Posted by Dr. Hyun Sook Foley on Jan 25, 2016
Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, Voice of the Martyrs Korea President, authors this special 8-part series on Kim Kyo Shin, one of the greatest martyrs in Korean Christian history whose voice needs to be heard today more than ever, by Korea and the world.
Reviewing Kim Kyo Shin’s life and death is a reminder of how inaccurate it is to describe him as a Christian nationalist who opposed the Korean church. In truth, Kim’s mission had very little to do with opposing the Korean church but everything to do with promoting a truly Korean Christianity.
He did not come to faith in a Korean church or even in Korea at all (Hwang, 2012, 85). He is better understood as a missionary to Chosun who sought to introduce the Christian faith without American or foreign presuppositions, believing that God’s special providence for Chosun as a nation made the development of a truly Korean expression of Christianity an urgent necessity. As both he, his supporters, and opponents would agree, he loved Chosun and Christ, not the church:
“A renowned Presbyterian, Reverend Kim In-seo (1894-1964)…a disciple of the famous revivalist Gil Seon-ju…[criticized KKS]…professed to have three C’s to love: Choseon (Korea), Christ, and Church, whereas Kim Kyo-sin used to say that he loved two C’s: Christ and Choseon” (Hwang, 2012, 111).
Or as Kim Kyo Shin himself put it in the editor’s column of the 75th issue of Sungsuh Chosun, “Bible and Korea; Bible to Korea; Korea on the Bible” (in Kim, 2012, 192).
Ultimately the Korean churches opposed him, not on the basis of his character or on the fruits of his ministry but simply on the basis of definition of what constituted a Christian:
For Calvin, the marks of the true church were that the word of God should be purely preached and heard, and that the sacraments should be rightly administered according to Christ’s institution. He stated that the true church is indeed to be found where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. In the early twentieth century in Korea, most churches had similar views concerning the church. In contrast, the NCM practiced neither preaching nor the sacraments (Hwang, 2012, 113).
For Kim Kyo Shin, there were far more significant issues facing Christians in Korea than whether or not they adhered to Western-style religious rituals. He called Korean churches to rise above denominationalism in order to defeat what he called “a very strong monster”:
Today a very strong monster is before Christians. We are facing a generation when God-fearing people, whether they are in church or out of church, have to fight with all their strength. The prevailing state of this generation requires us to shed martyrs’ blood to discern true religion. Since we live in such generation, we lost interest in debating whether salvation is in church or out of it. We would prepare a tomb for those who suffer persecution for Christ, and please bury us if you see our corpse. (From the 100th issue of Sungsuh Chosun, in Kim, 2012, 193).
Perhaps because his focus was on this greater task, it did not seem to change or challenge him that Korean churches ultimately rejected him and his teaching. As his former student Guhn Goo, later a professor of natural science at Seoul City College, later recalled, in matters of church and all of life, Kim Kyo Shin was “free to do right things daringly”:
King Lee and Queen Bang-ja visited Yangjung School that his mother Queen Uhm founded. Whole neighborhood and school was cleaned up, teachers wore tailcoat, and students’ work was displayed in two classrooms.
500 students wore clean clothes, standing on their feet in two lines, one each side of the road. Finally, after one hour of waiting, King’s motorcade arrived. Inspection at the end of a ceremony just ended solemnly.
At that moment, someone was passing by us on a bicycle on a steep downhill road from main building to the entrance gate, as swift as a flying arrow; it was Teacher Kim.
When the whole school was under holiday mood, Teacher Kim was going home, without having any concern about it; the more I think about his appearance at that time the more he seemed to be perfectly composed, without being overly sensitive to others’ opinion, and free to do right things daringly.” (Kim, 2012, 209).
Next in the Conclusion of this special series on Kim Kyo Shin: Why He Matters Today More Than Ever.