Sunday, April 15, 2007

Korean Christianity

Dr. Younglae Kim invited us to spiritually savor some of the distinct features of Korean Christianity:
1. Saebyuk gidohoe (early morning prayer meetings)
2. Chulya Gidohoe (all night prayer meetings)
3. Tongsung gido (praying out loud in unison)
4. Tongdok (reading Scripture as both part and the whole)

He invited us to participate in 5am morning prayer meeting at his church. We managed to get up before that sacred hour and find our way to the second floor chapel of Seshin Church, which was filled with the devout. Methodists, of course, are not Pentecostals, but the intensity and fervency of their prayers in unison as with one voice was unforgettable. Some would pray loud and long from their seats, others cried out to God standing up, all prayed with their hearts and bodies fully engaged, sometimes rocking back and forth, visibly in contact with the Spirit of God. Rarely have I seen the spirit of prayer as James describes is so well exemplified: “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Younglae also explained to us the religious concept of tongdok. Tong means ‘to come together’ in unification, integration, harmony. Applied to theology, tongdok means to combine two ways of praying or reading the Bible. There is a tong method of reading the Bible both as part and as a whole. For example, reading the story of Noah and the flood in part is to focus only on God’s punishment of sin and the need to start over with humanity. Reading the story as a whole, that is, in light of the whole Bible helps one see and appreciate the greater love, promise, and covenant between God and his people in salvation history. “Let’s tong together” is the way Leonard Sweet of Drew University talks about the pastors’ conference he and Dr. Kim are planning for May 22 in Korea, to which 10,000 pastors have been invited. See www.tong21.com

Related to the practice of tongdok is a theological insight I first learned from Rev. Paul Yonggi David Cho, pastor of Yoida Full Gospel Church (the world’s largest church with more than 500,000 members), on my first trip to Korea in 1984. When we study what the Scriptures say in part and as a whole, we come to learn the “logos” or general Word of God for all people. But when we also prayerfully seek a personal word from God in addition to the general word, we come to know the “rhema” or personal and applied word of God for me in my particular situation. Carefully distinguishing the word as logos and the word as rhema is an important spiritual practice, one that was reinforced for me in seminary as I learned this method from my professor, Henri Nouwen.