A Symbol of Church Growth and Power, Cho Yong-gi, Senior Minister of Yoido Full Gospel Church Dies at 86
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Cho Yong-gi, a senior minister at Yoido Full Gospel Church died at the age of 86 on September 14.
The Yoido Full Gospel Church announced that Reverend Cho “was summoned by God” at 7:13 a.m. this morning while undergoing treatment at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno-gu, Seoul. Cho had been treated at this hospital since he collapsed of a cerebral hemorrhage in July 2020. Cho was the founder of the Yoido Full Gospel Church.
Cho was born in Gyodong-ri, Samnam-myeon in Ulsan, Gyeongsangnam-do on February 14, 1936. In the eleventh grade, he was gravely ill from tuberculosis, practically a death sentence at the time. A high school girl introduced him to protestant Christianity at this time. In 1956, he moved to Seoul and entered the Full Gospel Theological Seminary, which was run by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God denomination. Cho, along with Reverend Choi Ja-shil, opened a tent church, which was the beginning of the Yoido Church, in Bulgwang-dong Seodaemun-gu. The church attracted the city’s poor. In 1965, Cho married Reverend Choi’s daughter, Kim Sung-hae (former president of Hansei University).
He renamed the church to the Seodaemun Full Gospel Central Church, then in 1973 relocated the church to its current location in Yeouido and named it the Yoido Full Gospel Church in 1984. In his days in Bulgwang-dong, Cho claimed to have received an order from God telling him to “build a church with 10,000 seats that could dispatch 500 missionaries.” Cho built the new church building in Yeouido, which was desolate at the time, despite the opposition from the people around him. He then went to work as the pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church.
The central theme of Cho’s sermons and pastoral duties was the Threefold Blessing. It stressed prosperity claiming that blessing of prosperity in the soul led to the blessing of prosperity in all things, and eventually to the blessing of physical health. If things were well with the soul, everything went well leading to success in the workplace and business, and eventually, one received blessings in the healing of physical ailments as well.
Cho was a symbol of the quantitative and qualitative growth of the South Korean Christian church. The Yoido Full Gospel Church was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest church in the world with 700,000 followers in 1992. Cho first set the target for followers to 10,000 and gradually raised the goal to 100,000 and eventually to 700,000. This was also attacked for focusing on quantitative growth. Kim Jin-ho, director of research planning at the Christian Institute for the Third Era recently wrote a contribution in the Kyunghyang Shinmun and wrote, “Behind the success of Cho Yong-gi lay the ideas of an age of development and dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s and a mission strategy that agreed with such ideas.”
Cho exercised his influence in Korean politics through state morning prayer meetings and was also a symbol of church power, which was a combination of anti-communist and growth-oriented ideas.
In 1988, he founded the daily newspaper, the Kookmin Ilbo (Kukmin Ilbo). He constantly engaged in charity activities, serving as the chairman of Seonhan Saramdeul (Good People), senior advisor to Agape (a Christian prison), chairman of Saranggwa Haengbok Nanum (Sharing Love and Happiness), and chairman of the Youngsan Cho Yong-gi Charity Foundation. He helped minors who had to support their families and helped 4,704 children with heart disease receive free operations. He also worked to establish a Cho Yong-gi Cardiac Hospital in Pyongyang.
This day, the United Christian Churches of Korea released a statement and described Cho as “a pastor with the ability to build the largest church in the world,” and said, “As a great preacher and outstanding spiritual leader, who led the world with the Gospel in the chaotic and fast-changing late 20th century, he led the revival of churches in South Korea and the world. He made a vast contribution to spreading the Gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ.” They also said, “In an age of industrialization, a time of change when displaced people swarmed to Seoul, he helped all people find the courage to overcome the worldly difficulties with hope by teaching them how to change their lives through the Gospel of the cross and teaching them positive values in life.”
The Yoido Full Gospel Church was once at the center of controversy due to problems of succession, power struggles and corruption. In May 2011, Cho Yong-gi stepped down from his positions as chairman and publisher of the Kukmin Ilbo and director of the Kukmin Cultural Foundation. Members of his family also resigned from major positions and the Yoido Full Gospel Church incident seemed to be resolved. But over 400 church followers launched a petition calling for Cho’s family members to give up all their positions, and over 30 of the church elders reported Cho and his family for irregularities in September 2011. The following year, a special committee in charge of an investigation on allegations at the church partially confirmed the alleged damage that Cho and his family caused the church and announced that the damage amounted to 35.5 billion won. In 2017, the Supreme Court finalized the initial 2-and-a-half-year sentence with a 4-year stay of execution for Reverend Cho and his eldest son, Cho Hee-jun, former chairman of Kukmin Ilbo.
The funeral parlor has been prepared at Bethany Hall at the Yoido Full Gospel Church. The funeral service will be a Korean Christian church service held at the main sanctuary of the church at 8 a.m. September 18.
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