THE EASTERN LIGHTNING CULT BEGINNINGS, BELIEFS, AND BUILDUP by Rara Aguja

The Eastern Lightning Cult is a new religious movement founded by Zhao Weishan.1 This quasi-Christian group centers in the end-time revelation of the female Christ and submission to her words penned in The Word Appears in Flesh, their sacred literature.2 Well-funded, highly organized, and discreetly tactical, this group has gained millions of followers in Mainland China and began to expand beyond the country’s borders. Its doomsday message and rapid recruitment ploy coupled with threats, deceptions, and violence have raised an alarm not just towards Chinese government but also to international media. The underground evangelical church, its main target, issues updates
through its website, describing the devastations its spying members have created inside the Christian circles, particularly in rural areas.

As Christians, we have cause for concern, among others: the growing followers of its local Facebook page, the presence of its dubbed movies uploaded on YouTube, and the rise of fake social media accounts which add locals and invite them into their online Bible studies.

BEGINNINGS

The Eastern Lightning movement was established by Zhao Weishan in 1989 with a different name—The Church of New Abilities.3 Coming from the Lord Changshou camp, a modalistic sect of the Shouters, Zhao showed remarkable signs of leadership.4 His fascination with the Apocalypse and enthusiasm to preach that Witness Lee was the Christ of the end times were halted when CCP banned religious operations outside the recognized religions. He fled to Henan with his leaders to escape persecution and established the said congregation that was distinct from where they came from, yet
remained rooted in the Christian traditions.5 Zhao adopted the name, “The Eastern Lightning” in the early 90’s and taught that Christ’s second coming would happen in China as predicted in Matthew 24:27.6 That same period, he met Yang Xiangbin, who suffered from a mental breakdown upon failing the university entrance exam. Her condition improved when brought to a Christian church to be prayed over; her symptoms reappeared when she began her involvement in the Shouters and embraced its teachings. She professed to have dreams and visions, claiming that the Holy Spirit had possessed her. 7

The Eastern Lightning’s formal founding occurred two years after Zhao and Yang’s relationship began. During this season, Yang was writing a religious text claiming that she was God. Zhao deified her and people were convinced that her actions did not stem from a psychological problem, but from the divine.8 In 1993, Zhao proclaimed that Yang was the Almighty God who came to save them, thus calling their group “The Church of the Almighty God.” He declared his wife as the Female Christ, the Eastern Lightning he believed was prophesied in the Bible. 9

HIERARCHY

The Female Christ is formally the head of the cult. Zhang functions as the priest and the administrator. Under him is the Supervision Group, which communicates with the followers, oversees churches, and reports back to him. Leaders and assistants who oversee the church at regional, sub-regional, and church levels come under them. Each church had a preacher and deacon, and financial resources come through the followers’ donations. Giving money has been the means to climb the organizational ladder and prove their loyalty to the Female Christ. Rigid rules keep the congregants intact, and operations remain hidden and monitored by the heads. 10

GROWTH IN MAINLAND CHINA

The group experienced quick growth in its early assimilation phase. Middle-aged women and rural citizens became the easy targets of their ear-tickling messages. Zhao, along with his workers, would knock door to door to proclaim the end-time warnings and residents would convert out of fear. He would preach that the arrival of the Female Christ could deliver them from the Great Red Dragon, the Chinese government.11 Defectors were threatened and were in hiding to preserve their lives.

Their expansion method involved traveling to an area to start a new work, gathering information on potential converts, infiltrating existing networks to attract their members, and distribution of literature.12 Both registered and unregistered churches became targets of their schemes. Evangelical religious leaders are often eyed, approached, brainwashed, bribed, and even blackmailed to embrace their teachings. In 2002, 34 church heads were lured to attend a “training”
then kidnapped, drugged and beaten as ways to be forcefully converted.13 An underground church leader described this cult’s threat as much worse than anything the Communist government can do to them.14 Rev. Pang K.H. of Chinese Christian Church of Saipan claimed: “The satanic cult, Eastern Lightning, is one of the most evil and deceitful cults I have ever seen in China.”15 China for Jesus website, in its warning, mentioned: “This cult ignores the state law, treats human life as worthless, and looks upon the maiming and disabling of human bodies as being fun games. They are truly guilty of terrible sins and crimes.”16

