This morning, as I do a lot, I was reading about Korea. When I read the statistic that 35% of the population became Christian in 30 years, and Christianity is still growing, it peaked my interested, so I thought you would be interested too. This is more growth in Christianity than in the whole history of the world! It is astounding! I knew there was a lot of Christianity in Korea, but I didn’t realize it had grown that fast. What I was reading was comparing it to Japan and explaining the differences that made it happen in Korea and not Japan, and I have to agree.
Catholicism was already in Korea when this growth began. However, the growth came when the first Christian missionaries from other kinds of churches came. Now a days, the five largest churches in the world are in Korea. Buddhism was not the dominate thought among the people as it was in Japan. In Japan, they had mixed Buddhism and Shintoism to come up with a system of thought that made the Japanese feel secure. However, in Korea, the prominent ideas Confucianism and Shamanism. The different systems of thought made it so that Christianity was overwhelmingly accepted in Korea but not Japan.
Shintoism is an animistic religion. The word “animistic” comes from “anime,” a Latin word that means to give life to something. Under Shintoism, every rock and every tree has a soul. Amaterasu became their mother goddess, but there are lots and lots of other gods and goddesses in Japan. Even the soldiers that died during World War 2 have been deified and are worshiped as gods. Under an animistic religion, you can control the gods. You do certain things to keep them happy and appease their wrath like the Japanese offering rice and tea every day to their dead grandmother or whoever else they pray to in their house. If they are Shinto, they are silent when they pray. If they are Buddhist, they clap loudly three times when they pray. Shintoism doesn’t give a promise of an afterlife, but Buddhism does, and the Japanese mix the two religions together. They go both to the Shinto Shrine and the Buddhist Temple.
Buddhism teaches the people that there is an afterlife. It is a system of going in a circle forever. If you are good enough in this life, you can come back in a higher station in life in your next life or perhaps a higher form of life. If you are not good, you will come back in a lower station or as some kind of animal. Everyone, including the animals, are constantly recycled. The highest place someone can reach is to be a Buddhist monk. If the monk is good enough, the next step is Nirvana. Nirvana is when you stop going through the cycles that you have been through for possibly thousands or millions of years and finally reach the stage of enlightenment and become one with the universe. To the Buddhists, there is an afterlife. If you are a Christian, you understand there is an afterlife too, but not like this.
Christians are born, life their lives, and die, and after that, there is a promise of either Heaven or Hell according to what they did with their one life. Buddhism came from Hinduism, and Hinduism also has the idea of reincarnation, of the soul constantly being recycled. Birth is a happy thing for Christians, but not always for a Buddhist or a Hindu. In India, they actually cry when girls are born because girls have a hard life in India. Buddha was actually a Hindu prince in India who was extremely radical. He left his palace to become a monk. Some of the Buddhist and Hindu monks are so radical about hurting nothing they even strain their water to make sure all the microbes are out. They are afraid they may be eating a relative if they eat a microbe. There is a reason for Hindus and Buddhists not eating meat. It is because they are afraid that cow or chicken might be their great aunt or cousin or someone else.
As opposed to this, Christians believe that God gave them the animals to take care of, and he also gave them to them as food. Christians have mercy on animals, but they don’t go to extremes. They know about the cycle of life taught in Science books even if they haven’t read the Science books. According to Science, everything is related, and there is a cycle where animals eat plant and other animals and so do humans for survival. When the plants and animals die,including the human bodies, they go back into the soil and decay, and become fertilizer for more plants and animals to grow. Christians believe in kindness and purity as the Buddhists and Hindus do, but they think of animals as animals, not as a cousin or a grandmother. It is the Christian’s soul or spirit that goes on to live with God after they die.
However, for the Koreans whose dominate philosophies were Shamanism and Confucianism, there was no afterlife. Shamanism teaches that God exists, but it doesn’t teach much about him except that he is the creator and everything is under his control. When the first Europeans came to Korea they heard the Shamans teaching about the Tower of Babel, but the Koreans had never heard anything about Christ or the Bible. The father of their original emperor that made them into a country and first civilized them in their early history came to Korea from the Tower of Babel, and he brought the knowledge of God’s existence with him, but not much else. There is supposed to be an altar somewhere up in North Korea that was built to the one creator God by Dangun, Korea’s first emperor. Besides Shamanism, the Koreans also had Confucianism. Buddhism was in Korea, but it wasn’t the dominate thought. There was once a golden age of Buddhism in Korea when they built lots of Buddhist monasteries, but from things I have read, it didn’t last because there was corruption among the Buddhist monks, and many Koreans turned against Buddhism and went back to Shamanism and accepted Confucianism also. Buddhism didn’t quite mesh well with the original idea of God that Dangun’s father brought from the Tower of Babel, and even though Buddhism was accepted, it is not the dominant thought in Korea.
Confucianism was never a religion, but a system of thought. Confucianism doesn’t promise an afterlife. It is a way to order society so that everything goes well. That is what Korea has been about since the dawn of the creation of Korea. They have always striven for peace and higher culture, and that is what Confucianism taught them. Confucianism gives a system of thought to keep things functioning peacefully. It teaches purity. It teaches respect for elders. It teaches all kinds of ideas that are very similar to Christianity, but it is not a religion and gives no promise of an afterlife, just a better life here and now. The Koreans were busy toiling away everyday trying to be good without any reward when they died. They believed in God, but they didn’t know how to reach him.
When the Christian missionaries came into Korea, they gave the Koreans exactly what they needed, an afterlife. Everything those missionaries taught was compatible with what the Koreans already believed. The Koreans knew about God. The Koreans knew that a pure life, respect for elders, and treating others well gave an orderly society and made their lives better in the here and now, but Christianity also promised a reward after they died for doing what they were already doing. Working hard to be who they should be and doing the things they should do all of a sudden became more than just for the good of society and for the here and now, but also gave them hope of rest in the arms of the creator God they already knew when they died. They had a chance to live with that creator God, and they accepted it whole heartedly! In thirty years time, 35% of the population became Christians! People are still becoming Christians in Korea. Buddhism was already here, but all of a sudden, Christianity surpassed in number the numbers of Buddhists. According to what I read, there are so many Christians and churches in Korea that they can’t keep up with it statistically!
Korea was not only a modern day miracle with their economy going from the poorest country in the world to one of the richest in just thirty years, but also another miracle took place in Korea! Christianity has grown faster in Korea than in any other country in the world since Christianity came into existence! Christianity has grown faster in Korea than any other religion has ever grown since the foundation of the world! Koreans have kept me busy teaching Bible classes since I came to Korea, and they love Bible classes! Koreans are so zealous about Christianity that they have tried to get me to preach, but I am not a preacher. I have always taught Bible, and when I do, I just sit down and read the Bible with them, so God is actually teaching them, not me. Korea has been a real encouragement and blessing for me. I love the fact that they love God and Christianity so much! I have always loved the Japanese people too. I have many missionary friends and Japanese Christian friends in Japan, and I can only pray for Japan. I know there is one more reason than what I was ready this morning didn’t take into account of in Japan that Christianity has had a hard time in Japan. It is because the very first Catholic missionaries who went there were spies for the Portuguese government and planned to take over Japan, and when the Japanese discovered it, there was widespread persecution of Christians in Japan. However, the average Japanese people I have met are also also very pure individuals just like the average Koreans. Both countries have extremely low crime rates. I am happy to have one Japanese and one Korean son in law in my family who are both Christians.