April 6, 2010
This subject is strange to me. Like some of the other harder subjects, if I don’t get immediate understanding, I move past it and assume that if God wants me to know it, He will show me later. Lately, I find in my time with Him that He shows me things I don’t yet understand fully. He shows me pieces and these pieces are relevant to me and my relationship with Him now. God then shows me more throughout the day. I see how something exists, where it exists, where it comes from, and I am shown what the Bible says about it.
Idolatry immediately conjures up for me, images of images. I see statues that people bow down to. I think of Laban and his household gods. I look at idolatry as an open and apparent worship of a god, rather than the worship of the One True God and Jesus Christ His Son. I knew I was close to defining it. I just finished an article titled “Relationship and Religion”. From this revelation, I understood better what idolatry is. The commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” is the most important beginning to this study:
1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 "You shall have no other gods before me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
I am struck by Our Father’s nature in the Old Testament and also the fact that it was Moses and the people of God, the Hebrews, God gave these commandments to. We could argue forever about application and “does this apply to us,” but I would point to the many scriptures in the New Testament that confirm this word to all believers in God as their Father. 1st John 5, the last verse: Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Why did John say this? The answer lies in the whole letter that preceded this verse. John wrote about the love of God, loving one another, abiding in His love, God is love, the whole letter is our relationship with God and idolatry is the evil that would ruin our relationship with the Father.
Doesn’t it make sense? If you have a relationship with your wife or husband, and something or someone, becomes more important to you or you make them more important than the person with whom you have a relationship, you will begin to act accordingly, and the relationship will suffer or be destroyed. Adultery is like idolatry but I won’t write about that now. I am seeing how marriage is the most intimate relationship a human being can have other than his or her relationship with God the Father. I think that is why Paul would rather that the brethren in the early church not marry and be solely devoted to God and not have their interests divided. Marriage is that powerful and intimate that it really does affect our devotion to God. Paul writes that it is not a sin to marry, because some thought it was, that to marry, is somehow putting a man or a woman before God. Marriage is sanctioned by God and for us who do not have that gift from God that Paul spoke of, it is a necessity.
God commanded that there be no other gods before Him. We are to have nothing between us and God. We must not value or worship or act upon the influence of anything or anyone but God who leads us in the Holy Spirit. So far nothing profound about all this. Worship God and Him only. Let’s look the passage of Jesus in the Wilderness:
Matthew 4: 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10 Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
Luke 4: 5 And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours." 8 And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'"
I get the straightforward simple lesson here. Satan will give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their authority, if Jesus will worship him. Jesus replies with the 1st commandment. I don’t understanding why this temptation at this time. I do see that Satan wanted worship and Jesus said, the only One who will get His worship is the Only True God.
Why do we serve other gods? Why are we thus tempted? When someone talks about worship, do you see, in your mind, what I see? Do you picture someone bowing down to a statue? If you think that this is the only expression of idolatry then you and I need to see what it really is and why it is so deadly to our relationship with God.
Here are scriptures from the New Testament:Ac 7:41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and rejoiced in the works of their hands.
1Co 8:4 - Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one."
1Co 8:7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
1Co 10:19 - What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?
There are 131 verses in the Old Testament about Idols(plural). Look at this New Testament scripture:
2Co 6:16 - What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
This scripture shows the direct opposite and sin of idolatry. We who believe in God through Jesus are the temple of the Living God, we have relationship with Him and it is He to whom all our worship belongs. Idols are described by Paul as meaningless and powerless. The Old Testament talks about idols of wood and stone, which cannot move or talk. If we only take the narrow view that an idol is the object described, then we might dismiss ourselves from the charge of idolatry. I’m sure none of us have a shrine hidden away in our house or apartment with a statue that we worship. What is Idolatry? Why is it important for Christians to understand this? Why is it important for current members of the Church of Bible Understanding and ex-members to look at this? Because, if your relationship with God the Father matters to you, then you need to make sure there is nothing between you and Him accept Jesus.
