Compassionate Church to Cult
Christian Tabernacle was a Bible-focused church in Washington, Iowa for many years before the idea of The Walk started. We appreciated strong moral values in our elders and felt a sense of belonging in a safe environment. We are from the kind of small-town that inspires Hallmark movies – tho’ no small town is ever that perfect.
Many descendants of the original Christian Tabernacle members still pray and worship together, today, but not under the same corporate church name.
So how does a nice Christian church go to a cult?
My answer is one sneaky step at a time.
In this post series, I will share my memories and honest opinions of Christian Tabernacle (Washinton, Iowa) as a child until I escaped the cult when I was a young mother with 3 children.
Altho’ my post is anecdotal I will share an over-abundance of clickable links of resources and quotes to help with definitions of religious terms and influences that affected the evolution from a Christian church to a cult. Where you fit your own puzzles pieces is up to you.
The names of my fellow church members will remain protected, so do not worry. I will not be sharing your personal stories.
Recently, I became aware of the fact that many people associated with The Chuch of the Living Word were not familiar with the pre-Walk history and its relevant relationships that began with Christian Tabernacle in Washington, Iowa, the church I grew up in. So I felt that I should use my long-established blog, No Non-cents Nanna, to pull together my version in black and white. (For transparency sake, my birth name was Nancy Bakehouse, not No Non-cents Nanna, my blog name, nor my writer’s name.)
[I highly recommend that my blog readers systematically click on the links as you read or you may want to go to my bibliography after reading the post. This is not light reading.]
History of Christian Tabernacle
William J. Stevens had founded and pastored at the Christian Tabernacle in Washington, Iowa, since 1933. The first church building had been a two-story public school with a basement where this writer* attended Children’s Church starting around 1957. The backside of the building had a large tube coming from the 2nd floor which was to serve as an enclosed fire escape. ( I was curious, but never got to try it out. I heard rumors that when you slid down your pants got rusty and your face got covered in cobwebs.)
William J. Stevens was a Preacher’s Kid growing up. He had a good Christian foundation I assume, tho’ I have no records on his father’s preaching history.
W.J. Stevens and his wife Eva Kathrine raised their four children with strong biblical beliefs. They worshiped in a number of churches before starting Christian Tabernacle in Washington, Iowa: Methodist; Church of Christ; Full Gospel; Four Square and evangelical tent meetings before W.J. answered the call to officially attend a Bible college and be ordained.
Pentecostal radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson’s was a very influential turning-point in Stevens’s lives. The bible college where William J Stevens studied was adjacent to Angelus Temple in Echo Park, California. A brief look into the history of Angelus Temple or watch a few short videos on Aimee Semple McPherson’s evangelistic career will give you some of the backgrounds in the religious education and beliefs in the 1930’s for the Stevens family.
McPherson’s evangelical success on the radio reached many people giving them hope. Radio was a great media to market the word of God at a time when communication was still limited.
Back on the farm in Washington, Iowa, thirty-two years in the future, KCII, had its first radio broadcast around 1961 as I recall. A short time later John Robert Stevens began broadcasting taped sermonettes on KCII. Before that first broadcast on KCII John Robert Stevens had already established his radio sermons in California where he had founded Grace Chapel in South Gate, California.
Four Square Documentary
Below is just one of many videos on Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, whom W.J. and J. R. Stevens studied under to be ministers of the gospel.
Note: there are some conflicting accounts of whether or not JRS actually completed his studies at Life Bible College or not or at any other studies that gave him a legitimate Doctor of Divinity Degree. We do know that he was there with his father, W. J.
The style and content of preaching, at Angelicus Chapel, pre-dates Christian Tabernacle and The Walk. W.J. Stevens as a student.
- This video is a pretty good history of the time when W.J. was a young father and a new preacher.
I think it is important to understand the life stresses at that time in world history and the influences of religion and the impact on society that would end up influences the congregation of the early years.
Aimee Semple Mc Pherson ministered to the poor and hungry families who found themselves in the L A area, such as W. J. Stevens and his family.. Her story is an incredible story that saved lives in many ways.
Personally, for me as a Baby Boomer, I could not imagine the hardship of The Depression that my parents and grandparents lived through and why they did what they did. I do understand that religion helped the poor and suffering survive.
- This video on Sister Aimee is a real eyeopener as to the birth of The Walk decades in the future.
After graduating from LIFE Bible College W. J and Eva Stevens moved their family back to Iowa. Christian Tabernacle at first was a Four Square denominational church.
- At some point, Christian Tabernacle became a non-denominational church separated from Four Square. I have not found any clear reasons why that change occurred nor exactly what year.
As a denomination, The Foursquare Church has a unique history that stems from missions, evangelism, and charitable works with an unprecedented mix of religion and entertainment. The evangelism and compassion certainly carried over into William J. Stevens’s ministry at the Christian Tabernacle of Washington, Iowa for many decades.
In my opinion, the rebel controversy and the spotlight of Aimee Semple MacPhearson seemed to appeal to John Robert Stevens.
Compassion in the Community
William J. Stevens was known for his kind compassion to anyone who wanted to pray and worship God. Often times, when a serious tragedy happened in the county “Dad” Stevens, was the pastor called upon to go with the sheriff to deliver the bad news if a family was not known to be affiliated with any of the other many churches in town. (It was a small town. We knew most folks or were related to them. we generally we did know who went to what church of did not go to church except maybe on Easter Sunday with a new Easter bonnet to show off.)
On a personal note: New Years Day 1961 Pastor Stevens wrote 1961 on a piece of cardboard. He then turned his sign upside down – it still read 1961. I will remember that day so vividly.
When the evening service was nearly over, my dear pastor told me about being called to the hospital to pray with a young boy who had been shot in the heart by accident. The boy accepted Jesus before he passed away. After service, I learned that the boy was my.gradeschool playmate.
