Nearly three decades since its inception in 1990 the Eastern Lightning cult (‘Dongfang Shandian’), also known as the Church of Almighty God, is still alive and active in China. In 2012, sources indicated that the cult’s members could number a million (Shanghaiist 20 December 2012; The New York Times 19 December 2012; Global Post 18 December 2012).

The cult’s founder, Zhao Weishan, proclaims Mrs Yang Xiangbin to be the ‘Female Christ’, and himself as the movement’s High Priest. They teach that there is only one God with multiple names and three “Ages” in Christian history. The first Age was the Age of the Law (during which God was named Yahweh), the second was the Age of Grace (God was named Jesus) and the third is the final Judgement/Kingdom Age (God is the female Christ). Currently we are now, according to their false teachings, in this final Age. They believe the Bible is outdated and no longer relevant.

Eastern Lightning has a history of using lies and deception, strong-arm methods and even brainwashing and seduction tactics to coerce people to accept its misinterpretation of Christianity. In 2002, the world was shocked to hear the cult had kidnapped 34 leaders of the China Gospel Fellowship house church network in a bizarre and elaborate plan to convert them. After enduring 50 days of forced indoctrination they were finally released.

The cult is also hostile to the Communist Party, labelling it the ‘Great Red Dragon of Revelation’ and an insider has revealed that the cult’s goal is to overthrow the government and establish ‘The Kingdom of God’. This appeals to disgruntled groups in China who are dissatisfied with the government. Eastern Lightning has been officially listed as a cult since 1995 and is one of China’s banned religious groups.

Eastern Lightning capitalises on the hurting, needy or ignorant in the Christian church, often targeting new Christian believers with little or no knowledge of the Bible. By initially mimicking true Christianity and gradually revealing their extra-biblical teachings the cult’s recruiters are able to deceive.

Eastern Lightning particularly likes to infiltrate the Chinese house churches. Cult numbers rise during periods when church growth has been rapid and the many new Christians have had ineffective or insufficient discipling. But amazingly God has used this evil cult to actually strengthen His church. To combat the cult’s heresies China’s church leaders now place greater importance on foundational teaching and materials, sharing the love of Jesus in the community, leadership training and cult awareness.

Over the years, a number of brutal slayings and violent assaults in China have been attributed to Eastern Lightning fanatics. After a particularly savage murder at a MacDonald’s restaurant in 2014 the Chinese police cracked down on the cult, arresting around 1000 members. The crackdown has driven the cult further underground and has even prompted some members to migrate overseas where they can practise and proselytise overtly under the shelter of more open religious freedom laws. Off shore, the cult seems to operate mainly within Chinese populations, and is known to infiltrate Chinese churches and home groups. Foreign churches could learn a lot from the churches’ experiences in China when preparing their congregations.

The Chinese government’s recent religious law revisions will make it more difficult for Eastern Lightning evangelists to use online chat rooms and social media platforms such as WeChat to draw in recruits. This however seems to be a common method of proselytising in nations to which the cult has spread. Western churches are perhaps less aware than China of the potential danger of this cult and are as a result potentially very susceptible.

Prayer Pointers:

  • The Chinese Church has ultimately been strengthened by the lessons learnt from the Eastern Lightning cult. Thank God that He can turn what Satan meant for harm into good.
  • Pray that China’s Church can in turn impart to its Western brothers the lessons it has learnt from attacks by the cult.
  • Pray for more training, leaders, disciplers and foundational materials to be provided so that new Christians will receive the nurturing they require to keep them safe from deception.

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