Finances in the Assembly
Brent T. posted this on the new website on November 15, 2002, before the collapse of the Geftakys ministry in 2003.
"A careful record is a glory to God," George Mueller of Bristol
One of the Assembly's unique practices is that there is not any sort of accounting for the money collected as tithes and offerings. No public record of any kind is kept, and no explanation will be given to a person who might inquire, except to repeat what is said in every meeting where the collection box is in the back of the room: "All of the money is used for God's work here and abroad." This may be true, but there is no way to prove it one way or the other; we must take George and Betty's word for it. Since only cash is accepted, it is impossible to determine if the money is kept in a bank, in a vault, or overseas. The plain fact is that financial matters are secret, period.
Another curious yet related practice is that George, Betty and their sons do not list their social security numbers on documents unless it is absolutely necessary, as in acquiring a driver's license. Instead of writing numbers, they write xxx-xx-xxxx. We are told that this is to avoid persecution from the government, or that it is no one's business, and other such things. If nothing else, this is a peculiar habit, not shared by the vast majority of Christian working people.
On the other hand, there other groups of people who make a practice of withholding or falsifying their Social Security numbers, but they are generally unsavory types, to whom a person would not willingly give ten percent of their income. Personally, I do not like Social Security at all, and I wish the system were destroyed. However, this is the culture we live in, and we must obey the laws of the land as long as they do not violate God's laws, or our conscience. In spite of the merits or evils of our increasingly socialist state, we must obey the scripture when it instructs us to "do what is honorable in the sight of God and men." The Assembly seems to have raised some questions along these lines with its unique financial practices, and these we will explore.
One thing we know to be true is that there is money, somewhere. We just don't know where, or what it is spent on. The reader is free to draw his or her own conclusions regarding this practice. The articles and stories below offer some reasoning and conjecture as to why a policy of secrecy has been employed since the beginning. It must be stressed that everything you are to read below has been researched and proven true, as much as possible. The people who do know where the money goes are not talking as of yet. Should they do so, we will happily retract and correct anything said or implied that is untrue. This area of finances, of all the issues with The Assembly, is perhaps the easiest to dispatch. A simple public disclosure like any other church is all that is needed.
Why There Will Never Be Financial Disclosure in the Geftakys Ministry
It is a known, undeniable fact that there has never been financial disclosure of any kind in the group known as “The Assembly.” This is simply the truth, and anyone who is involved knows that it is true. Over the years, there have been several veins of indoctrination in order to explain why there is no accountability; this essay will explore these, and also theorize as to why it is highly unlikely that there will ever be any change in the way George handles his ministry’s money.
The Geftakys ministry deals only in cash. Checks cannot be made out to “The Assembly,” as there is no entity with that name. The Assembly is not a business, nor a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation registered with the IRS. There are no "church" bank accounts, etc. Every Assembly monetary transaction is done with cash. The only exception to this is when an individual member writes a check or uses a credit card to purchase items, or pay for plane tickets and are then re-paid out of "the Lord’s Treasury". The Lord’s Treasury is what they call the box where members deposit their tithes.
The Reason for Secrecy
George Geftakys teaches that the Assembly is not a business, and that "the government has no business in the House Of God.” He further elaborates on this idea by stating that it is a grave compromise for the church to “register with the government for tax reasons.” George believes that government recognition is the first step to government control, which would lead to compromise of the Testimony to Jesus, resulting in a worldly church.
In the future, he may prove to be absolutely correct in this belief. Tax-exempt status for Christian churches is evidence of God’s goodness to America, and America’s godly heritage. To date, when compared to other governments around the world, America has been a place of real freedom for God’s people. We can worship anywhere we please without fear. The church can engage in any type of charity it desires, as long as it operates under certain guidelines. These guidelines have not proven to be too burdensome to date, but it is certainly possible that they may indeed become a snare for the church in the future. Should the wonderful religious freedom of this country erode, it may very well be that government recognition does lead to persecution and control of the Church.
