The LanternChurch Life

House Churches and Cults – the Dangers of Mistaken Identity

The BBC article "The Chinese cult that kills 'demons'" prompted a reader to ask recently, "Have you heard of this cult?"

The article describes the shocking murder that took place at a McDonalds in Shandong province in May of this year. A member of the Almighty God cult beat a woman to death because she refused to give him her telephone number. The brutal nature of the murder and the resulting publicity brought religion – especially unregistered Christianity – to the forefront both in the Chinese media and the international press. And it raised the question of what is a cult and what is a legitimate expression of Christianity.

The Almighty God cult has been around for quite some time but was known more commonly in earlier years as Eastern Lightning. For a look at the origins of Eastern Lightning/Almighty God cult read "Where Did Eastern Lightning Come From?" Increasing levels of violence have marked the tactics of the cult in recent years culminating in this vicious murder.

As the authorities rightly seek to deal with violent cult behavior, the potential for legitimate but unregistered expressions of Christianity to be caught in the same net is high. Chinese Church Voices translated an article published by the Mainland site Christian Times that does an excellent job of showing how easily the distinction between unregistered house churches and cults can be lost.

To summarize, the views of the media and scholars cited above [in the original article] are generally this: 

  1. The root cause of cults in large part can be traced back to the house churches.
  2. On the exterior, in terms of their form of worship, propagation, and organization, house churches and cults are very similar or even identical.
  3. Therefore, as the difference between the two is not very great, to attack cults requires attacking the house churches.

The article goes on to tell of the efforts house churches have made to educate their people about cults and protect them from being deceived.

There is actually an additional blind spot in confusing house churches with cults. The work of the house church in resisting heresy has actually been practical and effective. Scholar-Teacher L notes,

"Beginning in the 1990's, for a full 10 years, Chinese churches around the world were all closely following the growth of heresies in China and noting the harm they were doing. Many pamphlets on how to identify and resist heretical teachings were produced and distributed. These were very effective. 

In particular, China's house churches have put a great deal of time and effort in identifying heresies and teaching their congregations about them. This has been done despite the restrictions under which they operate. They are doing a lot of work that the social sector simply is not aware of. The house church movement, since its beginning, has taken the job of resisting cults very seriously. Over the years, the house church has made a great contribution in this regard, thereby reducing the impact of heretical cults. If not for this, the situation today would be even worse. For example, the cults Three Grades of Servants and Almighty God used to have a great deal of influence. However, it has now become very difficult for them to influence Christianity in urban and mainstream regions; they are only able to dupe people in rural and remote mountainous areas. Much of this is the result of the efforts by the house churches.‬"

Read the article to better understand both the nature of the house church/cult identity problem and the response by our brothers and sisters in the house churches.

The ChinaSource Team

For Prayer:

  • Pray that those in the media and academia in China will clearly distinguish Christian house churches from cults.
  • Pray that the authorities in China deal effectively with violent cults but do not use the situation as a pretext for hindering Christian house churches.
  • Pray that leaders in both the house churches and Three-Self churches are theologically well-trained and informed about the tactics and teachings of cults.
  • Pray that these leaders teach the truth clearly so their people are not deceived.

ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio

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