Protestant missionaries had an eye on Korea since the early nineteenth century. Charles Gutzlaff, a Pietist missionary, attempted to enter Korea in 1832 to distribute Bibles. Though he passed out some scriptures, the king refused him entry. A similar foray into Korea by Robert Thomas in 1865 had similar results. When he returned one year later, he perished at the hands of the locals, along with his whole crew of seedy capitalists. In 1873, John Ross entered a community of Koreans living in Manchuria. There, he introduced Christianity and translated the Bible into Korean. One of his acquaintances, Kyong-jo, was baptized in Seoul in 1887, later to become one of the first seven Koreans ordained in 1907.
By 1880, Ross translated the New Testament into Korean. Thus, four years before foreign missionaries could settle on Korean soil, Ross sent Korean missionaries from Manchuria into their homeland with a Korean Bible. Though a revised version was necessary, the impact of Ross’ translation cannot be overvalued. The young converts had a New Testament to read and from which to share the gospel. Of not small consequence, the revised translation of the Bible was completed in 1906, just before the Great Revival.
In 1885, Missionaries Horace Underwood and H. G. Appenzeller arrived in Korea. Soon, other missionaries arrived. After they finally determined that the government was not enforcing the laws against Christians, they began evangelizing the people. These missionaries were young, looking for principles upon which to found their mission.
About this same time, in 1887, across the Yellow Sea, in the Chinese province of Shantung, Dr. John Nevius published his new missionary methods in the Chinese Recorder. His ideas, which failed to grab hold of his own mission, revolutionized the advance of the gospel in Korea. In 1890, Nevius visited the young missionaries in Korea and instructed them in the following nine methods: (1) widespread itinerant personal evangelism by the missionary; (2) self-propagation–every believer an evangelist and teacher of someone, as well as a learner, this is called layering; (3) 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; (4) self-support–believers build their own chapels, each group contributes to paid helpers salary, schools receive only partial subsidy, and no pastors of single churches paid by foreign funds; (5) systematic Bible study: classes for biblical education of all believers; (6) strict discipline; (7) co-operation and union with other bodies; (8) non-interference in lawsuits; and (9) general helpfulness in economic life problems of the people.
The itineration of the missionaries aided their understanding of the rural peasant which aided the spread of the church further into the interior. At that time, over eighty percent of the population was rural yet eighty percent of the ministry was urban. Nevius’ methods reversed the paradigm. The locals imitated the itineration of the missionaries; missionaries stumbled into villages to find a church already planted, a building erected, and people awaiting training. In any given village, as many as thirty families shared kinship ties. The gospel followed these family networks.
Each believer was responsible for preaching and teaching. Thus, the laity was heavily involved in church life. The church adopted two years of intense instruction for the catechumenate. One could be denied baptism if they had not tried to lead another to Christ or was not teaching another. The native church, not just the missionaries adopted these principles: “the Mission and the Church have been marked pre-eminently by a fervent evangelistic spirit.” Many Christians could not afford to give money, so they gave time and service as lay evangelists and preachers. Thus, the local church itself understood and adopted self-propagation and self-support.
The Bible classes brought the Scripture to the whole church. From these classes, each Christians was developed as a leaders through total life-submission to the Bible. Shearer saw the Bible class as an indisputable factor in Korean Church growth. Choi agreed that the great cause of the Revival Movement was the Bible Class, along with the Sunrise Prayer Service. Yang concurred that “the most important factor contributing to the Great Revival Movement was the Bible classes.” Therefore, it can be safely concluded that the primary spiritual influence on the revival and the number one innovation of the Nevius Method was the Bible Class.
Flowing from these classes, the signs of the Great Revival of 1907 were confession, repentance and restitution, prayer and joy. Missionaries had been praying for months for God’s blessing upon the native church. The revival began in Pyongyang at the Winter Bible Training Class at the Ch’angdaehyun Church on Monday, January 14, 1907. The pastor was Sun Chu Kil, who in the wake of the revival became the national leader of the prayer movement. A missionary, Graham Lee, opened the service for a few to pray, when “a score or more started to pray.” He responded, “If you want to pray like that, all pray.” The form of praying all at once was modeled in the Welsh revival; Howard Agnew Johnson brought the report of the Welsh revival to Pyongyang in 1906. In response to Lee, the whole church erupted in prayer, confession, and weeping, lasting for days. The revival spread as the men returned to their villages; it spread to women, to the schools to the whole nation, especially through Kil Sun Chu.
Seven Koreans graduated from the first class from the Pyongyang Theological Seminary in 1907, including Kil Sun Chu. The goal of the Nevius method was completed-self-government. Kil arose as a revival and church leader. He exuded a deep dedication to scripture. Kil also initiated the prayer movement of the church. He arose early for prayer; others followed and the Early Prayer Movement was born. This Early Morning Prayer fit the Korean context well, many believe because of their Buddhist background. Kil was converted through medititating during a trance.
As Korean Christianity was blossoming, the Korean Church was formed. The missionaries formed the graduates into a Korean General Assembly over the church. At this important juncture, the missionaries passed the baton of the church into the hands of Korean leadership. Though the first moderator was the missionary Samuel A. Moffett, the majority of the leadership was Korean.
Choi, Changes in Korean Society, 178-82. Other Koreans were exposed to Christianity outside of their country and returned to evangelize their families and neighbors. Kim, Protestants and the Formation of Modern Korean Nationalism, 16.Choi, Changes in Korean Society, 188-97.Adapted from Clark, Korean Church and the Nevius Method, 33-4.
Shearer, Wildfire, 145-51.
A needed and interesting study would be a comparison of the Nevius Method and Church Planting Movement methodology.
Shearer, Wildfire, 52-6. Cf. Yang, “Influence of the Revival,” 196. “The Nevius methods are not merely a system of self-support, self-propagation, and self-government. Its real core was in the Bible study system, which encouraged every Christian to study his Bible and to be able to pass on to others what he found there.”
Choi, Changes in Korean Society, 265-6.
Yang, “Influence of the Revival Movement,” 95.
George Heber Jones and W. Arthur Noble, The Korean Revival: An Account of the Revival in Korean Churches in 1907 (New York: Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1910), 9-11.
Jonathan Goforth, When the Spirit’s Fire Swept Korea (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1943), 8-9
The following is a summary from Yang, “Influence of the Revival Movement,” 92-5.
Clark, Korean Church and Nevius Methods, 148-9.
Clark, Korean Church and Nevius Methods, 144ff.