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A Typical Week of "Life Together
What are their beliefs on major Christian doctrine?
What is it like for a family?
What is it like for a single person?
Does this group have a name?
What happens to the money?
In this account I will attempt to give a balanced, accurate description, from the inside, of what it is like to be fully committed to the Geftakys group. From the outset, the reader should be aware of the bias of the author. Every report or account, even in the scientific world, is subject to observer bias, and this article is no exception. I will attempt, by giving my personal testimony, to state my bias as clearly as possible from the start and let the reader draw his own conclusions.
I was born in 1962. I was born again in the Christian sense in 1976, at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa. At this time I was 14 years old. I had no type of religious upbringing. My salvation experience was orthodox in every way; I was convicted of my sin, and believed in my heart that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save me. To this very day I thank God daily for sending His Son to die in my place. I am, as I write this, walking with Christ, confessing my sin and thanking God for His Grace every day. I am married to my first and only wife of 14 years, and have 5 children.
Since leavimg the Assembly, every morning, except Saturday and Sunday, the first thing we do as a family is to sing, pray and read from either the Bible, or a Christian devotional. Saturdays we sleep in and Sunday we attend church, so we don't have devotions those days. I am, what most people would call, a strong Christian. However, like most "strong Christians," I don't consider myself to be strong. I am in need of Grace and mercy every hour of every day. I attend church meetings 2 to 3 times per week, currently, and am actively involved.
After my salvation at age 14, I had a few short months of following Christ before I plunged into typical high school pursuits of girlfriends, recreational drugs, music and athletics. Going to church was not high on my priority list. My moral condition degenerated to the point where I was using recreational drugs and alcohol on a weekly basis and attending Grateful Dead concerts whenever possible. My conscience was so hardened that I was not sure I was a Christian and really did not care that much. Deep down I still believed, and knew that serving Jesus Christ was the right thing to do, but I really enjoyed the sinful life I was leading.
It was at this stage that I first encountered the Geftakys ministry at my college campus. A very earnest, sincere student approached me after class one day and asked me if I was a Christian. I honestly did not know how to answer, but after a brief consideration I answered that yes, I was. He then proceeded to share some verses with me out of the Old Testament and tell me about the group he was involved in on campus. I was struck by one thing in particular; he made the statement, "On Sunday, we worship The Lord!” He said this in such a way that I immediately recognized that this person was much more serious than any other Christian I had ever met.
Indeed, seriousness is the main characteristic of a typical Geftakys member. I believe to this day that God was speaking to me through him. A few days later he invited me to come to a Bible study, which I subsequently attended. That was my first time at an "Assembly" meeting. At this Bible study I prayed to get right with God, and in fact I repented of all known sin in my life. God definitely used this Bible study to get me back into the narrow way. I am eternally thankful for this and much else I learned in the Geftakys ministry
Much later, I learned that my personality type, characteristics and idealism were a perfect match for this particular group. I was extremely idealistic, opinionated and passionate about virtually everything. The Geftakys ministry is tailor made for my type of person. If someone is involved with the assembly, there is tremendous pressure put on them to be totally committed. This is very difficult for most people, but was perfect for me. For the next 17 years I gave heart, soul, mind, strength, time and money to serve this group.
Many times along the way my conscience told me that something was wrong. Many times I let ambition and pride carry me along, even when I knew that all was not well. Many times I treated family and friends in a shameful way, while thinking I was taking an uncompromising stand for "The Testimony". In short, after 17 years I could not in good conscience continue to be involved with this group. I had lost my joy, but not my faith. For 3 years prior to leaving I tried and tried to "yield" and give up my reservations, but I could not do so without violating my conscience.
While it is absolutely true that someone such as myself can truly be saved in George Geftakys' ministry, after one is saved, serving the group takes priority over freedom in Christ. After seeing example after example of abuse, double standards, arrogant denunciation of other believers and wayward children, I decided that I was free to serve God in another place. It has been the best decision I have made since that Wednesday night in 1983 when I came back to Jesus once and for all.
Hopefully, the reader is now beginning to understand my bias. Let me state it clearly: The Geftakys ministry is definitely Christian. They are definitely leading a small number of people to Christ. The problem is that after beginning with grace through faith, they compel their members to continue in the flesh, thus leading them away from the simplicity of Christ. I will expand on this later.
I love the people that are involved in George's ministry, but I hate the system he has erected. My prayer is that these wounded sheep will find green pastures and still water and that George and those intimately involved with him will repent of their error and allow the sheep to be truly fed. I still have regular contact with many current members and consider them my friends and brothers in Christ. That, in a nutshell, should give the reader a clear idea of my bias in writing this article. I am not, like so many, on an anti-cult crusade, but I do want to see His people delivered from false spiritual authority and bondage. George Geftakys' ministry is not a cult, but a needy church, very much like the Galatians of the New Testament.
Monday morning in a brothers' house begins with morning devotions, usually around 6:30 AM. We sing from the assembly hymnbook, "Hymns and Spiritual Songs", read a passage of scripture and then pray for the day. Depending on the house members, this may be quite automatic and routine, or very intense and sincere. Next there is a flurry of activity in the kitchen as breakfast is prepared and lunches are made for everyone in the house. Breakfast is not always a mandatory attendance meal, but is often eaten together. Everyone rushes off to school or work and the wife of the house begins her stewardships.
Many activities, such as meeting with people, discipleship meetings, and planning meetings take place at various times throughout the day. Around 5 or 5:30 dinner will be served, which is mandatory for everyone in the house. Someone is responsible for preparing the meal, setting the table, cleaning up the dishes and shopping. These, along with all the other household chores are what George calls stewardships.
