The Beginning of Shincheonji
Founded during the time of the new religious movement in South Korea, the Shincheonji Church has endured many hardships since its beginnings in 1984 when a man named Lee Man Hee officially established its presence in Gwacheon. The Shincheonji Church would then continue to grow rapidly over the next decade garnering attention from other fundamentalist Protestant Churches, who then began to label this religious minority group as a “cult” and “heretic”.
Why is Shincheonji called a cult?
Its humble beginnings are often twisted within the social media today as many will falsely claim that the Chairman of the religious organization is a self-proclaimed Messiah. However, there are no recordings nor written statements from Lee Man Hee himself that validate such claims. In contrast, if one were to truly listen to the teachings from Shincheonji, they would recognize that they all revolve around fulfilling the prophecies explicitly stated within the scriptures of the Bible.
In 1980, a huge political shift occurred resulting in the establishment of the Stewardship Education Center, which carried out the “purification” of “cults” by educating all mainstream pastors under the same Presbyterian doctrine. Any church not willing to adhere to these doctrines was considered a “cult” and disbanded by the government.
At this time, the Tabernacle Temple was also being assimilated into the Presbyterian denomination. Some of the members heard about the corruption of the Tabernacle Temple through Lee’s testimony. They left the Tabernacle Temple and Lee founded his own separate organization in 1984 called Shincheonji (New Heaven and New Earth). Shincheonji would be centered on the Bible and the fulfillment of its prophecies. Rather than bend to the will of the mainstream pastors, Lee focused on exposing the corruption of the Tabernacle Temple and the destructive role of the Stewardship Education Center.
Is there a Biblical basis for Shincheonji?
In Revelation 1-3, there is mention of 7 messengers who betray Jesus and are told to repent through a series of letters given to them by Jesus’ messenger, John”. Although these 7 messengers had not received any form of official theological education, thousands of believers traveled across the country to the church of these messengers, the Tabernacle Temple, to hear their sermons.
However, roughly a year after, corruption divided the Tabernacle Temple. Lee then sent letters, calling for these messengers to repent of their wrongdoings. Yet, this resulted in him being beaten and threatened, and eventually, he left the Tabernacle Temple to return to his hometown.
Given its humble beginnings, the Shincheonji Church went initially unnoticed. However, the Church soon began to grow exponentially in size.
Zion Christian Mission Center: What kind of place is it?
The main cause of the rapid expansion was the opening of Shincheonji’s theological school, Zion Mission Center, in which believers would attend Bible studies to learn about the scriptures in depth.
The first class graduated in 1991 and in the following years, the Church grew from 76,000 members in 2007 to 200,000 in 2018. Last year in 2019, the Church graduated over 100,000 graduates from Zion Christian Mission Center and celebrated the largest graduation class of any theological or seminary school in history.
This rapid growth immediately caught the attention of the surrounding mainstream churches, who spread rumors about the teachings and Lee in an effort to stop people from attending Shincheonji Church. However, such persecution did not hinder Lee’s efforts as he went on to do the work of peace around the entire world through many humanitarian activities and several World Peace Tours.
Furthermore, he founded an NGO called Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) to advance the work of world peace. This organization was granted special consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As he travels the world today, Lee is recognized by various political and religious leaders across the globe as a man who stands for peace and kindness, while in his own home country, he is maliciously slandered by society and the media.