“23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25 Behold, I have told you before. 26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” – Matt. 24
“For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” – 2 Cor. 11:4
“Founded in 1990 in China by Zhao Weishan, who later moved to the U.S. from where he continues to lead the cult. They believe Jesus was God’s first incarnation, but that He did not complete His work; therefore, God needed to come again to finish the work, this time as a woman – that woman is a 40- something Chinese woman named Yang Xiangbin, also sometimes known as Lightning Feng. On the surface, it looks like normal Christianity, but when you get more involved they introduce the idea that Yang being ‘Almighty God.’ The Church of Almighty God, which is also known as Eastern Lightning, boasts a slick website in both Chinese and English, and professionally produced videos. They encourage recruits to abandon their families to be part of their cult. The cult entices people with money or gifts but will turn to violence or even murder if a person accepts their gifts but fails to join. Satan hates true Christians who have the everlasting Gospel as they are the ones who pose a threat to his kingdom. Interestingly, the cult prefers to target true Christians that are in house churches rather than fringe or heretical groups. Beware of false Christs. The Bible reads when the real Jesus Christ returns the whole world will know (Revelation 1:7).”
The following is some more information concerning the cult:
The group was approaching fellow diners at a McDonald’s restaurant in an eastern Chinese city on a Wednesday night, asking for their cellphone numbers, when one woman refused.
What happened next, captured by terrified onlookers on their cellphone cameras and later replayed in news reports, would shock the Chinese public and trigger an official crackdown on what Beijing has characterized as a dangerous doomsday “cult.”“Go to hell, demon,” one of the accused, Zhang Lidong, yelled as he beat the woman with a steel mop handle, telling her she would “never come back in the next reincarnation.”Other members of the group threatened diners that they would kill anyone who intervened, reported Chinese state media.By the time police arrived at the fast food outlet in the city of Zhaoyuan, in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, they found the victim, a 37-year-old mother named Wu Shuoyan, lying in a pool of blood.
Zhang was kicking and stomping her while a boy beat her with the mop handle, state media reported; within the hour, she was pronounced dead at a local hospital.Five adults have been convicted of murder over the attack on May 28, 2014 — Zhang Lidong, Zhang Fan, Lyu Yingchun, Zhang Hang, Zhang Qiaolian. They are all members of the Church of Almighty God (“Quannengshen”), Zhaoyuan police said in a statement.And on Monday, two of them — father and daughter duo Zhang Lidong and Zhang Fan — were executed in east China’s Shandong Province on following the approval of the use of the death penalty by the Supreme People’s Court.READ: China executes cult members found guilty of McDonald’s murderAfter his arrest last year, state television broadcast interview with Zhang Lidong in his cell, in which he confessed to the killing but expressed no remorse.“She was a demon,” he said, telling the interviewer that he and his co-accused were members of the church. “She was an evil spirit.”Authorities said the accused were likely gathering the phone numbers to find potential new recruits when Wu’s refusal angered them, state media reported.
Struggle with the ‘great red dragon’Also known as Eastern Lightning (“Dongfang Shandian”), the group preaches that Christ has been reincarnated as a woman from central China, and that the righteous are engaged in an apocalyptic struggle against China’s Communist Party — which they refer to as the “great red dragon.”Linked to kidnappings, violence and extortion, the group has been listed among 14 banned religious groups by China’s Ministry of Public Security since 1995.Emily Dunn, an Asian studies academic at the University of Melbourne who wrote her doctoral thesis on the group, said its illegal status had made it paranoid and secretive, with members often only knowing each other by aliases, so they could not incriminate each other if detained by authorities.“It’s about as illegal and politically sensitive as religion gets in China,” she said. “As the government has cracked down more, Eastern Lightning’s rhetoric has escalated against the government.”China’s Academy of Social Sciences says there are now 23 million Christians in the country. But with many belonging to non-sanctioned, underground “house churches,” experts believe the true number of Chinese Christians could be much higher.Eastern Lightning, part of a tradition of heterodox, quasi-Christian religious movements in China, was estimated as having between several hundred thousand and one million members, said Dunn. It was viewed by Beijing as the most serious threat to public stability of any of the Christian-affiliated movements that have been growing rapidly as China undergoes a religious revival, she said.“There have been reports of murders and beatings at the hands of the group, but also at a more general level, very aggressive proselytizing, harassment, brainwashing,” said Dunn. “Those accusations are very routine.”
An ‘evil cult’?Chinese police have released material to Christian pastors warning of the group’s activities. In one video, it describes the group as “a classic example of an evil cult that takes the name of a fake religion to carry out actions harmful to others.”It accused the group of spreading lies, scamming money, endangering lives, deceiving the public, attacking the government and undermining social stability.Members of the Church of Almighty God who operate the group’s English-language website responded to a request for comment from CNN, stipulating in an emailed reply that “our church doesn’t exactly have a spokesperson because nobody can fully represent” the group.The response stated that it was “very natural” for the Chinese government to blame the killing in Zhaoyuan on the group, as it was the “stock-in-trade” of the Chinese Communist Party to slander then suppress those that disagreed with it. The statement argued that the Tiananman Square massacre, Tibet and the suppression of the banned Falun Gong religious movement are examples of such a pattern.“They always find some excuse in advance and fabricate things and slander them,” said the statement. “Then they draw up some rumors as the basis for their attack and make false charges, and then they carry out their bloody suppression.”The group — which believes that Christ has returned and began his work in China in 1992, and that only those who accepted his “end-time work” would be saved — had been persecuted since its inception, read the statement.It concluded what the group said were the words of “the end-time Christ”:“God does not participate in human politics, but God controls the destiny of every nation and race,” read the statement.“We all believe that the thing God will accomplish cannot be hindered by any nation or any force, and that those who obstruct God’s work, resist God’s word, and disturb and damage God’s plan will eventually be punished by God. If a man resists God’s work, God will cast this man into hell; if a nation resists God’s work, God will destroy this nation.”
A female Christ?Eastern Lightning was founded in the early 1990s by Zhao Weishan, a physics teacher with a history of membership of radical quasi-Christian sects, who preached about a female Christ figure hailing from China, said Dunn.The group’s moniker was drawn from a verse in the New Testament: “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be”.In a video produced by Chinese police warning about the group, it is claimed that Zhao first became a member of a radical religious movement, known as the Shouters, in 1987. It said he honed his expertise at religious “scams” there, before branching off in 1989 with a movement, based in Heilongjiang Province, elevating himself as the object of veneration.When the group was broken up by authorities, said the video, Zhao abandoned his family and fled to Shandong and Henan provinces. He teamed up with a woman 20 years his junior, and began preaching that she was the Female Christ, with himself as the new movement’s high priest, according to the video.The police referred to the woman as Yang Xiangbin; Dunn said she was also known to followers as “Lightning” Deng, although the group had released statements online denying this was the case.“But they don’t say whether she’s still alive or where she is or what her name is,” said Dunn. “They don’t tell you anything but that she was a middle-aged woman who was inspired by God and God spoke to her, so she started speaking God’s word.”The police video said Zhao fled to the United States in 2000.
Kidnappings, assaults allegedThe sensational nature of Wu’s killing triggered an outpouring of revulsion towards the group in Chinese social media. But it is not the first time the movement has been in the spotlight.In December 2012, Chinese authorities rounded up hundreds of Eastern Lightning members when the group proclaimed, via loud public protests, that the end of the world was imminent.The state-run China Daily reported that in October and November 1998, the group was responsible for a spate of robberies and assaults in China’s central Henan Province that left victims’ limbs broken and ears cut off.And in 2002, the group allegedly kidnapped 34 evangelical Christian leaders belonging to the China Gospel Fellowship by posing as representatives of a theological institute from Singapore, holding them for two months in an effort to convert them, said Dunn.The kidnapping episode reflected a longstanding strategy from Eastern Lightning to try to co-opt entire congregations — whether underground “house churches,” or state-sanctioned Protestant and Catholic churches — by converting their leaders, she said.To this end, they were said to use tactics including seducing, extorting or threatening pastors.But most Eastern Lightning converts were middle-aged Christian women, said Dunn, with many hailing from impoverished rural areas, although the movement seemed to be increasingly penetrating wealthier urban areas. The group appealed to potential recruits through a promise of saving them from impending disaster or fatal disease, and had a reputation for strong-arm tactics.“People are encouraged to door-knock, to pressure everyone they know to join the group. They send out evangelists throughout China,” she said. “Their message is that if you don’t join, you’re more likely to go to hell or perhaps drop dead from cancer or God’s judgment in some other form.”
A foothold in Hong KongKevin Yeung is the general-secretary of Hong Kong’s Concern Group on Newly Emerged Religions, an organization formed by various evangelical Christian churches in the Chinese territory to monitor the growth of new religions, provide public information about the groups and assist those looking to leave.Affiliated churches report to the group when members of their congregations are approached by or defect to cult-like new religious movements, he said.He told CNN his group had been monitoring Eastern Lightning since 2008, but had noted an increasingly aggressive push by the group to convert Christians in the territory over the past few years.He estimated Eastern Lightning had approached members of about 500 churches in Hong Kong, and won about 2,000 converts.Their prime targets were middle-aged women from the Mainland, he said. His group had concerns about Eastern Lightning, as members typically heard reports that those who converted would often spend virtually all their waking hours with other members of the movement, damaging their ties with their families.Dennis Balcombe, an American pastor who preaches in China for the Revival Christian Church, told CNN he had spoken to people from many churches that had “lost a lot of people to the cult.”“We don’t hear of people coming out of it,” he said. “It’s like a mafia — once you’re in it, how do you get out?”Balcombe said he had a run-in with the group when four members came to his office in Hong Kong one Sunday in an apparent attempt to convert him. When he accused them of being Eastern Lightning and tried to photograph them, they physically attacked him, he said, showing CNN pictures taken during the alleged assault.Elements of the group’s operation seemed like a pyramid scheme, he said.
Unfairly persecuted: LawyerBut human rights lawyer Teng Biao, who has previously acted as defense lawyer for the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, said the group had a right to its beliefs, and should not be persecuted by the government for subscribing to an unorthodox faith.“A believer can be jailed for years only because he or she gives materials to other people,” he said.“It’s okay to punish a criminal, that’s okay. But the problem is that the government not only punishes the criminals, but the whole religious group — even when they didn’t commit any crimes.”China has a long history of disruptive quasi-Christian movements, said Dunn.The Taiping Rebellion, a civil war in southern China which claimed over 20 million lives from 1850-1864, was a millenarian movement led by a figure who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus. It is credited with hastening the fall of the Qing Dynasty.Dunn said she believed Beijing’s suppression of unauthorized Christian groups, or “house churches,” had assisted Eastern Lightning’s success, saying it made it more difficult for the faithful “to tell one underground organization talking about a Christ from another.”
It was the day after Chinese New Year in 2014 when Peng Lijuan, a 28-year-old computer science graduate, ran off to join China’s most radical cult.
“When I got home, I found our car there, and all her clothes, her ID card, all her belongings, but she was missing,” said her husband Peng Baoshun.
