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

Progress and Pitfalls: Globalization and the Korean Church, Series II

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


Globalization and the Pitfalls for Mission in the Korean Church

  One possible pitfall of the globalization age is summed up in the spirit of competition. Goudzwaard argues that globalization has prompted economic competition and the formula of competition on the structure of our entire societies, both in breadth and depth, is now advocated in fields far outside the practice of business. Information and communication have become important economic battlefields and governments have also been forced to compete. Globalization helps expand the Christian mission and related areas, however, it can also prompt the institutional interests of the church. Korean churches have basically maintained, what is termed, local churchism. Local churchism can be defined as the attitude or the policy that gives first priority to the maintenance and expansion of the local congregation in the use of people resources and material resources to realize the goals of the church. While this local churchism has contributed to the growth of the local congregation, it has also weakened cooperation among the Korean churches. According to the survey of Gallup Korea (1998), the greatest problems of the Korean Church were perceived as the overemphasis on numerical growth and very weak cooperation among denominations and among local congregations (see Table 1).

Table 1: The greatest problem (or task) that
the Korean Church has (n=2,000, %)

  By far the most visible manifestations of the emerging global culture are in the vehicle of popular culture. It is propagated by business enterprises of all sorts (e.g. McDonald's, Disney, MTV, and so on). Much of the consumption of this popular culture is arguably superficial, in the sense that it does not have a deep effect on people's beliefs, values, or behavior. Seel presents the impact of modernity and globalization on the Christian gospel as the gospel of Disney, the gospel of McDonalds, and the gospel of MTV.

  Disney symbolizes capitalism and consumerism seeking a techno-commercial utopia. The gospel of Disney implies that all things are market values and entertainment and that consumer-oriented values dominate all values. Modern rationality also affected the needs-oriented minds of Christians. Christians who are mobile and prepared to travel attend another congregation that is thought to better serve their spiritual needs. Today many Korean Christians do not want to choose a planted small church, since they do not want sacrifice. The Korean church has become a victim of commodified culture. As competition increases in society, pluralism will gain power. This context will make churches compete against one another and the commodification of the gospel may arise. Theological truth became increasingly judged by its results in the marketplace and numbers came to trump truth. Large congregations were interpreted as a sign of religious prosperity and religious market success, and the mission of the church is uncritically accommodated to the premises of the felt-needs of the consumer.

  The gospel of McDonald's symbolizes the efforts of the Christian church to present the gospel message in a system of rationality. McDonald's is one of the most influential developments in twentieth century America and it illustrates a wide-ranging social process. Ritzer called this process McDonaldization and he suggested its four characteristics: efficiency (the optimum way of achieving a specific goal); calculability (quantity as quality, the measurable as the really real); predictability (a world with no surprises with consistent expectations); and control (the substitution of machines for humans wherever possible). McDonald's sells technological humanism. The need for fasting and prayer is diluted with the reliance on technology and methodology in church growth and mission. The Korean church that has stagnated since the early 1990s must recover the earlier pure passion for prayer and evangelism.

  The gospel of MTV is related to the impact of communications revolution. Global information technology creates our images of the world and these images are secular and are a universal language spreading to the entire world. The information explosion in an age of globalization has created, so-called, infotainment (information transformed into entertainment). People’s insatiable need for entertainment makes them choose the entertainment in the media and in religion. Information technology is the heart-blood for other technologies. The technology has become the universal language for modern culture. Where technology gains a religious character, it becomes a threat to mission. The technological surroundings encourage a religiosity which has little or no interest in organized religion. For example, the Internet broadcasting services may easily undermine some key purposes of worship: commitment to God and the spirit of worship community. The Internet broadcasting service produced the tendency for individuation, for some members attend the service through the Internet. Many anonymous or uncommitted attendants in the Korean church may be tempted to attend the service through the Internet without going to the sanctuary. The Korean church needs to avoid a trap of an electronic church that has adjusted itself to the technological world-view.

  The new competitiveness and consumerism could not have emerged without a strong rationale, without a driving motivation, behind it. That rationale or drive is the same as in the world of finance, namely, the desire for autonomy and the affirmation of the self. Globalization increases pluralism and desire for autonomy. The desire for autonomy in an age of globalization leads to the privatization of Christian faith, which is related to the secularization of religion. Yamane argues that reports of the death of secularization theory have been greatly exaggerated and mature views of secularization never held that it meant the decline of religion. Secularization is best understood not as the decline of religion, but as the declining scope of religious authority. Secularization occurs when religious authority structures decline in their ability to control societal-level institutions, meso-level organizations, and individual-level beliefs and behaviors. Globalization age may encourage the context to foster the privatization of religion, which means that religion is a matter of individual so that the communal character of the church will decrease. Obviously, large numbers of people are content with maintaining a kind of dual system: rationality for the working life, religion for personal comfort.

  Globalization makes the propagation of the gospel easier and more and more people can have an opportunity to hear the message. However, it makes more difficult for them to be disciples. The problem of nominal Christians is not exception for the Korean church. According to the Gallup Survey (1998), 73.2 percent of respondents in Protestantism (n=1,000) said that they accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior. As to the time taken to accept Jesus Christ as personal savior people who made a commitment within one year of first attending church comprised only 24.9 percent. 22 percent of the people accepted Jesus within two to five years, 18.4 percent of them within six to ten years, and strikingly 34.6 percent of them, over eleven years. This indicates that a large proportion of people (52 percent) did not accept Jesus Christ as their savior, although they had attended the Church for more than six years. People were asked about the frequency of Bible reading and prayer. It was found that 51.9 percent of Protestant people do not read the Bible at all and 34.8 percent of the people do not pray at all. As for the average prayer time, results showed that Protestants pray for 19 minutes a day, Catholics, for 20 minutes, and Buddhists, for 8 minutes. As to the frequency of evangelism, it was shown that only 27.9 percent of respondents are engaged in evangelistic activities, with 18.3 percent of Catholics participating and 8.7 percent Buddhists. This survey shows that the Korean church has to deal with the problem of nominality.

  In an age of globalization, the gospel may be for personal wholeness, health and survival. The people become the consumers of religion. This approach to globalization, however, results in enormous church growth in the city on the pretext of personal salvation and holiness. But the church growth is not impacting on the socio-economic and political situations because the emphasis is on the people and not the situations. This is an unholistic approach and not true to the history and the heritage of Christian faith. The form of Christian faith may have little impact on society, and this is a great danger to the church.

  Many adult Christians continue to think in a childish fashion about their Christian responsibility in this world: They think chiefly of the deeds they can perform individually or in small groups. Globalization may widen the gap between the poor and the rich. This is one of risks that globalization and economic competition may accompany. The 2000 World Development Report from the World Bank says that 1.5 billion people live below the poverty level of $1.00 income per day. The environment is also endangered, which threatens everyone. Our energy-intensive patterns of production and consumption appear to be causing serious climate change, leading to more soil erosion, more floods, and even more locusts. Christians must learn how they should shape business enterprises, government policies, and banking systems. We must grow up to realize that institutions and organizations bear real responsibilities before God in this world. The direction globalization is taking is not inevitable, and it is not all good or all bad. This is why Christians must recognize that a religiously deep conversion of peoples and cultures is needed to fuel principled, long-term, ongoing transformation of society and the world. The Korean church should discern how much unhealthy characteristics of globalization is due to religious misdirection.


To be Continued…


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