1992, 10/26-30. Understanding That There is No Marriage in The Church of Bible Understanding

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

In this section, I was writing about marriage was forbidden in COBU, that is, marriage was allowed in principle, but forbidden in practice. I was writing to clarify my thinking about these conditions, instead of just accepting the reasons Stewart Traill, the leader of our group, gave for why church members couldn’t marry. Stewart said we were unable to marry because our alleged unregenerate and unfaithful condition (which he always pointed out in great detail) and because there was much work to be done in the church first, before anyone could have anything for themselves. According to Stewart, a brother had to be “taking the whole church by the hand before he could even consider taking a sister in marriage.” After 1979, no one in the church was deemed worthy enough to get married, though many left the church and got married. If any secret relationships were discovered, those involved were dealt with quickly. Most considered, ahead of time, the pressure and abuse that would be brought against them if they started a relationship and didn’t bother to start.

There is also a section at the bottom of this page about the negative side of life in the communal and utopian societies I was reading about at the time, and how these societies were similar to the Church of Bible Understanding.

This material becomes more interesting halfway down the page, after the beginning paragraphs, which are mostly about my daily life and my doubt and confusion. That confusion represents most, if not all, of the church members’ daily turmoil and stress as well.

October 26

This was an example of my attempt to keep my journal in French. I wanted to write without fear of someone reading my thoughts, because I was writing about how I didn’t believe in everything that was happening in COBU, and in a closed communal society, centered around an infallible and authoritarian leader, it was dangerous to have doubts or disagreements about our way of life.

Mon Journal

Je pense toujours de le jugement ces-jours la. C’est inevitable. C’est une chose qui vient du dedans de mon être, pas de la part d’un homme. Cela vient de Dieu lui-meme. Dieu seul.

 [It says, “I always think about the judgment these days. It’s inevitable. It’s something that comes from within my being, not from a man. It comes from God himself. God alone.”

I was saying that these thoughts of hell and judgement were not coming from Stewart (although he was blasting us with it), but from God himself. I had internalized Stewart’s teachings about hell so much that I felt that God himself was speaking to me about this doomsday message, because even in my private thoughts, I felt condemned to eternity in hell.]

October 27

My prayer was good, possibly because of asking God to help me pray. I was listening to a John Bunyan book on tape about prayer and reading the Greek Bible (John 7) on the way back. I badly miss the Bible and its good effects on me.

All those people I saw today, “What about all those people?”

[I was looking at the crowds of people on the city streets and thinking about where they were ultimately going. Were they all going to spend eternity in hell?]

Paul is supposed to send floor sanding equipment to Philadelphia. Against his better judgment, though it is being requested. Should he decide based on fear of repercussions if he doesn’t comply? How many of my actions are based on compulsion and servile fear?

Oser rever de grandes oeuvres par le Seigneur, comme a dit R. Wurmbrand? J’ai pensé d’etre misionaire, possiblement a l’Amerique du Sud. Ou, devrai-je apprendre le Japonaise? Ces jours-la je garde.Un changement bien apprecié qui me donne du temps pour visiter le biblioteque a faire le recherche des choses religieux.

[The above says, “Dare to dream of great works for the Lord, as R. Wurmbrand said? I thought about becoming a missionary, maybe to South America. Or, should I learn Japanese? These days I’m guarding. A well-appreciated change that gives me time to go to the library to research religious things.]

October 29

Trying to get things (and myself) organized. My prayer seems better. But sometimes I wonder if I am just fooling myself, especially when I consider the condition of the church. I am not presenting myself or proving myself, but I really can’t say I want to either. Then again, sometimes it is just enough work to do John 6:37, to draw near to God. I seem to be living more constructively and to have a little more motivation, probably as a result of this. God rewards me, in ways.

Dreams. They’re interesting enough, but can I go by them? Of course, the good dreams I want to take for truth. The bad ones, well, they’re “just dreams.”

I had a dream that a new brother was being spoken of and the question was raised, how soon do you think he can get married? The answer was one year, provided he continues in the faith. There were several allusions in the dream to the idea that I can at least get started on marriage in one year. I only record this because I keep thinking that Laura is the one that God wants me to marry.

[This is when I believed that God had a specific mate picked out for me, a sister in the church he wanted me to marry. God would pick and chose somebody and give her to me, like a present, specially chosen for me.]

October 30

The only reason I am writing this is, is that it seems as if God is telling me to keep a journal. Although, to present substantial proof of that, well, I really couldn’t. I can only quote something I read in a history book about Calvinism: We must do God’s will. But because nobody can absolutely know God’s will, we must look for clues in the things around us. Well, I seem to receive countless reminders to keep a journal.

[One of the ways I thought God was showing me to keep a journal was, after I had ripped up some of my diaries, I saw a man walking past me in the city. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two of the same kind of small notebooks I had been writing in and opened one of them and looked at it. This seemed like a message from God that I should still keep journals.