Main Entry: idol·a·try Pronunciation: \-trē\ Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural idol·a·tries Etymology: Middle English ydolatrie, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin idolatria, alteration of Late Latin idololatria, from Greek eidōlolatreia, from eidōlon idol + -latreia -latry Date: 13th century
1 : the worship of a physical object as a god
2 : immoderate attachment or devotion to something
The first definition seems to fit most of the Old Testament references. The second definition brings more focus. Notice the words: Worship and devotion? Let’s look them up:
Main Entry: 1wor·ship Pronunciation: \ˈwər-shəp also ˈwȯr-\ Function: noun Etymology: Middle English worshipe worthiness, respect, reverence paid to a divine being, from Old English weorthscipe worthiness, respect, from weorth worthy, worth + -scipe -ship Date: before 12th century
1 chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)
2 : reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence
3 : a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4 : extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem
Main Entry: de·vo·tion Pronunciation: \di-ˈvō-shən, dē-\ Function: noun Date: 13th century
1 a : religious fervor : piety b : an act of prayer or private worship —usually used in plural c : a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate worship of a congregation
2 a : the act of devoting
synonyms see fidelity
Let’s look at Fidelity
Main Entry: fi·del·i·ty Pronunciation: \fə-ˈde-lə-tē, fī-\ Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural fi·del·i·ties Etymology: Middle English fidelite, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French fidelité, from Latin fidelitat-, fidelitas, from fidelis faithful, from fides faith, from fidere to trust — more at bide Date: 15th century
1 a : the quality or state of being faithful b : accuracy in details : exactness
2 : the degree to which an electronic device (as a record player, radio, or television) accurately reproduces its effect (as sound or picture)
synonyms fidelity, allegiance, fealty, loyalty, devotion, piety mean faithfulness to something to which one is bound by pledge or duty. fidelity implies strict and continuing faithfulness to an obligation, trust, or duty
If you are worn out with the dictionary, I’m sorry. I needed to see what Idolatry really is, how it is defined. We can safely settle then that our devotion and worship, our fealty, our loyalty belong to God and to God only, right? Nothing in Heaven on Earth or under the Earth is worthy of what belongs to God, right? Peter told Cornelius not to worship him. The angel that showed John the apostle the Revelation told John not to worship him, but to worship God. Jesus did accept the worship of the blind man in John Chapter 9 because Jesus was and is God. We are to worship God only. Still nothing profound about that. When we think of idols we might only think of bowing down to them and worshiping them. And when we think of prayer, we only think of praying to and worshipping God. So we must have this idolatry problem licked, right?
“This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” “For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” What or who do we give our hearts to? What do our lives say is worthy, valuable, of worth? “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things of this earth.” Seek First His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added.” What is it when we seek the things, work for the things, hope in the things or for someone other than God. It is idolatry.
I try in my writing to have a part dedicated to current cobu members and ex-members because I want for them what I want for myself: that they remove whatever is between them and Our Heavenly Father. About a month ago, I repented of my idolatries. I realized that I made excuses for not giving my whole heart to God. I still thought about Cobu and Stewart and how afraid I was to completely give myself to God because I did not want to “get burned again.” My relationship with God was distant. I still believed in Him. It was what I believed about Him that was all wrong. I finally prayed to God. I was desperate. I needed help in every aspect of my life. I came to God and He came to me. I realized that I blamed God for Cobu and Stewart. I believed God allowed all this, which is true but I did not see His love in allowing Stewart to teach error for so many years and abuse us for so long. Then, in the Spirit I understood. I repented and my relationship with God the Father through Jesus was restored. My time in prayer has become a dialogue. There is worship and praise and supplication and teaching and wisdom. My faith in Our Father’s love has grown. My understanding of COBU and Stewart has sharpened. I hope to write down all that God shows me to help current members also see Stewart for what and who he really is. There seems to be no more mystery about him. He can be easily explained. I do leave it up to you to go to the Father and have the eyes of your hearts enlightened. For now, read what I have here about idolatry and test what I am saying.
I did not give my life completely to God because, to put it crudely, Stewart was still in the way. You would think that after 26 years of being out of COBU I would be free. There are some ex-members who are still in the grip, and some do not even recognize their condition. I did not see my condition until recently. I thought because I saw Stewart as a false teacher and would never listen to him again that I was free of him. I was wrong. As long as I held back from God my heart because I secretly resented God allowing me to get hurt in COBU, then I still had something between me and God. Job was blameless and even he eventually tried to put God in the wrong, in order to be justified. I was doing the same thing and I was far from blameless like Job. I tried to justify not giving my heart to God by putting God in the wrong concerning Stewart and COBU. I gave power and control to my excuses and they became more powerful in my life than God the Father. Praise God, He forgave me.
