Retrospect of Issue of Idolatry in the Korean Presbyterian Church in the Light of Calvin's View of Anti-Idolatry



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Since the first missionaries of the Northern Presbyterian Church in the USA came to Korea 1884/5, many missionaries were sent by four different Presbyterian churches, i.e., the American Presbyterians (Northern and Southern), Canadian and Australian. The Presbyterian Council was established by them in 1893. In 1007 thankfully they built up one Presbyterian church in Korea. When the presbytery was first organized in 1007, there were 989 churches and houses of worship, having 53 elders and 70,000 church members. In 1912 they organized the General Assembly, covering seven presbyteries.ll Since the early stage of mission the Presbyterian Church became the biggest of the Protestant denomination in Korea It has nearly 20,000 local churches. However, it is now a day denounced as a separatistic Church, for it has been sphtted into over one hundred different groups within the Presbyterian denomination. There must be various reasons which caused the split of the Presbyterian church in Korea. However, the first and main reason of the split is generally recognised to be the different attitudes toward the Shinto shrine worship under the Japanese occupation as well as at the time of the liberated Kon:an Governtm1t The rmst denominational churches in Korea prostrated themselves before the Shinto shrine urged by the Japanese imperialistic Government, and they were enforced to build up one interdenominational church affiliated with the Japanese church. A small number of the church leaders and Christians, however, resisted individually the Japanese enforcement, suffering persecutions. Some of them were put into prison, and the others hid themselves in rural countrysides or took exile to overseas. Most of them who belonged to the Presbyterian Church were excommunicated from their presbyteries. Immediately after the World War II each of the denominations set about to reorganize its own denominational church. There arose a dispute between those who were suffered under persecutions and those who were leading the church in captivity under the Japanese Government A few years lat£T the Presbyterian Church was shaken by the conflict between the conservatives and the liberals or progressives because of diiferent views on the Scripture and theological traditions, and then another conflict was caused by the dispute whether the Church should take membership of the WCC or not. All these disputes developed into Church divisions. The struggles for the church powET and leadership was surely one of the important elements to have caused the split of the Church. The ICCC played certainly an important roll in some later divisions. The social disruption resulted from the Korean War also strengthened the trend toward division.2) As mentioned above, despite of various reasons of the split of the Presbyterian church, its first and main reason should be sought in the idolatzy of the Korean Presbyterian church. Idol worship is the root sin of all other sins. When one turns from trust in God to trust in some part of God's creation, then the "heart" becomes "darkened" and all manner of sins follow from this. Idolatzy is the essence of sin. Idolatzy begets greed. "Greed is idolatzy"(Col. 3:5). Greed gives birth to split. In 1952 the first split of the Korean Presbyterian Church took place at the end of a bruising debate of Shinto worship. Unfortunately, until now Korean Presbyterian Churches did not issue officially any declaration of guilt for their Shinto worship. Without honest repentance, they are still producing splits pursuing their greed. So I am going to review the issue of Shinto worship which caused eventually the original split of the Koran Presbyterian Church in the light of John Calvin, who was confronted with a similar situation caused by the Nicodemites, to make it clear whether the Shinto worship is just a tolerable mistake or a serious and real sin of idolatzy. I hope the view of Calvin may give some helpful clue to solve the conflict of the Korean churches. Unless this problem is solved, there may be little hope to find any way to get out of the chronical splits of the Korean Church.


 I. John Calvin's View of Anti-Idolatry
 II. Issue of Idolatry in the Korean Presbyterian Churches
 III. Declaration of Guilt?


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