The couple had only been married for a year and rarely fought, said Mr Peng. Seven months later, he has not seen or heard from her since.
Shandong, their home province, is the heart of the Church of Almighty God, a cult that believes that Jesus has risen in the shape of a 40-something Chinese woman named Yang Xiangbin, also sometimes known as Lightning Deng.
In August last year, five members of the cult will go on trial in Yantai, a seaside city in Shandong, for murdering a 37-year-old woman in a branch of McDonald’s while she waited for her husband and seven-year-old son.
No one intervened to stop the killing, which was caught on smartphone cameras, as Zhang Lidong, an unemployed salesman, three of his children and his partner tried to enlist the woman and then bludgeoned her to death when they failed.
“She was a monster,” he later said on television. “She is an evil spirit. We are not afraid of the law. We have faith in God.”
The Church of Almighty God has said the case against its five members is “full of lies and layered with dubious facts”.
In February 2015, father and daughter Zhang Fan and Zhang Lidong were executed for beating the woman to death.
After being put on a wanted list by the Chinese police 14 years ago, Yang Xiangbin and her lover, the founder of the cult and a former physics teacher Zhao Weishan, travelled to the United States on false passports and claimed political asylum.
Today, they mastermind an organisation with as many as a million members and which is on a ruthless recruitment drive, especially targeting housewives and members of China’s Christian congregations.
“I have seen some of their teaching material,” said Mr Peng. “It begins just like normal Christianity, with no difference at all. But when you get more involved, they introduce the theory of [Mrs Yang] being ‘Almighty God’.”
Mr Peng said the teachings are straightforward. “They just want you to repeat over and over that you obey ‘God’, listen to her, and not fight back. And there are threats for those who think of quitting. After six months, a new member can be brainwashed.”
The Church of Almighty God, which is also known as Eastern Lightning, boasts a slick website in both Chinese and English, professionally produced videos, and even recently took a double-page advertisement in The Times newspaper.
In 22 pages of instructions sent from the United States in June and July 2014, the heads of the cult preached that the “chosen ones” should be ready to “sacrifice their lives” and that their ultimate goal is to kill the Communist Party, referred to in their teachings as “the Great Red Dragon”.
If cultists murder Communist party members “the spirit of the Great Red Dragon will no longer possess them,” according to the material.
The Chinese government has been slow to grasp the scale of the cult, but after the McDonald’s attack in May, police arrested over 1,000 of its members by August 2014, according to state media.
As a result, many members have gone underground, staying with “host families” in the Chinese countryside.
“Every parish must secure its perimeter,” said the instructions from the cult leaders. “Everyone should keep hiding, maybe until October. If the situations in certain cities are particularly bad, you should hide in a neighbouring city.”
In Beijing, Qi Jianguo, a former engineer at a car parts factory, said 90 per cent of the cult’s new members are women, many of whom have been introduced by their friends and family.
“My wife was always very respectful of her mother, so when she asked her to start going, she did,” said Mr Qi, whose wife abandoned him and their five-year-old son early in 2014.
“You can see how far from Christianity this cult is. Christianity preaches that family is important. Who would tell a mother to leave behind their child?”
Mr Qi is part of a network of thousands of family members who use the internet to share their stories. “There must be 30,000 families in Beijing alone who have been abandoned,” he said.
“From what people say, the cult is like a pyramid and the members at the bottom do not know the names of the levels above. The purpose is to collect money. They have to give donations,” he said.
He added that the cult, which for many years has recruited uneducated Chinese in the countryside, is changing its focus. “They are now targeting educated members. There is one woman who joined in Shandong with a postgraduate degree, and there was a SWAT policeman in Guangzhou who was given three years in jail after his commander found out he had joined.”
One 31-year-old former member of the cult, who owns a small company in the eastern city of Yangzhou, who asked not to be named, said she had started going to meetings because a close friend asked her to.
“The strategy is to slowly draw you in. It is like taking classes in school. They told us there are three steps to believing in God. First you believe in Joseph, then in Christ, then in the female reincarnation of Christ.”
“They asked us to convert more people or God would be upset. The meetings were led by ‘teachers’. New members like me could not ask any questions about their personal life. I only knew my teacher as Little Red. I did not even know her real name.”
The woman said she had quit after feeling herself become more and more anxious about life. “At night I would always feel scared when I was alone,” she said. Her husband eventually persuaded her to quit.
But both Mr Peng and Mr Qi saw their wives gradually lose interest in their work and devoted their lives to watching videos online.
“She was very mysterious, always keeping secrets and never allowing anyone to see her mobile phone, hiding it under her pillow at night,” said Mr Peng. “She basically stopped working, just spent her time on the internet”.
However, both men dismissed some of the wilder rumours circulating about the cult; that members have kidnapped priests and that they blackmail them after seducing them into orgies.
“There may be some extreme cases,” said Mr Qi. “But basically the members are good in their heart.”
Christians in mainland China’s “underground” house churches have faced persecution from the country’s Communist government for years. They now face another threat from one of the mainland’s largest cults, which frequently uses deception and coercion to gain converts from among house churches.
The cult calls itself “The Church of Almighty God.” The Chinese government refers to it as the “Real God” cult. Chinese Christians call it “Eastern Lightning.” Its followers believe that Jesus has returned in the form of a Chinese woman, like “lightning that comes from the east,” according to the description of His second coming in Matthew 24:27.
