Prophecy Fragment #9 – Impassable, Immutable Love

After the hour of None on the final day of Advent on the 2018th year since the incarnation of our Lord, the Spirit of God came to me and spoke:

I cannot force you to love me,
But I can promise you that I love you,
And that I will never stop loving you,
That I will never cease willing your good.

And I know myself perfectly,
So I know this love perfectly,
And I know that it cannot fail,
I know that it is omnipotent,
I know that it must and will conquer.

No matter how far you run from me,
I will pursue.
No matter where you might hide,
I will find you.
No matter how much you beat me and spit on me,
I will forgive you.

Who are you to think you can defeat such love?
Do you really think you can escape my embrace?
Do you really think you can reject my overtures?
Do you honestly believe that if you reject me, I will reject you?

I cannot force you to love me,
But I can guarantee that you will,
Because I promise that I love you,
And I am certain that I always will.

Sunday Mass at St Fiacre’s Leichhardt

(original title: Daily Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice Offered to God in Inner West Sydney Catholic Church)

As a Roman Catholic, I have the obligation to attend mass on Sundays, and the privilege of attending mass every day of the week if I so choose. Every day all around the world, Latin Catholic parishes offer the sacrifice of the mass. My local parish of St Fiacre’s Leichhardt is no exception.

The sacrifice of the mass is as mysterious to outsiders today as it was 2000 years ago. Rumours of Catholics engaging in cannibalism have proliferated down through history to the present day, as tales of the faithful “eating flesh” and “drinking blood” on Sundays are whispered among those who are not on the inside of this the worlds biggest cult.

But what actually happens behind the doors of a Catholic church during mass?

The Divine Liturgy

Catholics have a very high view of liturgy. Liturgy is basically whatever a group of people does when they come together. Buddhists have liturgy, Muslims have liturgy, Christians have liturgy. However unlike their evangelical brethren – whose liturgy might simply consist of singing a couple of songs, passing around the collection plate and listening to a painfully long sermon – Catholics consider their liturgy to be inspired and literally the Word of God. Catholics believe that God the Holy Spirit is active during the liturgy and divinely reveals himself through the prayers and movements.

IMG_1074.JPGWhen asked why we should believe that the bible is inspired and that God speaks through it, evangelical Christians never have a good response. They are generally brought up to believe in the inspiration of scripture as axiomatic, something not to be questioned or doubted. When pushed on this point, some evangelicals end up apostatising as they realise that “their house is built on sand”, which is to say that their faith has absolutely no rational, reasonable, logical grounding, instead resting entirely on blind faith.

Not so with the Catholic! When a Catholic is asked why the bible is inspired, he can confidently respond with “Because we read it during the liturgy, and if the liturgy is inspired then the bible is too.” Why is the liturgy inspired? That’s a question for another time, but let it be said that the answer is closely related to the holy tradition of the apostolic succession of bishops that stretches back in time all the way to the apostles and the Godman, Jesus Christ himself.

So what is the liturgy, often referred to as “the mass” all about? What actually happens?

The first thing to be grappled with when entering into a mass is the liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar determines which prayers are to be said on any given day, which portions of scripture are to be read, which psalms are to be recited, as well as the liturgical colours that the priest must wear and the church must be decorated with. Every little detail of the mass is scripted out according to the particular day and liturgical season.

Today just so happens to be the first Sunday of the season of Advent, according to the Novus Ordo Latin Liturgical Calendar. As such the priest wore purple vestments, and certain parts of the church were decorated in purple.

Leichhardt parish is run by the Capuchin Friars. The Capuchins are a group of monks in the Franciscan “mendicant friar” tradition. Mendicant friars are essentially monks who live in the towns and cities, ministering to the average citizens and the poor. In comparison to this there are the “Cloistered monks”, who are monks that isolate themselves from the world, living either in solitude as hermits or in community with each other in monasteries, where they pray all day long.

IMG_1076St Fiacre’s Leichhardt does not have a choir or organ, and musical accompaniment to the mass is provided by members of the Neo-Catechumenal way with guitars and singing (The Neo-cats are another recently formed subgroup within Catholicism who have adopted a somewhat more Charismatic approach to the faith).

