Is honoring the dead Christian or pagan?
Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, South Korea, is easily the largest single congregation in the world. Recently, however, its 200,000 members have discovered that numbers cannot insulate it from the problems that plague smaller churches, and indeed may aggravate them. The unlikely issue—from a Western perspective—is the honoring of the dead.
Under the leadership of Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho, Central Church was founded in 1958 as a tent church with a roof pieced together from army tent remnants. It joined the Assemblies of God in 1962, and its 10,000-seat sanctuary was completed in 1973. Services were increased to seven on Sunday and two on Wednesday evenings. But growth still outpaced capacity, and last year overflow auditoriums were added to seat another 10,000 or so. Plans are being made to enlarge facilities to seat an additional 20,000.
The unrelenting growth is based on a multiplication of home cell groups led by lay leaders. Under Pastor Cho are 12 ordained ministers, 260 licensed ministers, and finally 15,000 lay leaders. Each lay leader directs a home cell of from 10 to 15 persons, leading them in weekly worship, Bible study, and evangelism.
Central Church is the hub of a multifaceted missions program, a Church Growth International organization to teach its growth principles to others, and a television ministry that has spread from Korea to Japan, and has now entered the U.S. on stations in Los Angeles and New York. It operates a “Prayer Mountain” retreat center that houses 2,000.
Not surprisingly, Central Church influence looms large in the Korean Assemblies of God. Its membership constitutes about one-third of the denomination; the remaining 450 churches make up the other two-thirds. Many pastors of the other churches are former members, deacons, or elders of Central Church who have entered the ministry and established new congregations.
This dominance may have been resented by denominational officials, superintendent Cho Myung Rok and secretary Kim Gin Hwan. At any rate, observers note a longstanding personal strain in relations between the two and Pastor Paul Cho.
That is the setting into which a uniquely Asian dispute over church belief and practice in honoring deceased relatives was injected last year.
In Oriental society, this is no peripheral matter. Respect for elders is basic to the cultural fabric of the entire region. If you are introduced to a stranger, for instance, it is desperately important immeditely to ascertain that person’s age since you must phrase your response according to the individual’s senior or junior status in relation to you. Children bow to their parents on their birthdays while they are alive, and afterward traditionally on the anniversary of their deaths.
The rub is that this cultural obligation of respect for age is more or less (more in Japan, less in China) intertwined with Buddhistic worship of the spirits of ancestors. In each Far Eastern society, Christians must try to disentangle the two.
In China, this “rites controversy” dominated the Roman Catholic church scene for a century and a half (roughly 1625 to 1775). During this period, the church insisted that no such rites could be combined with Christian faith. But in 1937, the hierarchy reversed itself and ceased to object to ceremonies for deceased relatives. Few Protestant church bodies in East Asia have formally dealt with the issue.
The stage was set for the current uproar in Korea when in 1979 a troubled eldest son in a family came to Pastor Cho, confessing that on the first anniversary of his father’s death he had followed tradition and led his wider family in lighting candles and bowing before the picture of their father. He was anxious to know if he was expected to withdraw his church membership because of this lapse. “No,” replied Pastor Cho, “don’t leave the church. You need the church now more than ever before.”
Much later, Pastor Cho mentioned the incident as a sermon illustration, drawing a distinction between worship of the dead and respect for deceased parents. The Bible says “Honor thy father and thy mother,” he said, and asserted that the command applies whether they are living or dead. The passing comment was blown into a burning issue last fall when the Korean Assemblies of God [KAG] executive authorized superintendent Cho to discuss this and other grievances with Pastor Cho.
Instead, superintendent Cho and secretary Kim took a list of five charges to Korea’s large Christian newspaper. Its next issue carried the banner headline “IS DR. CHO A HERETIC?” In short order, a whole range of leading Korean pastors, including representatives of the historic Presbyterian and Methodist denominations, attacked Pastor Cho’s response to the young man as falling short of the traditional orthodox Christian teaching in Korea.
Pastor Cho responded to the storm of criticism in early October, telling his elders he was willing to submit his resignation. They would not accept it. He also told the KAG he was prepared to repudiate his statements on respect for the dead. Superintendent Cho rejected his overture, and sent a letter to Central Church threatening it with expulsion from the denomination.
