church's english service for the past year or two and the hope for all is that they will enter into the PCA eventually. My wife's sister lives with her family in Orange County, CA. and they are members of a large PCA Korean congregation.

A few things I've noticed in my interaction with Korean Christians. This is my own experience of the last 15 years and may not be normative:

- There is much greater emphasis on prayer and fasting in Korean churches than American churches.
- Most I've met are non-cessationists and believe the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing are still active.
- Most I've met rally around their common ethnicity and not necessarily their shared theological views.
- Most tend to evangelize in public much more than Americans do. Whether it's in northern VA or in southern CA there are always Koreans at H-Mart passing out tracks, etc.
- There is ALWAYS a fellowship meal following a Korean service whereas most American churches only do it one a month if at all.

Last year my family and I almost moved to Seoul and were scouting out possible churches to attend. We had our eyes on Seoul Covenant. My wife and kids are in Korea now actually and might visit while out there.

At any rate...good post Tom! Very informative.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
This situation seems to have a lot of parallels to the church in Latin America. There are things to be grateful for but with heaping piles of loony as well.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
That's both sad and fascinating, Tom. In Romans 16, Paul seems to recognize that the very obedience of the Romans made them a target for false teachers.

Perhaps. From what I understand, a lot of these false teachings have as their source the Korean Revival of (1906), which found its way to the young congregations of Korea from the Welsh Revival (1904) and similar movements in America around the same time.


Just a thought on sleeper agents in the church...
Would it be fair to simply call them tares? Or is that one step worse???

Following Augustine, I'd say that tares are to be found in any congregation. But this is something worse. Very creepy, don't you think?


I wonder what the churches in American would sound like to others if someone gave an in-depth description of each type of church.

Well, as a Canadian, looking south for many years, I've often thought American Christianity to be a bit funny... But that's not to say Canadians don't have problems! I think almost half of Canadians identify as atheist, while Canadian churches often exhibit the typically Canadian tendency to step back and apologize... ('Oh, did our preaching offend you? Sorry!') I'm only half-joking. :eek:
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
My wife is Korean and I've always been interested in comparing and contrasting Christianity in Korea with the U.S. My wife's parents live with us and they are members of a church that belongs to the Korean American Presbyterian Church(KAPC) denomination. My wife's mother is on staff at this church and our family is quite close to the Korean pastors there. The PCA church that we go to has been providing pulpit supply to this KAPC church's english service for the past year or two and the hope for all is that they will enter into the PCA eventually. My wife's sister lives with her family in Orange County, CA. and they are members of a large PCA Korean congregation.

A few things I've noticed in my interaction with Korean Christians. This is my own experience of the last 15 years and may not be normative:

- There is much greater emphasis on prayer and fasting in Korean churches than American churches.
- Most I've met are non-cessationists and believe the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing are still active.
- Most I've met rally around their common ethnicity and not necessarily their shared theological views.
- Most tend to evangelize in public much more than Americans do. Whether it's in northern VA or in southern CA there are always Koreans at H-Mart passing out tracks, etc.
- There is ALWAYS a fellowship meal following a Korean service whereas most American churches only do it one a month if at all.

Last year my family and I almost moved to Seoul and were scouting out possible churches to attend. We had our eyes on Seoul Covenant. My wife and kids are in Korea now actually and might visit while out there.

At any rate...good post Tom! Very informative.


Right. Good things and bad things about Korean Christianity. My favourite thing is the fellowship meal. Bulgogi after church! What could be better? I'm not a big fan of their sometimes extreme continuationist ideas, however.

Do you know about the 5am prayer thing? I think its nuts. My pastor (who is Korean) is pretty critical of it. After all, this is a country where many people have 12-hour workdays. Asking them to come to 5am prayer is a bit much. (Although they do sometimes serve breakfast...)

Seoul Covenant is the only English-speaking confessionally Reformed church in Korea. I've never attended a service, but if we lived in Seoul, that would be our church.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top