What a comfort it is to me to know that my pastor had prayed with my friend. I know many people respected the loving-kindness of the pastor of Christian Tabernacle as much as I did. Pastor William J Stevens gave of himself to be there for us when we needed spiritual support. (He was probably not a perfect human being, but, the whole town respected him.)
William J and Eva Stevens’ children followed in their father’s into ministerial footsteps.
- John Robert started preaching at age 14. He lived in California with his wife Martha and two daughters. He became the self-proclaimed Apostle to the Kingdom, sneaky step by step taking power and control over the flock. He visited Christian Tabernacle with exciting messages.
- Eva married Fred Bickhart; they were missionaries in Africa. The Bickhart family returned to Iowa for a few years to be assistant pastors.
- Mary married Bill Arnold. They were missionaries to Hawaii before the islands became a state. Bill Arnold was also an assistant pastor for a few years.
- There was another daughter, I think her name was Betty- I only saw her son, John Mark, a few times. He was a few years older than I was.
What many people who did not grow up in Iowa may not have thought of is that Christian Tabernacle was non-denominational. Some town folks thought of Christian Tabernacle as “Holy Roller”. a derogatory term.
The video above on Aimee Semple MacPherson video briefly explains Holy Roller and speaking in the tongues. W. J and JRS studied under Sister Aimee In Los Angeles.]
There had been a running joke when someone called us a “holy roller”. ” some members simply laughed along in good humor.
” We sure are ‘holy rollers’. Those kids of ours have to stop sticking chewing gum under the pews. Rolling on the floor is the only way to get rid of the gum under the pews.”
At age 8 or 9 I did not comprehend what was so funny about rolling on the floor scraping gum off of the pew’s undersides. I was not allowed to chew gum in church.
( You may laugh now.)
Speaking in tongues was a desired gift of the spirit, but, then the Living Word went on to new and better revelations…m-m-m? Maybe I missed something in the translation.
Speaking in Tongues sounds like gibberish to me. But, many guests came to visit Christian Tabernacle to receive gifts of the spirit – some stayed and speaking in German to their family – that I could understand somewhat since my grandparents spoke German. Others jabbered away in a language that no one understood and they felt blessed.
Glossolalia was not a regular practice at Christian Tabernacle was it was at my friends’ Pentecostal church in Kalona, Iowa. This church also had regular altar calls where almost everyone went up to confess sins, except for me. Alto’ I seemed to live in fear, I could never figure out anything to repent of as I had not broken any of the Ten Commandments. This Pentecostal group had many itinerant preachers and their families come for a Fire and Brimstone and music meetings.
A number of us members of Christian Tabernacle were friends with or who dated people who went Pentecostal churches. We all visited back and forth respectfully, in those early years. Doctrinal practices did cross over with some similarities. Pentecostal remained consistent in practices while the Church of the Living Word was always getting “new revelations”.
Here is what the bible says and is my belief:
New King James Version 1 Corinthians 14:27
If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
I wondered what was wrong with me?
Was I the only one who had not been overcome with the gift of tongues?
I heard stories about a man who went meeting to be imparted with the gift of tongues but nothing happened until…later.
Disappointed and wondering why he did not get the gift he was comforted by a friend sho said, “It all in the timing of the Holy Spirit.”
After the service, this guy went to an all-night diner for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. When the waitress served his lemon meringue pie the Holy Spirit came upon him and the waitress. They both spoke in tongues for an hour.
Urban Legend in the Words of Malika Bourne
Well, it all depends on who told the story how amazing the dramatic event was. I have no idea whom to give credit to this urban legend.
Of course, silly me worried that the Holy Spirit would come upon me in class at Junior High – Need I say more?
I was about 15 when I went one of a number of road trips with some of Iowa youth to attend church camp with our pastors’ son’s (JRS) church group in California.
It seemed like everyone had the gift but me. I was just thinking to myself” I guess when the presents (pun) of God were passed around, I got left out, again. I must not be good enough.”
Then, a very cool young woman came up to me to ask, in English ” Have you received the gift of tongues?”
I replied, in English, of course, “No, I have not. what’s wrong with me?”
“Well, just let it go! Start making sounds and the spirit will take over,” she bubbled joyfully.
So I let it go, “La-la-la Do-do-do-Re-re-re…Me-me-me..” I muttered.
“Praise God! You got.it!” She pulled over several people with spiritual titles who laid hands on me as they praised God for me receiving a gift I did not deserve.
Hey, I promised to tell my version honestly. This is my story and yours will be different. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but, I often think that being filled with spirit may be a highly emotional experience.
I do believe that I have been filled with Holy Spirit but I don’t brag and don’t worry about it.
By the late 1960s Tongues went the wayside to be replaced by the Bless-In. Because of the “drinking of many waters” and experience preferences, I believe that some people felt comfortable speaking in tongues when the spirit moved them for the duration of the time at Christian Tabernacle.
Waiting on the Lord
It was a frequent practice to wait on the Lord during the Sunday night service.
For, me I am quiet before God. I am not praying but, simply quietly waiting and ready to hear what God wants to tell me. I still Wait on the Lord to this day.
The First Principles
As a young man, John Robert Stevens recognized the need for a study guide which would teach the principles essential for a walk with God. With The First Principles, he addressed this need by writing a series of fifty lessons, each introducing and establishing basic scriptural truths. Because the Word of God is timeless and unchanging, and new believers are born into the Kingdom every day, The First Principles remains an ideal guide for individual or group study. Divided into three categories, “Milk For The Babes,” “Bread For The Little Children,” and “Meat For The Young Men,” these lessons allow you to explore key elements that will lead you from the first simple steps of faith into a mature relationship with God.
The First Principles by John Robert Stevens are for sale on Amazon.com
I’m not going to debate the theology of Tthe First Principles. I will refer you to other works that have already done a good job of that. (See Woodrow Nichols quote below… and I Saw Satan
The First Principles. His first edition was self-published under the name of Robert Stevens… these outlines were meant to form the foundation for the revelation of the Kingdom. While on the surface, most of the lessons seem innocuous enough, there is enough in them to show how the Walk is distinct from even the Latter Rain Movement….
