The Kosin Presbyterian Church in Korea addressed the RCN (GKv) general synod at Meppel 7 April 2017. Their observations about the difference between reformed and evangelical is particularly pertinent. What follows is Dr Hoo’s address.
Esteemed members of this General Synod, Beloved delegates from abroad, and brothers and sisters,
I would like to thank you for the privilege of being present among you, and to address you at this GS. I feel at home, really at home among you, brothers. Your brothers and sisters in Korea greet you with warm affection!
In Korea, at the moment, we are facing critical political turmoil, after the National Assembly voted for the impeachment of president Park Keun-Hye last December. Every Saturday there are demonstrations of millions all over the country. The old generation who experienced the Korean War 1950-1953 is generally for, and the younger generation is against the impeachment. The two generations cannot understand each other, and particularly the former (the old) accuses the latter (the young) of forsaking traditional values. This conflict between the generations is also seen in the church. It will take a very long time for us to solve this generation conflict, because tremendous changes are involved in areas such as traditions, the view of communism, business tycoons, the cozy relations between politics and economics, etc.
In turn, here at the GS, it seems clear that you will have to discuss differences of opinion. I pray for God’s blessings on your deliberations and decisions.
Let me begin with a personal observation. I studied at the Theological University in Kampen of your churches for seven and a half years, from 1983 to 1990. I came to this country with an Evangelical background, which is still very influential in our churches in Korea.
At that time, I saw your churches as being exemplary in many ways to my own churches in Korea. Almost everything I saw and experienced in The Netherlands was fascinating, and, when I returned to Korea, I tried to assimilate and introduce the positive things I had learned into the Korean churches.
“Shall we be Evangelicals or Reformed?” is a lasting and persistent topic for me. Evangelicals in Korea participate eagerly in various voluntary activities such as fellowship with each other, evangelization, prayer meetings, camp meetings, etc. These are good things. But there are some shortcomings, too. The sermon in the Evangelical circles is generally weak in exegesis, and the confessions and Christian traditions are held in very low esteem. The Evangelical liturgy is mostly of a low church type and they prefer experience to doctrine.
During the Week of Relations with Foreign Churches at your General Synod in 2008, I read a paper with the title, “The Challenge of Evangelicalism and the Legacy of the Reformed Tradition,” making an appeal to hold on to the Reformed Tradition amid the influences of Evangelicalism. I am afraid that the Reformed tradition in The Netherlands, of which I was so proud, may be in a crisis. I imagine that some of the delegates abroad, especially from Canada and Australia, might be of same sentiment.
Over the last 26 years I have been endeavouring to establish and strengthen the Reformed inheritance which your churches and Kampen gave to me. My efforts and works in Korea have been fruitful, by the grace of God.
It was said that Reformed theology was too different from Evangelical theology, and that it would have no chance to flourish in Korea. However, the number of ministers in our churches is increasing whose sermons are exegetically well-founded, attracting a great audience, and their congregations are certainly growing, in some cases even rapidly. This is an exceptional case in the Korean churches, because there has been no church growth in Korea for a long time. In fact, the church is losing members. Every Sunday, these ministers preach from the Heidelberg Catechism. In their liturgy they have introduced the Votum and the Salutation, and the Psalms are sung. Elders of these churches have come to realize the precious task of their office and have begun to bring house visitations, just as their colleagues in The Netherlands do.
In short, the shortcomings of Evangelicalism are supplemented very well by our Reformed heritage, and the Reformed churches are increasing in number and substance in Korea. But the Reforming churches in Korea are not yet strong enough to give any substantial help to you. My deepest desire is to somehow repay you for your brotherly hospitality and kindness to our churches and the Korean students, including myself.
The annual review in your churches’ Handbook of 2017 is concerned about undesirable developments and problems in your churches, and its mood is alarming and causes us pain. The membership, including the number of baptized infants, is diminishing every year, and the so-called silent departure of members is increasing. Some members are changing their membership to Evangelical churches. The second, afternoon church service is poorly attended or alternatively organized. There are some more crucial changes which leads one to question whether a tipping point has been reached, according to the review.
The review worries about the reduction of responsibilities of church offices and the consistory, and mentions the decline of house visitation, which traditionally has been a task entrusted to the consistory. In my opinion, this development can bring positive and constructive results among members of various groups in the congregation, as I intimated in my speech of yesterday. But the causes of these problems have to be investigated, in order to maintain the authority of the church offices and of the consistory. For example, why is there a shortcoming of candidates for elders? Is the house visitation perhaps considered an encroachment of privacy, or simply as a structure of authority calling for subordination? Perhaps it would be wise if sisters could participate in house visitation and in the activities with the small groups, under the supervision of consistory.
Let me mention a phenomenon in the Korean churches. Many Christians have been leaving their small-scale congregations, which were mostly newly instituted during the heat of church growth before 2000, for larger churches or megachurches. While small-scale congregations are becoming smaller, megachurches are growing more and more. A serious problem is that many Christians who have chosen for megachurches, are then silently abandoning not only the church, but also their faith, especially the younger generation. From small church to megachurch, from megachurch to the unbelieving world, we say. Rapid church growth, rapid church abandonment!
Yet, thankfully, the membership of the Kosin Church is relatively stable.
Brothers and sisters, I hope that your churches do not experience this kind of decline.
Ecclesia semper reformanda! We celebrate and remember God’s gracious reforming work 500 years ago, and Martin Luther!
Monasterium semper reformandum. In the Middle Ages when the church had to be reformed, the monastery came into being to reform it and succeeded in part. However, this reforming work by the monasteries could survive no more than three generations. We know that contemporary changes cannot be compared to those of the Middle Ages, but each generation has its own responsibility to reform itself in the power of the Spirit. After the Liberation in 1944, God has been blessing your churches greatly and you invited us to share them.
Keep and make good use of all the blessings you have received, and let your children in the everlasting covenant with the Triune God joyfully inherit them. Let them glorify this God of the covenant continually till our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you (and your children) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Amen!
Thank you all!
Dr. HaeMoo Yoo
The above address is from www.eeninwaarheid.info .