Chapter 4 - The Quest for Pure Gold: Individually and as a Family
On a personal level, the quest for the Lampstand of Pure Gold meant that our homes, marriages, children and daily schedules must all be "in order," otherwise the gold would not be pure enough, and the light would not be bright.
This ordered life began with what we called the anchors of the faith. Acts 2:42 says, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." We used this verse in such a way as to make sure every aspect of our time was centered on Assembly activities. This began with a schedule. New members, who showed a certain level of commitment, were to submit a schedule to a more senior member, in order for them to "go over it." What this meant is that the new member would submit every activity, from every hour of the day and night to Assembly leadership for assessment and approval. Sometimes this meant that people would have to quit jobs, quit sports, even drop out of school in order to "serve God."
The next phase of "order" began in "the home." Our founder was fond of saying, "The local assembly is only as strong as the families that make it up. It all begins in the home." Orderly homes began with orderly marriages. The Bible teaches that wives should submit to their husbands, as to The Lord. We never seemed to notice the "to The Lord" part, but we vigorously practiced the submission aspect. Again, there was something much deeper about marriage in our minds, as compared to what other people saw. Marriage was to be a picture of Christ and the church. The same attention to detail that God had towards His lampstand was to be seen between husband and wife.
Assembly husbands had the tremendous responsibility of playing the role of Christ, and their lucky wives got to be the church. Because so many marriages in the world, even in the so-called evangelical church, were in disarray, if we knew nothing else, we knew that God did not want our marriages to be like those in the world. And I must admit, they certainly were not. Suffice it to say that in our marriages we pursued the Deeper Marriage Life with dedication. There was not one aspect of the extreme role-playing idea that was not explored and practiced. Being man enough to tell one’s wife what to do, and seeing that it get done on time and with a good attitude was a good start. Sobbing, crying, threatening or any other carnal behaviors from one’s wife were simply not to be tolerated. As husbands, we were to love our wives enough to stand for them, and bring them all the way to victory, even as we thought Christ did for His church.
Wives were to render honor and respect to their husbands, and were to see that they were happy in the marriage bed. This was a real opportunity to "go the way of The Cross" for most wives, because most women would have had a difficult time feeling affection for a husband who behaved according to our idea of "Christ." We reminded our wives that it was all worth it, however, because the goal was nothing less than a candlestick of pure gold, for God! In spite of this nonsense, my marriage was really pretty good overall, mainly because my wife and I did a good job convincing ourselves that what we were going through was only for our betterment, and that very soon we would reap joy and blessing.
Children were also included in God’s deeper purpose for His church. Because the idea of Sunday school, or children’s church is never seen in the New Testament, we logically concluded that having such programs would be akin to putting some foreign material into the candlestick. Because there was no way we would ever allow such a thing, our children sat through the same meetings for the same amount of time that we did.
Practically, this meant that they needed to learn to sit still, for up to three hours, without making a sound. This required diligent, consistent training, which involved quite a bit of negative reinforcement. In addition, in the home, children were required to obey their parents on the very first command, even as we believed we should obey Christ when He commands us. This meant that we must love our very young children enough to spank them promptly at the first sign of disobedience. It made sense to us, because it was exactly the sort of image we had of God, who was paying attention to every detail and stood ready to deal with us for any sort of infraction.
I must admit that in some ways these practices were helpful. Our young children were so obedient that we could take them anywhere and get compliments from amazed people who had never seen such well-behaved kids. Going out to dinner, traveling and visiting people is much more manageable for us than for most people, because our children have undergone rigorous training. I confess that not all of this was a bad thing. In spite of the extreme nature of the practice, a few of the ideas we learned with our children are worthy of continuation, most were not.
Nevertheless, I am willing to bet that the reader is saying to him or herself right now, "Those kids are outa’ there as soon as they turn 18!" It is a sad fact that this is indeed what happened to many of the teenage children in The Assembly. However, as we shall see, these wayward children were used by God to play a major part in my future deliverance.
As we sailed further into the Deeper Life, we also learned how to "shine the light" with many outreach and discipling techniques. We learned how to do "gospel presentations," which were prepared speeches that we would use for street evangelism. We would formulate an "interest producing statement," which was identical to a telemarketer’s hook. Then, after "securing participation," we would spew out a paragraph that explained the need for salvation. Each paragraph ended by asking people if they wanted to receive Christ as their savior. Some members objected to them because they thought they were insincere, like a sales pitch. The leaders who promoted this practice countered by saying that we weren’t street counselors; we were there to preach only the way to salvation. Gospel Presentations fit the bill perfectly, because they always contained the message of salvation, and were utterly devoid of any counseling or emotion. "If you were diligent to practice them," we were admonished, "then they wouldn’t sound so stiff and canned. Besides, this is the way God is teaching us to preach the Gospel." Consequently, The Assembly at one time was famous for being the church with the robots that go out and repeat canned pitches to people every Thursday night.
We also learned some real keys to discipling, or following up on contacts from the many outreach endeavors. One of the main ones was writing letters. We would have meetings where we would each get several little pieces of paper with the name and address of a person we "made contact" with that week, and write a short letter to each of them, in order to faithfully follow up. Somehow, we believed that writing letters to strangers was a good way to "go out to them." Let me tell you, generally speaking it is not a good way of following up, if seeing the contacts again is the goal. A majority of people gave out false addresses and phone numbers; so many outreach letters never saw their destination anyways. Most "contacts" thought it was weird and smacked of salesmanship to get a handwritten letter a few days after barely speaking to someone at a book table. I remembered very clearly, when I learned about letter writing, how Jeff had written me that letter long ago. I felt a little uncomfortable when I realized that he had never written me a letter since then. When I was a "contact," he pretended to be my friend, but when I was really his friend, he had no time or inclination to write me another letter. I pushed this uncomfortable thought way down inside, and forcefully turned off my conscience, which was blaring at me, "Phony! Manipulation! Insincere!"
