Navigating The Deeper Life
Chapter 5 - The Siren's Song
In Homer’s classic, The Odyssey, Ulysses found it necessary to sail past the Island of The Sirens. The Sirens were dangerous, horrible creatures that looked like beautiful women. In addition to their beautiful appearance, they had wonderful, magical voices and sang such beautiful songs that once a mariner heard them, he would fall under enchantment and run his ship right up on the rocks in order to run into the Siren’s waiting arms. The Sirens would then fall upon the poor man, devouring him, leaving only his bones upon the beach. Even though all mariners knew about this danger, the Siren’s song was so enchanting that, upon hearing their sweet voices, a man became powerless and had no choice but to rush to destruction.
Ulysses wanted to try something different. He wanted to safely sail past the Sirens, while also hearing their song, and to be the first to live to tell about it. So he plugged the ears of his crew with wax and ordered them to tie him securely to the mast. He gave them strict orders that under no circumstances should they untie him, no matter how he might plead or threaten them. As his ship approached the deadly shore, he heard the lovely songs and straining at his bonds, begged and prayed to be released in order to swim to the beautiful Sirens. His crew remained faithful, and refused to untie him and grant him his wish, and Ulysses became the only man to hear the deadly song and live to tell about it.
A twisted version of this classic myth occurred in our Assembly. Because of our rigorous lifestyle, and serious, grim pursuit of holiness, things were starting to get rough. Frequently, people who were once totally committed would simply quit, and disappear from our midst. We never knew the full story of why they left, but it was always insinuated that they made choices to go back into the world, or that they had left The Lord.
After this happened quite a few times a new vein of doctrine began to emerge. A strong emphasis on spiritual warfare began, and we understood that we had entered into a fierce battle with Satan and his chief demons. The reason the battle was so hot was because The Assembly was really conquering spiritual territory and The Enemy hated us for it. Since we had become his chief adversaries, we experienced more than our share of warfare.
In our twisted version of The Island of the Sirens, we were correctly taught
that Satan was a master deceiver, and as the chief siren would use any means
possible to keep us from being saved. It is after this that things became
twisted. Since we were all saved, he failed to accomplish his primary goal with
us, so the next best thing was to keep us from being involved in God’s purpose,
to keep us from inheriting the kingdom. To us, this simply meant that Satan’s
chief goal supposedly concentrated on trying to get us out of The Assembly, and
he would go to any length to accomplish it.
So great a deceiver is Satan, that anyone who gave ear to such siren songs was almost surely doomed to fail and suffer irrevocable loss. In order to avoid this, we were told to plug our ears. Most movies were out of the question, television was taboo, and many books were discouraged. Furthermore, we spent as little time with the non-Assembly members of our families as possible. This was because prolonged visits to our natural families often "got our perspectives off."
When Ronald Enroth’s excellent book, Churches That Abuse, came out, we were dismayed to find out that a whole chapter was devoted to attacking our Assembly! We all instinctively knew that this evil book was an especially powerful siren song. Although few of us had ever read the book, we denounced it and called it demonic. Satan’s name is The Accuser of the Brethren, and we felt accused. We convinced ourselves that this was true, even though we had not read the book.
Those of us who were young faithful crew, readily agreed to plug our ears, and avoid any information that might trick us into thinking that there was a life worth living "out there." We knew better, we had made the choice to suffer persecution with the people of God, rather than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. The sincere Christian parents who pleaded with their college aged children to return to a "normal" church were seen to be just like Ulysses’ beautiful sirens, telling us what we wanted to hear, but full of deceit, whose end was death.
Those of us that were a little older and were at the stage in life where most people begin to save money, buy houses and plan for a family would often hear the siren song. In order to keep us from jumping out of the boat, we agreed that we also should be "tied to the mast," not unlike Ulysses. We would make commitments to The Lord and promises to serve Him "in this ministry" forever. We strengthened our resolve by repeating to each other clich�s to the effect that God was in control, and He would not let us down. Because of this, we thought it would have been a huge blunder if we had seized the reins of our lives and wrestled control away from God. The leaders would encourage this sort of thing, and would remind us of our past "commitments," in order to hold us in bondage to it if we ever appeared to be listening to the sweet siren song. Guilt and fear were the main cords that kept us tied to the mast.
We were made to feel guilty if we missed a meeting. We absolutely dreaded the guilt that would have been laid on us if we missed an important Assembly event to visit family, or go on a vacation. In my case, vacations were allowed if they were limited to two weeks per year, but it was considered proper to check out the timing with leaders, because that way our vacation would not conflict with couples’ meetings, or special speakers who came to visit. Going against this would cause emotional pain and lead to punishment.
If we habitually acted in a way slightly contrary to the expressed wishes of leadership, the result would be having some or all responsibilities in "The House of God" taken from us. This was humiliating, because we were all acutely tuned in to who was in charge of what, and who was leading. Leading, or being in charge was a way to gain prestige and approval, which we all craved. To have this, our only source of esteem, taken away was rather cruel. So we avoided doing things that we knew would have negative results.
