The Cancer of Self-significance: Faux Spirtuality

One of the tales from Chaucer’s famous work is the tale of a Pardoner, who calls out to yorkels to come to him to purchase indulgences from him so that they could be absolved of sin. The sense of the spiritual superiority is not lost on him, and this fervor only grows to the height of his greed, thus the oft-repeated theme of the tale: radix malorum est cupiditas.

Although the innate need for self-significance seems as natural as hunger, I often find more signs of self-significance than Christ-significance among the leadership of the church. One salient example of this is often seen among Korean churches. To a certain extent, the why can be easily grasped, but it is often overlooked as a part of etiquette, probably to the dismay of the Head of the Church. It is often the wife of the pastor who typically sacrifice her adult years and beyond for the education and then leads into a lifetime of pastoral ministry. Her husband is the visible leadership, and wife is expected to take the assistive role to that ministry. If not in any active form, then a benign neutrality as a housekeeper. However, in the spiritual fervor of post-1970s revival in South Korea, the wife of a pastor lays claim to some spiritual power such as being able to read people’s mind, or see things that others can’t because God has gifted them with such abilities. Sometimes, they claim to have dreams which, for mysterious reason, becomes as authoritative as the Word of God, in a ministry setting. The pastor is often mute about this, however, such claim to spiritual power imbues his ministry with a veil of power that no lay member of the church can dare to challenge. Else they are immediately marked as being of the devil, and gradually casted out of the church. Unbeknownst to the believers, including the perpetuators themselves, the people being driven out are often people that are disliked by the pastor and his wife. This type of witch-hunting continues to this day in many of Korean and Korean American churches as far as I can tell.

The tradition of early morning prayer meeting, speaking in tongues, everyone praying out aloud all at the same time, and so on, are all marks of fervency of the spirit among Korean churches, however, it can also be a sign of faux religiosity that has no bearing on the true health of the church such as discipleship, biblical theology, evangelism, and so on. Rather, it probably masks more problems underneath that aren’t being addressed directly.

Why do so many K/KA churches allow this to continue? The cultural element of respecting authority is still very strong to the point where any challenge to the authority is seen as being of the devil. Divisiveness, although often warned by Paul, is strongly discouraged even at the cost of maintaining status quo that is toxic to the health of the church. Many problems remain unaddressed, unconfronted, and swept under the rug for the sake of the harmony of the church. The incompetence in leadership, and many failures at different levels are simply covered with the continued mediocrity of reluctant acceptance, labeled as being part of maturity, and verges on becoming a learned helplessness covered under the thin veil of positivism.

True, there is no perfect church, but false spirituality should not reign. The Word of God needs to be elucidated, and proclaimed in the walls of the church to weed out any darkness, especially that of the faux spirituality which clearly portends the lack of discipleship, and preaching of the transformative gospel grounded in the biblical theology.