The Korean Pentecostal Movement: Retrospect and Prospect for the New Century, Part I.

Wonsuk Maa, , Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (Baguio City, Philippines)

Leading Asian scholar, Wonsuk Ma, looks at developments and challenges for a Korean pentecostal movement which can no longer simply look to growth as its prime legitimization and energizing force.

Part I:

The advent and unprecedented expansion of the modern Pentecostal movement can be considered one of the most important events in twentieth century Christianity. The movement that originally began among the socially and ecclesiastically marginalized can be classified into three streams: 1) Classical Pentecostals, which began at the turn of the century and later resulted in the formation of Pentecostal denominations);2 2) Neo-Pentecostalism or the Charismatic movement, which began in the 1960s and spread across denominations and confessions;3 and 3) the so-called ‘Third Wave’ movement, which began in the 1980s among Evangelicals who had been previously untouched by the Charismatic movement, often due to inter-communal suspicion or criticism.4 According to David Barrett, a noted Christian statistician of modern Christianity, by 1995 Pentecostals worldwide accounted for 460,000,000. By the year 2000 he expects the number of Pentecostal believers to reach 550,000,000 as the second largest Christian group, next only to Roman Catholics.5

The growth and impact of the Pentecostal movement in Korea for the last half a century has proven to be equally phenomenal as its western counter part. Korean Pentecostals can be divided into two large groups: 1) Pentecostal denominations, such as Assemblies of God, Church of God and Foursquare Gospel Church, which appeared in the 1950s as a result of missionary activities of Pentecostal groups of the West, especially the United States; and 2) groups which can be called indigenous Pentecostals, which trace their roots to several prayer mountains that provided havens for Pentecostal phenomena often found in local churches during revival meetings and other prayer meetings. The latter have no connection with the western Pentecostal movement. Rev. Woon-mong Nah of the Yongmoon-san Prayer Mountain is a typical case. Naturally, Pentecostal denominations have been heavily influenced by the western Pentecostal movement in their theology, worship and structure, whereas indigenous Pentecostal groups draw their inspiration from traditional Korean religiosity. One can call the latter an attempt at Christian indigenization.6 It is also noted that indigenous groups predate the rise of Pentecostal mission churches.7 In the midst of the constant debate on the heretical nature of the movement, the Korean Pentecostal movement has succeeded on two fronts: first, phenomenal church growth;8 and secondly, ‘generalization of the Pentecostal beliefs.’

From the very beginning the global Pentecostal movement, particularly in Korea, has faced several fundamental challenges. The goal of the present study is to critically evaluate the past history of the movement, identify the tasks and challenges of the Pentecostal churches in Korea, and suggest roles for the new century. The following discussion is limited only to the issues pertaining to Pentecostal churches, and hence precludes general issues which Korean churches collectively face. 

Pentecostal Theology

William W. Menzies, a noted Pentecostal theologian and historian, argues that the most urgent challenge for the Pentecostal movement is theological in nature.9 It is true that the theological challenge, which the Korean Pentecostal churches face, is different from that with which other Pentecostals in the world struggle. A good example is the issue of speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence, which continues to generate an active theological discussion among Pentecostals in the United States.10 On the contrary, this has never been a theological issue in Korea, especially in connection with the baptism of the Spirit, although Korean Pentecostals were often ridiculed as ‘tongue speakers.’ Theological interest in Korea is radically different from that in the West, as theology often begins from human needs.11 The following are some theological issues which Korean Pentecostal churches have to struggle through.12

Recovering Its Theological Fundamentals

In a number of ways, the Korean Pentecostal movement, which began in the 1950s, differs significantly from the older western Pentecostal movement. The first reason for the difference is the evolution or change of the western Pentecostal movement over fifty years of pre-history. The second reason is found in the impact of the radically different Korean religious and cultural context, into which the Pentecostal movement was transplanted. Consequently, the movement in Korea grew into its unique present form. At the same time, one has to probe as to whether there has been a conscious process of contextualization, that is, an attempt to preserve the theological uniqueness of the movement, and creatively utilizing expressions relevant to Korean culture and social changes. 

In reality, the history of the Pentecostal movement in Korea has been, from the very beginning, one of survival in the midst of widespread accusations of heresy. For instance, the General Assembly of the Korean Presbyterian Church (Tonghap) only recently withdrew its heresy condemnation of Rev. Yonggi Cho of Yoido Full Gospel Church as heretical. Facing this difficulty, the Pentecostal churches had to choose one of two options. The first was to conform to the theology and worship practices of existing churches. It was a formidable challenge - in a society which values tradition - to insist on the Pentecostal distinctives and their theological uniqueness and to overcome criticism and persecution from the existing churches. This difficulty applied, not only to Pentecostal churches, but also to individual Pentecostal believers. The other option churches had was the exact opposite: choosing the lonely path, insisting on the uniqueness of Pentecostal theology and practices. Historically, the Korean Pentecostal churches have chosen both. In one of the annual general assemblies of the General Council of the Korean Assemblies of God, a motion was tabled to change the name of the denomination to the General Assembly of the Korean Presbyterian Church (Full Gospel).13 Some ‘Full Gospel’ churches changed their affiliation to Presbyterian churches. In many cases, Korean Pentecostal churches adopted more traditional worship patterns, especially those of the Presbyterian churches. 14

The second case is Yoido Full Gospel Church and its affiliates. In their worship and message, Yonggi Cho and other pastors have maintained a Pentecostal uniqueness radically different from the rest of Korean Christianity. The dynamic growth of these churches has proven that Pentecostal churches can fulfill their historical mandate only when they remain true to Pentecostal traditions, even in a conformist culture such as the Korean. The implications of the fact is significant that the churches which chose the former option may have been successful in reducing criticism from other churches, but churches in the latter category grew by leaps and bounds. 