…in the guise of elementary Bible studies, Stevens has offered all those who wish to enter into the esoteric land of Christian mysticism, a primrose path to the gate. However, to go beyond the gate, one must need the help of an interpreter, and that is precisely what the ministry of John Robert Stevens,..
EXPERIMENT IN END TIME APOSTASY: THE WALK of JOHN ROBERT STEVENS
The History, Beliefs, and Spiritual Dynamics of a Christian Cult by Woodrow Nichols © Copyright 1980 by The Spiritual Counterfeits Project.
I want to offer you some food for thought on how The First Principles was received when it was first published from my perspective. As far as I knew the congregation of Christian Tabernacle seemed to spend a reasonable amount of time using The First Principles as a study guide with the exception below I was not involved with any controversial conversations.
I do recall gasps when the term ‘whore of Babylon” was linked with the Catholic church.
BTW: Christian Tabernacle kids were no allowed to date a Catholic and vice versa.
My family owned an early edition of John Robert Stevens’ First Principles. The simple bound creamy color paperback study guide has been “self- published” and printed by the church. We wondered why the author was listed as Robert Stevens.
As a grade-school kid who loved to hang out in the public library, I had a secret pride knowing that our church had published a revolutionary bible study guide and I personally knew the author. The church had also printed its own songbook with unique songs that ‘no other church knew except us’. (Continue reading for my shocking details.)
When I was about 12 years old I was able to join the older kids in the Sunday School rooms on the 2nd floor of the old Christian Tabernacle building. And, I was able to begin studying Milk for Babes section of The First Principles.
I remember being all excited about having prepared for the 2nd or 3rd lesson. I was all dressed up in the new dress that I got for my birthday and my new black slip-on flats. I was feeling quite grown-up. On this day we had a guest in our class. I shared my study guide with her and helped her look up all the scripture references in my Bible.
When class was over I walked my new friend down the stairs with my head held high and my shoulders back. Her mother was waiting at the bottom of the steps. I was fantasizing about my new friend telling her mother that I was such a great pre-teen bible scholar.
Pride goes be a fall. (Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16;18)
Pushing me to one side the girl rushed down the last steps to her mother. “Mother, they don’t study the Bible. They use some other book, The First Principles.” she tattled.
My jaw fell at not so much what I heard, but, the way she seemed to tattle on a secret she had promised not to tell.. I would have preferred to have fallen down the steps, rather than having my 12-year-old pride balloon drop a million feet then shattered in a gazillion pieces.
I was speechless. What could I say?
I felt like my Sunday school class had been infiltrated by a spy.
I admit to maybe having read more Nancy Drew Mysteries than I had studied the First Principles at that point. This drama seemed like a mystery to be solved about the girl who spied on our church. I had only memorized just over 100 memory verses. I knew that I did have a lot more to learn about God’s Holy Word. But, the nerve of this stranger to daring criticize John Robert’s study guide!
I felt defensive! It was like I had to arm myself for an unseen war ti fight all by myself because the adults were not paying attention.
You got the idea that I was thinking like an adolescent, right?
At that time in my life, I still needed guidance- lots of guidance. I was expected to follow rules- a lot of rules even if I did not know there was a rule or a protocol. I was at an age where I was supposed to be able to trust the adults in my life to keep me safe from unseen forces of evil. I should have been able to ask questions when I needed help.
Many times in previous years when “Bobby” as some older congregation members referred to John Robert when he came for California for special meetings, visitors would make derogatory comments about the message. My parents were always quick to defend W.J’s son. Then they would go out to the parking lot to talk some more to strangers about how the message was against the Bible.
I did not understand the big words (false doctrine; false prophet; heretic: apostasy) they used at the time. I also did not understand why my parents did not have a clue that my sisters and I had school in the morning. We only wanted to go to bed instead of waiting for the adults to debate.
What is wrong in this picture?
From the late 1950s and 1960’s pre-The Walk, John Robert Stevens stirred up controversy with non- members/ visitors whenever he came to Christain Tabernacle. What I am confused about is why did there never seem to be a formal discussion on thsoe issues that addrssed the controversial subjects?
My parents were not grounded in the word of God and neither was I. I was an innocent child and I picked up on the controversy. I could not have been the only one to see there were problems with doctrine going on. I felt embarrassed like the was the kid who saw the naked king in The Emperors New Clothes.
So, then whose responsibility was it to defend the teachings of the son of the pastor of Christian Tabernacle?
It was unsettling then and it still bothers me, today as to why did no one in leadership step in to nip the issues in bud. This was not the only time in the history of The Church of the Living Word that Stevens did not resolve questions.
Our Chuch Songs
Above, I mentioned the church published songbooks. The book had a simple paper binding.
I was allowed to take one of the songbooks home so I could practice the music on the piano. I was convinced that Christian Tabernacle was the one church to sing songs that were inspired and written just for us – we were special – God had chosen us. I became concerned when I heard other denominational congregations singing our songs. What in the World? Did they steal our songs?
At church one day when the worship was about to begin it was announced. All of the songbooks had been removed. They were going to all have to be destroyed. If anyone had a songbook at home to bring it back as soon as possible. The books would be burned.”
“Oh, my dear Lord! The Commies are burning our books!” I panicked.
I heard a voice declare, “Plagiarized, just like The First Principles.”
I was not familiar with the word plagiarize, so I whispered to my mother, “What does that word mean?” She replied, “Look it up in the dictionary.”
Do you have any idea how hard it is to find that word in the dictionary if you can’t spell it? Please click HERE to read about Plagiarism. This one word is relevant to all of the teachings of John Robert Stevens.
I have to question why God did not give wisdom to the pastors and elders of Christian Tabernacle and Grace Chapel that you can’t use someone else’s’ copyright work without permission or at minimum or give the author credit. Every 5th grader in Iowa knew that fact! ( Iowa 5th graders at that time were required to write a research paper on the state of Iowa and site our sources at the end.)
