Cultural Influence (6/5/18)

By Nathaniel Choung

Today was the first full day in Hong Kong and it began at the GBGM office and the Methodist Church, Hong Kong. There, we received a lecture from a professor at a local seminary and an overview of the church’s structure and programs. It was overall a very informative time, in which we learned about the past growth of church in Hong Kong, the present structure of the church, and looked to the future of Christianity in Hong Kong.

One of the logos that is used by the Hong Kong Methodist church is the Nestorian cross that is coming out of a lotus flower and surrounded by Daoist clouds. This cross represents the foundational influences that helped formed the church in Hong Kong, beginning with the introduction of Christianity by the Assyrian Christians, and influences of Buddhism and Daoism on the culture of Hong Kong. This logo made me reflect on how Christianity grows in different ways in different cultures. Looking into Korean Christianity, we can see an intersection between religion and culture as seen in certain ideals: respecting the elders, work ethic, importance of prayer, etc. The Nestorian cross in Hong Kong is another representation of the intersection between religion and culture.

It’s hard to understand this intersection when we try to pursue after an “ideal” and “perfect” Christianity that is free from any worldly influence. It can be easier to attempt to pursue after this kind of Christianity because of the hurt and pain caused by a cultural-influenced Christianity. What would Christianity look like if it was completely free from cultural influence? Is it even possible?

Learning more about Korean Christianity and looking at cross in Hong Kong, I’m coming to the conclusion that it is impossible for Christianity to stand without the culture that it is a part of, although I first thought it could. I didn’t believe Korean Christianity to be of much value because of the inadequacies that I saw growing up. In preparing for this pilgrimage, I began to see the connections between Korean culture and the religions that prevailed during Korea’s history. This culturally-influenced Christianity is at odds with some Christian teaching to not be “mismatched with unbelievers…” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 NRSV) and to not be influenced by other cultures, as seen in the Old Testament Israelites. On the other hand, Christianity was, essentially, born out of the Israelite culture, and with this, it would be impossible for Christianity to stand on its own, unless it is to be influenced only by ancient Israelite culture.

If only things were as easily defined as good and evil, life would be so much simpler. But unfortunately it’s not. Even though there has been evil done by culturally-influenced Christianity, there is much to learn from it as well. In particular, Korean Christians have important focuses on prayer and tithing, things in which many other churches in different cultures struggle with. On the other hand, family and discipleship are things that the Korean churches struggle with. While there is still no answer on how to not be so influenced by other cultures, we must learn to see God in all ways, not just in ways that we are in agreement with. I still have much to learn from my religious heritage, despite the inadequacies that I see, and this learning experience and pilgrimage has helped me to see the life that I live for Christ a little more clearly, and to embrace my cultural identity as a Korean, and my future, not so much as a Korean-American, but as a follower of Jesus Christ, and a son of God.