Catholics who adhere to “traditionalist” strands of Catholicism often object to the presence of guitars during the liturgy, claiming that it detracts from the reverence and sacredness appropriate to such an important event. There is a cultural battle being waged within the church between the Charismatic and Traditionalist parties for control of the mass, with many Catholic publications labelling the situation as a “crisis”. The traditionalists want to see more Latin, more Gregorian chant, a return of the organ. The Charismatics want to see more English, more modern music, drums and guitars, less scripted movements and more spontaneous prayers.

Aside from the presence of guitars, and a distinct lack of Latin during the liturgy, St Fiacre’s strikes me as a more conservative, traditional parish.

The Liturgy Begins

The Introduction

As the clock strikes 9:30am, some small hand held bells are shaken as a signal that the mass has begun. Everyone stands up as the priest walks up to the altar, and the entire church recites what is called the “Entrance Antiphon”; a short extract from the psalms. Today this was from Psalm 24:1-5:

To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.

In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.

Nor let my enemies exult over me;

and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

After this, once the priest has taken his position before the altar, he recites the Trinitarian formula “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and makes the sign of the cross with his hand. The congregation follows his motions and at the conclusion of the gesture respond with “Amen”.

The priest continues:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

To which the people simultaneously and cheerfully respond:

And with your spirit!

The priest goes on:

Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.

This is followed by 15 seconds of silence, during which it is expected that everyone attempts to bring to mind their failings and imperfections over the past week, so as to bring them to God and ask for forgiveness.

Eventually the silence is broken as the priest intones the first words of an ancient prayer, the confiteor. The congregation joins in and together everyone recites:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,

at this point everyone strikes their chest three times in coordination with the words that follow:

through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

After this, the priest delivers what is called a “general absolution” as he says

May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.

And the congregation responds with “Amen”.

IMG_1072After this, the most ancient part of the liturgy is recited, the Kyrie. The priest chants “Lord, have mercy” and the congregation mirrors his words. He then chants “Christ have mercy” and once again the congregation repeats the invocation. Finally he again chants “Lord, have mercy” and once again the congregation returns the same phrase back to him.

The introduction of the liturgy is concluded with what is called a “collect”. The priest says “Let us pray.” and then follows this with a prayer which is unique to that day of the liturgical year. On this particular day, the first Sunday of Advent, the prayer read as follows:

Grant your faithful, we pray; almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Immediately the congregation says “Amen” and everyone returns to a sitting posture.

The Liturgy of the Word

At this point what is known as the Liturgy of the Word begins. This is the part of the mass where sections of scripture are read, psalms are prayed and the homily is delivered. This is the part of the mass which imparts inspiration to scripture. If not for this part of the mass, the bible would just be another book. But instead, by virtue of the fact that scripture is read during this section of the liturgy, all of scripture is considered to be inspired.

On a Sunday, there is one Old Testament reading, one New Testament reading, a psalm, and a section from one of the four Gospels. The readings today were Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 24:4-14,  1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 and finally some sections from Luke 21.

After each reading, the reader (sometimes called a “lector”) pronounces “The word of the Lord” to which the congregation responds “Thanks be to God”. After the Gospel reading, the congregation instead responds with “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ”

The congregation sits during the readings, but stands for the Gospel reading, and prior to commencing the reading everyone makes what is known as the “Solemn sign of the cross”. This is a threefold cross motion where you first cross your forehead with your thumb, then cross your lips, then cross your heart. It is a more intense version of the usual sign of the cross.

For the Psalm today, the guitarist set the psalm to music by strumming a Spanish tune and singing the words. The congregation entered into the “Call and response”, reciting the response line at the appropriate intervals.

IMG_1077After all of these readings and liturgical songs, everyone takes their seat as the priest mounts the pulpit to deliver a short homily.

Catholic Sunday homilies typically only last for 15 minutes, which is a stark contrast to the 40-60 minute sermons that are heard in evangelical communities. Today’s homily was about the true meaning of Christmas, and how the modern secular world has completely distorted the ancient holiday into an excuse to engage in an orgy of materialistic spending.

Once the homily had concluded, the priest resumed his throne behind the altar and silently sat, allowing the congregation to spend some time praying and processing what had been said.