It is extremely important to be faithful with your stewardships in the Geftakys group. Lateness, not meeting the standard, or forgetfulness will result in consequences. These are tasks that are added on top of the other stewardships. They are a form of corrective punishment for failing to meet the standard of the home in some way. Consequences are usually helpful to someone or something, but are rarely natural consequences to the infraction. Typical consequences may be doing another's stewardship, washing the leader's car, or digging in the backyard. Washing windows was another favorite. Sometimes, consequences are quite creative and fun, making them a not altogether bad idea. Even so, this practice makes for a very rigid and forced lifestyle.
During the meal, someone is always careful to steer the conversation back to "The Lord". Guests are invited to almost every meal, and care is taken to make sure that they are made a topic of conversation. In one brother’s house, people were instructed to prepare a 3" by 5" card before the meal with the topic of conversation listed on the card. If the conversation became too free flowing, a nervous brother would glance down at a yellow card and then awkwardly try to wrench the conversation back to the topic listed on the card. The atmosphere is quite contrived and forced, with many guests going away with the distinct impression of "something strange going on here." All this is done under the guise of training. Brothers' and Sisters' houses are often referred to as training homes.
If there is no meeting after dinner, some of the house members will baby-sit for married couples, others will study, meet with someone for discipleship, or possibly watch a sports event at a local bar or restaurant. If they go to a sports bar they will not drink alcohol. TV's are not allowed in brothers' houses, and are frowned upon in all members’ houses. Interestingly, many members have TV's, but keep them in the closet, bringing them out only for special occasions, like an illness. Televisions are the most often borrowed item in the Geftakys ministry.
Tuesday is identical to the above except there is a prayer meeting from 7 to 9:30 PM. Wednesday is the Bible study, from 7 to 9:00 PM. Attendance at most meetings across the country is less than 30 people. Several groups are less than 10, including children. There are 2 larger assemblies in the US, which have 100 or more members. No meeting has ever been larger than around 300 people, even after 30 years of intense outreach. Thursday is usually some sort of outreach, from 7:30 to around 9 PM, weather permitting. Friday is free about 2 out of five weekends. The other Friday evenings are taken with extended prayer meetings till midnight or 2 AM, couples meetings, special campus fellowships, special outreaches, special seminars and other such things. Saturdays begin with tape ministry, from 8 to 10 AM. This is when the whole assembly gathers to listen to George Geftakys' preaching from years ago. Every message that George preaches is recorded and is listened to as long as 30 years later. No one else is ever heard in the tape meeting, with the exception of reports from Africa once per year. It is taught that the tape is "where we get our vision".
A large part of the rest of the day Saturday is spent doing stewardships and house projects, usually yard work or some sort of home improvement. Many of the members rent houses. These rental properties are usually very well cared for, with hundreds of hours of work put in towards improvement, often free of charge. Geftakys members are ideal renters. Saturday evening is for house meetings and preparing for Sunday. Members are encouraged to spend several hours studying the Bible and preparing a short message to share in the meeting. Early to bed and early to rise is the rule, because Sundays are very busy. In addition to the above, there are numerous other outreaches and meetings that are not for everyone, but only for students, or for those who wish to go. The meetings listed above are "Assembly" meetings, for which attendance is expected. A typical member will attend 5 meetings each week, the shortest being 2 hours in length.
In the Geftakys group, the members believe in "All day for the Lord". This means that all of Sunday, until bedtime, will be spent in some sort of assembly activity. Sunday morning begins at around 7 AM, with breakfast. Then everyone rushes off to the meeting hall to set up chairs and get everything ready for the meeting. Doorkeepers, a cross between greeters and bouncers, meet at 8 AM to discuss 2 things: Who is not partaking communion that morning, and who will serve the bread and wine at communion. The lead doorkeeper asks if the others are ready to preach, with about 3 out of 5 saying they are. Those not ready are reminded again and again to be ready in the future. The other saints, which the way members refer to one another, wait inside while the doorkeepers go through their routine. Around 8:15 the leading brothers and their families show up and place their belongings on the seats reserved for them by the doorkeepers. The leading brothers, who would be called elders in most churches, meet and discuss topics like who is having trouble, who is doing well, how their conversations with struggling saints went, how the doorkeepers' meeting went, who has a burden to preach, who will do announcements etc.
Everyone meets to pray at 8:45. This lasts until 8:55 and always ends with the phrase "Greet the visitor!" and frequently, "And all the lively ones said....", to which everyone answers, "Praise the Lord!" George's trademark, which is often borrowed, is to say, "Rejoice in the Lord! And again I say Rejoice!" Everyone joins in by adding "Always!" when he says this.
Worship begins promptly at 9:28 to 9:30 and ends promptly at 10:26 to 10:30 AM. Following worship is communion. Following communion is a time of open ministry in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, with 2 or 3 men speaking. Much is made of the meetings being led by the Holy Spirit. Mainline churches, it is said, are weak because they use programs, scheduling ahead of time how the meeting will go, but Geftakys' meetings have no programs. Well, for not having programs, they all start and end at exactly the same time across the country, week after week, regardless of what the Spirit may direct. There may not be a printed bulletin, but there are announcements which, when written down, become every bit a bulletin, although hand written instead of printed. In practice the meetings are every bit as programmed as other churches, but in theory they are Spirit led. Petty differences and elitist attitudes like these mark these meetings, which produce a spiritual pride that is endemic to the ministry. Almost every member who has been involved for more than 6 months will hold the following opinions:
The meeting ends 15 minutes either side of noon. A quick lunch is eaten and outreach begins promptly at 1:00 PM and goes to around 2. The most common form of outreach is door to door. Convalescent homes are also visited, which is how the children can contribute. The assembly has actually been "kicked out" of a convalescent home because one of the brothers preached a "Gospel" using the idea that, "you could die any minute. Please ask Christ to be your savior." Although this is quite true, the staff and families that heard this message were not a little put out by it. Leaders never go on outreach, but take this time to study or meet with people. Others are strongly encouraged to go on outreach, especially families with children. However, the attendance on afternoon outreach is always sparse and hints are dropped constantly that saints, especially families, need to be faithful to go on outreach. To not do so demonstrates a lack of commitment. Pre-prayer is at 2:30 sharp and the afternoon meeting begins at 3:00 sharp and goes till 4:30 or 5:00.