Now, I do not want to insult anyone here…but it’s like trying to convince an insane person that he is crazy. One would first have to have a modicum of sanity or reason to comprehend that he himself is nuts. I try to tell ex-members that they still do things the old Stewart way and they rant and rave at me and revile me. It is a tragic condition. So what does Stewart Traill and COBU have to do with idolatry? Simple. Stewart became an idol and we worshiped him rather than God. Now again, we all must get the actual “bow down and worship” image out of our heads and pay attention to what idolatry is. An idol is anything that we devote ourselves to, hold worthy, submit to, subject ourselves to, specifically, everything that we should be giving, receiving and being for God, we transfer to the object, the person, the material. If I set up my daily schedule, for example, around a favorite news program or radio show so that I will not go out to run errand because I will miss my radio show, well, I have given the “thing” power to dictate my schedule. It seems like you can plug a thousand different things or people into this equation and the fact remains, whatever the thing is, if you give it control, thereby make it lord, then you have given power to an idol. There are many things and people that, in and of themselves are not evil. But when we give what belongs to God to this other thing or person, we have set up a god between us and our Heavenly Father.
Now to the point: Stewart Traill. I still need to write a specific piece about him and Lord willing I will. I am putting together some research to support what I believe is the truth about him. I believe it is very important for all who came in contact with him and important for those who are still under him to understand this concept of our idolatry.
Stewart Traill never gave his testimony to those in COBU. He may have told someone in the FF but so far no one has really said that Stewart has ever given his testimony about how and when he became a Christian. Compare this to the Apostle Paul. We know how he got saved and what followed. Luke recorded it and Paul testifies in his own letters about the grace given him by God. Traill? No. A mystery. And if we ever got 3000 to the Big Meeting he would tell it. Well, that’s strangely motivating but we never got there and he never testified. So we have this man, who is 35 years old in 1971. He is married and has 5 children. He is meeting in St. John’s church with other Christians. Ex-members remember him talking about visiting churches and quote unquote speaking the truth and “not playing games” and getting kicked out by Contentious Church Christians. Stewart misunderstood this to mean he was on the right track, getting this kind of response from Christians. He split off from the group at St John’s church and eventually met Neil Pendry, Skip O’Neill and others at Robin Hood Dell in Allentown Pa. He was almost 20 years older than any of the future members of the Forever Family. By some accounts Stewart clearly did not meet the scriptural standards for Bishop or Deacon, pastor or teacher in God’s church.
1 The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; 5 for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; 7 moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; 9 they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. 11 The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13 for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
5 This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, 6 if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate. 7 For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; 9 he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.
Did Stewart meet these standards? No one knew his own testimony. He did not test himself or lay his gospel before elders or brethren to see if he had run in vain or was laboring in vain. Did the above Scriptures apply to Stewart and did he meet these standards? He was unknown, not walking in the light, and not walking humbly with his God. He eventually divorced his wife charging her with adultery. Around this same time he was having a sister sit on his lap at the local diner while he complained to her of loneliness at home.
I got a recording of the First Big Meeting. It was September of 1973. These were the years of Stewart’s “faithfulness.” Just remember that this same year of 1973, when Stewart told the 200 gathered that “this was one of the happiest days I ever knew,” was also the year he had bible studies where he talked about his gift of discerning spirits and also when he snapped at a sister during a bible study he was giving on spiritual vision. The recording of this is on the front of the web page. Some ex-members have a romantic view of Stewart in the FF. They can’t seem to square his unkindness, the way he treated his wife, his monopoly on teaching, and his sexual behavior with a least one 17-18 year old female. Their fantasy of God using Stewart mightily to bring so many into the kingdom blinds them to accept what he was really doing. This is important because it can be all be explained when we see that idolatry was taking place from the beginning of the Forever Family and has not ceased since.
