As Covid-19 spreads, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect from South Korea and its branch churches in China have become known to many.
A Beijing pastor encountered the cult's core members three times and argued strongly against their views.
Although many people are evangelized or seduced by the cult, few debate with its followers. The first time the pastor met key Shincheonji members was when they visited several of his believers. One of them is a man who used to attend a registered church but fell prey to the cult. He has been a Christian for twenty years.
The second time was when his church members were lured into the cult's church. A sister came to know the cult through one-on-one online Bible studies and then was secretly counseled by a male pastor.
Pastor D claimed, "The man was head of a branch in Yanjiao (a town bordering Beijing). Appearing elegant and well-dressed, he was polite and he spoke standard Mandarin Chinese. You could not tell where he came from based on his physical appearance."
A sister in the church, who loved writing, was short of money since her works had not been published, so the man lent 5,000 yuan to her. He told her she could pay the money back later and a church could be set up in her home once she mastered the truth.
Later Pastor D happened to see this individual counseling the sister in her apartment. He found that there were problems with his teachings. The individual later admitted he was of Korean nationality and had pretended to be a Korean Chinese from northeastern China for the sake of the Gospel. He believed in the Holy Spirit as an incarnated being, different from the claims of traditional churches. According to the Shincheonji cult, their founder, Lee Man-Hee, is the Advocate, the Spirit.
Pastor D said, "He used Jesus as an alibi. He knew the name of Jesus but poisoned people with his name rather than save them."
Later Pastor D "visited" a Shincheonji church in Yanjiao with two other believers who had become a part of the cult. The pastor realized some puzzling things after hearing the sermons and talking with the speakers. They avoided answering some questions and kept saying that newcomers would understand after studying elementary, intermediate, and advanced lessons.
After that experience, he suggested that believers should not attend that church as their teachings never addressed the salvation of Jesus. In addition, he gave 5,000 yuan to the sister and told her to pay the money back and repent.
"Afterward, God helped her. Not only did she break away with the cult, but she also created her own company. I saw God's grace. God will help us and also lead us to victory," he added.
His third encounter was when he invited leading followers of Shincheonji, the Unification Church, and another heresy to a debate.
There were more than 20 churches representing followers of Shincheonji , Mentuhui, and the Church of Almighty God or Eastern Lightning, scattered in over 20 villages in Songzhuang County, Pasor D said. He felt very sorry for the people in these cults. One of the victims said to him, "Your preaching is different from ours. You preach the love of Jesus, but we proclaim fear. There are many scary cases."
The debate was on a cloudy and windy day. The Shincheonji cult member appeared to be gentle and polite, someone who had been able to meet the cult founder, Lee Man-Hee; the representative from the Unification Church was a woman of about 50 from northeastern China who had been a Christian for 30 years. She shared what seemed to be "absurd" messages with a kind of girlish passion. The third person was and she spoke "absurd" messages with girlish passion; the third person, who was from Singapore, appeared humble and gracious, but the teachings were quite vague.
The debate took place in a building that was formerly a church. Pastor D shared, "In the beginning we were polite to each other. It was a scene reminiscent of those after World War II, heads of different sects and denominations at each side of a long table. Interestingly, the representative from Shincheonji readily acknowledged his background."
In an argument with the Shincheonji member, Pastor D mentioned Lee Man-Hee, but the man was unhappy, warning that "you should respect our old general chairman out of righteousness and morality." He stressed many times words such as "allow more time for me" or "speak slowly". He showed a strong desire to control the conversation and others' speaking pace and speeches.
Starting with John the Baptist, after whom the founder Lee fashioned himself in his early days when he founded the cult, they spoke about the origin of churches and Lee's faith. The pastor from Shincheonji said their members recognized Lee as the incarnate God, the revealer of the Spirit and the spokesman of God in this era.
Then the discussion covered the issue of the 144,000 people in the Book of Revelation. The sides debated the identity of the 144,000. The Shincheonji pastor claimed they were the cult's members and Lee was in charge of the Book of Life. But Pastor D argued that the 144,000 people had nothing to do with Gentile believers. According to Revelation 7:4-8, 14:1, and 14:3, the first group of 144,000 people referred to the twelve tribes of Israel, the second group were those who were standing on Mount Zion, and the third group was the singing, virgin people.
Pastor D said, "The cult members all believed that they were saved, but the fact is that we are saved through faith in Jesus, not faith in someone else." None of the participants was convinced by the arguments of others, and they separated even before eating together.
After that meeting, Pastor D never saw anyone from Shincheonji, but he discovered that they had grown even stronger. "I intended to save them through the debate, but I did not act very well. Shincheonji knows its own flaws and they have been able to address some of those. They are becoming more and more advanced."
The last time that he heard about the cult was related to a young sister who had an issue with them. The sister no longer attended church after having been baptized for half-a-year, saying she had returned to her hometown in Qinghai.
A friend invited her to an online meeting. But she realized something was wrong and informed Pastor D. He told her it was the teaching of Shincheonji. Her friend finally admitted that this was the case. The sister revealed, "She sent me a screenshot of the basic version of their textbook. They have mutiplied and become even more powerful."
"You need to be vigilant when attending online meetings," were Pastor D's last words to her.
- Translated by Karen Luo