AKA Studies in the Old and New Testament, Campus Bible Club, COOL Club, The Alternative, Kid’s Bible Club, Community Bible Study, Just Christian’s, Christians in the Community.
This group does not take a name for themselves. Instead, they refer to themselves as, “Christians, nothing more, and nothing less.” Nevertheless, they can be identified by the various names listed in the preceding paragraph. The most common name that they use to refer to themselves is “The Assembly.” The Assembly, founded in the late 1960’s by George Geftakys, has 30 or so groups meeting in North America with about the same number of affiliated groups spread over Europe, Africa, China, Mexico, Indonesia and perhaps Venezuela. The group can be considered to be Christian, as they hold to the most essential tenets of the Christian faith and the person and work of Jesus Christ.
However, in spite of the fact that we consider them Christian brethren, we feel led by God to issue a word of caution to those who would consider committing themselves to The Assembly. While we don’t suggest that members of the group should be avoided, or considered part of a cult, we cannot, at this time, recommend The Assembly as a place of fellowship. Our reasons for this cautionary stance are explained below and are the result of more than ten years of observation of the group and numerous encounters with many former members. In addition, we have reviewed official Assembly literature, a small portion of which is referenced below, that helped us reach our conclusions.
According to many former members, the various assemblies have virtually identical practices and beliefs throughout North America. Therefore, even though this pamphlet is descriptive of the San Luis Obispo Assembly (The Church at the Sands Motel) it could be applicable to other Assembly groups as well.
We recommend that people exercise caution before joining the group for the following reasons:
Excessive Control of Member’s lives. This is the most common complaint heard from ex-members and is a typical aspect of groups that display cultic tendencies. The group has rigid standards of dress, hairstyle, jewelry, and dating, among other things. For example, wives and daughters of “Workers,” and leaders are not allowed to wear pierced earrings. No dating is allowed. Instead, the church leadership carefully oversees relationships between men and women and frequently steps in to influence the progress of a relationship one way or the other. Members are encouraged to live in communal housing.
The most pronounced control is among members of these houses, who frequently must follow rigid dietary guidelines and are pressured to have the same busy schedule as everyone else in the house, attending 5 or more meetings per week. Furthermore, undue control is exercised over the children in the group. It is our observation that these practices have infringed on members’ freedom in Christ and have been a source of unhappiness and anxiety. We maintain that Christians should be responsible and free to make their own decisions and that church leadership should only step in if a member is clearly making a sinful choice. In that case, church leaders should try to help a struggling Christian in a spirit of gentleness, not by exerting control. Gal 5:1, 6:1
Legalism. The Assembly has demonstrated a clear tendency towards legalism. They believe that God is meticulous about small details, especially with regard to church pattern. Consequently, every aspect of life has a “correct” pattern: dinner guests, houseguests, fellowships, barbecues, worship, Bible studies, prayer meetings and virtually every other aspect of church life. Members are very judgmental towards other churches that do things differently. For example, George Geftakys, the founder and leader of The Assembly, teaches that having music in worship--especially modern music--is absolutely wrong. He goes on to say, regarding music in worship, “Some may say, ‘Well, it really doesn’t make any difference. It’s what you feel in your heart.’ But it makes all the difference in the world; it is the difference between the truth and the lie, it is the difference between the counterfeit and the real.”
George Geftakys teaches that almost every other church is a “counterfeit.” The legalistic stance of The Assembly has caused them to judge and condemn other believers who don’t share their views on the proper use of music in worship. There are many other areas where this excessive legalism can be seen as well. One area is the celebration of Christmas and Easter. The Assembly, similar to the Watchtower society, does not observe these holidays. If new, uninformed members observe holidays, they are admonished not to do so in the future. It is unheard of for anyone who has been a member for any length of time to persist in observing holidays, or to decorate his or her home. If they were to do so, they would experience noticeable pressure from leadership to cease from “celebrating pagan holidays.”