In this situation, it is natural that the development of Pentecostal theology is attributed to the true ‘Pentecostal’ churches. However, one should bear in mind that there is a clear limitation for local churches or pastors to develop theology, as pastoral issues determine their theological interests and priorities. For instance, theological reflection among Korean Pentecostals has been published through Sinang-gye (World of Faith), a monthly magazine of Yoido Full Gospel Church, and other publications from the same church. Although Sinang-gye has contributed greatly to the formation of popular Pentecostal theology through the propagation of the message of healing and blessing, it was not an adequate underpinning for a solid Pentecostal theology. Other literature representing Pentecostal theological reflection include the many books containing sermons and teachings by Yonggi Cho, and two books by Jung-keun Park.15 In addition, a weekly newspaper Bok-eum Shinmun (Gospel News) had served a similar function to that of Singang-gye until it ceased its publication. In a sense, the continuing heresy debate also limited the production of theological works. At the same time, the heresy debate had its impact, not only without, but also within: it contributed to the division of the Korean Assemblies of God in the 1980s. The Pentecostal churches did not have an adequate theological foundation to counter these challenges from without and within.16 Considering that the debate has not been completely resolved, and sporadic debate is ongoing, proper theological reflection by Pentecostals is an urgent task.17

Due to this pressing need, Pentecostal theology in this context has tended to be reactive rather than proactive with regard to contemporary issues. For instance, Park’s two theological works are apologetic by nature, arguing for the validity of Pentecostal experience. On the other hand, Cho presents the ‘Three-fold Blessing’ and ‘Five-fold Salvation’ as a Korean version of Pentecostal theology.18 The ‘Three-fold Blessing’ is a new theological category which Classical Pentecostalism did not know, and, hence, it is uniquely Korean. This theology of blessing has its existential root in the poverty-stricken Korean situation of the 1950s and 1960s. That the element of blessing is the flagship of the Korean Pentecostal belief suggests a direct influence from the Charismatic movement rather than from Classical Pentecostalism. This argument is further substantiated by the fact that the 1960s and 1970s, when Korean Pentecostal churches grew dramatically in number and influence, is also the period of Charismatic or Neo-Pentecostal growth in the West. All these elements took root in the fertile religious soil of Shamanistic Korean minds. 

In Los Angeles at the turn of the century, the Pentecostal movement was a religion of the poor and marginalized. To them, the coming of the Spirit was the sign of the immediate return of the Lord. Thus, the urgency for mission became the hallmark for early Pentecostals. On the contrary, the Charismatic movement in the 1960s ‘married the Pentecostal message with material and present blessing.’19 (A good example is the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship, which was started in 1951 by a businessman, Demos Shakarian, who experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit).20 Classical Pentecostals emphasize the age beyond the present, while Charismatic Pentecostals stress the present age. For this reason, the Charismatic movement, though the source of many missionaries, failed to develop into a missionary movement.

All these indicate that Korean Pentecostals failed to inherit uniquely Pentecostal theological traditions. This is partially the result of the failure of the western Pentecostal movement to produce a theological literature. This is not to say that they produced nothing. For instance, the Assemblies of God, U.S.A. produced a three-volume systematic theology in the 1950s,21 and has produced and officially adopted twenty-one position papers to address contemporary issues from a Pentecostal perspective.22 Issues are theological (e.g., ‘Inerrancy of the Scripture,’ ‘Can a Christian Be Demon-Possessed?’ ‘Divine Healing,’ ‘Eternal Punishment,’ ‘Creation,’ ‘The Initial and Physical Evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit’), social (e.g., ‘Divorce and Remarriage,’ ‘Transcendental Meditation,’ ‘Homo-sexuality,’ ‘Biblical Understanding of Gambling,’ ‘Biblical Teaching on Abortion’) and ecclesiological (e.g., ‘Qualifications and Responsibility of Church Officers,’ and ‘Believers and Positive Thinking,’ etc.). Of course, not all of these constitute serious theological inquiry. However, they are a good indication of theological attempts to counter issues rising in the church and challenges, which Christians are facing in the world. They also have a historical value, in that they demonstrate the theological trends of a given time. 

