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The Church of the Living Word - Woodrow Nichols

The Church of the Living Word, known by its members as The Walk, is a millennial movement founded in southern California during the 1950s by John Robert Stevens. In spite of its obvious vulnerability to valid criticism and internal conflict, The Walk still enjoys a modest level of growth which peaked in 1973-77 when it added 50 new congregations for a total of 100 in the U.S. and Canada. Like hundreds of other founders of Christian aberrations in the U.S., Stevens began in a local congregation, developed novel interpretations of the Bible, and infused his teachings with heterodox ideas gleaned from various occult sources. Stimulated by the '605 Jesus revolution in California, his congregation began a strong evangelism campaign which encouraged Stevens to develop his creative theology--a theology that moved away from the charismatic perspectives that once attracted and nurtured him.

The Pentecostal/charismatic movement has viewed Stevens's pre-Walk education and ordination with reservation. When he was 20 years old, Stevens attended. three semesters at Life Bible College in Los Angeles. He helped develop the Christian Tabernacle School in Daytona, Ohio in 1943 and shortly thereafter pastored a small church in Oklahoma which later affiliated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Whereas that denomination ordained Stevens in 1947, they soon revoked their decision under pressure from Stevens's educators at Life Bible College (who are in possession of those ordination papers). Stevens then affiliated with the Assemblies of God, a large Pentecostal denomination. They had a doctrinal dispute with Stevens in 1950, however, and relieved him of his pastorate.

Stevens appears to be undaunted by those reproofs from three Pentecostal institutions, and when interviewed by a Sacramento Union newspaper reporter, claimed to hold a »theology doctorate« from Chicago Bible School. That school no longer exists, if indeed it ever did. There are no records of its existence. Likewise, Stevens's early history has not evoked qualms from The Walk members, whose interests are in a theology that relies, not on past history, but on creating new history.

Members of The Walk believe that within their lifetimes a new spiritual kingdom will arrive. in two stages: the spiritual return of Jesus (manifested only in the bodies of Walk members) and the subsequent literal physical return of Jesus. Jesus' spiritual return can be seen in Walk members' gradual transition from earthly bodies to resurrection bodies; that is, increasing degrees of controlling spirits and developing ESP and occult powers. When clothed in their resurrection bodies, Walk members will be known as the manifest sons of God and the manchild company, names derived from Isaiah 66 and Revelation 12. That transformation is not automatically accomplished by Jesus, however. The Walk believes that it can occur only for eschatological believers associated with a leader who possesses an apostolic ministry, namely, Stevens. Stevens has said he cannot be transformed unless he is supported by truly spiritual people.

Thus, a push me-pull me theology emerges which is heartily endorsed by The Walk and defended with allegorical interpretations of Scripture. In one church meeting, a Walk elder affirmed Stevens as »the first fruits ministry. Unless he dies daily and is resurrected everyday, the Body of Christ does not come forth. We must intercede 24 hours to bring forth the man of God, the first fruits ministry.« Stevens nodded his head approvingly. »That's true. That's true.«

The Walk's spiritual intercession includes vigorous shouting prayers, using metaphors associated with military battles, slaughter, and victory. Stevens once encouraged that aggressive spirituality by saying, »So, can you see there's a war going on? Now, you say, ‘I don't go for the violence.’ You better go for it, because this is a time of violence« (2 January 1977).

Stevens's so-called apostolic ministry is verified for Walk members through the successful spiritual warfare which Stevens periodically describes, such as spiritually conquering demons and evil Nephilim spirits, developing occult powers and extrasensory perception, exercising the authority to judge and condemn people (Robert Kennedy and David Rockefeller, for example), perceiving spiritual vibrations around the human body (aura reading), and experiencing burning sensations in his right hand when he's engaged in spiritual activities. AU of those signs testify that Stevens is acquiring his resurrection body. Those early developments have later been accompanied by The Walk's belief in reincarnation, third-eye perception, and yoga.

The occult beliefs and practices have been defended by The Walk on the authority of God's special revelation called the rhema, a Greek term for word. The rhema, delivered by »Apostle of Apostles« Stevens and other junior apostles, is direct revelation from God that introduces new ideas for the coming age. In 1979 Stevens claimed to break into the coming kingdom and began bringing Walk members into it so they could completely receive their resurrection bodies and full spiritual powers. That victorious era was accompanied by two difficulties, however, which have diminished the value of such an achievement.

First, in order to finance the kingdom's advance, The Walk invested in several financial enterprises--painting equipment, mobile homes, and a gold-silver mine. Whereas there was a ready market for the painting equipment firm, the mobile home business collapsed during the recession in the early ‘70s and the precious metals mine failed. Writer Woodrow Nichols has documented that The Walk congregations invested $1 million in the Western Ore Reduction Company (formed by Stevens, his daughter, and son-in-law, Richard Helphand). But those congregations received no return profit or material on their investment. Two holding companies, created by The Walk to recover those lost funds, failed, and as correspondence between responsible parties reveals, illegal financial activities were committed. Thus far the only person convicted of grand theft is the man who arranged the mining procedures in behalf of Stevens arid his family.

Second, Martha Stevens {the apostle's ex-wife) filed for and was granted a divorce. The grounds for the divorce included her concern that some members of Stevens's movement were praying for her death and that the apostle openly claimed to be spiritually married to another woman in the congregation.

Such events take their toll on a religious movement, even if it has initiated a new heavenly kingdom on earth. That The Walk was not extinguished by those events, however, testifies to the charismatic personality of John Robert Stevens and members' belief in their special eschatological role in history as God's indispensable vanguard. An examination of The Walk's progressive theology is incomplete without discussing the basis of authority for that theology, namely, the rhema.


(Adapted from a 256-page report by Woodrow Nichols)

(The full report is available on request -- ed.)