When I first came to Korea, I was surprised by how many churches I saw. I soon learned that South Korea is the most Christian nation in East Asia. The religion has a short but extremely interesting history in the Korean peninsula, with Christianity taking on unique forms not seen anywhere else in the world. let’s dive into Korean Christianity and find out what makes it so special.
Christianity in Korea
A few years ago when I came to Korea for the first time as an exchange student, I was pleasantly surprised to see churches almost everywhere I went. I do not consider myself a very religious person. But, I am willing to explore various kinds of beliefs and spiritual concepts.
I strongly believe that every single religion carries different parts of universal truth. However, some people often find themselves wondering if completely different systems of beliefs can coexist in the same space. What do you think? My answer is a definitive yes. Are you curious to find out more about Christianity in Korea?
According to the latest statistics, almost 30% of Korean people consider themselves Christians. The number may not be as high as you thought, but it is the highest in East Asia.
Many Christian groups function as tight-knit communities. They often take part in educational programs, volunteer activities, and help the community. Often, Christians in Korea place a huge emphasis on the value of education and western education in particular. Many of Korea’s top universities such as Yonsei and Ewha Women’s University were established by Christian missionaries.
The Beginning of Christianity in Korea
The history of Christianity in Korea began with Catholic teachings making their way from China to the Korean peninsula through scholars and diplomats. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, many in the Yangban class converted to Christianity. However, in 1801 the Sinyu persecution took place. Christianity was banned, Catholic missionaries were expelled from the country, and more than 300 people were executed.
However, after the Sinyu persecution took place foreign influence in Korea continued to grow. Japan, Russia, Qing China, America, and France began establishing a presence in Korea. Then in 1964, the Queen of Korea died, leaving a child King Gojong in her place and a regent who needed to establish his power.
The father of the child King, Heungseon Daewongun ordered the execution of French missionaries in 1866. This led to a brief war between Korea and France on Gangwha island off the coast of Incheon. France and catholicism largely lost their hold on Korea due to the result of the French-Korean war of 1866.
However, Christianity returned to Korea just a few decades later with American missionaries. One of the most prominent figures when comes to the history of Christianity in Korea was Horace Newton Allen. He was the first American Protestant missionary to arrive in Korea, in September of 1884. Allen gained, the now adult, King Gojong’s trust and respect after he treated an important government minister. King Gojong established a hospital called Chejungwon and put Allen in charge of it.
Chejungwon was the first modern medical facility in Korea and it was run by Christan missionaries. Because of this, Christianity in Korea became associated with modern science and medicine. This is quite fascinating because, in the west, we often see Christianity as being opposed to science and medicine.
The number of Christians in Korea significantly grew over the years, in spite of numerous hardships and persecutions they had to face. Most of the Christians in Korea belong to Protestant Churches such as Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations. The Catholic Church (about 11% of the population) is also well represented in Korea. So, if you plan to come to Korea and live here for a while, you shouldn’t worry about finding the right church. Many of them offer services in English, Japanese, and Chinese.
English Christian Churches in Seoul
- Seoul International Baptist Church: 14-8, Songhwa-ri, Paengsung-eup, Pyeongtaek-si
- Yeouido English Ministry: 11-17 Yoido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, 2nd Education Building 6th Floor James Hall 07239
- Samyook University International Seventh Day Adventist Church: 26-21 Gongneung-dong, Nowon-gu, Seoul
- Somang Presbiteryan Church: 55 Apgujeong-ro 36-gil, Sinsa-dong,
- Myeongdong Cathedral: 74 Myeongdong-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
I had the chance to visit a few churches in Seoul, and attend their services on Saturday or Sunday. Every single time I had a very pleasant experience. I was able to meet new friends, and learn more about Christianity in Korea. I found it interesting how many Korean families who regularly attend Christian churches, learn about Moses and Solomon, still keep their Confucian traditions like jesa, and have many close relatives who are Buddhists. Everything coexists peacefully in the same space. Isn’t that intriguing?
*Jesa-Confucian ancestral rite practiced by many Korean families during important holidays like Chuseok
Christianity in Korean movies
I am sure that many of you have already watched or at least heard about the Korean-American movie Minari. The movie premiered in January 2020, and has since won many awards. It presents the story of a Korean family that struggles to lead a better life in Arkansas after they leave California. I am not going to talk about the plot right now, but I’m going to emphasize one theme: Korean-Americans’ strong relationship with the church. This fact reflects how important religion is in Korean people’s everyday lives.
Going to church in Korea should be on your bucket list. Why? Because it’s a totally new experience that will help you understand Korean people’s lives and beliefs much better. Don’t want to go alone? Just go with a friend! This Sunday you can go to a Christian church, and next weekend you can visit a Buddhist temple. Your good thoughts and sincere prayers are the things that matter in the end. So, ready for new experiences?
Have you ever been to a Christian church in Korea? What did you enjoy the most while there? Let us hear about your experience. For more content related to Korean culture or daily life, don’t forget to subscribe to Koreabyme. Also, if you liked my article or you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop me a DM on Instagram. I will be more than happy to help you. Have a wonderful day.
Are you interested in learning more about religions in South Korea? Why don’t you read about Korea’s first religion next? Click Here to learn more about Korean Shamanism.