Perhaps the most distinctive Pentecostal doctrine is the baptism of/in the Holy Spirit. Many hold that it is this unique theological understanding, accompanying phenomena, its experience, and its very purpose that make one a “true Pentecostal”. In spite of theological differences between Holiness Pentecostals and Non-Holiness Pentecostal believers, most Pentecostals believe that the baptism of/in the Spirit is a unique spiritual experience accompanied by speaking in tongues as the normal physical evidence, and is separate from, and subsequent to, regeneration. Particularly, non-holiness Pentecostals, such as the Assemblies of God, understand this experience as empowerment for witnessing based on Acts 1:8. They find its analogy in the messianic declaration of Jesus (Luke 4:18-19) that the coming of the Spirit is ‘anointing’ and commissioning for preaching. Therefore, the Pentecostal movement is entirely spiritual and eschatological in its theological orientation. 

It is perhaps unfortunate that Korean Pentecostal churches failed to inherit the foundational theology of the western Pentecostal movement. Translation of belief in the baptism of/in the Spirit into the Korean context, turned it into a subcategory to ‘receiving (God’s) grace,’ a traditional concept of Christian spirituality in Korea. Thus, speaking in tongues lost its original significance as an eschatological and missiological sign, but settled as one of several phenomena one can experience when ‘receiving grace.’ Unfortunately, Pentecostal spiritual experience in Korea has thus been defined, interpreted, and even prescribed by non-Pentecostal believers. This has been a serious theological setback for the Korean Pentecostal movement. 

Therefore, one urgent theological task for Korean Pentecostalism is to recover the uniqueness and distinctiveness of modern Pentecostal theology. This does not mean that one should blindly accept western theology. However, one can do a serious evaluation only after original theological beliefs have been taken ‘on board’. Then the process of ‘Koreanization’ can take place through critical evaluation and reflection. That the Korean Pentecostal movement failed in the first step can be blamed, partially, on the problem of language.

Definition of the ‘Korean Pentecostal Movement’

The ‘movement of the Holy Spirit’ or the ‘Pentecostal movement’ are terms used very often in Korean church history. Dong-shik Yu divides the movement of the Spirit in Korean into three modes: 

1) The paternal mode of the Spirit movement as influenced by Confucianistic ethos. The Pyungyang Great Revival movement and Rev. Sun-joo Kil reflect this mode; 

2) The maternal mode of the Spirit movement as heavily influenced by Shamanistic traditions. Rev. Yong-do Lee exemplifies this category; and 

3) a ‘theological movement for the mass (Minjung) as the third period of the Spirit’ in the struggle for the establishment of democracy in the 1970s.23 

Boo-woong Yoo’s work,24 the only book published in English on the Korean Pentecostal movement, adopts Yu’s definition of the Spirit movement or Pentecostal movement, assuming that every revival or renewal movement is the Spirit or Pentecostal movement. Thus, for example, the Wonsan Revival in 1907 is called a Spirit/Pentecostal movement. Furthermore, following Yu, he treats mass (Minjung) movement or its theology (Minjung theology) as part of the Spirit/Pentecostal movement.25 

Min characterizes this usage as loose and imprecise, even a misuse of the concept.26 According to him, most events which church historians call a ‘Spirit movement,’ including the Pyungyang Great Revival, lack theological and historical precision.27 For the same reason, one cannot call the revival movement by Yong-do Lee the Spirit movement.28 In order for a phenomenon to be qualified to be a new movement, a new theological understanding is essential, and, thus, awakening dormant spirituality is not sufficient to be a movement. For this reason, according to Min, the starting point of the Spirit/Pentecostal movement in Korean church history should be the propagation of the western Pentecostal message and the appearance of Pentecostal churches commonly known as Full Gospel churches.29 This confusion in theological definition has resulted in historical mistakes, arising from the fact that most studies on spiritual phenomena have been done by non-Pentecostal scholars. Furthermore, it took another non-Pentecostal historian to point out the root of the theological confusion and to propose a solution. This should seriously challenge Pentecostals. 

What, then, what are immediate tasks in this area for the Korean Pentecostal churches? If Kwang-shik Kim is right that the Spirit/Pentecostal movement came into being based on the frequent works of the Spirit in the preceding periods,30 then all of Korean church history should be rewritten from the hindsight that the work of the Spirit has been fully realized in the Korean church. In other words, from a Pentecostal perspective, the works of the Spirit throughout Korean church history should be reinterpreted. It will be analogous to the Book of Acts in which Luke recorded the birth of the church, its growth, its expansion to Judea, Samaria and to the end of the world, from the distinct perspective of the Spirit’s activity. 

Once the original and traditional Pentecostal theology has been received and the foundational definition of the Spirit or Pentecostal movement is clarified, indigenization is the next step. More often than not, contextualization takes place when it is not intended. For instance, while western Pentecostalism was struggling with the issue of the “initial evidence” of the baptism of/in the Spirit, Korean Pentecostalism developed a theology of blessing as its central doctrine, especially such visible blessing as physical healing or material prosperity. I have already argued that social context necessitated this theological emphasis, when the entire nation was struggling to escape chronic poverty in the 1960s and 1970s. The majority of early Pentecostals came from the lower social strata. Poverty and marginalization were part of their life, and the theology of blessing was a natural pastoral response. At the same time, it is not acceptable for the church, which is called to be salt and light to the world, to allow the world to set its theological agenda. This is particularly true as the nation has finally rid itself of poverty in such a way that not many continue to believe the message of material and physical blessing will continue to provide a dynamic spiritual motivation to the church and society in the new century. 

