As our readers may have discerned from recent articles I have been writing, I am most concerned at this time about the spirit of discernment and this has led me into some serious meditation. What troubles me I think more than anything else is discovering people who teach impeccable Christian/Messianic doctrine but whose spirit is anything but the Holy Spirit. It concerns me because on the internet we can be attracted by teachings which are true but - because of the ability of the medium to conceal how people really are - find it harder to discern the writer of the material. Occasionally the true spirit of a writer leaks out in his or her writings by some careless statement or we can observe through what they do not write about what their particular hangup - and therefore spirit - actually is.
When the Christian polygamy movement first surfaced in the United States there was a big debate over the 'force versus love' issue. The question was asked whether husbands should force reluctant first wives into polygamy as some 'right' of theirs (the issue of monogamy-only marriage vows aside) and the community split into two camps: those who said 'yes' and those who said 'no.' We have always basically taken the 'no' side on this issue with one or two caveats.
A big change took place in our own fellowship - the Chavurat Bekorot about two years ago. It wasn't something that was planned but simply 'happened' as part of our faith-journey in the Holy Spirit. Up until that time we had insisted that congregations joining us accept a written Consitution which contained all of our doctrine and theology clearly laid out before they could become a part of us. We learned, in the process of time, that this was wrong because it made fellowship contingent upon force - the force that demands that you accept the way we believe in order to be accepted. And so we accept people and let them grow at their own pace. (In the end we opted for a compromise, accepting congregations on probation for three or more years - depending how much time we felt was needed - during which they remained independent and gradually adjusted their doctrines by spiritual osmosis.)
At the same time every organised body of people must have a system of rules so ensure the smooth functioning of that body. These rules, of course, we base on New Covenant Torah. But when you come to think of it, that's rather like denying water-baptism to a child who has reached the age of accountability because he does not have a grasp of sound theology. Must he wait until he accepts every tenet of a fellowship's belief? Of course not. And yet it is reasonable to expect someone who wishes to be a representative of a fellowship as a teacher that he accepts the doctrine and practice of that fellowship. No self-respecting Baptist would accept an older member teaching Catholic doctrine, would they? At the same time, a fellowship is not to be so rigid as to be incapable of change. We should all - teachers and pupils alike - be learning and changing.
As a polygamist man who is both a pastor and an evangelist, it is naturally important for me that my wives share the same belief as I do if our goal is complete oneness or echad. I am, after all, their teacher. At the same time, I am always open to correction if what I teach does not accord with the Word, provided it is done in the right spirit. We discuss a lot of things in a fair and open manner in our home though no changes are made without considerable prayer and consideration. And since we work within a Family of families - the Chavurat Bekorot - we naturally discuss all new ideas with one another and use time to digest them. It is the responsibility of the apostles to come forth with a formulation which satisfactorily expresses the new understanding. Thus there is a relationship between the apostles and the members similar to that of husbands to wives.
Many things that we teach and practice may, however, be said to be fixed and unchangeable. The Apostles' Creed is one of them. There is just no room as far as we are concerned to negociate the deity of Christ, the vicarious atonement and the physical resurrection. One of the daunting things that has, I admit, been faced by ladies interested in joining my family is the fact that we do have such a sophisticated and integrated theology which may challenge their own belief structure, and they are usually surprised to learn that romance and a witness from Yahweh that the union is right is not enough for us - we seek echad in all things, even theology. And I am sure other families face similar problems.
As far as I am concerned, I do expect considerable time to be spent with prospective wives in examining our belief system. It is no use falling in love and getting married to find out that you strongly disagree over (for example) the Sabbath and end up worshipping on different days. Such a situation is intolerable. And it is, in my opinion, worse if a wife yields in submission to the belief of her husband out of a sense of her obligation to him to be obedient when her heart lies elsewhere. Outward shows of unity are all very well but the spiritual rift can be excruciatingly painful. The husband will feel, in this case, a bit like trying to drive a car with the brakes intermittently applied which can be frustrating both for him and his wife.
To expect 100% unanimity in doctrine between husband and wives is unrealistic, of course. However, there should be unity in the essentials and those essentials need to be defined and accepted before marriage takes place. Provided that these essentials are agreed upon, and provided the parties know without a shadow of a doubt that Yahweh has called them together, then progress can be made.
Because a polygamous family is a bit like a local congregation with its two-tier system of ministers-to-be (the members) and ministers-in-the-making (the deacons and elders), I take the view that a polygamous family should be organised in a similar fashion. I expect every new wife to place herself in an apprentice relationship to myself and my other wives (the nearest one gets to being a concubine in the New Covenant setting) while they learn the ways both of the family and of the spiritual fellowship in Christ. My wives occupy positions within our local assembly (church) as officers and since all wives belong to the same congregation the ministries naturally extend into the home. Thus (at present - 2003) my third wife serves as an Eldress and my fourth wife as a Deaconess and as ministers they naturally minister to their own sister-wives as well as the other women in the congregation. Thus a new wife would naturally come under their tutorship until (and if) she has been herself matured and called into parallel ministries.
