Mr. Xu Shuangfu, leader of the controversial Three Grades of Servant (TGS) movement in China, was arrested along with 90 other co-workers and followers in April 2004. Some overseas reports immediately tagged the TGS movement as an orthodox Christian house church network, suffering persecution from Communist authorities. However, the evidence emerging since the arrest suggests otherwise.
According to sources familiar with the movement, the TGS was founded in the late 1980s in the largely rural province of Anhui. By the year 2000, it claimed a nationwide membership of over one million followers, with large numbers of disciples in Anhui, Sichuan and northeast China.
Xu Shuangfu, the founder of TGS, is aged somewhere in his sixties, although with his long beard he looks considerably older. He is also known as Xu Shengguang, a name which means holy light. The long hair and beard are more akin to traditional Daoist ideas of a divine sage than to Christianity.
Sources say Xu travels from place to place in the utmost secrecy. Wherever he stays overnight becomes a Holy of Holies, forbidden to ordinary sect-members. TGS evangelists sleep in the Holy Place, while ordinary believers hold their meetings in the so-called Outer Court.
Through these arrangements, Xu clearly claims divine status. The God of Israel in the Old Testament allowed only the high priest to approach Him (though only once a year) in the innermost sanctuary of the Jewish temple.
The cult also claims to be the only true church. According to Xu’s teachings, salvation can be gained only through membership in the TGS.
Xu uses Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew chapter 25 as the basis for the church to be divided into three grades of servants. Those in the highest grade are known as apostles. Xu has appointed himself as the Great Servant, and disobeying his commands is seen as disobedience to God himself.
Xu also claims absolute power as the only mediator between God and man. Believers are told not to confess their sins to God directly, but to Xu, thereby replacing Jesus Christ with a human deity.
TGS has a ruthless system of control over its followers. Again according to sources who prefer not to be identified, those who disobey Xu are beaten and those who dare to leave the cult may risk death. Xu and his sister have amassed much wealth from their followers through this tight system of control and allegiance.
There is no doubt that the Chinese government has on occasion wrongly labeled certain house-church movements as dangerous sects or cults. But there is also no doubt that such cults do exist in China.
TGS seems to be a case in point; both the unofficial house churches and the official ‘Three Self’ church in China have condemned the movement as a cult.
– Source: Religious Movement is Questioned, Compass, Aug. 6, 2004