November 29, 2020

Greetings from Seoul! As we struggle together with people across the globe against another strong wave of COVID-19, we recognize this as a time for Christians to seek deeper understanding of God’s will for our lives and for the church in the world. This issue includes an interview with the author of a book on how we can read the history of ecumenical councils. In the second story, we remember Rev. George Ogle (1929~2020), a missionary to Korea who fought together with the Korean people against injustice. Let’s keep our spirits high!

“Korean churches should learn from the ecumenical councils of the Middle Ages”

In his new book “Walking the History of the Ecumenical Council,” published by Viator, Prof. Choi Jong-won (photo) of the Vancouver Institute for Evangelical Worldview (VIEW) in Canada interprets the ecumenical council from a social historical perspective. Following this first volume in his “Unfamiliar Traditions” series, he is now preparing second and third volumes on monasteries and heretical movements.

-Why did you choose “ecumenical councils” as your theme?

“It came from my wish for the Korean church to recognize how important it is to awaken a sensitivity to society that goes beyond guarding the church and its doctrines. Church history of the Middle Ages accounts for half of Christian history. By ignoring Catholic history, we lose more than we gain. When we examine what troubled the churches during the various changes of era, if we look at the history of the ecumenical council, which is one pillar of medieval church history, we can gain insight into what role the church should play, and how it should respond in our rapidly changing Korean society.”

-Looking at ecumenical council history, we learn that decisions of the church exerted a tremendous effect on society, and that social change also greatly influenced the church. What values should the churches take most seriously in this era of rapid change?

“To give an example, the two Vatican Councils were held a century apart from each other. The First Vatican Council (1869–1870) took place in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when Marxism and evolutionary theory also were on the rise, so it was a time of great social upheaval. The Catholic Church, rather than choosing to go out boldly into the world, made the decision to hide behind a heavenly mysticism. One obvious example was the proclaiming of such anachronistic doctrines as papal infallibility. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), on the other hand, showed active concern about the role of Christianity following World Wars I and II, and about what the Christian faith could give to humanity. While pursuing innovative social reforms, it humbly lent an ear to social change. Comparing these two councils, we can see which path the Korean churches are following.

“Up to this day, the institutionalized church has continued to transform, while interacting meaningfully with the secular world. Here is the important question: ‘Is the church even now deeply permeated with the original Gospel value of living for those at the bottom of society?’ If the church’s goal is simply to maintain the current situation, it will have less and less room to stand.”

-What do you want to emphasize for readers?

“History tells us that it has been changed by the blood and sweat of people who don’t give up even when it is darkest, but keep on searching for the light. There are no exceptions, in church history or social history. The reason Christians must work to change the church is that our justification in this era lies in our creating hope amidst the present situation, whatever that may be. I hope that the unfamiliar (to many Korean Protestants) tradition of ecumenical councils can help us to humbly examine where we stand, and to pay serious attention to the role of the church.”

In tribute to Rev. George Ogle, who lived his life for Korean democratization

Rev. George Ogle, who devoted his life to the advancement of democracy in Korea, passed away on November 15 at the age of 91, in Colorado, USA.

In 1964 and 1974, the Korean CIA under the Park Chung-hee regime investigated a group of mostly journalists, professors and students for supposedly having “formed an underground organization according to orders from North Korea, with the purpose of inciting rebellion.” Among them, eight were sentenced to death, and were executed just 18 hours after the announcement of the decision. Rev. George Ogle sent out word of this “manufactured People’s Revolutionary Party incident,” making it known overseas, and consequently underwent forcible deportation from Korea in December 1974. Through a retrial of the People’s Revolutionary Party Incident in 2007 and 2008, all persons related to the incident were declared innocent.

Rev. Ogle worked in Korea as a missionary from the United Methodist Church in the USA for 20 years, starting in 1954. He founded the Incheon Urban Industrial Mission, and together with other missionaries was a member of the “Monday Night Group,” supporting Korea’s democratic struggle and conveying information about it to the outside world.

Together with missionary Homer Hulbert, the educator-journalist who supported the resistance against Japan during the Korean Empire, and missionary Frank Schofield, who informed people overseas about the Cheamni Massacre of Koreans by Imperial Japan in 1919, Rev. Ogle will be remembered as one who risked his life for his friends, as a true friend of the Korean people.

Rev. George Ogle raises his fist high as he shouts, “Long live the Republic of Korea! God be with you…” while going up the steps to board his plane at 7:50 p.m. on December 14, 1974, when the government forcibly expelled him from Korea. (Photo provided by Korea Democracy Foundation)

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