Errors in Assembly Doctrine and Practice
Heather F., a former member of the Assembly in Spokane, Washington, initially posted this piece in 2003 on the Assembly bulletin board. She prefaced her post, "We've talked a lot about how we were blinded or subjected to control in the Assembly. I think there are certain teachings that have to be implanted before a Christian can be blinded and manipulated the way we were. I wrote this paper in an attempt to identify those teachings and why we fell for them."
"I began to study other religious, new age, philosophical groups that had been described by former members as abusive. The more I read the accounts of these people, the more I saw the same patterns emerging. It was then I came to a conclusion. All abusive groups are, at the core, the same. The outside coating, the words they use, the doctrine they use words from, may be completely different but the dynamics of the group and the controls used, the ultimate abuses and motivations are all the same." --Rachel (Geftakys) Steepleton
The club I initially joined was called "Studies in the Old and New Testament." There was no mention of any church affiliation. It was not until much later that I found out I was actually joining a much larger organization.
My one-on-one discipleship group, "The Four Anchors", on the campus was not only designed to help me "grow in my walk with the Lord," as advertised, but also to show me how all other churches fell short in light of the Corporate Anchors.
People in the community were invited to "community Bible studies" or "Christian outreaches," words which seem to imply no church affiliation, when in fact, these were Assembly meetings.
Each Assembly claimed to be independently led by Christ, while in truth, George Geftakys had the final word on all doctrine and practice. George Geftakys' lectures during his visits were billed as lectures by a "world missionary" rather than lectures by the leader of our church.
New members were only introduced to doctrine "as they were ready." For example, a sister might not be judged ready to submit to direction from all the brothers, so that teaching was kept from her until she was committed.
It's a well known fact--and often exploited by marketers--that people will fulfill stipulations they wouldn't normally agree to if they've already signed an agreement. In this example, the sister would agree to join the Assembly and only later find out that that mean submitting to all the brothers. These are all standard ways the Assembly practiced deception.
Brother George taught us that the knowledge of good and evil was sinful, as it was gained at the fall of Adam. He taught that members must have a "single eye" for the will of God. Thinking things over and doing what we thought was right was sinful. It was relying on our knowledge of good and evil.
Instead, we were to wait for revelation of the will of God. Revelation was given to us through Bible reading, counsel from those above us, open and closed doors, prayer and peace. We were to have these five things in place and unanimous before we made any decisions.
First of all, it should be obvious that we cannot limit God to speak to us in the five approved ways, and we cannot insist that He always give us all five of these things. Perhaps, for example, the counsel we've received is wrong. That doesn't mean God hasn't spoken to us.
Secondly, it is a distortion of the truth to teach God's people not to think. Jesus commended the centurion in Luke 7:1-10 for his thoughtful prayer. The man drew from his experience as a centurion giving commands and reasoned that Jesus could give commands in a similar fashion.
Hebrews 5:14 says that "solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." God wants us to learn to discern good and evil. People who do not think are easily deceived, and their senses are not being trained. For this reason, it is wrong to teach God's people not to think. We shouldn't "lean on our own understanding," but we shouldn't abandon our God-given faculty of reason either.
Distortion of the Concept of "Self"
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). In the Assembly, we learned that our sinful self was dead, and we were part of the new man in Christ. We were to deny ourselves in order to "take up our crosses" and identify with Christ.
God certainly does want us to deny ourselves sin, but that doesn't mean we need to deny our self altogether. An Assembly discipler could turn anything into sin on the basis of, "You're doing it for yourself." This is a great tactic to stop people from doing what they want to do.
Yet, we never see people in the Bible rebuked for being themselves; only for being in sin. Ephesians 3:10 speaks of the "manifold wisdom of God." Each person, made in God's image, is an expression of this manifold wisdom. God delights in the variety of our personalities, including our personal preferences, just as long as they aren't sinful--like "preferring" fornication. Deny yourself sin; otherwise, go out and become the whole "self" God made you to be.
