| Drink the Kool-Aid|
|But you WANT to stay|
Eastern Lightning (东方闪电) or the Church of Almighty God is a Chinese heterodox religious movement based on Christianity that holds that Jesus Christ has been reincarnated as a woman in China. While the group does not officially identify who this woman is, unofficial sources state she is Yang Xiangbing (1973–). Unofficial sources say it was founded in 1989 by Zhao Weishan (赵维山) (1951–), who currently resides in the United States where he continues to lead the church. The name Eastern Lightning is derived from Matthew 24:27, a verse in the context of a passage that decries hidden Christs in "secret chambers" as false.
As the Second Coming of Jesus, Yang Xiangbing will guide mankind through the end times. Eastern Lightning preaches salvation through her third testament, The Word Appears in the Flesh. Eastern Lightning refers to the Chinese Communist Party as the "Great Red Dragon" of the Book of Revelation, and some members predicted that the world would end on December 21, 2012. The leaders of group, however, rejected that prediction.
The group's theology divides time into three ages: that of the law (the Old Testament), that of grace (the New Testament), and that of Kingdom (the current age). It teaches that the "Age of Grace" has been superseded by the "Age of Kingdom", during which humans will not only be forgiven of their sins, but also cleansed of their sinful nature. There is also a separate "Age of the Millennial Kingdom", which is supposed to occur after God's work in China has ended; during that age, the apocalyptic events in the Book of Revelation are to occur.
The sect essentially excludes mainstream Christians who are not part of the group from salvation, stating that those who hold on to conventional Christian beliefs are "guilty of opposing God" and do not truly believe in Him.
The group implicitly denies absolute Biblical inerrancy and explicitly denies the notion that the Bible provides a sufficient understanding of God, condemning such views as Bibliolatry that restricts God via the Bible. Videos on the group's channel render quotations of Jesus in yellow, similar to Red Letter Christians, but also render the group's own The Word Appears in the Flesh in yellow captions to emphasize their belief that the piece of literature is from God rather than a cult leader. The group's view of the Bible as limited and fallible is, however, likely not rooted in rational skepticism of religious dogma and should not be confounded with efforts by progressive Christians to re-interpret the Bible to suit modern science and values. Rather, this is likely intended to prop up the group's theology despite its contradictions with the Bible. For example, the name of the group is, ironically, quote mined right out of a passage about false prophets and teachers in Matthew 24:22 that appears to imply that groups like it are following false messiahs.
Despite believing that all Christians following mainstream beliefs are going to Hell forever, videos on the sect's channel frequently identify the group's members as simply "Christians" or "people who believe in God". The group also denies evolution.
The church believes that homosexuals are demon-possessed. However, it also believes that the second coming Christ is female. Since New Jerusalem, which Christ marries, is the "bride" of Christ and the church is betrothed to Christ the husband (2 Corinthians 11:2-4), either Eastern Lightning's Christ is demon-possessed and therefore not God, or she will turn back to a man before she marries the church. One wonders if Eastern Lightning believes that homosexuality is okay as long as it is only a betrothal and not a sealed marriage.
Interpretation of Matthew 24
The group interprets Matthew 24:22 as meaning that the Christ will return in the East and his faith will spread to the West. This poses several problems when interpreted in context.
A summary of Matthew 24:4 to Matthew 24:35, the relevant passage, is provided below using quotes from the public domain World English Bible. Commentary is provided in parallel.
|Before Christ's visible coming||
1. Before Christ comes, there shall be disasters, wars, and false prophets. There will be persecution of Christians. (Matthew 24:4-8) These are just "birth pains" and the end has not come yet.
2. There shall be people falsely claiming to be Christ. Their followers will claim that Christ is in a secret room or in the desert.
If therefore they tell you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness,’ don’t go out; ‘Behold, he is in the inner rooms,’ don’t believe it.—Matthew 24:26
3. These people will be able to produce miracles and signs. Thus, miracles and signs alone do not prove that a claimant to the second coming is truly Christ. Furthermore, there is no burden on Christians to investigate these claims.
