How do Christians and Shincheonji Define a Cult?

Dear reader,

When Christians read through Shinchonji´s literature (i.e. the articles on the SCJ website or Mr. Lee´s books in English), they notice that SCJ considers all Christian churches a cult (i.e. Babylon or the field of Satan´s seed).  On the other hand, Christian leaders and churches in South Korea believe SCJ is a cult.

What do both sides mean by calling each other a cult?

In end-time movements, final prophets are convinced their information about the end comes from reliable spiritual entities (angels, the Spirit of prophecy, Jesus, or God).  Their explanations a) reveal answers to difficult prophecies about the end and b) no one else in the Christian world has these answers.

Since these answers are  ¨revealed¨ by God, Jesus, or angels, no Christian should reject it.  Christians who disagree with these prophet-revelations are disagreeing with Jesus.  The prophet speaks Jesus´ word and Christian dissenters are Satan´s tools or agents, just like the Pharisees in the first century.  All who resist the final prophet´s revelation are considered cultists, unspiritual, or evil.  This is Mr. Lee´s argument.

¨People under the control of Satan will try to prevent others from going to the New Apostle John by calling him a cult leader in the same way the Jewish leaders discouraged people from following Jesus and his disciples at the time of the first coming (Mt. 23:13)¨ (The Truth Regarding Revelation´s Fulfillment, p. 24).  ¨Anyone who says that testifying the open word is the mark of a cult has clearly received the same evil spirits that persecuted Jesus and his disciples as a cult at the time of the first coming¨ (The Truth Regarding Revelation´s Fulfillment, p. 44).

Thus, when the Christian world does not follow a leader of an apocalyptic church (someone who identifies themselves as the last apostle, prophet, or pastor on earth), everyone in Christianity on the outside is considered to be a cult used by Satan.  The leader teaches that the real movement or church in the last days is the group started by Jesus through the work of the leader.   

How does this affect followers of end-time groups?

First, this type of reasoning makes insiders rely more fully on their leader for knowledge-salvation, for interpreting world events, and for understanding Jesus´ return.  This is why no one wants to leave.  Outside is spiritual death.  This is also why insiders build up a barrier between themselves and other Christians, which is very painful when it concerns people in Christian families.  

Second, insiders are given a sense of urgency to recruit other people, especially Christians.  This becomes the central focus.  It is not uncommon for end-time groups to follow a specific recruitment plan with records. In the end, one´s spiritual life primarily centers on information, memorizing the leader´s teachings about the Bible, and recruiting others.

In addition, insiders come to believe very strongly that their leader is Jesus´ voice on earth.  His words are God´s words to Christians.  Those who want to obey Jesus must obey their leader.  Their literature uses biblical situations about Jesus and the prophets and apply them to their own movement.  For example, just like Noah was the only voice of his time, Mr. Lee is the only voice of our time.

Lastly, followers view their group as a new spiritual family.  There is much acceptance, love, and friendship on the inside as they distance themselves from their loved ones on the outside.  When a member leaves the group, they are seen as a betrayer.

In short, Shinchonji, like other end-time movements, believes their church movement is God´s biggest and most important project on earth.  Those who leave or oppose them are cultists.

How does this differ from the way Christians define a cult?

Christian leaders believe that revelations from spirit entities (angels, Jesus, or God) have deceived many final prophets (many of whom were very sincere).  As a result, Christian families have been separated and many lives have been damaged.  These groups are also a poor testimony to the world about Christ´s message.

When Christian thinkers study these groups, they point out some common signs and characteristics.  This makes them more discerning when entities from the spirit world appear to a leader.

The first is the presence of spirit entities (like an angel) who give information about prophecies and Jesus´ return.  They use Bible arguments to show that the Bible´s prophecies are completely sealed to everyone else in the Christian world.  This makes the final prophet´s voice the only safe voice in the group.  The other characteristics flow from this first point.

Christians doubt this ¨revealed voice¨ when it makes the Bible say things the Bible does not affirm on its own or when the voice in the written word is not saying the same thing as the revealed word.  This is a red flag.

Second, Christians discern that these spiritual creatures are not from heaven because the information distorts two big ideas in God´s Word - the identity of Jesus Christ and the meaning of redemption.  A true heavenly vision would honor these truths.  This is why some Christian experts on cults only focus on these two issues when testing a revelation to a final prophet.

Third, Christian leaders notice holes in the prophecy model from the leader.  The model does not fit all the Bible truths on a particular topic, like the resurrection or Israel.  Or, their model distorts the context of what God was saying on a topic in the Bible.  See other articles on this point.

Lastly, Christians doubt the movement of a final leader when their prophecies about the end do not come to pass.  This is one of the surest signs of error.  In Shinchonji, Mr. Lee is prophesied to live forever.  This is a big prophecy, which Christians know must be watched carefully.  See our other article on this point.

One of my Christian friends, a former member of the Watchtower Society, is a conference speaker on Christian cults in the U.S.  He uses three general traits to help Christians be alert  - a final prophet whose voice is the real authority in the group (even above the voice in the written word), a distorted view of Jesus Christ or God, and a distorted view of redemption-salvation in the end.
This is a basic definition that Christian leaders use to define a Christian cult.