[Series I] Progress and Pitfalls: Globalization and the Korean Church

Progress and Pitfalls: Globalization and the Korean Church

Written By HONG, Young-Gi (Ph.D.)
The Senior Pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.


Understanding Globalization

  The concept of globalization has become the focal point of attention and discussion since the late 1980s. It has emerged as a powerful paradigmatic concept in explaining many far-reaching economic, social, and cultural transformations in many parts of the modern world. Its impact has now become evident on the globe. Then what is globalization? Anthony Giddens formulates globalization naturally, as "the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa." Ronald Robertson defines globalization as all those processes by which peoples of the world are incorporated into a global society.

  According to Vinay Samuel, there are two mechanisms of globalism. One is symbolic global, e.g. money that is interchangeable. That is why there is a tremendous drive to have no restrictions on the exchange of money. Money must be transportable from culture to culture; no boundaries must control it. Another example is computers. We can take a computer from one place to another. It can go across cultures. The expanding Internet is now a common feature of business and, increasingly, even family asset.

  The second mechanism is exporting systems. Exporting systems means exporting products and people and systems that are globally transportable. The impact of globalization on world economy has produced the emergence of new transnational corporations as a unit on the globe. They transcend the borders of the national states right from their inception and are gaining enormous power and market strength inside particular countries. In the financial sector, short-term international capital flows are global from the beginning and are therefore correctly called movements of "global capital". Changes in the economic and financial sector have been enormous, but they would have remained unimaginable apart from worldwide technological advances. Information is the "new money" of the global economy, and the countries that prove best at controlling the information revolution will be the most powerful. Global networking has become part of daily life.

  The drives of globalization are the tools of modern technology and the free market economy. The market and market culture demand the widest arena for their activity and use technology to push away all kinds of barriers, hurdles, resistances and regulating forces to globalization. Both drives are fuelled by modernity and what is sometimes called post-modernity or hyper modernity of the late 20th century. Although globalization is the result of modernity, it is not merely an outcome of particular Western project. As Robertson says, globalization does not simply refer to the objectiveness of increasing interconnectedness. It also refers to cultural and subjective matters (namely the scope and density of the consciousness of the world as a single place).

  Christian mission needs to discern the signs of the times with creativity. Globalization is one of the distinctive signs of the times that Christian mission needs to tackle. Under the title of "globalization," we find the most rapid movements and changes with the heaviest social and political impacts. My purpose in this paper is to examine how this globalization process has impacted the church, especially the Korean church, and how the church should deal with it.


Globalization, Localization, and Christian Mission

  One of the significant debate points of globalization is the issue of culture. Culture proceeds in two directions in an age of globalization: One is universalization and homogenization, and the other is particularization and heterogenization. We see the conflicts between universalization and particularization of culture in the process of globalization. To acknowledge the globality of locality as a possible outcome of globalization may sound ironic, but it is true that discourse and ideas concerning the local, the indigenous, are promoted and advocated by global and transnational movements. The essential character of globalization is the rise and expansion of individual consciousness of the global situation and of the world as an arena in which we will participate. This does not suggest that globalization involves massive forces of homogenization or global sameness, under which local national identities, cultures, and traditions are inevitably profoundly threatened or even obliterated — far from it. Globalization also involves the promotion or facilitation of local difference and diversity; Global culture is not uniform, homogenous culture.

  Globalization is based on modernization. However, it is important to underline that globalization differs basically from modernization in the way it takes possession of the world. Unlike modernization, globalization is not expansion, conquest, intrusion of an outsider culture into relatively pre-modern worlds. Unlike colonization, globalization does not challenge local worlds to conversion or to new constructions of their identity. Globalization, unlike modernization, recognizes the identity of local culture as it is. Culture in an age of globalization is not confined to any particular area or time. Globalization is the intensification of worldwide social relationships that link distant localities. Globalization is already linking distant localities in such a way that local habits are shaped by global habits and global habits are shaped by the local. It is the globalization of the locals and the localization of the global. The global environment redefines space and time. Local is no longer the only authentic culture. Culture becomes a traveling culture taking different forms.

  The term glocalization refers to the interaction between the processes of globalization and local situations. A major implication of the challenge of glocalization is the redefinition of culture. Distinct cultural identities can only emerge as (temporary) outcomes of preceding and ongoing processes of interaction. Peter Berger has formulated a typology with four possible consequences for the intersection of globalizing forces and indigenous culture: (1) Replacement of the local culture by the globalized culture; (2) Coexistence of the global and local cultures without any significant merging of the two; (3) Synthesis of the global universal culture with the particular indigenous culture; (4) Rejection of the global culture by powerful local reaction. Berger’s typology bears resemblance to the Christian mission. Christian mission has manifested the four characteristics in history. But the best mission has always effectively combined the global and the local.

