I committed to this and after a few one-on-one sessions with introductory lessons (called “BB lessons”), I was interviewed by two senior members of the Bible school, because I was told that there were too many people interested in the program and that I had to effectively be “accepted” to attend. This almost made me a bit nervous but I was very relieved when I was accepted for attendance. I started the program with about 15 other people. I noticed that there were many Korean members in the Bible school moving between classes and assisting in different ways.
Fast forward a month and I was busy with the introductory part of the Bible school which I found fantastic – we looked at the structure of the Bible, the flow of history, the covenants, the consistency of prophecies and fulfilment, and also the figurative language in the Bible. It was very new, refreshing and very exciting and I felt that I could understand some things for the first time. By this time the lessons increased to three times a week and were close to three hours each, which I found a significant challenge due to my already busy schedule. Nevertheless, I pressed on as I had committed for six months and I believed that I was privileged as there were other people who weren’t accepted to attend the program.
As the weeks progressed it became apparent that there was a very clear flow that the instructors were following, and it felt like we were steering towards a specific conclusion, but I could not quite put my finger on it, and I received the same answer for many of my questions, namely, that everything will be answered when the time is right.
When, at this time, I asked the head instructor more about the name of the Bible school or its affiliations, he said that it is a very small organisation that you will not find anywhere on the internet, and that it is named “Parachristo/Para Christo¨. This, I would later find, was a lie.
Fast forward a further two months and we increasingly began to focus on the importance of the figurative language, parables and prophecies in the Bible. For example: Mark 4 from verse 11 says:
It became clearer that the program was based on an intellectual interpretation of the Bible and the actual requirements for atonement. Simply put: you had to understand the parables and the figurative language as taught by this specific Bible school in order to be saved. We continued to ask many questions, but got the same answer: that everything will become clear when the time is right.
Around this time we also examined specific verses relating to mountains, and that the interpretation of a figurative mountain is a congregation where people gather. For example Mark 13:14 says: When you see 'the abomination that causes desolation' standing where it does not belong -then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. We were then told about the physical reality of this figurative mountain being a specific congregation, and the instructor asked us if we were willing to go there. We were told that we would then see the physical reality of what was promised in Hebrews 12:2, namely... you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.
The instructor then posed the question again, asking whether we would like to go to this physical congregation. As if programmed to do so, one of our fellow classmates put up their hand and said, “Yes, let us go!”
Fast forward another week or so and the class was preparing to go to the physical Mount Zion. There was a great sense of anticipation among the instructors and some of our class members, and we had to prepare a short show that would be performed in front of the congregation. For the occasion we had to dress a certain way, black and white with ties. Before entering the temple, we watched a video that instructed us to conduct ourselves in a certain way, including the correct way to great each other by bowing, correct ways to sit and the correct way to kneel when praying. This really felt a bit weird but I pushed my uneasy thoughts aside.
When we arrived at the congregation, we were welcomed like celebrities. It felt a bit odd but we went with the celebration. We entered into a congregation of several hundred people that were singing in Korean and clapping and swaying in a certain way. We were welcomed as the first fruits in heaven, and told that we are in fact passing over from death to life. All of this was happening without me ever committing to anything other than a 6 month Bible school. Suddenly, now, we were part of a congregation which taught a new kind of salvation, which is only attained by their message, and this church was considered "heaven"- the physical reality thereof.
At this time it was revealed that half of our supposed class members were in fact already members of the congregation, and that they were effectively acting as agents among the other class members to ensure that everything was run smoothly. In fact, they were referred to as “Maintainers”. The person who put up her hand in class when we were asked if we would like to go to Mount Zion was, in fact, also a maintainer. This was a clear act of deception in my opinion. In class we also personally overheard testimonies of these maintainers, posing as if they have heard the content of these lessons for the very first time, which was not true.
Suddenly it was clear that the group’s true agenda was much more than simply a Bible school. We were recruited into a specific religious group by using false pretences. When asked about this, the group’s reasoning was clear: it is acceptable to use deceit and lies if it serves God’s purposes. They use the example of Jacob lying to Isaac when he said that he was in fact Esau, in order to obtain the prophesied blessing. They say that because God’s ways are higher than men’s, although we might perceive it as wrong, it can also be a tool used to fulfil God’s will (to substantiate this, they also used Isaiah 55:8 which states For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
They also use the verse in Matthew 10, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes, which they interpret as being able to lie if a situation requires it. But, they do not elaborate about the next part in the verse which says: and be as innocent as doves. In fact, later on, one of the Ministry Department leaders told me, “If Satan and his agents are able to use lies in this battle, why can’t we?”