After a short time, the priest rose from his seat and launched into the Apostles creed, with the congregation following along:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

After this, a member of the congregation ascended the pulpit and started reciting prayerful petitions, asking God’s favour for the parish, the church, the poor and suffering and the world. As she concluded, the liturgy of the word was brought to an end.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

At this point we arrived at the heart of the liturgy. It has attracted many names throughout history, including “The Lord’s supper” and “The heavenly banquet”. This is the core of the mass. It is supposedly exactly equivalent to the moment where Christ offers himself to the father for the sins of the world, thus securing the salvation of the entire cosmos. If you go to church and witness the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it is helpful to understand the significance of what you are looking at: you are beholding the salvation of the cosmos, before your very eyes you are seeing it happen and the drama is unfolding in front of you on the altar.

The priest whispers some quiet prayers (which are otherwise spoken audibly if you attend a weekday mass) and then addresses the congregation:

Pray; brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

To which the congregation in perfect unison responds:

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.

The priest continues:

Accept, we pray; O Lord, these offerings we make, gathered from among your gifts to us, and may what you grant us to celebrate devoutly here below gain for us the prize of eternal redemption. Through Christ our Lord.

And the people all say “Amen”.

At this point the mass enters into the Eucharistic prayer; the most ancient part of the liturgy, stretching all the way back to St Peter himself.

The Lord be with you.

And with your spirit.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right and just.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.

For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.

And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

At this point the entire congregation kneels, as the priest enters into the Canon of the mass, the most important prayer of the entire proceedings, which is believed to have the power to change the essence of the bread and wine on the altar into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you firstly for your holy catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant Francis our Pope and Anthony our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.

Remember, Lord, your servants and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them: for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.

In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, and all your Saints; we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help.

Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen.

Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the day before he was to suffer, he took bread in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying:

TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT OF IT, FOR THIS IS MY BODY, WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU.

IMG_1073After invoking these words, the priest picks up the wafer and holds it above his head for the congregation to worship and adore, because it is believed that with these words, the bread is no longer bread: it has become the very body of Jesus himself. God in the flesh, dwelling among us.

The priest then drops the Eucharist back onto the altar and falls down in worship. The congregation follows suit.

When the priest rises, he continues the long and lofty prayer:

In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands, and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying:

TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT, FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD, THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT, WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU AND FOR MANY FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.

Once again the priest holds up the chalice that earlier contained wine, now believed to have literally become the blood of Jesus. The entire congregation silently adores and worships for a short time, before the priest returns the chalice to the altar and prostrates, with the congregation following in the motion.

When the priest rises, he intones the words “The mystery of faith” and the congregation responds with

Save us, Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.

The priest returns to the long canon prayer:

Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension in o heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.

Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as once you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim. In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.

To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs: with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, and all your Saints; admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon, through Christ our Lord. Through whom you continue to make all these good things, O Lord; you sanctify them, fill them with life, bless them, and bestow them upon us.

IMG_1075The priest then picks up both the chalice and the Eucharist and holds one above the other as he recites:

Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever.

This is followed by what is called the great amen. The entire congregation does a long, loud, triumphant, drawn out “Amen”.

The priest returns the Eucharist and the chalice to the altar and invites the congregation to recite the lords prayer.

Once this is completed, the priest commands the congregation to give each other the sign of peace. At this point everyone turns to their neighbour and shakes their hand or performs some other friendly gesture, while saying “Peace be with you”.

Soon after this, the priest launches into the agnus dei, another ancient prayer, and the congregation joins in:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Everyone kneels once again, as the priest breaks the large Eucharistic host in half and holds it up for all to see, saying:

Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

To which the congregation responds by beating their chests and reciting the prayer of the centurion:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

At this point the priest consumes the Eucharist, confirming that the sacrifice has been accomplished.

Music is performed as everyone lines up to receive their own portion of the Eucharist. It is a very serious and reverent moment, as the devout congregation believes that they are truly and legitimately eating God.

Once everyone has returned to their seats, the priest enters into the concluding rites:

Let us pray:

May these mysteries, O Lord, in which we have participated, profit us, we pray, for even now, as we walk amid passing things, you teach us by them to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

The Lord be with you.

And with your spirit.

May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Go forth, the Mass is ended.

Thanks be to God.

And with these words, the Divine liturgy comes to a close and the parishioners slowly pack up and filter out, ready to get on with the rest of their Sunday.

