Chapter 3 - The Quest for Pure Gold: The Church
During this time of growth and revelation, my girlfriend Suzie and I had some real struggles and failings with immorality. In hindsight, I would best describe my life at that time as dualistic. As we both became increasingly committed and accountable, we managed to get victory, barely. We still loved each other, even when the leadership said it was God’s will for us to break up. To make a long story short, we finally married, 3 years after my first encounter with The Assembly. This made life much easier and quite a bit more fun, as we could be with each other and do the things we longed to do without guilt. We are still married and in love, 16 years later, and I am confident the leadership was mistaken when they said God wanted us to break up.
Because we were now married, we entered into a new phase of our journey into Deeper Life, as a couple. We had progressed beyond the basics of salvation, commitment, and The Cross, and were now learning about God’s purpose, The Church. As a married couple, we were now supposed to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church in a deeper way than we could have as singles.
We read many books about the Church, some obscure and confusing and some wonderful. We also heard many "heavy" messages preached about what the church should really be like. We drank in the idea that denominationalism is sin. We saw that the Bible never talked about a professional ministry, so we concluded that anyone who was a pastor or professional clergyman, which we called being a hireling, was either stupid or corrupt, possibly both. We were taught that the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, in the book of Revelation, were simply the idea of a professional clergy. Since God said that he hated the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, we learned to hate the idea of clergy. The Bible also never mentioned anything about business meetings, programs, choirs, and just about anything else that we were told went on in mainstream churches. Logically, we denounced all of these things, as well as the churches that practiced them. Of course few, possibly none, of us had attended a mainstream church in many years, some never, but we were sure we knew just what went on inside them, as we were consistently told all about it. It never even crossed our minds that the people informing us about the blunders that occurred every Sunday in America’s churches had seldom been there themselves. Neither did we question the ideas we were taught about "Nicolaitanism."
Not everything we heard was negative. We were introduced to the teachings of T. Austin-Sparks, the Plymouth Brethren and others who had much to say about the church. Although I am now quite convinced where his ideas came from, I remember that George, our chief leader and founder of the ministry, was teaching these ideas as if he had learned them directly from God, when in fact he was simply repeating what these others had said before, especially T. Austin-Sparks. I am somewhat angry now, when I realize that George promoted and recommended many books that backed up some of what he taught. We all knew which books to read, because they were on our "Book Table," a literature display, which was present at several of the weekly meetings. Every Assembly had exactly the same books on the table. Occasionally a book would be banned, in which case no Assembly carried the book any longer. One author that was never represented on the Book Table was T. Austin-Sparks. Now, having been delivered from the group, I have come to learn that these authors had many strikingly similar ideas to that of our founder, yet their writings were never mentioned! I believe the reason for this omission is because it would have exposed George as being the sort of man who "borrows" ideas from others, in contrast with "The Lord’s Servant," who had direct revelation of the Bible as few others ever had. He much preferred to be regarded as the second sort of man.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with learning from others, but if this is the case, credit should be given where it is due. To "borrow," word for word, as our leader did on occasion, from another, and to use their thoughts as your own is called plagiarism.
Nevertheless, we were beginning to study and meditate on much of the symbolism in scripture that pertained to The Church, or as we called it, "The House of God and the Testimony to Jesus." To this day I have met very few people who know as much about the church as I do, and virtually no one who knows as much as some of the Assembly leaders. Yet, I am constantly surprised to learn how little I know about Jesus’ kind and gentle hand and God’s grace, while Christians less than three years old in The Lord have simple, yet profound insight that is so lacking in me. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.
One of the books in the Old Testament of which we were very fond was Exodus. We especially loved the description of the golden lamp stand in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. The Assembly even published its own little pamphlet on the subject called, "The Candlestick of Pure Gold". In this meditation, we learned that this candlestick was to have been beaten from one piece of pure, refined gold. It was not to be soldered together from several pieces, a casting, or gold plated, or hollow, or made from alloy. This is powerful symbolism. While all of it is true, the way we applied it was incorrect, because of our extreme Deeper Life focus. It went like this:
The Church, which is His Body, is to be all one, no division, totally pure and holy. It was to be solid all the way through. Furthermore, once the candlestick was finished it was to be the only source of light in the Holy of Holies. This is analogous to what the church is to be today, the source of illumination, not just in this world, but also in the Heavenly Tabernacle. This is one of the places in scripture where we saw that God’s purpose for His church was that it would be a source of revelation to angels, principalities and powers. And, just like in the book of Exodus, God was meticulous about the details. Everything had to be done just right, or He would reject it! How awesome and dreadful was The Assembly! God wanted everything a certain way, with total unity, with total purity and not in anyway fashioned with men’s hands. Furthermore, it was not just to be on the outside, but pure and solid all the way through. Oh my, but we needed to be so careful. We found ourselves on a razor’s edge, on the one side, the glorious privilege of being God’s lampstand, on the other, the disappointment of being part of the dross, which was discarded and not used in the construction of the candlestick. It all depended on whether or not we would be willing to go God’s way.
Practically, all of this meant several very important things. We spent most of our time and energy learning about and being a part of "the Lampstand." This meant that everything in our lives revolved around The Assembly, its culture and its many activities. Our focus was not on Jesus, but on Jesus’ purpose, or Body, The Assembly. This was "what God was doing," and since God was totally focused on His work, The Assembly, it was only right that we should be also. We should have seen that the typology spoke, not of the church, but of Jesus Christ, The Light of The World, but we did not.