It is this possibility that George uses to justify the position the Assembly has taken with regard to finances. George Geftakys does not want the government to have anything to do with the church at all. This is a perfectly fine and commendable view. In fact, the well-regarded Hillsdale College, a famous liberal arts university, has the same view. It has caused them to refuse all federal money of any kind, because in order to accept federal money, they must abide by federal guidelines and restrictions, which they find unacceptable. They take a bold stand and stick to their principles. Hillsdale also has a yearly profit and loss statement and utilizes C.P.A.s and attorneys to make sure their financial matters are in order. As we shall see, the Geftakys Assembly, while seemingly sharing Hillsdale’s views, does not observe their scrupulous accounting methods.
To sum up, keeping the government completely out of the church is really a very safe, and potentially wise policy. Barring other factors, there appears to be a certain noble purity demonstrated by taking such a stance.
The Problem with Secrecy
Let us further pursue the implication of the Assembly’s financial policies, as they relate to the individual member. Because the Assembly has nothing to do with the government, members’ tithes are not tax deductible. This, again, is perfectly legitimate. Jesus taught that we should render to Caesar what is his, and likewise render to God. He certainly did not say we should only render to God what Caesar allows us to deduct. The members of the Assembly give after-tax money to the Lord’s Treasury. This is consistent with the stand they have taken regarding separation from the government. This is commendable and speaks to the commitment level of the Assembly’s adherents.
Strangely, a corollary that grows out of this thinking is that those who are recognized as “full time in the Work” (there are six of these in the Assembly) should not have to pay taxes on the money given to them out of the tithes and offerings. Here is where things get sticky.
The tithing members are 100% consistent with George’s doctrine. However, the same cannot be said about George and the other full-time Workers. If George and the other full-time Workers were consistent, then they would declare whatever money and compensation they received on an IRS Schedule C, and they would pay self-employment taxes on the same. This is exactly what self-employed members do with their income and compensation.
Sadly, the full-time Workers in the Geftakys ministry do not do this. George, his two sons, and three other men have been receiving tax-free cash for many years. So far as anyone knows, they do not declare any of the money they receive from either the Lord’s Treasury or from members directly.
If this dichotomy were not the case, then the Assembly would truly have a reason to boast. If it were true then we would see an all-too-rare example of a group of people standing on principle, even when it is not to their immediate advantage. They would be practicing what they preach and would be beacons of light and purity in the sometimes-shady evangelical "Christian" business world.
To make matters worse, no one knows exactly where “God’s money” goes, or what He spends it on. It is assumed that some of it goes to the Assembly outreaches overseas, such as Samuel Ochenjele and his small groups in Nigeria, and the outreach in Cuernavaca. But beyond this, nothing is said. If God is investing His money, or giving it to help orphans in AIDS-ravaged Africa, only He and George know about it.
I ask the reader, how is this consistent with the idea that the government has no part with the Church? Would not the government be just as far removed from the Assembly if George Geftakys and his full-time Workers paid their taxes? After all, that is what the members do. I wonder why the members don’t follow their leaders by not paying taxes on the money God provides for them through their employment? Perhaps they are worried about the consequences such an action would have on their ability to provide for their families.
The Assembly teaches that there should be no fragmentation in a Christian’s life. There should be no "secular vs. spiritual" debate; God should be honored in everything we do. God is providing for some members through self-employment, and they pay taxes on the same. The Assembly clearly teaches that we are all serving God, no matter our occupation, as long as we are obeying Him. Why shouldn’t a full-time Worker, who is enjoying God’s, provision from the tithes and offerings, pay taxes the same as a regular member, because according to Assembly theology, they are both spiritual, and there is no such thing as a professional clergy? It makes no sense at all.
That they are called “Workers,” illustrates the fact that they perform a service. The full-time Workers spend their time teaching Bible study, counseling people, promoting the ministry and doing other things for the group. They are given compensation for this service, which is only fitting. Should they refuse to perform the service for which they have been appointed, they would, in turn, lose their compensation. Clearly, in the eyes of the IRS, this constitutes contracted labor, if not an employer-employee relationship.