Estimates of the group’s size vary. A November 2001 Time magazine article titled “Jesus is Back, and She’s Chinese” said followers numbered themselves at 300,000, although observers estimated only tens of thousands. A 2002 report produced by the Center for Religious Freedom, which contained copies of seven confidential documents from a Chinese government report on religious cults, said that the group had active organizations in more than 10 provinces and cities and was deceiving thousands. China For Jesus, a Christian mission organization, estimates that the cult has more than a million members in 20 provinces. Fear of government persecution has driven religious groups in China underground, making an accurate head count of any group’s followers virtually impossible.
According to the secret security documents, the public security minister, Jia Chunwang, called for increased action against the cult, saying, “We need to work more, talk less to smash the cult quietly.” Security officials are concerned by the cult’s declaration that China is the Great Red Dragon of the book of Revelation who faces destruction. Beijing police arrested more than 2,000 followers of the cult prior to 2002, but they were not able to destroy the group.
Scores of first-hand accounts received by Christian organizations working in China confirm the devastating effect that the Eastern Lightning cult is having on the house churches. A report titled “When China’s Christians Wish They Were in Prison,” by Paul Hattaway, director of the mission organization Asia Harvest, contains accounts of Christians being deceived, kidnapped, brainwashed, beaten, poisoned, and blackmailed by the cult. One worker in northwest China told Hattaway that the Chinese house churches that usually experience phenomenal growth had been declining due to the cult’s activities. He explained, “In the past year many of our leaders were targeted by the Eastern Lightning cult. Some were attracted by their financial inducements and joined them. Later, when they discovered what they’d joined was not biblical, they were not permitted to leave. Dozens of our believers are missing, dozens more crippled. Some who have managed to escape the cult’s clutches are in hiding, fearing for their lives. At least two of our people have been murdered. Others have simply vanished.”
In April 2002, Eastern Lightning members kidnapped 34 leaders of the China Gospel Fellowship, a network of house churches. Cult members posing as representatives of Haggai Institute, a leadership training school in China, lured the leaders to attend a seminar where they were separated and held against their will. One woman managed to escape and alert the police. By June all the others had escaped or were released, although some who were drugged while being held captive continued to suffer physically.
Invisible Lightning. There are a several versions of the cult’s history. A number of Christian organizations cite the Time magazine article and the seven secret security documents that say that the cult was founded in 1989 by a man named Zhao Weishan, a former member of a Christian sect called the Shouters. Weishan proclaimed that Jesus had returned in the form of a 30-year-old, plain-looking Chinese peasant woman named Deng from the province of Henan. This teaching is based on revelation that Weishan claims he received from God regarding Matthew 24:27. Asia Harvest reports that in 2000 Weishan was granted refugee status in the United States, where he continues to run the cult’s activities in China. The report does not cite the source of this information.
Reports from other missions organizations do not mention Weishan as the founder but say, rather, that the woman Deng set herself up as the “female Christ.” Several Chinese Christians who regularly visit the mainland and are familiar with the cult told the Christian Research Journal that although they had heard of Deng, they had not heard of Weishan. Chinese sources favor the theory that Deng hides herself, while Weishan runs the cult’s operations.
An article dated January 2004 on one of the cult’s Web sites (www.hidden-advent.org), however, denies as “rumor” the reports that Almighty God’s Church believes in “a woman with the surname Deng who was once possessed by a demon in Zheng Zhou of Henan province.” The article explains, “Actually, the place of birth and location where God became flesh is not in Henan province at all. Furthermore, the surname is not Deng.” The article does not, however, identify someone other than Deng as the Christ; rather, it explains why “the flesh of the Almighty God” could not be demon possessed. The fact that no one has ever seen or photographed the woman they call the “female Christ” makes her identity or even her existence difficult to confirm.
The Second Incarnation. The group believes that the Bible is out-of-date and that those who limit God’s revelation to just the Bible are like the Pharisees who held on to the Old Testament and rejected Christ. Followers are told to give up the truth of the past and build their foundation on the Holy Spirit’s word for today: the writings of the “female Christ,” which are “God’s new word.”
The cult has published numerous books, including The Word Becomes Flesh and The Lightning Comes from the East, and distributed hundreds of thousands of copies in China. Two of the books that are distributed among Chinese churches in America are titled The Holy Spirit Speaks to All the Churches and God’s Work through His Secret Appearing. The content in these books is nearly identical. Much of it is written in first person, as if by their “female Christ,” and is terse and threatening.
The “female Christ” states that Jesus was God’s first incarnation, but that He did not complete His work; therefore, God needed to come again to finish the work, this time as a woman. This “appearing” ends the previous age and begins a new age in God’s six-thousand-year plan to save all humanity.
God’s plan, she says, has three ages (creation, salvation, and destruction) and three dispensations (law, redemption, and kingdom). She claims that she comes for the kingdom dispensation and therefore her work is judgment.
Her books are filled with explicit and horrific pronouncements of damnation and judgment on unbelievers. The only sin is not to accept her as the Christ, she says, and salvation is possible only by following her. She states that “God is inhumanly cruel” and she admits that she hates humankind.
She teaches that Christ died for our sins, but denies that He rose again physically. She ardently opposes the concept of the second coming of Jesus and tells followers not to wait for a “white cloud descension.”
The “female Christ” doesn’t prove her divinity to potential believers by healing the sick, casting out demons, or performing miracles; instead, she uses threats and intimidation to persuade converts. She says that she will punish or slay those who repudiate her, and even their family members will meet with misfortune. Another of the cult’s Web sites (www.godword.org) lists 887 cases in which people allegedly died of sickness, accident, or unknown causes after rejecting the cult’s evangelistic efforts.
The cult demands complete obedience and sacrifice. Adherents must turn their material possessions over to the organization and follow orders, otherwise they will be punished. They are urged to leave their families, to live in a commune, and to spread the message of the “female Christ.”
Spying and Paving the Way. The cult is known for its deceptive evangelization practices. An article in Tianfeng, the magazine of the Chinese government–controlled Three Self Patriotic Church, says the cult entices people with money or gifts, but will turn to violence or even murder if a person accepts their gifts but fails to join.
A report from China for Jesus describes four stages of strategy that the cult has used. The first stage was simply to send books and money to Christian preachers. In the second stage they adopted aggressive tactics, including violence and coercion. In the third stage they used sexual temptation and entrapment as a means of blackmailing prospects.
The fourth stage is called “spying and paving the way,” the name the cult gives to their process of infiltrating a house church. Followers are instructed to mingle with church members in order to identify those who are strong Christians and core members of the church. Likely targets are those who arrive before a church meeting and stay after, and who can look up Bible passages efficiently. Cult members will try to befriend such people and to act like sincere truth seekers in order to gain their trust. Once the infiltrators have successfully “spied” these people, they begin to “pave the way” by asking questions to shake the Christian believer’s faith. They may invite the believer to a “Bible study,” for example, where instead of studying the Bible they badger the believer with questions such as, “Where is heaven? Is it on earth?” Or they will question the concept of the rapture of the church, a doctrine the cult ardently denies. Ultimately, they turn to preaching their message, which is the second incarnation of God. The author of the China for Jesus report predicted that they will begin to use an unknown fifth strategy now that this latest one has been exposed in recent years.
The cult denies that Almighty God’s Church kidnaps people and forces them to accept its message. An article on one of their Web sites (www.hidden-advent.org) states that regulations instruct followers not to pressure those who are not willing to believe in God, because the church doesn’t want “worthless” members who do not really believe. The article claims that in 1999 alone the church dismissed 70 to 80 thousand people “who were guilty of misconduct and disobedience to the church’s regulations.”
Eastern Lightning prefers to target orthodox Christian house churches rather than fringe or heretical groups. According to the cult’s own internal instructions, they are not to evangelize those who do not worship Jesus alone and do not study the Bible, such as Buddhists, Taoists, and Muslims, as well as many Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics in China. Non-Christians and even family members of Eastern Lightning followers are also excluded from being evangelized.
A book about heresies in mainland China, published in Taiwan by the Christian and China Research Center, contains the testimony of a Chinese house church member who escaped the cult. He says that the cult never acts in the open, but that their activities are always covert and organized. “Wherever they go, they destroy and scatter that church with incredible speed and unmatched means.”
Even though the central Chinese government denounces the cult, some Chinese Christians view the cult’s behavior and financial strength as indications that it is being supported by individual local Communist officials who are seeking to disrupt and destroy house churches. Other Chinese Christians see the cult as satanic and believe that the Satanic church in America is behind it.
Global Vision. The message of the “female Christ” of Eastern Lightning resembles that of Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. Moon came to America in 1971 claiming that Christ had not completed His mission, and in 1992 he declared he and his wife to be the Messiah, the True Parents, who would usher in a “Completed Testament” age of world peace.
The “female Christ” declares that her appearance as the new Messiah ushers in the last stage of God’s plan. On one of the cult’s Web sites (www.hidden-advent.org) she confirms that its work has already expanded beyond the borders of China: “At the present time, the work is one of conquering the deeply corrupt people in the nations. Moreover, it is not merely a work of guiding people in China, but one of guiding the entire universe. You now only see the work being done in China, but actually it has already started to extend overseas.”
In a 2001 article titled “Lightning from the East” in the China InsightNewsletter, researcher Tony Lambert reported that the cult now has centers in New York and Toronto. The Journal has received reports from Christians in Paris and Amsterdam that the cult has reached Europe as well. Sources in the West have reported that the cult has been distributing books, tracts, and CDs through the Internet and in the parking lots of Chinese churches. It has also advertised a paid position to translate their books into English.
How I bumped into Eastern Lightning
I lived in China from 1999 to 2006. During that time I studied the Bible with two local friends. For several years, the two friends came to our house almost weekly. We ate together and studied the Bible together. They were quite zealous believers, and they were among my closest friends.
Not long after we left China in 2006 the younger friend joined the cult “Eastern Lightning.” He disappeared for three years. After three years he reappeared and got the older friend to join Eastern Lightning. We were very deeply saddened. Since then we have met with both friends once, and with the younger friend a second time to try to persuade them to leave the cult. We were unsuccessful.
In addition to being deeply saddened, I was puzzled. I was scratching my head. I thought to myself, “What a strange thing! Where on earth did it come from?”
In trying to help my friends, I’ve done a little research into the cult.
Tonight I want to share with you some information about where Eastern Lightning came from.
Eastern Lightning is known by different names. It is called “Eastern Lightning” (东方闪电). It is also called “The Church of the Almighty God” (全能神教会). This is what they mainly like to call themselves nowadays. It has also been called “The Real/Concrete God” (实际神) cult (as opposed to the “remote” God of the Bible).
A few basic beliefs
Here are a few of their basic beliefs:
Christ has already returned. The first time he came he was a Jew named Jesus. This time he is a Chinese woman.
There are three ages (or dispensations):
· The Age of Law —This is the Old Testament period.
· The Age of Grace —This is the time of Jesus until the second incarnation of Christ.
· The Kingdom Age —This is the End Times, which apparently began sometime in the 1990’s.
Eastern Lightning denies the Trinity. Instead, they affirm that God simply used different names in the three different ages:
· God was called “Jehovah” in the Age of Law.
· He was called “Jesus” in the Age of Grace.
· He is called “The Almighty God” in this present Kingdom Age (and currently The Almighty God is a certain Chinese woman).
