1990, 12/07-15. Diligently Compare!

The title for this page comes from a page in my journal where I wrote that it seemed God was telling me to diligently compare the teachings of Stewart Traill with the teachings of the Reformers. Or was God telling me that Stewart had diligently compared his teachings with the Reformers and that therefore, I should believe what Stewart was telling us? I prayed for clarification about it. It seemed like a strong command and advice from God to me.

December 7th

Working at Rosier’s today. [This was a job for the church’s construction business.] Just a few notes in my spiritual diary. Last night I was praying and I dozed off, I was startled by a voice saying, “I need you!  I need you!” Strange. Hard to believe. I pretty much overlooked it.

Today, when Paul and I were driving into the city, he mentioned about how Richard Wurmbrand once said that he thought he heard Jesus pleading to him. This struck me as similar to what I heard last night. And of course, I would never dare to tell anybody.

[Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor in Communist Romania. In one of his books, he wrote that at one time, he felt that Jesus was pleading with him to become a Christian pastor because so much help was needed during the persecution that was taking place in that country at that time. Along with his call to Christ and the command to be faithful, he felt that Jesus was also pleading with him to serve him because he needed him. This was radically different from the COBU point of view, where we were told that Jesus didn’t need anybody, and certainly not any one of us.]

I’ve been reading the letters of Paul. [The Books of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians in the Bible.] Getting past the “religious” view of what Paul was saying, to what he was really saying.

December 8th

After writing this, when I was entering the lobby of the apartment building we are working in, there was a woman reading a letter to a man who was sitting next to her. The letter was from a man living in South America who visits churches and preaches in Spanish and people also come for English lessons. I pondered in my mind what this could mean and if it was meant to mean something for me. I wondered if it was meant to be something from God specifically for me, since “God has left nothing outside of his control,” although at present we don’t see how this is so.

December 9th

At the meeting on Wednesday, Brother Stewart said that we stand before God, right now, as individuals. There is terror in this, yet there is also great freedom. Imagine, me, before God, no longer living according to fear of man, but only being accountable to God’s direct will toward me in all things. It is great responsibility and great freedom. I need to think like this much more.

And I do like to think about it. Please bear with me in a little bit of mysticism. Whenever I think about standing alone before God, I see an image of the seashore early in the morning, with the newly risen sun shining brightly. The sea is still, the air is fresh. I can see to the right and left along the shoreline. This is an image I remember from childhood. Early in the morning at the beach. This is a pleasant image, comforting and bright.

Another thing on my mind is the word hilasterion, which is Greek for mercy seat. I stand before God in order to receive mercy and grace in time of need.

These are the things that came to mind when I heard Stewart say this.

[During this time, I had gotten into mysticism. In some of my other diaries (which I later destroyed because I was afraid someone would read them, because I was expressing doubts about our way of life in them) I wrote about dreams and words from God I received in prayer and visions (or at least I thought they were visions), such as when I lay down in the back of a van and closed my eyes and saw an image of a door opening and a bright light. We were tired, overworked, and probably malnourished, so I could have just been dazed and delirious. Still, at that time, I felt I was drawing closer to God and trying to sort out what God was really saying to me and what he wanted me to do, as opposed to what I was being told in COBU. Maybe some of the things Stewart Traill were telling us were real. Maybe all of it was. I wanted to know. Standing before God and being accountable only to him seemed like great freedom, because everything in COBU was directly opposed to freedom, though Stewart sometimes told us we were supposed to be “individually responsible to Jesus.” Even though we were supposed to be individually responsible to Jesus, anyone who did anything different than the status quo was immediatly come down on. There was only one way to do things, which was being obedient Stewart Traill’s words and commands. Whatever Stewart said was what “Jesus is showing us.” We could not have our own revelations or understanding of truth. God was not going to show us anything directly. And if any of us thought God was showing us something, we were just way out in left field. 