Following the afternoon meeting is usually some sort of fellowship, frequently sports of some kind. Doorkeepers count the money in the box and pay for the room rental, while leading brothers gather to discuss things for 2 to 3 hours. These times are frequently long sessions on how to deal with problems. Often, people are called in and "talked to" about something they did wrong or some behavior they need to change. Strategy on how to micromanage the saints' lives is discussed, and the calendar of upcoming events is planned. Of course the day's ministry is also reviewed and commented on. Everyone is tired Sunday evening. Most of the saints have to work Monday morning, but the full time workers take Mondays off.
The cycle repeats itself week after week. The times for the meetings, style of meeting, literature displayed, dress code, and home life is absolutely identical across the country. Each assembly is literally a clone of the others. Visitors are somewhat common, but usually few in number, with repeat visitors even more rare.
The basic doctrines like the Trinity, justification by faith, the person and work of Christ, original sin and others appear to be fundamental and sound. The group has several aberrant teachings that are similar to some other sects, such as the early Plymouth Brethren. Upon serious investigation it will be seen that these errors undermine the seeming orthodoxy of the Assembly's doctrine of justification.
George clearly teaches that salvation is just the beginning of the Christian life. One will not grow in Christ if they are not involved in a "corporate overcoming testimony," which is an Assembly in his ministry or, if one is ignorant, some other group that is similar to the early Plymouth Brethren. Other groups are worldly, compromising and lacking in vision. This is why most believers in America are so shallow, according to George. His teaching conveys the thought that if someone was to leave the assembly and "backslide" into another church they will miss out on God's best, most likely losing their inheritance.
George teaches conditional sanctification, and the possibility of losing one's inheritance. Indeed, most members are pretty sure that they will only get a portion of their inheritance because they are not yielded enough. Proof texts used for this are 1 Cor 3, Gal 4 (slaves don't inherit, only sons do, careless Christians are children, which are the same as slaves, and therefore won't inherit) and others.
There is a morbid self-preoccupation due to this teaching. What some have called "The way of the Cross" is given a new, extreme twist in George's theology. Throughout the day, Christ and Self play musical chairs for the throne in the believers heart, with Christ being displaced at the first sign of "Self" asserting itself. Everyone is strongly encouraged to memorize a prayer, called the Selfer's Prayer, and to pray it many times throughout the day, especially if Self seems to be on the throne. The Selfer's prayer, if prayed sincerely, will banish self and restore Christ to His rightful place until such a time as the believer makes a wrong choice and Christ is again forced to vacate the throne.
George taught this sort of thing for many years, but most people had difficulty understanding this "spiritual reality." In the late 1980's his wife, Betty, discovered the book Handbook to Happiness by Charles Solomon. Dr. Solomon's ideas were trumpeted as a simple explanation to what Brother George had been teaching all those years. George and Betty further modified Dr. Solomon’s teachings, so that the assembly practice of "The Cross" is quite different and much more extreme than what Solomon teaches in his books.
Self is surely on the throne if a member has worries, doubts or fears. This makes it very hard to evaluate whether the group is spiritually healthy, because to express doubt is a sure sign that "self" is in the middle, and the life of Christ is not being expressed. The whole Geftakys doctrine on sanctification is a well-cooked stew of Wesley's second work of grace, teachings from the Keswick movement, charts illustrating "Identification Truths" and extreme reaction against "cheap grace" teachings.
The main problem with George's teaching is that it does not in any way impart confidence and hope in the believer. For many, the fear of "losing out on God's best" is what motivates them, not the Love and mercy that comes with God's grace. Any sort of rebuke from a leading brother causes a faithful member to "realize" just how much "in the flesh" they are, and how the inheritance is at stake. There is a real lack of rest and joyful trust that should characterize a graceful life. Instead, a very serious "pursuit of holiness" characterizes the members' lives. Failure to live up to the standard causes the member to redouble his efforts. If the reader ever wondered what life would be like in Galatia, during the time of the Judaizers, he need only visit the Geftakys group.
Obeying leaders is synonymous with obeying God Himself. Therefore, members must repent, yield, and render themselves a living sacrifice promptly! The Bible clearly teaches that we should obey Christ. The practical application of obeying Christ, according to George, is to obey the leaders. Leadership in the assemblies is "appointed by God." Therefore, if this assumption is believed, members need to obey leaders even as they obey God himself. God would never tell a member to do something that the leadership does not agree is God's will, or so the theory goes.
George clearly teaches one-naturism. He teaches that the reason we still sin, after the old man has been crucified, (Rom 6) is due to the "conditioning of the old man, or self". George describes this conditioning in his pamphlet, "Once for all Reality, an exposition of Romans 6" as being like a snake with its head cut off. The body still wiggles like a snake, even though it is dead. But, whereas a snake will quit moving after an hour, the believer's body will apparently keep wiggling for a lifetime. Self is our mortal enemy that must constantly be put to death, if not dealt with it will keep us from the inheritance. At the same time, the only nature the believer has is Christ's, who cannot sin! The believer sins, but the believer's nature is sinless. It is far beyond the scope of this paper to comment further about these matters but suffice it to say that anyone who carefully considers George's teaching in this area will run up against some real inconsistency and flawed logic. Grace is distorted, freedom and rest are non-existent, and a slight yet ever present sense of fear reigns in the members mind. Surely, they think, God is just waiting to shut us out of the kingdom, just like the children of Israel in the wilderness wandering. We must be ever so careful to obey in everything and not fall into the same unbelief that kept them out of the Promised Land. Attitude and performance becomes the gauge of spirituality, not resting by faith in the Grace of God. I have actually heard members praise God for being "The rock that is higher than self." The very idea of re-naming God in this way shows how pervasive this aspect of George's teaching is.
