Editor's note: There is such a thing as Biblical excommunication. However, it should not occur very much at all in a healthy church. The texts referenced below, as well as Matt 18 and 1 Cor 5 are some of the main places we see excommunication in the New Testament. In all cases, the person to be shunned or avoided is one who is either grossly immoral and adamant about continuing in their sin, or a person who is purposefully teaching false doctrine, especially heresy. Excommunication is never meant to be a tool to silence criticism, cover up sin, take revenge on a person, or to control a person. There are examples of this latter sort of misuse of the doctrine in the New Testament, namely that of Diotrophes, who "put them out of the church," 3rd John. According to the text, he did this because he was not truthful, and wanted to have preeminence, not wanting to have any accountability with other Christian Workers. In my opinion, the worst way to misapply the Biblical practice of excommunication is for a leader to command that his followers shun members who are telling the truth about sin that the leader is guilty of practicing. This sort of application turns the whole process on its head and violates every principle we see in God's word regarding conduct that becomes Christ. Sadly, this is exactly what is done in the Assembly.
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine, which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. Romans 16:17-18
Warning! The following might be considered by Assembly leaders to be “smooth words and flattering speech.” If you are simple, don’t read it; you may be deceived!
I am the writer of several articles that are posted on this website. These articles, although a source of great irritation to the Geftakys ministry, are 100% accurate and truthful. I have repeatedly told the leadership of the ministry that I will publicly recant and correct anything in them that is not true. I promise to do this swiftly and in a manner that that satisfies those who have been injured by any untrue statements I have made in my articles. I repeat this pledge, for the fourth or fifth time, in this writing.
The articles have been attacked as “one sided,” and “half true.” But to date, I have not been informed of anything in the articles that is untrue, except that one of the full-time Workers, who is paid by the Geftakys family for his services, insists that he does not receive $60,000.00 per year, but “much less.” I know for a fact that at least one of the Full Time Workers did receive about $60,000.00 per year, but I am not privy to what the others received.
Again, this minor correction does not in any way change the truth of the paper with regard to the secrecy issue, or the fact that there appears to be a great deal of money “out there,” which is clearly the point I was trying to make. Since this was the only “lie” that has come to my attention in the entire time the article has been posted, I thought it best to correct what I previously wrote in order to make it more accurate and reflective of the recent information I have received. For the record, I was not asked to do so by any Assembly functionary; I am taking the initiative for this on my own. It is highly likely that my new estimate of $20,000.00 is quite low. Indeed, this would hardly pay for rent and utilities for a family of four in my area, let alone automobiles, plane tickets, clothing, vacations, Bibles, toys, computers, household appliances, healthcare, etc. Again, if this new number is shown to be inaccurate, I will re-adjust it accordingly. However, I really don’t expect that a full-time Worker will contact me and say, “That’s a lie! I get more than $20,000.00 per year!”
Now for our topic…
My articles have been up since December of 2000 on the Rick Ross website, and have had wide readership, almost exclusively by current and former Assembly members. This has reportedly resulted in some awkward moments for the leadership of the group.
Due to this, the word on the street is that I am finally being “excommunicated.” I am relating this all too true story so that readers can understand what happens in the group when someone has “a letter read about them,” which is Assembly-speak for excommunication.
First of all, the Assembly practices this sort of thing far more than most other Christian churches do. On average, in my former Assembly in San Luis Obispo, there was one person excommunicated every other year. This was in a very close-knit congregation of around seventy adults at its zenith. The reader must keep in mind that only one to three new members join per year on average, so the excommunication rate is extraordinarily high when compared with other churches. The net result is that the attrition rate of members is greater than 100%. The current membership of my old Assembly is lower than it has been in 15 years, somewhere around 35 adults, and that in spite of the fact that they have imported “saints” from other gatherings to swell the ranks of late.
Virtually every person who is excommunicated is done so for being “divisive,” or a “railer.” In every case, what this means is that they have said something about the Assembly, or one of its functionaries that is negative. Even if the negative speech is true, it is still considered divisive if it raises doubt about the Assembly in the minds of current members. This is definitely the case in my situation.
The justification for this process is found in the passage quoted at the beginning of this essay, Romans 16: 17-18. In this passage, Paul admonishes us to “avoid those who cause divisions.” This is where the Geftakys group stops reading the Bible and starts writing letters of excommunication.
A surface reading of the above passage reveals that those who cause divisions are specifically those who bring a “contrary doctrine.” This means that if someone is teaching false doctrine, such as denying the deity of Christ, or teaching salvation by works, or some other heresy, they are to be noted, exposed and avoided. Practically, this is why Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not considered part of orthodox Christianity, due to their heretical doctrines regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ and the way of salvation.
In the historical sense, Romans 16:17-20 was written regarding the sect of the Gnostics, who promulgated all sorts of heretical and false doctrine. The book of Galatians, in chapter 5, verse 20 is the only other place where the word “divisions” occurs in the sense of Romans 16. Again, in this case, it is not referring to those who say bad things about the church, but to those who systematically teach heresy. In the case of Galatia, it was the Judaizers who were the divisive agents to be avoided. As a side note, many people consider Assembly theology to be Galatianism, but that is another story.
I certainly have not taught heresy, and am not teaching it at present. However, I have been present when David Geftakys taught heresy, in my own house to a group of about twenty saints. I withstood him to his face, in front of many witnesses when he taught that God did not become a man, in clear contradiction to the most basic tenet of the Christian faith. This “mistake” has since been cleared up, and the Assembly does not teach that Christ was not human. I think this incident, which is remembered by many, shows that, at least with regard to the deity and humanity of Christ, I am not a teacher of “contrary doctrine.” Nevertheless, it is this sort of divisive doctrine that is referred to in Romans 16:17-18.
