Christianity was planted in Korea by Koreans, not by foreigners. Prior missionary contacts were only peripheral-the first Catholic, de Cespedes, in 1593 as chaplain to invading Japanese troops, and the first Protestant, Karl Gutzlaff,* in 1832 exploring the coast. Not until Lee Sung-hun in 1784 returned, baptized, from a visit to the ex-Jesuit mission in Peking did Catholicism begin to spread among Koreans. In the next one hundred years, despite great persecutions (1801, 1839, 1846, and 1866), the Catholic Church, though still a hidden movement, grew to some 17,500 members. The first foreign missionary was Chinese, Father James Chou in 1794, followed in 1835 by Father Pierre Maubant of the Paris Missionary Society.
Protestantism similarly was introduced by Koreans. A year before the arrival in 1884 of the first resident Protestant missionary, a Korean convert of Scots missionaries in Manchuria, Suh Sang-yun, brought Korean Scripture portions into forbidden Korea and secretly gathered together the country's first group of worshiping Protestants. The missionaries followed-first a Presbyterian physician, Dr. Horace Allen, and in 1885 two clergymen, H.G. Underwood* (Presbyterian) and H.G. Appenzeller (Methodist). The pioneer in opening N Korea was S.A. Moffett. It was in the north that church growth was greatest, particularly after 1895, later reinforced and vitalized by the great revival of 1906-7. By 1910 Protestants had outstripped Catholics 167,000 to 73,000. Methodists and Presbyterians cooperated in a comity agreement, but growth was greatest in Presbyterian areas which followed the “Nevius Plan,” a strategy stressing Bible classes for all Christians, lay witness, self-support, and self- government. The Korean Presbyterian Church was organized as an independent body in 1907; the Korean Methodist Church in 1930. Other major denominations are the Anglicans (1890), Seventh-Day Adventists (1903), the Holiness Church of the Oriental Missionary Society (1907), and the(1907). Southern Baptists revived an earlier, independent work after World War II.
Japanese annexation in 1910 brought harassment to the church, culminating in open persecution when Christians in the 1930s refused government demands to participate in Shinto ceremonies. But at the same time Christian identification with the Korean independence movement won nationwide respect, and a spreading network of Christian hospitals and colleges (Ewha, Soongsil, Yonsei, and later Keimyung, Taejon, and Seoul Women's) broadened the Christian witness. The end of World War II ushered in a second period of church growth which not even the disastrous church schisms of the 1950s, the division of the country, or the Communist invasion could block. Despite the loss of all North Korea to organized Christianity, the number of Protestant adherents has almost doubled in every decade since 1940, and since 1960 Catholic growth has been even more rapid. The largest groups are Presbyterians (1,438,000), Catholics (839,000), Methodists (300,000), and Holiness (217,000).
Officially Christianity, with just under four million adherents including marginal sects, is smaller than Buddhism (5.5 million) and Confucianism (4.42 million), but more realistic surveys suggest that the claims of the older, weakening religions are exaggerated and that Christianity, with 13 per cent of the population, is now the largest organized religion in Korea.
a.d. Clark, History of the Korean Church (1961); S.H. Moffett, The Christians of Korea (1962); J.C. Kim and J.J. Chung, Catholic Korea, Yesterday and Now (1964); R. Shearer, Wildfire: Church Growth in Korea (1966); L.G. Paik, The History of Protestant Missions in Korea 1832-1910 (2nd ed., 1971).