This is the story of a Chinese Saviour, an obsolete Bible, Millennial panic, Mayan prophecy, kidnappings, and murder. New Religious Movements abound. Most are never known to the public, but a few do enter the public consciousness with an appearance on the news, perhaps after being accused of committing some heinous crime. This is what happened to a cultic group named The Church of the Almighty God.
Though already known by the Chinese authorities, and banned as an extremist cult, it was in 2014 that the group found more widespread notoriety.
The news reporter announced that a thirty-seven-year-old woman named Wu Shuoyan, had been beaten to death in a McDonald’s restaurant in Zhaoyuan, China. The six people arrested for the murder were said to be members of the Church of the Almighty God, followers of the Chinese ‘Saviour’ Yang Xiangbin. Though this incident implanted their name into the public’s psyche, many still do not know very much about this secretive group.
The Church of the Almighty God
The Church of the Almighty God, also known as Eastern Lightning, was founded in China in 1991 by a man named Zhao Weishan, a former Physics teacher. Weishan had previously been a part of the ‘Shouters’, a group led by Witness Lee and so-called because of their members propensity to shout out in public as part of their worship. It was whilst he was part of the Shouters, that Zhao was to first meet a young woman by the name of Yang Xiangbin.
Yang Xiangbin was born in China in 1973. Before meeting Zhao in 1991, Yang suffered from a severe mental breakdown caused by her failure to pass an entrance exam for university. So serious was Yang’s breakdown that her family believed she could have been possessed by a demon. Nothing helped her until she received prayer and support from the Shouters, after which she appeared to recover. It was at this point that she dedicated herself to the group and the teachings of Witness Lee.
Zhao Weishan was also a firm advocate for Witness Lee, even teaching that Lee was the Christ of the end times. Believing that the apocalypse was imminent, compelled Zhao to preach that people needed to be saved immediately or face eternal damnation.
In 1989 the Chinese communist authorities declared the Shouters to be a dangerous cult. The government would not allow any group to be critical of them, and they only recognised five religious’ groupings: Buddhists, Taoists, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Any group meeting outside of those categories were declared cultic and dangerous, and therefore banned.
In 1991 Zhao, knowing the dangers of being involved in any non-official religious group, set up a new church calling it the Church of the Lord of New Abilities. He then called himself the ‘Lord of Ability’. Giving out pamphlets and cassette recordings of his interpretation of the Bible, Zhao began to attract numerous followers. In his teaching Zhao was preoccupied with two key issues.
Firstly, he taught that the Chinese Communist Government were the great red dragon of Revelation chapter 12. Here Zhao taught that his government were a powerful and evil force. Secondly, he taught that Matthew 24:27 spoke of Christ coming from the east (China). This prepared the way for a Chinese Saviour.
‘For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ Matthew 24:27
A Chinese Saviour and
When Zhao and Yang met, they were very much kindred spirits. Both had reasons to intensely dislike the Chinese government, and both wanted to spread the gospel of Witness Lee. They began a relationship and saw a future together. Then, for reasons unknown, after appearing to be healed, Yang Xiangbin’s health again began to deteriorate. During this time she claimed to be having dreams and visions and began to write a religious text, which she told Zhao was the word of God. A revelation for the Kingdom age.
Zhao told Yang that he believed she was clearly divinely connected. The question still remains; did he really believe she was God’s mouthpiece, or did he see an opportunity to grow his newly formed church? Either way, Zhao declared to his followers that Yang was the Christ returned from the east1 and that she was the Almighty God who had come down to save them from the great red dragon.
And so, Zhao changed the name of his new group from the Church of the Lord of New Abilities to the Church of the Almighty God. The church is also known as ‘Eastern Lightning’ as Zhao proclaimed that Yang was the fulfilment of Matthew 24:27, that he himself was the Chief Priest of the Church of the Almighty God.
A Red Dragon and Impending Judgement
The church grew quite quickly as people liked Zhao’s teachings that the oppressive Chinese government was the great red dragon foretold in Revelation, and now a female Christ had come to save them. Particularly attracted to this message were middle-aged women. It was these who, under a harsh communist regime, felt alienated, unloved, and unwanted. In Eastern Lightning they found a purpose and a place to belong.
As they became Zhao’s disciples, he instilled in them a fear. He told them that God had returned, and judgement was about to begin. A person’s only hope of salvation was to be part of this group and if someone decided to leave, they would be struck with a fatal disease by the Almighty God.
This kind of fear mongering is a staple in the world of cults. Cults often claim to be God’s only channel of salvation and that God’s severest punishment is reserved for those who would dare leave the group.
Eastern Lightning teaches that Jesus was just a man until he began his ministry aged around twenty-nine. Even then, Jesus was only a holy figure who did not fully deal with sin. Because of this the ‘Christ of the last days’ Yang Xiangbin was to finish the work of God. Though referred to as Christ, they teach that Yang is a different incarnation of God and not Jesus returned.