Before we talk about Eastern Lightning itself, we need to talk about some history. Let’s begin our history lesson.
(Fujian Province) (1903 – 1972)
Watchman Nee is the most famous Chinese Christian leader outside of China. He wrote many books and many foreign Christians read his books. I read one of his books in college and was encouraged and edified. “In 1955, Watchman Nee was arrested in China, and remained in prison until his death in 1972.”
While Watchman Nee was a basically orthodox and influential Christian leader, he had some unusual views. His most famous unusual teaching was that denominations were wrong and that all believers in an area belong to the same local body. Churches in his group were known as Local Churches (or Assembly Halls . His group was also referred to as the Little Flock .
(李常受) (Shandong Province) (1905 – 1997)
Witness Lee became a follower and co-worker of Watchman Nee in China.
In 1949, Witness Lee went to Taiwan. In 1974, Witness Lee moved to the US. Witness Lee died in 1997.
Watchman Nee’s teachings were basically orthodox , but Witness Lee’s weren’t.
Witness Lee and the doctrine of the Trinity
The theological connection between Witness Lee and Eastern Lightning is the doctrine of the Trinity.
The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is that there is one God in three persons.
This doctrine has been represented visually in the following way:
As the diagram indicates, the Father, the Son and the Spirit are God, but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father, etc.
Witness Lee denied that God was three persons. He considered the teaching that God is three persons to border on “tritheism.” Witness Lee preferred the term “Triune God” to the Term “Trinity” .He believed that the Father, the Son and the Spirit, though “distinct,” were one person. He believed that Jesus was the “Triune God mingled with man.” After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus became the Spirit. Witness Lee always denied that his teaching was modalism (the heresy that asserts that God merely acted in different modes at different times and denies the three persons of the Godhead). Nevertheless, if it is not modalism it comes pretty close to it. Whatever the case, Witness Lee’s teachings and the changes they underwent in China were an important factor in the development of Eastern Lightning.
In China, Witness Lee’s quasi-modalistic teachings concerning the Trinity evolved into full-blown modalism. Witness Lee’s teachings underwent a number of mutations and transformations before becoming the Eastern Lightning doctrine that God was called “Jehovah” in the Old Testament, “Jesus” in the Age of Grace and now the “Almighty God” in the present Kingdom Age.
Leaving the Holy Spirit out of things for a minute, a pure common sense objection to complete modalism is that any person—believer or unbeliever—reading the New Testament gospels would see that Jesus and the Father are represented as two different persons. No one could honestly see them as the same entity. Jesus says he is sent by the Father (e.g., John 5:37) and he prays to the Father (e.g., John 17) and always speaks of the Father as though he is a separate person.
How does Eastern Lightning answer this objection? They say that when Jesus speaks of the Father he is merely speaking from a human perspective. When he prays to the Father, he does so from the perspective of a created being:……
This is remarkably similar to Witness Lee’s argument concerning the same issue. In Concerning the Triune God, Witness Lee addresses the question in the following way:
. . . if you say the Son is the Father, then how could the Son pray to the Father? . . . The Lord of hosts is both the Sender and the One sent. Since the Lord of hosts is both the Sender and the Sent One, why could it not be that the Lord is the Son who prays and also the Father who listens to the praying? The Father who listens to the praying is the Son who prays; and the Son who prays is also the Father who listens to the prayer.
This is clearly at variance with any kind of normal reading of the New Testament accounts.
Witness Lee and the Shouters
Let’s leave theology for now and go back to historical development.
In 1967 Witness Lee started the “Calling Out” (or “Shouting”) Movement . He said that the Age of the Word had ended, and now it was the Age of the Spirit. Witness Lee taught that believers must “eat the Lord” (吃主) and the way to do this was by calling out or shouting his name . Calling out his name was the way to release the Spirit in this Age of the Spirit.
After Deng Xiaoping’s “opening up” of China in 1979, many foreigners visited China. At some point between 1978 and the early 1980’s, Witness Lee sent many followers from overseas to Wenzhou in Fujian Province to contact believers from Watchman Nee’s Local Church movement. They reportedly brought with them large amounts of Witness Lee’s books, pamphlets and recordings. Within a few short years, their influence had spread throughout Zhejiang, Fujian, Henan, Guangdong and other places. During their meetings they would shout “Jesus is Lord!” in an attempt to practice Witness Lee’s teaching about calling out the Lord’s name. This is how they got the nickname “Shouters” .
The “Shouters” and the “Local Churches”
The term “Shouters” is not a precise term. It is unfortunately the case that many true believers have been labeled as Shouters even when they are not Shouters. Many people who are called “Shouters” may be true believers. Not all Shouters accept Witness Lee’s teachings, and not all followers of Witness Lee are Shouters. In particular, many Local Churches that follow Watchman Nee and Witness Lee are law-abiding groups that reject the term “Shouters.”
Some Shouters and the Trinity
Some (not all) Shouters took Witness Lee’s strange doctrine of the Trinity one step further and became complete modalists. These groups held that the Father became the Son and was no longer the Father; the Son became the Spirit and was no longer the Son. That is, the Father, the Son and the Spirit are modes by which God manifests himself in different eras. They are not distinct persons.
The “Lord Changshou” sect
One branch of the Shouters held Witness Lee in such high esteem that they began to regard his authority and status as greater than Christ’s.They called Witness Lee, “Lord Changshou”  (Changshou is Witness Lee’s given name). This, of course, goes far beyond the actual teaching of Witness Lee, who never proposed to set himself above Christ.
