Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, Voice of the Martyrs Korea President, concludes this special 8-part series on Kim Kyo Shin, one of the greatest martyrs in Korean Christian history whose voice needs to be heard today more than ever, by Korea and the world.
What Kim Kyo Shin attempted—a Holy Spirit-led transformation of the nation through the personal transformation of its individual citizens according to the word of God—was daring indeed. But the recent beginning of the decline of the Korean church (cf. Hwang, 2012, 23) suggests that the effort may not have been reckless but instead essential. If so, then it may be as relevant and necessary today as it was in Kim Kyo Shin’s own time. Time may be running out on the model favored by some early Korean church leaders where an American form of Christianity was embraced as “a cultural instrument for advanced civilization” (Lee, 2011, 99). Kim Kyo Shin continues to point the way to something more radical: a renewed commitment to rediscover a truly indigenous form of Korean Christianity, one totally faithful to the Bible and to Korean culture, and one capable of being shared with the world, as driven by providence.
If it sounds unrealistic to believe that Korean churches would repent and embrace such an approach, it did to Kim Kyo-Shin as well; but this did not stop him from believing that God would bring it to pass. As he wrote in the first issue of his magazine in 1927:
‘Sungsuh-Chosun’! You shall go to Koreans who have Korean spirit rather than to so-called established Christians! Go to countryside, to mountain villages; make it your mission to comfort a woodcutter (Kim, 2012, 214).
If comforting a woodcutter does not sound like the start of the kind of international Biblical revolution that Kim Kyo Shin advocated, it is only because our understanding of what it takes to make a Christian is shaped more by proselytization and church growth strategies than by the experience of teaching that leads to genuine conversion and personal transformation. For Kim Kyo Shin, such teaching only ever happened in small numbers, and it always happened over time. His own work reflected this patient, intimate approach. As the compiler of his collected works noted, “Subscribers (to Sungsuh-Chosun) numbered 300 at the most and associate members were not over 10–20. At times, he continued Bible study with one audience in his living room for some time. He did this, saying, ‘A true regeneration of Christian occurs once over 3 years, one or two in 5 years, or 3 or less in 10 years’” (Kim, 2012, 178). If it was a strategy that was sand is unusual to Korean, it does not appear to be unusual by New Testament standards.
It was the New Testament that Kim Kyo Shin took as his sole standard, using this as the measure to evaluate the Korean church and the fruit of its labor. He grieved that the Korean church portrayed Christianity “as a path, not to the cross, but to health and material well-being” (Wells, 2001, 168). He quoted Mark 8:32-38 (in which Jesus rebukes Peter for failing to see the necessity of the Cross) and Luke 12:49-53 (in which Jesus warns that his word will divide families and bring fire to the earth) and urged Korean Christians to renounce the world’s ideas of power, along with Western-influenced conceptions of the Christian faith (Wells, 2001, 168).
All of this brings us back to the KPC ordination study guide with which this essay began. The guide asks, “What were the problems of the Non-Church Movement by Gyo Sin Kim?” It answers its own question by saying that the problems were the rejection of the established church, the denial of the church’s authority and ordination, and the refusal of baptism and communion (KPCA Ordination Exam, 2015).
It is not hard to imagine Kim Kyo Shin replying to the examiners that in fact the problem of the Korean church is that tends to regard such things as serious problems while neglecting its divine mandate for national and personal transformation.
In this day in which the decline of the Korean church has begun, it is not hard to imagine that perhaps he may be right.
Hwang, S.C. 2012. A theological analysis of the Non-Church Movement in Korea with a special reference to the formation of its spirituality. Birmingham, UK: University of Birmingham.
Kim, J.C. 2012. Recollection of Kyo-Shin Kim. BibleKorea.net. Accessed November 30, 2015 at http://www.biblekorea.net/articles/Recollection_of_Kyo-shin_Kim.doc.
KPCA Ordination Exam. 2015. Korean Church History. Accessed December 2, 2015 at http://www.kpcaep.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Korean_Church_History_Study.pdf.
Lee, S.C. 2011. Revisiting the Confucian norms in Korean church growth. International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 1(13): 87-103.
Wells, K.M. 2001. Providence and power: Korean Protestant responses to Japanese imperialism. In Reading Asia: New research in Asian studies, ed. F.H. Huskin and D. van der Meij. London: Routledge Curzon, 154-172.