Chapter 8 - A Man Behind the Curtain
Up until now, we had never asked ourselves, "Where are we?" When things went wrong we simply denied reality in Jesus’ name and carried on. However, something was about to change.
As mentioned earlier, many of the young adults left the church upon turning eighteen, and wanted nothing further to do with God. This sad reality took away some of the confidence that we had in our child training methods. We were still following the "deeper" methods because we didn’t know anything else, when none other than my old friend Tim gave us some real help.
We were on a summer missionary team with him and his family and he approached me one day and basically told me that the only reason our children responded to us was because they feared us. He knew we loved them, and that they loved us, but for some reason we were not treating them properly. He gave us real-life examples of what he meant and we received them in real humility. Tim was right; we were using fear to motivate our children, because that is exactly what we had been taught to do, until now.
Tim was beginning to have some new ideas on children and families, which were much more moderate and Biblical than the official Assembly views. As the favorite son of the founder of the group, he was in the unique position of being allowed to have new ideas, and teach them. We embraced these in real humility and for the first time were able to see that something had been wrong. We had made a mistake.
Just this little bit of humility, this small ray of light, was all that was needed. Upon coming to God and telling Him that we had failed, and that we had misunderstood His word, a tremendous spiritual revival occurred in our hearts. I apologized to my wife for driving her harshly, and we apologized to our children as well. Almost immediately, we began to have some real peace and joy for a change, and it was wonderful.
Upon returning home after that summer, we eagerly testified about the wonderful things God had done. Many people were encouraged, and noticed immediately that we had changed, for the better. However, the local leadership felt threatened, because they had not yet been taught this radical new form of marriage and child training. Whereas Tim was able to say new things and get away with it, I was not. This strange new idea of loving our wives and children and not motivating them to behave through fear was not a welcome idea at this time. Consequently, because I effectively communicated what I had learned, the leadership removed me from all of my positions of responsibility and told Suzie and I not to talk about anything we had learned over the summer. This crushed us, because our whole identity, and everything that we had worked for was taken away from us for telling the truth. We had not sinned, we had served sacrificially and we were loyal to the cause, yet we were treated like enemies.
How could this be? We were only sharing how God had finally come through for us, just like He was supposed to according to our theology, and now, the moment we spoke about it, we were being persecuted. "What is wrong with the leaders?" we would ask ourselves. This soon progressed into, "Is there something wrong with our assembly?" and finally, "Where are we? Is this really what God wants? If we were deceived about the way we were raising the kids, is it possible we are mistaken in some other area as well?"
For the first time, we poked our heads up out of the hatch and surveyed the sea. It was rough and stormy, and the water was cold. We were definitely not in the gentle trade winds and warm tropical water that we had set sail for, no matter what anyone might say to the contrary. We gazed into the heavens and took a bearing on the stars, comparing with a corrected navigational chart and found that we were nowhere close to our intended position. Our eyes were now wide open, we were fully awake, and we felt like we needed to tell the others, right away.
God started speaking to us, about Himself and His Love. When we read the Bible, we could still see all of the symbolism regarding the church, the cross and the inheritance and all of the other things we held so dear, but even more precious was seeing the character of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
We were slowly being released from our bonds, not feeling so obligated to serve, but desiring to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His word. We lost a lot of approval, but we also forged deeper friendships with people that we had been too busy to spend much time with before. We also began to see that our leaders were wrong about many things, and were not doing a good job caring for the flock. As you might imagine, upon pointing this out to them it was not well received. At this time we concluded that the problem was local. People like Tim, who was from "headquarters" down in southern California, would straighten things up soon.
We began to hear all sorts of strange, incorrect things being said in the preaching on Sundays and Wednesdays. We were a little uncomfortable when we realized that they were nothing new, we just hadn’t noticed them before. When we called attention to them we were often told, "You heard it wrong, I never said that." We would go back and listen to the tape and indeed we had heard it right. This happened frequently, and even when there was clear proof that a person had said something that was incorrect, or unclear, they would not apologize for it, let alone correct it. Instead, we were told that we were the problem and that we needed to quit being so critical.
