The phenomenal growth of the church in South Korea has made it the darling of countless church-growth consultants, and a supreme model for aspiring mega-visioned pastors here in the U.S. Where else can you find a local church with over a half-million members? Or a city (Seoul) with five congregations numbering more than 10,000 members?

And yet, all is not well in this burgeoning church, because all is not well in South Korea. The government of Chun Doo Hwan has come under increasing attack for its use of repressive tactics to quiet a growing opposition. Massive student riots calling for an end to the Chun “dictatorship” have become a common occurrence, and talk of Korea becoming another Philippines is increasingly drawing the attention of the Western press.

To both government and opposition leaders, Korea’s churches—especially the mass ministries in Seoul—represent a strong influence and ally for their respective positions. Thus far, however, only certain pockets of the church have chosen to speak out. The balance remain largely silent.

American Christians accustomed to a participatory democracy may not understand this “no comment” approach. But the church in South Korea has yet to define its relationship to a secular government. How it fits in the political scheme of things is an open question—currently an unknown. There is neither a wall of separation nor an open door to the presidential palace.

Many of the republic’s early leaders claimed some church allegiances: Syngman Rhee, for example, was a Methodist (South Korea’s second-largest Protestant denomination), and Po-Sun Yoon a Presbyterian (the largest). Chun, however, claims no such identification. Thus, the convenient ...

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