[Acknowledgement: The Independent Reformed Church (in Korea) was invited as a visiting delegate at the 2001 International Conference of Reformed Churches. Rev. Heon Soo Kim gave an introduction of IRC at the conference. Below is the transcript. I thank Rev. Kim for his kind permission to reproduce it here. 한국어 번역은 성약출판사 자료실에 있습니다.]
Introduction of the Independent Reformed Church (in Korea) (I)
– The Fifth Assembly of the ICRC, 20-27, June, 2001, Philadelphia –
Rev. Heon Soo Kim
Mr. Chairman and esteemed brothers in Christ,
It is a great privilege to be invited to an assembly of reformed churches faithful to the historic confessions in this age of unbelief and apostasy, an assembly that encourages the fullest ecclesiastical fellowship and co-operation among its churches in the fulfilment of our Lord’s mandates. It is also an honour to be allowed to present to you the marvellous work that the triune God has done among the congregations of the Independent Reformed Church (IRC).
The IRC is federated with three congregations in Korea with a total membership of about four hundred seventy people under the pastoral care of five ministers. From her formation in 1964, the IRC has confessed the Westminster Standards, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt together with the ecumenical creeds. The preaching and organization of the IRC are firmly based on these historic confessions.
Let me briefly tell you how the risen Christ is gathering, defending, and preserving a church for Himself by His Spirit and Word in the unity of our true faith in a small country in Northeast Asia. The IRC was formed in 1964 when the Korean Presbyterian churches were in great turmoil, partly because of the ecumenical movement represented by the World Council of Churches (WCC). The WCC had reached the height of its influence in Korea by 1959 when the largest Presbyterian denomination experienced a serious schism over the issue of joining the WCC. For some years afterwards, subsequent divisions were followed on the level of the classes and even of the congregations; The divided denomination had unified with another Presbyterian church but they divided again. Also, the relationship with the churches abroad was muddled; Some churches sent delegates to the WCC, others to the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC), and yet others to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES). Regrettably, there was very little theological discussion on what the word ‘ecumenical’ meant. That which did take place focused on the political question of the WCC support of Communists in the so called Third World. This political propaganda circulated by the ICCC was highly appealing and widely accepted, since my country had been at war with the Communists of North Korea from 1950 to 1953. More regrettably, deep-rooted provincialism among the Korean churches, as well as the alluring prospect of financial support from abroad through personal relationships with foreign missionaries, were the real factors that decided almost everything behind the scenes.
Yet into this maelstrom, our gracious Father sent some witnesses for Himself. Under His guidance, Dr. Hong Chun Kim, a reformer in Korean churches from the 1940’s, and some church members of the same faith started a church with a firm resolution to be governed only by the Spirit and Word. This small congregation was named the Seongyak (Holy Covenant) Independent Reformed Church. The word “Independent” here does not have any connotation of congregationalism; rather, it is a roundabout expression of total dependence on God. What the founding members had in mind was a church’s independence from the worldly elements – an independence that goes hand-in-hand with a complete reliance upon and total obedience to the triune God.
As far as I know, the Independent Reformed Church is the first and the only church in Korea that has “Reformed” in her name. We are not a “nominal” reformed church where confessional standards have little authority. From her foundation, the above mentioned historic confessions have exercised a derived authority in the life of the church. Yet even though the IRC was founded on magnificent confessions, she did not impose those significant but rather heavy articles on her young members. To form a historic reformed church in a waste land, Dr. Hong Chun Kim focused on five points: first, what the gospel is; second, what a real spiritual life is – that is, how a believer is led by the Spirit; third, what the means of grace are; fourth, what the church is; and finally, what the kingdom of God and Christian living in the world are. Dr. Kim’s teaching on these five subjects shattered our previously shallow and false understanding of the Bible and brought inner reformation to our lives. Besides topical studies, nearly every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation has now been exposited in our congregations. Thus the whole counsel of God has been preached. Now those long and rather heavy articles are being taught; in particular, two historic catechisms (the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism) are being expounded every week in the three congregations.