However, there is no declaration of income, and no tax is paid. When full-time Workers fill out their tax forms, if they do not declare the cash they receive every month, along with the travel expenses and other forms of compensation, they are not being truthful regarding all the money or compensation they receive. But according to the family members of an Assembly Worker, this is in fact what happens.
Because the Bible is generally quite negative regarding the practice of lying, the Workers justify not paying tax by stating that while they must declare income, they do not have to declare “gifts.” All the money they receive from the Lord’s Treasury, rather than being called income, is considered a gift. And indeed it is--it is an after- tax gift from the members of the Assembly. The members put the money into a box and George and Betty decide how large a “gift” each worker receives. No doubt, they often find a gift or two for themselves from time to time. It is stated almost every single Sunday, in every Geftakys Assembly that, “All of the money is used for the work of the Lord, both here and abroad.” Please take note of the word “all,” as it has bearing on the next paragraph.
I would like to use this opportunity to remind the full-time Workers what happened to a certain couple named Ananias and Saphira, who were contributors to the Assembly at Jerusalem in the time of the apostles. The story relates how they were not telling the truth regarding how much money they sold a piece of property for. They wanted to appear righteous before men, so they sold property, kept back some of the money and then gave the rest to the apostle Peter.
The problem is that they lied and said that they sold the property for the amount they donated to the Lord’s Work. This was not true, and consequently they were struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. They could have just admitted that they donated half of what they sold the property for, or remained silent and Peter would have said, “Thank you, God bless you.” Instead, they lied and suffered death. This should be an example to us. God cares about money matters in the Church! I personally don’t think it is wise to lie, or be deceitful in any way when it comes to God’s money, whether it is what I give to the Lord’s Treasury, or what I get from it.
In addition, Paul was conscientious in his handling of contributions so he could demonstrate a high regard "for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men." Paul also instructed the saints to "pay their taxes" (Romans 13:1-7). When he asked churches for money he told them what it was for, and where it was going. Furthermore, he often did manual labor to earn his own money, so that no one could accuse him of impropriety. The key words for Biblical church finance are accountability and openness. The key words for Geftakys Assembly finance are total secrecy. This is, quite simply, a plain fact; no one can refute it.
Decades of Secrecy Make It Impossibly Costly to Change
No doubt, due to this website and other writings about this group, there is pressure from various sources to improve the image of the Lord’s Treasury and its steward. For example, for years only George and Betty handled the money. Now there may be another person who is involved. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that this new steward wants to give some of the surplus away to a worthy cause, AIDS orphans in Africa, or the Red Cross perhaps. This is great! But what happened to the surplus tithes from last year, or the last three decades? Even if we assume that every penny was spent in a wise and Christ honoring way for the last thirty years, there is a serious problem.
Because George set up the handling of The Lord’s Treasury in such a way that it remains totally secret, not only from the government, but also from every other church member, it becomes impossible to change. You see, even if the ministry repented and wanted to avoid all appearance of evil, by being accountable like the examples we have in the Bible, which they claim to follow, they can’t afford to change!
The first time they declared income, the IRS might wonder what is happening. This could lead to questions about the amount of money that was “gifted” for the last thirty years. Where did all these gifts come from? Was it the same amount in the past as this year? Was it more? How much back tax is owed? I believe that an audit of the ministry would be disastrous. Not only would it be very uncomfortable for the full-time Workers, but also it would bring the government into the House of God in a big way. This form of government control would harm The Testimony far more than the full-time Workers declaring income and paying taxes.
In the final analysis, the ministry and The Lord’s Treasury is not an entity, it is a family named Geftakys. They have a dug a deep pit for themselves with the policy of secret finances, and it will be very costly to extricate them.