In the next few years I forgot about any “mysticism” and drawing close to God to experience him, as my life became more and more being under the whip and under pressure. Life became a fight for survival and eventually a decision to leave the church, after which I was caught up in the struggle to start my life over “in the world.” After leaving COBU, I focused too much on that. After being in COBU for so many years, I didn’t have the things I should for a man my age and as a result, I was not going to be able to attract a woman to myself (even after I was no longer forbidden to marry, like we had been in COBU). And I began to concentrate to neglect God and my inner Christian life and become preoccupied with this subject instead. Yet, the COBU way of life was also designed to squeeze any spiritual life out of our systems and to turn us into automatons who carried out Stewart Traill’s will. The long hours of work, the sleep deprivation and constant judging and evaluating helped to promote this. I got out of COBU and it was like experiencing the full blast of desert heat out there in “the world.” I quickly realized, that though I was now free, I did not have what most men my age have and that this was going to cause me major problems. The knowledge of what it may take to start over after leaving is one of the difficulties in leaving COBU and is one of the factors that keeps some people there. After a certain age, it is simply too hard to start life over with nothing. It can be seen in my journal that in spite of how bad things were in COBU, I was struggling to have a spiritual life.]

December 10th

This has been a long work day. On days like this, I have a hard time setting my mind on the spirit. In fact, it’s discouraging.

Yet though, it seems as if Jesus is near. He has not left me alone. On days like this, my mind seems unfruitful. It’s hard to keep my mind on prayer and the Bible, or to have any constructive train of thought.

So, I need Jesus now to keep me in my right mind and to not let me go further into vain thoughts, but to keep the constructive things I have. Right now, I need to please him. But even that is living by works. No, I need him help me to be in him, to be in Christ. That appeals to me. Because today seems to be an especially unfruitful day and I get frustrated.

I need to keep my mind where it belongs. I can still pray, read the Bible and a few pages of a Christian book before I sleep. I desire to be in Christ.

Another thing. On the bus back from the meeting yesterday, I was beginning to doze off, when there seemed to be a conversation in my head. (I had been praying about doing my interests and whether God wants me to have them. All the usual stuff.) It seemed that someone was talking to Tom or Steve, saying,”You know the real issue is control. The real issue is control!” It seemed to be impressed in my head. Then I realized that it wasn’t they who were being talked to (you realize I was dozing off), but to me. This word was meant for me.

[I was in a constant state of turmoil over whether I could study languages and have other interests, or if I needed to give them up. Stewart pressured us about giving up our human desires and told us we had to “put ourselves to death.” But his instance that I had to give up everything in order to concentrate on Christ alone did not produce a deeper relationship with God in my life. It produced an extreme focus on an inner debate on trivial things, like whether or not I was allowed to study French. Many of the brothers seemed motivated and eager to “put their lives in this world to death,” as if they were single-minded fanatics in some elite militant religious society.]

I also realized today that I was hiding in and putting my life on Paul, whom I was working with, by telling him about my woes and my problems. I was talking away at him about all these things, when really I stand alone before God and it is from God that knowing his will and his help comes from.

I am now writing this on the subway. I’m in one of those moods again. It seems wrong to read French (because it is drifting from God). It even seems wrong to read the Greek New Testament. I should be reading obedience and suffering verses in the Bible, but it’s hard to concentrate on that. So I sit and stare into space instead.

[I was not concentrating on God if I was reading something in French. I ended up doing neither. I stopped reading French and I was not able to concentrate on the “warning verses” (about hell) that Stewart said we were supposed to be reading all the time.]

I always feel I have to be doing something. I can’t just sit and relax. That is supposed to be bad. Sometimes I feel as though I can’t even think my own thoughts. I guess I complain too much, but I find there is something wrong with this.

I said to myself earlier today that I want to be a Christian thinker. I won’t tell anybody this either, because I that is not the official kind of talk that is accepted here. It is just that I must keep my mind occupied because my mind is always busy anyway. Though I suppose that doesn’t mean to hide in something. I like Christian literary works, though at the same time I never wanted to be a theologian.

December 11th

Dream:  Someone was saying, “It doesn’t matter what sins you have done. You should serve God now.”