Does not the Eighth Commandment say, “Thou shalt not steal”?
This revelation was more confusing then when we were told to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and not only was Santa Claus a big fat lie but that to celebrate Christmas was evil. I mean – really? Who is a Christain kid supposed to believe and trust?
It is now 2020, Decades have passed. I still hurt with the fact that pretty everything we were told in The Walk was a lie.
thebaffler.com/salvos/i-saw-satan-marzoni“Milk for the Babes,” “Bread for the Little Children,” or “Meat for the Young Men,” categories corresponding to “spiritual levels and stages of development” identified in The First Principles, Stevens’s 1958 guide to biblical study.…All cults have a foundational text, whether a how-to manual (Dianetics), a memoir (Mein Kampf), or a hybrid of the two (The Art of the Deal). The Living Word Fellowship has “To Be A Christian,”…
My Personal History with Christian Tabernacle
It is all relative…
When I grew up in Washington, Iowa in the 1950s I attended Christian Tabernacle, a wonderful hometown nondenominational Christian church.
[Christian Tabernacle did have elements of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement and Latter Rain. See below- it’s complicated.]
I learned basic bible stories; I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was almost 8; I was baptized full immersion in a pond at age 12 and by that time I had memorized 100’s of bible verses and even a few whole chapters all in King James English. I sang and I played piano for the children choir and later on, I was a church pianist. I was a good Christian girl.
I have to qualify my official church attendance as a member: I went to Christian Tabernacle as a baby before my parents chose to be members. My babysitter took my older sister and me to her church when we were far too young to pay attention to religious teaching. That dear woman had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who I later had babysat for; had as students and even delivered a few of their babies. Most of the member’s children went to school together. For Church of the Living Word members who were from larger cities have a hard time grasping our life-long roots planted in our hometown.
Point is: many early church members are related by birth or marriage or are still very long-time family friends with good reasons to go back home.
I had been sent to “bodies”, sister churches lead by John Robert Stevens, in another state, California, far away from the security of my home town church and community of Washington, Iowa.
I attended a number of Church Camps with the youth of Grace Chapel and the Valley Church about 4 times. I went to summer Camp In Hawaii. I even lived in CA to go to Junior college for a semester- I hate it. I missed a number of services because I had to work to support my self. God’s plan for me was not a very good plan to force me to go to California to go to college – I went back home to Iowa.
Later in this post series, I will write about “perfect obedience to the Word directed over our lives.” People may have been given a direction in personal ministry by 1968 or 1970 ( I’m guessing) that “perfect obedience” was the only option. ( my words) But in the early days of Christian Tabernacle, the ministry seemed safe, unless someone potentially ever wanted to pull out your personal ministry from the files. ( I have no idea whether or not happened, but, there were no expectations of privacy at that time such as HIPA. I am not a lawyer.)
I was sent back and forth to California where I was ‘fish out of water’. I was often laughed at like I was “Beverly Hillbilly”– OK that pretty much explained my simple priorities, but, I had a better education than the character Jethro Bodine character did.
The culture and the values of the big city youth of the California sister churches were not what I had grown up with. Sure I was a naive Iowa girl. But, that should never ever be an excuse to accept what the Bible states are immoral, unethical and illegal that seemed to be acceptable with all too many members of The Walk.
I started seeing irregularities in doctrine demonstrated when I first went to Summer Camp in California when I was only 15 years old. I had been trained to be seen but not heard. to jump when told to jump and ask ‘How high on the way up”. I had been taught by my mother that if I wanted to avoid a fat lip I had better keep my curiosity to myself. ( Compliant children seemed to be the perfect children to “train up in the way” of The Walk.)
My concerns continued to build. In fact, one out of state church that we had been sent to officially left The Walk due to concerns over occult teachings. They were correct.
If you are able to get ahold of a copy of Woodrow Nichol’s writings on JRS and The Walk you will read about incidents with an ex-witch and allegations of adultery in May 1967. It is too complicated for this post to get into other than to say this:
I do have serious concerns to make in regards to the youth of Christian Tabernacle of Iowa being invited to visit around critical times such as major splits in the churches in the LA area.
JRS made it seem like it was business as usual when there had just been a huge split in the Valley church over an ex witch and an elder wife.
Our families in Washinton, Iowa too often had only been told a tangled web of confusion from the mouth of JRS- not the truthful side of the stories we now know. The issues were never resolved. Instead of dealing with legitimate concerns voiced by some of the elders of the California Church JRS brushed off the growing concerns while continuing with plans that invited youth from Christian Tabernacle and other groups to visit.
With the degree of dysfunctional behavior going on in California, that was later exposed, had our Iowa parents been told the truth they never would have sent teenagers to learn not so”spiritual principles” with the youth groups in California. We youth were sent home having been taught occult practices to exercise in the Bless-Ins and hints of scandals.
I recently expressed my concern to a peer about this time period and how vulnerable all the youth were to be exposed to such a mess. While a number of Valley people stood their ground as to what was morally right and left there were new members coming in all the time who knew nothing of some of the elder’s concerns that included adultery. ( Sorry to be so vague. I refer you to the Cult Education Forum for discussions.)
There seemed to be a witchcraft attack or demonic assault all too often. If the truth be told, those so-called “spiritual wars” were nothing but distractions JRS to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions.
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump…” Galatians 5;9 and John Robert Stevens was the role model. Writings like that of Woodrow Nichols exposes a number of indiscretions of John Robert Stevens that are well-documented form numerous recordings The Walk is well known for. I will refer you, the reader, to credible sources such as Nichols.
Who was I to question a pastor and his church?
Was there anyone who was filling in the Washington, Iowa church on how JRS himself and his close followers were “under grace”?