Over and over, I heard it preached that I needed to be accountable to church leadership in order to be in the will of God. Since most other churches don't practice Assembly-style accountability, this teaching pretty much meant you had to be in an Assembly gathering.
I am utterly baffled as to where they found this accountability in the Bible. We hear about church leaders having certain responsibilities, but the Bible doesn't say that believers must be "accountable" to leaders in order to be spiritually healthy.
The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized by Philip, only to return to Ethiopia alone (see Acts 8:25-40). The Spirit of God removed Philip as soon as the eunuch was baptized. Are we to believe that the Ethiopian eunuch committed spiritual suicide by returning home without a human spiritual advisor? God was the one who took his human advisor away!
We don't see the apostles checking every decision, from when to visit their extended families, to which house they'll buy, with the church leadership. We don't see young couples asking the church leaders' permission to get married. We don't see Paul admonishing the believers to call if they're going to miss a meeting.
Acts 2:41 says that "there were added that day about three thousand souls." It is doubtful that the early believers had enough manpower to keep tabs on every aspect of these new members' lives, and besides, church members are accountable for their sin, not for what time they get up or how often they want to visit their grandparents.
"The Joy of the Lord" and "The Peace of God"
Now we come to the aspect of emotional control. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. . . ." (Galatians 5:22). "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4).
It was argued to me that if we have Jesus in control of our lives, we will have the fruit of the Spirit, namely, constant joy and peace. Not having joy and peace was a sign that Jesus was not in control and thus was an indication of sin in a person's life. Further, it was said that God commanded through Paul that we "rejoice in the Lord always," once again meaning that believers must always have joy.
Obviously, Jesus was not always happy and peaceful. He cried; He got angry; He endured anguish at Gethsemane. Therefore, joy was redefined in the Assembly as something distinct from happiness. It was not an emotion but a spiritual state accessed by faith.
"Peace" was similarly redefined as "passing understanding." However, "joy" and "peace" were applied in people's lives as if they were emotions. I was admonished to repent any time I experienced emotions such as anger, depression, sadness, fear or guilt. These emotions transgressed the commandment to always be joyful.
Why was Jesus allowed to be sad, but I wasn't? Jesus was under God's leadership; I was under George Geftakys'. Brother George taught us to ignore our negative emotions so that we wouldn't feel bad and start questioning our involvement with his ministry.
It is clear from Jesus' example that God didn't mean for us to repent of our emotions. He gave us joy and sadness. "There is an appointed time for everything. . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh" (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4).
All emotions are God-created and only become sinful when we use them in sinful ways. Committing murder because you're angry is sinful; boycotting segregated buses because you're angry about racism is not.
Believers were encouraged to "get promises" from their times of devotion and while listening to sermons. That meant that whatever passage you happened to be reading or hearing about, God was supposed to give you a specific message from it.
For example, you might read that god will exalt the humble, which you interpret to mean that you should humble yourself and take your church leader's advice to move to another city. You "stand" on the promise God has given you and quit your job, uproot your family, and move across the country. If anyone opposes your plan, you tell them that you must stand on the promise of God. If difficulties arise, you attribute them to spiritual warfare and continue to "stand."
Once you're locked into a "promise," you cannot change your mind without disobeying God. It you are looking for this sort of promise, you become vulnerable to mistaking any thought that passes through you mind during your Bible reading or church sermon as the imperative voice of God.
God never promises to directly tell us what to do, like he did for some people in the Bible. This process of "getting promises" is actually only a variation on Bible roulette, where one asks God for guidance and then randomly opens up the Bible. It is magical thinking to say you will be reading the exact right passage on a given day for God to give you a specific message.
Christians should base their lives on the whole Bible, on biblical principles, not on out-of-context Bible verses misapplied as if they were direct instructions for their lives. The Bible does not say, "Marry Ted So-and-so," or, "Move to Denver," and, unless we add to it, it never will.
It was often preached in the Assembly that we must "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). This meant that the church leadership had to always be unanimous about all church decisions, that we had to "stand together" when a believer had determined something, such as moving to Denver, to be the will of God, that we were not to publicly criticize and cause faction in the ministry, and that we were to stay unified Assembly members even if there were practices we disagreed with.
Is this what Paul meant when he said to preserve the unity of the Spirit? If so, we should see him living the principles outlined above. Did Paul insist that church leadership always be unanimous? He wasn't very unanimous with Peter, a fellow leader, in Antioch, "But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face" (Galatians 2:11).
If church leaders have to be unanimous on every decision, that makes it very hard to be a dissenter. It encourages just going along with what everyone else thinks. What if the dissenter is the only one who's right? That person faces not only disagreement and guilt over holding up the decision making process, but the insinuation that he or she is not able to hear God's voice, since everyone else has heard the same thing from God.
From the sounds of the council described in Acts 15, the view that Gentile Christians should adopt some Jewish customs was pretty well established in Jerusalem. That didn't stop Paul from disagreeing and arguing his point.
· Did Paul insist on "standing together" on every decision?
"And Barnabas was desirous of taking John. . . But Paul kept insisting that they should not. . . And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another" (Acts 15:37-39).
The Bible does not say the Paul was right, and Barnabas was wrong. It merely records that they disagreed and separated. I would argue that they were still in the unity of the Spirit because they were both still preaching the gospel, which is revealed to the heart by the Holy Spirit.
Being unified in the Holy Spirit does not imply that we agree on all decisions; it means that we agree with the revelation of the gospel by the Holy Spirit.
· Did Paul hesitate to publicly oppose the leadership?
Again, "But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face" (Galatians 2:11).
· Did Paul insist that we remain "in unity" with people who have opinions or practices we can't condone?
"For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you" (1 Corinthians 11:19).
From these examples, it should be clear that Paul was not preaching Assembly-style unity. In the Assembly, "the unity of the Spirit" was just another tactic used to squelch disagreement, force conformity and prevent people from leaving to healthier churches.
Geftakys believers couldn't technically lose their salvation. We could only lose the kingdom, lose our inheritance, end up in outer darkness, be saved "through fire," experience loss, experience temporal suffering, receive our inheritance with the unbelievers, or be blotted from the book of life! Our salvation was "secure," but all the things mentioned above were tenuous at best.
I don't plan to hash out all the details of the afterlife here, but I will say this: These teachings were used to scare us into doing "the will of God," that is, the will of the Geftakys ministry. We were taught that if our works, our lives and even our thoughts didn't measure up, if we didn't "take advantage of God's enabling," we'd lose out in eternity.
Often we were in quite a quandary to find the "Spirit's enabling" to fulfill commands He'd never given ("Thou shalt not feel sad"?!?). If we failed, we could count on some sort of horrible punishment or deprivation in the afterlife. Some gracious God!
What happened to the God who blots out our sins? Who doesn't remember our transgressions? Who separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west? To quote the apostle Paul, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:33-35).
In the words of our Savior, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and DOES NOT COME INTO JUDGMENT, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24).
I believe this sums up the major doctrines used to enslave people in the Geftakys ministry. There were, of course, innumerable other falsehoods, some of them major; these are just the really, really, really big ones. I called them deadly because these are the doctrines that killed our hearts and replaced them with commandments.
These doctrines impaired our ability to think, feel, be ourselves, reach our own conclusions, change our minds, and make our own decisions. These are the doctrines that destroyed God's creation, individuals, and replaced it with man-made replicas. Deception was the mode of delivery; "biblical teaching" was the mode of control. I hope all God's people will discard these false teachings and step into the full liberty of Christ. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free" (Galatians 5:1).
The Bible and Spiritual Abuse, by Ron Henzel, on the REST ministries
website, addresses the question of what constitutes spiritual abuse from a
Biblical perspective. Articles specifically on Assembly problems:
Criteria for Thought Reform Applied to the Assembly
Open Letter to the Assemblies
Evaluation of Statements From Torch and Testimony Publications
Assembly Teaching and Practice