What did Stewart teach? The bible. What kind of group did he lead? A Christian one. End of story, right? It can’t be, because so much went obviously wrong. The recording of the First Big Meeting shows omens and warnings about coming things but how could the young members back then see them? How could any one of the brothers or sisters back then take a stand against a man 20 years older, teaching the bible, and uniquely different from any pastor or teacher they had ever seen? And could these teenagers and young men and women in their early 20’s match, just on a human level, match Stewart’s intellect, debating skills, or personality? Could they compare Stewart to any other pastors or teachers at the time. Cults and good Jesus Freak fellowships were popping up all over the United States. Keith Green’s Last Days Ministries started like the FF in similar ways although there were leaders plural and they were accountable. Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel started out the same. They admit that they went wrong for a while and then eventually righted themselves. One leader, yes but then many, and all accountable. Of course we know about Jim Jones. Alone and unaccountable. There is today a cult in Southern California called the Remnant. They live like FF and Cobu. And there are many more. Stewart was talking about a type of training center as early as 1973. He talked about how to “multiply” on the Big Meeting recording. Yes, Stewart was the leader. He may have promised or gave the illusion that there would be other leaders and teachers. Yes there were fellowship leaders but they answered to Stewart, and Stewart answer to no one. One could argue that he answered to God, and one day this will certainly be true, but the scriptures we were and are all called to follow did not seem to apply to him. And because he had set himself up very early in the group’s history as either a type of Moses, speaking to God as one speaks with his friend, or Elijah or John the Baptist, in which case, who are we to question him or insist on scripture and standards for leadership in God’s church like Paul instructed Timothy and Titus? Stewart himself perpetuated the lack of standards in setting up this group of his. “Those in leadership must not be recent converts or they may be puffed up with conceit.” Stewart’s plan was to have recent converts train with him for 2 or 3 years and then go out and start centers. I can only look back now and see how unscriptural this was. One would be compelled to ask what motivates a man, a fairly new Christian himself, who demonstrated little experience, no humility, a unfocused and undisciplined teaching method of the Bible, who had a desire to multiply his group; what was Stewart’s motivation? Oh, all the right answers are there. All the right answers are spoken if one asked. We must look at the fruit.
To be the most gracious and charitable to Stewart in assessing his leadership of the Forever Family, I could say now, as a 47 year old 35 year-Christian, who myself, am under authority, that Stewart was foolish to assume this office of pastor and teacher as he was clearly unqualified and unprepared. He did not meet the standards in scripture for such an office. He, as a teacher, could have been more disciplined and focused. I listened to 1 hour of the Big Meeting and I think I could have hit all his points in 10 minutes and this study went on for hours. His understanding of scripture appears unremarkable. His “understanding” seems common to anyone with an above average IQ who takes an interest in seeing patterns in scriptures. But to a room of teens and 20’s, he must have sounded amazing; and he did. Naturally, adults are ahead of the young in every respect. Add the truth that Stewart was an unusual adult, an adult with a long beard and a willingness to talk to young people, coming out of the 60’s where the gap between adults and their children was wide. You will hear at the end of the tape the attitudes and spirit of “We are the group, that’s gonna go out and do big things. We are gonna move things.” Brethren were getting off on how they affected the public around them. Stewart liked shocking and affecting people even before forming the FF. His leadership in “witnessing” and his example in how he treated other Christians was imitated by the young followers. So we come to it: The nature of the group Stewart created and led. What do you get when you mix (((an above average intelligent man, who was raised by an ordained minister/ college professor father, who excelled in science, who was a chess player, a debater, a social misfit, who was loose on the east coast of America in the 1960’s, who showed and demonstrated a devotion to the bible))) WITH (((a group of teenagers and kids in their twenties who were caught up in the last wave of rebellion of the younger generation who “questioned authority” who themselves came from the culture of war protest, “Don’t trust anyone over 30, free love, All religions lead to God, “I don’t get along with my parents”, “I don’t have a real family,” and wanting to be a part of something that would give them power, control, security in their lives. You get the Forever Family. What makes the Forever Family like other bible-based cults is the truth that God was and is true to His word. This is vital to say and understand because I think this is where many struggle