In the previous 'Sola Gracia' article, I discussed the differences in thought between Luther and Erasmus regarding whether humans have free will. Although this controversy happened almost five hundred years ago, it is significant for the church today. This controversy is important today because many deny that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. As interfaith dialogue and ecumenical theology is becoming more important, the doctrines of God and Holiness have become more important themes in theology than those of Christ and Salvation. For theologians in Korea who think that interfaith dialogue and ecumenical movement is more important, the doctrine of ‘Jesus Christ alone’ (Sola Christus) as the fundamental doctrines of Christianity is considered an obstacle for interfaith dialogue. These theologians believe that this exclusive doctrine of Christianity – Sola Christus – made most Christians exclusive and cause conflict between religious groups. So they are more interested in ‘the hidden God’ or ‘Holy Spirit' than ‘Christology’ or ‘Soteriology,’ which they consider to be a little bit of an exclusive doctrine. Relatively, the theology of Jesus Christ and the cross-centered theology are weakened. However, how could we say that interfaith dialogue is more important than justification by faith alone in and only through Jesus Christ? As I mentioned before, Martin Luther proclaimed the sovereignty of God in salvation. He proclaimed Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation.
The error of Pelagianism attacks the theology and church of Korea today in many different forms. Much of the church world sides with Erasmus today, even among those who claim to be "Reformed." Efforts to gradually increase the interest of both social-political interpretations and a more practical theology led to a serious distortion of the concept of sin and salvation. Most modern theologians try to explain that sin is the problem of social structure – such as, the gap between the rich and the poor, or suppression of human rights – and salvation is to resolve the social problem as well as to recover full humanity. Pastors and theologians prefer to use the term ‘inner wound’ and ‘inner healing’ rather than ‘sin’ and ‘salvation’. But is sin just the problem of social structure? How could psychological terms like 'inner wound' and 'inner healing' or ethical terms like ‘ full humanity’ be substituted with the deeper meaning of 'sin' and 'salvation'? If we say that justification or salvation means merely full humanity, why do we need grace from God for our salvation? Is it available for us to be saved by doing our good works or using our good free will?
The situation of churches in Korea is similar to that of theology. Since the 'Pyongyang Great Revival Movement in 1907’ and the industrialization of Korea in 1970, the churches in Korea have achieved growth not only in the number of congregants, but also the church as it is quite unprecedented in the world history of Christianity. 26 churches among the largest 50 churches in the world are in Korea and 30 percent of Korea’s population of about 50 million people is Christians. The influence of Korean churches continues to increase in Korean society. The former president-elect Lee Myung-bak serves as an elder of a church, which is just one example of the increasing influence of Korean church. As the negative aspects hidden behind the growth of the Korean church are revealed, it can be argued that Christianity in Korea is a cause of some of the serious social problems. Recently, a sexual harassment scandal by a pastor of a famous church in Seoul and the news that a large church in Seoul will cost nearly $100 million dollars to rebuild the church building have caused quite a stir throughout Korea society.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, Christians who have the responsibility to play a leadership role in society have lost the basic meaning of Christian faith and rather have recognized the Christian community not as a community of faith and fellowship, but as the important means to meet networking sources.
Moreover, it is already known that some members from a particular church in Gangnam, an affluent district in the southern part of Seoul, was assigned to important cabinet positions of Lee Myung-bak’s administration. Now, Christianity in Korea is not the religion of love and generosity but rather the subject of dislike and hate. Christianity has become the latest target of accusations in Korean society, as many ‘anti-Christian’ internet cafés have been made.
Why has the Korean Christian Church become the target of social criticism? I believe that the doctrine of justification by faith alone has been seriously distorted. While there are numerous crosses lighted up at night, there is no cross in theology and churches. Proclamations heard in churches of Korea are filled with words of glory and blessing based on shamanism. Unbeknownst to anyone, the pastor of the church stresses 'positive power' and 'self-confidence' for church members to succeed in this world. Wealth and social status are considered as key to judge God’s blessings. 'Faith alone' (Sola fide) is replaced by 'self-confidence' and 'self-reliance' arisen from the inner world of the human being. The proclamation of ‘Faith alone’ and ‘Grace alone’ can be found nowhere else. The pastors already well knew how important the doctrine justification by faith alone is. They are afraid that the church members might leave the church. Most of pastors in Korea proclaim ‘Gospel without cross’ which church members want to hear.
For theologians, the proclamation of ‘Faith alone’ and ‘Grace alone’ has already been long lost. Recent studies of the theological issues are not for our human being, but social and political issues. It has been a vogue of contemporary theology to focus on social issues rather than to commit theology to its duty, such as the problem of our sin and salvation. Theologians are making relentless efforts to provide theology to satisfy only pastors and church members. The theological propositions, like ‘the theology for the kingdom of God’ and ‘the theology for proclaiming the cross of Jesus Christ’ have been replaced by the term ‘the theology for making pastors and church members satisfied.' In this theological atmosphere, the important theological meanings are becoming distorted. Sin no longer means that the body and soul of human being is in suffering and death by breaking with God; it just refers to an ‘internal wound’ explained in psychological terms. The meaning of salvation has been changed to a psychological concept, losing the salvific power of the Cross for the salvation of human body and soul. For this reason, most of Christians in Korea now no longer kneel before the cross, confess their sin, and long for the saving power of the Cross. They want to be comforted and healed by ‘positive thinking’ and ‘self-confidence’ in human being itself. What they need is not the faith alone in Jesus Christ, but psychological healing to comfort wounded heart.
Reverend and Doctor Jin O. Jeong is an assistant pastor for Korean congregation at Zion Lutheran Church, Belleville, IL. He graduated from Luther University and received a Ph.D from Yonsei University. He was also a Research Fellow at Hebrew University and Visiting Scholar at Yale Divinity School. Tel: 618-920-9311 Email: email@example.com