Whatever George may be, he is not stupid. No doubt he has considered the possibility of “financial persecution by the government” and has taken steps so that he personally could survive the need to pay back taxes. Only God knows how much he has received in “gifts” over the years. All he would need to do is make his gifts very small for a year or two, until an audit occurs, then he could engineer a relatively small amount of back tax by stating that his gifts have grown over the years and they were much smaller in the past.
However, this might not work out so well if one does some rough math, similar to the type which US Treasury employees are quite able to do. Using 10% of Assembly member’s salaries, it is not difficult to see that George could have enough cash deposits in Europe to live in the manner he is accustomed for some time, even after paying a very large tax bill.
Of course, he may have nothing and he may have given every penny to orphans and widows. In this case he would be hit very hard indeed when faced with tax penalties and interest, not to mention the trouble that would come if the IRS asked if his newly declared income was “part or all.”
It is the other Workers who really need to fear. If there are any contingency plans for George and his family, there are probably none for the non-family members who are in the “Work” full-time.
In the event the Assembly goes public with financial disclosure, and the IRS comes calling, the paid Workers might need to cough up significant sums for back taxes. The problem non-family Workers face is that they are not paid very much. Their needs are met month to month and they probably have very little, if any, money in the bank. They are truly dependent on the Assembly for the food they eat. Of the three non-family members who are paid in the Work, two of them have been at it so long that they are at an age where they would not be able to return to the work force with any skills. They would be starting at the bottom, twenty-five years too late. This is a very sad situation.
Should they be presented with a large past due tax bill, they may have no recourse but to declare bankruptcy. Of course, it is possible that God could intervene on their behalf, and they could miraculously find enough money to pay the bill. Assembly members have been very generous to the Lord’s Servants over the years. I certainly hope that this would be the case, because these men have made huge sacrifices in order to serve George and further his ministry. In many ways they are trapped, as their livelihood depends entirely on their loyalty to George and his ministry.
Nevertheless, due to these problems, it is virtually impossible that the financial aspect of the ministry will ever see the light of day. To do so would raise far too many questions and doubt in the minds of the members. In addition, it would expose the Workers to a huge danger with the IRS, which doesn't look too kindly on people who habitually don’t declare income.
Of course, Jesus Provides the Answer to This Dilemma
They asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?" They answered and said, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
The apostle Paul also weighed in with some good advice, Ephesians 4:28:
Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with [his] hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
And also, Romans 13:1-7:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to [execute] wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore [you] must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes [are due], customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
With a surface reading, it would seem that the principles alluded to in these passages suggest that God wants us to pay all of our taxes. Perhaps George Geftakys has studied these passages in depth and has discovered that they really don’t mean what they appear to plainly say. This would certainly explain why the Assembly leaders do not follow this aspect of the Bible.
It is interesting that the Pharisees, whom Jesus is rebuking in the first passage, did not want to pay taxes. They didn’t think they should have to. “What business does the Roman Empire have in the House of God?” they asked. Jesus made it clear that they should pay taxes, if it is the law of the land. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, also indicates that if in the past we have had the habit of stealing, from anyone, we should cease immediately and earn our own wages. Of course, if we earn our own wages we should give some of them back to God, and also give the government what it wants in the way of taxes.
Personally, I would like to abolish the income tax. If this had been the law of the land since 1970, then the issue of tax evasion would be moot. However, even though I don’t like paying taxes, I still pay them because Jesus said that I should. After all, Jesus Christ was a full time Christian worker, and He certainly paid His taxes. It follows that other Christians, even if they are “full time in the Work,” should pay their taxes as well. Even if the fantasy of having no income tax were reality, there is still no excuse for total secrecy regarding finances in the Assembly.
A Difficult Road To Repentance
If the Geftakys ministry decided to do the right thing and render unto Caesar, it would be a very painful process. It would cost four families a lot of money. Yet, who knows, perhaps this humility and honesty would cause God to open the windows of Heaven and pour out a blessing. It does seem impossible, but as George is so fond of saying, “God’s work done God’s way never lacks God’s supply.”