to define the Forever Family or misunderstand or misapply scripture. You do have Stewart Traill. You have his sins against his wife and children; you have his sin against at least one sister while still married to his first wife. You have him isolated from other Christians and accountable to no one. He was in fellowship with no one his age or older. No one in the Forever Family was old enough physically or spiritually to insist on the truth and the standards of leadership with him. And you have the members. They all were at least 20 years younger than Stewart. They had not studied the bible for very long and their understanding was aligned with or controlled by Stewart very early on. They were all babes in Christ, regardless of Stewart’s warped sense of age. We all remember the “older” brothers were considered “older” at age 24. His idea of training was 2 or 3 years. He said on the tape that being saved 3,4,5 years was a long time. These members acted at times like hippies part of a movement that they thought was “really affecting the world.” It wasn’t a spirit of preaching the gospel and leading others to Jesus in a heart for the unsaved. It was the spirit of “we’re a part of this really cool, out there, nobody can touch us, thing. We are getting looked at, people are shocked by us, and we’re charged up when we can get people’s attention. You see this spirit in every generation of young people. Young people join protests for the belonging to something powerful and effective. But what Stewart had to compete with from the beginning and what he finally succeeded in replacing was God’s role in the lives of those who truly did receive the gospel, truly were forgiven, and truly did receive the Holy Spirit. I think most members were there for Jesus and there for their second and third reason to. No doubt they were saved, but being in the group also gave them something they were missing before. The list of reasons is as long as the number of members who went in and came out of COBU. Still, God kept His promise of salvation. If you seek Him you will find Him. If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. And many were. God was faithful to save us. If you will notice, there are no instructions about how to join a group in the bible. It says do not neglect to meet together, but this cult Stewart started was doomed from the beginning because Stewart wasn’t following the scriptures in his own life. God saves us and puts His Spirit in us and we have fellowship in the Spirit with others who are born of His Spirit. Joining a church is something that we do after we have begun our relationship with Jesus. We should have formed the fellowship based on the Spirit and His leading. What happened was Stewart became the leader and made sure he would be the only leader. This was not God’s Spirit. It was Stewart’s will. His conspicuous sexual sins against his first wife were repeated when he married Gayle, and repeated when he made one sister his half-wife, and again when he groped sisters at Princeton. And when he and Gayle were in a car accident and she suffered permanent damage, Stewart tried briefly to proclaim that he was free to marry again. Stewart sinned this way in the early FF through Cobu and has not repented and asked his first wife or the other sisters for forgiveness to this day. Did the group dismiss him, hold him to account, uphold any scriptural standard? Do the current members hold him to account? No. Why? Because, although Stewart taught the bible, in truth he taught himself to us. We were born again and the Holy Spirit dwelt in us and Our Father in Heaven willed that we have pastors and teachers who would teach the flock about HIM and point to Him. And if any of the flock were to put any teacher or anything in the place of the Shepherd who loves them, then the teacher is guilty of “ I will make myself like the Most High” and the flock is guilty of, “No, but we will have a king over us,” thus rejecting God our Father as king over us and allowing Stewart to replace Him.
8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
This scripture appears right before Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, Hypocrites. But more to the point, Jesus is speaking about leadership, those in authority, those in place to teach and guide people to know God. We do have teachers and pastors. James says, “Let not many of you become teachers.” What does this mean then? Those whom God our Father called to teach and pastor were not meant to replace THE TEACHER, THE FATHER, THE MASTER. Stewart did. He who was the greatest among us and he did not serve us. He exalted himself. Consider this scripture in light of what you just read:
1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. 2 Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, 3 not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.
Be honest with your vision of what Stewart was and is. Did he demonstrate these scriptures in our lives? Notice, elders, plural. Peter is speaking to shepherds, small “s”, and telling them the right way to shepherd, and the Chief Shepherd, Our Lord, will reward those who tending the flock OF GOD in the way Peter prescribes. We are called to teach, some of us, and we are called to father, and we are called to leadership. The difference is, we are called to guide those in our care to the Father and not to replace Him.
