For decades the Christian church has been exploding in South Korea. At the same time, heretical cults are also springing up at a truly alarming rate. It is estimated that there are over 50 indigenous cults in South Korea. The largest and best known is the Unification Church founded by the late Sun Myung Moon. Another large and growing group is the Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, also known as Shincheonji.
The name Shincheonji is based on the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese words for “new” + “heaven” + “earth.” So it roughly translates as “New Heaven and New Earth.” The cult is sometimes called by this name in English. An older spelling of the name is Shinchonji. This is often abbreviated SCJ. In English SCJ is sometimes said to stand for “Serving Christ Jesus.” The SCJ is masterful at masquerading under a number of guises. Some of the front organizations for the SCJ include: International Peach Youth Group (IPYG), the International Women’s Peace Group (IWPG), She Can, the Heavenly Culture – World Peace – Restoration of Light (HWPL), and one of the largest, the Mannam Volunteer Association.
The SCJ was founded by a Korean religious leader named Lee Man-Hee (or Lee Man-hee). Sometimes this name is rendered in English as Man Hee Lee. Lee founded the church on March 14, 1984. He taught that this date has cosmic significance, for it was on this very day that the universe completed its first full orbit and returned to its place of origin.
At the time of his birth his grandfather reputedly had a vision of light streaming from heaven. It was for this reason that he was name “Man-Hee,” which means “complete and perfect light.” Based on this vision, it seemed that Lee was destined by God for special purpose. For many years he was active in a variety of Korean cults with an apocalyptic focus. According to Lee, the establishment of the SCJ came about as a direct result of divine revelation. Lee was praying in the mountains outside of Gwacheon, a town not far from Seoul. While praying he says he had a vision of Jesus Christ himself. Christ revealed to Lee that he was the messenger of God’s word for today. Lee also says that an angel appeared to him on this mountain. The angel gave him a scroll, which he proceeded to eat. The scroll contained the New Testament Book of Revelation. Eating this scroll gave him divine insight into understanding Revelation. Understanding this particular book is key to SCJ theology.
Lee Man-Hee has a very exalted view of himself. He teaches that just as the Old Testament pointed to Jesus and was full of prophecies about him, so the New Testament points to Lee and has many prophecies about him. For example, in John’s Gospel Christ repeatedly referred to the “Comforter” or “Counselor” who was to come. Lee states clearly that he is the “second advocate,” and the “spirit of truth.” For this reason only Lee has the right to speak on behalf of Jesus—for he is the “spirit of truth.” Essentially when Lee had his vision and answered God’s call to be the last days’ messenger, he fulfilled the prophecies of the Second Coming. Jesus has spiritually returned to earth through the words and ministry of Lee Man-Hee. Lee says he is the very embodiment of Jesus Christ, as well as the embodiment of the Holy Spirit also.
One of the most common designations for Lee as God’s messenger is “the promised pastor.” He is supposed to be the shepherd and leader of God’s people for these end times. The promised pastor is the leader of God’s church. The time will come when God and Christ will rule over the nations through the promised pastor. In addition to “promised pastor” another common title for Lee is “Teacher.” In Korean this is Seon Saeng Nim; so Lee is often called simply “SSN.”
As God’s anointed messenger, it is rumored that Lee is immortal, and cannot die. Lee is reluctant to declare this publicly. However, it is commonly accepted as true by his followers.
The church is active in a variety of cultural, sports and humanitarian efforts. It uses these as outreach opportunities to recruit for the church. It also is heavily involved in the effort for world peace. Lee is often cited as being a prominent activist for peace. The SCJ is one of the larger Korean cults. Membership figures are uncertain. However, estimates of adherents range from 150,000 to 200,000. The cult is active in at least 13 countries. It is known to be active in Australia, Austria, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, Netherlands, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Uganda and the United States. The SCJ is very controversial in Korea, and not highly favored either by the government or the media.
As the promised pastor, Lee has the only correct interpretation of the Bible. There is no other spiritual leader and no other church which has the truth of God. Essentially Lee sees the Bible as mainly a book of images and symbols. To interpret the Bible literally, and in its plain sense, is a mark of the corruption which is found in all other churches. As the Bible is not literal, but is mostly metaphorical, even the most common things have symbolic and spiritual meaning. With this hermeneutic approach, Lee is able to make the Bible say anything he wants.
Here is a summary of the doctrine taught by Lee and the SCJ:
- There is no Trinity. This is a false and devilish belief.
- Jesus is not God.
- The Holy Spirit is just one of many spirits in heaven. All angels are holy spirits.
- The SCJ is the only the true church. All other churches are corrupt and evil.
- Since they see everything as symbolic in Scripture, then they naturally see the new heaven and new earth as something spiritual. The church, SCJ, is the new heaven and new earth.
- Salvation does not consist in just believing in Jesus. Salvation is in following the promised pastor and in obedience to God’s commands. Lee says, “It is only when a person believes in the promised pastor and keeps the words of his testimony that he or she can attain salvation”
- Understanding the SCJ’s teaching on Revelation is especially necessary for salvation.
- Jesus’s world has ended. There is now a new heaven which is the SCJ. Lee calls for all people, all religions, to come to this new heaven. They must become part of the 12 Tribes (SCJ) in order to achieve salvation. They must learn the “new song,” which is SCJ doctrine. Those who refuse will be destroyed.
- Anyone who opposes SCJ is a Satan and the antichrist. Whoever listens to the teaching of ministers other than the promised pastor has received the mark of the Beast.
- Sometime in the future, before the Millennium, the souls of martyrs and other believers will come back to earth with Jesus. The souls of the dead believers will merge with living members of the SCJ and indwell them. They will be united together. This is what the Bible means by the first resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6.
- Throughout history God has sent different messengers for each age. Noah, Moses and Jesus were God’s messengers for their time. Lee (SSN) is the messenger for this new age. This is the plan that God has been working on for the 6000 years of human history.
- The 144,000 spoken of in Revelation 7 and 14 refer to the SCJ. It is believed that within the 144,000 there are 12 spiritual tribes. The completion of the 144,000 will result in the end of all things, and a new heaven and new earth.
- The 144,000 will rule over the earth. Earth’s inhabitants will have an opportunity to accept the heavenly state and become part of the kingdom. Anyone who rejects the heavenly state will be cast into hell.
- Individual churches are organized into 12 Tribes. Each tribe is named after an Apostle. So each member of the SCJ is identified as being a member of the one of the 12 Tribes.
It is a Cult!
Even secular sources recognize the cultic nature of this group. They use typical cultic techniques of manipulation and mind control to enlist and maintain their members. Some of these controlling techniques include sleep deprivation, fatigue due to excessive meetings and events, intense indoctrination, and military style exercise programs. The church keeps close watch over its members, with little outside contact. There is controlled isolation from family, friends and anyone outside the group. When joining the SCJ, followers typically give all their money to the SCJ. They work for the cult for free. The cult is all consuming. If there ever is a time when they are allowed to meet with family, SCJ members are present.
The church at large needs to be aware of the SCJ and wary of contact with them. They are extremely deceptive in their recruiting. They are infamous for inviting people to social events under one of their various front organizations. They also are known for encouraging people to a Bible study (often through the internet, e.g., by Skype), without any reference to the SCJ or Lee. People often are seduced by their aberrant doctrine before they even realize what group they have become involved with. As with other cults, knowledge and awareness of their teaching is a frontline defense against “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).