The Crisis of Authority and Theological Education

By Yang, Guen Seok | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Crisis of Authority and Theological Education


Yang, Guen Seok, Anglican Theological Review


The Crisis of Authority

For Korean Protestant churches, including the Anglican Church, 2007 was an especially historic year. First, it was the centennial of the great revival movement of 1907 in Pyeongyang, present-day North Korea. This revival determined many of the unique characteristics of Christian churches in Korea, and it is therefore considered an archetypal model for Korean church development. Second, 2007 was the twentieth anniversary of the Civil Resistance Movement of June 1987, a turning point in Korean democratization. After the movement of 1987, the nation's first democratically elected government was established. Many churches and their members, including the National Church Council of Korea, became heavily involved in, and often even led, the movement. Many historians have considered the role of the Korean churches in the democratization movement of the 1970s and 1980s to be the most positive contribution of the Christian mission in its 120 years in Korea.

To celebrate these two historic milestones, numerous events, conferences, symposiums, and seminars were organized throughout the year by both the ecumenical and evangelical movements in the church. However, the festive mood could not conceal a sense of disappointment looming in the background.1 Statistics have already revealed an unexpected decline in the number of Christians,2 and criticism from the mass media and intellectuals has disclosed an ugly reality of Christian churches: They are lagging behind as participants in the development of civil democratic society. In fact, many of the gatherings were organized as attempts to address this situation, but they did not lead to reflection on the causes of criticism.

Korean society's rapidly weakening trust in Christian churches is not simply the result of recent changes in the churches' social activity. Rather, it is the consequence of long-term failures or errors in the churches' mission. Therefore, I do not think that the situation can be addressed through expedient means, nor by a retrospective attitude that merely calls attention to the churches' past glories. From the beginning of the Protestant mission in the colonial period, Korean intellectuals have severely criticized a very divisive denominationalism in the church,3 as well as an exclusive attitude toward indigenous religious and cultural traditions. As they passed through the cold war, Christian churches in Korea opted to be the camp of anticommunism, rather than to be reconcilers in the midst of conflict and war. Even now, major Christian denominations would welcome the fact that they are regarded as the last stronghold of right-wing anticommunism in Korean society.

Highly competitive denominationalism has conspired with the commercial spirit of capitalism. As churches are regarded as private properties, the conflicts arising from church ownership are often reported by the media. In terms of theology or doctrine, each of the Protestant churches has claimed to be an orthodox successor to the theology and doctrine delivered by the first missionaries. Whenever a Protestant church has wanted to separate and form an independent denomination, it has asserted that the separation is to preserve the orthodox teachings of the missionaries. In this situation, church authorities have effectively excluded all theologies that are sensitive to the political, economic, and sociocultural context of Korea. Anachronistic religious trials often take place within denominations. Some theologians who urge interfaith dialogue have already been expelled from seminaries as a result. Even now, many theologians are under the threat of expulsion. Thus, it is very true that theological education is being held captive by church authorities. At the same time, Korean people's trust in them is radically weakening.

What I have offered so far are my observations on Christian churches in Korea, and the true environment surrounding the issue of theological education. …

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