It is impossible and not my job to judge hearts. There are those who joined the FF with good intentions. There are plenty who joined for one good reason and many wrong reasons. Stewart offered himself as more than a teacher or else he would have discouraged younger brothers imitating him. Not imitating him as he imitates Christ. No, I mean, they imitated Stewart. This was an early sign of idolatry and no one acknowledged it as such. Little by little Stewart eliminated the competing leaders in the FF. Those whom God called to lead and teach were defeated by Stewart. The early days of the FF were indeed different. Some ex-members mistakenly call this proof of Stewart’s good faith. May I submit this explanation? It was different in the early days of the FF, because no one had yet challenged Stewart’s authority. Stewart did not see the brothers as a threat yet. Stewart was still harsh and nasty and being the Stewart we all came to dread, but not as much in the beginning because everything was going his way. His sins eventually overtook him. If the Spirit of God really was in him, he would have stepped down as unqualified at the beginning. He did not. As his sin led him to mistreat his wife, divorce her, and marry Gayle, a sister 20 years younger than he, this sin overcame him. So we have a group of real Christians being led by an unknown teacher/leader, living in sin, who, year after year, consolidated his power and continued his control over the Christian group by using the bible with a domineering spirit. He became the center of the FF, of COBU. All knowledge was taught by him. If you were a member you learned from Stewart directly not from God directly. You were discourage from “going off on your own” or “thinking for yourself.” This left no room for the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us. We soon did not trust anything other than what Stewart “said” was true. There was plenty of scripture for what we did and did not do. But the fruit was the same. Stewart in charge, Stewart with the true and only interpretation, Stewart approves = God approves, Stewart disapproves = God disapproves. By us allowing Stewart to set himself up as God, we committed the sin of idolatry. We witnessed and people got saved because of God’s faithfulness to His word and His promise, but their moving in was a mix of pleasing God and pleasing Stewart. It was our way of pleasing Stewart. Our leading people to Jesus was like a sales report to him. He was the CEO and all the members getting more members pleased him. Multiplying and growing the church membership pleased Stewart, not because people were now in a loving relationship with Our Savior Jesus and heaven bound, but because it meant more members for Stewart’s church, more members to control, more members to listen to him.
We learned to put security in Stewart. No matter the words we used, our actions proved that we cared more about what Stewart thought than what Our Heavenly Father thought. Stewart became an idol, and we were worshipping him. It’s the very definition of a cult. We were more afraid of Stewart than of God. At the Grace Meeting Stewart said, “that it was time for us to transfer our allegiance from his (Stewart’s) spirit to God’s Spirit.” Can I ask, “Why did we have an allegiance to Stewart’s spirit in the first place? How did this come about? Simple. Stewart taught us obedience to him and we learned obedience to him: Stewart. He become our idol.
If you ask current members about Stewart, you will get some curious answers. They still idolize him. And some ex-members who are still trying to capture the spirit of what they had in 1971-76 are still committing the same sin. God the Father will not tolerate anyone or anything between us and Him. You and I will be disciplined for our sin of idolatry. Stewart will face God with his sins, the greatest of which, is the sin of pride, that he took God’s place in our hearts and did not repent. The fruit of this is the FF and COBU.
What is hard for current and ex-members to face is that we were deceived, fooled, and when God opened some of our eyes to this idolatry, we continued to put Stewart in the place of God. Our Heavenly Father is not pleased with Stewart for this sin. And he is not pleased with us for committing idolatry. We ultimately rejected God from being King over us. We rejected our Master, Teacher, Father and Lord for Stewart. Even after leaving COBU some of us clinged to a refuge of blame for not running back to our Father who loves us. Our sin is idolatry and we must repent and return to our Father.
What then do we do? This is probably one of the most difficult things to say to my brothers and sisters in COBU and to my brothers and sisters who still hold on to piece of their early experiences in the group. We were deceived. We were not vigilant. We were fooled. Those who have invested their lives or a big portion of their lives in this group, in this man, have done so at their own peril. There are things set up by God. He established the heavens by the word of His power. God our Father told us, told the Jews, told those who would believe in Him, “You shall not have any other anything or anyone in your life to be between us or to take MY Place.” If we disobey, and we did, then we will suffer the consequences. This is hard because I am saying we were wrong, we sinned. We are half to blame for the existence of COBU. Had we worshipped only God and served Him only, I am convinced Stewart would not have succeeded. Had Stewart been humble to obey the standards for leadership in scripture, the FF would have been different and perhaps a growing and thriving church today. Those who say the early years were good and want to recapture that “ministry,”… you are deluded. If you think the Stewart from that era is worth imitating, you are still deceived and you will remain deceived until you repent of idolatry.