Conclusion

IMG_1079So what actually happened? In essence, the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the Cross was offered up to God the Father by God the Son, and the entire congregation was drawn into this movement by the work of God the Holy Spirit. The Priest served as Christ’s physical hands during the liturgy, and returned to being just another bloke once the liturgy had concluded. Blood was drunk, flesh was eaten, under the form of Bread and Wine. Salvation was sought, salvation was given. The entire cosmos was redeemed and saved.

All things come together during the mass. It is the pinnacle and turning point of history, where before we were falling head first into Hell, now we are flying at full speed towards Heaven. How great it is to witness the securing of salvation before you eyes. What a beautiful blessing. It’s a wonderful experience if you appreciate it, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

I Spent a Night in an Apocalyptic Cult

Approaching The Lair

I spent a night with an apocalyptic cult.

One block away from St Barnabas Broadway Anglican church in the middle of Sydney sits the World Mission Society of God. Their building had nothing particularly interesting about it: it just looked like any other business centre full of small company offices that you might pass in that area of Sydney. There were no sinister vibes as I walked up to the front door.

What lay inside was a slightly different story.

IMG_1065.JPGMy phone buzzed as it received an SMS: “Please call me or text me when you get in here. Thanks Alex.” Their enclave needed a swipe card to enter. After a short wait the Deacon of the Church came down to collect me.

This Deacon who I was talking to volunteers his time to evangelise, lead the service, run bible studies and so on. He claims to not be paid a cent by the organisation. He explained he works as a chef outside the “church”.

I’m not sure what the situation looks like the further you go up the hierarchy, but I assume that the big dogs at the top of the organisation receive significant cash flow from the lower ranks, such as this small gathering I was about to witness.

Memories of Previous Encounters

I was ushered into the cult’s office, which is essentially a refurbished apartment.

I had been here once before, during my first extended bible study with these people. I remembered how at that first meeting, we flipped back and forth through scripture for 3 hours straight, as another Deacon took me on a grand tour of this cult’s unique interpretation of the bible. I recall how during that meeting it took 90 minutes for me to catch on to where the study was heading: I could tell that the deacon was eventually going to do the grand reveal and claim that the founder of his church is Jesus come again. I waited another 90 minutes with baited breath: “When is he going to say it? When is he going to say it?”

When he finally dropped the bomb, I was so battered and exhausted from flipping back and forth in his bible that I could barely register a response. A lethargic “that’s interesting, I’ll have to think about it”, is all I could muster. The Deacon stared at me earnestly, clearly praying hard silently, praising God that he had found someone so receptive, and imploring him to lead me to the right path (ie. praying that I would convert to their church).

After that first bible study, I started inviting representatives from this cult to come and visit my house and continue chatting with me. Over the weeks that followed they lead me through their unique positions. Certain doctrines stood out:

  • The Jewish Passover, eclectically fused with the Christian Lord’s Supper features prominently in their thinking. In their understanding, the end of the world is upon us and observing the Christian Lord’s Supper on the date of the Jewish Passover is the only way to escape the coming inferno.
  • They believe in a Modalist Trinity. They think that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all the same person, just manifesting themselves in different ways at different times of history.
  • They believe in two distinct Gods. The first God is the Modalist amalgamation of the Trinitarian persons, who they generally refer to as “God the Father”. The second God is “God the Mother”. This cult escapes all the biblical commands to observe strict monotheism by invoking the principle in Genesis 2:24 that when man and woman are united in marriage they become “one flesh”.
  • They believe that both of their Gods have become incarnate one or more times. God the Father incarnated once 2000 years ago as Christ Jesus, and his second coming occurred on 13 January 1918, when he reincarnated as Christ Ahn Sahng-hong, a Korean minister of a breakaway Seventh Day Adventist church who died on 25 February 1985. God the mother incarnated on 29 October 1943 as a Korean woman called Jang Gil-ja who is still alive to this day.
  • The second coming of Christ is identified with the Holy Spirit, and this cult believes that Christ Ahn Sahng-hong is in actual fact the Holy Spirit.
  • They hold to a naive understanding of the classical protestant doctrine of “Sola Fide” – faith alone – and they have a particularly strange and seemingly arbitrary soteriology. They think that prior to Jesus’ coming a person had to believe in God the Father, by the name of YHWH, in order to be saved. They hold that once Jesus had come, we had transitioned from the age of the father to the age of the son, with the implication being that it is no longer sufficient to believe in the father alone in order to be saved, but you must believe in the son too. They believe that in 1918, with the birth of Ahn Sahng-hong, we entered into the age of the Holy Spirit, and of course it is now no longer sufficient to simply believe in Jesus; a person must confess Christ Ahn Sahng-hong in order to be saved. I have not yet been able to establish how such a wacky and naive “Faith alone” soteriology is compatible with the cult’s insistence that one must observe the Jewish Passover in order to be saved.