George's theology is definitely Galatianism, and legalistic. As can be expected, this breeds authoritarian leadership with a clear distinction between the leaders and the sheep. Interestingly, George claims that he is just "a brother in Christ." Everyone else is called by his or her first name, but George is always addressed as Brother George. To not call him so will result in correction, usually in an indirect way from the pulpit, but sometimes in a very forceful way in front of others. Many have made the mistake of calling him George and then being humiliated in front of their brethren. In this way he is definitely not just a brother among brothers, but sees himself as worthy of greater honor. The other side of this fact is that George is the oldest member of his ministry by at least 2 decades. The Bible does say that we should honor the older men as fathers. Perhaps this is what George is trying to do by insisting that he be called "Brother," because Mathew’s Gospel clearly teaches not to call anyone on earth “Father,” in the clerical sense. Whatever the reason may be, George is definitely in a different spiritual class than his followers.
The leaders are identified by name after every meeting. In many "mainstream" churches, a visitor may take months to find out who the elders are, because they don't make a point of trumpeting their office. In the Geftakys system, a person will clearly know, after one meeting, who the leaders are. When prayer is offered for another assembly in the ministry, the main emphasis of the prayer is always for the leaders, who are mentioned by name. Leadership is the goal for most of the male members. The dream of any young male member is to be "sent out" to begin a new work somewhere, and then to rise to a position of responsibility, eventually being publicly added to "The Work", a special class of members.
Members are to submit to the leaders, no matter what. If the leaders are wrong, the member should still obey and let God deal with the situation. This is perhaps the biggest source of abuse in the movement. Gross sin can be present in the leadership for years, but no one can address it or even speak of it without disobeying the scripture, as taught by George. Criticizing the leadership is definitely sin; saying "no" is tantamount to rebellion, the sin of witchcraft. This creates a triple standard, with the average member at the bottom, the leadership on the second rung, and George at the top. An average member could never get by with rebuking a leader, a leader could never rebuke George, but George is free to rebuke everyone, which he does, while leaders can only rebuke average members. Power is exercised over others in the same chain of command.
The main doctrinal distinction between the Geftakys group and others like Calvary Chapel, which started at the same time and place as George's ministry, but grew many times larger, is what is termed, "The Heavenly Vision." This is a large topic, and is the theme of almost every message preached. George finds the heavenly vision on every page of the Bible. Included in this is the vision of the "House of God", which is basically a pattern for meeting and church government. Advanced members will speak of the various "manifestations of the house of God." If the reader is interested I would refer them to the works of Watchman Nee, T. Austin Sparks and the Plymouth Brethren, as the Geftakys group is somewhat similar, only much more intense. George's books are not available outside of the assembly meetings, so Brethren writers are the best source of doctrine for why George teaches what he does.
The average member has not actually read one of George's books all the way through, as they are very poorly written. In one sense, they are not books at all, but merely edited transcriptions of taped sermons. George has not actually written a book in the traditional sense. Recently, a study guide for "Testimony To Jesus", considered George's best book, has been making the rounds. This is helping many to grasp George's vision. Most members are not able to explain these teachings in detail and it is very revealing to ask them, "Where do you see this in The Bible?" You can't get a straight answer from most, but may witness some fancy footwork and page turning. If the reader has this opportunity, be sure to take time to view the verses in context. There is much cutting and pasting needed to get the full effect of how the Heavenly Vision is seen.
These doctrines, while asserting the highest unity, create a separation from other evangelicals, creating a distinct elitism and exclusivity among the members. All members believe that other sincere Christians would do exactly what George teaches if only they had revelation regarding the Heavenly Vision. Never, at any time, would any committed member consider that perhaps George is mistaken, or in error in some point. Just thinking this, let alone expressing it, would result in feelings of guilt and disloyalty. The Geftakys ministry has the fullest, richest teaching on the mystery of the church in all of Christianity, according to most of the members. George says it best, almost every time he preaches, by saying, "People say of me, I can't understand a thing he's talking about but it sure sounds wonderful!"
Another major theme in doctrine is exposing the natural way of looking at things, or "The knowledge of Good and Evil". The idea here is that when Adam sinned in the garden by partaking of the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, his mind and capacity to comprehend spiritual things was lost. Since then, we, who are descendants of Adam, have only been able to judge on the basis of good and evil, essentially doing what is right in our own eyes. George teaches that according to 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, this natural faculty is still present in carnal believers. When The Bible says that, "he that is in Christ is a new creation," it does not mean that the believers mind is new, just able to become new only if the believer never does what they think is right and is "subject" to leadership, and thus to God. Most Christians operate on the basis of the knowledge of good and evil and therefore do not have the mind of Christ.
Because of this, it follows that this is the reason why most believers do not see what the Geftakys group sees; they just don't have the mind of Christ, but the natural man's mind. To get the mind of Christ, one must deny his own opinions and "lean not on your own understanding." By yielding to Christ's life, not relying on self, and not doing what you think is right, (this means that one must do what he does not want to do on a regular basis), the life of Christ, along with His mind, become the believer's mind. Now, one is able to understand the many "revelations" that encompass George's teaching. George and many others always say, "These things don't come with mere Bible knowledge, but only by revelation! You can't learn them in seminary. God must reveal them to you." As long as a believer is stuck in the knowledge of good and evil, God is not able to reveal much of any significance to him. This teaching is re-enforced at least weekly in the preaching, with several very intense workshops given on the topic over the years. It is a foundational doctrine in the Geftakys ministry. It is true that many simple Christians do not think about the knowledge of good and evil very much. Many simple believers just make decisions based on what they think is right and because they love The Lord. Is this carnality or the child-like faith of which Jesus spoke? The reader must decide.
