David Yonggi Cho (also known as Paul Yonggi Cho) was found guilty this week of the embezzlement 12 million dollars in church funds. It seems he allowed his son to sell the church stocks at a grossly inflated price. There are a number of other accusations being leveled at Cho for corruption stemming back decades.
Cho, who founded the Yoido Gospel Fellowship in 1958 which is the world’s largest church with a million members, has been a highly influential figure in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles for the last thirty years. Many in those circles will be greatly disturbed by this scandal, and for those in South Korea where the church is located, it may well be a bigger scandal than that of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart! But the influence of Cho on American Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors and congregations should not be underestimated. Since the tendency of those pastors and congregations is to emulate other successful pastors and congregations, many of them have followed and exalted Cho and his congregation over the years.
Cho has been sentenced to three years in prison (although at least one source claims that sentence was suspended) and ordered to pay over four million dollars in fines. Unfortunately, this was a father and son operation and so Cho’s son, Hee-jun, was also sentenced to three years but not suspended.
Of course, this will be yet another example used as evidence by the cultured despisers of the Church to demonstrate why the Church should be rejected. Any mature assessment of this subject will arrive at the conclusion that just because a man or even a congregation falters is no reason to discount all churches and Christians and certainly no grounds for discounting Christ or the Bible. Still, though I know nothing of what the Christian atmosphere is like in South Korea, in America, as long as we value money more than people, things more than God, and image more than integrity, there will always be scandals.
(The following articles were sources for this article)
What is it that so captures the imagination of the believing Church when a genuine Christian gains success and notoriety in the public sphere? What is it that we think is happening when athletes like Tim Tebow, restaurant chains like Chick fil a, or actresses like Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) gain mainstream success?
I think when we see “one of our own” become successful we catch some glimpse of what the culture could be. Yes, we have seen some bad examples of Christians who have risen and then compromised, but when we see a Tebow we are blessed to see a guy who seems to sincerely love Jesus, who does not compromise his beliefs, and who is able to live out his faith at a high level of success. It seems to vindicate our belief that a person can live faithfully at the highest levels as a genuine Christian. But I think it says more. It says something about our vision for the culture.
Here is another more probing question that is important for us to ask: As genuine, believing Christians, what is our vision for the culture? Do we have one? Is it a Christ against culture approach that simply has us invading the culture on a search and rescue mission? Or do we have a plan for the culture? Are we trying to transform the culture or are we trying to rescue people from the culture?
What would your church do if suddenly the entire community came to your church this Sunday and gave their hearts to Jesus? What would you tell them to do next? Where should they work? How should they entertain themselves? What should their goals be as they go back out into the world?
I was a young adult during the heydays of Jim Bakker‘s PTL ministry. And for all of his failures and all of the damage done, I can’t help but remember how amazing it was that suddenly we had Christian ministries being televised 24/7! It was an enticing picture of the Church being a culture in itself. Hotels and theme parks and felowship and a place to guy like Disney World but for Christians! I don’t think Bakker’s approach was so much an attempt to transform the culture as it was to create an irresistable Christian counter culture. But I do know that it was an intentional attempt to answer Niebuhr’s question of what to do with human culture.