1. Lightning from the East
Lightning from the East is a cult originating in China that claims that Christ has returned again, in the form of a woman named Lightning Deng from the Henan province of China. This cult has been around since the 80’s and has grown in influence in China. It is also known by the name Church of the Almighty God (website here).
However there are now reports that Lightning from the East is making inroads among Chinese Christians in other countries. Hong Kong church leaders are particularly alarmed at attempts to infiltrate churches and win over church leaders (see news report here).
And significantly, there have recently been a number of reports of Lightning from the East followers making their way into Chinese churches here in Sydney.
Lightning from the East teaches doctrines that are based loosely on Christianity – but asserting that Jesus has already returned in the person of Lightning Deng. They also teach that God’s attempts to redeem the world first through the Old Testament law, and later through grace (Jesus) were incomplete, and that God is now redeeming the world through Lightning Deng. It promises a higher state of salvation that sweeps away the corruption of sin inside of us (more on their beliefs from OMF here). Lightning from the East followers have also been in the news for falsely predicting the end of the world in December 2012 (see news report here)
The name Lightning from the East refers to a passage from Matthew 24 describing the return of Jesus:
27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Matthew 24:27 (NIV)
The claim is that Jesus has now returned – and has done so in the East (ie. China). However just as Christ came in the form of a man in the first century, now Christ has come in the form of a woman, in accordance with Genesis 1:27. Lightning from the East claims that this is the woman known as Lightning Deng. And like lightning, the influence of this Christ will spread across the world, from the East to the West.
2. The appeal of Lightning from the East
Lightning from the East seems to attract a hearing primarily by appeal to supernatural revelation, with people claiming to have had dreams and visions. Chinese Christians tend to be more open to things which appear more spiritual than fleshly – especially those influenced by the theology of Watchman Nee (read more here). This makes believers unwilling to test or challenge visions that people have had, opening the door to the reception of new revelation and the acceptance of new doctrines on the basis of spiritual experiences.
Also on an experiential level, Lightning from the East commends itself as being very practical in that it promises a greater work in the sweeping away of the sinful nature inside of believers. Who wouldn’t want to be assailed by temptation? who wouldn’t want to be troubled by their sinful nature? And so Lightning from the East promises a victory over sin that is more tangible and immediate than that provided by the ‘old’ Jesus.
One of the common criticisms that Mainland Chinese have about Christianity when they first hear about it is: “if Jesus is so good, why didn’t he come as a Chinese person instead of a Jew?” Behind this is a measure of ethnic pride in being the Middle Kingdom with such a long and glorious history. Why would God leave it so late for the gospel to come to the Chinese nation? Lightning from the East taps into this nationalism, because here at last Christ has come again – rightfully – as a Chinese. And why not, since the ‘old’ Jesus himself promised that when he returns, Lightning would come from the East?
3. Ideal conditions for Lightning in the East
The appearance of Lightning from the East in Chinese congregations here in Sydney is worrying, particularly for Mandarin congregations in Anglican churches. In many of these cases, an Aussie rector may have a Mandarin congregation in his church – but the rector may not really know what is going on in that congregation because of language barriers. Yes, people are coming regularly and serving – but what is being taught in small groups? what books are being passed around?
I have also noticed that Mandarin ministries can be somewhat jealous of their own territory and tend not to work with one another or share information with one another. This creates a partitioning effect which means that one Mandarin ministry may be completely unaware of serious problems affecting a nearby Mandarin ministry.
All of this creates ideal conditions for Lightning in the East to spread unopposed to many churches, and especially to fledgling Mandarin ministries.
Church leaders need to prepare their churches to be on the lookout for Lightning from the East. But the best way to do that is not merely to raise awareness of this one cult. What church leaders really need to do is inoculate people against any claim that spiritual experiences are a higher authority than the Bible. In the end the door is opened to Lightning from the East because of an openness to other authorities apart from the Word of God.