Authoritarian Leadership. Closely related to control is The Assembly’s leadership structure, which is of the top-down variety. The Assembly was founded by George Geftakys and he has been the leader ever since. Six or so Elders have been appointed by George, with many “leading brothers” under the elders. Regular members, called “saints,” make up the majority of The Assembly. The leadership misinterprets Heb13: 17, Mat 18:18 and other verses by stating that the different facets of Assembly leadership are appointed directly by God, and as such are His representative government on earth. They are to be obeyed in the same way that God is obeyed, without regard to whether or not their commands are scriptural or palatable to members. These commands, on some occasions, have even gone so far as denying members their choice of spouse. If a member refuses to obey a leader, they are often disciplined by being refused communion and frequently by excommunication. Disobeying God’s appointed leaders is a sure sign of apostasy, according to George Geftakys. Thus, it comes down to, “Obey us, or be apostate,” there is no room for discussion.
The leadership has shown a consistent pattern of insensitivity and unentreatability with regard to the above. Questioning the decisions and behavior of leadership of the group is tantamount to questioning God Himself. The Assembly twists and misreads verses like Heb 13:17 in order to justify this practice. If a member were to continue to practice anything except total submission, they would be labeled as divisive and would most likely be forced out of the group, or at the least silenced and isolated from the regular membership. Potential members are not introduced to this aspect of authoritarianism until they are emotionally ready to accept it. A large percentage of new recruits leave the group abruptly when they discover this aspect of Assembly culture. For this reason, potential members are always discipled by a leader, or a very experienced senior member, who will be able to sense when the new recruit is ready to “submit.” They are showered with attention and goodwill, until such a time as they seem willing to “make choices,” to submit to The Assembly, its leadership and its culture.
Confusion With Regard To the Role of Grace and Works in Salvation. The Assembly correctly teaches initial salvation by grace through faith alone. However, they make an unbiblical distinction between Justification, calling it mere salvation, and the process of Sanctification. George Geftakys teaches that not all Christians will be part of the bride of Christ, that not all Christians will receive the adoption of sons, and that many Christians will be cast into outer darkness. Why? Because they do not lead overcoming lives. “Overcoming,” as taught in The Assembly, begins with self-denial and suffering, and continues with a rigid schedule of church activities. Consequently, while one can be sure of initial salvation, one is never sure of his or her sanctification and inheritance. “Overcoming” depends solely on the choices and behavior of a believer, because it must be earned by obedience, self-denial and belonging to the right church.
In short, The Assembly teaches that initial salvation is unconditional, based on the finished work of Christ. However, their teaching on what happens after a person is saved is in error. This leads Christians into confusion and condemnation. In one piece of Assembly literature we read, “We begin this consideration by saying what perhaps many would rather not hear – that entrance into the kingdom of God is based upon a condition. Salvation from the consequences of sin is unconditional; but to know all the privileges and the inheritance associated with the kingdom is conditional according to our response after we have been saved." In clear contradiction to the biblical doctrine of grace, The Assembly teaches that character, obedience and works are the basis of entrance into God’s Kingdom. Consequently, believers really do have a reason to boast, contrary to Paul’s clear teaching. This form of boasting invariably leads to a proud and elitist mindset.
Exclusivity and Elitism. It is a known fact that The Assembly and its campus subgroups are not at all involved in the evangelical community’s many activities and inter-church events. They prefer to stick to themselves and promote their own events. The reason for this is because they teach that God is extremely concerned that everything be done a certain way in the church. They claim that if things are not patterned after Assembly ideals, being influenced by modern culture, God is displeased, and will withdraw His support. They also assert that The Assembly is one of the few churches that is doing things God’s way. For example, George Geftakys teaches, “I am convinced that most professing Christians today do not know how to worship.” He goes on to say that he, unlike most Christians, does know the correct way to worship. “He revealed to me what it meant to worship in spirit and in truth.”