It seemed hard to believe that God would want me to keep a journal, because this would mean I would be paying attention to and recording my thoughts and ideas that were not in perfect agreement with church teaching. That is, with Stewart Traill’s interpretation of God’s will for our lives. I needed to be constantly reassured that it was okay for me to keep a journal and to record my private thoughts.]

I suppose it helps me to set out my thoughts in an orderly way, so I can examine them more clearly, rather than being pulled along by undercurrents that I never fully identify.

What is bothering me now is that I can’t pray, but should that surprise me? Aren’t I clean cut off anyway?  [Am I not completely separated from God?] At least these are my most basic fears and the obvious evidence and the testimony of certain others about me, even though I had been praying ”a lot” for the last two weeks or so. The only way I got into that activity, or renewed it when it seemed to flag, was to ask God to help me pray, since I couldn’t even pray when I tried to. (I usually get the feeling from time to time that I should pray, and will try, but then I give up rather quickly.) Maybe I was getting arrogant because I thought I was okay because I was praying a lot more. Maybe also the temptations to immorality are increasing again and I am starting to burn, or at least to feel heat, as John Calvin describes it, and this is making it difficult to pray. Certainly the pull of these feelings and the shame of even having them and the utter frustration over not being able to do anything constructive about it or having recourse to any remedy for it, could cause an extreme blockage to any prayer or concentration on Christ. It’s the feeling of “I’ve got this problem and I’m bad for having it,” and the realization that I’ll never get married for years, if ever at all. The feeling that I am carrying a ticking time bomb that I can’t get rid of, that is bound to go off big time. It’s inevitable, unless God provides a remedy. This, contrasted with the idea that it’s not supposed to bother me or it’s not that bad, and that I should be able to handle it or act like it’s not there. I’m expected to be rather blasé about it. Or, in terms of burning buildings, since there is no fire escape and I am on the 90th floor, there is no point of jumping out of the building. There are no escape hatches I can take that will get me out alive. So I might as well sit here and burn. There is no point in screaming because no one can hear me. Or if they can, they can’t get to me anyway. And there’s no way for them to get to the fire to put it out.

Yes, I am expected to act as if it doesn’t bother me. I think this expectation comes from the others around me and I go for it. Of course, officially, one must not talk that way. I would be told that I can’t get married anyway, or that marriage wouldn’t help me or that I am not supposed to have anything for myself. Or at least that it’s not supposed to bother me.

I feel I should be that way. Since there is no recourse to marriage, I feel as if I shouldn’t get too perturbed about it. To sit here screaming or panicking over it will do me no good. Chalk another one up to the “buried so deep it doesn’t matter anymore” department. And, of course it would all just work out fine this way if it actually didn’t exist. But, it does.

Here are a few notes, some thoughts I’ve had on the matter lately, that I’d just like to record:

One of these thoughts has to do with our church’s society. Some things are within this society’s control and I need to go through the proper channels to get them approved, and some things are left “free.” For example, things like my “right” to work, that is, to hold a job here, are left free in spite of my spiritual as well as social condition. (With regard to church membership, or my position in the church.) I can still work, even though I am not “faithful” or regenerate. I can also drive church vehicles, I receive a $30 weekly allowance, am trusted to handle money, allowed to sleep somewhere. There are quite a few privileges left free to me, despite my condition and no one feels they must remove or restrict these privileges, either as a punishment or as a method to bring about my repentance.

But marriage is not left free. I would have to go through certain channels, certain methods of approval. (Provided, of course there was a sister mutually interested.) Such that, as it stands now, I wouldn’t even think of trying.

Some opinions I have are that no two adults should be barred from marriage. So far, in my church history readings, I have not come across any laws saying so. Church membership and marriage were two distinct issues. (What I am saying is that these two things are confused here, or linked in a way they shouldn’t be – since one may not marry here unless he is a member in good standing. He would be barred or prohibited otherwise. If he, and she, wanted to marry, they would have to go off and marry and then come back. They would probably be expelled from the church, which means literally told to move out. Or maybe the brother would be banished and the sisters would try to hang on to the wayward sister and talk sense to her. More likely both would move out.)

I guess what I am saying is that I know I can’t get married here and now in my condition. Not in terms of ability to marry, but in legal terms. I could go to a justice of the peace, get married, then cohabit. I am capable of having sex, despite any spiritual condition or lack of it. But it would not be possible “legally” here under such terms. I would have to be “faithful.” Show signs of regeneration. And for a long time too. I would have to “build up trust” first.

Marriage is prohibited because we are unregenerate. But working, living here, receiving money, are not prohibited. These are left free to a brother; he can be in almost any condition. I am not arguing in favor of being unregenerate and having a right to be that way. But I am arguing against the idea of a privilege, or even a natural right, being withheld either as a punishment, or because one doesn’t measure up to certain conditions which may not even be correct to require of us, or even to be used as a pressure brought to bear on us to straighten up. (That is: no conversion, no marriage!)

In fact, I wonder if such an arrangement is decidedly harmful to a brother. We are grown men. Most of us are in our mid-30’s! (I think this idea of a live-in church may not be such a hot idea. The right to marriage and membership get mixed up. If we live in, we get to feel we are “okay.” We will even repress our natural desires to the point where it addles our brains, in order not to leave the church to go satisfy them; in order to look okay, like we have church membership.)