It has been reported that in 1995 this branch of the Shouters distributed 15 million tracts in 20 major cities in China declaring that Witness Lee was the living Christ and that he would become the new king of the universe. One can easily see how this cult became a pattern for Eastern Lightning.
This “Lord Changshou” sect believes that you must call upon the Lord Changshou to be saved; that Jesus is someone of the past and will not return to save the world; and that Lord Changshou will return to save the world.
Zhao Weishan—Founder of Eastern Lightning
(赵维山) (Heilongjiang Province) (born 1951)
Source: Kaiwind Apparently taken from a video called “Shipo xiejiao ‘quannengshen’” 识破邪教“全能神” (Seeing through the “Almighty God” cult).
The following account is taken from a China Central Television news report posted on People’s Daily Online.
Eastern Lightning was started by a physics teacher from Heilongjiang named Zhao Weishan (赵维山).
Between 1986 and 1989 Mr. Zhao preached at house meeting points (家庭聚会点) in and around Acheng City (阿城市) in Heilongjiang Province. Some believers praised him and followed him.
He liked the praise and felt ambitious. In 1989 Mr. Zhao, He Zhexun and some others went to Henan looking for the True Way (真道).
While in Henan, Mr. Zhao, Mr. He and others joined the Shouters (呼喊派). Not only the Shouters, but the Lord Changshou branch of the Shouters.
Back in Acheng during 1989’s Spring Festival, Mr. Zhao testified that Witness Lee is the Christ of the End Times and the King of Kings.
In March 1989, Mr. Zhao was made head of the Changshou sect “常受教” in Heilongjiang and was named “Lord of Power” “能力主.” He Zhexun was made the Leader “带领” of the Hengshan Church (a Shouter church).
At the end of 1990 because of pressure from the public security authorities and other reasons, the Changshou sect “常受教” was broken up. Mr. Zhao saw his opportunity and sent some of his core people to various Changshou sect areas and got those believers to believe in the Lord of Power (that is, himself) instead of Witness Lee. He wrote his own tract, called “Preaching the Word” (讲道). Under this tract’s influence, his followers gave up the Bible and Witness Lee’s Life-Study of the Bible (生命读经).
In 1991, the Harbin Public Security Bureau suppressed Mr. Zhao’s Shouter church, the Yongyuan Church (永源教会) in Yongyuan County (永源县) of Acheng City (阿城市). Mr. Zhao and his close supporters fled back to Henan Province.
The female Christ—Yang Xiangbin
(杨向彬) (born around 1973) (Shanxi Province)
Source: Fan quannengshen lianmeng 反全能神联盟 [The alliance for opposing the Almighty God] (website) (http://www.fqnslm.com/Html/?682.html). Appears to be taken from a video called “Shipo xiejiao ‘quannengshen’” 识破邪教“全能神” (Seeing through the “Almighty God” cult).
Except where indicated by footnotes, the following account is still from the above-mentioned 2012 China Central Television report. This main account is supplemented where indicated by parts from a 2006 book on Eastern Lightning by a Christian writer using the name Zhang Dakai (张大开).
Around 1990 Yang Xiangbin failed her College Entrance Exam (高考落榜) and could not attend university. The blow was great and she experienced psychological problems afterwards. Demon possession was also suspected.
Medical treatment didn’t help, so some Christians took her to church and prayed for her. She seemed to get better for a while, and enthusiastically studied the Bible. Then she started going to the meetings of the Shouters. She accepted the teachings of Witness Lee and began reading his writings all of the time. Then her symptoms began to reappear. She frequently told the believers that the Holy Spirit had moved her and she saw dreams and visions. And she was always interpreting them.
After Mr. Zhang’s 1991 return to Henan, Mr. Zhang and Miss Yang became lovers.
1991 to 1993—Transition to Eastern Lightning
Near the end of 1991, Miss Yang wrote a “Word of God” (神话) in which she announced the end of the “Lord of Power” (that is, believing in Zhao Weishan) and that people should believe in “God Himself” (神本体).
“God Himself” was divided into different parts: All-Authority (全权), All-Complete (全成), All-Prepared (全备), All Glory (全荣), All-Victorious (全胜), All-Knowing (全智), All-Reverence (全尊) and All-Worthy (全贵). Mr. Zhang was, unsurprisingly, All-Authority. Miss Yang was All-Complete.
At some point, Miss Yang declared that she had been possessed by the Holy Spirit (“被神的灵附身”). She also wrote a “Word” (话语) concerning herself being God. Many of the co-workers and followers started believing that she was God.
At a meeting in Ruyang (汝阳) in Henan Province in the summer of 1993, Mr. Zhao, relying on a “Word of God” (神话), proclaimed that Miss Yang was The Only True God (独一真神), The Almighty God (全能神) and the Female Christ (女基督). This, apparently, was the formal beginning of Eastern Lightning.
1995 Ministry of Public Security document
A 1995 Ministry of Public Security document labeled the Shouters as a cult. It also labeled some of its offshoots as cults including the “Changshou Sect” (常受教) (these are the folks who worship Witness Lee); the “Lord of Power” (能力主) (this perhaps refers to folks who worshipped Zhao Weishan before the cult evolved into Eastern Lightning) and the “Real/Concrete God” (实际神) (this is another name used for Eastern Lightning).
2000—Flight to America
Facing increased police pressure, Mr. Zhao, Miss Yang and others fled to the US on September 6, 2000. He continued to direct the cult organization in China from the US.
Married with a kid?
