|Intro||Korean Christian minister and founder of Witnesses of Jesus Church of God|
|Birth||13 January 1918, Jangsu County, South Korea|
|Death||25 February 1985, Jung District, South Korea; Maryknoll Medical Center, South Korea (aged 67 years)|
Shortly after his death in 1985, a schism took place, dividing the Witnesses of Jesus Church of God into two sects, the New Covenant Passover Church of God and what is today known as the World Mission Society Church of God. Both organizations claim him as their founder: the New Covenant Passover Church of God regards Ahn as a teacher; the World Mission Society Church of God regards Ahn as God.
Ahn was born to Buddhist parents on 13 January 1918 in the small, rural village of Myeongdeok-ri in the North Jeolla Province at a time when Korea was under Japanese rule. The family migrated to Busan, where Ahn grew up in the Haeundae District, the city in which he would later found his church.
Conversion to Christianity
From 1937, during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, Ahn and his mother lived in Japan over a nine-year period. He returned to Korea in 1946, after the war, and began attending the local congregation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Incheon in 1947. Ahn reported getting revelations in 1953, and renounced his Buddhist faith and was baptized in 1948.
Ahn grew critical to teachings in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the church excommunicated him in March 1962 over disputes about the cross as a religious symbol. Twenty-three people followed Ahn and left the church, and two years later on 28 April 1964, Ahn established his church Witnesses of Jesus Church of God in Busan. Witnesses of Jesus Church of God expanded to 13 congregations in South Korea before Ahn's death in 1985.
Major dogmata are outlined in Doctrine Manual of the Witnesses of Jesus Church of God (1972), and detailed in the more than two dozen books Ahn wrote. His original publications as well as scans of his notes and extant sermons have been made available online. Ahn argued that the practice of the apostolic early church had been distorted and his restorational doctrines and practices included:
- Women should wear headcovering while praying.
- Baptism is the first step towards salvation.
- The Sabbath should be kept on Saturdays, not Sundays.
- Christmas should not be celebrated as Jesus' birthday because it is the anniversary of the sun god.
- The cross is considered a form of idolatry.
- The Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread should be kept.
- Keeping the feasts in Book of Leviticus chapter 23: First Fruits, Festival of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement; and Feast of Tabernacles.
Ahn, who like most Christians believed in the Second Coming of Jesus, had predicted a Second Coming "within 10 years" in 1956. In the tradition of Seventh-day Adventist eschatology, which had been suppressed by Kuniaki Koiso during his wartime rule of Korea, Ahn further believed that he was living in the end times and that the Second Coming was imminent. As Korean Protestants earlier in the 20th century had perceived Japanese occupation by identifying symbolically with the history of Israel, Ahn, through biblical exegesis in his book The Mystery of God and the Spring of the Water of Life (1980), interprets the Gospel of Matthew chapter 24 verse 32-34 to suggest that the world could come to an end in 1988, 40 years after the independence of the modern state of Israel. Ahn's original The Mystery of God and the Spring of the Water of Life is made available online; World Mission Society Church of God in their later editions of the book have deleted information pertaining to the failed prediction. Ahn in his book The Bridegroom Was a Long Time in Coming, and They All Became Drowsy and Fell Asleep (1980) in a discussion based on scriptural typology, presented his conclusion that the world would come to an end in 2012:
By 1978 a group of people centered around a female member, one Um Sooin (born 1941), within the Witnesses of Jesus Church of God, claimed through a chain of scriptural eisegesis that they published in writing, that Um variously was "the only bride", "the Heavenly Jerusalem", "the New Jerusalem" on earth, "the comforter sent by God", and they asserted that she was "our mother who has come down from Heaven", and that Ahn was Christ. Um and the group around her claiming she was the spiritual mother were expelled from the church, and Ahn dedicated a book entitled Problems with the New Jerusalem, the Bride and Women's Veils (1980, reprinted 1983) to the controversy, in which he writes:
Ahn concludes his rebuking of Um Sooin:
"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner."In other words, whenever a woman makes assertions in the Church, the Church will fall under the deception of the Devil.
Following a heart attack during lunch on 24 February 1985, Ahn had a stroke en route to hospital, and died the next day, 25 February 1985 in the Catholic Maryknoll Hospital in Jung District, Busan. Ahn Sahng-hong was 67 years old. He was survived by his wife and three children.