This was almost too much for us, because although we knew we were off course, we could not accept the fact that our leaders seemed to not care, and in some cases even wanted it that way. We always figured that they were just mistaken like we were, and that upon being shown the light, would repent as we had done. We were saying that our ship was in danger, and that we were lost, but they turned it around saying that everything was fine until we started speaking up.
In our hearts, we knew we had peace with God, and we were happy for the first time in years. We also loved our friends and wanted to help them. We decided to be patient, to suffer for righteousness sake, and to pray for God to break through and heal our church. This idea, unfortunately, was also a Deeper Life practice. We believed that because the church was so holy to God, we should never lay hands on it or make changes. The phrase we often used was, "Keep your hands off holy things." We knew the story of Uzza, and how he was struck dead, despite his good intentions, when he touched the Ark of the Covenant by mistake, so we kept our hands off. We did this for almost 3 years, and things only got worse.
We had always been told that what made our church special was that we understood that the church fellowshipped with Christ in heavenly places. He does not come down to us, we go up to Him. We came to the heavenly Mount Zion, into the Holy of Holies in the heavens, and entered through the veil, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, etc. This meant that The Assembly was His church, and as such He had everything His way, because we were not hanging on to all the earthly traditions, like so many other churches.
When it finally dawned on us that we had just as many traditions as any denomination, we were dumbfounded. All of the various assemblies were exactly alike, and had been since the first day we walked in the door. There was no difference at all, in anything. We all read the same books, listened to the same tapes, and even spoke the same way. Now, with my blindness partially cured, this seemed to me to smack of denominationalism. Why hadn’t I seen this before?
Furthermore, just like the traditions that keep denominational churches from changing, we had our own traditions that kept us from changing, in spite of the fact that we were being choked! We made many loud proclamations about how The Assembly was raised up and sustained by God. We had no earthly head, or organization, but Christ alone was our head. What nonsense! It was perfectly clear to anyone who looked, that Christ couldn’t speak to our assembly unless he had the approval of the leadership.
This best way for me to relate this to others is by using the Wizard of Oz as a metaphor. People thought that a powerful being was in charge, but really there was just a man pulling levers behind a curtain. It was all an illusion. In our case, we always thought that God was present in our meetings in a way that was much more real and powerful than other groups. However, it soon became apparent that, instead of our risen, exalted Christ behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies, there were mere men hiding behind a curtain of legalism and tradition in our assembly.
Although I knew this in my heart, I still believed that God would deliver all of us. We now were attending less and less often, only going out to Worship and occasionally to pray. Interestingly, it was my tired wife who had the better attendance now, since I had stopped forcing her to serve, she developed a real heart of prayer and worship. Needless to say, this made me very happy, any doubts I had about the condition of her heart vanished.
Things came to a conclusion when the founder of the group came into town to counsel and preach. Suzie and I prayed and prayed that God would encourage us by this godly man’s visit, and that if we were losing our vision, as people said we were, that God would restore it. "Oh Lord, you know our hearts, that we have been deceived and proud so many times, Lord it seems that we are seeing clearly now, but please, speak to us, show us your way, deliver us from deception. Lord, please keep us from doing anything foolish!" This was our sincere prayer for a week as we eagerly anticipated this man’s visit and knew that God was going to speak to us. In spite of the fact that we knew, beyond any doubt, that there were huge problems in our church, we still held the founder of our group in high regard, and we believed that God could speak through him.
We showed up to the meeting, which was not unlike all the others, and sat on the edge of our seats, waiting to hear from God. The outline on the board was, "To know, knowing, to be known." The message was very unorganized and extremely difficult to follow. I had no idea what it was about so I asked several people afterwards if they understood anything and they said, "No, not really." Come to think of it, this was not at all unusual; many people had trouble following this man’s preaching. Nothing was the least bit out of the ordinary, except my hearing, which was very acute that night.