Also, I dreamt I was with Jim E. and went out on a balcony. There were tracks with lot of trains going by. I said to him, “I don’t know if we should be doing this,” or, “I don’t know if it’s okay to do this.” Jim said, “If God says you can do something, then it’s okay.”

[Looking at trains, as well as drawing pictures of them, was one of the interests I had “in this life,” which I thought I had to give up.]

Maybe this could be like Peter’s dream in the Bible, “Arise, kill and eat.” God showed someone in a vision that it was okay to do something. Whenever I hear of leaving our lives open for God to arrange them, I always figure these are the things he is going to take away from me.

How real is a dream? Is it a way that God speaks to me? In my mind, this is the crux of the things I want to hide because I figure I don’t want to hear it, because for sure I will lose it. If I was sure I wouldn’t, I probably would be more open about myself with others (and be glad to be).

(But that is almost like saying God has to come down to my level or to my terms. But maybe it’s not his will and it is not necessary to give these things up, as I fear. Besides, other messages and dreams and even the Bible seems to say the big issue is control. Also, Jesus came down to Peter’s level in John 21. I always figure that when I clamor for things in this life that I want and am interested in, that this is me demanding to have my own way. But what if it isn’t demanding and God says it’s okay?

I read in Romans that “all things are lawful.” It flat out says what it says. But also, it is unlawful for him who thinks it is unlawful. Well, this may go a long way in helping me believe that it is lawful.

[I was in an extremely confused state of mind over whether my normal human interests were “lawful” and permitted by God, because of all the pressure from Stewart to give up our lives in this world, plus the constant treadmill of activity and meetings which made it hard to find time to do those things anyway, which only seemed to confirm this point of view, which was that in serving Christ full time, there would be no time left over for any of these things and I couldn’t take time off to do them.]

December 12

I thought about making a list of all the problems I see in the church. To have a list and expand on them and also to find solutions for them. Such as, how the council stays up so late at night in meetings all the time. (Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.) To write a list about what can be done about this, etc.

The best thing I did all day was to remember that I am standing as an individual in God’s presence. I am alone before him. Because most of today I wandered off into vain discussions. (Pouring out my thoughts, hoping Paul will be concerned about what I say and will help me, and a lot of vain babble. It was unfruitful and wearying.)

But standing in the presence of Christ is refreshing. I don’t know if this is speaking and living as though I am in the presence of Jesus Christ, but for sure, thinking about it must be a start! I see instant benefits, and by God’s grace, I will do so more and more until I am always like this. It is worth it. Everything else really is not worth it. It is instantly worth more than anything else I did all day long.

In a meeting now for the church business. Meetings are drippy and draggy, like the tedious counting of pebbles. Although it was a good idea that Andrew had, for everybody to stand up who doesn’t have a good excuse not to go to Philadelphia.

December 13

I need Jesus today, because I am thinking about the things I don’t like. Things about Brother Stewart, etc. Well, some of it may be right, but I need Jesus to help me, because of how I am. I don’t know how to, or I am not able to, put the brakes on and keep things in perspective.

A verse that comes to mind is, “Do not for the sake of food destroy the work of God.”  In other words, do not for the sake of petty complaints over the matter of things indifferent [1], bring down something that is good for us and for the new disciples. [2] (Like whether I believe that salvation is, or is not, a free gift.) [Stewart was preaching that “salvation is not a free gift.”] I mean, even at the basic level, life is better here for the new disciples than a life on the streets and of course it is better yet than that.

[1] “Things indifferent” was a term from Reformation writers like John Calvin which meant things that God neither approves of nor disapproves of, like hobbies, reading and collecting things. These were permissible, as long as they didn’t become obsessions. By this time in my life in COBU, I was reading the Reformation authors to try to get a balanced view of Christianity, because for sure, I was not getting it from Stewart. And since Stewart used coercion to make us to live according to what he taught us, it was cause for a miserable life indeed. In contrast, the Reformation authors were a breath of fresh air. I would never have read these authors in depth if I had not been in this stressful and demanding situation.]