I hope the reader understands how easy it was for us to make this leap, from a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ, to a dedication to what we supposed was His work, namely the church. Our Deeper Life mentality brought forth some strange fruit; we had departed from the simplicity in Christ and given ourselves over to a complex and tedious service to His purpose. We saw something much deeper and more profound in everything, gave our full allegiance to it, and as a result we were now become idolaters, in Jesus name. Our lives were no longer Christ-centered, but were now church-centered. Our idol was The Assembly, even though we insisted that we were serving God.
Returning to our sailing metaphor, at this time we were not only well off course, with incorrect charts, but also our navigation instruments, compass and sextant, were faulty. They had been calibrated to our version of the Deeper Life and as such they gave unreliable readings. We couldn’t have made a correction even if we had realized we were in trouble because we had faulty assumptions about Jesus, His church, and our salvation. Our compass gave consistent headings, but they were consistently incorrect. Our sextant took fine sightings on the stars. However, because it was calibrated to the Deeper Life, the azimuth was several degrees in error. The instrument was, in effect, bent. Consequently, we had no way of knowing where we really were, and thus were unable to tell we were off course. No matter how much we yielded and reckoned, we would never make it to real joy and peace, because we were simply not headed in that direction.
The fact that the lampstand was all of one piece meant that everyone in The Assembly must be totally united. Some preached that we should literally, "say the same thing, having the same mind," as in 1 Corinthian’s chapter one. Virtually all of us learned to say, "Praise the Lord!" and "Amen!" at the right times. We also learned how to console one another in difficult times by saying, "Well brother, The Lord’s on the throne." There were also many little peculiarities of speech that were purely "Assembly." For example, we would refer to other people as, "ones." We would say, "Now saints, let’s pray that the Lord enable us to go out to ones." There are many other examples that could be given, but suffice it to say that we had our own special culture that included dress and speech. We could instantly identify "new ones," the moment they opened their mouths to speak, or by what they were wearing. Our individuality had been sacrificed on the altar of a man’s vision of a one-piece candlestick.
Needless to say, it was not lost to us that virtually no other church in Christendom met the criteria to be a lampstand in the heavenly tabernacle. As we became increasingly aware of the fact that we occupied a uniquely important place in God’s purpose, it became proportionally more important to be faithful in putting aside any differences or complaints we had towards one another and especially towards the Assembly leaders. According to our leader and founder, we were God’s "faithful remnant" in these last days, and we would lose out on the tremendous privilege of shining the light of Christ in heavenly places if we allowed the single piece of pure gold to be divided. God absolutely hated those who caused division among brethren.
The fact that it was beaten work was symbolic of how God would, in a spiritual sense, "beat" us into something supernatural. Our faithful leaders were used by God to accomplish this in our lives. Sadly, some of them physically beat their wives and children. For the most part, however, we were only emotionally beaten and controlled by the leadership. In spite of this, we were to submit to them, because they must give account for our souls. Many times this resulted in getting a few spiritual knocks and bruises. As time passed, we grew in awareness and understanding of how frequently God was using his hammer to mold and shape us.
The gold for this candlestick was to be as pure as could be, which meant that it had to go through the refiner’s fire, as this was the process that burned away all of our impurities. This was interpreted to mean that, "We must through many trials enter The Kingdom of Heaven." Thus, we expected, were resigned to, and even welcomed trials of all kinds into our lives. For example, many people held dead-end, low paying jobs because they were unable to find suitable employment in the area that their particular Assembly was located. Instead of moving, and attending a different church, as "normal" Christians might do, they were stuck in a bad situation. Being told that it would all be worth it, because God was involved in a great project, in which we could be a part, if we were faithful, should be enough to console anyone, we thought.
Many single "Saints," let relationships slip by, and lost potential spouses because the leadership thought marriage of the two parties might not be "God’s will." As time passed, certain leaders gave consistently bad advice, which damaged many people. While this blatant abuse was taking place, it was excused and even welcomed by adopting the idea that what seemed like abuse to the natural man, was actually the "heat" needed in order to refine the person who was on the receiving end of difficult "counsel." The leadership never took responsibility and was never deemed culpable with regard to any mistakes they might have made, because they were "God’s Government." Since God was able to have His way in The Assembly, and His chosen method of expressing His headship was through His appointed leaders, when they thought something was "God’s will," it was as if God Himself revealed it to us face to face.
Looking back, I am amazed at what I put up with, because I was confused into thinking that I needed to suffer wrong in order to be purified. I do believe that Christians need to suffer at various times, but this is something God brings about, He is the Great Physician. In contrast, we mainly suffered because we had agreed to make our lives impossibly complex and difficult, due to our "vision" of something deeper in the church.
The book of Exodus says that the candlestick should be solid. Obviously, there could be nothing in it that wasn’t pure gold. What this meant to us was that there was no room in the church for any activity or practice other than what we thought God considered to be pure gold. Any sort of program, missionary society, para-church organization, seminary or any other such thing was tantamount to having an aluminum frame which was only plated with gold. God would have none of that! It broke my heart that all those denominations and program-oriented churches had failed God so terribly. "Oh well," I would sigh, "I guess they deserve to lose out on His best, since they are so compromised."
Finally, the candlestick was to be a source of light. Even if we did everything correctly, which was expected, if God didn’t endorse it, it would never shine. However, we believed that God had endorsed our Assembly. Unlike worldly churches, which "planted" new gatherings, our assembly had been "raised up as a testimony to Jesus." This type of thinking was basically a circular argument. We were explicitly taught that a church just can’t be "set up," like someone would start a business. No, a real church had to be "raised up," by The Holy Spirit. Our Assembly was this sort of "raised up" church. Because other churches didn’t quite look at it this way, most of them were illegitimate, because God did not raise them up; mere men planned them. For some reason, it never dawned on us that men were involved in The Assembly as well.