Ahn was buried in a public grave located in Seokgye Cemetery 30 kilometres (19 mi) north of Busan. From the time of his burial in 1985, a single tombstone stood beside the grave, the epitaph reading: "The grave of the prophet Elijah Ahn Sahng-hong." After the death of his wife Hwang Won-sun 23 years later on 4 September 2008, she was buried in the plot beside Ahn, and a new tombstone carrying both their names (as well as their children's on the back) replaced the 1985 stone, repeating the epitaph.
The unexpected death of Ahn gave rise to a power struggle within Witnesses of Jesus Church of God: some people in the church wanted to continue along the lines laid out by Ahn, others wanted to re-introduce the concept of a "spiritual mother" embodied in the then 41-year-old woman named Zahng Gil-jah (born 1943). After an extraordinary general meeting in Witnesses of Jesus Church of God on 4 March 1985 failed to reconcile the opposing factions, a schism divided the church into two sects
- New Covenant Passover Church of God,
- Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong Church of God.
New Covenant Passover Church of God
One group of people in Witnesses of Jesus Church of God stayed on the premises in Busan. Among them were Ahn's wife and their three children. This sect is today known as New Covenant Passover Church of God. Ahn's son Ahn Kwang-sup (born 1954) is an elder in the church and continues to expound on his father's work. An outside observer visited the church and had this comment:
Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong Church of God
Another group of people in Witnesses of Jesus Church of God including the man Kim Joo-cheol and the woman Zahng Gil-jah wanted to re-introduce the concept of a "spiritual mother", and on 22 March 1985 moved from Busan to Seoul. On a meeting in Seoul on 2 June 1985, they established a church called Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong Church of God. Two major new doctrines were codified
- Ahn Sahng-hong should be regarded as Jesus Christ who had already come, should be titled Christ Ahn Sahng-hong, and pursuant to a traditional trinitarian view of Christian hypostasis Ahn was consequently also The Holy Spirit, God the Father, and thus God.
- Zahng Gil-jah should be regarded as God the Mother, a female image of God, be titled Heavenly Mother, or simply Mother, and together with Ahn Sahng-hong be regarded as God.
A change in religious practice, as reflected in the change of name from "Witnesses of Jesus" to "Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong", was, that prayers were no longer conducted in the name of Jesus Christ but in the name of Christ Ahn Sahng-hong.
The deification of Ahn Sahng-hong and Zahng Gil-jah has been "harshly criticized," and has led to the church being officially condemned by The National Council of Churches in Korea as an interdenominationally combatted, blasphemous, heretical cult.
As a central argument to the claim that Ahn Sahng-hong should be the Second Coming of Jesus, and in turn an argument for his suggested promotion of Zahng Gil-jah to the Bride of the Lamb, is the proposition that he fulfilled a Davidic prophecy by preaching 37 years from his baptism 16 December 1948 to his death on 25 February 1985, a period which in reality was only 36 years, 2 months, and 9 days. The source for the baptismal date of 16 December 1948 performed by a Pastor Lee Myeong-deok in Incheon is however obscure, and no written record exists. In 2011 a protocol from the Seventh-day Adventist Church was discovered, stating Ahn was baptised when he was 36 years old on 9 October 1954 by a Pastor Gim Seo-gyeong. The investigation by The International Korean Christian Coalition against Heresy showed, that while Pastor Gim could be confirmed, no Pastor Lee Myeong-deok was with the church in 1948, reducing the length of the ministry of Ahn from 36 years to 30 years and 4 months.
1988 failed doomsday prophecy
Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong Church of God announced that "1988 is the end of the world" citing Matthew 24:32-34 as Ahn had done in his 1980 book The Mystery of God and the Spring of the Water of Life. A few thousand members of Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong Church of God gathered on a mountain in Sojeong-myeon, Yeongi County, South Chungcheong Province awaiting the coming of Christ Ahn Sahng-hong, preparing for the rapture and the salvation of 144,000 souls. When Ahn failed to appear and nothing happened the church updated their apocalyptic forecast and scheduled it to the opening of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul later that year where the members gathered and preached the end of the world would come by the end of 1988 and that Ahn Sahng Hong would come again. WMSCOG later claimed it was a fulfillment of the preaching of Johna.
Around 1997, Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong Church of God had established a non-profit organization titled the Church of God World Mission Society for the purpose of registering and managing the organization's assets.