Last week I outlined some of the key teachings and history of the South Korean cult, Shincheonji. You probably heard of them earlier this year due to their involvement with the spreading of COVID-19 in South Korea. It turns out they are a steadily growing cult of Christianity that is sending out evangelists worldwide. It is yet another cult with a man claiming to be the 2nd coming of Christ. What practices and behaviors should we be looking out for? What do Christians need to know about Shincheonji?
Hiding Their True Identities
A common practice by cults is to hide their identity until you are already in. Being invited to a Bible study is a common practice that most of us wouldn’t be concerned about. But if someone says that they’re with Shincheonji, you have a name to Google. You are probably going to look them up first, find out they are a cult, and get out. So why not get around that and just change or ignore the name? A legitimate church is not going to hide their name. If anyone invites you to their church or Bible study, get the name of their church or organization. You may even need to dig deeper, as many groups like Shincheonji will start a group with a different name and change it every so often. Tracking some of these groups on campus has been tricky because they change their names regularly.
They are Targeting Christians
Shincheonji seems to want to reach already faithful Christians. One source put it, “Their so called harvesters go to other Christian churches, take part in prayer sessions there and engage in other activities to woo away ordinary believers.” Churches are supposed to seek and save the lost, not poach members from other churches. In many cases they are not simply visiting and spreading their message. They will outright lie about their identity to get close to people or groups, hoping to bring people to Shincheonji. Should Christians go out of their way to preach the gospel? Yes. Should we then lie about our identities and use deceptive infiltration tactics to accomplish our goals? No. They seem to justify their actions by twisting what the Bible means by lying or bearing false witness as a more spiritual deception by not sharing God’s word.
Like most cults, the members are ruled by fear. They are pressured into giving up their old lives, relationships, possessions, etc, and pouring everything into their church. After all, you can sleep when you’re dead. Get out and bring in more members! Usually at that point they have been so kind and helpful to you that you are indebted to them and have that much more difficulty saying no. This love-bombing, as it’s sometimes called, draw in the vulnerable or those seeking a community. But in the end, if you step out of line, they will not hesitate to put your salvation on the line. They may not see them as ruling by fear, but these legalistic habits have a way of scaring people into actions they would never take otherwise.
Their system is setup so that Lee Man-hee is the only source of the “words of life.” This means two important things. First, whatever he says goes, with no accountability. If he wants to change the rules at any time, nothing can really challenge that. Second, If anyone misses his message, they are missing the words of life. This of course means that missing a service would be unthinkable. Even if that service involves infecting thousands of people with a virus.
Shut Out Outside Information
Of course, if your leader is the only source of God’s word, that also gives an easy means of suppressing the truth. From the outside looking in, the problems seem painfully obvious. Every aspect just screams “Cult! Get out now!” But if you’re already immersed and trust the group, you’re much more inclined to listen to the people you trust rather than testimonies from strangers or news articles you read online. Typically, these groups will take it a step further with something like, “the internet is a tool of Satan! You can’t trust anything you see there.” Not everyone in Shincheonji may go that far, but if we want to rescue these people, we are probably going to need to do more than point them in the right direction. We need to know enough to engage them where they are at and slowly guide them to the truth. Get them to realize the problems with their views and their church, and don’t just cry CULT!
Discuss your thoughts for this post on our Facebook Group here.