The western Pentecostal movement began with an entirely spiritual31 and eschatological orientation, and then added material, and the present-age dimension through its second evolution, namely, the Charismatic movement. On the contrary, Korean Pentecostalism began with an emphasis on material and physical blessing with a heavy emphasis on the present age, and probably intended to lead the movement into a spiritual and eschatological level. This is the logical dilemma that the Korean Pentecostal movement is facing: balancing this-worldly concerns with an otherworldly orientation. It is simply an impossible expectation. This logic is harshly tested as the growth of the Korean church, including Pentecostals, appears to have slowed and is actually declining. Without a renewed stimulus towards economic prosperity, Pentecostal churches and believers will need to set higher spiritual goals for church renewal and missions. These two happen to be what Pentecostals have traditionally perceived to be God’s specific call. 

New Spiritual Context for the Movement

In the 1960s, Harvey Cox of Harvard predicted in his The Secular City the coming of a secular age when people will have simply have lost interest in anything spiritual.32 However, in his latest book (Fire from Heaven), he reverts to his previous contention and argues that we are living in an age when people are increasingly interested in spiritual matters.33 His belief is well-substantiated by the New Age movement, the resurgence of indigenous religions in the midst of modernization, and the sudden interest in folk religious practices under the pretext of cultural preservation. According to Cox, the Pentecostal movement is expected to continue to supply a leading dynamic in the Christian spiritual movement in the new century. His prediction is based on the assumption that in the twenty-first century, people will (as in Latin America) have an increasing interest in spiritual matters.34 Cox, however, is not the first one who offered this prospect. Barrett’s statistics and estimates have indicated this for some time. In spite of, or because of, this increasing interest in the spiritual realm, the Pentecostal movement has been recently facing challenges from two exactly opposite fronts. 

The first of the two can almost be called pan-spiritism, an approach taken by liberal theologians or Christian groups advocating the social gospel. The work of the Spirit is interpreted so broadly that almost everything that the church or Christians are doing is the work of the Spirit. A good example is found in the 1991 general assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra, which took the theme ‘Come Holy Spirit, Renew The Whole Creation.’ Clearly there is a positive side to it, as the Council finally took note of the Pentecostal movement especially in the non-western world. This meeting became rather controversial because Professor Hyun-kyung Chung from Korea performed a controversial dance calling and appeasing the spirits of victims of political and social injustice. After her dance, she shocked the audience by declaring, ‘We experience the Holy Spirit through these victimized spirits.’35 This can be understood along with the perception already mentioned, that all the revival movements and people’s movements including the Hwalbindang are either the Spirit’s movement or at least linked to it.36 One can attribute this radically different understanding of the Spirit’s work among the liberal wing of Christianity to the fact that only a handful of Pentecostal groups, mostly from South America, have participated in ecumenical movements such as WCC. One can easily be surprised to see how many books and articles have been produced by WCC, or its organizations, dealing with the work of the Spirit in the church and society.37 The participation and contribution of Pentecostal theologians is urgently needed. For this reason, it is encouraging to see the recent move of some Pentecostal groups to participate in ecumenical activities and the on-going dialogue between scholars from WCC and Pentecostal scholars. 

The second front of a spiritual movement, which calls for Pentecostals’ attention, comes from the extreme opposite: Evangelical Christianity. The so-called Third Wave is generally traced back to ‘MC510 Signs, Wonders and Church Growth,’ a course first offered at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1982. This course, taught by John Wimber with the sympathetic support of C. Peter Wagner, sent a shock wave throughout the States and the world.38 From this controversial beginning, some Evangelical theologians and missiologists began to pay serious attention to the supernatural work of God and its experience among contemporary Christians. The concept of “power encounter” thus became the hallmark of the movement. Third Wavers can be divided into two groups. The first group pays attention to the lower level power encounter, achieving inner healing through the exorcism of demons from believers as well as non-believers. Charles H. Kraft of Fuller represents this group. The second group is specialized in the so called ‘higher-level power encounter,’ engaging in a spiritual warfare with territorial spirits over a locality or a nation. This strategy, according to them, provides a decisive turning point for missionary works. Of course, opinions are divided as to whether this phenomenon represents a new generation of the Pentecostal movement with a new theological undergirding. Pentecostal scholars are generally reluctant to admit that it is a new movement, but consider it the Evangelical segment of the Charismatic movement. What is relevant to the present discussion is its impact on, and challenges to, the Pentecostal movement.39 