Although I could not grasp what the man was trying to say with his outline, I did understand, with crystal clarity, little phrases and ideas to the effect that most Christians have a "Theological faith," whereas in The Assembly we have a "Biblical faith." He was very clear in letting us know that "Theological faith" was not as good, which was part and parcel of our elitist Deeper Life tendencies. For some reason, upon hearing this, my wife and I reacted negatively for the first time. "What? We’re not superior in faith to anyone, after all, look at all the serious trouble going on around here." "How can he say that we are so much more special than other Christians when there are so many huge problems here?" At the time, there was a serious issue of sin in the leadership, which I will not discuss here in detail. Suffice it to say that the sin was of such a grievous nature that it not only disqualified the man for service of any kind, but it caused the destruction of his family and marriage, and later, split the church. This, along with the fact that many people were totally discouraged at this time should have been plenty of proof that we were not the least bit superior to the average denominational church.
He went on to say how a Christian leader in another country had a paper on Calvinism that he wanted our leader to read, "He told me, ‘It’ll knock you socks off.’ Well, dear ones, when I read it I just said to myself, this doesn’t knock my socks off; in fact this is nothing that I haven’t been saying for years. You know, back home most of the saints in The Assembly know all this. You see dear ones, the House of God is the school room of the believer, we don’t need theologians to teach us, and we know more than they do just from walking with Christ!"
Make no mistake; God powerfully spoke to us at this time. We had with fervency prayed that He would open our eyes, and He answered. With instant clarity, we realized that we had been listening to this kind of talk for 17 years! This message was nothing new. For some reason, this time we saw that our supreme leader was a very proud, arrogant man, who habitually put down other Christians every time he spoke. This hurt very deeply, because many of us had given him honor and esteem that should have been reserved for God alone. We had followed him, and let him interpret the Bible for us, which should have been the Holy Spirit’s function. We had considered him to be God’s servant, essentially God’s man in the present day, to communicate to us the deeper things of the Bible. We felt like fools. Instantly, we saw what many outsiders had seen all along, we were part of an elitist, arrogant church, built around a very proud and controlling man’s ideas. We were devastated and went home to pray about what to do.
Not long after this, the most moderate of the leaders came to me to find out why I had withdrawn from service and attendance. I thought this was rather comical, because they were supposed to be my friends, but they knew very little of what was going on in my life. Now, as in the past, had I shared it with them, I would have only been rejected and would have been told to keep quiet about it. Many times, the truth was not a topic for discussion. I explained to this leader that I could no longer serve in good conscience and shared with him some of my thinking on the subject. Should he ever read this book, I want him to know how much I appreciated his approachability. No one else would have listened. He suggested I write a paper about it, which I did.
To make a long story short, no one was willing to read my paper, except this one leader. Far from engaging me in discussion, or trying to change my mind and correct my "error", everyone rejected both my ideas and me, without even listening to what I had to say. Even this moderate leader disagreed with much of what I had written, but he at least had the decency to read it first. I was very grateful to him for this, and began praying that he and his family would also be illuminated to what was actually going on. I am happy to say that he and his family are no longer involved in that church as of this writing. It took an extra 18 months, but God is beginning to deliver him.
To make matters worse, once my inflammatory essay was in existence, a very defensive tone was adopted in the preaching and teaching, to the effect that the leaders were telling everyone that everything was fine, and not to listen to any dissent, which might be coming from certain ones who are drawing back.
The last meeting our family had anything to do with was a Sunday afternoon, when my wife was singled out in the announcements and asked, "We don’t see some of you anymore. Where are you? Are you still committed to the Lord? Do you still value Him? Where is your family?" The man who said this was staring right at Suzie the whole time he made this pronouncement and people knew exactly to whom he was talking. This poor man, one of the most vocal leaders, didn’t have any idea what we were thinking or struggling with when he said these things. The only thing he knew was that we were not standing in line with all of the proper sheep. He did not know, or care to know why. We now knew, beyond any doubt, that attendance was more important than spiritual health, the outside more important than the inside. We were Pharisees. If we had been regular with our attendance, we would have been commended, even though on the inside, we knew there were serious problems with our church.
When we saw this, we knew it was time to go. God accomplished this in a miraculous way, which I will describe in the next chapter.
We were free, we knew where we were, but how could we successfully navigate back to where we should be?