Concerns have been raised that a "dangerous" and "deceptive" religious cult which focuses on the apocalypse is operating in Wellington. 

Shincheonji, also known as the "New Heaven and New Earth" church, is reportedly attempting to recruit people in the capital. 

The group has been active in at least one church, and at Victoria University. 

The South-Korean linked group has been criticised across the world for its misleading recruitment style and distorted teachings of Christianity. 

Founder of the group Man-Hee Lee professes to have met the risen Christ, and is referred to as "God's advocate" by followers. 

Nick Field, senior pastor for The Street Church, said seven people from the congregation had approached him in the past week to say they'd had involvement with a group - understood to be Shincheonji - in varying degrees.

Members of the group had invited people from the The Street to Bible studies. However, those revolved around "warped" biblical teaching and isolating the individuals, Field said.

"The cult is subtle. They are very warm and welcoming to start with. They invite you to a Bible study. It's often presented as something new and spontaneous, but it's all planned out. 

"The Bible study is the start of a programme that progressively distorts the Bible. It leads people to something completely opposed to orthodox Christian belief.

"This includes the idea that the cult's founder is a new kind of saviour, and that the cult is a kind of heaven on earth." 

Field encouraged anyone who may have been recruited to talk to a qualified pastor. 

Director of student and campus living for Victoria University Rainsforth Dix said she was aware of activity by "members of a Korean-based group" calling itself various names but "understood to be Shincheonji, including attempts to recruit students".

"We have provided updated guidance to our student leaders, student clubs and on our website about how to recognise and respond to any unwelcome approaches by individuals or groups." 

Emeritus professor of religious history Peter Lineham said Shincheonji - which he labelled "dangerous" and "deceptive" - could be defined as a cult due to its recruiting techniques.

Lineham  said Shincheonji, which is also known as Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, or SCJ, has been operating since the 1980s.

The group is known to operate in Auckland, where it is understood to have an office. 

A common trait of its followers was to infiltrate churches, or university groups, and invite people to Bible studies.

Recruits were told over time that the communities they belonged to were demonic and that   had led to people cutting off family members and friends, Lineham said.  

The apocalypse was also core focus in its teachings. 

"The essential problem with this group is that they are not honest about who they are," Lineham said.  

"Everybody has the perfect right to believe and follow what they want, but it is a reasonable expectation that groups will be upfront so people are able to make a rational decision when joining."

Shincheonji was approached for comment but did not respond. 

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