How do we assess how these two spiritual movements impact the Pentecostal movement in the non-western world, especially as the churches begin to show symptoms of reduced spiritual dynamism? Through these spiritual movements, one can reaffirm the historical calling of the Pentecostal movement. The Pentecostals can make their best contribution only when they remain truthful to their spiritual heritage. If Pentecostal churches simply become evangelicals, then there may be no obvious reason why the Pentecostal church should exist as a distinct Christian group. Pentecostal churches must recover their ‘old time’ distinctiveness, even in a conformist cultures. Secondly, Pentecostals need to recover such original Pentecostal practices as divine healing and signs and wonders. Many Pentecostal churches in the West, and even some non-western countries, may be experiencing a post-Pentecostal era, with diminishing expectation of, and prayer for, God’s supernatural work. Instead, they seem to live with their past glory of God’s miraculous works. The Pentecostal churches need to pray for a new spiritual revival which will recover their spiritual dynamism. Third, Pentecostals should be encouraged to produce reflective theological works. For instance, Pentecostals, long before the appearance of the Boerea group in Korea40 or the Third Wave, were well aware of demons and their works. As a result, Pentecostals developed a fine understanding of demons and acquired ways to exorcise them, in ways not commonly known among Evangelicals. Nonetheless, Pentecostals failed to leave many writings, neither descriptive, nor reflective, so that exorcism became a lost art to subsequent generations. Fourth, Classical Pentecostal churches should have actively established dialogue channels and become involved in various theological exchanges so that 1) the Pentecostal movement would be able to have a more positive development; and 2) ultimately the movement would contribute to the expansion of God’s kingdom with its maximum potential. In fact, when believers who experienced the power of the Holy Spirit underwent theological confusion in the wake of the Charismatic or Neo-Pentecostal movement, many Pentecostals simply ignored their responsibility to lend a helping hand. This should be a cause for a serious regret, if not repentance. At present, Pentecostals need to recognize the various forms and evolutions of the movement, and to transform it into a strong missionary force beyond personal interest in spiritual fantasy or fanaticism. 

Practical Tasks

Pentecostal spirituality is the basic issue. Academically spirituality refers, contrary to the common usage, to various expressions of religious piety in any religion, and is different from theology and liturgy.41 Spirituality in the present discussion means the unique expression of devotion and piety of a religious group, and hence more than external phenomena, but includes the inner spiritual state.42 This section focuses on the practical application of Pentecostal theology: the challenges of Korean Pentecostal churches in individual, church, and social dimensions. 

Spiritual Maturity in Personal Life

The Korean dilemma must be seen as part of larger trends. The concept of sanctification in Pentecostal theology traces back to the nineteenth century Holiness movement, one of the most important roots for Pentecostalism, and further to Wesleyan Methodism. Many terms and expressions of the Pentecostal movement, such as the ‘baptism of the Spirit,’ were already used widely among the Holiness believers in the nineteenth century. The ultimate goal for the Holiness movement was to achieve sanctification, or holiness, in individuals and society. Thus, the baptism of the Spirit was understood as a radical experience within the sanctification process. Both Charles Parham and William Seymour, the two forefathers of the Pentecostal movement, were Holiness ministers.

To this early heavy influence from the Holiness beliefs, non-Holiness influence was suddenly added as a substantial number of non-Holiness believers had ‘Pentecostal experiences’ and joined the movement. From the very beginning, especially in the Azusa Revival, believers from a variety of theological and confessional backgrounds came and experienced the work of the Spirit. As the number of ministers increased, their respective denominations or organizations began to take action prohibiting their clergy members from joining the Pentecostal movement, and some were excommunicated. Naturally, the proportion of non-Holiness ministers, missionaries and believers increased. Most of them had a Calvinistic orientation, such as Presbyterian and Baptist, and soon they organized themselves into groups, which later evolved into Pentecostal denominations. They also added another theological dimension to the Holiness interpretation of the Pentecostal experience - that the baptism of the Spirit is not a step of sanctification, but an empowerment for mission. Such groups include the Assemblies of God, Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa, International Foursquare Gospel Church and others. 

One great challenge for the non-holiness Pentecostal groups is the lack of personal commitment to a holy life, thus having spiritual experiences without seriously underwriting ethical guidelines. Historically, Pentecostals have shocked the Christian world as well as the American society, in cases such as when Parham was arrested several times for sexual offenses,43 A. A. Allen, a famous healing evangelist, was arrested more than once for drunken driving,44 and recently Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker failed terribly in their ethical conduct. The emphasis on the ‘power’ dimension of the Pentecostal experience, while the doctrine of sanctification is neglected, can be likened to a dashing automobile without a proper sense of direction. It is all the more serious in Korean Pentecostal churches, which have lost even the missionary goal of non-holiness Pentecostalism, as well as the sanctification emphasis. 

In modern society, which is characterized by extreme individualism, severed relationships, selfishness, indulgence in sensual pleasure and materialism, the Pentecostal church should reevaluate current Christian spirituality, the social responsibility of the church and propose various solutions. In this sense, it is encouraging to notice that Korean Pentecostal churches have taken leadership by instituting overnight prayer and recently, daily Gethsemane prayer. Now is the time to recover the element of the holy life.45

