"I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found," Psalm 37:35-36. These verses could have been a description of George Geftakys' ministry as it developed, and then suddenly came to an end. They paint a picture that can offer some insights into the effects of that ministry on people, as well as the fallout of its sudden removal.
In contrast to a green bay tree, the Lord Jesus uses the picture of a grape vine to describe Himself. "I am the vine, ye are the branches," John 15:5. The vine causes the growth of the branches, and is the source of their life. In a vineyard, the vinedresser provides support for the branches, because they grow very long, and the fruit hangs heavily. Jesus tells us that His Father is the husbandman.
But what happened to us is that a green bay tree appeared nearby the vineyard, and branches began to grow up into the tree. The scenario unfolded like a parable. Over the years, the branches became very entwined in the tree. The tree presented itself as the source of life and growth for the branches, and the branches became dependent on the tree. Unfortunately, the tree controlled the growth of the branches, directing them in particular directions, forbidding growth in others, so that the branches became twisted and stunted. But unbeknownst to most of the branches, there was rot at the core of the tree, which in time brought about its destruction.
There is something very odd about the end of the tree, as the Psalmist describes it. It didn't fall with a resounding crash, and lie on the ground where it could be examined. It simply disappeared. This has been exactly the case with the downfall of G. Geftakys. The branches have found themselves suddenly lying in a tangled heap on the ground, with no tree to be found. It is like a scene out of fantasy fiction. It is a scene of real and actual spiritual devastation. There is huge trauma on many different levels.
The familiar support is gone--the source that was completely depended upon for spiritual truth and guidance. In effect, George and Betty put themselves in the place of God, and forbade people to use their minds to evaluate what was being taught and dictated. As Joan H., one of the first Workers and member of the Fullerton Assembly, mourned, "We followed a man."
Scripture teaches otherwise. The Bereans are commended for perpetuity as being more noble than the Thessalonians, because when Paul preached there, they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. We were forbidden to grow in that way in the Assembly. Instead, we were trained to become entirely dependent on what George and the Leading Brothers said.
So now it is excruciating to be forced to think and evaluate. Some do not have the critical thinking skills, and all have been trained that it is unspiritual to apply them to spiritual things. There is immense confusion about how to look at things and what to believe, as well as a feeling of paralysis in making decisions. But as people begin to do the hard work of thinking for themselves, the eyes of the mind will become enlightened, because the Spirit of God does indwell His people and guide them into truth, as He promised.
There is tremendous insecurity, because we branches became over time more aware of our connectedness to the tree and to each other than to the true Vine, where our roots really were all along. The regular pattern of life was geared around the meetings and outreaches and seminars. And through those involvements people were assured of their involvement in the Kingdom of God. Now it's all gone. Or if some are still meeting, it is vastly changed. From the perspective of the tangled heap on the ground, there is little external assurance that the branches are still in relationship with God.
This can be a good thing. It is an opportunity to pay attention to the unchanging truth that the true Vine is the source. Christ Himself is our life, we are in union with Him, and in this state of disaster, His people can know that it is His strong arm that is lifting them up from the gates of death (Ps. 9:13). This catastrophe does not have the power to take them out of the Father's hand. In fact, even in their distress and depression, those who belong to Christ cannot even take themselves out of His hand.
There is a lot of anxiety because people are unable to be "spiritual" in the ways they were taught. A big part of the twisting of the branches happened as they were forced to deny their true feelings, stuff them down, reckon them dead, get rid of them, because they were interpreted as red flags. But in a time of crisis and devastation, such feelings will flood our entire being and they are supposed to. They are meant to warn us of danger.
The Assembly trained us to believe that the danger was within ourselves, that it was the flesh on the throne, when many times the true danger was external. It was the ungodly control on people's lives, the burden of legalism, the hostility veiled as "standing for the Lord", the false teaching, the double standards. Now those things are being seen for what they were.
The task of the moment is to let the feelings do their work of pushing you to think and evaluate, so that you can make choices for spiritual health and safety. If you are unable to pray, you can cast yourself on Him and depend that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for you. And in the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us. If you are unable to read the Word as you would wish, He is able to sustain you as He did Elijah in the wilderness. If you are unable to go to church (even that phrase will make many shudder), remember that it will take time to get disentangled from the mess on the ground - but the true Husbandman will lift you up. Isaiah says, "A bruised reed He will not break." He will prune during this time, and it will not be pleasant, but it will encourage new growth.