In her constitution, the IRC subscribes to both “the Form of Presbyterial Church-Government” in the Westminster Standards and the “Church Order of Dordt.” This may sound odd to both our Presbyterian brothers and Reformed friends here. From my eastern viewpoint, however, the differences between the two forms of government are minor. As you know, oriental society is quite different from the western world. We do not have parliamentary or community [Gemeinde] traditions which, I believe, have some correlation with Presbyterian and Reformed church orders respectively. I do not dare to be exhaustive on this subject, for which we have Dr. J. DeJong and Dr. W. D. J. Makay. I am just mentioning a cultural aspect of the church orders. Without ignoring our cultural soil or succumbing to heathen influences, we are doing our best to manifest the rule of Christ in the church. With this objective in mind, we are studying not only your two traditions but also ancient church history and even our own cultural background in order to settle certain issues on the basis of the Word with Christian prudence. In this regard, two traditions rather than one are of great help to us. On critical issues, of course, the IRC has a clear stance. For example, a minister of the Word in the IRC belongs not to a classis, but to a congregation where he is ministering. Thus the centrality of the local church is firmly upheld.
Dear brothers, as you know, a reformed church that preaches the whole counsel of God cannot be founded in a day. It took almost a generation for the IRC to strike a root in Korean soil, fertile to the Pentecostal movements, but very infertile to the reformed teachings. The church that started in 1964 planted a second congregation in 1974, which in turn planted a third congregation in 1990. The second congregation is now giving pastoral care to another congregation unable to support itself. For the first generation two ministers took care of three congregations. Then our heavenly Father called three church members to the ministry, who were ordained in 1996 and 1997. Three of these five ministers have studied in the Philadelphia area; two of those three have studied on this campus. One more candidate of the Word is going to study here in Van Til Hall, beginning this fall.
We have done our best to explore the riches of the Word and publish them for our fellow Christians in Korea. Since 1973 fifty-seven titles have been published and have sold a total of around two hundred ninety thousand copies. Since 1933, our founding pastor, who holds doctorates in theology and in music, has composed Trinitarian and biblical hymns and some Psalms, all of which we use in our worship services, to the exclusion of praise containing sentimental elements.
Beloved brothers in Christ, thus far the IRC has been conscious of her being in a formative state, much engaged in her build-up, trying to manifest the unity, sanctity and universality of the church in her federation rather than pursuing ecclesiastical fellowship with other reformed churches. In God’s providence, however, we have had a few individual contacts. To the best of my recollection, seven ministers from other churches – four in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, two in the Canadian Reformed Churches, and one in the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands – have preached in our pulpit. Thus, even when we did not know about the ICRC, we were privileged to hear the Word from pastors in some of its member churches.
Before sending visiting delegates to this assembly, we studied the Constitution and Regulations and other papers in the previous Proceedings of the ICRC as well as other articles about the ICRC, and realized that it is pursuing true ecumenicity in obedience to the priestly prayer of our Lord (Jn 17:21-23). You are indeed distinguishing yourselves from organizations that are seeking “false” ecumenicity, such as the WCC and others. Recognizing the same grace to shun “pseudo” catholicity and pursue genuine universality, we have given thanks to God and have come here to give and be given the right hand of fellowship. We want to seek biblical ecumenicity in obedience to the Lord with your churches.
Brothers in the unity of the true faith: Spiritually speaking, every church of the Lord is 2000 years old, the IRC included. But in regards to our actual history as a confessional church, we are very young compared to you. We have much to learn from you in your discerning understanding of and total obedience to the Word. Meeting one another, I believe, means learning from one another and working together. Especially in a world of so much unbelief and apostasy, such unity and mutual help is vital to fulfill the mandates of Christ.
May God bless your churches as well as our churches to bring a reformed testimony to the apostate churches and to the unbelieving world.
Thank you for your kind attention.
On behalf of the Independent Reformed Church,
Rev. Heon Soo Kim