I don’t think so? Certainly, a teenager was never going to be a credible witness of the sins of people living in LA. Why were sinful things for Iowa people not sins in LA? ( Fornication, adultery; drunkness; lies; theft…)
I was told that if the brothers were anointed to be shepherds they were ‘under grace” and everything they did was OK.”
“Under Grace” meant that they were no longer subject to the Law of Moses. They were chosen vessels of God to lead the flock. So like King David, they could do want they wanted to do.
I was taught as a member of Christian Tabernacle was if I sinned or madea mistake I should rent and make things right. Why the stark difference between young elders in California and the season older men leading the flocks in Iowa? I really don’t think that I could be the only one to question the problem here? Or were the people who never left Iowa sheltered?
Romans 6:14 New International Version (NIV). 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
As far as I knew that Christian Tabernacle folks knew was that the California churches were growing spiritually by leap and bounds ( much having to do with the Jesus Movement ) tho’ under “heavy assault from demons” according to JRS..
Irregularities were adding up. But unseen battles of “biblical proportion” distracted the good people from resolving serious issues even as far back as the history of Christian Tabernacle.
Here is an example of demonic assault that I did not fall-for in 1964.
- The church building in Sepulveda, California was nearing completion when John Robert came to visit Christian Tabernacle in Washington, Iowa. He was telling about all the demonic assault that was delaying the completion of the Valley Church. Some issues I recall were due to not passing city code inspection: number of parking spaces, or the wiring. it sounded to me that there were sympathetic moans from my hometown congregation.
- Why was that be demonic assault?
“Why not just do what the city expects in order to meet safety standards?'” was my thought. What did I know, I was only 13? That was my opinion.
It seemed like there was always a Satanic battle going with more and more devils to slay and we the people were never doing enough for “Christ in the Flesh.” in any of the 101 churches. If we questioned the reasoning -YIKES! We all have stories to tell.
Political figures or wives were identified as specific demons. ( Nephilim ) Their deaths were prayed for. This fact was taped recorded and transcribed over and over. But, when confronted John Robert would deny it with a twist. ( Newspaper articles confirm denial by JRS. These newspaper reports can be read in the link to I Saw Satan.)
If anyone has old cassette tapes that have not disintegrated you can listen for yourself if you don’t remember.
In Washington county, the cult members were being told to pray for the death of the Nephilim including Martha, the wife of John Roberts Stevens, among other people’s deaths. To this day many people will say, ” I never liked the idea of being told to pray for anyone’s death. Nor did I like the violent intercessions.”
… Biblical origin of the half-angelic, half-human hybrid giants, known as Nephilim, who were the product of illicit relations between evil fallen angels and human women..
Finally, when I was living in California I had had enough of the trauma from the Walk and left ( then called The Church of the Living Word ) I was in my mid-30s when I left the cult. It was scary. I was alone with 3 children. I later made my way back home to Iowa, but Christian Tabernacle no longer existed corporately.
Although I was ostracized and harrassed in California I never actually announced to the good friends still in The Walk in Iowa that I was labeled a jezebel until recently. Communicating with who have left the Walk is considered taboo.
How can that be when I would describe the leadership of the 1950s and 1960s as positive role models and my youthful peers had a sense of belonging?
- I saw too much behind the scenes – I thought I was alone
- I knew too much.- I was lead to believe that I was alone.
- I questioned too much – I was not the only one that was shut-up by gas-lighting.
An example: Back in the mid-1970’s questioning or even stating my educated career expertise on practices of the discipline, health or safety of children were in disagreement with “apostolic direction.”
Anyone who questioned the apostle, in fact, was put on the “naughty list.” creating fear in anyone who wanted to question.
I am getting ahead of myself with these issues previewed below for part 2 of this series have exposed too late are coming up in this series.
Something that set Cristian Tabernacle apart from the other churches in the county was Personal Ministry.
In the early years when members and or their families had a need or problem, they went to the pastor and elders for spiritual guidance and prayer. Often this was public on the platform in front of the entire congregation. The Personal Ministry was recorded on reel to reel tape then transcribed. A typed out copy of the words and prayers was kept in church files and another copy was given to the individuals.
Our Christian Tabernacle elders were held in high esteem and above reproach. Not only did these men have life experience but they knew the Bible well and were given to prayer.
From my viewpoint in the late 1950 and 1960’s I believe that prayer and experienced advice from a group of trusted men in front of the congregation was a positive event. Here are some examples that might have occurred, but, not limited to, with Personal Ministry:
I made these up to demonstrate a stark contrast between fairly benign counsel. Way belong some very important references I share a personal testimony.
- My car broke down again. My boss is upset with me because I was late because of car trouble. What do I do?
- My neighbor was mowing the lawn he complained of hitting rocks with the mower. He is blaming my boys for the rocks and says caught my boys throwing rocks at his cat. How does a Christian handle this mean man?
- Should I go to this college or that school or work a year after graduation?
The seasoned elders prayed and gave the current day ‘What Would Jesus Do?”- like counsel.
I recall our first Personal Minstry as a family.
We were still fairly new to Christian Tabernacle when John Robert Stevens came to town. (At that time the older folks still called him “Bobby”/ and for me, the guest speaker was th eliek Circus had come to town.)
Brother Stevens called us up to the platform. Dad ushered Mom and us kid up in front of the hwole congregation with enthusiasm.
The elders laid hands on our heads. For me it was scarey for several personal reasons. First of all I did not like any one touching me unless I invited it. If one were to think about it, how would any child feel about being surrounded by men you did not know and have then lay hands you? That alone would be intimidating.
Before we had our turn I had witnessed Stevens minister to other families. It was fasinating, I admit. But, then it struck me, I had a deep dark secret and I thought I was really a bad girl. I did not want my secret exposed because ‘my mother would get really mad at me.’ ( The deep dark secret was that I had been molested many times by men I knew.)
When it came to us girls turn, after our parents, we lined up in birth order. At first John was a tad befuddled because I was taller than my oder sisiter and only 18 months younger. Then to make it more confusing, our younger sisters were not identical twins.