Mr. Zhao and Miss Yang’s marriage photo? Source: Kaiwind 
A few further details are given in an article by someone named Zheng Yi (郑怡) posted on the Chinese anti-cult website Kaiwind (www.kaiwind.com). The information in this article is perhaps less reliable than the other information discussed above, which came largely from China Central Television reports. It is not entirely clear who exactly is behind the Kaiwind website, though they clearly seem to have some special connection to China’s government. They are certainly promoting China’s anti-cult objectives with a viewpoint indistinguishable from the government’s viewpoint.
I tend to give this particular article credence. One reason is the photograph, which I have been unable to find elsewhere. The photograph’s caption indicates that it is a wedding picture. I believe the persons in the photograph bear a very strong resemblance to the other pretty reliable photographs provided above. The photograph itself looks like a Chinese wedding picture. Though this picture was presumably taken in the early 90’s, Chinese wedding pictures at least in the 80’s tended to be very simple and looked like this. The photograph looks authentic—at least, it doesn’t look obviously fake. It seems more genuine than most photographs of Zhao and Yang on the Internet. Another reason is because Kaiwind does seem to have special access to government information (although some of the photographs it uses are very doubtful). A third reason is that the account, while adding a few interesting details, seems to be generally consistent with other known information.
In any case, this Kaiwind article states that Mr. Zhao already had a wife and daughter back home, but he went ahead and married Miss Yang anyway. They had a son together.
In order to flee to America, Zhao Weishan obtained a passport using the name Xu Weishan (徐维山). He went to Japan first and then to the US in 2000. In 2001 he applied for political refugee status and brought his and Miss Yang’s son to the US.
Source: Kaiwind (http://zt.kaiwind.com/a/qns/tuwen/2013/0326/319.html ). Apparently taken from a video called “Shipo xiejiao ‘quannengshen’” 识破邪教“全能神” (Seeing through the “Almighty God” cult).
Nominally, the head of the cult was the female Christ, Miss Yang. But according to the China Central Television report, Miss Yang was merely a puppet who was good at writing “sophistical” (歪理) essays.
The real head of the organization was Zhao Weishan. He was called “the one used by the Holy Spirit” (圣灵使用的人) or the Chief Priest (大祭司).
Underneath the Chief Priest, there was a 7-member Supervision Group (监察组), of which Mr. Zhao was a member but not the head.
For a period of time He Zhexun (何哲迅) was the head of the Supervision Group (监察组组长).
In 2007, Mr. Zhao no longer trusted He Zhexun and forced him to step down from his position as Supervision Group Head.
He Zhexun talks
 Apparently taken from a video called “Shipo xiejiao ‘quannengshen’” 识破邪教“全能神” (Seeing through the “Almighty God” cult).
He Zhexun was with Mr. Zhao from the very beginning in Heilongjiang. In 1989 he went with Mr. Zhao to Henan and joined the Changshou sect of the Shouters together with him. They both went back to Heilongjiang together and spread the word about Witness Lee, the “Christ of the End Times” (末世基督).
At some point after Mr. Zhao fired him as Supervision Group Head in 2007, he was arrested.
At first he refused to talk.
Eventually, the police investigator got photographs of He Zhexun’s home, his wife and child and showed them to Mr. He. The photos showed that his home was in serious disrepair and his wife and child were looking ill and emaciated (憔悴). His family had no economic support because he had abandoned them to spread the word about the female Christ. When he saw the photographs, he held his head in his hands and cried bitterly.
But he still wouldn’t talk.
Later, the police investigator said to He Zhexun, “You’ve been so faithful to Zhao Weishan. Why were you removed as Supervision Group Head?”
This apparently hit a nerve. He Zhexun was quiet for a long time. Then finally he began to talk.
He Zhexun is presumably the source of much of our new information regarding the Eastern Lightning cult. Remember, Eastern Lightning has been a very secretive cult. And even a year ago we knew much less about it than we know now. I do not believe that any photographs of Yang Xiangbin could be obtained a year ago.
December 2012—Public Demonstrations
On December 7, 2012, Mr. Zhao called for nationwide public activities.
The public security authorities responded. As of December 2012, more than 1,000 members had been apprehended. The Chinese media also responded. A large number of articles were published describing and condemning the cult. The China Anti-Cult Association also released a video concerning the cult.
It’s difficult to know what Mr. Zhao’s objectives were, but it did seem that one objective was to make use of the Mayan end-of-the-world worries to recruit new members.
A few Eastern Lightning ideas
The Scroll Opened by the Lamb (Gaoyang zhankai de shujuan 羔羊展开的书卷).
This is an Eastern Lightning book. I read all 804 pages. Of course it’s complete nonsense. The reason I read this book was to learn about the cult so that I could help my two friends leave the cult. I have tried to get them to leave the cult, and they have tried to get me to join the cult. But none of us has been successful. (I still consider them good friends and hope that one day they will return to the Lord.) Below I want to just mention a few central ideas of Eastern Lightning and point out the opposing Biblical viewpoint.
If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you can receive Him into your heart, and He can deliver you from darkness and sin and have your name written in His Book of Life.
If you are sincere you can say this simple prayer to the Father (it doesn’t have to be word for word):
“God, I recognize that I have not lived my life for You up until now. I have been living for myself and that is wrong. Please forgive me of all of my sins just as I forgive others. I need You in my life; I want You in my life. I acknowledge the completed work of Your only begotten Son Jesus Christ in giving His life for me on the cross, I believe in my heart Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead and I long to receive the forgiveness you have made freely available to me through this sacrifice. Come into my life now, Lord. Take up residence in my heart and be my king, my Lord, and my Savior. From this day forward, I will no longer be controlled by sin, or the desire to please myself, but I will follow You all the days of my life. Those days are in Your hands. I ask this in the Lord and GOD Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.”