Church Growth and Church Renewal

Contributions of the Korean Pentecostal church to church worship have been tremendous. In particular, the Yoido Full Gospel Church (YFGC) began many new worship programs, which have been widely adapted and propagated. Its role finds no precedent. Among them are concerted corporate prayer (in Korean the literal meaning is ‘prayer with a loud voice’) and singing accompanied by bodily movements and hand clapping. It is true that the YFGC did not invent these, but they were sporadically practiced at unofficial prayer gatherings, such as at prayer mountains and revival meetings. The radical thing is that YFGC adopted these ‘backdoor’ spiritual expressions in formal services such as Sunday morning worship. This generated a wild controversy in the Korean church, where conformity and predictability is an expected norm, and many Christians condemned them as signs of heresy. Subsequently, the YFGC, and many other Pentecostal churches, adopted gospel songs, prayer for healing and problem-solving, prayer for the fullness of the Spirit, testimony, praise, overnight prayer meetings, and recently the daily Gethsemane prayer. Some can be traced to their origin at revival meetings or the prayer mountain movement; but others, such as testimony, praise, and gospel song, came from the western Pentecostal tradition. However, a more radical element is found in Pentecostal preaching. The sermons of Yonggi Cho are a case in point. He has emphasized the closeness and goodness of God who can be experienced in our daily life.46 The Pentecostal understanding of God’s immanence is epitomized by McGavran:

Pentecostals emphasize utter yieldedness to the Holy Spirit, and believe that God stands at our very elbows, knocking at the door of our hearts, speaking in our intuition and dreams. Pentecostals believe that God our Heavenly Father is instantly available, and powerful. He is simply waiting for the soul to open the door. This common Christian doctrine is believed by all denominations, but pentecostals appear to believe it more than most others.47

This spiritual dynamic has made a great impact on Korean church growth. A link has been established between Pentecostal spirituality and church growth through the century of western Christianity.48 Korean church growth is another clear example. It is true that Korean churches, regardless of whether they are Pentecostal or non-Pentecostal, have experienced growth, just as the Korean church, Pentecostal, as well as non-Pentecostal, is now experiencing a decline. Nonetheless, one should be reminded that the Korean mega-churches, among the world’s largest twenty, are mostly Pentecostal, either in affiliation or in their worship and preaching regardless of their denominational ties. Church growth is a complex process: even if one puts all the proposed elements together, numerical growth is not necessarily guaranteed. This clearly implies that some essential elements are missing, and Wagner recently argues that the missing ingredients are spiritual. However, this emphasis has attracted accusations that his argument stretches further than evidence warrants.49

Several solutions have been put forward (both by church growth scholars and theologians) to counter the recent decline of Korean church growth.50 The first proposal is to provide leisure and recreational facilities and environment to meet the increasing desire for physical and mental rest. This approach is made primarily by pastors. Sunday attendance in Korea during fine weather is noticeably reduced from that on rainy days. This approach reflects the attention given by the church to the physical, mental and social dimension of human or Christian life. It is particularly convincing for two realities: 

1) most Korean churches in urban settings have built to the maximum extent of their limited lots. More often than not, many such churches are in the heart of crowded residential areas; and 

2) programs of Korean churches make heavy demands on the time and labor of church members, robbing many ‘committed’ members of their weekends. 

This certainly reflects a pastoral concern to provide an ideal church environment so that members can not only serve the Lord but also enjoy their service. From the same concern, churches attempt to free their members for family time by increasingly replacing the traditional Sunday evening service with Sunday afternoon services in many urban churches.

However, there have neither been a sufficient number of Korean churches that have actually implemented this approach, nor studies done on the effect of it. It is questionable whether church members can maintain continued satisfaction for the leisure facilities. One place that may shed light on this attempt is the approach of western churches. With all the attractive arguments, a fundamental question still remains: How feasible is this approach in reality? First of all, how many churches can actually move to a rural area near a metropolis, and how many church members can actually travel to a church that is removed from a community? Second, how much investment can a church make in meeting ever increasing social, mental and physical desires? For instance, American churches built many gymnasiums during the time that the membership of many mainline churches began to decrease. There is no convincing evidence that gymnasiums contributed to reversing the membership decrease. On the contrary, much of this huge investment, today, remains underused. The Korean church should question seriously if the church can spend its resources continuously in such areas where commercial leisure facilities are readily available with state-of-the-art amenities. 

The second solution forcefully proposed is the church’s active contribution to social welfare. The recent article by Bong-Rin Ro brought the slowing or reversing growth of the Korean church into the theological world. At the same time, he strongly urged the Korean church to give its attention to mission and social service as a way to revive the slowing church growth.51 For several reasons his argument is noteworthy. First, evangelical churches in Korea, including the Pentecostal churches, have underplayed the social dimension of the Christian calling. Especially during the time when injustice was openly practiced by oppressive governments, evangelical churches spent most of their resources in expanding their activities and facilities, while ignoring the suffering of the powerless. Contrary to the evangelical disinterest, churches with a liberal theological orientation and many Roman Catholic churches, provided a haven and a voice for the exploited laborers, victims of political injustice, and oppressed masses. In the meantime, the popular media, such as newspapers and television programs, reported how little of the total budget an average church was being spent on social service, while much of its resources were being spent for internal use including physical expansion. This generated a critically negative impression in the society. Evangelical churches should take a good look at the fact that the Roman Catholic church enjoyed an unprecedented church growth, especially among the younger generation, while at almost the same time, growth among the evangelical churches slowed down or even declined. For these reasons Ro’s argument, as well as the effort of some churches to serve their given community, are noteworthy.