Perhaps the most powerful way we silenced the siren’s voice that would raise doubts in our minds was by using the Bible itself. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book, Ethics, in which he attempted to exegete upon The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil. His views taught that when, while in Eden, Adam ate the fruit, he lost direct fellowship with God and instead had consciousness of the world around him. In this fallen state, he essentially judged everything according to his own faulty standard of right and wrong. This was sin on his part, because only God had the right to judge. Bonhoeffer went on to say that when we, as Christians, become regenerated at salvation; we gain the possibility of getting the Mind of Christ, and escaping the bondage of the knowledge of good and evil.
The book I am referring to is really quite good in many ways. However, one of our leaders took this Deeper Life teaching and built it into weekend seminar, at which he taught us that many times we simply made impulsive judgments about things, without praying about them, and getting counsel from godly brethren. This was proof that we were still very much operating under the knowledge of good and evil, which was a very bad thing.
Again, there is some truth to what I have described above, but our idea of the Knowledge of Good and Evil crept into virtually every passage of scripture, and flavored every belief we had. For example, when we would teach on a particular passage that was difficult, like Hebrew 13:17, which appears to say that we must always obey our leaders, we would add that this often conflicted with our knowledge of good and evil. This additional idea meant it was even more important to obey, because we didn’t want to operate in the realm of good and evil, but in the will of God.
What transpired was that every time someone had an idea that something was wrong with The Assembly, a person in authority would counter and say, "Well, according to your Knowledge of Good and Evil I can see what you are saying, but have you prayed about this? Are you going to dismiss God’s will in your life because it doesn’t seem right? Isn’t that just what the book of Judges says, every man did what was right in his own eyes? Israel only said this because they didn’t want God to rule over them, and that is exactly what you are saying. You shouldn’t let your own preconceived opinions get in the way of what God is doing. We have a God who speaks. Do you believe that? Yes? Well, don’t you think He can speak to the leading brothers? Yes? Well why do you insist on seeing it your own way, when it clearly is not God’s way? Isn’t that just the Natural Man, and your knowledge of Good and Evil?"
This became a nuclear weapon in the arsenal of control. Because we were so indoctrinated in the deeper meaning of Genesis chapter three, this sort of reasoning made sense and was very effective at getting us to stop listening to the still small voice that could still speak to our consciences from time to time. If we witnessed blatant abuse of power, we could excuse it by rationalizing that the only reason we were offended was because we still had such a strong sense of good and evil. Then we would repeat cliches to ourselves, "God is on the throne, He knew this was going to happen and if He didn’t want it He could have stopped it. Don’t put Him in a box." If we observed a brother or sister having doubts, we could say to them with great effect, "How big is your God?" This would cause them to have guilt for not trusting God enough, which would often temporarily solve the immediate problem of an active conscience.
All of this simply added up to bondage, and for some, brainwashing. It was at this point that things began to really take a turn for the worse and the church actually developed some cultic practices. While the essential Christian doctrines were still sound and would remain so, the way we applied the Bible was skewed because we had taken our gaze far off of Christ and were now totally focused on obscure, mystical ideas derived from Deeper Life proponents. All of The Assembly’s add-on doctrines caused misery and yet were claimed as our defining and most holy elements, under the title of "The Heavenly Vision." All that was lovely and true about The Assembly--Jesus as found in the hymns and Bible—were amended and added to in the most superfluous manner possible.
Again, there is some truth to what I have described above, but our idea of the Knowledge of Good and Evil crept into virtually every passage of scripture, and flavored every belief we had. For example, when we would teach on a particular passage that was difficult, like Hebrew 13:17, which appears to say that we must always obey our leaders, we would add that this often conflicted with our knowledge of good and evil. This additional idea meant it was even more important to obey, because we didn’t want to operate in the realm of good and evil, but in the will of God. What transpired was that every time someone had an idea that something was wrong with The Assembly, a person in authority would counter and say, "Well, according to your Knowledge of Good and Evil I can see what you are saying, but have you prayed about this? Are you going to dismiss God’s will in your life because it doesn’t seem right? Isn’t that just what the book of Judges says, every man did what was right in his own eyes? Israel only said this because they didn’t want God to rule over them, and that is exactly what you are saying. You shouldn’t let your own preconceived opinions get in the way of what God is doing. We have a God who speaks. Do you believe that? Yes? Well, don’t you think He can speak to the leading brothers? Yes? Well why do you insist on seeing it your own way, when it clearly is not God’s way? Isn’t that just the Natural Man, and your knowledge of Good and Evil?"
The other side to all of this was that if we did the correct things, we would be rewarded with prestige and admiration from the group. Every single day we could choose to feel guilt, or approval, by doing certain things and avoiding others. Due to the fact that everyone around us was experiencing the same thing, and we never listened to any alternative, this sort of bondage could actually begin to feel normal.
Our ship was headed the wrong direction and things were becoming so out of balance that disaster was not far away. In spite of this, we carried on at a speedy pace.