In between the bible studies with members from this cult, I would encounter missionaries on campus at the University of Sydney where I study. One particular missionary from Korea stands out in my memory. He struck me as incredibly stubborn, angry, fundamentalist and close minded, convinced that he had the truth and the rest of the world is lost and not to be trusted. I remember him blindly quoting scriptures at me during our brief discussion, attempting to shut me down by biblical fiat.

I asked him why I should trust the bible. He answered that it contains many prophecies, all of which have come true. I found this entirely disputable, but it didn’t seem like it would be fruitful to push him on the point. He insisted that his cult is the only church on earth today which observes the passover. I rolled my eyes and responded that the Roman Catholic church observes it every single day, but he didn’t want to hear it and just resumed firing bible verses at me as if that would prove him right.

I concluded that he wasn’t actually trying to convince me of his position; he was trying to convince himself. His strategy of rote learning bible verses and regurgitating them during conversation was like a drug that would sustain the illusion that his position rested on solid ground.

I asked him if he realised that God the Mother was a living woman. He responded that yes he knew that, and he has even met her in person. I was intrigued and asked him what she was like; he leant back with an offended expression, superior posture and with an indignant voice stated “She was like God!” I was amused, and let the conversation flow onwards.

Research Into The Cult

ranchdafagfaga.jpg I began to do some research into the origins of their movement.

Who really was this Christ Ahn Sahng-hong character anyway? What I discovered didn’t exactly mesh with the information I was receiving from the cult first hand.

I discovered that Ahn Sahng-hong was simply a disillusioned parishioner of the Seventh Day Adventist church in Korea. In true protestant spirit, he simply got up, left, and started his own church. The church he founded was not all that different from the SDA church that he had abandoned. At no point during his life was he reported to have claimed that he was the second coming of Christ, and there is nothing in his extant writings which indicates he himself and his early followers thought of him as anything less than a simple preacher and teacher.

At one point while he was alive, some of the members of his church started worshipping a woman called Um Sooin, claiming that she was God the Mother and that Ahn Sahng-Hong was Jesus come again. These members were expelled from his church, and Ahn Sahng-Hong wrote a scathing critique and rebuttal of their views.

Upon his death in 1985, there was an immediate schism in the church he left behind. Some people wanted to conservatively follow the direction that he had set the church on before his death. Other people wanted to deify him as God and reintroduce the concept of God the Mother. The first group – lead by his son – split off as the “New Covenant Passover Church of God” the second, larger group went it’s own way and has adopted a variety of names, including “Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong Church of God” and “World Mission Society of God”.

A Brief Lesson Before The Liturgy

We entered the apartment, where there were rows of chairs arranged in the living room facing a pew and a television. A couple of people were sitting in the pews. We greeted each other and I was keen to chat, but I was whisked away to one of the bedrooms which had been done up as a little conference room. The Deacon sat down at the table and launched into a pre-prepared lesson.

“God’s people should fully observe the commandments of God”, he proclaimed. I immediately thought to myself “Sounds like some sort of spin on the old heresy of saving yourself via good works and keeping the law”. We began to go on another tour of scripture. It struck me that these people take the bible incredibly literally, and don’t pay much heed to the literary context of the verses that they focus on.

This particular study was all about idolatry, with a particular focus on Christian crosses being a most grievous violation of the second commandment. “The Cross does not save us, the passover does” he said. This was the first of many times the passover would be mentioned tonight. “Most Christians think that you must worship the cross to be saved” he said, making me wonder how he could be so deep in his own cults doctrines that he could be so misinformed as to what the wider Christian world believes.

We read 1 Corinthians 11:4-7, using the NIV translation. I noticed that this church only uses the NIV and enquired why. The Deacon responded that the NIV is optimal because it easy to understand. So much for sticking to the original Greek!