From John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: “The church has no authority to impose laws upon consciences in those matters in which they have been freed by Christ,” regarding the things he called adiaphora, “the outward things of themselves ‘indifferent’ to salvation.”

In the Church of Bible Understanding, I was under constant pressure to give up all my human interests and to only work at Stewart Traill’s agenda.

[2] I wanted to speak up in a meeting to tell Stewart that I didn’t believe him when he said, “salvation is not a free gift.” (It felt like Stewart was taking something away from me and that I was being deceived.) Often, when I spoke up about something, I was told that I was “poisoning the new disciples.” This meant that I was damaging the faith of the new people in the church by disagreeing with a Stewart in front of the assembled body.

Being accused of hurting the weak and the innocent was an effective way to shut down those who would express doubts. Stewart’s teachings were not up for discussion, unless you were in 100% agreement with them and only asking for further clarification in order to understand and obey them better. There was not going to be a discussion about if “salvation is not a free gift” was true or not true.

As a church, we were supposed to present to the new converts a unified front of obedience to Stewart and agreement with his ideas. So, in my journal, I wrote that I was trying to suppress my doubts and trying to accept how it was true that speaking up about those doubts would hurt people whose lives in COBU were better than their former lives in the streets and homeless shelters where they had come from. I was trying find reasons to agree that it was better to remain silent and to tow the party line for the sake of not upsetting the new converts. No one ever actually examined whether a new disciple had ever been “poisoned” by a church member bringing up doubts and talking about them. But they did often complain about how the older brothers, who were acting in complete agreement with Stewart, were treating them and exploiting them for labor. ]

Even from a selfish point of view, getting into these kinds of thoughts is no good because it is no benefit to me. I only lose my peace of mind and I am not watching my flank and am open for attack because I am occupied with internal disputes.

I will briefly list these disputes though. One is the issue, according to Stewart, that salvation is not a free gift. I wonder about this sometimes, that’s all. But even more so, I wouldn’t be able to express my doubts without being accused of high treason, heresy or poisoning the new disciples. I mean, even for just expressing and not pushing my doubts. It seems hard to believe that if faith is a free gift and that if eternal life is a free gift (and also that if predestination is true), then why would the thing in the middle, salvation, also not be a free gift? As if to say, you could receive step one (faith) as a free gift, and step three (eternal life) as a free gift, but not step two (salvation), which is in between, as a free gift. And so, you could lose your salvation somehow, thereby losing the whole thing. It would seem to me that if you got one, then you have got them all!

I also have thoughts that Brother Stewart is not right in everything he says and does, but also that it is wrong to say or think this. We are really stuck with him in a lot of ways!  I just feel that at 33 years old, I am still under somebody’s thumb and that there is a little lack of freedom involved.

Today will be a long day, with carpet cleaning all the way through. That is why I try to bring books and foreign language materials with me. I am writing this in a van while everybody is upstairs working and I will have to go back up soon.

I ought to make a list today of all business ideas, however silly, since I will probably be the only one to read it anyway. Also ideas on the better use of time. (This is from a selfish viewpoint. About what to do during these workaholic days, but also I should make a list of how to serve Christ better, though probably all that may be necessary is a to do list.)

While I was laying down last night, it was revealed to me that I am not right with God. (I fought about this a while, but what is so new about hearing that? Is that anything new for me to hear about?) I prayed for a while. Empty, dead, hopeless feelings. Yet toward the end I felt uplifting and strengthening. I feel the same now, that I’m not right with God, and that prayer won’t help. I pray and hear a voice saying, “your warning,” or, “you are a fool [1].” Yet I did get help when I prayed. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to be in the house of mirth. It feels terrible, but I see help coming from it. Besides, what is so new about hearing this? Didn’t I know this, for instance, all the time when I had my driving job? Also verses like, “we ought always to pray and not lose heart” came to my mind.