  The most interesting thing about Christianity is the way the Christian faith became global (universal). While there was the universality, a sense of belonging to a universal Church, there remained the notion of a church in a particular local context. So it combined both local particularity and a sense of universal belonging from the beginning. And that is the magic of the Christian faith. Islam established a similar culture in each place, often by undermining local cultures, though in Islam, too, the global and the local interact in particular ways. But in the Christian faith, the global and the local were there from the very beginning.

  Mission is the effort to localize and actualize the promise that God is constructing one heaven and earth for diverse and pluriform humanity; it is the reflection of the dual movement of gathering and multiplying. Mission is the subjection of the Christian faith to a worldwide test of relevance and to a learning process that draws humankind in the direction of a true unity. It will imply the creation of communities of interpretation, and the formation of strong believers. This has always been the objective of the missionary movement. This has some implications for the Christian perspective on globalization.


Christian Perspective on Globalization

  The origin of globalization can be traced to the pre-modern societies. Vinay Samuel argues that at first globalization connoted the political implications in terms of the expansion of political realms. These were religio-political systems following on from the world empires (the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire). Even before any economic system developed, religious systems developed which correlated with world systems. The interesting thing was that while these were cultural, and while there was a sense of universal belonging, these processes were initiated in a particular local context. From the beginning, the idea of universal was much more politically defined in terms of space and colonization. We see parallels in 19th and 20th century communism, which spread globally. This unfortunate connotation and link between global and colonial remains even today.

  The Christian church — the body of Christ — was, from the start, also meant to become a global community. While some of Jesus' disciples wanted to restrict the gospel message to the Jewish people, the Holy Spirit made it clear that all nations of the world should hear the Good News and participate in the new life. Christianity's 'go into all the world' involved a global or universal vision, and religion as a universal phenomenon. The idea of globalization, therefore, is not foreign to the Bible. God's economy entails its own style of globalization, oriented to the coming of his Messiah King. In a sense, globalization is also the result of Christian mission. Christian mission has been one of the significantly contributory factors to the globalization process. In history, at many points, the gospel worked like a leaven transforming the social order. The gospel of Christ can affect the whole world and change situations for the better. The gospel is still a global force for the forces of this world to encounter. As Vinay Samuel has put it, parallel to the secular forces of globalization has been the real globalization of the gospel and the church.

  Some people yield to the temptation of constructing a dualism, implying that globalization is a devilish scheme and that light and salvation are to be found only with the people who live close to nature and tradition. However, to argue that globalization is all good or all bad misses the point. The question we need to ask is not whether Christians should be for or against globalization. Instead, the question is, "What kind of globalization should we be supporting?" The Lord is the ultimate owner of the earth. When he comes back to his oikos — his creation — he will ask all persons, all institutions, and all nations to render an account of their economic behavior. Goudzwaard argues that the ideology of limitless economic expansion in the economic globalization process is rooted in a deeper faith in human autonomy that fuels the quest for self-sufficiency. That faith is at odds with the Christian faith. We have to remember that globalization is a double-edged sword for Christian mission. It may enhance the development of mission when properly controlled, but it may also hinder the missionary activity otherwise. The next section analyzes the interplay between the globalization and localization forces in modern Korean church.

Globalization and the Progress of Mission in the Korean Church

  As I mentioned earlier, globalization is based on modernization project. Protestant Christianity in Korea was ineluctably linked to modernization. Protestantism has been coupled with the values of modernity: education, technology and industrialization and political sensibilities such as equality, freedom and eventually democracy. Protestant Christianity was accepted as an enlightened ideology that brought modernization. This was different from China where the colonial powers were western nations. The Korean church has rapidly grown especially since the 1960s with the development of modernization. In 1960 the Protestant population was 623,072, but by 1985, the Protestant population had strikingly increased to 6,489,282, or 16.1 percent of the population, and in 1995, the Protestant population increased to 8,760,000. Concomitantly there was an explosion of churches (5,011 in 1960 to 35,869 in 1995) and variant denominations. During this period many large churches emerged in Korea. Today there are over 400 large churches with more than 1,000 adult attending members in Sunday services, and 15 mega-churches with more than 10,000. Some largest congregations in the world are also in Korea. For example, Kumran Church with 40,000 adult attending members is the largest Methodist congregation in the world and the Yoido Full Gospel Church, an Assemblies of God church, led by Rev. Cho Yong-Gi, is the largest local congregation with over 230,000 attending members in the world.