1 Corinthians 11:4-7 is a part of the new testament where Paul commands women to cover their hair during church services. Most Christian communities take that command to be a historical one – appropriate to a certain time and place – observance being optional today. However these guys take it literally and seriously.

“So wait, why exactly do you do this?” I asked, hoping that he would give me some actual logical reasons. “Because the bible says so.” is the only response I received. I internally shook my head.

We flicked to Revelation 14:1-3. He explained to me that 144000 people would be saved without having to die, whereas “the multitude” are those who are saved but die before the second (or should I say third?) coming of Christ, at which point they will resurrect. Apparently this special group of 144000 people will ascend to heaven bodily, just like Jesus did, and will have something the Deacon mysteriously referred to as “creation power”, as well as judge angels and demons.

The Deacon highlighted the fact that the 144000 saved people are said to be singing a “new song”. He claimed that their church knows this song, and regularly sings it. I was intrigued, as I had never heard any doctrine similar to this before.

The Service Starts

8pm had arrived, so we returned to the living room and I took a seat at the back, next to a Nepalese guy. I noticed that the congregation was strictly gender-segregated: All the women sat on the right and wore veils, while all the men sat on the left. There was a young looking boy sitting on the men’s side, he looked about 12 or 13.

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The service started with everyone simultaneously reciting the “teachings of mother”

  1. It is more blessed to give love than to receive, as God always gives love.

  2. When we give glory to God, the glory returns to us.

  3. A beautiful mind has no hate, and brings forth a perfect love.

  4. As Abraham was blessed with the better when he gave in for his nephew Lot, so we are blessed more greatly when we give in for our brothers and sisters.

  5. Being arrogant means wanting to be served.

  6. Though others do not work, we should not complain but do our work faithfully. Having the mind of a master allows us to work with pleasure and ease.

  7. Arrogance comes from a mind full of complaint. When we serve God always with gratitude in our hearts, complaint and arrogance recede from us, and humility dwells in our hearts.

  8. When we praise brothers and sisters, the praise returns to us.

  9. As the sea receives all the dirt and purifies it, we should have a broad and beautiful mind enough to cover up even the faults of our brothers and sisters.

  10. Whoever wants to be led by the Lamb should become a lamb smaller than the Lamb.

  11. Sacrifice is needed to become a greater vessel.

  12. We should endure present sufferings, for the Kingdom of Heaven is waiting for us.

  13. Even God did not come to be served, but to serve. When we serve one another without wanting to be served, God will be pleased.

This was immediately followed by three hymns from their unique hymn book (302, 66 and 69), suspiciously labelled “A New Song” in reference to Revelation 14. I asked where I could obtain one of these hymn books and was told that they are reserved for members of the cult.

After the singing, the Deacon stood behind the pew at the front and launched into a long prayer. At first I couldn’t tell if it was formulaic or spontaneous prayer, however as he rambled on I realised that he was just making it up as he went along. Certain elements of the prayer contained hints of the cult’s apocalyptic nature, for example he referred to how most people are “deceived by Satan and the false prophet”, to which the congregation all murmured a hearty “amen!”. He concluded the prayer “in the name of Ahn Sahng-Hong yim” and everyone sat down.

The sermon began, although it turned out to be more like a bible study where the leader does all the talking, and the only interaction that the congregation has is to say “amen!” at regular intervals. The topic today was idolatry, “You shall have no other god’s before me”.

The preacher immediately revealed his naive understanding of Sola Fide. “Many Christians believe that you just have to have faith and you will be saved” he claimed. “The irony is that he’s not far from the truth” I thought to myself: most Christians DO believe that you just need to have faith and you will be saved. Most Christians don’t take the time to read up on the deep theology at the core of their tradition, and therefore never comprehend that their naive understanding of Sola Fide is actually deep and damnable heresy. This cult therefore rightly rejects the common distortion of the doctrine that the average Christian is peddling. “But alas,” I thought, “they don’t understand the true doctrine either”.

The preacher directed us to Matthew 22:35-38. He highlighted that the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Then he flipped to 2 Kings 23:25, and noted that the only person who is spoken of as keeping all the commandments of God was King Josiah. Then we read 2 Kings 23:21-23 and once again the speaker emphasised the importance of keeping the passover.