[1] I was coming from Psalm 14:1-3, which says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.” I was not serving God by believing without question and wholeheartedly obeying what Stewart Traill, as God’s messenger was telling me to do. Therefore I was forsaking God, like the fool, who says in his heart, “There is no God.” Where I wrote about, “your warning,” this means the several dreams I had about being cast into hell, which I considered to be God’s warning to me. When I prayed to God about my troubles in COBU and my disagreement with its leader, I thought that a reminder of this warning was all that God had to say to me.]

I was also thinking last night that I have no heart, either toward t new disciples or toward God. The only way I can imagine surviving is by loving God and by being in him and abiding in him.

Because as for following the rules and writing our Need for Jesus Papers – well, I confess I am not fully there. I will poke and pick at some of the rules, but never get ahold of the whole thing and do it. Although I wonder if I approach it from a works basis and that there is something that must come first – like living by faith in God and being in him and loving him.

When I think about these things, desire comes into play. There is desire there. It comes a little closer to home in a positive way.

I think one of the cruelest things we do to each other is the whole proving ourselves basis. Sure, there must be divisions among us, that those who are genuine may be seen. But I also wonder if this is one of the fixations or hang-ups of our church. In my opinion, it leads to immense concern with how we look in the eyes of everybody else and not how we look in the eyes of God. It leads to an immense preoccupation with what others think about us. Since it seems that the whole Christian life is largely an inward life of hope and a relationship with God. (As in the Second Coming passage in Matthew 24, where outwardly, all were doing the same thing, but according to their inward relationship with God, “one will be taken, one will be left.”)

I wonder if I suffer from this and if I am preoccupied and consumed with this instead of being concerned about my relationship with God and my standing with him. (But I guess also, because we have not been fully there, how does God deal with a mass blob like us?) But always at meetings, we vote, revote, find out who backs whom, make divisions, etc. It’s at least a little overdone!

We spend entire meetings for no other purpose than to put everybody into a category. And when we have our own meetings, without Stewart, it’s like a reflex action – let’s categorize everybody and go over everybody. Categorize, classify, vote, revote. (I definitely think this is one of Brother Stewart’s weaknesses that we have to live with.) To propose a solution, what about just having everybody stand up, on their honor and conscience to place themselves in whatever category they say they are in. All at once, each category, and we just say who we have serious doubts about. We could do it in a snap.

[Actually, the constant voting, judging and categorizing of one another we did whenever we met together was not one of Stewart’s weaknesses that he somehow projected on us, it was his way of keeping us occupied for hours, wearing ourselves out and making us self conscious in front of each other. It was a method of controlling and operating people. Even when we met each night, without Stewart, we often spent hours making speeches about our level of commitment to Christ and judging and voting on one another. “Making devisions” (as we called it) and putting everyone in a category meant that each brother had to make a speech about himself and declare what category he was in, and then be cross-examined by the others and voted on.]

With a new disciple:

I am with John M. today. I am thinking of the part in our older brother training that says, “Do we come across as perfect with the new disciples, or that I have problems too and I am working at them?”

When I am with new disciples, I keep them at a distance. They are underlings. But it’s also more than that. I figure that I can’t fellowship with them. Sure, there is the “age difference,” although many of them are men my age and older. [There was a difference in the “spiritual” ages, as I had been a Christian for a long time and they were new.] But I always figure I’ve got something to hide. I push rules and the right things at them, but I am not personally involved, just like a man can’t communicate with his dog, but will say things to him, but obviously there is no person to person communication. Besides making for a lonely day, this is not even normal humanly, since we are both people about the same age. If I had a job in the world, I would at least shoot the breeze with co-workers, although avoiding anything obscene. I would even try to witness to them. In fact, I’d be convicted to do so. But with new disciples, I often sign off all day or give them “baby talk.” Why is that? My laziness and pride, you could say. But why, and are there any other reasons?

Like I say, I figure I’ve got a lot to hide. I mean, about the Fellowship and how I have been here for the last ten years, and that I’m unmarried. I am pretty much ashamed of it, so I’m not open about myself. Sure, you can’t wear your heart on your sleeve, but I also figure I might commit some indiscretion by talking about these things which will get me in trouble for it later. (The whole point of writing this is that I intend to change it.)