The most destructive aspect of this teaching is that most members have little or no confidence in their ability to make choices. Members would never dream of changing jobs, getting married, going away to school, moving, buying a house, or any other normal life-decision without first consulting the leadership. Members are explicitly taught that they should not make the mistake of thinking something is God's will when the leadership is not saying "Amen." In other words, if one was to get a job transfer to another city, where there is no assembly, it is likely that the leadership would discourage the move, especially if it meant that they would not be able to attend meetings anymore. This would not be God's will, and to proceed against counsel would lead to destruction and loss of some eternal reward, not to mention having to bear the scorn of the leaders. Members should always make decisions based on full agreement of the leadership. After all, they are taught, if God can speak to you, He can say the same thing to the leaders, right?
Consequently, some members are in a real double bind. Some have dead-end jobs that put a tremendous financial burden on them and their families, but do not have the confidence to try to better their lot in life by seeking new employment. They believe that they might just be operating on the basis of Good and Evil, which would result in missing out on some superlative blessing from God, so they stay in a bad situation. On the other hand, if the leadership was to unanimously agree that someone should change jobs and move to a new state, or even country to begin an "outreach," the member would have no confidence in staying in their present situation, and would quit work, sell their house, uproot their family and move! This very well could mean leaving a high paying job with benefits and having to start all over again. Certainly there is nothing wrong with doing this per se, adventure is part of what makes life interesting, but members are easily manipulated into this situation by the leadership. The best word to describe the average male Geftakys member is "emasculated."
To be fair, when one is "sent out," he is usually asked to pray about it, not ordered to go. Some have been ordered to go at various times, but this is not the norm. However, the pressure put on the person to go is intense, not to mention the approval they receive from other members for being a good example. Everyone is to try to be like this, ready to go, ready to stay. The distinction lies in the fact that it is not the individual member's choice for service. Instead it is their choice to obey the leader's suggestion, and not operate on the basis of Good and Evil. I can't decide on my own to go to China, but if the leaders ask me to pray about going to China, I can decide whether or not to go. The choice always begins with the leadership, not with my faulty knowledge of Good and Evil.
Someone might be a secret admirer of another member of the opposite sex for years, but would not have the confidence to ask permission to "spend time" with them, because they would think that because they are naturally attracted, it is just the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and not God's will.
Everything in the Geftakys ministry is done to the extreme. If some TV programming is bad, they do not watch any TV. If some people struggle with R rated movies, going to movies is denounced from the pulpit. One brother from Africa had a problem with earrings, so none of the women workers in America were allowed to wear pierced earrings, even though the wives of African brethren wear them. Women in the assembly should not pierce their ears. No one in leadership lets their wives wear pierced earrings. Black and white spiritual values are seen in everything.
The Bible says that children should be spanked under certain circumstances, so the group spanks their children many times per day. Please take note that they in no way condone beating a child, but spanking in a careful, controlled way. Nevertheless, their children get many, many spankings. Recently, George’s son Timothy Geftakys has espoused a more moderate view of families and child training. This is in response to the very apparent problems with many of the high profile member's adult children. Timothy's views, while not condemning the old ways, are a welcome step in the right direction.
George does not believe in a "paid clergy". However, he and his two sons seem to be paid quite generously. One son works as hard as a denominational assistant pastor, the other does not work at all, and goes months without showing up to a meeting. When he does attend it is because he is scheduled to preach. He does have an excuse, he has bad health. However, he is busy all day pursuing other things, like working on one of 3 classic cars, or 2-3 "other" cars, as many as 6 at one time. Every evening he goes on long drives, regardless of the price of gas. In the past he went surfing every day.
The ministry teaches that it is sin to take a name for the group. They also teach that it is sin to register with the government as a religious body. They also teach the workers, a special class of members, that it is a sin to have music in the meetings, except a capella singing. George clearly teaches that not all Christians will be part of The Bride of Christ. Indeed, if you listen to him you become sure that very few will. The ones who have the best chance, of course, are those who are members in good standing of a local assembly. After all, the assembly is "The School of The Bride." This was the theme of several recent seminars.
There are many more points like this that serve mainly to make a sharp distinction in the minds of members between the assembly and mainline Christianity. The teachings, if taken one at a time, are not that bad, but the preponderance of elitist mentality coupled with the intensity of the practice brings them out in sharp relief. The majority of evangelicals that visit George Geftakys's meetings get a clear sense that something is very strange. Most of them are offended before they even set foot in the door, because the doorkeepers will ask them all sorts of questions about their salvation and the seriousness of their commitment to Christ prior to letting them partake of The Lord's Supper. Many of them are refused and consequently do not return. This is done to "guard the testimony," which means that no one who has any sin is allowed to partake. However, in the assemblies, a man is not allowed to examine himself, as 1 Corinthians 11 says, but is examined by the doorkeepers.
