Life, Justice, and Peace in the Spirit: A Korean Pentecostal Reflection

By Ma, Wonsuk | The Ecumenical Review, July 2013 | Go to article overview

Life, Justice, and Peace in the Spirit: A Korean Pentecostal Reflection


Ma, Wonsuk, The Ecumenical Review


The 10th assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is to take place later this year in Busan, South Korea. Korea is perhaps the only divided country today. The assembly theme is "God of life, lead us to justice and peace." Three subthemes support the main theme: "Life together in faith: Unity and mission"; "Life together in hope: For justice, peace and reconciliation in the world"; and "Life together in love: For a common future." My focus in this article is to ask: "How will these themes speak to the Korean church (1) and to the whole nation?" The other side of the question is how the experience and reflection of the Korean church in its socio-political context can contribute to the worldwide church, in its quest for unity among diverse church families, as well to the world, for the justice and peace it has sought for ages.

My reflection comes as a Korean Pentecostal. Strictly speaking, I am an "outside" Korean: I have lived most of my adult life outside of the country as a mission practitioner and leader. Recently, my interest has been in the new spaces and possibilities that the current shift of global Christianity has afforded. Thus, I may not be able to provide an insider's reflection on critical issues such as division within the Korean church in relation to the WCC.

For the first time in the history of Korea, Korean products have gained premium stares; in pop culture, an overnight global sensation was recently born with the worldwide success of the Kangnam Style music video, better known in the West as "Gangnam Style." The Korean church has made its mark on the global scene with its impressive growth and thriving missionary work. At the same time, Korea is still characterized by "dividedness" as a nation, a society, and within its Christian population. This complex context will play a part in this reflection.

Being a Pentecostal also means that I have been outside of ecumenical circles, as most Pentecostal churches have not been part of global or national ecumenical bodies. I come as a critical observer and sometimes participant in the ecumenical movement. My contact with the ecumenical movement has been more indirect, as I have participated in recent gatherings of the WCC's Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, the Edinburgh 2010 process, and two WCC committees.

Why then does my reflection come from Isaiah? The Korean host committee's brochure states that the theme "God of life, lead us to justice and peace" is inspired by Isaiah 42:1-4, a passage known as the First Servant Song. The book of Isaiah provides a wealth of material on the Spirit of God, especially in reference to the flourishing of life, justice, and peace. (2) The fact that Old Testament resources of and about the Spirit have been completely ignored by Pentecostals is another reason for my drawing a scriptural reflection from this rich tradition.

My reflection begins with a recollection of my own journey of ecumenical awareness as an illustration of several struggles that any non-ecumenical believer should overcome in order to enter into meaningful ecumenical engagement. I will then explore the three key components of the Busan assembly theme using selected Spirit passages, drawn mostly from the book of Isaiah. The three themes, however, are closely interrelated, and dividing them from each other is merely a device. The discussion will take into account my Korean Pentecostal perspective and experience. In each section, I will try to answer the two questions I raised earlier: 1) How the assembly, through the exploration of its theme, can speak to the nation and church of Korea, and 2) How Korean Pentecostal experience can contribute to the tenth assembly and thus to the world church. I shall conclude this reflection with my personal prayer for the upcoming assembly in October and November 2013.

My Ecumenical Journey in a Global Context

My Christian life began when I was a boy in a small town on the southern tip of Korea. …

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