It is painful and difficult to say these things, because of the truth we must face. If you, as a current member of COBU, see that you have been putting Stewart in the place of God your Father, then you will then have to face, that you did not get married because your idol prevented you from getting married and you allowed him to prevent you. You, who have no husband or wife or children, you would have to realize that because you chose Stewart over God your Father, you have no blessing from God in this matter. You who have left houses and lands, mother, father, sister, brother, riches, you were to forsake these for the Kingdom of God not for the Kingdom of man. God does not look at your “sacrifice” as pleasing to Him, because your sacrifice was not for Him, but His rival, whom you put in His place. Our God is a jealous God. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than Him? Idolatry provokes our Heavenly Father to jealousy. If we fear the Lord and also value and worship him, in love, because we value our relationship with Him, we would fight and defeat anything or anyone that would have the gall to try and take our Father’s place in our hearts. Are you also wasting your life if you are in COBU? Are you wasting your life trying to recreate the FF? Yes. Did you waste or suffer many, many years devoting yourself to the fellowship? Yes, and it is a small punishment compared to the great punishment idolaters face for rejecting God and serving other gods and not repenting.
I used to pity those in COBU. My pity is replaced by grief and longing. I urge my brethren inside COBU: Repent and return to your first love, allow God to take His rightful place in your heart and find teachers and pastors who will not exalt themselves over you and cause you to worship them. Our Father is forbearing toward you and will forgive you. You must return to Him with your whole heart. He then will empower you to please Him and Him only. Then Stewart will be revealed for what he really is to you.
I hope what I write will help current members finally see in what they find themselves. To understand the whole Stewart Traill/ FF/ COBU thing is hard. If one takes any one point of view or one conclusion then he or she will fail to see all the possible answers to this complex mess. It would be ridiculous to say, all who joined the FF were committing idolatry. I don’t believe that. I think the 1000 or so who joined the FF did so for various reasons. I think the Christians who joined did join to serve and please Jesus. I think most of them also had something they wanted or needed personally and Stewart filled that need or want. I moved in, in 1980. I had been a Christian for 5 years. I thought I was joining to please Jesus. Only later in life did I recognize how much I wanted to leave my family to join another one. I wanted a dad. My insecurity was the true driving force behind my joining COBU. Others have other reasons. This is why making a sweeping summary judgment of all the members is impossible and would be inaccurate. I would say that you would be able to understand why someone joined by finding out why they left and where they are now. There are many ex-members who, because they really did get saved, are still walking in the Spirit of God because of Jesus’ work on the cross. They look at COBU for what it was and is: a cult run by a cult leader. There are those who are not with God and they say so. The idolatry of COBU can only be found in two places. In the hearts of the members who regard Stewart the way they should be regarding their Heavenly Father. In COBU or out, if you or I either live with respect to Stewart either out of fear or out of loyalty and do not give up this devotion, which belongs to God, then you and I are committing the sin of idolatry. We can’t blame Stewart for our unfaithfulness now. It would be saying that Stewart has more power in our lives than the Holy Spirit. This sin can also be found in the hearts of these ex-members who still believe in the FF in the context in which it was taught by Stewart. If you think God is calling you to rebuild something a hireling designed, then you must seriously question why you believe this lie. I have been talking to these ex-members and some of them seem willing to go against scripture to preserve the honor of the Forever Family. They were “somebody” in the FF, “pillars”…Center Leaders, Fellowship Leaders. They had status for a brief time in their Christian lives because Stewart exalted them, not God. And so they would resurrect the Forever Family so as to bring back to life that which gave them life or gave them their pride. They are bound by this group when there is no scripture to support such a spirit or teaching. Remember the Pharisees who said “We are disciples of Moses” and “We are children of Abraham” and remember Paul listing his credentials that would have given him status in the Religious community. And when one says, “I belong to Paul” and “I belong to Cephas,” please realize that these were Christians who were devoting themselves to APOSTLES….we would think nothing wrong with that, but Paul directly says there is something very wrong with this. 1 Corinthians 3. Please read this. Paul says he isn’t anything and Apollos isn’t anything but only God who gives the growth. I had a brother actually trying to get me to give credit to the FF for my salvation. I am not kidding. This is idolatry and party spirit.
