Leaving the Assembly
In the preceding several years prior to the writing of this article, many members left the San Luis Obispo Assembly, including the author, because of the behavior of David Getakys. The article has been edited to reflect that the methods described here were in practice prior to 2003, when most of the Assemblies disbanded. Today, it is reported to be easier to leave an existing Assembly. However, the practice of shunning certain former members who are considered dangerous is still in place to a large extent.
While reading the following, keep in mind how the Lord Himself might have behaved toward those who left Him. When He presented the Word of God to them, He did not judge them even though they rejected His teaching (Luke 4:16-30). His heart went out to the young rich man (Mark 10:17). He wept over Jerusalem’s unbelief (Luke 19:39-44). He was deeply moved by their unbelief (John 11:35-38). He was patient with those who put Him to the test (Luke 10:25-37). He wondered at their unbelief (Mark 6:5-6). He was a compassionate shepherd (Matthew 14:14-21). All these examples, and there are many more, show the character of our Lord. He was a meek and gentle shepherd. He is by no means an angry god waiting to judge and punish at any moment. Consider his character and then consider the following practices as experienced by those who have left the Assemblies.
Practices Implemented Toward Those Who Left
People generally left in either of two ways:
- There were those who left discouraged and downtrodden.
- There were those who left with an understanding of unbiblical and sinful teaching and practice in the Assembly.
These points are very general but they will answer some questions. The discouraged "saint" was not a threat to the Assembly. He was generally discarded by the system. Rarely did anyone go out to him, and when they did, they could only present the bondage that discouraged him in the first place. So he may have remained in his discouragement until he understood more clearly the truth of the Gospel as it’s found in the scriptures.
In contrast, the people who left with understanding represented a potential threat to the Assembly. If these people spoke out about their observations, they threatened the Assembly’s image or ‘testimony’. Since just about every saint’s emotions were wrapped up in the Assembly, when faced with this negative information, the members would individually become very defensive over any criticism. Thus, the reason why a person left became a personal affront to the Assembly member. Consequently, discrediting and avoidance of the former Assembly member was practiced with due diligence.
The leadership moved quickly to contain the damage. Three predominant practices were utilized against former Assembly members, with many lesser methods coming into play as well. What was done depended on the level of threat an ex-member was to the Assembly and how well the leadership was able to discredit the individual. Character assassination was the most common way of doing this and, if possible, character flaws and mistakes from the past were dug up and shared with as many people as possible. This happened even if the past had been properly dealt with, and washed clean in Christ’s blood.
The first main practice was called excommunication. This was not the same as the biblical practice, however. I have never heard of the individual being approached by anyone concerning the "error of his way" as seen in Matthew 18:15-17. Usually the person who was raising questions was "dealt with" by the Leading Brothers in such a harsh way that the person left. The leadership then concocted a charge against the person's character, and excommunicated them. Often the individual on the receiving end of the excommunication was not even told about it. By controlling access to the one excommunicated, and the negative information they may have possessed, other individuals were less likely to become disaffected.
When a serious sin or failure of a leader was exposed by an Assembly member, the leader who committed the sin was left alone but the person who exposed it was excommunicated.
The second main practice was "shunning". When a false charge couldn't be made to stick against an individual who left, the leaders instructed the members to avoid the person, and spread rumors and innuendo. The person was in effect unofficially excommunicated without any definite charges being brought. When confronted, the leaders usually denied it. However certain newer members who are not well versed in Assembly semantics sometimes confirmed it, when asked, until "better instructed" by their leaders.
A third method developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s when many members were leaving the San Luis Obispo Assembly, as documented by Kirk C. I will call the new way "mindlessness". It went something like this: "No, you're not excommunicated and you are not being avoided. However, we are not supposed to listen to what you say. But we can talk to you." I got this exact phrase from three people myself. I believe this was used when the individual leaving either did not have a strong influence on others (i.e. he wasn't thought to be the cause of others leaving), or when shunning or excommunication might have backfired and caused others to leave.
Some Assembly members worked for each other. When these employees left the Assembly, they were usually fired immediately. In a few cases, however, some remained at work until a replacement could be found. In these cases, the Assembly showed an interesting "flexibility" with regard to their convictions. It suggests that in some cases, perhaps when leaders’ financial bottom lines were affected, economics came before "God’s will." When the economics or other hindrance was removed, the ex-Assembly member then expected to be quickly shunned or excommunicated.
The Leadership’s View of Their Role over Those Who Left
The Assembly viewed ex-members as having left the Body of Christ. It was often taught, "If God brought you in this place, this is where you belong." Since the other churches were thought of as compromised, there was no other place to go to. I presume this is why an ex-member was considered still accountable to the leadership of the Assembly. For example, I received a 10-minute call from one of the Leading Brothers two weeks after I left. He spent the entire time telling me what to do for a future fellowship. He refused to accept "No" for an answer when he tried to commandeer me to do some work on the computer for him. (I trust he found out what "No" meant.)
Because an ex-Assembly member left under undesirable circumstances, access to that individual was rigidly controlled. It was used as a form of discipline. As evidence, I present my own life. I used to receive daily calls from Assembly friends. After I left, I received a total of five phone calls in the first month, three of them in one day from one brother.