“Then if any man tells you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There,’ don’t believe it. For there will arise false christs, and false prophets, and they will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the chosen ones.—Matthew 24:23-24
4. The actual coming of Christ will be like how lightning that hits the east will naturally be visible in the west or how when there is a carcass the vultures will naturally gather. These verses clearly contrast against Matthew 24:26. The difference is that of obvious and visible versus hidden. Just as lightning will be seen even if not near, and vultures will gather without needing to be told, Christians do not need somebody to approach them and tell them that Christ has come. The most plausible interpretation, given the context, is that the lightning and vulture are metaphors for the same idea of openness and obviousness.
For as the lightning flashes from the east, and is seen even to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For wherever the carcass is, there is where the vultures gather together.—Matthew 24:27-28
| Eastern Lightning does not disclose who the returned Christ is or where she is. This is very similar to a Christ in a secret room. In all likelihood, the group's leaders are in hiding in secret rooms or overseas due to the group being illegal.
Eastern Lightning claims that Christians and pastors who rejected them have suffered bad luck and strange deaths in a series of anonymous stories. (Oddly enough, actually named and identifiable Christian leaders do not seem to suffer this fate. House church pastor Samuel Lamb has preached against the sect since at least 1992 and did not pass away until 2013 at the ripe old age of 88. Pope Francis is similarly still alive and well.) Assuming that the stories are true and not products of exaggeration, coincidence, or foul play, the Bible teaches that God is not the only one able to produce such signs.
There is no valid contrast between Matthew 24:27-28 and Matthew 24:26 if Matthew 24:27 is interpreted as meaning that Christ will come from the Eastern direction. There can be deserts in the East and there can be inner rooms in the East. The only valid contrast is that of unmissable versus hidden.
|After Christ's visible coming|| After the period of "oppression", referring to the period when Christians are oppressed and false prophets run rampant, Jesus comes unmistakably and openly, with his sign appearing in the sky. The Son of Man, not the Daughter of Man, comes in glory on clouds.
But immediately after the oppression of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; 30 and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.—Matthew 24:29-30
"Those days" refers to the aforementioned time period when the end has not yet come. Given its placement right after the metaphors that the Son of Man's coming, future tense, will be like vultures flocking to a carcass or lightning spreading across the sky, it can be inferred that during "those days", the Son of Man has not yet come back.
| The Eastern Lightning Church argues that we must not limit God using the Bible. They argue that just because the final second coming of Christ is obvious does not mean Christ cannot come in hidden prior to the obvious second coming. In other words, just because the Bible doesn't say it doesn't mean God will not do it. They argue that Christians should examine the "evidence" for their so-called Almighty God being Christ.
The problem with this claim is twofold.
Firstly, it flies in the face of Matthew 24:23. If Jesus tells Christians they can safely ignore those who claim to have the Christ, and then comes back secretly anyway, and everybody who rejects this secret Christ is going to hell, then he has given his followers a command that he does not want them to follow. If this were true, then a God who wishes for all to be saved has now hinged his church's salvation on an obscure cult in China, thereby causing the fires of hell to prevail against it. (Which is difficult to reconcile with Matthew 16:17-19.)
Secondly, the problem with the secret coming is not just that it adds to the Bible. Many Christians accept that the Bible is not the be-all and end-all of truth, with Catholics, for instance, accepting the Church's teachings as sacred traditions. The problem is that it also contradicts the narrative of the secret coming being false and the open coming being true that is created by the lightning and vulture metaphors.
Alleged unethical methods of evangelism
The group has been accused of spreading their faith using unethical means to "steal sheep" (steal believers) from underground and house churches. Due to the underground nature of much of Chinese Christianity, and the involvement of the Chinese government and state-controlled media, many of these claims cannot be independently verified. Allegedly, the sect infiltrates and spies on churches secretly pretending to be ordinary believers. They may use enticements such as gifts to encourage others to join them, and engages in violence. The group is also accused of using sex to lure believers into their group.
Allegations of the use of direct violent coercion are hard to verify. It is undeniably true, however, that the Eastern Lightning church threatens that those who reject it will be punished by God with strange diseases and death. 
