Names: The Church of Almighty God, Eastern Lightning (EL), Lightning from the East, Church of the True God, Church of the Everlasting Fountain, Real God, The Congregation, Seven Spirits Sect, New Power Lord’s Church, True Light Sect, or True Way Sect
Founders: Yang Xiangbin, Zhao Weishan
Date of Founding: 1991
Country of Origin: China
Scripture or Authoritative Source: The Word in the Flesh, teachings of Yang Xiangbin
Influences: Christianity, Christian Dispensationalism
Membership: Estimates vary from 100,000 to over 1 million
Summary of Beliefs
God: There is only one God who has manifested in three ways—Jehovah, Jesus and now as the New Christ, Almighty God. The EL denies the Trinity.
Jesus: He was the incarnation of God for the second age, the Age of Grace. However, his work was incomplete. He did not rise bodily from the dead.
Salvation: Belief in Yang Xiangbin as the new incarnate Christ is necessary for eternal life. Jesus of Nazareth redeemed us spiritually. Only the new “Jesus” can redeem us from our corrupt natures, and complete the process of salvation through proclaiming God’s chastisement and judgement.
Sin: The greatest sin is to reject the new Christ, Yang Xiangbin.
Afterlife: Eternal life is available through accepting the new Christ and following the EL church.
Authority: The Bible, but believing it contains errors. The main authority for this age is The Word in the Flesh, a huge compendium of history, doctrine, ethics and spirituality.
Truth: Truth is based on the teachings of Yang Xiangbin.
- Members of this group will infiltrate other churches and gradually introduce their heretical doctrines, gradually winning converts. They call this “spying and paving the way.” They especially target evangelical churches.
- The conversion process often involves manipulation, even “brainwashing” techniques.
- There are many reports of violent actions on the part of members—including kidnappings, physical assault on those attempting to leave the group, and beating of opponents. They are also reported to use torture and sexual seduction.
- There is a strong emphasis on personal religious experience, making this attractive to those who are more interested in spiritual experiences than biblical truth.
- The church promotes its message through the arts—drama, dance, video, painting and song.
God is a Trinity: Matthew 3:16, 17; 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 3:18; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 20, 21; Gen. 1:26.
Jesus of Nazareth will return visibly and publically, not secretly: Zech. 12:10; Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7; Matt. 24:30; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; Matt. 23:39.
Jesus of Nazareth is the ultimate revelation of God: John 1:18, Hebrews 1:1-3
God is not a man (or woman): Numbers 23:9, 1 Samuel 15:29, Job 9:32, Hosea 11:9
Worship of a female “god” is pagan and blasphemous: Jeremiah 7:18, Jeremiah 44:17-25, 1 Kings 11:5 & 33, Acts 19:35.
Christ is God: John 1:1-3, John 1:18, 2 Peter 1:1, Colossians 2:9, Titus 2:13, Phil. 2:8-11; John 10:30, John 8:58; Heb. 1:6 with Matt. 4:10; 1 John 5:20; Heb. 1:1-12
Jesus physically rose from the dead: Luke 24:3-8; John 2:19-22; Luke 24:36-43; Mark 16:6; Romans 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:13-17; John 20:27-28.
Jesus of Nazareth is the only way to God: John 14:6, Acts 4:12, John 8:24, 1 Timothy 2:5
Salvation is by grace alone: Eph. 2:8-10; Rom. 4:5; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:4-8.
No work can save us: Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 4:4-5, Romans 3:21-26.
The Bible is our standard for teaching and morals: 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Titus 1:9, Proverbs 30:5, Psalm 119:89, 2 Timothy 2:2-4, Matthew 22:35-40, Deuteronomy 27:10
We should not add to or take away from God’s Word: Revelation 22:18-19, Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32, Proverbs 30:5-6
Probably one of the most direct Scripture references that is relevant to the Eastern Lightning is Matthew 24:23-27: “…If anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
History and Overview
The Lord has been moving in remarkable ways in China since World War II. However, as is common in church history, where there is a move of God there is also often an explosion of false teachers and heresies. This has been the case in Korea. It is also true of China.