Its numbers continued to swell amid the couple’s departure from China early 2000.17

MAIN TEACHINGS

This group spreads unorthodox teachings about the Scriptures, God, Jesus Christ, and Salvation. Claiming that the Bible is obsolete, they announce the advent of new revelations through the words of the Female Christ contained in their sacred book, The Word Appears in Flesh. 18 This writing, with pages amounting to 2000, contains the utterances and teachings of Yang Xiangbin. Misquotations of Scripture passages, strawman claims against biblical Christianity, and threats of judgment were woven in its doctrines to lure the readers to abandon the faith and turn to the “true
Church.”

Denial of the Trinity is obvious in the text. The section, “Does the Trinity Exist?” casts doubt on the Bible’s clear teaching on this truth. Here, the writer claims that a “fog of confusion about matters of God” exists, and that the Trinitarian Doctrine is a religious notion that has infected and poisoned men. This cult emphasizes God’s 6,000-year management plan divided in three ages: the Age of the Law, wherein He revealed Himself as Jehovah and fulfilled his work through Moses’ giving of the Law (which men failed to follow).

The Age of Grace was when God changed His name to Jesus who came to redeem mankind out of His love and mercy.19 In the Age of the Kingdom, God came in the form of the female Christ whose work is to chastise and conquer corrupted men in China and the entire universe. With the aim to “remove the image of Jesus from the people’s hearts,” she threatens those who will reject her new message.20

Yang rejected Christ’s deity and resurrection and argued that His redemptive work is not enough. Complete dedication to the female messiah shown through leaving one’s family, surrendering material possessions to the group, and spreading the teachings, will spare them from judgment.21

They pose themselves as the persecuted church in China as themed in most of their movies uploaded online. Chinese Government is equated with the Great Red Dragon mentioned in Revelation.22 Zealous to overthrow earthly authorities, they see themselves as above the law. Aside from their sacred book and supplementary writings, they keep a handbook detailing the group’s tactics. It contains the means on how to infiltrate and destroy churches from the inside, spying methods, and bridge-building guidelines. 23

EXPANSION: INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL

The cult’s membership accelerated upon regrouping after the 2012 apocalypse prediction failure.24 They claimed to have 4 million followers by 2014. At present, amid the couples’ hiding in New York, USA, their influence continues to increase.25 Websites, films, and social media pages enable them to reach world. Fake accounts created on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram serve as their platform to invite people to their online Bible study meetings.

Local recruitments are ongoing through the said platforms. Their Facebook page, Ang Iglesya ng Makapangyarihang Dios, has gained 170K plus followers and thousands of regular post shares. Dubbed movies and music videos sung by locals gain popularity as well. The presence of poser Facebook accounts created by the members with the intent to gain friends and spread their message is increasingly becoming noticeable. Upon being added on Facebook, users commonly report that they are invited or automatically added in the Bible Study group chat. Attendees who refute their teachings are ignored and removed from the group.

A Filipina shared an incident wherein the cult members accused her of giving demonic excuses when she withdrew from attending the meeting. She narrated that she would still receive chat messages until dawn after she had listened to their two-hour teaching. She remained bothered due to receiving calls and stubborn invitations until she blocked them. A local church leader in a rural area gave information that a young person about to be baptized was included in the cult’s group chat and got confused.

With the help of the leaders, she was pulled out and was back to the church. In a live chat interview, the young lady described that the proselytizer taught about God in the initial meetings, and then introduced their new teachings later on. They asked for the participants address to send their sacred book as they encouraged them to study on their own. They would promote accusations against evangelical church leaders and teach that they did not know the truth. Participants who finished the lessons were assigned to preach using their sacred book (also called as “the sealed book”). As they were assigned to lead prayers, they won’t be allowed to pray in Jesus’s name because it would contradict the Age of the Kingdom teachings.