Leadership branded the one who left as rebellious and backslidden. If the ex-member suggested a current Assembly member pray about leaving the fellowship, the current member generally complained to the leadership, who would admonish the ex-member to talk to leadership first. If leadership approved the request (which they have never done to my knowledge), then the ex-Assembly member could ask the current Assembly member to pray about leaving the Assembly. In this way, information was always filtered through the leaders. Direct contact between members and ex-members was taboo. This aspect seems to still be in place to a large extent in existing Assemblies.
If an ex-Assembly member spoke to anyone about the problems he perceived of the ministry, he was labeled as divisive or as an accuser of the brethren. The leadership, through their teaching, instructed that any problems with the Assembly must be addressed directly to the leadership and with no one else. In such a setting, the leaders would typically get together to verbally and emotionally overpower the individual. Whole meetings were set up for the sole purpose of attacking a particular brother in front of the 15-20 there in attendance. Sometimes the meetings lasted up to 2 hours. The "shepherds" (leadership) took great care to protect the flock from "divisive" ex-members.
Repeatedly a current Assembly member would say something like, "I don’t want to hear it. If you have an issue with someone, then go to them. But I don’t want to hear about it. If you have a problem with me, then tell me and let’s work it out." On the other hand, if the ex-member did tell his issue or problem, the current Assembly member often said, "I don’t want to know the truth." I had four people tell me these things. Others who have left have heard similar statements. It was taught that the only reason someone would leave the ‘true church’ is because of bitterness. ‘Why else would someone choose to go to the world?’
Regardless of the reason(s) someone left, the leadership used Matthew 18:15-17 "And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."
This verse was twisted to meet the devices of the Assembly. If one needed to confront a leader over false teaching or a behavior, etc, only verses 15-16 applied. The leader’s false teaching or behavior was never to be brought before the church. To bring an accusation of a leader before the church was considered divisive and was a cause for excommunication or shunning. If the leading brother did not receive the entreaty, then the Assembly member was to bring another brother, then another brother, and then another brother… Basically, leadership was above accountability. If an ex-Assembly member attempted to entreat leadership, the above procedure also applied. However, leadership would frequently lie, and deny that the individual ever approached them in the first place, thus invalidating their right to bring a brother as a witness. It was a childish, circular argument.
However, if leadership decided they need to slander an ex-member, they would use the passage a little differently. Against an ex-member, they will skip verses 15-17 and conjure up a false accusation. Then, without ever telling the ex-member to his face, or bringing two or three, they would just move straight to "telling the church." Usually current members found out about the excommunication before the ex-member did, if he ever found out at all.
A Fruitful Perspective and Response
Galatians 5:1 "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."
An empowering solution would have been to understand how this group operates. Leadership was afraid. They were afraid someone would find out they were not really in control and they were not God’s appointed servants to the church. Fear often begets the desire to control and intimidate. The evidence was found in their own families. How many times did the sons or daughters of those in leadership leave fellowship? We were told it was because Satan was attacking the families of those devout men.
If this were true, then why did some of these kids go on to walk with the Lord after they left? Certainly the enemy does not merely seek to divide, but also to destroy. If the enemy could bring them out from the protection of the Assembly, wouldn’t he also have destroyed them? The problem with this thinking is that it’s a half-truth. Yes, Satan seeks to destroy, but the Assembly was not what it was made out to be. The teaching that the Assembly was a "protective covering" was a fear tactic used by leadership to keep the members in. It did not function to protect the members, but to contain them. To leave the Assembly was tantamount to forfeiting one’s inheritance. To speak against Brother So-and-so, was a sin waiting for the wrath of God on the Day of Judgment. All these sayings were used to induce a sense or fear that God never intended.
Another fear tactic that was used was circumstances. I find it very instructive that when something bad happened to a current member, it was called "warfare." However, if it was something that happened to an ex-member, they shook their heads, and pretended to be sad, whereupon they called it God’s judgment. The Assembly was then instructed to pray for that person's repentance.
The response to this was not to be cowardly. To cower and give in to these tactics was to promote them. Current Assembly members, If your conscience is bothering you about where you are in fellowship or if your questions are getting vague answers or if the sins of some are being swept "under the rug," then you need to seriously pray for the Lord to show you whether you should remain in that fellowship. In the past, some believed they could change the Assembly by staying. This didn’t work! I stayed for over two years. Others tried the same. People have tried since the early 80’s. However the scripture gives all of us clear leading as to what to do:
I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," says the Lord Almighty (II Cor. 6:16).
Some who read this might have doubts about what is being said here. Perhaps you are an existing Assembly member and would like to know more. Then I would ask you to first ask God to open your eyes to the truth and then read Fear Pride and Virtue: The Weapons That Protect The Assembly as well as The Code of Silence. Another good article is False Holiness. Ex-Assembly members wrote all these articles.
A final note to current Assembly members. God can reveal His will to you apart from the counsel of leadership, as He did Paul.
"But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus" (Galatians 1:15-17).
A Consideration for Those Who Were in Leadership
The solution to the situation I have described would have been for leadership to repent in deed. Repentance is more than words or eloquent prayers to men. Repentance is an act of reversal of the sins. It is turning from the wrong way of dealing with the issue to the right way. It is turning away from offending brethren with your liberty, to being careful. Repentance is turning away from the abuse of the Lord’s Table to allowing sincere partaking by all believers. It is turning away from the misuse of a leader’s authority to the edifying use of a shepherd’s care. It is resolving the separation with the individual(s) affected.