Our class was now accepted into the congregation and, henceforth, we were expected to attend the congregation’s services twice a week – on a Wednesday and a Sunday, as mentioned in Numbers 19, which says that whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. They interpreted this explaining that any person that is not part of the congregation is, in fact, spiritually dead and because we would be in contact with them throughout the week, we should attend the services where the spiritual life-giving water (or the new word that we are being taught), is shared.
Church services consisted of singing certain prescribed songs, men and women sitting apart, and then lots of fervent prayer with a sermon broadcasted and translated video of the leader preaching usually somewhere in Korea. Often we would be asked to come an hour early before the three hour long service to get “training” and afterwards we met in cell groups or departments for another hour or two.
We were now attending five, three (3) hour sessions every week and once again our attendance was strictly enforced. And now, a further requirement was set – we had to start introducing other people into the Bible school sessions. I told them that I did not yet feel comfortable inviting people as we had not yet seen the full picture and we have not yet received the answers that we were promised, but of course there is an arsenal of verses that can be used to reiterate the importance of spreading the gospel, which they duly utilised.
We further completed the intermediary and advanced sections of the program in order to get a full understanding of what was happening. At the time most of the teachings seemed feasible, especially due to the finely-planned and incremental nature of progression, and the path of least resistance was indeed to at least finish the program. The pressure to invite new people into the Bible school increased, and at a stage we were required to give daily feedback on the progress on that front, which they refer to as “evangelising”.
I continued to be part of the congregation for some time after completing the six month program, in order to give it a fair chance and to make sure that I understand the teachings. In order to qualify as a full member, one needs to write three tests, and achieve a score of at least 90%, among other things. This includes signing a pledge and evangelising at least on person, after which you can “graduate” and become a true member of the congregation and have your name written in the “Book of Life”, which, believe it or not, is the church’s registry.
I wrote all three tests before deciding that there are too many inconsistencies with the congregation’s teachings and the Bible, and I quit.
Before I continue, I need to plainly state that the things that I will describe to you now will sound like utter and clear nonsense, but I can assure you that if you have been slowly and steadily indoctrinated with their teachings, it can be very, very convincing and powerful. The program of indoctrination is so cleverly put together that it appeals to intellectual people. The teachings start with things that most people would agree with, and then they gradually introduce the more eccentric doctrines. I believe that it is a very subtle form of brainwashing.
This theology is believed by over a 140,000 people around the world that sacrifice their entire lives, relationships, studies, careers, and families. I have heard of couples getting divorced on account of this group and friendships broken and families torn apart. And all this is justified by the group, using the scriptures where Jesus said His message will separate families.
I was convinced at a stage. I know of many professionals and educated individuals with many academic degrees, who have given up their careers in order to further this cause. But I now sincerely believe that this is a false doctrine.
Let me give you two examples used by SCJ to justify the dramatic nature of their claims and teachings, and also to get members to challenge their existing belief systems/way of thinking.
Firstly, in John 6:56-66, Jesus says “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” This was a difficult teaching for many of His disciples to comprehend, as it sounded bizarre to them, hearing it for the first time. It was outside of their frame of reference. For this very reason, many of His disciples stopped following Him – only twelve remained. This example is used to explain to SCJ members that even though a teaching may sound bizarre/ strange/ different to anything your frame of reference would allow – it can be in line with God’s will (God’s thoughts are higher than ours even if it does not fit in with our frame of reference or understanding). Another example used is that Jesus told his disciples to steal a donkey (as in Luke 19:29-34) – from which it is extrapolated that God’s ways may also involve doing things that humans perceive as morally wrong. This example is also used to justify lying.
In terms of the identity of the congregation I describe, it was a branch congregation of an international religious group called Shincheonji (SCJ). SCJ believes that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is here. The word Shincheonji is Korean for “New heaven new earth” and that is what they believe their congregation is: the physical reality of heaven; the mount Zion or new heaven and new earth as described in Revelation. In fact, they teach that the book of Revelation is a prophecy that is being fulfilled today, and that you need to be able to interpret the figurative language of Revelation in order to attain atonement.
The South Korean leader of this congregation, Mr. Man Hee Lee, is a well-known international peace advocate. He teaches that he is a messenger to the current generation (just like Moses was the messenger in Old Testament Times and Jesus was the messenger at the time of the First Coming). He teaches that an angel appeared to him and revealed to him the fulfilment of all the events of the Second Coming, as is prophesied in the book of Revelation.
Further, Man Hee Lee proclaims that he is the Advocate/ Comforter that is promised by Jesus in the book of John 14:16: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. Further, you need to accept him as such, and the messenger of this generation. All people who do not accept him as such are compared to the Jews who did not accept Jesus at the time of the First Coming.
Man Hee Lee is also referred to as the one who overcomes as mentioned in Revelation. He is also referred to as the physical fulfilment of the male child, the one who sits on God’s throne, and the one who is currently ruling all nations with an iron sceptre (all from Revelation).
Essentially, you have to be part of SCJ and accept the message of Man Hee Lee, who is referred to as Seon Saeng Nim or simply “SSN” (which is “Teacher” in Korean) in order to attain salvation. SSN calls all other churches "Babylon" and "Satan’s pastors" and basically says that the ¨Holy Spirit" as we understand it, does not exist – in fact “there are many holy spirits”. The Trinity is rejected.
My first main reason for leaving was the blatant use of lies and deceit, and promotion of using it. This was a reason that was reasonably easy to formulate, as it is clear from many verses in the Bible that lying is not acceptable, even if good things result from lying (see Romans 3:7-8).
My second main reason, which was also relatively easy to formulate, was the veneration of a human being as the new Saviour (or as it was sometimes euphemised, you need to follow Man Hee Lee in order to be saved at the time of the Second Coming). Jesus said that He Himself would return, and therefore Jesus remains my sole Saviour. 1 Timothy 2:5 plainly states: For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.
Within SCJ, there is a new central figure: Man Hee Lee, and he is venerated and praised. For example, songs are sung in the congregation meetings, including the following excerpts of songs which refer to praising Man Hee Lee:
Let us praise the king of kings
Let us praise the Advocate of God
Let us praise Advocate, who will rule heavens and the earth
I will praise your name forevermore and evermore
My third main reason relates to reason two above – the fact that SCJ changes the fundamental gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is being preached that there is a new saviour: Man Hee Lee. Galatians 1:7-9 states plainly: Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
My fourth main reason was formulated by considering the following warning from Deuteronomy 18: when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him." Every year, Man Hee Lee releases a “slogan” for a particular year. Below is a photo showing the slogan of 2014:
During 2014, a big international peace summit was held in Seoul, called the World Alliance of Religions for Peace, or WARP Summit. As you can see from the above photo, this was one of the events that Man Hee Lee indicated would occur in 2014, which it did. It was brought about by the effort, discipline and dedication of SCJ members (they organised it from all over the world). In retrospect, it was called a “heavenly promise that was fulfilled”. However, the completion of the 12 tribes did not take place.
Therefore, one of the “heavenly promises” that was given by Man Hee Lee did not materialise. One needs to question the reliability of a person who states that he has received the revelation of the fulfilment of all the events in the current times. As an aside, the completion of the 12 tribes refers to each of the 12 tribes (groups) of SCJ which needs to reach a number of 12,000 members each, which is also deduced from Revelation.
My further reasons for leaving were the many inconsistencies when compared to the Bible, and it took a bit more time to formulate. The six month course was mostly done in the form of a guided tour through the Bible, but we would focus on specific books, and we never focused on what Jesus did on the cross, for example. After completing the six month program, I finally had a bit of free time again to do Bible study on my own time (although one of the things that SCJ does is that they try to keep you as busy as possible with congregation meetings, evangelising, encouraging you to become a maintainer, etc. – so much so that in some cases they would ask for your schedule in order to see, when you have free time).
When I made the time to consider other parts of the Bible, I found many inconsistencies with SCJ’s teachings. For example, looking at Acts, it is clear that the Advocate/Comforter that Jesus promised to the disciples, was in fact a helper in the form of the Holy Spirit that was sent to them after Jesus ascended, rather than an exclusive indwelling in a specific person, 2,000 years after Jesus ascended.
One of their primary strategies is their seemingly voluntary peace/community upliftment organisations and projects, which is used to lure prospective members. A very good international case study is called “Mannam”, which was a charitable organisation that was used as a front for Shincheonji, and is a subject that you can easily find on the internet.
Mannam has subsequently been replaced by other organisations, namely the International Peace Youth Group (IPYG), Heavenly Culture World Peace Restoration of Light (HWPL) and the International Women’s Peace Group (IWPG), which today are the main cover organisations for SCJ.
They have hosted several international peace rallies including the WARP summit mentioned above. This was a very big event, but the reality was that many of the attendees (if not most - I do not want to make up statistics), were SCJ members. Therefore, although the numbers of attendees created a spectacular scene, it was at least somewhat skewed by SCJ members who attended without disclosing the true reason for their attendance. Many of these attendees were sponsored to attend in some way (including international travel costs).
SCJ also has smaller scale and often community-based groups that also aim to involve new prospects, under the pretence of predominantly community upliftment projects.
Other strategies used by SCJ: