[Acknowledgement: The Independent Reformed Church (in Korea) was accepted as a member of the International Conference of Reformed Churches at the 2009 conference. Rev. Heon Soo Kim gave an introduction of IRC at that time. 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) (III)
– The Sixth Assembly of the ICRC, 12-19, October, 2009, Christchurch –
Rev. Heon Soo Kim
Esteemed Chairman and brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The Independent Reformed Church in Korea, IRCK, has known about this International Conference of Reformed Churches since 1997, when you had meeting in Seoul. Recognizing the same faith as you, we had fellowship with you by sending visiting delegations in 2001 and 2005.1 And now in 2009, we are here with an anticipation of your accepting us, the IRCK, as a member of the ICRC. The IRCK is federated with four congregations in Korea with a total membership of about six hundred and twenty people under the pastoral care of five ministers and one licentiate. Since the early history and some characters of my federation have been presented to you in previous meetings, I would like to focus on new developments.
The year 2009 has a similar meaning for the IRCK as 1559 had for John Calvin who was born in 1509. As a result of Calvin’s life-long faithful ministry, in 1559, the Reformed Churches of France had held their first general synod, the Geneva Academy was established, and the definitive Latin edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion was published. Similar events occurred this year for the IRCK, which was established in 1964 after a serious schism in the largest Presbyterian denomination in 1959 over the issue of the ecumenical movement represented by the World Council of Churches (WCC). The IRCK held its first General Synod with the ministers and elders on August 29 to revise its constitution and decided upon the establishment of a Theological Academy.
As an aside, have you ever heard of the term “Reformed Episcopal Church”? This is a different term from Reformed Episcopalism which means to reform the Episcopal Church. You may know that the Reformed Churches in Hungary have had an Episcopal form of church government, yet there ‘was’ another church that had the same polity. The IRCK for the past 45 years has had this Episcopal form of church government. Of course, this is fundamentally different from the Roman Catholic’s hierarchical polity and the term “episcopos” is exactly the same word as referred to in English as “overseer” in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 3:1). Overseer in the IRCK was literally, primus inter pares, as the Latin proverb goes. The IRCK adopted this form of church government, not because it only knew of the Pastoral Epistles while being unaware of great Reformation history in the sixteenth century. We studied and translated “the Form of Presbyterial Church Government” in the Westminster Standards and the Church Order of Dordt. We have learned much from them. However, when the church was first established, we had an Episcopal form of church government.
We started with one church in 1964, and at that time it was very difficult to install a biblically qualified eldership. Therefore, the pastor had to voluntarily carry a very heavy burden, and thus this Episcopal form of church government was established. By the mid-1990s, after one generation, three young ministers were ordained and installed, and important decisions regarding the churches were made at the pastors’ meeting. But we needed more time to install elders who would be able to take spiritual care of church members in their home visitations. Only by the grace of our Lord, we were able to have such elders after one and a half generations. Therefore, in August of 2009, we held a General Synod comprised of pastors and elders to revise the constitution’s Episcopal form of church government.
I am not saying this to make any excuses for the IRCK. What I would like to say is that regarding church governance, each church has unique traits and cultural backgrounds, and especially in those regions which have had a form of oriental monarchical rule and not having a representative tradition, it takes some time to establish a Reformed or Presbyterian form of church governance. Even if a good system of church order would be implanted, a good Reformed or Presbyterian church does not automatically come about. Although it may take generations, we should teach the word of God well from the pulpit to help a church to stand on its own. I mentioned a part of the history of the IRCK to convey this message.
The four churches of the IRCK are seemingly dwarfed in comparison to Korea’s so-called “mega-churches.” However, you have acknowledged these small churches as Christ’s true churches and invited us for introduction. Your acceptance of this small number of congregations would be an enormous encouragement for us.
We think of the IRCK’s membership in the ICRC as the Lord’s gift [Gabe] as well as our task [Aufgabe]. In particular, I would like to note that in 2013, the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches will be held in Korea, which has been received as good news to Pentecostal, Methodist, and even many Presbyterian churches. A thanksgiving service for Korea’s selection as the host of the assembly was held in a five star hotel and attended by most of the leaders and moderators of the Presbyterian denominations. For a welcoming meeting attended by over eight hundred people, a congratulatory video message was sent by the President of the country, and also the Chairman of the National Assembly, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister, all gave addresses of welcome in person. This is the evidence of complicity between the secular and religious authorities and, I believe, a clear sign of apostasy. Of course, some confessional churches take this seriously, but most churches welcome the hosting of the WCC Assembly. Most national daily newspapers in Korea have welcomed it with the expression of “Christian Olympics” in 2013, which is similar to the 1988 Olympic Games in Korea. To our great regret, many believers in my country lack the spiritual wisdom to discern the good and the bad, and though they have zeal, their knowledge about God and the church is seriously lacking. In a country where “mega- churches” are highly esteemed, and in an age when false ecumenism is gaining more power with help of government and public media, we want to stand up as a witness for the Biblical and Reformed faith. False ecumenicalism seeks an institutional unity, but we seek a true unity on the basis of confessions. We want to be one in true faith, just as the Father and the Son are one (John 17: 21-23). We believe that the ICRC is pursuing true ecumenicity in obedience to the priestly prayer of our Lord, and we want to join you in this spiritual battle. And we hope the ICRC would pay more attention to, and fight against the false ecumenism, which is spreading influences subtly among the so-called “two third Third World.” I believe that pursuing the true ecumenicity is the real vitality of Reformed Faith, since this gathering work is being done by the exalted Christ through His Word and His Spirit (Lord’s Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism).
To fulfil our mission in my country we have our own publication, the Holy Covenant Press. Our press has published 105 titles, which have sold a total of around four hundred thousand copies. One of our best and steady sellers is the Heidelberg Catechism, which has sold fourteen thousands copies over last five years.
In regards to ecclesiastical relationships, the IRCK has entered into a limited sister church relationship with the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands since last year, and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (lib.) has put the IRCK on the list of official contact churches. Thankfully these two churches have sponsored our membership in the ICRC. The Lord has heard our prayer for the North Korean, and has opened a way to support an OPC missionary who is working among the Korean and Chinese in the north-eastern part of China.
In my country, we have a very close ecclesiastical tie with the Independent Reformed Presbyterian Church in Korea, which is composed of eight congregations with a membership of around six hundred souls. The IRCK support the IRPC with good and solid Reformed materials and encourage them at the Bible conferences that we have held together two times a year since 1994. To educate our future ministers and to reach other Reformed Christians in my country, our last General Synod in August has decided to start a Theological Academy from 2010.
I would like to thank you again for acknowledging these four small churches as the Lord’s true churches, and inviting us to introduce ourselves again, particularly with a view to take us as a member of the ICRC for the sake of His glory alone.
Thank you for your kind attention.
On behalf of the Independent Reformed Church,
Rev. Heon Soo Kim
Heon Soo Kim, “Introduction of the Independent Reformed Church (in Korea) (I)”, Sungyak Press Letters, 37 (Mar 2003); Heon Soo Kim, “Introduction of the Independent Reformed Church (in Korea) (II)”, Sungyak Press Letters, 51 (Sep 2005). ↩