Despite severe persecution, the CAG grew in China and, according to Chinese official sources, had reached four million members in 2014. Several thousand members have escaped abroad, where they have founded churches.
This text was originally presented as a lecture at the symposium Apocalypse in Art: The Creative Unveiling, organized by the Center for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM) at the Panacea Museum, Bedford, UK, June 28-29, 2018
The Chinese regime recently proclaimed that xie jiao should be “eradicated like tumors.” These “heterodox teachings” (the translation “evil cults” is inaccurate) are defined by the Chinese judiciary as religious groups that “confuse and deceive” the people “by fabricating and spreading superstitious fallacies and other means.” Such vague definitions mean that, in practice, are xie jiao the movements included in the periodically updated official lists of xie jiao. Being active in a xie jiao is punished by Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code with a 3 to 7 years jail penalty “or more”
The Church of Almighty God (CAG), considered by CCP as a quintessential xie jiao, is a new religious movement founded in China, in 1991. It teaches that Jesus returned to Earth and incarnated as Almighty God, a woman born in China who proclaims the fullness of truth. Most of Almighty God’s utterances are collected in the book The Word Appears in the Flesh.
The Chinese regime justifies the persecution by accusing CAG of various crimes, including the murder of a woman in a McDonald’s diner in Zhaoyuan in 2014. Unfortunately, some Western media repeated this accusation, although scholarly studies have debunked it as an egregious example of fake news spread to discredit CAG. The McDonald’s murder was in fact perpetrated by a group with a similar name, but unrelated to CAG.
Despite severe persecution, the CAG grew in China and, according to Chinese official sources (perhaps exaggerated), had reached four million members in 2014. Several thousand members have escaped abroad, where they have founded churches in South Korea, the United States, Europe, Canada, and other countries, in addition to these established in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
According to CAG, Almighty God came to inaugurate the third and final age of humanity, the Age of Kingdom, which follows the Age of Law, i.e. the time of the Old Testament, and the Age of Grace (of Jesus). In the last days, the work of Almighty God has the main aim to eradicate the humans’ sinful nature, bringing those purified by God to their final glorious destination.
The present Age of Kingdom is not to be confused with the Age of the Millennial Kingdom. In our Age of Kingdom, God’s glorification on earth is not yet complete. Only when those who were predestined and chosen by God will have been made perfect and purified, God will be glorified. At that time, the work of salvation will be concluded, the wicked will be destroyed and the righteous will get their reward, and the transition to the Age of the Millennial Kingdom will start.
The Church does not believe that the person it worships as Almighty God would live on Earth forever. The return to Heaven of Almighty God would mean that the incarnation work had come to an end. The disasters prophesied in the Book of Revelation will follow, in the shape of earthquakes, wars, and famines. Planet Earth, however, will not be destroyed. It will become the eternal home of God’s purified followers.
CAG is accused by the regime of having instigated riots in China based on the prediction of the end of the world in 2012. However, there is no end of the world (rather, its transformation) in CAG’s theology, and the disasters predicted in the Bible will follow the end of the earthly mission of Almighty God, who was alive and well in 2012.
CAG denounces the persecution of Christians and identifies CCP with the Dragon of the Book of Revelation. However, if one reads CAG literature, it is clear that the Dragon would fall by itself, and there is no appeal to a revolution, although the persecution is a sign of the “last days” of the Great Red Dragon.
The persecution in China and the international diaspora of the CAG had two unintended consequences. First, it led to a globalization of the movement, as non-Chinese started joining it in South Korea, the United States, and elsewhere. Second, it also caused an unexpected flourishing of artistic activities within the diaspora communities, in the fields of painting and movies (with some of them winning awards in international festivals).
I will now shortly analyze the musical drama Human Beings Have Regained the Sanctity They Once Possessed (2016), a representative production of the CAG’s millennial filmography, which would allow some conclusions on both its theology and movie style
A first kind of scenes of this musical refers to the “darkness” falling on Earth when humans turn away from God. We are confronted with CAG’s notion of “hell.” Many people die in the great disasters, falling into the dark Hades and then descending into hell, where their spirits continue a mutual slaughter. They were trampled underfoot and tortured by demons, undergoing the chastisement for ever and ever, “where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). We realize that at work in the last days is the Great Red Dragon, whose present manifestation in CAG theology is the Chinese Communist Party. It has always been cruelly persecuting Christians, and poisoning, corrupting, and destroying human beings. The last days will witness the rare and great disasters prophesied in the Book of Revelation. However, the Earth will not be destroyed.
A second kind of segments belong to what we can identify as the “light” part of the musical. In the end, the Great Red Dragon and Satan’s minions are dealt with by a Lightning coming down from the heaven, defeated by God, and precipitated in the abyss.
A cartoonish sequel in the movie gives the key and explains what happened: human tempted and corrupted by Satan, armed with the Word (i.e. The Word Appears in the Flesh, the book of the utterances of Almighty God), were able to defeat Satan.
A world with no place for God is dark, empty without hope. But the humanity who heard God’s voice and accepted God’s salvation, at last comes back to live again in the light. A performance in Peking Opera’s style celebrates the complete destruction of Satan, and the renewal of all God’s creation through God’s word. This echoes the words of The Word Appears in the Flesh: “Oh, that the corrupt world of the past has at last toppled over into the filthy water and, sinking below the surface, dissolved into mud! Oh, that all the humanity I created has at last come back to life again in the light, found the foundation for existence, and ceased to struggle in the mud!”
Finally, those purified and perfected through Almighty God’s word will live forever on the transformed earth. The “glory” or “light” part accounts for a good half of the movie. God’s chosen people dance and sing celebrating God’s triumph over Satan, and God’s kingdom manifested on earth.
Human Beings Have Regained the Sanctity They Once Possessed conveys the CAG theology, which is different from the usual premillennialism of so many Evangelical movies about the end of the world. There is no end of the world. There will be latter-day persecutions and natural disasters, but in the end the Dragon will be defeated and those purified by Almighty God will live forever on a transfigured earth
The different theological content corresponds to a different and non-traditional style, which puts together Beijing opera, K-pop, traditional Christian songs, and Latino dance. The new Kingdom also corresponds to a new artistic style.
See full video of the lecture, with video clips: