Very few people leave the Assembly without a great deal of pain and emotional suffering. The purpose of this article is to share what I feel is the main source of the bondage and control in the Assembly: the matrix of fear, pride and false virtue. The unique Assembly mixture of these three things causes many ex-members not only to suffer, but even to suffer shipwreck in their Christian faith.
Assembly leaders bear a great responsibility for this, and it is a serious offense, for which they must give account. However, I feel that the members themselves are also to blame. They need to take responsibility for their choices, and not shift all of the blame onto the leaders.
More importantly, they should be warning others. It is this second action of warning others where most people fall short in their responsibilities, and this is where the Devil gains his opportunity, using fear, pride and false virtue as his chief weapons.
After people make the choice to join the Assembly, some peculiar things begin to happen. Subtly, little by little, people are taught that they need the group in order to "overcome." People cannot overcome on an individual basis, they are told. There must be a "corporate overcoming," because God is using His House to prepare His overcoming Bride. "His House" is the Assembly, the place where God's government is in place.
Thus, if people leave the Assembly, they have a sense of fear that they will miss out on the biggest part of their salvation, being part of the bride of Christ. One family, which recently left the Assembly after two decades of involvement, was told by the leaders, "You are going to wander the universe as disembodied spirit for this." People who believe this are naturally fearful that if they must leave, they will suffer for all eternity.
Should a person who suffers from this false sense of fear decide to leave the Assembly, they will have violated their conscience and will spend the rest of their lives awaiting their ultimate fate, loss of inheritance. It is only natural to become bitter under these circumstances. These people often want nothing more to do with Christ or His Church in their post-Assembly lives. Fear is one of Satan's best weapons.
Members are also trained that they must obey leaders, even as they would obey God Himself. This is because The Assembly teaches that the leaders are appointed by God, and govern the church with God's authority. To disobey them is exactly the same as when Israel disobeyed Moses. Many members become fearful of what leaders say about them, or think about them, and are careful to police their own behavior in order to avoid having to face a displeased leader, who represents a displeased, omnipotent, and very meticulous God.
The dynamic here is identical to that of a family where an authoritarian, abusive father rules his family with the threat of physical violence. The children, or spouse are afraid to speak up, even after they are safe, because of the emotional bondage they have lived under for so many years. This fear is what keeps many people locked in, and worse, what causes horrible damage to those who manage to leave.
Ex-members who have been defeated by fear have a very difficult time trusting a pastor, or leader in the future. They always think that the church is out to get them, to control them, or to constrict their lives in some way. They have lost the ability to trust both man and God. Fear makes them static and stagnant in their faith. Unless these people can find a way to see that fear is a weapon that can be defeated, they cannot break free. We will discuss how this can be accomplished later.
Assembly members take much pride in seeing themselves as a unique church, with special practices that follow the "New Testament Pattern." Of course, other churches don't wear head-coverings, have communion every week, or have open worship and ministry, so they are not as "New Testament" as the Assembly. Much more has been said on this subject elsewhere, but the point is that virtually all members become either puffed up with pride, or deflated with shame due to the influence of the Assembly. This presents some real problems when it becomes time to leave.
Many people have noticed that there is a virtual high-speed fiber optic gossip grapevine in the Assembly. Without anything ever being said out loud or in public, everyone seems to know negative information about people, much of it quite personal in nature.
This is because some of the leaders, especially George and his sons, make it a practice to drop little hints during counseling times. For example, I used to meet every Sunday with David Geftakys, so he could mentor and disciple me. This went on for six or so years. During this time, I learned so much negative information about people it was staggering.
None of this was my business, and David didn't share this with me in
order to get input, or to help the people he was targeting. No, it went
"OOhhhh....." (long sigh while holding his head in his hands).
"What's wrong David?"
"Oh, man, I've just got to forgive them. The Lord has called me to shepherd His people but it isn't easy. I've just got to forgive them."
He then would proceed to tell me all sorts of confidential information about a leader in the Midwest, or a couple from Fullerton, or a person in his home or in the gathering and how they struggled with some sin or other. Whenever the topic turned to someone that had left the group, the conversation would be quite detailed. I learned exactly what the issues were, and how the deserter was a man of low character, but also how David was trying to forgive him.
In this way, I was convinced that anyone who left The Assembly never did so for a good reason. It was always due to a horrible character flaw, which the leadership had been helping them to overcome. However, the deserter foolishly gave up in failure, embraced their sin, and left.
I became totally blind to any valid issue or cause that an ex-member might have as his reason for leaving. I was unable to see or hear any negative information about the group or its leaders, while at the same time, I had a dossier of sin on dozens of people who had left, or who had crossed David in some way. It turns out that very little of it was true. This was nothing more than character assassination.
It fed my pride, "I'll never do that!" In addition, without realizing it, it formed in me the potential for great shame, because deep inside I knew that David and the other leaders could talk about me to others, in the same manner they talked about others to me. If I did something to displease them, I knew that it would be talked about behind my back, and that everyone would know, while pretending they didn't. My pride would be injured and my sense of shame would become ignited. Please keep this important principle in mind when we discuss how to disarm this devilish weapon.
