The 1907 Revival: It’s historical effect to the Korean Church growth

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The 1907 Revival: It’s historical effect to the Korean Church growth

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The 1907 Revival: It’s historical effect to the Korean Church growth

By Hong Key Chung


It was in my second year of Bible Institute that I met Mr. Feike Ter Velde. After he had prayed for a young man to introduce him to Korean Church, he was walking down of the corridor of the ACTS (Asian Center for Theological Study) guesthouse. I was there to find an Indian student to invite him to the Friday evening prayer meeting.

We began to talk to each other, and during our conversation he became convinced that God had sent me to him. Beaming all over his face, he said: “In 1972 I read a book about the 1907 Korean revival in Pyung Yang and have prayed for ten years that I should be able to visit the Korean Church”. He began to ask questions about the 1907 revival in Pyung Yang but I was unable to answer him at the time.

I have began to read Korean Church history books and found “The 1907 revival” was a turning point of Korean Church growth and history. There were several aspects for the revival, which are Bible study, united prayer and repentance convicted by Holy Spirit.

1. Korean Church before the 1907 Revival

Korea is a small country situated between her two giant neighbors of China and Japan. It had been given the name “morning calm”. At a time when the great light that Europe had received through the Reformation the tiny Korean peninsula had no light at all. Until 1880, there was no gospel at all, no one had heard the name of the only true God, no one had heard of Jesus Christ or the Bible. It took more than 1880 years for the gospel of Jesus Christ to reach this country; the gospel, which was born in Jerusalem and had first, blossomed in Europe . But now this tiny peninsula does not want to be called “morning calm” any longer, and in the mercy of God, He no longer wished for this tiny calm country to remain in darkness. It was God’s gracious providence to intervene and bring the gospel to this people.

Birth of the Korean Church

Before the first American missionaries (Rev. Horace G. Underwood – Presbyterian and Henry G. Appenzeller – Methodist) arrived in Korea on 5 April 1885, four Koreans had become Christians in China. (There was slight attempt by a few European) in 1876, four Korean men, Lee Ung Chan, Back Hong Jun, Kim Jin Ki and Lee Sung Ha were baptized by the Rev. John Ross and they started translating the Bible from Chinese into Korean. John Ross (1842-1915) was a missionary from the Scottish Presbyterian Church in Manchuria. After learning the Chinese language, he attempted to make contact with Korean people in “Korea Gate” near the border between Korea and China. These four Korean converts whit later converter and Suh Sang Rum brought the Bible to Korea and established the “So – Rae Church” in Song Cheon Li, Whang – Hae Do, Korea.

Political situation before 1907

It is important to briefly explain the political situation, which formed the background to the 1907 revival, because the revival was a bridge in modern Korean politics, connecting the Yi dynasty with the Japanese occupation of 1910. Party dispute was a mark of the Yi dynasty. As a buffer state between China and Japan, the peninsula of Korea was a battleground. There had for a long time been a struggle between two factions in the Yi dynasty. Some had wanted to retain the distinctly Korean cultural heritage and national identity, whereas others leaned towards being dependent upon the powers of Russia, China and Japan. Under the American’s silent, Korea became a colonial land of Japan . “By defeating China in 1895 and Russia in 1905, Japan established itself as the paramount power in Korea. Then in 1910 it formally annexed the country and held it until the close of World War II, when Korea was liberated by the Allies”. (Kane, p. 261)

So the 1907 revival was a means, used by God, of preparing the twenty-two years old Korean Church for the brutal, cruel Japanese persecution in the name of their national religion “Shintoism”.

2. How the 1907 Revival Occurred

Unlike any revival movement since Pentecost, the 1907 Pyung Yang revival, so called second “Pentecost”, is remarkable in the history of the Christian Church. It was a genuine Biblical revival, marked by Bible study, prayer and repentance. According to the Canadian missionary to China, Steven Gorford, who was an eyewitness to the 1907 revival said:

The Korean revival was sparked off in September 1906 with 20 missionaries and 1.000 people in the Pyung Yang Ang Presbyterian Church who met to pray for revival. After a month of united prayer nothing had happened, so some people suggested it would be better to pray in their homes because there were no results from the united prayer times. The majority, however, agreed to pray more than before, so they continued the prayer meeting until four o’clock in the afternoon. They continued praying for four months. On the last evening of this four-month period of united prayer about 1.000 had gathered in Chung Dae Hyun Church. All of a sudden elder Gil Sun Yoo, one of the leaders of the meeting stood up to confess his sins. “I am an Achan” he said. “God cannot bless because of me. I have stolen one hundred dollar that my late friend entrusted to me to give his wife.” At this, the barrier had gone and the power of God came down among the people. The Holy Spirit had touched everyone’s heart and others began to stand up to confess their sins. These prayers of confession continued until two o’clock in the morning, with people, with people lining up to confess their sins. These Spirit-filled people then went out and to confess their neighbors and ask forgiveness. The movement, which had begun in Pyung Yang, spread out all over the country so that on one Sunday 4000 was baptized. One student determined to evangelize six people every day and after nine months had evangelized 3.000 people. (Translated from the Korean Internet information)