There is absolutely no way this passage can be twisted to mean that someone who “blows the whistle” on a leader by exposing sin or false teaching can be excommunicated, yet this is exactly what the Assembly leadership is doing in my case. Far from preaching a false gospel, I have told the truth, and current members are being instructed to avoid me because of it.
The Assembly has added some “special effects” to further enhance their doctrine of excommunication, which tend to the extreme. According to Geftakys theology, the leadership in the Assembly is appointed by God Himself, and as such are His representative government on earth.
Using Matthew 18:18, "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven,” (it might be interesting for readers to look at the verses immediately preceding verse 18) the Assembly leaders teach that if they excommunicate someone, heaven recognizes this executive action taken by the Leading Brothers and that person is essentially excommunicated, not only from the local prayer and worship meeting, but also from “The Kingdom”. They go even further, saying that unless this is “made right” with the leadership, the excommunicated one will forfeit his or her inheritance in heaven and not realize the salvation of their souls. They themselves may be saved, but it will be bare bones, skin-of-the-teeth type of salvation only. This is in contrast to faithful Assembly members, who will be richly rewarded for their faithfulness and courage to excommunicate “divisive” members.
In the minds of Assembly members, who subscribe to the divine authority of their leaders, the act of excommunication is a very serious and sober business, which has eternal consequences.
Given the above, one would think that a potential candidate for excommunication would be forewarned of the impending spiritual death sentence to be handed out by Assembly functionaries. Surely, the one whose eternal soul is in jeopardy has a right to know when heaven has changed its stance, placing them into the “disinherited” category. After all, even the Spanish inquisition gave people a chance to recant before judgment was handed out.
The funny thing is that I was the last person to find out that I was being excommunicated! Someone warned me that this was going to take place, but the leaders never told me. In order to confirm that this wasn’t just another rumor, I called several people, some who are not even Assembly members, in order to confirm that this was taking place. I then called an Assembly leader, one of God’s appointed leaders, to get the straight scoop, right from the horse’s mouth as it were. I must confess that I did this partially for information, and partially for fun.
This leader was clearly nervous to hear from me on the phone. He immediately began to back pedal and said that, “Yes, we are talking about writing a letter, but we have not said anything in public yet…”
I asked him, “If you haven’t said anything, how come everyone knows about it? Is it true?”
He confirmed that it was true, but insisted, “Nothing was said in public.”
From my seventeen years of involvement, I knew that people who are excommunicated are frequently not informed of the action taken against them. I have been present many times when letters have been read at prayer meetings that instruct members to avoid certain people and not to speak with them. I also knew that these people, who are to be shunned, never get copies of these letters. However, the leader I called was still being trained in some of the finer points of leadership and told me that of course I would get a copy of the letter. He then asked for my address, so he could make sure I received a copy.
I asked him, “It’s only right that I should receive a copy, since the salvation of my soul is at stake, right?”
He replied to the effect that he would make sure I received a copy and then we hung up.
I knew I would be hearing from him in the next few minutes, because in my former Assembly life, the moment I received a call like the one mentioned above, the first thing I would do would be to call my superiors and inform them of the situation. This faithful leader did exactly that by immediately phoning the chief leader. After getting instructions, he called me back, about five minutes later and informed me that,
“You are not being excommunicated, you are being avoided.” He used Romans 16:17-18.
I asked him what the difference was, and he said, “I’m not going to title the letter, but it’s only for the saints, not for you.”
I said, “So am I off the hook then? Do I still have my inheritance?”
He didn’t answer.
I then asked him if my wife was also to be avoided. He replied somewhat tentatively, “Umm, yes, I think so.”
“What about my kids? If they see the saint’s kids, will the saint’s kids be told to avoid them?” (We live in a relatively small community and this will frequently happen.)
He wasn’t too sure about this and said he would find out. Apparently God was speaking to one of the other leaders about this topic and not the one I called. Of course it is only a matter of time, after getting input from George Geftakys, that everything becomes clear to all the leaders and they stand in unity regarding my excommunication/avoidance.
I then asked if I would get a copy of the “avoidance” letter, to which he replied, “No you are not going to get a copy.”
I was somewhat relieved and amused to see that not much has changed in the Assembly. This practice of excommunication/avoidance makes just as much sense now as it did all those years ago. Very refreshing!
I then asked him on what grounds they were to “avoid” me. He said that I had been repeatedly entreated to not write things on the Internet, and not to talk to people. However, the fact is that these leaders, with one exception have never called me or entreated me, even once. I informed the one person who did call me that I would gladly recant and correct anything I said that was not true, and of course, have never been told about any inaccuracies, except the one mentioned above. In two years, I have received exactly three phone calls from God’s appointed leadership, one of which was the callback from the leader mentioned above who needed guidance regarding my excommunication.
It seems to me that a person deserves a little more entreaty and patient admonishment, as the Bible teaches, before his or her inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven is yanked.
On further reflection, I suspect that the Geftakys doctrine on excommunication may be designed more as a tool to keep the sheep locked in the pen than to protect them from wolves.
As a Christian who is walking with Christ and in fellowship with other believers, and as a student of the Bible, I recognize that the Assembly has no authority to do what they say they are doing in this matter. As a former member, who understands the dynamics of the group very well, I am convinced that I am being excommunicated so that the few members who remain will not hear the truth. The leadership has clearly demonstrated that they care nothing at all about me, or the spiritual health of the members, but only for the perpetuation and preservation of the Assembly.
Of course, there is always the possibility that I have said something wrong. If so, I further re-iterate my promise to publicly correct any mistakes or errors in my writings. In this event, look for more on this topic.
In the sight of God and men:
April 23, 2002