This arrived while Pastor Cho and AG missionary colleague John Hurston, then executive director of Central Church’s Church Growth International, were in Europe. On their return at the end of October, Central Church’s board of 58 elders decided that the church and Pastor Cho should withdraw from the KAG, but the rest of the pastoral staff should retain their KAG affiliation.
While Pastor Cho was away again, superintendent Cho, by some accounts, sought to press action against Pastor Cho (presumably defrocking). He implied in personal conversations that he had backing from U.S. Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Missouri. Most of his executive resisted, however, and superintendent Cho denies that he claimed U.S. support for his campaign.
In early November, U.S. AG Division of Foreign Missions Far East director Wesley Hurst (accompanied by Hurston, now president of Melodyland School of Theology in Anaheim, California) flew to Korea, officially to attend the dedication of the new building of another AG Seoul church. But they were soon in session by invitation with first the Central Church elders and then the KAG executive. They told each that U.S. officials were not behind efforts to oust Cho, but otherwise attempted to display evenhandedness and to serve as mediators.
Feeling among KAG pastors ran high. On December 7, more than 300 of them managed to meet with superintendent Cho and secretary Kim, demanding their resignations. Kim resigned, but Cho refused, and by late last month, that is where matters stood. Pastor Cho desires to reunite with the KAG when conditions permit. Meanwhile, the entire Central Church has rallied around its pastor, and attendance is holding strong.
But the fact remains, as Hurston observes, that when churches “get large, it is hard for denominations to contain them.”
And the veneration-of-the-dead issue cannot be forever swept under the rug. One observer estimated that 80 percent of Korea’s Christian minority do conduct services for the dead covertly, but that it is simply passed over in the churches.
Samuel H. Moffett, a long-time Presbyterian missionary to Korea, notes that some churches are trying to produce some kind of memorial for the dead that would not be considered unorthodox. “Christians should have some way,” he said, “of showing to their non-Christian neighbors that they don’t dishonor the dead. This is the impression they sometimes give by their condemnation of any ceremonies at the grave” and after. He acknowledges that the more liberal sections of the church are working harder at this. Conservatives, he says, tend to emphasize their break with the past.
Certainly the surprising uproar over Pastor Cho’s remarks indicates that there is a need for the Christian church in the East to develop a theology that deals with ancestral rites.
Unhappy Shakeup At Evangelism Explosion Ministry
The firing of the executive vice-president of Evangelism Explosion (EE), a well-known evangelistic ministry based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has led to the resignation of 13 staff members and one board member.
Evangelism Explosion began in 1961 at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. The church had only 17 members when its pastor, James Kennedy, formed the rudiments of EE, a soul-winning method that emphasizes personal witnessing and meticulous training. Coral Ridge grew to more than 5,000 members, and EE spread to hundreds of North American churches. In 1978 it became an international ministry, branching out to such countries as West Germany, England, South Africa, and Australia.
Archie Parrish was unexpectedly dismissed by Kennedy at a board meeting in late November. The specific charges against him are undisclosed (though none are said to involve his personal morality). Kennedy stated that Parrish was fired because of a “continued unwillingness to submit to the direction and authority of the board of directors and president [Kennedy].”
“Archie is in many ways a fine Christian man with some excellent qualities,” Kennedy said of his associate of 13 years. “I am sure the Lord will find a place for him in some other ministry.”
That ministry, it turns out, may be one of Parrish’s own. Three weeks after his dismissal, Parrish said he was considering beginning a ministry similar to EE. He said the new ministry was being pondered at the request of others, and that he had “absolutely no” thought of starting a separate ministry before he was fired from EE. Ten or 11 of the 13 staff members who have resigned EE positions have agreed to spend time in prayer with Parrish, and, if another evangelistic ministry is considered God’s will, to help him with it. Parrish claimed he was not the leader of a personality cult. “This is not a mass exodus based on people following me [out of EE].”
Parrish denies the charge that he was insubordinate and acknowledges Kennedy to be “one of the most gifted leaders I’ve ever been associated with.” Friends of Parrish in the organization say that far from being insubordinate, Parrish willingly worked “under the shadow” of Kennedy. Even since the dismissal, he has only tried to do what is best for EE and the Coral Ridge church, they say. Parrish has stated he is “gravely concerned about a ministry I don’t want unduly damaged.”