However, the Korean church needs to ask fundamental theological questions: ‘Is social service the primary and foremost call of the church?’ and ‘Are external criticisms the main reasons why the church needs to be involved in this service?’ This is not to deny that the church has a calling to serve its own membership and promote the establishment of divine justice, especially among the oppressed. However, it is questionable if that is the “core” reason as to why the church, as the body of Christ, is in the world. Ro’s argument suffers a logical inconsistency. In his analysis of Korean church growth, he pointed to spiritual elements or dynamics as the prime reason for church growth,52 a conclusion which is theologically predictable, considering that the church is primarily a spiritual gathering with a spiritual task. One would expect, therefore that his prescription for the recovery of growth should be found in the spiritual dimension. Yet his answer is proposed in a social service rather than a spiritual dynamic. What is needed at this point may be a sound theological foundation to promote a rather more holistic ministry concept, beginning perhaps with a theology of the kingdom.

The third proposal is spiritual in nature: the church needs a new spiritual awakening. This argument arises out of the previous observation that the church and its mission are primarily spiritual in nature. Economic development and the improvement of living do not in fact reduce individual, family, or social problems in human life. Rather, they become worse as material prosperity clouds reality, or, as Marx notes, expands the field of perceived needs. Basic human spiritual needs still remain present, in spite of changes in human conditions. For this reason, it is encouraging to see Yoido Full Gospel Church and its mega daughter churches begin or reactivate a daily evening prayer meeting named the Gethsemane Prayer. The primary role of the church is to resolve spiritual problems in human life, and Pentecostals have rightly believed that many human problems have a spiritual root. As many churches are turning their attention to the social dimension, it is critically important to have a growing number of churches rededicate themselves to meet human spiritual needs. As the Pentecostal churches in the past led the growth phenomenon by providing spiritual dynamics, the contribution of the Pentecostal churches in Korea becomes critical. The real question, however, is not just whether they can provide a spiritual motivation, but what kind of spiritual motivation they offer. That is, can the motivation which the Pentecostal churches have provided in the past decades continue to sustain church growth in a new and changing social setting?

From this perspective, we need to seriously assess the validity of the blessing-centered Pentecostal theology in Korea. In spite of its many positive contributions in individual, family and social life, and its renewed appeal to the economically deprived, a self-centeredness in the movement has resulted from encouraging a positive attitude toward life. This further adds to local church-centered individualism. If the church should have serve at least as a slowing force for the individualism of the entire society, it is of some concern that this ‘blessing’ phenomenon has further accelerated individualization. If the motive of individual blessing and upward mobility have served as a major dynamic for church growth, this is the time to evaluate the underlying motivation for this theology. The question of whether the same theology can sustain the growth of the future church prompts a look at Korean church growth itself. The recent economic crisis graphically demonstrates how fragile one’s physical and material blessing can be, and how contextually limited ‘blessing’ theology is. 

Recent North American experience provides a useful comparison. If the Toronto Blessing, which some Korean churches viewed as a viable model for renewal, is a phenomenon of the second or third ‘wave’, the recent Pensacola revival contains many elements of the traditional Pentecostal revival and renewal.53 First, the Brownsville church belongs to the Assemblies of God, a classical Pentecostal denomination. Second, the recent revival is a result of many years of prayer for spiritual revival by the pastors, as well as their entire congregations.54 Third, the focus is not on external manifestations, such as controversial animal sounds, dashing from one end of the church to the other, as seen in the Toronto Blessing, but on the inner renewal, such as repentance and ‘waiting for the Lord.’ The simple message of repentance and recommitment in Pensacola makes a sharp contrast with the Toronto phenomena.55 Fourth, a unique feature is that a similar revival is spreading in many other places. Many testify that churches which have been praying for a revival, as did the Brownsville church, and whose leaders have visited Brownsville, have experienced a similar revival in many parts of the United States and in the world. Proponents claim that this shows that it is the Holy Spirit that brings a revival in the church. Fifth, the most Pentecostal feature in Pensacola is not visible manifestations but the ultimate salvation of souls. In Brownsville, the Friday evening service is the climax when thousands of new believers receive water baptism. The ultimate work of the Spirit in such ‘old time pentecostal revivals’ is salvation. Sixthly, such a revival or renewal in the church has made a powerful influence and impact on the society. It is a well-known fact that the crime rate in Pensacola has dropped drastically since the revival broke out, and the notorious homosexual district has disappeared from the street. Of course, no revival or its leader is perfect. The most valuable lesson is that this revival reaffirms the possibility of traditional Pentecostal revival, that the ultimate theological goal of church revival and renewal is to concentrate all abilities and resources into mission. This is the heart of Pentecostal theology. Even in the time of economic hardship, this will provide a sound theological framework and direction for the Pentecostal churches. This type of a spiritual revival may also be able to provide a theological paradigm for unified Korea with the unifying dynamic of the Spirit.