  A particular area that both expresses modernity and demonstrates the impact of globalization on the presentation of Christian gospel is the media. TV media are geared to marketing products and influencing the consumption pattern of people. Korean churches have effectively used modern technology for preaching the Christian gospel. Mass media possess much more flexible and powerful means of having effect on the congregations in the Korean churches. Some Korean churches have focused on preaching through radio and the use of television in church services. The first mega-church in Korea, Youngnak Church, began to preach through radio broadcasts on Kidogyo Pangsong (Christian Broadcasting) in 1959, which influenced many people. Cho Yong-gi also used media as effective means of communication for the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The World Broadcasting Mission Committee in the YFGC sends Cho's sermons through radio and television to other areas of Korea as well as many countries such as the USA, Kenya, Indonesia, and Argentina. YFGC has introduced "simultaneous closed-circuit TV services" in local sanctuaries since 1991 and satellite services since 1996. Thus the members of YFGC did not have to come to the main sanctuary of Yoido for service, which in turn solved the problems of traffic, parking, and travel time.

  Technological advance helps the ministry of the Korean church. Many Korean churches use a beam projector that shows the points of the sermons and church news on the screen. In the case of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, broadcasts of spiritual drama (produced by the Churches own TV-radio department) portraying Cho and the church’s ministry activities are shown before Rev. Cho’s sermon. Furthermore, visual material relevant to the sermon contents is broadcast on the screen while Rev. Cho preaches. For example, if Cho preaches about the crucifixion of Jesus, the crucifixion scene is projected on the screen for the congregation. Many mega-churches have also established the Internet Broadcasting Station (e.g., YFGC: www.yfgc.com) where people can attend the services of the churches on line and participate in the broadcasting programs. The Internet broadcasting of mega-churches can be accessed in various foreign languages (English, Japanese, Chinese, French, and Spanish in the case of YFGC). Benefits from modern technology can be seen in many Korean mega-churches and expansion of their broadcasting activities throughout the world.

  Congregations of 'mega' proportions allow greater economies of scale where it is possible to use more up to date (and expensive) technology; worship in more lavish facilities built for the purpose. The use of mass media, closed circuit TV for service, and effective educational system using modern technology and the like, all have contributed to the development of large congregations in Korea. Of course, we need to be cautioned that the use of the multi-media may also connote a danger of faith in technology and of promoting personality cult. It seems that technology is married to the sacred in the Korean mega-churches. Korean large congregations sought out 'the Garden of Eden' equipped with a satellite dish. The new universals in modern Korean society are markets, bureaucracy, and communication, and we can see the impact that these have had on the Korean church growth.

  The most obvious opportunity in Christian mission grows from the fact that certain features of globalization prompt cultural openness. As globalization spreads further and further, particularly in the form of modern media, the totally closed society is made more difficult. This openness is behind the fact that Christians have used every means, medium, and methodology to reach the unreached. As globalization proceeds, the local culture is exposed. This has influenced the development of the non-Western churches. For the first time in church history, the number of Christians in the non-Western world began to exceed the number of Christians in the Western world since the 1980s. Churches in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are now sending thousands of missionaries to other regions and countries, while the decline and disorientation of the churches in the West is a matter of mounting concern.

  In the case of the Korean church, the number of missionaries has rapidly increased during the past decades. In 1979, the number of countries the Korean church sent missionaries was 26, but it increased to 138 in 1996 and to 145 in 2002. In 1979 there were 93 Korean sent missionaries, now there are over 10,000 with the expectation of more each year. Korean churches, once the product of mission activity, are now one of the largest missionary providers to the rest of the world, including the West. This means that the fields and opportunities of mission become broader and broader. The development of information technology makes it possible for face-to-face interaction without geographical barriers. The distance and time gap in mission work will be overcome by the development of globalization age. The church will be required to change its ministry function from the merely missionary-sending church to the missionary church in essence.

  Globalization and interconnection in terms of technology and information also makes theological education more widespread and influential. The resources are now global and no longer are contained in one place that requires global collaboration and networking. A number of Korean theological schools and institutions have international connection with foreign ones, which helps them have access to more information and learn how to network for the common purpose. We can use globalization for the benefit of effective mission in good connectedness.

  It has been argued that the globalization of society triggers the privatization of religion, leading to the decline of its power. However, Beyer argues that the globalization of society, while structurally favoring privatization in religion, may also provide fertile ground for the renewed public influence of religion. Beyer takes the view that if we can specify the transcendent giving meaningful definition and applicability to the particular local context, public influence for religion can be also found. The life of Christian faith lies in relevance to its context. Globalization is value-neutral; it is the church that discerns how to use it for mission. We must bear in mind that globalization provides not only opportunities for mission but also obstacles for mission.


To be Continued…

Leave a Reply