Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Missio Dei-Its Development and Limitations in Korea

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Missio Dei-Its Development and Limitations in Korea

Article excerpt

1. Reception and development of missio Dei

1.1 If missio Dei is understood in the sense of the arrival of the gospel preceding the arrival of missionaries, then Korea is a typical example. Koreans voluntarily accepted the Christian faith before the arrival of foreign missionaries. They were baptized in China and Japan, and began to translate the Bible into Korean. The first American missionary, H.N. Allen, arrived in Korea in 1884. One year later, the Presbyterian minister H.G. Underwood and the Methodist minister H.G. Appenzeller arrived as educational missionaries. But before that, in 1879, the Scottish missionary John Mckintyre had baptized Back Hong Chun and four more Koreans in China. In 1882 these converts translated the complete New Testament and were themselves active as missionaries. Between 1883 and 1884 about seventy Koreans were baptized in China by the Scottish missionary John Ross. In 1883 Lee Soo Chung was baptized in Japan. He subsequently made a major contribution to Bible translation and to the establishment of Korean congregations in Japan. The first Protestant congregation in Korea was established in 1884 by Suh Sang Yoon in Whang Hae Province.

The Protestant church received the gospel in a very subjective way and was very independent in church organization. Theologically, the members were in the shadow of the American missionaries. During the period of Japanese colonial rule, there was growing resistance in the Korean churches to the American missionaries. The missionaries were middle class in origin and had an evangelical background to their faith. They thus, in the spirit of the 19th century, communicated American patriotism, racial superiority and the conviction that they were to bring Western civilization to the pagan world.

In the 19th century, industrial capitalism became firmly established in the USA through the success of the industrial revolution. Mission could thus go hand in hand with the expansion of American industrial capitalism. The middle class background and the evangelical belief of the American missionaries ultimately became the basis of a strict moral and religious code, which found expression not only in the religious domain, for example in biblicism, Sunday observance, tithing, and banning ancestor worship, but also in the moral domain, for example by prohibiting dancing, card games, drinking and smoking.

These demands by the missionaries, which they considered important for maintaining the purity of the church's faith, resulted in self-righteous rejection by the Korean churches of other religions and traditional cultures. This strengthened interest in individual piety, a tendency to be pro-American and identification of the Christian faith with Western civilization and theological fundamentalism.

An important legacy of mission was the so-called separation of politics and religion. The missionaries would say that the separation of politics and religion was the hallmark of Western secular states. This policy of separation in the mission prevented Christians from participating in the independence movement of the Korean people. It also later gave rise to conflict between progressive and conservative churches, and was later used as an argument for criticizing missionary involvement in social issues. Moreover, it also contributed to justifying oppression by the military dictatorship.

In 1925, Korean Christians gave expression to their discontent with the missionary policy that was based on the division of the country into separate mission areas, the transfer of denominationalism, the control of missionary societies, the separation of politics and religion and the close relationship with the Japanese imperial government. In particular, racist behaviour on the part of some missionaries, and conservative theological education at Bible college level, deepened the conflict between missionaries and Korean Christians. This conflict was later to divide the Korean churches further into evangelical and ecumenical camps. …

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