Hunt also said:
Man after man would rise, confess his sin, break down and weep, and then throw himself to the floor and beat the floor with his fists in perfect agony of conviction. Sometimes after a confession, the whole audience would break out in audible prayer, and the effect of that audience of hundreds of men praying together in audible prayer was something indescribable. Again, after another confession, they would break out in uncontrollable weeping, and we would all weep; we could not help it. And so the meeting went on until two o’clock a.m., with confession and weeping and praying. (Hunt, p.72)
All through the city men were going from house to house, confessing to individuals they had injured, returning stolen property and money, not only to Christian but to heathen as well, till the whole city was stirred. (Ibid. p. 75)

3. The 1907 Revival: Its New Tradition and Impact

The 1907 revival created a considerable amount of new Christian tradition in Korea. This new traditions replaced many of the old Buddhist or Shaman religious practices. The main characteristics of the new tradition were:
a) Dawn or early-morning prayer meeting;
b) Annual revival meetings;
c) Friday night prayer meetings;
d) Home Bible study groups;
e) Open-air evangelism.

Early-morning Prayer Meeting
In September 1909, Gil Sun Yoo announced that he was going to begin a Dawn Prayer Meeting at 4.30 a.m. However, people came from two o’clock and by 4.30 a.m. there were seven hundreds people in the church. Since that times “Dawn Prayer” has played a foundational role in Korean church growth. It was not only a motive to promote church growth, but also became a means for experiencing God’s mighty blessing. Even today, most of the Korean churches have a dawn prayer meeting and about 20 percent of the whole Christians members attend on each occasion.

Annual Revival Meetings
These took the form of an evangelistic preaching and healing ministry. Many people were touched by the message, confessed their sins and experienced God’s mighty healing work and received spiritual gifts and blessings. Sometimes they used this revival meeting to raise funds for building projects.

Friday Night Prayer Meeting
This meeting start at about ten o’clock in the evening and continues until about 4 a.m. It is the heart of the Korean Church prayer life. If the Dawn prayer meetings are the foundation of church growth, then the Friday night meetings is the heart of or key to personal spiritual growth. On these occasions, not only the churches but also most of the mountains are filled with praying people. Behind our Blue House in Seoul there are mountains and if we are late arriving for the Friday night prayer meeting (11.00 p.m.), we have difficulty in finding a place to pray.

Home Bible Study Groups
These study groups or cells have become one of the main sources of fellowship and evangelism. People bring new friends to these groups. It is a forum for the exchange of ideas, which has proved to be a real help to many. All the churches and denominations have their own Bible study text books and group leaders are trained on an annual basis at the beginning of each year.

Open-Air Evangelism
Right from the outset, the Korean Church has engaged in open-air evangelism. Every Sunday many people travel by bus, train, car and underground to attend open-air preaching. Everywhere the gospel is being proclaimed.

However these traditions from the 1907 revival are struggling to stay alive in the current climate of modernization. They are being slowly eroded. For instance, the Friday night prayer meeting has been shortened from 10 p.m. to 12 p.m. Open-air evangelism has now ceased to be an everyday occurrence. It is now seasonal or occasional.

4. The 1907 Revival: Its historical Significance

As a young church the 1907 revival has very significant meaning to the Korean Church history. The revival occurred in North Korea and it strengthens whole church to survive under Japanese persecution as well as the communist persecution during the Korean War.

After the Korean war, the leading Christians (most of the leading Christian have immigrated to the south before the war) in 1907 revival started to preach the gospel of vision and hope to the broken-hearted poor people.

Japanese Persecution

In 1910, Japanese colonialism began under the name of the unification of Japan and Korea. In effect Japan had annexed Korea. Some modern historians argue that dropping the bomb was not only immoral but also unnecessary. They contend that Japan was beaten by the summer of 1945 and would have collapsed without an invasion. But they should know that the Japanese are still distorting their brutal domination in Asia .

Following this annexation of Korea, there were three particular aspects to Japanese policy:
First: to change the Korean family names into Japanese names. This would destroy the identity of the Korean people. Because of the strong family ties in Korean society, the names represented position and status in society. What a contemptible and inhuman policy this was.