To try and categorize all the motives of the ex-members would be very difficult. What can be understood is Stewart Traill’s role. He tried the mysterious unknown route for years but his fruit unmasked him. Out of his heart, out of his treasure we can get a picture. What people misunderstand when trying to figure all this out is God’s presence. We simply point to real people getting saved and real miracles happening and truly spiritual things happening and we make the mistake of saying, “This must mean Stewart is okay or the FF and COBU are of God. “Let God be true though every man be false.” God still loved those whom He saved, He still answered prayer. He remained faithful, even if we were faithless at times. God doesn’t change. He doesn’t modify His promises according to our faithfulness. We gave credit, glory, honor to Stewart, when it was the Lord’s doing. We worshipped and served the fellowship rather than the One is was and is responsible for it’s existence.
Stewart, without getting into detail, was a leader. He was unchecked. He was unqualified. He acted, from all the accounts I have found, just like Stewart Traill would have acted in the circumstances he created. If Stewart truly followed God and humbled himself and walked in the Spirit of God, we would have seen the fruits of the Spirit in his life. Judge a tree by its fruit. Simple. Stewart gained a monopoly on bible understanding in the group instead of allowing the Spirit to counsel us. He changed the definitions of everything according to his understanding of the bible and he taught us the distorted versions of what love is, what joy is, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. He was voted gold how many times? He wasn’t a right teacher, a right shepherd. Stewart served himself and he taught us to serve him. He recognized that we were devoted to him and he weakly deflected this worship because this idolatry gave him control and power over us. We no longer trusted God’s love for us, that wherever we went on this earth, He would love us and teach us and keep us till the Day of Christ. No. We were taught to live in COBU and rely on Stewart the way God wanted us to rely on Him.
I will conclude with some tests you can try in the time you have with God alone in prayer. You current members, do not confess to me or to each other. Go to God the Father and lay this question before Him, “Oh Father, have I put trust in and put my hope Stewart more than you or in place of you? “Search me, oh God, and see if there be any wicked way in me.” If you ask God to search you, He will. And if you don’t ask Him, then are you afraid of what He will show you? And if you are afraid of what He will show you, then you have answered your question to Him.
When Stewart dies, what will be your reaction? Who will lead then? There are some ex-members who would love to take over. If you want a Stewart knock-off to keep up your sin of idolatry then there are some who would gladly set themselves up as your next idol. When Stewart is gone, will you be unable to go on as church? Your answers should indicate to you how much you have invested in Stewart and not God your Father. There might be a group of brothers who could lead after Stewart’s gone. There is a problem though. Stewart has been telling them for 30 years that they are unfaithful and unqualified to lead a bag of sand and they fail to meet the scriptural standards for leadership because didn’t make them fit for service. The Pharisees prevented those from going in. Those whom they did convert, they made twice as fit for hell as themselves. Stewart made himself indispensable. You empowered him and he devolved power from you. You are secure in Stewart, you are safe in him. Your salvation now depends on him, your faithfulness is judged by him. Everything God promised to be to you, Stewart has become for you. When he is gone, what will you do?
To end with an edification. You who call God your Father, and Jesus your Savior, you indeed have the Spirit of God. Return to your first Love. Pray to the Father this moment and give your heart back to Him. Repent of this idolatry and you will be overwhelmed with the Father’s love. Do not withhold yourself from Him. He loves you. He truly loves you. Return to Him completely and you will see your restoration. Yes, you will then understand how you have been for so many years. I have been shown how I was toward God by Him. I was ashamed, but He forgave me. I repented and He took me up immediately. Jesus will be to you the way He was to the disciples in John 13-17. That Jesus is the real Jesus. Stewart’s Jesus is a corrupt distortion. Go to God your Father in prayer. It is time for the restoration of your relationship with the Father who loves you.
MY BROTHER DAVE WROTE AND PREACHED A SERMON ON IDOLATRY. HERE IS THE TEXTIDOLATRY, BRINGING GOD DOWN, BY DAVID MONTOYA