Extra biblical revelation and another gospel are very much the mark of a so-called Christian cult. Eastern Lightning has this through the words and writings of Yang. Her teachings, found primarily in their book ‘The Word Appears in the Flesh’ supersedes the Bible, which they teach is now obsolete. Rather than looking to the Bible, faith should be placed in the revelations given by God Almighty, the female Christ. It is this teaching that now should be obeyed.
Of course, that does not stop the group using the Bible, often out of context, to support their errant beliefs. You cannot call yourselves Christian and completely abandon the Bible, so they will use it to lure Biblical Christians into forsaking their own faith and join the ‘true Church’.
Another key teaching for this group is what they call the Three Ages:
Firstly, there was the Age of Law, which ran throughout the Old Testament and ended with the birth of Christ. During this period God was called Jehovah.
Secondly, there is the Age of Grace, which ran from the birth of Christ until the revealing of the female Christ Yang Xiangbin. During this period God was known as Jesus.
Finally, we now have the Age of the Kingdom. The Age of the Kingdom is about judgement, and God is now known as the Almighty God. He Himself is conducting His white throne judgment.
As is always the case, the essential doctrine denied by this, and other, cults, is the Trinity.
‘…the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit simply does not exist. These are all conventional notions of man, and the fallacious beliefs of man. Throughout many centuries, man has believed in this Trinity, conjured up by notions in the mind of man, fabricated by man, and never before seen by man. Throughout these many years, there have been many Bible expositors who have explained the “true meaning” of the Trinity, but such explanations of the triune God as three distinct consubstantial persons have been vague and unclear, and people are all befuddled by the “construct” of God.’2
Rather,Eastern Lightning teaches a form of modalism, where Father, Son and Spirit are three manifestations of God.
The Chinese Saviour and False Prophecies
Eastern Lightning through their chief priest, Zhao Weishan, has told followers on at least two occasions that the end is nigh. Zhao, like many leaders of doomsday cults, had a fascination with end-times, believing that the end was near.
The first time was in the year 2000. Pressure was placed on adherents to prove their loyalty, and to give of their all, as the world was about to end. Of course, the end of the world did not arrive in the year 2000, but the end did come for the Chief Priest and Female Christ as, in that year, they fled the country of their birth. Zhao and Yang fled to the USA to seek political asylum and they were later given leave to remain.
The second false prophecy came in 2012, when Zhao, like many others, bought into the Mayan prophecy that then end would come in December that year. Again, many of the group’s followers feared leaving and so gave their all to the cause and frantically tried to ‘save’ people. Zhao told them that to gain favour, and potentially a meeting, with the elusive female Christ, they needed to gain as many converts as possible. This caused many to take to the streets of China proclaiming that the end was near, and several were arrested accused of causing riots.
It is strange to think that after failed prophecies people would remain within a group – but they do. For sure, some will wake up and seek to leave, but the majority, often through fear and manipulation, remain. Those who stayed believed Zhao’s reason for why the end did not come. He told them that because of Eastern Lightning’s obedience to Almighty God, the earth was spared, but he reminded them that the end was just around the corner.
What’s the Truth?
When researching the Church of the Almighty God, you find that things are not always clear cut. For example, Eastern Lightning continue to maintain that they are not a dangerous and extremist cult, but rather it is the great red dragon that manipulated and controlled the media to portray them as such.
It is possible that there may be some truth in this. Could the anti-religious Communist leaders of China seek to misrepresent Eastern Lightning? Yes, of course, but does that mean that the group is not guilty of many of the charges levelled against it?
There appears to be more than enough evidence to show that Eastern Lightning are guilty of kidnapping, robbery, beatings, and assault. The news story at the beginning of this article goes a long way to showing what kind of group this is. There was no remorse whatsoever from any of those involved in the death of Wu Shuoyan.
After being arrested, the BBC reported the man accused of stamping on Wu’s head, Zhang Lidong, said:
“I beat her with all my might and stamped on her too. She was a demon. We had to destroy her.”
Others who have since left the group have confirmed that Eastern Lightning is a very dangerous group.
Further important questions remain. Does Zhao Weishan and Yang Xiangbin still head up the group? Nothing much has been seen or heard from them since they moved to the USA, though strangely an Eastern Lightning church opened in New York not long after their arrival. Does Zhao control things in absentia? It is hard to tell whether he does or he has delegated responsibilities to others?
Eastern Lightening Today
Though it is hard to know for sure, it is estimated that there could be between 3-4 million members worldwide in the Eastern Lightning group. They continue to seek to recruit others to their church and to this end they have their own website and YouTube channel with feature films, sermons, and musical items.
They are incredibly active on social media, often disguising their real identities, so that unsuspecting Christians will accept their friend requests. You may also find them seeking to infiltrate your church with the intent of leading people out and into the ‘true’ church.
Brothers and sisters let’s be aware that Eastern Lightning is clearly a dangerous, theologically errant, new religious movement. Therefore, let us heed the words of the late cult-expert Walter Martin, who said we should not be quick to accept as Christian everyone who claims to be. When someone tells us that they believe in Jesus, we need to ask them ‘which one’? If they respond by speaking of a Jesus that has already returned then you know they are not of God and are to be avoided.
1 Matthew 24:27
2 The Word Appears in the Flesh, p.1071-72