The speaker was drawing outrageous, creative, illogical links between concepts based on the verses we just read. “How do we keep the greatest commandment?” he rhetorically asked. “By keeping the passover” he firmly answered. “Amen!” rumbled the congregation. “Is there any other way to be saved?” he asked. “NO!” exclaimed almost everyone in the room simultaneously, followed by lots more “Amen!”.

We jumped to Deuteronomy 6:4-8. The preacher seized on the language used in verse 5 “love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Noticing the similarities between that and previous verses we had just read, the speaker concluded “The greatest commandment of God is to keep the passover”.

We continued on a whirlwind tour of scripture following this same pattern again and again. First of all we would read a verse, then the preacher would ask some rhetorical question about what we need to do to be saved, and the answer would always be some variant on “we must keep the passover” followed by lots of “Amen!” from the crowd.

At one point, the preacher asked “What happens to those who don’t keep the passover?” and interestingly he completely waffled on the answer, rather than just being straight up and confessing that they will burn in hellfire forever and ever.

Hints of Extremism

About halfway through the sermon, things started to get weird.

“Who hates the passover the most?” the preacher queried. “Satan” muttered the congregation. “How will Satan tell us not to keep passover?” he asked. “Indirectly, through enticements and temptations” he immediately responded.

This was a prime example of brainwashing tactics. The preacher was convincing his flock that if anyone objects or disagrees with his doctrine, they are equivalent to Satan.

He flipped to Deuteronomy 13:1-5, and I started to get uncomfortable as he continued to take what it said dangerously literally. “What should we do with false prophets and those who disbelieve?” the preacher asked. “The bible says to kill them!” he confidently proclaimed. “Satan always tries to destroy the passover” he claimed, “We can see it in history!” I was getting very edgy at this point, as the preaching seemed to be moving towards expounding extremist ideology.

We flipped to Isaiah 24:1-6, a classic Armageddon text which describes the chaos and terror as the world comes to an end. “Why were these people damned?” the preacher asked. “Because they broke the law and failed to keep the passover” he staunchly stated.

I realised that these people are experiencing a dramatic tunnel vision, as they are utterly convinced that the world is about to go up in eschatalogical flames and they are freaking out trying to work out how to escape such a fate. They have a cult-level sense of urgency and are single-mindedly  convinced that following the Jewish Passover is the only way to escape the coming calamity. “We share the good news” the preacher intones, “because this is how we escape the destruction.”

The End of the Service

The sermon concluded around 8:45, and we moved on to the tail end of their informal evangelical-esque liturgy. Another hymn was sung (song 70), as the collection bag was passed around and the congregation contributed their tithings.

After the tithing song, a sister was called to the front to deliver the closing prayer. Once again I couldn’t tell if it was spontaneous or formulaic, but the content was remarkable. Lots of petitions were addressed to both the father and the mother, I got gnostic vibes as she repeated “Thanks for saving us from this sinful and evil world” twice. Some sort of doctrine of pre-existence was briefly hinted at.

As I listened to this prayer, I was struck by how simplistic, primitive and unsophisticated these people were. Their faith was not particularly reflective, and involved simply taking the bible as literally as possible.

After her prayer, the entire congregation together recited a formulaic prayer in Korean. Unfortunately I’m not sure what was said and don’t have access to the text or a translation.

With that, the service was finished. All of the women immediately removed their veils and people began to pack up and go home. The Deacon approached me and asked me to delete the photos I had taken inside the building that day. “What have they got to hide?” I wondered to myself.

I hung around for a little longer and tried to interact with some of the people, but they all seemed highly brainwashed and incapable of actually holding a conversation. Eventually I left and walked home. I made it home alive, happy that I managed to survive the experience. I intend to continue meeting with their missionaries, and hope to visit their main church out at Blacktown next time.

Appendix: Summary of the WMSCOG liturgy

  1. Communal recitation of the 13 “Teachings of Mother”
  2. Three hymns, two sitting and one standing
  3. Deacon leads with an opening prayer in spontaneous format
  4. The core Bible study and sermon
  5. Hymn, and collection of tithings
  6. Sister delivers a closing prayer in spontaneous format
  7. Entire congregation recites a formulaic liturgical prayer in Korean

The songs that were sung were all heavily tailored to express the cults unique theology. Far more was sung about “Heavenly Mother” and “Christ Ahn Sahng-hong”, than was sung about the father, Yahweh or Jesus.