One of the most popular cults to arise in China is The Church of Almighty God, popularly known as Eastern Lightning. The basic teaching of this group is that Christ as returned to the earth in the person of a Chinese woman named Yang Xiangbin (also called Lightning Deng), who was born in northwestern China in 1972. This church believes that she is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Matthew 24:27: “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” The name “Eastern Lightning” is based on this verse.
The origins of this group lie in the underground church movement in China. Many of these churches can be traced back to the Chinese Christian leader known as Watchman Nee. One of Nee’s disciples, known as Witness Lee, established his own distinctive doctrines, many of which are heretical. In the West, Lee’s cult is known as the Local Church. In China Lee’s followers are called “the Shouters.” In 1989 there arose among the Shouters a peasant woman who spoke so authoritatively that she began to be identified as the Almighty God and the Second Coming of Christ. By 1991 her followers were recognized as a separate group from the Shouters. Among the early followers of this group was a leader among the Shouters named Zhao Weishan. He accepted the divinity of the Almighty God, and helped to organize and spread her message. He is considered the leader and Priest of The Church of the Almighty God. (Please note that a capitalized “The” is officially part of the name of the church.)
As part of the underground movement in China, this group has experienced persecution from the government, with several key leaders arrested. As a result, both Zhao and Yang fled to the United States in 2000, where they were granted political asylum. They now direct the affairs of the church from New York City. Yang lives in hiding, and is never seen. Indeed, she has never been photographed. She speaks through leaders of the church.
Thousands of other followers have also fled China. This has helped spread the message of the Eastern Lightning in other countries, and among non-Chinese people. The cult may now be found in the United States, South Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Italy, France, Spain, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere.
One of the foundational teachings of The Church of Almighty God is that there are Three Ages in God’s plan for Salvation. First was the Age of the Law. This was followed by the Age of Grace. The Age of Grace was initiated by the ministry and work of Jesus Christ, who died for man’s sin and to purchase spiritual redemption. However, Jesus did not complete the work of God. His death on the cross did not eradicate the sin nature in mankind. Now the Deity has come to the earth in another incarnation as the Almighty God, who will lead us into a new age in which our corrupt natures will be destroyed forever. Yang has ushered in this new Age of the Kingdom, in which God will complete his plan for mankind.
Other distinctives of the group include its belief that the Red Dragon of the Book of Revelation is Communist China, which will be destroyed. They also believe that once Yang, the new Jesus, has completed her work then she will return to heaven. After that, the world will endure all of the prophetic occurrences of the Book of Revelation, and then the Millennium. Since we have now passed out of the Age of Grace into the Age of the Kingdom there is no need for Christian ordinances such as baptism or communion.
Suggestions for Dialogue
As is common with most cults, definition of terms is important. Be sure to clarify terminology such as “God,” “Christ,” “Jesus,” etc. The follower of EL will use these words, but with a totally different understanding than you will use them.
Many of the teachings of “the Almighty God” concern the pronouncement of judgment. The God of the Eastern Lightning is harsh and condemning. There is little hope to be found here. Offer the EL follower the true message of Jesus—a Gospel of grace, forgiveness and peace.
The Eastern Lightning teaches that Jesus’s work was incomplete. The second incarnation of Jesus was necessary for full salvation. Stress the true nature of Jesus and His work. Emphasize that Jesus did a “once for all” work and nothing else is needed.
Stress that the Second Coming of Christ will not be secret and hidden, as is the case with Yang Xiangbin. Indeed, Matthew 24:23-27 make it abundantly clear that only false Christs appear in this manner. Therefore, Yang Xiangbin must be a false Christ. To have faith in a false savior will only bring God’s judgment. Faith in the true Lord Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.
Reading EL literature and watching their videos makes it abundantly clear that the “gospel” of the new Jesus requires total obedience and spiritual purity: “God makes people perfect through obedience.” As with any works-based religion, no human is capable of doing what is required for salvation. The Christian gospel offers true hope for salvation—for the work is already done by Christ. Focus on the Gospel of grace and the completed work of Jesus as a means of assurance and peace for salvation.