I think it’s not right or it’s even harmful to repress marriage. Whether for punishment and/or, on our part, to go along with this repression in order to be seen as obeying in some way. It gives a false sense of security. It’s a way to hide from real life and responsibilities as well. This place really is a hideout and I go for it. But then again, I don’t see how “leaving” will solve it.

I don’t think that a person should have to stew in his own juices because he is not regenerate. Let them marry and we can still work on their spiritual condition. I am thinking of the Reformation churches. They didn’t ban marriages. Two people decided to get married and they did. The church didn’t have such power over peoples’ lives.

The basic difference is that they were churches and this is a cult under the direction of a relentless self-flattering tyrant.

[I was having a moment of clarity here amidst the usual confusion. Wasn’t it obvious? But it was still going to take me a while to get out.]

Or, in the Puritan churches in America, there were no such prohibitions. The issues of marriage and regeneration were not mixed as they are with us. People could marry. Those in the church were the regenerate. If people weren’t regenerate, they weren’t in the church, so they were certainly free to marry. Either way, marriage was allowed. It wasn’t a big deal, in the sense of the intricate prohibitions like it is here. (A method of control over people’s lives.)

The idea of a live-in church seems bad. It creates false prohibitions when these two issues are mixed. It may even be harmful. It may even stop regeneration. We can’t marry until we are faithful. But since a brother is burdened with his sins and the guilt of transgressions through sexual sins (there is scarcely a brother, an unmarried brother, who doesn’t practice some form, if not many forms, of uncleanness), he can never overcome this hurdle to faithfulness. Or at least it is extremely difficult. (I’ve heard that it is hard to go to heaven, but this makes it quite impossible. We are supposed to throw off every weight and sin, so we can run the race. This single life is such an encumbrance that it makes running extremely difficult, if not impossible. We are so bottled up.)

I think this is what is sick about this church. The whole live-in arrangement. It’s unreal. We get “saved.” Then we “move in.” Always a drive to “move in.” (It sounds like a good idea, but I don’t know.)

We ought to re-examine that. (Really, there is no such thing as “we” ought to: Stewart is Lord!) It’s such a “given” that it is never questioned.

We only should move in if we are faithful. And even then, one should be cautious about that. (The temptation to put our lives on an institution and defer all responsible living.) It’s unreal, the idea about a church that we “move in” to and leave everything behind.

In my survey of church history and Christian life, I don’t see this idea of moving in to a church anywhere except in:

1)  Monasteries, where by the way, the sexes were also separate and they had many of the same problems we have with the seamy side of things. All sorts of uncleanness was practiced and the monks for the most part lived an indolent life, free from all practical and useful activities, just storing up more sins for themselves in a religious life preparing for hell. But certainly they didn’t want to leave the monasteries, for fear of losing their salvation and probably also because of that inward allurement (there is always a way we’re pulled into these things by our flesh) of an easy life free from reality.

2)  And also, the other “live-in” societies. The false religions. Religious and socialist utopias such as the Shakers and the Rappites. The socialist utopias who thought the source of man’s evils were marriage and personal property. Or the religious utopias who often held these same beliefs and/or were into Perfectionism. They believed they could obtain perfection in this life. They needed to move out of this world as much as possible, to the point of having a “live-in fellowship” in order to do it. It is clearly our belief that we don’t see how a Christian can make it without a separatist society like our own, due to the way society is now. Which is just what the religious utopias believed back in the 1820’s.

Maybe our way was good at first, or it had good in it. But I think it is a system that has collapsed in on itself and is now harmful to its members, since it removes all the underpinnings of human life, especially responsible human life.

In the Reformation and Puritan churches, people came to and belonged to a church, but lived in their own houses. The basic unit of life was the family. A man, a woman and their children. Each man had his own trade or worked in partnership with others. It wasn’t communal life and work. They didn’t find their way of life to be diametrically opposed to Christian living. A man is motivated by a desire to feed himself and his family. It is a clear definition of responsibility and it creates responsible adults due to the principle of necessity, and a man has a sense of integrity and pride in his work. The idea of “mine and thine,” of personal property and one’s own life was a cohesive force, not a destructive or disunifying force, as we seem to think it is.

We seem to think that our way of life, as it is arranged socially, is superior. I would encourage such persons to look into the way of life practiced by the main Protestant denominations throughout history. (And also, to study the communal and utopian societies and to see the problems inherent in them and how they always failed, usually very quickly. Look at their doctrines and belief systems. See if they held to the tenets of Calvinism or Puritanism. That is, to mainstream Christianity. Or was there always some kind of nihilistic or perfectionist twist, no matter how much they said they adhered to the Bible. In fact, they used Bible verses to support their views. It was always some off-key view.  But they claimed they had the unique and true revelation, the right way. Though also, outsiders often commended such groups for their sincerity, thrift, industry and honesty. They were such “nice people.”)

You can read the next section of this journal here: You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Drink

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