Second: the Japanese restricted the use of the Korean language. Japanese only was to be used in the schools and the educational system. The great King Sejong, including its unique alphabet had invented the Korean language. This had contributed to the growth of the unique Korean culture and literature. There is no similar alphabet anywhere else in the world . The Korean people had not mixed with any other nation during their history. With a unique language the culture had become unique and very distinctive. The Japanese policy was deliberately anti-cultural.

Thirdly: the Japanese also attempted to destroy Korean religion, which included Christianity, and replace it with Shintoism. They persuaded the people that Shintoism encouraged nationalism and patriotism, so the Koreans would do well to accept it. “Worship at the shrines is an expression of patriotism and loyalty to the nation. Shinto is distinct from any religious acts because it is the only national ceremony.”
The Korean Christians realized immediately that this policy was against the first commandment, so they resisted this policy. When the Japanese realized that there was opposition, they changed to a policy of appeasement, but also threatened them if they would not comply. There was also a policy to divide Christian leaders so as to weaken the church’s resolve. The result was that under the threat of a large police presence, the Presbyterian General Assembly accepted the new policy .

However, most of the Church leaders preached against this new policy and showed their disapproval in practice by their actions. They refused to attend the Shinto temples. The Japanese controlled Government responded severely to this protest. The Theological Seminary and the Churches were closed, many of the leaders were put into prison and often put to death .This was a heavy burden for the fledgling Church to bear. The Church was only been in existence for less than thirty years and the names of those tortured and put to death are too numerous to mention.

Several years ago I was at the Je Am Li Church and have met an old woman called Jun Dong Yea. She was an eyewitness of the “first of the March” (samil) independent movement in 1919. “One day Japanese police called all the Christians to church, there were twenty-seven people, and they nailed door from outside and burned the building. Some people were shouted when they attempted to come out through the windows and others were singing ‘Nearer to my God’ while they were burning.”

Through the blood of the martyrs the Korean Church was strengthened. What a great providence of God that He had prepared His Church for this cruel and abominable persecution, by the revival of 1907! “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” I can only praise our God for His wonderful and amazing foreknowledge and kindness to His people. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8.35)

After independence from this cruel oppression, there was a short-lived freedom, but God was preparing the Church for a further period of turbulent persecution under Communism.

Korean War and Evangelization of the South

On 25 June 1950 the Korean War broke out. During the preceding five years 1945-1950, the north of the country had become dominated by Stalinism and prepared to subdue the whole country with the aid of the Russian military machine. In the three years from 1950-53, the Church in the whole of Korea was persecuted and had little power to resist. Most of the churches were closed and many leaders martyred. Most of the leaders who had known and experienced the 1907 revival, fled to the south of the country and began to preach a message of hope in Christ to their fellow-countrymen who felt a keen sense of frustration after the war. Many flocked into the churches and formed the foundation of the new South Korean society. Most of the well-known church leaders today follow in the footsteps of their forefathers from the 1907 awakening. One notable example is Dr. Hang Kyung Jik, who is almost hundred years old and experienced the 1907 revival as a child.

In the 1997 religious census in Korea, for the first time the Protestant population is greater than that of the Buddhists, previously the main religion of Korea. This Gallup census shows that among those over eighteen years old, the Protestant population has increased to 20.3 % (6,460,000). If children were included then this figure would increase to around ten millions.

Worldwide Mission

In 1980, when the churches had recovered from their period of severe trial during the Korean War, they began to send missionaries to other parts of the world. God’s blessing upon the nation during the post-war years, in terms of both material and spiritual prosperity, became an important motive behind the missionary expansion. They were obeying the Biblical exhortation “freely you have received, freely give.”
According to Kidok Shinmun “there are over 5948 Korean missionaries who are serving the Lord around the world”. (16, 12 1998)

In contrast to both China and Japan, this tiny peninsula of Korea has contributed to the world, not by building restaurants (Chinese) or by opening electronics factories (Japanese), but by spreading the gospel, of Jesus Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1.16)


The Korean revival tradition, originating in 1907, has much to teach the Western Churches. But this tradition is being threatened by the influence of modern western ideas into Korean Church. For the health of the Church in Korea, it is essential for the Korean tradition to be maintained. It is important that western Christian leaders visiting Korea encourage them not to give up their valuable tradition and replace it with western ideas. This is not to say that the Korean Church can learn nothing from the West, but that Korean Church leaders should visit Western Churches so that in fellowship Christian leaders need to have consultation together, to have fellowship, to exchange information and to encourage each other.


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