I recall a few things about my older sister as beign very smart and somewhat of a perfectionist. It was nicely stated that our olderst sister was “bossy”, but not in that word.
When it came to my turn, John put his hands on my face. Oh my God, I was so afraid. He said, ” This girl is a peacemaker. She sacrifices her own joy to keep the peace in the family.”
All I recall about the olfer twin was that she was “really a cutie. Look at those locks of hair.”
He made a big deal about the youner twin her being “the baby,” and having a harder time.
The reaction from the congregation at these personal ministries were of fasination at this bascially fortune telling entertainment disguised as a spiritual awaking.
In retrospect, the ministry was nothing but a show that told facts about personalities of birth order.
If you are not familiar with the influence of birth order of the personalities of siblings check this out:
Birth Order Traits: Your Guide to Sibling Personality Differences https://www.parents.com/baby/development/social/birth-order-and-personality/
For parents to have the opportunity back in the late 1950s to have some one point out the roles children play within the family dynamics I think was a wonderful educational experience. I would have thought that my parents would have taken advantage of this newly revealed wisdom to make on course parenting corrections.
My childish perception of my parents’ reaction was rather smug at having gotten personal ministry. The only change that I can see in hind sight was not positive. Our mother started referring more often to the youngest as “my baby”, in away I saw as demeaning.
In those days twins often did not survive or were not healthy. My little sisters were somewaht of a novelty because the rarity at that time. They were healthy miracle babies. It is a well known fact that the 2nd twin’s birth will be more compromised that the first one to come out.
My comments are to debunk any god-given wisdom in our family’s personal ministry that seemed like wisdom from god. Others may not agree with me.
Nancy Bakehous aka Malika Bourne
Every person needs trusted people with experience to run things past. In some cultures there the old sages. Counseling with questions like I made up above was probably just fine way back in the Happy Days.
There is, however, a healthy line between learning to think for yourself and making the best choice you can make with the option available versus an authority figure makes all of your life decisions for you.
At some point, the innocuous personal ministry blended into the gift of Prophecy. These are two different subjects tho’.and I’m quite certain when, or the shift occurred. Perhaps I was too young to pay close enough attention as to when the “verily, verily the Lord sayeth unto thee” prophesy became part of personal ministry.
But what if or when the fine line was eventually crossed into what many are questioning as psychic fortune-telling and “control of the individuals every move.” ( I’m not a lawyer. See references below.)
When this line was crossed with the personal ministry we had fallen into the clutches of a cult leader. I don’t think I need to be a lawyer to state this that could be considered as common sense.
It is also important to comprehend that counsel from any pastor or elder in a church has its legal limitations. I am not a lawyer so I will back up my statement with some links. Keep in mind that your ordained minister most likely does not have licenses to practice professions such as:
- psychiatry or psychology
Check out the laws in your state to find out if your pastor, elder, Sunday School teacher is a Mandatory Reporter. My guess that they are.
(1990, p. 206). (Ps 78:72). It is important for pastors who counsel to be willing to refer their counselees to other professionals and to be knowledgeable about when and to whom a counselee should be referred.
Limit what your pastors or lay counselors can discuss to things that are strictly spiritual or biblical in nature… Limit the use of the term “counseling” because that can bring you under state licensing requirements…
The Bible is not enough for abuse victims. If you are a longtime church goer, this statement might come as a surprise to you. If you are a pastor, this may even sound like heresy. Let me explain…
The pastor who counsels should recognize psychoses, personality disorders, organic problems, and so on. Otherwise he or she is like a surgeon who doesn’t know anatomy.
A mandated reporter is a person who, because of his or her profession, is legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities. These laws are in place to prevent children from being abused and to end any possible abuse or neglect at the earliest possible stage.
Mandated reporters are required to make a report of suspected abuse when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse under any of the following circumstances: They have contact with the child as part of work or through a regularly scheduled program activity or service
Back to Personal Ministry My Personal Testimony:
My father was a 4 + pack a day chain smoker. The only time he did not smoke was when he went to church. He reeked of cigarettes; his fingernails were stained brown; his teeth were rotten. But, for some reason, he always hid his cigarettes in the car to hide the fact that he was a smoking sinner.
One evening after chain-smoking for 30 years, Dad forgot to hide his pack of Lucky Strikes. He had left them in his breast pocket. He got called up for Personal Ministry. OOOPS!
“Brother, would like to be delivered of that demon habit of cigarettes?”
My dad announced that yes, he wanted deliverance.
“Brother, throw that pack of cigarettes on the floor and stomp on them, right now!”
My father did it.
He took that full pack of cancer sticks from his pocket, threw them on the floor and smashed them to a pulp. He never had another cigarette in his life. He lived to be 90 years old.
They should have prayed for me, too. I was under my dad’s feet and in the car while he smoked. I never smoked, but, I had nicotine withdrawal and I have COPD from years of 2nd hand exposure.
Crossing That Fine Line
I think you can imagine what godly advice and prayer the Brothers would give to these scenarios that offered peaceful resolutions and learning opportunities for the entire congregation…but, at some point, Personal Ministry crossed the fine line into the alleged Prophetic Utterance or Direction from God.
I remember other men who came in beside the long-time sage brothers began professing, “Verily, verily, I the Lord sayeth unto thee…” Hands would be raised to heaven and eye closed and rolled back as if in a trance. The men of God would lay their hands on the person’s head who was receiving ministry. And there was no escaping from Holy Spirit if you were called up to be reprimanded. Things seemed to no longer be loving community advice and prayer.
It really seemed that the Lord Jesus was standing there on the platform demanding for the spirit to get right or be judged. I tell you what, I had the fear of the Lord imprinted on my brain.
- Long term relationships were broken up, only to be matched with another significant other. ( Most ended up in divorce.)
- People were moved from here to there leaving good jobs or school.