The force that operates here is by attraction (love) and not compulsion (force). Thus if a new wife comes in the family with spiritual issues she will be expected to work with these as the Spirit guides and under the direction of her husband. But if, for example, she has problems accepting the scripturality of women wearing headscarves when praying and prophesying (as one of my wives once did) she will be left to work this out on her own and not be forced to wear a headscarf as a scriptural obligation from Yahweh but as a request from her husband. She would therefore be expected to be obedient to her husband's wishes (since that is indisputably mandated on her by scripture) whilst being free to live by her own conscience as to whether this is a spiritual requirement or nor. But if at the same time, however, she began criticising the local assembly or demanding that it change to fit in with her belief, this would obviously be a very unsatisfactory situation. She could not, of course, become an officer in the assembly (church) whilst she maintained a doctrinal position opposed by the membership.
Though such may seem a trivial matter this was actually the occasion of a big spiritual rift at one time between my fifth wife and the rest of the family. Such problems can, and do, arise in marriage. Having a mechanism in place to deal with this which neither forces a spiritual issue but which at the same time resists force from the other direction (from the dissenter) does become important. But where there is a genuine baptism of the Spirit in all the family members these matters are usually quickly resolved.
As our readers know, we made some pretty drastic doctrinal shifts in our family in the last four years (1999-2003) when we became Sabbatarian and Torah-observant. Such huge upheavals have the potential to cause havoc in a family, particularly a large polygamous family which is why I advise patriarchs to get their belief systems sorted out as early on as they can. Before the shift was made, we had long discussions for many weeks, bringing in the children as well. After a careful examination of the scriptures in which everyone had the opportunity to discuss pro and con, the decision was made by myself to move in the same direction of our assembly (church). However, when you have lots of Bible instruction in place and lots of discussion (as we do in our family), and where there is lots of love and no force, it is not difficult to move with the Spirit where the desire is truth and not some denominational agenda. Because we trust one another - and in particular, my wives trust me on the basis of my track-record over a quarter of a century - the wheels of change tend to operate more smoothly.
Some months ago I was talking with a well-to-do lady from New York interested in being courted by me with marriage as a goal. We had some major differences in theological belief. I insisted that we spent time as brother and sister in prayerful study before letting the relationship move into the romantic but she was adamant that it needed to start romantically first. She was most resentful of my position and the relationship lasted no more than a couple of months. We could have parted as brother and sister in Christ but she took such an affront by my approach that she stopped contacting me. This illustrates to me the dangers of putting anything before the spiritual life. She wanted to leave the theology to later when later might very well have been too late because of all the tensions engendered in moving in spiritually different directions. I am bound to say that even the theology aside there was no spiritual rapport between us and it transpired that she was heavily involved in a 'Christian' movement which I consider counterfeit.
I believe it is fundamentally wrong for a man to court a woman, marry her, and then expect her to unthinkingly adopt his theology. At the same time, I think it is wrong for a man to marry a woman knowing that they are theologically incompatible and without the unmistakable assurance of the Spirit that she will change.
All seven of the women I have been married to came from very different Christian backgrounds. And even though two or three came from identical or similar church backgrounds their responses were very different. In every case but one there was theological convergence at whatever point of our spiritual faith-journey we were in. I am today very different in belief from the time of my first marriage when Suszana and I shared an identical theological platform: I moved in one direction (Messianism) and she in another (New Age Essenism and occultism) leading to an inevitable rift. My second wife came from a similar backgound (though with a Lutheran period) to my first but was never seduced by the occult though was very up and down. My third came from a Lutheran and Pentecostal background and whilst her growth into our way of belief was very gradual it has proved to be the most stable and consistent. My fourth came from a similar background to Suszana and Isabel but grew up within the Chavurat Bekorot as a youth and so. Initially growing up very rapidly indeed and passionate and strong in her faith, she started getting seduced by feministic doctrines and made some disasterous choices. Finally my fifth, coming from a United Pentecostal background, made astonishingly rapid theological progress but never understood or connected to the spirit we operated in, and the relationship was a short-lived disaster. And even though she and my third both had Pentecostal backgrounds, their experience and responses were entirely different. My sixth is from a fundamentalist Baptist background and has struggled in many areas of doctrine. And my seventh is from a Reformed and Methodist background - our ten year betrothal ensured that she worked out her theology far ahead of becoming a part of us.
My family has a colourful multi-denominational background
Personality differences, various religious backgrounds, spiritual/psychological/demonic issues, cultural expectations, and a whole cluster of other factors have at times made our marriage journey very complex indeed. But where the Spirit has been shared, the journey has been a wonderful adventure. I would say that the Spirit means the most. The other factors are certainly important and cannot be ignored, but where the true Ruach (Spirit) - and not a psychic or demonic counterfeit - is in operation, and where Yahweh's will is clearly known, then marriage-building - though challenging - is a great reward in itself.
Again and again I come back to the necessity of building a spiritual relationship before a romantic one. That must be in place to a certain degree if there is to be stability and peace.
Of course, even the most carefully laid plans and the best intentions in the world can fall foul of a number of problems, as our family knows only too well. I believe that every one of us - myself and all my wives (including my ex's) - had the best intentions and were sincere. And sometimes there can be long periods of apartness while issues are worked out in Yahweh's own way. I certainly do not believe that apparently final outcomes in our experience in marriage are necessarily permanent outcomes for I have grown accustomed to miracles and seen how Yahweh has made the impossible (for human beings) possible. But I do not believe one can ever force matters of the heart or spirit. We must sometimes just let go and wait on Yahweh. I for one do not believe in writing anyone off permanently. There is always hope.