Revival and Missions–Loss of a Sense of Superiority

In the first 4 decades of the 20th century, revival fires blazed across the face of the globe. And the difference between the global revivals and the revivals in America and Europe during the same time period was that, in India, Korea, and China, the dominant culture was non-Western, even anti-Western, and the religious climate was non-Christian. How did such great revivals burn white-hot is such dark lands?

There has been a lot of discussion since Venn/Anderson/Nevius about the three-self’s and the problem of foreign dependency in missions. But I feel the main issue, that paternalism, imperialism, colonialism, and dependency were but symptons, is a subconscious feeling of superiority. A church may be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propogating, yet still feel inferior, not living up to the expectations of foriegn agencies. Strategies may be developed to curb these feelings and to plant churches with autonomous DNA, but these strategies are still being created and enforced by Western, or other foreign, missions/missionaries. As such, movements of God, and revivals, are not seen.

As I have studied “The Shantung Revival” (1927-1937) and am beginning to research on the “Great Revival” in Korea (1903-1907), I find two things in common, yet arriving from two different contexts.

In one sense, both Korea and China share similar philosphical/religious backgrounds. However, the interaction between Chinese and Korean cultures with Western cultures has been shaped by two different histories.

Historically, China has been heavily involved in trade with the West, going back milennia on the Silk Road and more “on your front porch” in the mid-19th century. Up till the 1840’s-1850’s China, though in contact with the West, was largely automous over its relations with foreign powers. So much so, that the Chinese Emporer had more control of Chinese Catholocism than the Pope, declaring what word would be used for God, no small impact on Chinese Christian theology. But from the mid-19th century on, the Chinese Empire waned in power and was forced into unequal treaty after unequal treaty culminating in the Boxer Rebellion in 1899-1900 which broke the back of the Empress Dowager. The last emperor lost power in 1912. Unfortunately, the history of Protestant Christianity did not gain from its connection with Western Imperial power. For all practical purposes, the Chinese could not distinguish between merchant and missionary.

Korean experience was different. Due to its location and history of isolation, Korea was able to stave off the advances of Western capitalism. Though reputable for its hospitality to shipwrecked sailors, even escorting them with food and drink to the Chinese border, the Korean government burned in the water a merchant ship sailing up its rivers. As a result of its stalwart stance against colonial powers, Korea retained its autonomy with the US and other nations. Unfortunately, they were betrayed into the hands of the Japanese. Nonetheless, missionaries did not enter into Korean culture with negotiated advantages. Christianity had to stand on its own feet.

Whereas Christianity had interacted with Chinese culture since the 6th century (albeit Nestorians), Korea had only been introduced to Christianity since the late 1800’s. While in China, Christianity functioned from a position of unfair political advantage, in Korea, Christianity entered in the position of a servant.

Yet two things were in common between the Shantung Revival and the Great Revival in Korea: repentance by the missionaries of a sense of superiority in the hearts towards the people, and the rise of indigenous leadership.

In both China and Korea, missionaries had been training and equipping native leadership, but it was not until revival came that indigenous leadership actually rose. Leaders were not just entitled, they were empowered. They felt like and acted as leaders. This is because the missionaries had been broken of their personal sense of superiority.

This was the major contributing factor to both revivals. In Korea, this started with R. A. Hardie who repented publically of his sins. This loss of face before his brothers opened the door for the Spirit to work. Similarly, in Shantung, this began with C.L. Culpepper (via Marie Monsen). It was seeing the missionaries repent, some of them even experiencing conversion for the first time, and be filled with the Spirit that the nationals felt that the missionaries considered them on equal par. In Korea, a respected person from the nobility, who later became a great revival leader, repented continuing the revival among the nationals. In China, one wife was converted after her husband confessed his sins, exclaiming, “I want to know more about this Jesus, becuase I have many sins, too.”

The question remains:

Will you repent of your sense of superiority over peoples from other cultures?

Believer it or not, if you have been raised in America, this cultural pride, called ethnocentrism, has been pumped into your mind from almost every direction, from liberal and conservative media alike, even, YES, even from the Pulpit. Ask God to reveal it to you! And repent. God will pour out his blessings on you!



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  1. It would be interesting to see how those revivals compared to the East African revival, which, if I remember correctly, was at roughlt the same time, but in the height of the colonial period.

  2. Steve,

    Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I am very unfamiliar with the East African Revival, but perhaps I will have time to look into it in the future. Perhaps you could share a little of what you know, I would greatly appreciate it.


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