Sometimes a move was to keep a few individuals out of facing consequences of the law. They then were put into Kingdom Business in a different state. ( Hint: avoid extradition for some.) I am sure this does not apply to everyone- only a few that I personally know of and it is something to consider.
- People were pushed, in my opinion, to donate finances to a fund.
- Young men, not dry behind the ears yet ( my opinion) were placed into positions that they were not qualified to be put into.
Inch by inch, step by step, we gave up our individuality over to one charismatic leader’s plan for power and control.
Around the late 1970s and early 1980s things evolved into The Probe. My brain has blanked out the details on The Probe. That may be self-preservation. (Refer to page 82 of Woodrow Nichols JRS-The Walk.)
Note: As the writer of this post, I would like my peer baby boomers from the early Christian Tabernacle to share their feelings about memories of Personal Ministry to add to mine. Maybe you still have some typed prophesies in a file folder.
As I said in my ramblings on Person Ministry prophecy was blended in.
During Worship, people began to speak words said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. These short individual messages were called. prophesy
To me it sounded so spiritual, but, I not so sure about how or why the message interspersed between free worship/ singing in the spirit did anything except self-edification considering the definition of prophecy.
Did anything “prophesied” ever come to pass that were spoken by the prophets and prophetesses in the services? I may be overly critical here. I don’t really know.
Definition of prophecy. 1 : an inspired utterance of a prophet. 2 : the function or vocation of a prophet specifically : the inspired declaration of divine will and purpose. 3 : a prediction of something to come.
Singing in the Spirit Worship
Singing the spirit was the common practice at Christian Tabernacle immediately following the congregational singing of hymns from a hymn book, then short songs of praise. ( These were the songs that I thought were only known and sung by our church. I learned after the songbook “burning” thing that most churches sang those songs, too.)
Singing in the Spirit may be done solo or together as a congregation during a worship service. Some Pentecostals and charismatics believe if it is done by an individual… then the song should be interpreted by one with the gift of interpretation
Everyone would raise their hands, eyes, closed in worhsip to sing in the spirit. There was no formal tune nor formal words. the organ would play chords to help keep the mood and some kind of aesthetic pitch. This in the not the worship practice in main stream Christianity, but, is in the Pentecostal/ Charismatic Movement.
Around 1970 when the new church building was complete the churches in Washington, Iowa took turns having Live broadcasts of their services on KCII radio.
It was soon discovered that when Cristian Tabernacle’s worship services went into singing in the spirit it sounded like mass confusion to the radio listeners rather than a demonstration of ( in my words) how spiritually advanced we were.
Singing in the spirit as we loved to do was a turn-off to the casual listener, so we had to sacrifice that part of our worship to appeal to the radio audience at home during the broadcasts.
In my snarky opinion, it seemed to me that with all the prophets that were to be close to the microphone on Live Broadcast days that God surely would have revealed that the radio-listeners would not have been blessed by the sound of confusion nor drawn to the church with Singing in the Spirit. time.
And surely, any prophet could have foretold to not have a worship leader who could many carry-a-tune in-a-bucket leading the worship for the broadcasts. Our church was convinced that we operated under the spirit of wisdom. I think the counter to my criticism is that on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit rushed in like the wind and there was confusion – until the interpretation which was not practiced in our church as was on the Day of Pentecost. It seemed to me we were only practicing half-truth of what the bible said.
Below is a scriptural reference for Singing in the Spirit. But, if you look carefully at the definition above, we never had anyone interpret the words of our in the spiritual songs that may be in English or in tongues.
The casual critic from outside would question “what was the purpose if there was no interpretation?” My answer is: I have no idea. I told that God loved for us to sing in the Spirit, especially in tongues, therefore, we did joyfully.
I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
The Latter Rain
I wonder if any other Christian Tabernacle old-timers recall “Dad Stevens” or “Bobby” (John Robert Stevens) talk about The Latter Rain? You may recall back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, as I do, the names: Smith Wigglesworth: William Brahnam; Kathrine Kulman, Aimee Simple MacPhearson, Winston I Nunes and few more who were popular evangelist before Oral Roberts and Billy Grahm? All of these preachers had roots in Latter Rain as do most of the megachurch TV preachers who have been exposed as frauds in the last few years.
“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God… he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil.
Some leaders of the Latter Rain movement taught that as the end of the age approached, a select group of “overcomers” would arise within the Church.
These Manifest Sons of God would receive the “spiritual bodies” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15. They would become immortal, and receive a number of divine gifts,…
Nov 30, 2011 · Latter Rain doctrine includes the following beliefs: – the gifts of the Spirit, including tongues, are received through the laying on of hands – Christians can be demonized and require deliverance – God has restored all the offices of ministry to the Church, including apostle and prophet
On Sundays, before my parents started going to church they watched Oral Roberts on TV. I hated it when my parents made my sisters and, I put our hands on the TV set as Roberts told us to do. I was like 5 or 6 years old with no clue of life nor religion. But, I have to say I really loved going to Sunday School and singing songs at a real live church. I think this says something about my parents searching for something meaningful in their lives.
There is something that I am trying to verify those who are Latter Rain influenced and their getting into legal trouble. Check out the links below on the wealthy Preachers. There is a very familiar pattern. Can you see it?
Click HERE to read 6 Outrageously Wealthy Preachers Under Federal Investigation. this article is a real doozie. I hate to have to say this, but, The Church of the Living Word seems to have similar issues – all latter Rain roots tho’ most, including John Robert Stevens would deny it.
I want to encourage you to think carefully without excuses about which of those issues may ring a bell with your experiences with The Walk. Your perception may be very different from mine.
I think the history of splits here and there in the Christian church is far too complicated to explain in my post. But, it relevant if we are trying to figure out exactly what our Christian Tabernacle pastor was teaching us.
- Christian Tabernacle founded and pastored by W. J Stevens was at first Four Square. Then the church became nondenominational. As far as I know, the choice may have been due to all of the complicated changes in doctrine.
