9 Things You Should Know About Christianity in Korea

Almost one-third (29 percent) of South Koreans are Christian, while a plurality of South Koreans have no religious affiliation (46 percent) and just over one-in-five are Buddhists (23 percent).

In 1900, only 1 percent of the country’s population was Christian. But that began to change after the “Pyongyang Revival” or “Korean Pentecost” in 1907, the first important religious movement for Korean Protestant Christianity. As Kirsteen Kim, professor of theology and world Christianity at Fuller Theological Seminary, says, “The revival had lasting effects on Korean Christianity and on Korea.”

 

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in met in a historic summit to discuss peace between the two nations. The meeting has inspired cautious hope the end of the civil war is near and that religious freedom will once again flourish on the peninsula. Here are nine things you should know about Christianity in the divided land of Korea.

1. Christian teachings were first brought to Korea in 1603. The faith was brought not by foreign missionaries, but by Korean diplomats who came in contact with Roman Catholicism in Japan and Manchuria. In 1758, King Yeongjo of Joseon officially outlawed Catholicism as an “evil practice,” and a mass persecution of Korean Catholics was ordered by queen great-grandmother Queen Jeongsun in 1801.

2. In 1884, Dr. Horace Allen, a medical missionary under the American Presbyterian Board, became the first resident Protestant missionary in Korea. Three months after his arrival, Allen was called on to treat Min Yong-ik, a high-ranking official and cousin of the Empress. The king was so grateful to Allen that he appointed the doctor as physician to the royal court and allowed him to open a hospital. The king also gave the first official approval by the Korean government for missionary work in the country.

3. In 1900, only 1 percent of the country’s population was Christian. But that began to change after the “Pyongyang Revival” or “Korean Pentecost” in 1907, the first important religious movement for Korean Protestant Christianity. As Kirsteen Kim, professor of theology and world Christianity at Fuller Theological Seminary, says, “The revival had lasting effects on Korean Christianity and on Korea. Indigenous Christian rituals such as sagyeonhoe (Bible study and the Bible-examining meetings), saebyoek gido (dawn prayer meetings), and tongseong gido (collective audible prayer) were formulated as part of Protestant practice. Korean Christian leaders led nationwide educational movements with the vision of making Korea a Christian nation.” The success of Christianity in the city of Pyongyang led to it being called the “Jerusalem of the East” in the missionary community.

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