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Updated by Graeme Thomson on Oct 23, 2014
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7 Severely Strange Christian Sects

Let's Talk About Sects, Baby!

1

The Henotheists

The Henotheists

As their name implies, Henotheists believe that God is a hen. In consequence, they regard Easter eggs as holy. As proof of the deity’s galline nature, Henotheists point to the Bible and specifically Matthew 23:37 in which Jesus says:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Actually, they’re nothing of the sort. Sadly, henotheists much more prosaically believe in one God without necessarily accepting that He or, for that matter, She is the only god. The term was coined by the 19th century professor of comparative religion, Max Müller – though he was, himself, a practicing Lutheran.

2

The Eastern Lightning, also known as the Church of Almighty God.

The Eastern Lightning, also known as the Church of Almighty God.

Another Chinese sect, but this time very contemporary, the Eastern Lightning sect seems to have begun in the 1990s with the claim by the group’s founder, Zhao Weishan, that Jesus has been reincarnated in the shape of a middle-aged Chinese woman with the unusual name of Lightning Deng.

According to believers, in order to augment the Bible’s current paucity of just 2 Testaments, Deng has written a 3rd (Brand New?) Testament. Additionally, they believe that the Day of Judgment is at hand, the Communist China is the red dragon of Revelation, and that the only way to avoid the apocalypse and get to heaven is by following Deng.

Despite the fact that both Zhao and Deng appear to live in New York’s Chinatown, the sect has really caught on in parts of rural China. Estimates of membership range from 300,000 to 1 million. The terms of membership, however, are brusque at best and deadly at worst. Anyone trying to leave the sect is severely beaten; anyone declining the invitation to join is…erm…severely beaten.

3

The Taiping

The Taiping

A mid 19th century sect in China whose leader, Hong Xiuquan, had a sort of nervous breakdown while failing (not for the first time) his civil service exam. When he came to he pronounced that he was Jesus’ younger brother and, therefore, the 2nd Son of God. Curiously enough, this singular notion had some traction and, instead of falling about laughing, people started rallying to him. So much, in fact, that within a few years he had amassed an army of around 500,000, controlled a large part of China, and ruled despotically over some 30 million people.

Being God’s Chinese Son was not without its perks – not only because he got to live like a king and surround himself with a palace full of concubines, but also because he was able to have regular picnics with his Dad and Elder Brother. Sometimes his Number 1 Wife (God’s Daughter-in-Law) would accompany him.

The Chinese Imperial forces were less impressed, and by the time the whole thing finally ended the Taping Rebellion had resulted in the deaths of at least 20 million people, and notched itself up as one of the most deadly conflicts in the history of the planet.

4

The Southcottians

The Southcottians

Followers of Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) of Devon, England, who was originally a Methodist but became convinced that she was the woman clothed with the sun and with the stars at her feet mentioned in Revelation 12: 1-6. At the age of 64 she announced that she was about to give birth to the new Messiah, the one mentioned as Shiloh in Genesis 49:10. The fact that she didn’t, and instead died only shortly later, had little impact on her followers who, by 1814, numbered around 100,000.

In her will she left a sealed box of prophesies with instructions that it was only to be opened at a time of national crisis, and then only in the presence of 24 bishops of the Church of England. The box was opened in 1927 (without the 24 bishops) and was found to contain a few unimportant papers, a lottery ticket, and a pistol. The Southcottians, however, cried foul and claimed that this was the wrong box. Despite claiming that the world would end in 2004, the sect continues to have its followers.

5

The Docetists

The Docetists

An early 2nd century Gnostic sect that believed that the real Christ was not crucified at all, and that what was nailed to the cross was just a phantom or ghost-like image of Christ. The sect informed part of Cathar belief and flourished until the Albegensian Crusade, 1209-1229.

The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, one of the early Christian writings that didn't make the cut of getting into the Bible, includes a scene in which the apostle Peter sees a vision of Jesus on the cross with another Jesus laughing above him.

6

The Abecdarians

The Abecdarians

A 16th century German sect that made the slightly unusual claim that, since the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit, it was wrong to learn to read. In fact, it was wrong to learn pretty much anything because human learning got in the way of receiving the real truth from visions. Ignorance was, therefore, bliss – and to have a shot at salvation you needed to be ignorant of everything including the first 3 letters of the alphabet.

7

The Muggletonians

The Muggletonians

A splendidly eccentric sect that believed that the 2 witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11:3 were, in fact, a 17th century English tailor called John Reeve and his cousin Lodowick Muggleton. Among other things, they held that Jesus was God, that until the Ascension heaven was completely empty except for Moses and Elijah who were sort of care-taking the place, and that heaven was exactly 6 miles above the earth. Bizarrely, the sect flourished and may briefly have included the poet and artist William Blake among its numbers.

The last official Muggletonian, Phillip Noakes of Kent, England, died on 26 February 1979.