But 13 staff members sympathetic to Parrish have already resigned from the 42-member staff. Board member R. C. Sproul, theologian and author of Knowing Scripture, has resigned from the 15-member board. Sproul called the firing “unwarranted.” Sproul came to EE because of his friendship with Parrish. Meanwhile, at least six EE officials in other countries are irritated that they were not consulted about the dismissal.
David Howard, formerly missions director of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, at first remained in his position as senior vice-president. But he informed Kennedy he would present his resignation at “an appropriate time.” Howard said he stayed on “to have a pastoral ministry” to staff members shaken by the Parrish incident. He resigned as of December 31.
Kennedy is open-minded about the complaint of international EE officials that they were not consulted about Parrish’s dismissal. At present, though, “the organization is run by the board. It is not run by a group from various countries. Whether or not that is the way it should be organized is a question that should be considered.” He does not expect “any sort of wholesale resignations” internationally.
Kennedy insists “things are already righting themselves” at EE. “Many people feel this may be a renaissance at EE,” he said, because it could prompt the organization to seek more input from national and international EE leaders.
Parrish has resigned his position as minister of international outreach at the Coral Ridge church. Parrish said the church’s session accepted his resignation by a wide margin. Following presbyterian procedure, the congregation will also vote on Parrish’s resignation.
As Tension Grows, World Church Council Debates Nuclear Arms
This building, Olof Palme told his audience at Amsterdam’s Free University, “could be hit by nuclear weapons from the Urals with an accuracy of 200 meters, and they are working to get this down to 50 meters.” Palme, former prime minister of Sweden, was participating in the recent Hearing on Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC).
An 18-member hearing group, presided over by J. S. Habgood, bishop of Durham, England, heard a total of 37 witnesses from different nations and professions. They addressed such issues as political aspects of nuclear escalation, current doctrines concerning the use of nuclear weapons, approaches to disarmament, and nonproliferation.
The four-day proceedings came up with some noteworthy utterances. There was, for example, a fascinating exchange between Gert Krell of Frankfurt and Paul Podlesni of Moscow. Said Krell: “You in the USSR know what Western weapons programs are for the next six to eight years … but we don’t have any idea what the USSR is going to do in this period.”
Podlesni: “The problem for our military men is that the U.S. publishes so much information, we can’t understand what is going on.”
When Roger Shinn of Union Theological Seminary, New York, quoted the view that most West Point cadets were “nuclear pacifists,” he was questioned by panel member General T. B. Simatupang of Indonesia. He went on to declare that pacifism at West Point had nothing to do with pacifism as a whole, but was “a pragmatic judgment.” Shinn indicated that retaining the nuclear deterrent was a staging post on the way to something better. “And,” he added, “I would give the same advice to my Soviet friends—you’d be crazy to give up your deterrent.”
Over 14,500 wars in human history have killed four billion people, stated A. A. Baev of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. In World War II, he went on, 20 million were killed in the USSR alone. He gave a vivid account of the immediate and subsequent devastation that would be done by a single nuclear bomb of one megaton. His conclusion was totally unexpected. “The seven angels in Revelation who had the seven cups full of the last plagues of God,” said the Russian scientist, “could inflict no more devastation than the effects of nuclear attack of that scale.”
George Rathjens of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a former adviser to President Carter, said that bilateral negotiations tended to be counterproductive because they encouraged superpowers to build up weapons as bargaining chips. He prophesied that the Reagan administration would argue in the current negotiations that it needed both its new MX ballistic missile and its B1 bomber program in order to negotiate effectively. “That argument,” commented the professor, “will carry weight with members of our Congress and with the public. No one will want to be accused of denying the administration these important chips (if you like) to play this negotiating game, so they will approve programs that they otherwise would not approve.”
Proceedings were conducted throughout with the kind of responsible and somber tone set at the beginning by D.C. Mulder, chairman of the preparatory committee. He had warned, “This is not a happy occasion.” Participants often unofficially reflected the position of their own countries, but points scoring was clearly not a major preoccupation. A deep impression had obviously been made by the previous weekend’s (unconnected) peace demonstration that had brought out 350,000 people in Holland’s largest city. This gave added point to Olof Palme’s warning that the people themselves will demand a halt in the arms race. He quoted President Eisenhower in 1959: “I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it.”