[I was ashamed of my life and the way that life in the Fellowship had been for me. It was such a weird place to live. So I was not open about myself with the new people we brought in and I did not tell them what it was really like to live there or about what they were getting themselves into by being there.]

December 15

Today is one of these remarkable days again. For when I was laying down, I thought I heard God speak to me. First rather faintly, “You are following the Love of God.” And when I was laying there thinking my thoughts about the day, thinking about the meeting in the basement with Brother Stewart and about disagreeing with something he said, I heard rather faintly, “Diligently compare with…” and some idea about Calvin and other Christian writers. But then very clearly, very sharply, “Diligently compared!” (It was in the past tense, so there exists some confusion in my mind over whether God is telling me to diligently compare Brother Stewart’s teachings with those of others, or that this is what Stewart has already done, that his teachings have been diligently compared with those of others – which there is a lot of evidence to support. I will pray for clarification of this.)

I have been reading a lot today, especially Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It is very upbuilding. It is the kind of book I can read for hours without feeling I am drifting or indulging. I must read these kinds of things. Foxe set out to compare and study the history of the church from the beginning to his time in order to understand the controversies and issues in the church of the present time.

I also contemplated writing a history of my last ten years in the Fellowship, but wondered what the value of doing that would be. I often find myself thinking in this mode and about what I would write.

I find myself to be a reflective thinker, which is something that seems to be spoken well of in these books. Also, they speak of learning as a virtue and they often seemed amazed that learned people would be enemies of the Gospel, as if to say learning is commendable and that this was a surprise.

I’m also reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s bookThe Gulag Archipelago. I can’t help thinking that I can relate to many things in this book, that is, the last ten years of my life and even the present state of our church society. Many of the things we do here, human traditions, protocol, hierarchy and issues are similar to what he writes about. Laughable when viewed from the outside, but a burden to actually live in. Funny or humorous when viewed through the looking glass of time and memory.

[Solzhenitsyn wrote about events and persecution in the Soviet Union. He sometimes used humor or sarcasm, which helped to show the idiocy and folly of Communist leaders, while also portraying the helpless feelings of those who were subjected to this way of life and who learned to live with it and to get by somehow. He spoke of the famous Russian double life – or in some cases, triple life – where people appeared to be rigid Communist Party adherents, while having hidden lives on the side and their ever-present fear of informers who could expose them. Solzhenitsyn’s books were the first books I read that described a life that was similar to my own life in the Church of Bible Understanding. I devoured all three volumes of the Gulag Archipelago as well as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I was reading these books before I started reading books about cults. Stewart was always on our case about our double lives. Double lives came about as a result of COBU society, life and teachings. It was a life in which you could not be open and honest with anyone, for fear of being informed on by the more fervent party members. I never knew whom I could trust to just be myself with and to speak my private thoughts to. I also identified with these books because they were about life in prison labor camps, because I often felt like I was in a labor camp.]

I am foolish to think that these things don’t go on now. Much of this is still extant and I am very caught up in it, even blind to it in a lot of ways. And I order much of my life according to it, to my own hurt and that of others. (That is, the benefit they could be receiving from me otherwise.) I must be responsible to God. We all shall give account of ourselves to God and this isn’t the way to get ready for that! I live way beneath myself.

What I have really been thinking about is, if Stewart is still in the wrong and if we are not still getting had in some ways and if I suffer as a person for it. These are my secret thoughts during the day and when I lay down at night. (And it was what I was thinking about when I heard “Diligently compare!” I understood it as something I am supposed to do.)

I have pretty much given up on the idea of marrying any of the sisters. For several reasons, one being the difference in “advancement.” [I thought the sisters were more spiritual and faithful to Christ than the brothers were.] The other reason is that if anything like love could have happened between me and one of the sisters, I think it would have happened by now, in whatever stifled or degenerate form. Except for the thing with Becky, there has been no sign of this whatsoever. We brothers and sisters have all lived with each other for years and have seen and known each other and we pretty much know each other for what we are.

These journal pages form the background of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which are available as a Kindle book or in paperback.

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