Investigating the World Mission Society Church of God
My son Derek asked me recently if I would find out about the World Mission Society Church of God. A friend of his was alarmed about the group, and Derek wanted to know if there’s cause for concern. My investigations will also interest Religion Watch readers.
Let’s start with some basic facts.
The World Mission Society Church of God is a controversial, growing religious movement from South Korea. It operates in more than 170 countries including Canada and has almost 3 million members.
WMSCOG followers trace their roots to a man named Ahnsahnghong, born in 1918, raised a Buddhist, but converted to Christian faith in 1947–1948. In 1958 he married Hwang Wonsun (d. 2008) and the couple had three children.
He was a part of Seventh-Day Adventism (a movement founded in the 19th century), but was excommunicated in 1962. He started his own Witnesses of Jesus Church of God in 1964.
Pastor Ahnsahnghong died suddenly in February 1985. A month later his movement split in two, the largest group becoming known first as the Witnesses of Ahnsahnghong Church of God, and now as the WMSCOG. (The smaller group, the New Covenant Passover Church of God, includes Pastor Ahnsahnghong’s son Ahn Kwang-Sup, who claims the WMSCOG departs from many of his father’s teachings.)
The WMSCOG is now led by General Pastor Kim Joo Cheol and a woman named Zhang Gil-Jah (b. 1943).
Although these basic facts are helpful, they don’t explain why many Christian churches and scholars are concerned about the WMSCOG. After all, members are generally loving and sincere, and the church engages in extensive social action, as noted for example by the United Nations, Queen Elizabeth and Barak Obama when he was U.S. president.
Notwithstanding all the good points, the WMSCOG fails in three major ways.
First, WMSCOG leaders argue Pastor Ahnsahnghong is divine (he is also the return of Jesus) and that Zhang Gil-Jah is God as well.
So, contrary to the Bible’s repeated teaching of one God (Isaiah 43:10, John 17:3, 1 Timothy 1:7), the WMSCOG has a Father God and a Mother God, similar to what Mormons believe. (Most followers do not seem to know their Mother God was previously married and divorced. Her ex-husband’s testimony makes sad reading.)
Second, the group does not hold to accepted teaching that salvation comes through Jesus alone (Acts 4:12), by grace alone and not by human works (Ephesians 2:8–9). Instead WMSCOG leaders teach their church is the only true church and that you must follow Ahnsahnghong and the Mother God to be saved.
As well, everyone must practise certain Old Testament rituals (such as the Passover feast) and go to church on Saturday to go to heaven.
Third, the group misuses the Bible. They are right in wanting to follow it alone as their authority, but sadly that turns out to mean the Bible as understood by Mother God and what they believe Pastor Ahnsahnghong taught.
The group’s unique teachings usually have flawed and weak biblical support (especially on the claim that Zhang Gil-Jah is the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21), careless reasoning and faulty historical research, especially on Roman Catholicism.
In the past members have twisted Bible verses to argue the end was coming in 2012, and Pastor Ahnsahnghong himself predicted 1988 as the end.
Such teachings remind me of the shoddy research you see in the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Unification Church, another Korean group.
With these three failures, it’s no wonder the National Council of Churches in South Korea called the WMSCOG heretical and that the group often gets called cultic by both Christian and secular writers.
Sadly there are no quick fixes to help loved ones get out of such high-intensity religious groups. It can help to be informed (good websites include www.ExaminingTheWMSCOG.com and www.Encountering-Ahnsahnghong.Blogspot.ca). But it is more crucial to be loving and patient, and respect the rights of others to their beliefs.
It’s also helpful to understand how various groups, religious and otherwise, engage in tactics that amount to mind control. Check out www.FreedomOfMind.com and www.OpenMindsFoundation.org. Finally, it’s also helpful to remember God can use any one of us in reaching others.
James A. Beverley is professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. He has been studying new religions since 1976. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ReligionWatch