By John Lindner, Senior News Editor, Christian Aid Mission
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA -- An uncertain number of leaders of a major house church movement in China have disappeared in what at first was thought to be a massive government raid. Now cult activity is suspected.
About 30 main leaders of the China Gospel Fellowship disappeared the evening of April 19. Since the group was blacklisted by the government as a cult in the late 1990s, it was assumed at first that they were victims of Public Security Bureau raids. That view later was changed.
According to a reputable source in Hong Kong, members of the Eastern Lightning cult a year ago posed as leaders of a Bible institute in Singapore offering free in-depth training to house-church leaders. So last week the China Gospel Fellowship leaders went to attend meetings allegedly arranged in six locations inside China. When some of the leaders showed up at one location, they were told the situation was "very tight" (meaning the PSB was coming) and were asked to hand over their cell phones. When some refused, they were beaten and the phones forcibly seized. One woman escaped on pretense of going to the toilet.
House church members did not realize anything had happened to their leaders until several days went by without any contact from them via cell phone. It was immediately assumed they had been arrested by the PSB. Later, as the lone female leader who escaped made her way to a place where she could safely relay what had happened, the church members realized the situation was much more sinister.
Eastern Lightning is a cult that believes Jesus Christ has returned as a Chinese woman named Lightning. The members favor rural areas where sound Bible teaching is often rare and, according to Amity News Service, twists Scripture to deceive the elect. For example, it uses Matthew 24:27 and Isaiah 41:2 to show that Jesus intended to come as "Lightning," and refers to Jeremiah 31:22 and Genesis 1:27 to "prove" that Christ will come again as a woman.
If Christians do not willingly convert, they are enticed with inducements, reportedly as high as a month's salary. Sometimes they will send a young female member to seduce their intended victim. Photos of the event can then be shown to the police to precipitate false rape charges that could result in the worker's imprisonment or death. Cult members have been known to break workers' arms and legs so they cannot preach again, and even to kill people, according to the Hong Kong source.
"The cult is very dangerous, and according to the Christians, much more dangerous than Falun Gong, and has caused huge numbers of true Christians to leave the church," the source said.
Even though they are a violent and dangerous cult, the government appears to do nothing to halt them. When members of the China Gospel Fellowship were asked why they did not report the incidents to the police, they answered that the police said they would do nothing unless they were first given RMB 5,000 (nearly a year's wages). Moreover, some of the CGF leaders are wanted by the police because of their zealous unregistered church activity.
"The house church believers are caught in the jaws of a giant vise," said Christian Aid's expert on China who asked not to be named. "On the one hand the government is branding certain evangelical groups as evil cults so it can legally press charges against them. On the other hand, the government allows this truly evil cult to attack evangelical believers and does nothing to hinder them."
According to Asia Harvest, China Gospel Fellowship started in Henan Province and spread rapidly throughout China and today numbers at least three million believers. The abductions have left the movement virtually without senior leadership.