Families in the assembly have a very difficult time unless they are completely "sold out". First of all, it is extremely rare for a family to come into fellowship. Most of the families are formed when single members marry and have children. Children are considered a blessing. The more children, the more blessing. Birth control works in opposition to God's blessing, and is therefore discouraged. There are many large families, with 4 or more children. If the reader will refer to the typical week's schedule above and imagine doing that with several children, they will get a good idea of what life is like for families. There is no such thing as a nursery, or children's church. In fact, these ideas have been denounced for years. Many times it has been said that families who are serious about serving the Lord figure out ways to get everything done in order to make it to the meetings on time. Some have this talent, some don't. Most of the leaders have plenty of help from the members who live in their homes, so they are able to get there on time. Those families that live on their own have quite a time getting everything in order to get out the door without being late. As a result, children many times are not able to play sports or do much extracurricular activity, because it interferes with the meeting schedule.See Corrections
Children must be trained to stay quiet for up to 3 hours, sitting on mats at Sunday morning meetings. This is quite a job and requires techniques called mat training and no-fussing. Using negative re-enforcement at the beginning, children as young as 6 weeks old are taught to immediately stop crying when a hand is placed over their mouth. They are also taught to put their heads down on mats and remain still. Some parents have great success with this, others have trouble, but in the main, the children in the group have what outsiders consider amazing abilities. We would swell with pride every time someone would compliment us on how well behaved our children were. The trouble comes when they outgrow this control-oriented parenting. Around half of the teenagers have rebelled and left the group, mostly given over to blatant sin.
Meetings are definitely not fun. They are a lot of work for a family. A few families consider it all worth it. Others are very tired and have no joy but carry on with heavy hearts because of a sense of loyalty or fear. Many have discovered that there is indeed a way out: Sickness is the magic key that releases the bonds, making it possible for a member to miss a meeting. Mothers with many young children are often relieved when a child is sick, because they get the night off! As a result, no cross-section of the population is as sick, per capita, as the members of George Geftakys' ministry. The only trouble with sickness is that people will begin to view you with suspicion if you say you are sick but are really at the park or beach.
The reader has a good idea already what daily life is like for a single. The big question comes with regard to dating, or "spending time." Relationships between the sexes are managed from the top down in this group. "We don't believe in dating!" is the watchword. Saints may spend time with someone under the guidance of leadership. This is usually done in the company of others. Phone calls to the opposite sex are discouraged unless it is to give information regarding a church event. Phone calls that result in really talking to the opposite sex about things that matter are appropriate only in the advanced stages of a relationship, which should end in marriage.
Typical Geftakys extremism is behind this rationale. Here is the logic: Society today is largely immoral. Divorce is rampant, even among Christians. God does not want you to break someone's heart. So, in reaction to these problems the group has developed some stringent guidelines to prevent all of this. No dating, period. If one takes a fancy to someone, one goes to a leading brother and "runs it by them." They will tell you a few things about the other person and give you the clear impression of whether you should go ahead with the relationship or not. If a promising young brother is interested in a young woman who is not as deeply committed, or who has voiced doubts about the ministry, the relationship will be squelched promptly. If marriage of the parties involved seems to be an asset to the ministry then a green light will be given. Love is not the prerequisite for marriage; God's will, often as stated by the leadership, is. All this has resulted in one positive thing. There is almost no premarital sex or sexual contact among the singles in the assembly. This is good.
In some assemblies there are large populations of singles in their late 30's and early 40's, with no hope of getting married unless they settle for someone not of their choosing. Even then the odds are long. Many of these singles have had one or more experiences of being interested in someone and having the relationship quenched by the leadership. In one assembly, fully one third of the marriages were of people who just couldn't wait for or were not willing to get permission and instead ran off to Las Vegas. This is a shame, especially when one considers that the marriage relationship is to be a picture of Christ and His Church. In this case it was indeed a picture of a church, a picture of a messed up assembly in the Geftakys ministry.
As for broken hearts, the Geftakys dating method has produced the same number of broken hearts as any other. Because single people don't interact in a normal way, when a man asks a single woman out two or three times, it is tantamount to stating an intention to marry! Everyone knows that no man would ask a woman out alone without the blessing of the leadership, which means that the man is serious enough to talk to his superiors about it. If, after spending time with a sister, a man changes his mind, a broken heart may often result. The difference is there may have only been a lunch and a couple of dinners to produce the same broken heart effect, no immorality was needed to cause the emotional damage. The heart was fully engaged because the stakes were high. The overall hypersensitivity created by this extreme approach is amazing. If a member sees a single man and single woman talking in the parking lot for any length of time, there is an immediate assumption that "so and so is interested in so and so."
There is much speculation as to why such a hard line is taken in this area. It is sad to see that the leadership has no confidence that the members are serious about holiness and are able to control themselves. Spirit filled Christians should be able to behave in a godly way without these sorts of rules. Others are going to have trouble in spite of them. However, the leaders have been taught that the people will run amok if they are not kept under tight wraps.
There are several reliable, verifiable sources that have related stories about infidelity and other problems in George's marriage. At least one of his sons has had real struggles in a similar area and similar rumors float around about the other son. These are only rumors and should not be taken as the main reason for the perspective on dating, but it does remind one of Reverend Dimsdale's passionate preaching in The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
A by-product of all this is a rule stating that singles are not to ride in cars, or be in the same house together without a married couple of good standing present. If the married couple is late, then all the men, or women will be out on the porch or front yard waiting until the couple arrives before they can go in the house. This holds even if it is raining. This is allegedly so that the neighbors witness the pure lifestyles of the members. Some members live in apartments too small for several people to come over. Consequently, as is often the case, if several of the older single men are living together, the neighbors will only see men going into the apartment. Instead of thinking that these members are pure, they often think they are gay!
No, they really do not have a name, except the name Christian. They believe that taking a name results in separation from other believers. Taking a name is denominationalism in practice. The believers in the New Testament did not call their churches "Paul's Chapel" or any other name, so neither should they. The practice of referring to them as "The Assembly" is definitely not to their liking and is not what they call themselves. They call themselves Christians, nothing more, nothing less.
