Korean Christian Zionism: A Sociological Study of Mission

Article excerpt

Abstract From the perspective of the sociology of missions, this study explores the Korean Christian Zionists' mission work after 9/11. The current Pentecostal success in South Korea has spurred the nation to send more missionaries abroad than any other country except the United States. As America has been losing the trust of the world since 9/11, some evangelical fundamentalists argue that Korea should take over the initiative of world mission from the United States. The Jerusalem Jesus March in 2004 and the South Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan in 2007 have served to admonish Korean churches to hastily reconsider coercing their missionaries to proselytize in dangerous areas such as Islamic lands. This study unfolds issues such as "spiritual subjectivism"and "Korea- centrism", illustrated by the Jesus March incident and the Afghan controversy, and suggests that the expansionism of Korean Pentecostal/evangelical missionaries taken up with the idea of "global spiritual conquest" is a manifestation of "Korean Christian Zionism".

Korean Protestant success, fundamentalism, and Christian Zionism

Boasting 27 of the world's 50 biggest mega-churches, South Korea exhibits the proliferation of Christianity in the nation. (1) Philip Jenkins, in The Next Christendom: The coming of global Christianity (2002), reports,

   The number of Christians in the whole of Korea was only 300,000 or
   so in 1920, but this has now risen to 10 million or 12 million,
   about a quarter of the national population.... As in Latin America,
   Protestant growth has been largely Pentecostal. At the time of the
   Korean War, the nation's Pentecostal believers could be counted
   only in the hundreds, but by the early 1980s, their ranks had
   swelled to almost half a million. The growth of individual
   congregations has been dazzling. (2)

South Korea has the largest Christian congregation in the world: David Yonggi Cho's famous Yoido Full Gospel Church (YFGC), affiliated with the Assemblies of God, is located in the financial centre of Seoul, the country's capital. (3) In line with the embodiment of "Pentecostalization of the churches", (4) mainstream Protestant churches have succeeded impressively in adjusting their theology and worship following the Pentecostal flow. (5) Among its reasons for success, I believe, is the strategy of evangelical Protestant Christianity in its Pentecostal form, which had been imported following the Korean War (1950-53), in nestling itself between Korean shamanism and modern American capitalistic materialism, (6) a wise manoeuvre that enabled it to proliferate within South Korea, producing a centre of evangelicalism here. (7)

While Japan and China saw Christianity as a product of imperialism, Korea saw it as a new form of nationalism. (8) Korean nationalism had been underdeveloped until the Japanese colonization; Christianity in Korea worked in tandem with the peoples' hopes of preserving their traditions against the Japanese rule. Koreans welcomed Protestantism for its religious creed, for its political, social and cultural ideals and activities, and for the way it compensated for the loss of their country's nationhood.

Since the birth of the Korean church in the late 19th century, evangelicalism has been one of its characteristic hallmarks. (9) During the year 1907, American missionaries in Pyongyang marked the ordination of the first Korean missionary. The Korean churches' dispatching of 157 missionaries between 1907 and 1937 followed. (10) Even after the Japanese occupation (1910- 45) and the Korean War, the Koreans' evangelistic zeal remained open to the modern mission movement that grew out of American evangelistic efforts such as the student revival movement.

To the students in theological seminaries, the year 1880 marks the beginning of a new missionary interest. (11) The first Inter-Seminary Convention was held in October 1880, at New Brunswick, New Jersey, forming the American Inter-Seminary Alliance. …