“One of the dangers in American Christianity, because it’s a very individualistic society, is that we can be quite insular and inwardly focused. We think we are at the epicenter of Christianity,” said Seulgi Byun, Chair and Associate Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College on Word FM’s The Ride Home with John and Kathy.
Byun, a native of South Korea, has spent his personal and professional life as a world traveler and student of the global church.
Son to a pastor and missionary, Byun moved from South Korea to Australia then Singapore, Japan, and eventually to Boston for college. From there he moved to England to teach at a seminary then to Grove City College in 2016.
And what he has seen is that the church is growing in almost every part of the world except for the United States.
According to statistics from the Pew Research Center and the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are 230 million Christians in North America and that number is declining as teens and young adults move away from the faith. Compare that to 400 million Christians in Asia (not accounting for the underground church) and 600 million Christians in Latin America. In Africa, there are 630 million Christians – a growth in the past 100 years from 9% of the population in 1910 to 65% in 2010.
Byun believes that this spiritual recession is related to the relative comfort and wealth of a nation and looks to the Western European countries as harbingers of where the U.S. could be in the next ten to 30 years.
“Those are the countries where the Reformation happened,” Byun said. “It is important for the Church in America to wake up. We need to lean on each other and learn from each other, especially from the persecuted church. If we act insularly and inwardly, it will lead to our demise.”
Referring to the relationship between North and South Korea, Byun said that South Korean Christians long for reunification, in large part because they want to see the evangelization of North Korea.
North Korea’s underground church is estimated to be between 500,000 and 1.5 million people. Believers there live in one of the most oppressive and dangerous places in the world to be a Christian.
“South Koreans pray fervently for the Gospel to go out [to North Korea],” Byun said. “Many churches even take balloons and place Bible verses inside of them and when the winds go north they release them. There’s a real passion from the South Koreans for the North Korean Christians. From the church perspective, there’s a huge affection between the two countries.”
Byun said this is a beautiful example of I Corinthians 12 which refers to the body of Christ having many members, each with their unique roles all around the role.
“One of the things I repeatedly emphasize with students is that we need the global church today, more than ever,” Byun said. “We need the persecuted Christians in Africa and in China and in North Korea to teach us how to stand firm in the midst of trials.”