Interestingly, this practice has not brought them closer to other believers, but the opposite. People are instantly put on their guard when they ask a member, "What church are you from?" and they hear, "Oh, we don't have a name...” It is fascinating to watch members squirm when trying to explain why this is so. Churches that have names, according to Geftakys' doctrine, have them because they don't have vision for the House of God and the oneness of Christ. Interestingly, since the members of the Geftakys group don't have a name, it separates them from all others that do, totally negating the reason for having no name in the first place! This is typical of many of the aberrant ideas of this group. The practice of the idea does not enhance the value it is purported to communicate, but the opposite. These things continue, even when many see the futility.
To state that calling a group by a name is a form of division is a little extreme, but if the name stands for a rigid denomination, there is some truth in this line of thinking. However, to state that the Geftakys practice of having only the name, "Christian," is creating unity is totally fallacious. The Geftakys ministry is completely isolated from other churches and puts them down for having a name. They are even more denominational is spirit than the denominational churches they denounce. Geftakys members believe that they are more correct than others because of their stand to not take a name, which in itself is clearly divisive. In this practice, they keep the letter of The Bible, but totally miss the spirit.
This is a very good question.
First of all, money is never asked for from the pulpit, ever. There is no collection plate. Contrarily, it is stressed over and over that, "We don't beg for money!" This, of course, labels all those groups that do mention financial needs as beggars.
However, every Sunday morning it is announced, "Part of our worship is our offering to The Lord. There is a box on the back table for that purpose. All the money is used for the work of The Lord here and abroad." The wording of the above is almost identical across the country.
So, needs are never mentioned in specific terms, but it is quite clear that tithes are accepted. This practice is really rather refreshing when compared to televangelists and others who belong to the church of the open wallet. The Geftakys member proudly says that, "God's work, done God's way never lacks God's supply." In other words, if God wants it done, you won't need to beg for money to do it, if you do it His way. It follows that, "If we don't beg for money then we are doing God's work." This is rather nice, but it is not scriptural, and definitely creates an air of elitism in the group. The Apostle Paul was very clear in asking the Corinthians for money. Furthermore, he told them where it was going and what it would be used for. A good term to describe the way the apostle Paul handled church finance would be, “Accountability.” The best word to describe the Geftakys method for church finance is “total secrecy.” Certainly, begging for money is unbecoming, but putting down those that mention financial needs in prayer requests is rude and divisive.
All giving of any kind is done in cash only, no checks, certainly no credit cards. Members are not able to write off their contributions, because no receipts or accounting is given. The rationale for this is as follows:
The Church is a heavenly organism, not an organization. It is the body of Christ, not a business. What business does the government have in God's House? How can a heavenly organism apply for tax-exempt status without compromising the very nature and truth of the Body of Christ? Therefore, it follows that churches that are "registered" with the government for "tax reasons" are compromised. George Geftakys will not compromise! As usual, things are taken to an extreme.
So, members give after-tax dollars to the ministry. Uncle Sam gets his and God gets His. This is logical given the idea of the church being an organism, not an organization. What is not said, however, is that George, his sons and 3 other men receive all their money totally tax-free. The "worldly" churches don't pay taxes, and their members can deduct their contributions. In the Geftakys' group the full-time workers don't pay taxes, the members pay them! In fact, the members pay the tax that the leaders should be paying if we follow George's logic. George insists that he is not paid a salary. "We don't believe in a paid clergy here in this place," and "You can't fire me because you didn't hire me!" No, he does not get a salary, but "his needs are met in the work of the Lord." The difference is that he does not have to pay any tax, but his flock does. How this proves that the church is an organism, rather than an organization is beyond me.
Most people would also be alarmed to know that there is no accounting whatsoever with the money once it leaves the local assemblies and is sent to George and Betty in Fullerton, California. The expenses at the local level are minuscule, because the group meets so simply. Often, needs such as food for fellowships, outreach supplies and the like are paid for by the members personally, and not from the tithes. Local expenses rarely exceed $1500.00 per month in small assemblies, and are frequently much less because the meetings are held in homes. At least half of the members are college graduates with decent salaries. Assuming 400 tithing members nationwide, which is a conservative estimate, and assuming an average take home pay of $45,000 per year leaves us with a very conservative $1,800,000.00 in gross revenues per year.
If we conservatively assume the following --
-- the result is 900,000.00 net gain after expenses per year.
Please keep in mind that there are probably far more than 400 tithing members in this ministry. Also keep in mind that many people give large amounts of cash to the ministry, beyond tithes, in the form of inheritance, stock gains, and prosperity. Also, keep in mind that this is all tax-free currency.
All of the paid workers, at one time or another live with several people who pay rent, reducing the expenses of these workers dramatically. George has from 2 to 6 people living in his home at any given time, greatly lowering his expenses. Indeed, he is not at home for 6 months out of the year. His wife travels the country and stays in saints' homes, rent-free. She may make a contribution to the food bill when she stays for a length of time.
The people who go pay for all assembly missionary work. They pay their own way, yet the people in whose home they stay in must pay for the food. Even with fuzzy math, using safe figures, it is obvious that there is a vast amount of cash, year after year, that is simply tax-free surplus. The ministry claims to own no property. Members buy their own hymnbooks and are the sole purchasers of George's books, which are not available anywhere except on the book tables of the various assemblies. The sale of books probably results in a net loss for the ministry, but it can't be for more than 50,000 over the course of a year, probably much less. It is claimed that the books are sold "for cost". Because most people do not buy them in large quantities, except the hymnbooks, they are probably not at all a source of income.
The numbers listed above are very conservative. One former member, who was involved in much of the financial aspects of the ministry, reported that up to 4 million dollars per year went directly to George and Betty, in the form of cash and US postal money orders. This was in the late 1980's and early 1990's. No matter how you slice it, there is a large sum of money somewhere. No one knows where, and of course, no one has ever, at any time, seen any sort of accounting of where the money goes, or just what "The work of the Lord, here and abroad" is.
