Christians mourned publicly across continents Tuesday as news spread of the passing of David Yonggi Cho, the controversial co-founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world’s largest congregation headquartered in Seoul, Korea, which encompasses a network of churches that once claimed more than 800,000 members. He was 85.
Yonggi Cho, who retired from leading the church in 2008 and was named pastor emeritus, died at 7:13 a.m. at a Seoul hospital, The Korea Herald reported. The beloved pastor was being treated for cerebral hemorrhage since July 2020.
“He conveyed the gospel of hope to the Korean people who fell into despair after the Korean War,” the church said in a statement to The Associated Press. “He was instrumental in growing the Korean church, particularly developing Yoido Full Gospel Church as the world’s largest church.”
Billy Wilson, president of Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, called Cho “one of the great leaders of the Spirit-Empowered movement.”
“I am sorry to hear of the passing of Dr. David Yonggi Cho, one of the great leaders of the Spirit-Empowered movement,” Wilson said in a statement on Twitter.
“His ministry, writings and fatherhood blessed millions. Dr. Cho’s legacy and impact will continue for many generations.”
Spirit-empowered Christians are generally known as Pentecostals, charismatics or any other number of groups that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit and the direct experience of the presence of God by the believer.
It is generally accepted by adherents of the Spirit-empowered way that faith must be powerfully experiential and not something found merely through ritual or thinking.
Spirit-empowered churches also stress the importance of conversions that amount to a baptism in the Spirit. This fills the believer with the Holy Spirit in an encounter revealed through speaking in tongues and other spiritual manifestations. Yoido Full Gospel Church is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination.
Born in a family of Buddhists, Cho became a Christian after he was introduced to the faith through a friend of his sister, The Korea Times reports. He later met Kenneth Tice, a missionary from the Assemblies of God in Busan, and began working with him. That led to Cho’s enrollment in the Full Gospel Theological Seminary of the Assembly of God in September 1956 at the age of 20.
After he graduated in 1958, he opened a tent church in northwestern Seoul, which eventually grew into today’s massive operation with powerful global influence.
“Rest in Peace God’s general!” wroteGodman Akinlabi, lead pastor of Elevation Church in Nigeria. “He lived a life of service and sacrifice for the Gospel of Christ. He is Heaven’s Gain.”
The Rev. Dominic Yeo, lead pastor of Trinity Christian Centre in Singapore, called the late leader “a great man of God” in a statement on Facebook.
“Today, we celebrate the homegoing of Rev Dr Cho Yonggi, a great man of God and faithful servant of the Lord whose burden was to see revival come into the nations. He was an amazing servant, prophet, and messenger of God who lived an abundant life. He planted one of the world’s greatest apostolic churches in South Korea in 1958. Yoido Full Gospel Church has grown exponentially to impact many churches and ministries worldwide,” Yeo said.
“I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Rev. Cho and have been touched by his gentle yet strong leadership approach in guiding churches and discipling his flock. He was truly one of the greatest leaders and preachers in church history, having brought the Gospel to the discouraged, downcast, and lost. While the world has lost this mighty man of God, heaven is rejoicing at the homecoming of a saint.”
While many gave Yonggi Cho high praise for his work with his church, he was not without flaws.
In 2014, he was found guilty by a South Korean court for committing breach of trust and corruption amounting to $12 million, according to Yonhap News Agency. He received a suspended sentence of three years in prison with a five-year probation and was ordered to pay a penalty of $4.7 million.
One of Cho’s sons, Hee-jun, who serves as secretary-general of Yeongsan Christian Cultural Center and was a former chairman of Next Media, was sentenced to three years in prison.
Cho leaves behind three sons. His funeral is scheduled for Saturday.