The Assembly also believes that, “All ecclesiastical organizations, missionary societies, public lists of membership and funds, etc. are a denial and departure from a walk of faith and dependence on the Lord for all things.” Along with this, The Assembly holds to the idea that any church or missionary organization that applies for tax-exempt status with the government is, “the essence of sectarianism.” This view is in clear contradiction to what Jesus taught in Luke 20:21-25, where He clearly taught His disciples to pay their taxes. Romans 13:1-7 also plainly states that Christians should obey the laws of the land, especially with regard to paying taxes. There is no Biblical justification for condemning churches that obey the laws of the land in order to enjoy tax-exempt status. Many ex-members testify that while in The Assembly, they heard teaching on a regular basis that demeaned and mocked local Christian churches and the evangelical community at large. It is our opinion that these stances taken by The Assembly create and un-biblical division in Christ’s Body. Furthermore, when these ideas are inculcated in member’s minds, they result in isolation from other Christians. Thus The Assembly loses a large measure of accountability that could be had if they enjoyed fellowship with other gatherings. This lack of accountability leaves the door open to extreme practices, spiritual and even physical abuses, which have been widely reported as having occurred in The Assembly.
Secrecy. Assembly recruitment practices are such that potential members attending an Assembly outreach event are not aware of just who the group is that is sponsoring the event. They are told only that the event is sponsored by, “Christians in the Community.” Furthermore, not everyone is allowed to attend Assembly meetings. They employ “Doorkeepers,” to screen and question “suspicious” looking people before they enter the meeting hall. Assembly literature is not carried in any Christian bookstores and is only available at Assembly book tables, in Assembly meeting places. Although every message is recorded, the tapes are not available, except on loan to members. After listening to the tapes, members must give them back to the care of The Assembly tape person. The public is not allowed to purchase or procure tapes of any Assembly teaching messages. Recordings of George Geftakys’ teaching are not available even for members, and must be listened to under the auspices of leadership, at appointed times. This lack of forthrightness with regard to doctrine and beliefs raises many questions, i.e. why do they not tell people up front what they believe?
The Assembly also practices total secrecy with regard to church finance. All giving is done only in cash; they will not accept a personal check. No receipt or record of donation will ever be provided to donors. There is no disbursement sheet, or accounting whatsoever with the money. This practice is alarming. We agree with George Mueller of Bristol when he said, regarding church finance, “Careful accounting is a glory to God.” We believe that a church must practice scrupulous and open accounting methods in order to demonstrate uprightness with financial matters. For this reason, we advise people to engage in careful consideration before making a contribution to this group.
Painful Exit Process. A universal theme among ex-members is that of emotional pain and anxiety following departure from the group. There may be someone who left the group with positive things to say about his or her time there, but we have yet to meet such a person in our community. On the contrary, we have repeatedly, for more than ten years, heard the same stories of abuse and sorrow from ex-members. The leadership generally does not think it ever justifiable for a person to leave The Assembly, for any reason. People are told that leaving is tantamount to “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.” Heb 10:25. The Assembly teaches that leaving the group is to leave God’s protective covering, which makes one vulnerable to attacks from Satan. Consequently, many people are held in fear.
In addition, due to the legalistic and elitist mindset of the group, many ex-members have difficulty finding a church that “follows the pattern,” and feel they must settle for something that God is not totally pleased with. This creates guilt. Perhaps the worst aspect of this is that many ex-members lose contact with all the people that were their friends in the group, because members frequently shun ex-members. This means that when a person finally decides it is time to go, they are not only leaving the church, but all of their friends and their children’s friends as well. In contrast, we encourage people to find out where God would have him or her fellowship. In contrast, we believe that churches are different precisely because they meet the needs of different people at different times. The right church is the one where a person can grow and be challenged in their faith, as well as mutually benefit from relationships with other members. Christian pastors recognize that some people might not be as comfortable with our personal style as with someone else’s. Therefore, in contrast to The Assembly, we encourage and support people in their decision to pursue Christ in a Biblically sound church, perhaps other than our own, if need be. There are many excellent churches in our area.
Based on the above and other reasons, we cannot recommend The Assembly as a place of healthy Christian fellowship. We do, however, hope that these issues are corrected and the situation changes. While we feel that certain problems warrant exposure, this exposure is not meant to tear down and ruin, but to heal. Members of the group are definitely Christians, and as such, members of the Body of Christ should extend love and compassion to them. If God brings you into contact with an Assembly member, pray and use wisdom in order to be a blessing to them. However, we also believe it is our duty to inform people regarding the facts presented in this pamphlet before they join the group.