Prof. Mitsuo Okamoto of Tokyo, who saw massive popular movements as the only effective measure, called for the “delegitimization” of nuclear weapons in the same way that apartheid in South Africa had now been delegitimized in the eyes of the world.
J. D. DOUGLAS in Amsterdam
The United Nations has adopted a declaration on freedom of religion and belief that was 20 years in the making. The eight-article declaration proclaims the right of the individual “to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching,” limited only by the state’s need to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. The state is to take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination based on religion or belief “in all fields of civil, economic, political, social, and cultural life.”
Another mission has adopted a policy to guide it in coping with kidnappings and other forms of violence. The Latin America Mission U.S. (LAM) board of trustees last month approved a set of emergency policies that denounces terrorism in any form regardless of political objectives. It says no ransom will be paid under any circumstances and that LAM will not negotiate with outlaws. Its missionaries are prohibited from relating to the CIA or other undercover organizations.
Austrian believers have formed a new association of evangelical churches limited to denominations that seek a “regenerated only” church membership, and baptize individuals as an external witness to personal faith. The association, formed in November by some 30 denominational groups, is in these respects less inclusive than the existing Evangelical Alliance, which is dominated by Lutheran and Reformed churches. It is designed to help these small groups cooperate in evangelism, youth work, and public relations. Austrians—overwhelmingly Roman Catholic—typically confuse evangelicals with the cults.
Suppression of Solidarity in Poland last month, with the imposition of martial law, once again left the Roman Catholic church the only significant force in the nation with which the Communist regime could discourse. Archbishop Jozef Glemp asserted in an official communiqué that his nation was “terrorized by military force,” and protested “the drastic reduction of civil rights.” He said he was convinced the nation “cannot give up the democratic renewal that has been announced in the country.” He pled for a revival of the labor union’s legal activities and for more humane conditions for, and the freeing of, prisoners. With communications with Poland cut, the church’s reporting through its own channels became the primary souce of outside information on events inside Poland.
A U.S. delegation of evangelicals has established contact with the official Protestant church in China. A 10-member group sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals, and led by NAE executive director Billy A. Melvin, met in November with Bishop Ding Guanxuan (K. H. Ting), chairman of the Chinese Christian Council and leader of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSM) in Nanjing. The TSM has made contacts with ecumenical circles but tended to overlook evangelicals. For their part, evangelicals generally have supported the unofficial house churches and are suspicious of government manipulation of the TSM.
Anglican Bishop Of Sidney Retires
At the end of January, Marcus Loane retires after 15 years as archbishop of the largest Anglican diocese in the world—Sydney—and after four years as Australian primate.
It has been a remarkable ministry of evangelical leadership. Loane has been president of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican communion, president of Scripture Union, and a supporter of many evangelical enterprises. He took a leading role in the Australian crusades of Billy Graham in 1959, 1968–9, and 1979.
A New Testament scholar and historian, he wrote more than 30 books, and will keep writing in retirement. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth six years ago for services to church and community.
A shy and self-effacing man, his more remarkable feats are little known. But at his public farewell in Sydney Square, his exploits as a World War II army chaplain were dramatically illustrated by a film. It told how Loane, accompanied by a 14-year-old orderly, Ravu Menao, walked 15 times over the rugged Kokoda Trail in New Guinea, ministering to Australian and American servicemen repelling the Japanese land advance.
Ravu, already a Christian, later felt called to the ministry and is now a United Church bishop. In the middle of the film showing, Bishop Ravu, specially flown 2,000 miles from Port Moresby for the occasion, walked on to the stage to hug the surprised archbishop.
Loane’s successor will be elected at a diocesan synod of 800 members in March. But either of the main contenders will continue the evangelical leadership than Sydney has provided within the Anglican communion for more than 50 years.
John Mostert has announced his retirement in 1982 as executive director of the American Association of Bible Colleges (AABC). He has been with the AABC 19 years, seeing the number of member institutions double during his tenure.
Brenda Bitterman, widow of martyred missionary Chester Bitterman III, recently wed Ken Jackson. He and the former Mrs. Bitterman both serve under Wycliffe Bible Translators. Chester Bitterman was murdered last March in Bogota, Colombia.
Rodric H. Pence has been named president of Big Sky Bible College in Lewistown, Montana. He is a graduate of Multnomah School of the Bible (Portland, Oregon), was a missionary for 10 years, and a pastor for 9.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.