Hopefully, this topic caught your interest and you are asking yourself, "How can virtue be false?" Good question! First of all, we must understand that the sort of virtue I am referring to is something that was learned in the Assembly. It is the virtue that comes after understanding and accepting as truth certain key errors, and combining this with Biblical virtue.
The first of these "virtues" is a strong sense of keeping one's word. Every member in The Assembly knows the passage, "He who swears to his own hurt and does not change," Ps. 15:4. The majority of members have experienced making a commitment to attend an outreach on a regular basis, only to have it conflict with a school or family event in the future.
Many times, when faced with this conflict, the leaders remind them, "You made a commitment. God knew this was going to happen, it's never convenient to serve God, so keep your commitments," or something like that. Consequently, having been taught this virtue, Assembly members are generally some of the most reliable people one can meet.
However, when the virtue of keeping one's word is intertwined with another virtue, confidentiality, trouble occurs. Very frequently, leaders seemingly share "inside information" with members and get them to commit to keep the conversation confidential. In this way, they weave a web of fear and darkness, creating fear in some, pride in others, and shame in the rest. The manipulated member's own sense of virtue is the best insurance that the sin and darkness will continue, undiscovered. This may be hard to understand, so a very practical example, with which everyone can relate, is in order.
Let us take three typical ex-members, and briefly describe the process they went through when they left the group.
The first of these is by far the most typical. John leaves abruptly, with no warning or explanation. Some have done this in the middle of the night, or on Sunday morning when everyone else is at the meeting. John is fearful of confrontation, ashamed of what he is doing, and has lost the strength of character needed to face down his tormentors. He wants out right now, and needs a clean break.
I don't want to be too hard on dear people like John. Many of the ones I describe are young men and women, who are not able to face the likes of Assembly leaders and workers. Furthermore, Assembly doctrine has weakened their resolve even more. In other words, many of these people can't help it, they just need to get out! One way is as good as another, as long as they get free.
The Assembly handles this sort of "escape" very easily. They tell a few stories about John, mix in some truth, exaggerate some of his faults and paint a sad picture of a spiritual failure. "John left in such a cowardly way. You know he was in darkness, he wouldn't even talk to us." John is not around to defend himself, and probably wouldn't if he was.
The rest of the "saints" generally don't defend him either, because the are sworn to secrecy regarding the inside information they think they possess, which has tainted their view of John. Furthermore, the members are afraid to gainsay the leadership, and are probably inflated with pride--"If I ever left, I won't leave for baseless reasons like John did. No, sir, I would only leave if the Lord told me to go."
So, in the case of John, the Assembly has successfully alienated the person who left from his former friends, and has painted a false picture of the circumstances that led up to his departure. I know of many instances where, years later, I found out that I had been told a boldfaced lie about someone who had left in the past. I then found out that these people suffered greatly, because they were rejected by the people they thought were their friends, and didn't know why.
The weapons of fear, darkness and virtue also create another situation. Amber had been having problems for years with certain teaching and behavior. She had several run-ins with the leaders, where she asked tough questions and got evasive answers.
Because of the many people like John, who left earlier, she is determined that she will not leave like a coward. "These other people all left because they were in sin, and weren't walking with The Lord. Well, not so with me. I am going to leave in a scriptural way." Amber is more proud, while John was more ashamed and fearful.
Amber's idea of a "scriptural" way means that she will explain herself to the leaders first. They may listen, but first they will get her to give her word to keep everything confidential. "We don't want you to stumble the weaker ones, sister." This confirms what Amber suspected, she is one of the "strong ones."
Because Amber is also a virtuous woman of her word, she keeps her very valid reasons for leaving a secret from everyone else. She writes long papers, and has long discussions with the leaders about the problems she has correctly observed.
The leaders, in turn, draw out the separation talks for a month or two. Since Amber has agreed to silence, the leaders are free to plant seeds, share little bits of negative information, preaching messages about the sin of forsaking the gathering and other such things. Nothing is said out loud in a frank manner, but after a few weeks of hints and nudges, all the saints know exactly who the message on " being offended and falling away" is directed towards. Amber has fallen away.
Amber may have more courage than the leaders realized, and may share some of her reasons with people. Perhaps she will hear a rumor about herself and correct it. This poses no real problem for The Assembly, because they will simply say she is being divisive. The members' sense of virtue will lead them to shun her, because they have been taught to do this with people who are "divisive," and Amber's own sense of virtue will cause her to remain silent. "You gave your word, Amber."
In Amber's case, the Assembly has been able to paint her as a divisive sinner, and she is unable to do anything about it, because of her strong sense of virtue. She may have written long, scathing letters to the leadership, but the saints will never know, and the web of fear and darkness is only strengthened. Her own sense of virtue only intensifies the weapons of darkness, and because of it, she restrains herself from exposing them. "God will judge them," she says.
While God certainly will judge each and every person, her virtue has made it impossible for her to do her part and speak up. She is not able to resist the Devil, or to stand against evil, because she believes it to be a violation of her virtue. Perhaps she also senses a little shame for not being as brave as she thought she was.
She tries to put the past behind her, and goes on her way. Amber may be OK in the future, but she was responsible to give a scriptural reason for her departure. She failed in her other responsibility, which was to warn others. If a little leaven leavens the whole lump, don't we have a responsibility to warn others about the leaven?
Frank's case is somewhat unique. He suffered from fear, how could he not? He practiced and preached about the Inheritance, and forfeiting one's part in Christ's bride for years. Even though he now realized the error of these doctrines, he couldn't help but feel fear and doubt, after 16 years of involvement.
Frank was also a prideful man. If he left, the reasons would be clear and undeniable, because he considered himself very intelligent. In fact, Frank felt that when he shared his reasons, he wouldn't have to leave, because people would see their error and repent. The Assembly would be revived, and healing would take place. However, he was soon to find out that this would take some time, and would involve much suffering.
Frank felt ashamed as well, but his shame was not in what the saints might think of him. Instead, he was ashamed that he had been duped by false authority, masquerading in the form of an apostle, for 16 years. Frank was a curious sort of person, so he began to talk to people.
He spoke to many other Christians who had been involved in cults and sects. He talked with pastors and read many books. He took his time, and went about things in a methodical way. Soon, he learned he had been lied to with regard to Amber's and John's departure. He did some more follow up and discovered a web of darkness and deceit.
Frank approached the leaders with what he had found, and they refused to listen to him. Of course, they asked him to keep quiet, and began to slander him in the background, because they knew how to deal with this sort of thing.
However, Frank understood and expected that this would happen. Indeed, he had witnessed this many times in the past. Frank repented of his pride and arrogance, and contacted people he knew from the past, and apologized for the way he had shunned them after they had left. He then heard their side of the story and knew that something had to be done. Light had to shine on the darkness, in order for people to escape the web of darkness and deceit.
After months of prayer, and after seeing that he was being slandered, the same as John and Amber, Frank decided to do what John and Amber had left undone. He renounced his false virtue. Now, don't misunderstand. Frank was still a man of deep conviction and faith. He didn't sin by renouncing his "Assembly" virtue.
On the contrary, he
did the one thing that finally allowed the light to shine.
Frank realized that, after witnessing a crime, when you find that the criminal manipulated you into keeping silent, to remain so is to be an accomplice. Just because he gave his word, in ignorance, didn't mean he was honor bound to keep it. Quite the opposite.
He also realized that keeping his word to be silent in order to avoid stumbling others was analogous to turning off the smoke alarm in order to avoid waking the family when there is a fire. This "virtue" was discarded.
How did Frank defeat fear? He didn't, he wasn't capable. Jesus said to him, "Fear not!" Jesus overcame his fear. How did he defeat pride? He repented of it, and admitted it, and more importantly, realized that he is still a very proud man. He no longer pretended holiness, but realized how much he needed God's Grace. He rested in the fact that he was accepted in The Beloved, in spite of his sin and pride.
Shame? Frank knew that he would endure years of it. He knew that he would be vigorously slandered. He knew that he would be shunned. He also knew that he would have to admit that he was foolishly involved in a very abusive church, for many years.
This caused him great shame, but he was strengthened with the thought that Jesus bore his shame on the cross. Man might shame him, but Jesus would accept him. God was also so good to Frank. He had the support of many new Christian friends in his new place of fellowship.
Now, about that virtue of confidentiality. The Devil had been using this "virtue" for years as a means of keeping the truth from getting out. As we have seen, coupled with fear, pride and shame, Satan had a virtual stranglehold on the Assembly.
However, the key to victory is not so hard as it may seem. Frank told the truth. In a simple, methodical, undeniable way, he let the cat out of the bag and put a bright light on the web of darkness and deceit.
He didn't just tell the leaders, he told everyone who wanted to hear. People saw it. John realized that he had no reason to fear, God would not reject him based on his performance, he was accepted in The Beloved, saved by Grace through faith, not of works.
Amber realized that her false virtue had kept her very valid observations from being heard, and allowed the bondage to continue. She too spoke up. Very soon, everyone knew that things were not well in the Assembly. Many realized they had been lied to. Some, upon seeing this new light, recognized the sin and darkness right away and left. Others recognized it, but were a little slower to go, due to fear, pride and virtue, but the light kept shining, and soon they had to leave too.
Still others recognized the light and saw the web of darkness, but they chose to do everything in their power to turn off the light and mend the web. The Assembly has been their idol for many years. It may take a little longer for these people to be delivered, but the light is winning.
However, the battle could be won much more quickly, with far fewer casualties, if some of the others would renounce their "virtue," stand in the light, and take responsibility for warning others. Fight the good fight!
2 Cor 13:7-8, "Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth." Eph 4:25-26, Eph 5:8-13, 1Tim 5:19-22.