Korea, for the most part of the 19th century, thwarted Western imperialistic encroachment. Charles Gutzlaff, a Pietist missionary, attempted to enter Korea in 1932 to distribute Bibles. Though he passed out some scriptures, he was not allowed permanent entry by the King and had to leave promptly. A similar foray into Korea by Robert Thomas in 1865 had similar results. Upon his attempt to return one year later, he perished at the hands of the locals, along with his whole crew. In 1873, John Ross entered a community of Koreans living in Manchuria. There he was able to introduce Christianity and translate the Scriptures into Korean. One of his acquaintances, Kyong-jo, would be baptized in Seoul in 1887, later to become one of the first seven Koreans ordained in 1907, marking the beginning of self-governance by Koreans. Geo-politically, when Japan and Korea signed a trade agreement, Korea opened itself to foreign nations in 1876. Foreign missionaries, though, were forced to continue to minister to Koreans outside of the country. But by 1883, Missions were able to establish themselves on Korean shores with much struggle. However, it would be the missionary doctor, Horace Newton Allen, that would secure the acceptance of the western missionary force in 1885. Dr. Allen saved the life of the King’s nephew and the King appointed him director of the kingdom’s hospital. The door for the gospel in Korea was now open.
About this same time, just across the Yellow Sea, in the Chinese province of Shantung (Shandong, in pinyin), Dr. John Nevius published his new missionary methods concerning self-support. His ideas, which failed to grab hold of his own mission, revolutionized the advance of the gospel in Korea (the following adapted from Chun Beh Im, A Critical Investigation of the Influence of the Second Great Awakening and the Nineteenth-Century Revival on Revivals in Korea (1884-1910) and Charles Allen Clark, The Korean Church and the Nevius Method).
- Widespread itinerant personal evangelism by the missionary
- Self-propagation: every believer a teacher of someone, and a learner. Layering–I teach you, you teach another, who teaches another, etc.
- Self-government–Unpaid leaders of individual churches, paid helpers (paid by locals) who travel from church to church, functioning as an elder but unable to administer sacraments. Paid pastors replace circuit helpers once church is able to support own pastor.
- Self-support–believers build own chapels, each group contributes to paid helpers salary, schools receive only partial subsidy, no pastors of single churches paid by foreign funds
- Systematic Bible study–classes for biblical education of all believers
- Strict discipline
- Co-operation and union with other bodies
- non-interference in lawsuits or any such matters
- General helpfulness in economic life problems of the people.
Missionaries worked out and adapted these principles for 15 years in Korea; Charles Allen Clark traces their development and evolution. Though some historians attributed the revival in Korea to the impending Russo-Japanese War, others argued that such an explanation is overly-simplistic, noting the degree of change and complexity of the situation supporting the missionary methodology as the major factor.
Even though the revival occurred in the aftermath of the victory of Japan over Russia and after Korea found itself in the protectorate of their enemy, the growth of the church followed another interesting set of events. Before discussing those events, several new methods adapted from Nevius need disclosure.
- Of primary impact, the North Presbyterian Mission adopted the rules for self-support as a mission. In other words, self-support was programmed in the modus operandi of the missionaries.
- These modes of operation included the intinerant gospel ministry of the missionary. In other missions, the missionary rarely left the mission compound. In Korea, the missionaries visited the country villages. This was right on target; at that time over 80% of the population was rural, but 80% of ministry was urban. Mao would mobilize the rural masses to rock China with communism. Nevius realized that it would take reaching the villages in order that the gospel be owned by the locals.
- Also, all locals were responsible for preaching and teaching. The laity was heavily involved. The catechumenate that the church adopted was at least two years of intense instruction. One would be denied baptism if they hadn’t tried to lead another to Christ or was teaching another.
- Tracts and Bibles were sold, not given away. This gave them value to those who received them and supported the ministry.
- In 1897, the local church took a collection for famine relief for people in India. Koreans supporting Hindus and Muslims in India–amazing.
- Churches were under constant supervision. The circuit helpers served as needed accountability for local bodies.
- The Bible classes brought the Scripture to the whole church. Nominality was not an option. Church discipline was intense, the lapsed would be warned, rebuked, then excommunicated if they showed no sign of repentance. Plus the use of small groups has long been a factor in fostering revival. From these classes, Christians were developed into leaders through total life submission to the Bible.
- Theological Education was only for those who qualified through hard work and raising of own support. Also, this education was designed to give students ample time to put it into practice. There were not classes for several months out of the year.
Up to 1907, the Nevius methods had enjoyed success in Korea, but there was a level of mistrust between the missionaries and the nationals. The Koreans thought the missionaries viewed themselves superior. They could not understand why the missionaries urged them not to rebel against the Japanese rule. The Koreans wanted freedom, but the missionaries were against the Korean wishes. Thus, though the missionaries employed superb missionary strategy, and even though they had seen some success, the harvest was yet to come.