Perhaps the IRS would grant the ministry tax-exempt status and allow them to back-date it to 1971 and they would not have to pay any taxes. Then they would only have to reveal the accounting for all those years, showing that the money was used in a way that qualifies for non-profit status and the trouble would be over. That is what other Christian churches have been enjoying, maybe the Assembly can too. Of course, even if the IRS miraculously allowed the Assembly to get retroactive tax exemption, they would still be in trouble because they have no financial records!
In any event, a good first step towards repentance would be some form of “token financial accountability,” where the finances would still remain secret, but the Workers would, on their honor, declare income and pay taxes like the other members. At present there is only complete and total secrecy. With token accountability, they would at least avoid the evil of tax evasion.
After “token accountability” is achieved, the next step would allow them to avoid the appearance of evil, which is brought about by the secrecy. They might try an accounting program like QuickBooks, or Microsoft Money and actually keep track of things. With programs like these, Profit and Loss reports can be generated instantly in order to satisfy curious members. This need not compromise the Testimony in any way if they did not apply for religious tax exemption and thus the government would not have any business in the House of God.
The only drawback to this course of action is that tax money would be owed, and the disclosures would make people think, “I wonder what was done with all this cash for the last thirty years, when everything was secret?” If that comes to pass, there would be a strong temptation on the part of the leadership to say, “All of it was used for the Lord’s work.” This would be a grave error if, in fact, only part of it was. This approach did not work well for Ananias and Saphira.
I should also add, that the various Assemblies, at least in
California, collect tithes, spend what little is needed for local
expenses, and then send the rest down to Fullerton to George Geftakys.
If people go to the leadership in the smaller Assemblies and ask to see
where the money goes, they may very well be shown a proper, if
rudimentary, list of expenses. The various Assemblies are quite careful
in how they deal with tithes. Every penny that is left over is sent to
Fullerton. The local leaders are not the potentially guilty ones in this
case. The blame, if there is any, is right up at the top.
Brethren, Please Do the Right Thing
In closing, I realize that I have made both direct and indirect accusations and suggestions of impropriety by real people. Much of what I have said is plain fact, and is stated as such. The suggestions about orphans and widows and European bank accounts are educated speculation, but speculation nonetheless. Equally speculative is the suggestion that every penny of the Lord’s Treasury was spent wisely. Quite simply, there is no evidence to support one or the other view. The point is that secrecy is the problem.
Human nature is such that we tend to hide what is inappropriate, not what is appropriate. There may not be evil doings in the Assembly’s finances, but there is definitely the appearance of evil, and this essay is designed to motivate my brethren to bring it into the light, as they are so fond of saying.
It is possible, although unlikely, that I have misrepresented George and the ministry. I do have some first-hand knowledge with regard to all the statements I have made. If they can demonstrate to me that they have been above board with the finances, and that there has been no wrongdoing, then I will be shown to have erred and I become the one who needs to do the right thing.
Should there be an auditing of the books, if in fact there are any books, I will insist that 2 or 3 witnesses are present. In this case, I will write and publish a retraction to this article, and will publicly repent and humble myself for what I have done. Everyone will then know that I was wrong, and that the ministry is above reproach. Should I be misrepresenting them, the fact that I clear up my mistake will accomplish my purpose: the Geftakys Assembly will have a witness that can vouch for its financial accountability and the mystery will be over. Secrecy will not reign, as I, a former member, will know. They will have avoided all appearance of evil, at least in the financial area. I, in turn, will look quite pathetic.
It is a risk I am quite willing to take.
Be forewarned, for an Assembly functionary to dismissively wave his hand and say, “You don’t know what you are talking about, everything is fine,” will not suffice. Even the Mafia says things like this. In the Christian gathering I now attend, they are able to provide receipts and financial statements at a moments notice. I expect nothing less from the people who have charge over what they insist is God’s money.
Should I not be contacted, or should they not be able to demonstrate any sort of accountability, then I pray they change their ways, because God is able to do accounting arithmetic and He may have something to say about His money.