The leadership teaches, "What do you care where the money goes? Do you have a problem with money? Is it your money or God's money?" Of course, any good member of the Geftakys group will readily agree that it is God's money. My question is, if it is God's money, what is He spending it on? Why is it that only George and Betty, and possibly their sons know what God is doing with His money? Why do God's servants not pay any taxes but instead live off "Gifts", while God's people, who earn the money, pay the taxes and never know what happens to the money after they drop it in the box?
George Geftakys teaches that the church is a great mystery, and that the church is making known God's manifold wisdom and purpose to angels. This may be so, but is church finance an even greater mystery than God's Eternal Purpose in Christ Jesus? If it is given to us to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, why is the mystery of money, which the Lord says does not compare with the true riches, not yet ready to be revealed? If we are to be faithful in what is least, money, why is there no financial accountability in the Geftakys group? These are very good questions that should have an answer.
The average member will show clear scorn for churches that release a budget to the membership. This, they say, is clear proof that these people don't have much faith. Perhaps the average Geftakys member would be surprised to know that Billy Graham, Jim Elliot, Hudson Taylor and many others all believed in full financial disclosure. Even a Geftakys member would have to agree that these men have expressed a desire to serve God and have some fundamental understanding of The Bible. Why is it that George has such a different opinion? Has George's opinion resulted in God blessing the ministry in a greater way?
In all fairness, if George does have money socked away somewhere; he does not seem to be spending much of it. He is as dedicated to his ministry as anyone you could meet and puts forth a tremendous effort. That does not prove that everything is OK, but it does say that his main motivation does not appear to be filthy lucre. I suppose it is possible that a majority of members do not tithe. If this is the case, it is an even stronger condemnation of the group as these non-tithers have guilty consciences month after month because they are "robbing God". In light of the dedication seen in other aspects of the group, I seriously doubt that members do not tithe.
It is also possible that a large portion of the money has been used to prop up the assembly's business, Ariel Marketing Resources, AMR. For years, this was a very poorly managed printing business, with many past-due accounts and unpaid debts. There was a bail out of Ariel in the 1980's, but it is not clear if Assembly money was used, or just George's personal money. The only people who work for AMR are "saints." Since AMR is considered to be part of God's work, it is conceivable that much of the tithes have been used to bail them out of their constant financial trouble. The company was "managed" for years by George's son David, who is on the board of directors, and another man who is in the highest levels of leadership in the assemblies. Rumor has it that now, since another brother who really does have some business skill, is managing AMR that the company is now turning a profit. If this is so, then the extra cash from tithes is free to flow straight to George, not to AMR.
The Assembly school, Cornerstone Academy, may also be a place where much of the excess goes. If this is so, I think it is a perfectly fine use for God's money. Why not disclose it and put these nasty rumors to rest?
If a large portion of the money is used for AMR, then I feel it is criminal. God's money is being wasted on an unprofitable business! How can a heavenly organism be involved with an earthly, for-profit business? Does this not deny the very nature of the Body of Christ? What does the House of God have to do with business, after all? Certainly, the printing of George's books could be hired out to a profitable printing business at much less cost than the overhead of an anemic, miss-managed subsidiary of the "Work of The Lord.” The rank hypocrisy here seems to escape the ever critical gaze of Assembly adherents. On the one hand George denounces all other churches for being "businesses," yet the fact that the Assembly has its own business, staffed by only Assembly members is somehow different!
If anyone was to audit the ministry, AMR should be the first place they look, because they are the only aspect of the ministry that has any sort of record keeping. The reader should keep in mind that all of the above is merely speculation and educated guessing, no one, including the author, knows where the money is except George and Betty Geftakys.
No matter what scenario one draws, the fact remains that there needs to be at least token financial accountability in the Geftakys ministry. At present, there is only complete and total secrecy. Human nature has demonstrated that people do not hide what is appropriate; they only seek to hide what is inappropriate.
Most of the people involved are sincere Christians who have been ensnared because an outlet was found for their intense, youthful zeal, or lack of purpose. The ministry needs to change, drastically.
There are many ex-members who have had difficulty in serving God after leaving the group. However, most ex-members relate stories of freedom and a return of joy after they leave. One universally common theme among those who have left is surprise over how many godly, mature believers are to be found in mainstream churches. This is a surprise because they were taught that all other Christians were shallow.
Sadly, those who remain in the ministry only hear about the few ex-members who are having trouble. This creates the impression that when someone leaves, they suffer shipwreck concerning the faith. This is simply not true and it needs to be said that most ex-members are glad to be out and find that they experience more growth and love for Christ now that they are no longer involved.
If we were to construct a "cult meter", with conservative Baptists at 1 and the International Church of Christ at 100, I believe the Geftakys group would fall at around 70. They are less dangerous than the International Church of Christ, but definitely not a healthy place to spend your life. If you are a parent with children in the group, rest assured that your children are not having sex or using drugs. Members are learning a lot about the Bible, and may in fact have a few beneficial years in the Geftakys ministry. However, parents should be aware that if their children begin to show signs of extreme devotion to the group, at the expense of school and career, they will be sorry someday. Parents who have daughters in the ministry, should be very careful to explain to them that they will be housebound, pregnant, and "subject" to a man who is willing to be told what to do in every area of his life by "leaders" who are secretive and accountable to no one. This is hardly what most girls dream about when they think of getting married someday. Many wives of current members dream about being in a different church, married to a husband who has a backbone. The tired, joyless expressions on these women's faces say it all. Parents should discuss this with their children who are Geftakys members.
I believe the reader now has an accurate description of what life was like for a member of George Geftakys' Assembly, prior to January 19, 2003.