RESPONSE

The Eastern Lightning is a direct assault to the gospel and a threat to the church. Their ongoing operations continue to snare the undiscerning to their heretic teachings. We must draw the sword of God’s truth to lacerate their tentacles of schemes, which have begun to coil upon our shores. The bible is clear in its admonition towards us to expose the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11) and watch out for false christs and false teachers who would draw people away from the truth (Acts 20:29).

Church leaders must warn their members about the dangers of this cult; poser accounts must be blocked (to prevent them from spying and reaching out to others); and social media platforms must be used as avenues to expose their devices. Above all, Filipino congregations must unite in prayer so that the local influence of this group will be disrupted in its early stage.


NOTES
1. Paul Hattaway, “Cult Eastern Lightning,” Asia Harvest, last modified September 26, 2021.
https://math.ucr.edu/~zguan/ecult.htm.
2. Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “China: Religious Text Used by the Church of the
Almighty God (Eastern Lightning),” Refworld, last modified October 14, 2014,
https://www.refworld.org/docid/546486eb4.html.
3. Parcast, “Cults: Eastern Lightning – Zhao Weishan [Audio Podcast Episode],” Spotify, April 2,
2019, https://open.spotify.com/episode/2uAq06kx3UXBlO5ng3FMWt?si=wLvqKOS7Q8yHoX1J6rd7g&utm_source=copy-link&dl_branch=1.
4. William Bennett, “Where Did Eastern Lightning Ideas Come From?” Chinasource, last modified
April 3, 2014, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/where-did-easternlightnings-ideas-come-from/.
5. Parcast, “Cults: Eastern Lightning.”
6. William Bennett, “Where Did Eastern Lightning Leaders Come From?” Chinasource, last
modified April 2, 2014, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/where-did-easternlightnings-leaders-come-from/.
7. William, Bennett, “Where Did Eastern Lightning Came From.”
8. Parcast, “Cults: Eastern Lightning.”
9. William Bennett, “Where Did Eastern Lightning Leaders Come From?”
10. Parcast, “Cults: Eastern Lightning.”
11. Parcast, “Cults: Eastern Lightning.”
12. Emily Dunn, “The Art of Persuasion: Eastern Lightning’s Recruitment Strategies.” Brill,
https://brill.com/view/book/9789004297258/B9789004297258_007.xml.
13. Paul Hattaway, “Cult Eastern Lightning,” Asia Harvest, https://math.ucr.edu/~zguan/ecult.htm.
14. Paul Hattaway, “Cults Eastern Lightning.”
15. Paul Hattaway, “Cults Eastern Lightning.”
16. China for Jesus, “The Development and Beliefs of the Eastern Lightning Cult,” China for Jesus,
http://www.chinaforjesus.com/EL_development.htm
17. Parcast, “Cults: Eastern Lightning.”
18. William Bennett, “Brief Look at Some of Eastern Lightning’s False Teachings,” Chinasource,
March 31, 2014, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/brief-look-at-some-ofeastern-lightnings-false-teachings/.
19. William Bennett, “Where Did Eastern Lightning Come From?” Chinasource, April 4, 2014,
https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/where-did-eastern-lightning-come-from/.
20. Paisho Thiumai, “Heretic Doctrines of Church of Almighty God Exposed II [Video],”
April 17, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_XzoN4oiOY.
21. Parcast, “Eastern Lightning Point 2 – Zhao Weishan [Audio Podcast Episode],” Spotify, April 9,
2019, https://open.spotify.com/episode/2uAq06kx3UXBlO5ng3FMWt?si=wLvqKOS7Q8yHoX1J6rd7g&utm_source=copy-link&dl_branch=1.
22. Emily C.Dunn, “’Cult,’ Church, and the CCP: Introducing Eastern Lightning,” Modern China 35,
no. 1 (2009): 100.
23. Paul Hattaway, “Cults Eastern Lightning.”
24. Parcast, “Cults: Eastern Lightning.”
25. Parcast, “Eastern Lightning Point 2.”

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