Understanding Korean Revival(s)

              So, if the revivals were more than just meetings, what did it mean to say that there was revival in Korea? Was this revival of the same order of revival as being experienced in the west? Regarding the first question, the missionaries used the word “revival” to refer to the change they noticed in the Korean Church. Horace N. Allen, the diplomat missionary doctor, reported

A remarkable revival recently swept over the missions in Korea, starting apparently with a sermon preached by a blind Korean, at Pengyang , on the text “confess your sins one to another.”

            One result of this revival was a wholesale confession of sins ancient and modern, causing some of the confessors to suffer for crimes almost forgotten, or known only to the one committing them. So contagious was this upheaval that the very missionaries themselves began confessing petty lapses from the strict ideals they had set for themselves, and one actually confessed shortcomings of such a grave nature that he had to leave the country and the work.

            The revival movement seems to have extended to the casting out of devils and the miraculous healing of the sick, while the contagion seemed to affect the non-Christians, causing them to repent of their sins and seek admission to the communion.[1]

The definition of revival gleaned from this account is broader than methodology; the revival produced visible results. The missionaries experienced, in the revival, something of a different order than their normal experience. On the other hand, Timothy Lee’s definition of revivalism-

a species of Protestantism whose key attribute is the belief that to attain salvation, one must not only believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection but must also have a [sic] felt conviction of rebirth. This conviction normally arises in the wake of one’s conversion experience, in the course of which one repents of one’s sins, accepts Jesus Christ as personal savior, and makes conscious commitment to live a pure and upright life.[2]

-may be not only reductionistic, but also anachronistic. The revival began among missionaries and thrived among established believers. Note that the revival did not dramatically increase the rate of church growth, rather growth preceded and transcended the revival.[3] This does not mean that evangelistic results did not increase throughout the revival. On the other hand, the revival served another function.

            There are good reasons why the Korean revival was of a different order of other Western revivals. First, Korea did not enjoy a rich Christian tradition. Christianity’s history in Korea suffered under its foreign status. Furthermore, Protestants entered the country less than twenty years before the revivals; the first several years were marked by little evangelistic results-missionaries lacked language skills and feared persecution. Those years also were marked by trouble. In 1888, the “Baby Riots” swelled over rumors that the foreigners ate babies and used their eyes in their lenses.[4] As a result, Missionaries could not spread throughout the country until 1889.[5] By 1896, just seven years before the revivals, “there were reported in all five hundred and twenty-eight bapitzed [sic] Protestants and five hundred and sixty-seven who were variously reported as ‘catechumens,’ ‘probationers,’ or ‘inquirers.'”[6] The revival and growth of the church in Korea was of a different order than western revivals because of the shear newness of Christianity in Korea.  Therefore, rather than being a re-awakening of the church, the revival compares with the Samaritan or gentile Pentecosts of the book of Acts (Acts 8; 10).

            Second, as already alluded to, the growth of the church transcended the revival. The explosion of church growth in Korea began eight years before the earliest revivals; thus, by 1910, the number of Christians in Korea eclipsed two hundred thousand.[7] Interestingly, the year after 1907 saw a slower growth rate than the years before the revival.[8] Roy Shearer lists two factors for growth from 1895-1905: the Sino-Japanese War, and the ability of missionaries to train and incorporate communicants into the ministry of the church.[9] From 1905-10, Shearer noted the impact of the Russo-Japanese War, the use of the Bible class, the “Million Souls Campaign,” and the independence of the Korea church.[10] In other words, though not attributing the church growth to one factor, he notes that the Nevius Method’s emphasis on Bible classes and the self-government of the church had more impact on church growth than the revivals. The success of Christianity in Korea has been roundly attributed to the incorporation and adaptation of the Nevius Method.[11] Therefore, the revivals in Korea benefited from cutting-edge, culturally appropriate missionary methodology. However innovative, and though revival always includes new measures,[12] the Nevius Method was not a revival method, but a method of growing a three-self church. This fact, combined with the fact that the revivals were an initial Pentecost (not to be confused with Pentecostalism or the Pentecost revival) experience, supports the claim that the Korean revivals were of a different order than western revivals. The revival served more in the function of a sign, for Koreans and other Christians around the world, that Korean Christianity was real.

[1]Horace N. Allen, Things Korean: A Collection of Sketches and Anecdotes Missionary and Diplomatic, (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1908; reprint, Korea: Royal Asiatic Society, 1975), 171.[2]Lee, “Born-Again in Korea,” 11.[3]Roy E. Shearer, Wildfire: Church Growth in Korea (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 56.

[4]L. George Paik, though, notes that the missionaries were effected three ways from this incident and its resolution: (1) compliance by the missionaries to the government left a “favorable impression;” (2) the rumors were found untrue and missionaries were vindicated; and (3) at home, the boards refused support until the matter resolved. “The missionaries in the field were greatly handicapped by the lack of men and fund.” Paik, History of Protestant Missions in Korea, 156-8.

[5]Ibid., 168-9.

[6]Ibid., 215.

[7]Ibid., 423; cf. Shearer, Wildfire, 48, 167.

[8]Jin-Kuk Ju, “The Missionary Nature of the Church and its Implementation in the Korean Church” (D.Miss. diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1989), 128

[9]Shearer, Wildfire, 49-53.

[10]Ibid., 53-9.

[11]See, for instance: Charles Allen Clark, The Korean Church and the Nevius Method (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1930).

[12]Charles G. Finney, “Lecture 14: Measures to Promote Revivals,” in Lectures on Revival of Religion, The Life and Words of Charles G. Finney, Vol. 1 (Fenwick, MI: Alethea in Heart, 2005), 236-59.


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  1. You know, even if you post a question from the seminar a week to interact with others it would be fun for you to do.


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