- John Robert Stevens was the son of W. J. Stevens the pastor of Christian Tabernacle. Most things written online about John Robert tell about how he helped his father by teaching Sunday school and went out to evangelize form a young age. JRS would come home to assist his father with the church, but, I question if he ever had credentials to be listed as a pastor of Christian Tabernacle.
- In 1970 the name of Christian Tabernacle was changed to Church of the Living Word. Now, this is when the reasons were never clear to me. I suppose that is because I was 19 years old and corporate mumbo jumbo was not of interest to me. Fifty years after the fact I really have to wonder how many of the congregation actually knew the implication of the name and corporate change. [See Page 2 for mention of a Lawsuit between John Robert Stevens; W. J. Stevens and Fre Bickhart.]
To complicate matters more when JRS ( John Robert Stevens) was involved I think his “vision” or was always evolving from one spiritual crisis to the next. John Robert Stevens’s “revelations” were like a giant puzzle where no one had all the pieces except for him.
For those who want to grasp Pentecostalism/The Charismatic Movement and the impact of the Azua Street revival on the future of Christian Tabernacle click HERE for pre-Walk beliefs to compare where JRS borrowed, changed and made it his own.
There was a time when preachers and evangelists had a”calling’ and that was enough to send then out to preach in tents or where ever they could find people wanting to her god’s word. At some point, credentials began to matter. The training and certificates claimed by John Robert Stevens don’t seem to be verifiable. I have read that John Robert had not completed his course studies with Four Square but somehow did get his ordination papers that were later revoked.
John Robert Stevens also get a certificate from The Assemblies of God that he operated under at Grace Chaple in South Gate, California. The Assemblies of God hierarchy did not approve of his variations on their established doctrine. They canceled his credentials. Mind you, churches have tended to not to air dirty laundry that would give them a public black eye. Therefore those who have researched the exact reasons why Stevens was defrocked are not publically available.
What this says to me is that John Robert Stevens liked to do his own thing and not answer to anyone but “god” so don’t bother to question him.
When we think of evangelists… preach to thousands of people at once like in a tent revival or a travelling evangelist in the churches. We think of Billy Graham and Oral Roberts or ones that have a big TV or radio ministry or missionaries sent to evangelize other parts of the world. http://latter-rain.com/eccles/evant.htm
Meetings for healings were not the niche for Christian Tabernacle tho’ we prayed for healing for people.
Bill Bright, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham had the market on that drawing. The Pentecostals doctrine stated that the gift of healing was a sign of the Holy Spirit. They distrusted those who were not part of their own group, but, they feared to lose their congregations if they did not join alone with “healing” ministries of the independent preachers. There were a lot of conflicts.
John Robert Stevens, doing his own thing whatever it was, with an Assemblies of God ordination certificate. The Assemblies of God had problems with John Robert’s independence. He was teaching mystical things taught by William Branham known for the Latter Rain Movement.**
**My interpretation of a Quote from JRS The Walk by Woodrow Nichols page 19 copyright 1980
Now, really, can you blame AOG for not wanting anyone to violate their doctrinal rules?
With this thought in mind, I can’t figure out why the Christian Tabernacle congregation pastored by W. J. Stevens allowed John Robert Stevens so much doctrinal leeway when he seemingly was not their direct shepherd?
Were The Bless-Ins Unique Revelation or Borrowed from Other Influences?
The practice of the Bless-In was brought from JRS churches in California by the youth to Washington, Iowa in place of the hippie ‘s “Love-In”. The Winter Youth Camp helped to introduce the Iowa Youth Group to adulterated White Witch Craft. [See this blog author’s comments below on US Constitutional rights on freedom of speech and religion.]
Oh, what a clever way to sneak in an occult practice! See for yourself to decide if or if not the Bless-in principles were occult influenced or not.
I was one of the Christian Tabernacle youth, I regret, having learned the occult practices used in the Bless-in while visiting California.
The practice of holding hands in such a way for the Holy Spirit to flow through was exciting. There was talk on seeing auras and who was a Free Spirit. This was a secret to share with the other youth…not the parents until we demonstrated the parlor tricks much later. The youth from California were invited to a winter camp in Washington, Iowas to help usher in the Bless-Ins.
- The rituals of the Bless-In are not accepted by mainstream Christian practices.
- My mother objected to the fact that this practice was not shared first with the parents of Washington, Iowa, first. I don’t blame her for being disturbed. She trusted that her daughters would be safe if they went to visit Summer camps in California under the leadership of Stevens.
Bless-In seemed like a hip- happening name for a fun youth group event where we prayed, learned bible verses and ate a snack. I guess the grown-ups assumed we weren’t out parking in cars and were grateful.
- 5 decades after the fact, now that we are quite grown-up- does anyone else besides me has a problem with being sneaky about teaching the youth of a Christian Church some weird shit without informing the parents? ( Please forgive my choice of words that seem to fit best.)
…to be continued…
References and Bibliography: Compiled by Malika Bourne
For more verbose history from my personal viewpoint on Christian Tabernacle youth and early Shiloh check out this older post when you have time to read.
… dictionary definition, the term cult just means a system of religious beliefs or rituals.
…farming term in Latin meaning cultivation.
… the term cult to describe religious structure or belief patterns with meanings (usually non-pejorative) unique to their disciplines.
…to describe any religious group they view as strange or dangerous.
…cult can describe religious leaders or organizations that employ abusive, manipulative, or illegal control over their followers’ lives….
… is a counterfeit or serious deviation from the doctrines of classical Christianity. https://www.watchman.org/index-of-cults-and-religions/
For Biblical references on Cults check out 2. The Characteristics of a Cult (Acts 15:1-31)
EXPERIMENT IN END TIME APOSTASY: THE WALK of JOHN ROBERT STEVENS
The History, Beliefs, and Spiritual Dynamics of a Christian Cult by Woodrow Nichols © Copyright 1980 by The Spiritual Counterfeits Project.