Social Role of the Pentecostal Churches56

What are the elements for social service or reform in Pentecostal distinctiveness? In spite of its strong emphasis on the individual dimension in spiritual experiences, there are various impulses in the movement for social service and reform. First, they believe that true change in a society or community begins with a fundamental change in individuals. It is true that Pentecostals overly attribute social problems to spiritual causes. This is a direct contrast with approaches such as liberation theology, which purport to change or eliminate an unjust system. For this reason, the Pentecostal movement did not evolve into a social gospel movement. Second, Pentecostals believe that true change in an individual’s life comes from a fundamental spiritual change, and they believe that the baptism of the Spirit provides a crisis experience which eventually leads into a spiritual change. An even more powerful motivation comes from the fact that Pentecostalism is a religion of the marginalized. The most profound scriptural reference is found in the messianic proclamation in Luke 4. ‘Anointing’ is more than an empowerment: it is a commission for social service.57 This makes the Pentecostal message a ‘full gospel’. Historically, the Pentecostal movement is not a religion for the poor, but of the poor.58 Right at its beginnings, the Pentecostal movement shattered high racial walls, which divided the colored from the white. Consequently, it has not had to wrestle (in most places) with the elitism which has beset so many of the State Church traditions in Christianity, which inevitably united culture, ethnicity and nation with faith. A true ecumenism and racial unity can be obtained only through the work of the Holy Spirit. This further implies that Pentecostals have a strong potential to become peacemakers in a true sense.

However, not all these theoretical potentials were historically realized. First, the Pentecostal movement failed to contribute to true ecumenism. The ecumenical potential through the supernatural work of the Spirit suddenly lost its possibility as the Pentecostal movement evolved into denominationalism. Of course, this might not have been entirely the choice of early Pentecostals. As the pressure from a hostile Evangelical world increased, Pentecostals were forced to organize themselves. As a consequence of the denominationalization, the Pentecostal message lost its platform to renew and bring together the large church world and was reduced to a denominational theology and tradition.59 On the contrary, Korean Pentecostalism has succeeded in spreading the Pentecostal experience across the denominations, thus achieving a generalization of the Pentecostal message. The ecumenical potential of the Pentecostal movement was well demonstrated by the rise of the Charismatic movement in the 1960s. Classical Pentecostals have witnessed how the experience of the Spirit broke the denominational and confessional barriers, including that between Catholics and Protestants. This should have caused Classical Pentecostals to recognize the ecumenical potential of Pentecostalism and to repent of the poor stewardship of the ecumenical calling in the past. For this reason, it is encouraging to see that several Pentecostal bodies in Latin America and Asia have participated in activities of the World Council of Churches. Another failure has been indifference to social injustice. An example is the case of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa which supported the white government and apartheid policy, so ignoring the just treatment of the black majority. This is a case of ‘spiritual blindness.60 This is not limited to South Africa. In Latin America, some Pentecostal churches sided with oppressive military governments, at least morally or religiously, and enjoyed security and ‘growth’, while many Christian leaders resisted the authorities through liberation theology. In Chile, for example, some Pentecostal churches allowed their fear of communism to translate into support the brutal Pinochet regime.61 Considering that the modern history of Korea is a history of suffering and struggle by the masses, Korean Pentecostal churches must ask themselves as to what their position toward the suffering and oppressed masses has been.

What then are some areas where Korean Pentecostal churches need to fulfil a social role, especially as the world Pentecostal movement is facing its second century? 

First of all, Pentecostals need to remind themselves that the movement began as a haven for the poor and oppressed. If today’s Pentecostal church is no longer a favored place for such people, then the movement has lost its original mission. Korean Pentecostals should learn from the painful experience of some Latin American Pentecostals, who came from the lower socio-economic strata of society, experienced material and social blessings with a continued upward mobility, and have finally lost their ability to relate to the poor. In this sense, Pentecostals who have led the upward mobility in turn need to begin a serious voluntary downward mobility.62 This move is particularly relevant as South Korean Christians, including Pentecostals, are faced with need to take leadership in aiding the famine in North Korea, to share the pains and sufferings of North Koreans and ultimately to bring them into the stream of economic sufficiency. It will take a theological adjustment rather than an emotional appeal, to truly participate in their pains and redemptively help them. It will take an incarnational and missiological conviction to go to them and share the love of Christ.

Second, Korean Pentecostal churches must exert the utmost effort to break their individualistic orientation to Christian life. This can be done on two fronts: theological and pastoral. In the face of the rapid westernization and individualization of society, the recovery of the corporate theological nature of the church is urgent. As long as individual Christians remain indifferent, because there is no direct gain or loss, one cannot expect any meaningful social service by Christians. 

Korean Pentecostals also need to maximize their potential for unity. As every sector of the society is aiming for globalization and the world media and TV programs are coming to living rooms, it is a tragedy that the nation is deeply divided by provinces. One needs to ask a probing question about what the churches, especially Pentecostal churches, have done to resolve this destructive and harmful practice with their powerful spiritual potential for unity. This centuries-long regional conflict can be broken down only through the uniting power of the Holy Spirit. It is especially important because the regional differences and conflicts will become more severe once North and South are reunited.

Also, Pentecostals need to propose a uniquely Pentecostal model for social transformation. They are equipped to put forward a unique transformational model based on genuine change in individual lives, broadening bringing it to the group, the society and finally to the nation.63 Many historical models are available especially in missiology. The success of the educational ministry in Latin America is an example.64 In a sense, this is an active social service and contribution. As more voices are raised urging social services by Pentecostals, the Pentecostal churches need not only to actively take part in eliminating causes for social ill, but also to propose valid models that are uniquely Pentecostal. for Part II of this article