The largest Pentecostal church in the world is in Seoul, South Korea, and it represents a vibrant Christianity in this country of some 50 million people.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim, associate professor of doctrinal theology at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa., talks about the state of the Korean church in a new Skype interview with EthicsDaily.com.
"In many, many ways, Christianity is booming" in South Korea, says Kim, who was born in Seoul and then immigrated to Canada with her family as a child.
Not only does South Korea have the largest Pentecostal church on the planet (with about a million members), but it is also home to the largest Presbyterian church in the world. These churches hold services all day and broadcast to the thousands.
Kim, author of three books and dozens of articles, reviews and book chapters, says nearly half of the South Korean population is Christian, with a roughly even split between Catholics and Protestants – the legacy of Western missionaries who visited Korea in the 1700s and 1800s.
"There was this affinity to Christianity," says Kim, who adds that some of the top universities and schools in South Korea have missionary roots.
"Now that we've sent these missionaries over and the churches are growing," says Kim, "maybe we in the West have to learn from the church in Korea of how to revitalize our own churches here in North America."
Kim says it's also important to understand that Korea, prior to Christianity's development there, was not religion-less. Buddhism, Shamanism and Confucianism, for example, have been important and influential in the culture.
"When we look at Christianity in Korea, you'll see that it is not this pure Christianity that maybe the Western world would like to understand it as," says Kim, "or even Koreans themselves may want to understand themselves."
"But there is a lot of mixing," she adds. "You can't avoid it."
"So when we see churches and how Koreans are worshiping in the churches, there may be expressions of their old religion in there," says Kim, "and when it comes out, people are very faithful."
Many church members tithe faithfully, says Kim, and on special days – like birthdays or holidays – the gift is typically even more generous. Land and homes, for example, might be given to the church.
The Korean church is prospering, says Kim, who emphasizes that part of the reason may well involve the devotion found in some of the older religions.
Watch the interview with Kim at vimeo.com/ethicsdaily/skype-gracejisunkim
Learn more about Grace Ji-Sun Kim at GraceJiSunKim.wordpress.com
Watch other EthicsDaily.com Skype interviews at vimeo.com/ethicsdaily