Defining Terms: Revival and the Revivals of Korea

Primary to any discussion on revival, one must define what the term means, how it is used and what it refers to. In other words, is the way that scholars have used the term commensurate with its use in the first decade of the twentieth century? The term traditionally refers to either protracted revival meetings or more broadly to a movement among Christians characterized by open confession and repentance, prayer, and finally evangelism and church growth. Many scholars view the Korean revivals as part of the Global Revival (1901–1910).[1] The influence of the revivals in Wales and India upon the Great Revival will be discussed later. Korea, though, experienced several local revivals prior to the Great Revival in 1907, much like a volcano will tremor and steam before an eruption. The earlier revivals would see the most fruit among the Methodists, while the later revival produced fruit nationwide, but greatly among the Presbyterians.

According to Chang Ki Lee, the missionaries had conducted some revival meetings prior to 1903, particularly Malcolm C. Fenwick.[2] The Southern Methodists employed the revival meeting methodology regularly from 1897–1903 along with the Bible Class.[3] In 1896, though, Fenwick itinerated in the villages, preparing leaders through two week Bible studies. He sensed that God was not working in the meetings, so he called the church to repent of their sins. After two men confessed their hatred for one another, the next day “three hundred disciples broke down and wept before the Lord as one of their restored number addressed them.”[4] Thus, even the example given that revival meetings had been held prior to the revival does not establish that the meetings were protracted meetings in the common sense. On the other hand, revival broke out at meetings in response to public repentance. In 1903, at a Bible Study for missionaries (including the Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists, Robert Alexa Hardie (1865–1949), a man having been influenced by Moody and the Student Volunteer Movement, confessed “his faithless and self-centered labors.”[5] The next day he confessed to the Korean church:

After I had entered upon a realization of the fullness of the Spirit and with shame and confusion of face confessed my pride, hardness of heart, and lack of faith, and also much that these had led to, they saw for the first time what conviction and repentance mean in actual experience. I told them of how by simple faith in God’s promise I had claimed the gift of the Holy Spirit.[6]

Apparently, only Fenwick,[7] almost a decade earlier, had experienced what would happen next—the open repentance of the Korean people.[8] Public confession and the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit followed Hardie and other impacted Koreans. They were like embers igniting dry tinder among the nationals. Thus, through ministry of these affected persons, the revival meeting proved effective. Korean nationals made public confession without any invitation at meeting after meeting.[9] Though the early revival meetings occurred mostly among the Southern Methodists, key Presbyterian leaders, foreign and national, experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. The stage was being set for a greater work. What can be concluded from this discussion is that the revival meetings were not held in order to get revival, rather, the meetings were held as a response to revival, in order to spread it throughout the country. Therefore, the Wonsan Revivals and the Great Revival were more than just the results of revival methods.

 [1]Malcom McDow, and Alvin L. Reid, Firefall: How God Has Shaped History Through Revival (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001), 275ff; Chun Beh Im, “A Critical Investigation of the Influence of the Second Great Awakening and Nineteenth-Century Revival on Revivals in Korea (1884–1910),” Ph.D. diss. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 2000, 111.

[2] Chang Ki Lee, The Early Revival Movement in Korea (1903-1907): A Historical and Systematic Study (Zoetermeer, The Netherlands: Uitgeverjj Boekencentrum, 2003), 73. Cf. Malcolm C. Fenwick, The Church of Christ in Corea (New York: Hodder & Stroughton, 1911), 45.

[3] Lee, The Early Revival Movement, 74ff.

[4] Fenwick, Church of Christ in Corea, 44–5.

[5] Im, “A Critical Investigation,” 109. 

[6] L. George Paik, The History of Protestant Missions in Korea 1832–1910, 2nd edition (Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 1971), 368.

[7] After reporting his experience to A. P. Appenzeller of the Methodist mission, Appenzeller responded, “Brother, I would walk a thousand miles to see one Corean [sic] weeping like that for sin. I have not yet seen one.” Fenwick, Church of Christ in Corea, 46.

[8] “It was not until Hardie repented that Koreans became conscious of their sins and repented. Hardie’s new life caused Koreans to learn God’s ability to rescue His people from their sins.” Sung Won Yang, “The Influence of the Revival Movement of 1901–1910 on the Development of Korean Christianity,” Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2002, 58.

[9] “At each meeting, people experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in great power. Gradually, the flame spread throughout the country and the revival became a national movement, which changed the character of the Korean Church.” Lee, The Early Revival Movement, 79.



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  1. Slow down. You haven’t blogged for a while and now you’ve posted so much. Give us a chance to read. 🙂

  2. Hello,

    I was searching for information on Malcolm C. Fenwick and I happened upon your site.

    I am a member of the Toronto Korean Baptist Church, and we are in the early stages of establishing a missions centre in Ontario, Canada in memory of Malcolm C. Fenwick.

    I wanted to thank you for this article, I found it very useful. Also, I was wondering whether you had a copy of the book ‘The Church of Christ in Corea’ or other means of obtaining resources related to Malcolm C. Fenwick.

    Thank you once again for your time.


    Jessica Park

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