Alleged violent acts
However, unlike Falun Gong, Eastern Lightning has been accused of explicitly engaging in acts of violence. For instance, in 2002 Eastern Lightning allegedly kidnapped 34 members of a Chinese house church network, the China Gospel Fellowship, for two months by pretending to be a Christian training center. According to a victim of the kidnapping, the cultists initially claimed to be theologians from Singapore but later revealed they were actually members of Eastern Lightning; after the victim rebuked them for heresy (cult members had allegedly beaten four Christians in his hometown and left them disfigured), he was called a "Pharisee" and moved to a locked room in a residence where he was subjected to verbal abuse. The victim was left pale and emaciated.
In a more widely publicized event in 2014, cultists identifying as believers in "Almighty God" beat a woman to death at a local McDonald's for simply refusing to give them her phone number. The sect distanced itself from the murderers, noting that the suspects testified that they had never come into contact with the church; the sect further accused the Communist Party of being behind the attack. A close look at the testimony shows that the murderers may have been influenced by some of the literature produced by the sect but did not consider the sect to be the true representatives of "Almighty God" (Splitters!).
The Eastern Lightning church has a sophisticated and high-budget online presence that reaches relatively few subscribers. Their slickly-produced videos demonstrate a good understanding of Mainland Chinese media and artistic conventions. They have produced crosstalks (a type of Chinese comedy often involving two speakers known in Mandarin as 相声 xiàngshēng) and skits with a level of polish nearly comparable to those produced by Chinese state media for their New Years' Galas. They output hour-long full-HD movies condemning mainstream Christianity and the Chinese regime. Said movies were clearly filmed outside of China; there appears to be extensive use of digital compositing and props.
Despite believing that mainstream Christianity is false, the group's videos are often generically labelled as "Christian movie", "Christian crosstalk", "Christian comedy skit", or variations thereof.
The films and comedy sketches produced mimic the format of Chinese popular culture and are clearly geared at a Mainland Chinese audience. Many videos on foreign language YouTube channels are translations of such works. The group also produces one-off songs in other languages.
Unlike sects like Mormonism, there is (as of July 2019) no significant online presence of independent websites or organizations posting independent apologetics works for the church. There is also no information online regarding physical locations for the church, and no way to buy physical copies of the group's literature online. (Presumably you would have to convert and join them to get a copy of their books.)
Like other religious groups, Eastern Lightning's members have been persecuted in China. The group is designated as illegal and some members have been arrested.
While the group sometimes holds this up as evidence of its truth, persecution does not prove truth. Clearly, not all persecuted religions can be true at the same time. Other religious organizations like the Falun Gong have also been suppressed in China, but Falun Gong and Eastern Lightning cannot be true at the same time, since Falun Gong believes that every race should follow its own native religions and goes to its own heaven while Eastern Lightning is rooted in Western Christianity. Historically, religions have begun as heterodox movements and therefore were initially persecuted; this is true of Mormonism, Islam, and Bahá'í.
- Inside China's 'Eastern Lightning' cult Global Times, June 03, 2014
- China cracking down on doomsday group Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2012]
- "Church of Almighty God". CenSAMM. https://censamm.org/resources/profiles/church-of-almighty-god.
- "Knowing the purpose of the three stages of work of God’s management of mankind". The Church of Almighty God. June 13, 2017. https://www.holyspiritspeaks.org/gospel/three-stages-of-work-1/.
- "Only He Who Experiences the Work of God Truly Believes in God". https://www.holyspiritspeaks.org/recital-kingdom-selection-000/#.
- ""My Father, the Pastor" A Truth Debate on the Bible (English Dubbed)"". July 3, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zEGM3nt0n8.
- Deceived by the Lightning Christian Research Institute, 2005
- What is the Church of Almighty God? Got Questions
- Testimony of "Younger Shen" from China Gospel Fellowship Of His Experience in Confinement (Chinese) China For Jesus
- The Chinese cult that kills 'demons' BBC News, 13 August 2014]
- ""The Truth Exposed Behind the May 28 Zhaoyuan Case"". January 29, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHFGlPQXzCM.
- ""山东招远血案被告自白：我就是神"". August 22, 2014. http://news.sohu.com/20140822/n403692654.shtml.