As I reflect on everything I have said so far, I find it interesting that I can still quote many verses and passages that seem to promote exactly what we were practicing. We began by thinking that we were more committed than most believers, saw something more profound in the Bible than others, and had more serious, spiritual lives. Keep in mind that we never came out and said we were better than others; it was just the only logical conclusion that could be drawn from our teaching. In addition to all this, we believed our church was based on the New Testament pattern and was free from all the traditions and human intrusions that plagued modern Christianity. We only needed to look at each other to see that this was true; our marriages were in order, our children were obedient, our homes were clean and ready for hospitality at a moments notice, and we spent more time in the Word, in prayer, and in real worship than any other believers we had ever heard of. All of this, not to mention the large sacrifices of career and education that many of us had made to be involved in God’s work, proved to us that God was doing something very special in our midst.
What is to be learned from all of this is that once we believers are predisposed to dwelling on the many blessings of the Christian life, or an apparent process, like The Cross, along with a good dose of zeal, it is only a small step towards living out every area of our lives in such a way that we fashion ourselves to fit the pattern we have in our minds. Our ideas become the potter and our lives become the clay. This is quite a contrast when compared to following the leading of The Holy Spirit. When we adhere to a process, we not only lose sight of our Lord, but we soon lose sight of each other. For example, instead of having a loving relationship with my wife, talking, planning and doing things that pleased her, I was very careful to always remain faithful to my role as "husband." Although it only temporarily damaged our marriage, it destroyed the marriages and families of some of our friends.
I will never forget the conversation I had with one woman; days after her eighteen-year-old daughter ran away from home in the middle of the night. She lamented, "Just when it looked like there was going to be some fruit from all of our training she went off and did this." This poor woman bought into the whole package of the Deeper Life and ran with it. Up until her oldest child’s huge crisis, she was held up as an example of faithfulness and was considered an authority on marriage and child training. She and many other Assembly members were genuinely surprised when her daughter ran away from home in the middle of the night. Not surprisingly, many of the parents of her daughter’s school friends, outsiders, rightfully observed that her home was dysfunctional and were not the least bit surprised that she ran away, they had been expecting exactly that for years. Her family’s spiritual life was so deep that it caused their daughter to drown.
Had we been thinking at that time about Jesus and His love, instead of about the wonderful symbolism of His church, or the mighty power of His resurrection life released in us at the cross, perhaps we would have concluded that Jesus loved these many dear children who left parents and church and that it was OK for us to get to know them and show love to them. Our struggling teens may not have known as many truths about the church and the candlestick, but they might have been at peace and found that we accepted them because they were already accepted in The Beloved. If we had taught them that they were not under obligation to earn God’s approval, by serving their parents and the church, perhaps this might have kept children from running away. Instead, we put tremendous pressure on them to be "good examples," and to make proper choices, and above all to be good members of The Assembly.
There was never an opportunity for Assembly youth to even entertain the idea of fellowshipping outside of The Assembly. Yet, most Assembly members did exactly that in their teen years. At around 19 years of age, they began to attend a different church from their families, The Assembly. Almost all of them did this in spite of strong objections from their parents. This is nothing less than rank hypocrisy.
Had we considered the goodness and longsuffering of God, and how rich He is in mercy, perhaps we would not have spanked our children every time they did something slightly wrong. They may not have been as quiet in restaurants, but they might have learned to love God and show mercy, which is precious in His sight. Instead, they learned to be exacting and severe, because that is what we thought God wanted. They were motivated by fear instead of love.
I have observed two huge problems as a result of this extreme parenting style: children are either totally dull or discouraged, or they are incredibly puffed up and arrogant. The discouraged children are the ones who rebel or leave. Other members, who can easily detect that they are "struggling", often give them sidelong glances. The sad thing is that the arrogant children, who are being "good examples," are commended and will be given responsibility and leadership roles. This serves only to reproduce the pride and blindness that is endemic to church centered groups.
Above all, I wish we had heard about Jesus The Way, or Jesus The Door, because if we had, perhaps we would not have spent so much time and energy on the Way of The Cross, and seeing that we did everything according to "the pattern." If He is The Way, all we needed to do is come to Him and He would take care of everything else. If we had only known Him as The Door, we would not have made the mistake of thinking that only we had the right pattern of the church and would have seen that other Christians also had a way in to God’s presence, because Jesus is The Door. What we did, in essence, was try to climb up into God’s presence by some other, more correct way, instead of entering in at The Door.
The Deeper Life teachers had painted a glorious picture of the "victorious life" and the New Testament Church, which were suspended high above us. We beheld their beauty and purposed to ascend, knowing that it would be a long and difficult climb. If only we had known that Jesus is The Door, we could have just simply walked in! Had we known that Jesus is The Way, we would not have had to strive to pray more, or read more, or witness more, or spank our children more, thinking that these were the way; we need only have simply clung to Him, knowing that He Himself is The Way.
Now we were a long way off course. Not only were we lost, but also we increasingly found ourselves in unpleasant weather. In addition, we were pushing the vessel too hard, experiencing many gear and structural failures. Many people were discouraged, and many of the young people wanted nothing to do with the church. As you might imagine, all of this became increasingly difficult to maintain the longer we were involved.