The Real Truth
The following is an essay I wrote in 1989 for a college writing course after discovering and reading The Secret Sect. I grew up in a professing home but rejected the “The Truth” when I reached adulthood, over a half century ago. I still have a deep belief in God but cannot accept religion it has been defined by people today. I hope my essay might help someone who struggles with guilt after having left the meetings.
“Please, God. Don’t let me die in my sleep tonight. I know I’ve been a bad boy and will go to hell if I die now, but if you’ll just let me have one more day, I’m sure I can do better.” This was my bedtime prayer as a small child, as I lay awake, scalp prickling, remembering the sermon at Convention when the Worker, as our itinerant ministers were called, talked about needing to be forty fold good over sinful. I had also heard that God knew my every thought, so it wasn’t just my bad deeds, but even my thoughts that got me into trouble. My Grandparents had joined a fundamentalist religion which makes a point of taking no name, but is often called “The Truth.”
My parents attended the Presbyterian Church until I was three years old. When my eleven-year-old brother died in an accident, Workers of The Truth led my mother to believe that Bobby would not be going to heaven, but she could still save the rest of us. Life changed radically for Mom, Dad, and my two older sisters from that day on. Instead of the counseling we all needed so badly, we got The Truth, with all its fire and brimstone, and guilt. Any questions we had were answered the same way by the Workers: Get your heart right with God and he will give you the answer.
I had many doubts about The Truth as I grew up, but we were taught that this was the only religion still active today that started during the time of the Apostles, having come down through the centuries as the only way to get to heaven. Reading “The Lottery” in high school English class was a milestone in my understanding of the danger of blindly following a religion that made no sense to me. But still—it had lasted for centuries. I left The Truth as a young adult, with the help of a Presbyterian minister who had studied Bible history extensively, and could explain the fallacies of The Truth, but there was still that small doubt. How could something that lasted so long be wrong?
Recently, I learned that The Truth, while depending on the premise that it has existed since biblical times to substantiate its fundamental structure, has only existed since the late 1800s, and there was considerable disagreement then about some of its basic tenets.
As a child, I learned to believe that anything that was fun or enjoyable was likely to be sinful. The Friends, as the people of the church called themselves, were not to dance, drink alcohol, wear jewelry, wear makeup, watch TV, listen to the radio, or listen to any music other than hymns. Women were not to cut their hair and were to wear their hair pinned up. Men and boys were to have short hair. Women were to wear dresses, not slacks. Religious holidays were not to be celebrated. It was very difficult to earn your way to heaven. A much-used phrase was, “Narrow is the way, and straight is the gate to heaven.” All other religions were condemned, which meant that all of my friends at school were going to spend eternity in hell.
The information I have learned about The Truth comes from several sources. Much of it has been compiled by groups of people who have left The Truth. Some of their sources are letters exchanged in the early days of The Truth, eyewitness accounts, a book called The Secret Sect, government records, and newspaper articles. I find that the information these groups have compiled about The Truth in recent times agrees very closely with my own experience.
In 1866, a Protestant nondenominational evangelical ministry called the Faith Mission was founded in Scotland. Faith Mission encouraged those converted at its missions to become active in their own local churches. Faith Mission is active today in the British Isles, Canada, France, and South Africa.
William Irvine joined the Faith Mission in 1895 and was sent to head Faith Mission operations in Southern Ireland in 1896. By 1899, Irvine claimed a revelation he called the Alpha Message, and proclaimed that all believers must go forth as unpaid ministers. He also recruited Edward Cooney, a fabric salesman and itinerant lay preacher, during this time. By 1900, Faith Mission had cut off Irvine’s support, and he was actively recruiting their people. In 1904, Irvine began preaching the Living Witness Doctrine, which held that salvation was only possible through the ministry.
John Long, who had been Irvine’s first companion, was excommunicated by Irvine in 1907 for lack of support of the Living Witness Doctrine. In 1914, Irvine claimed he had been divinely anointed to bring the last message of Jesus Christ to the world before judgment, which would begin in August of 1914. He called this revelation the Omega Gospel. The next year, they persuaded him to relocate to Jerusalem, where he stayed until he died in 1947, still supported by a small group of followers.
Edward Cooney, who had been with The Truth almost from the beginning, was banned in 1928, and later excommunicated for rejecting the hierarchy that had developed, and for rejecting The Living Witness Doctrine. Cooney went to Australia, where he died in 1960. There are Cooneyites in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand today.
George Walker, along with William Irvine and another Overseer named Irvine Weir came to the United States in 1903, where they began recruiting people into The Truth. Walker stayed in the United States and became Overseer for eastern North America. In 1948, he excommunicated Irvine Weir for associating with George Cooney. George Walker lived to be 104 years old, dying in the United States in 1981.
Certainly, the Overseers of The Truth were embarrassed by the different paths taken by the early leaders. Many letters and eyewitness accounts show that there was a deliberate effort made to downplay the origins of the sects, and to promote the myth that it had been active since biblical times. Only when it was absolutely necessary was the history revealed.
George Walker, in a written statement made to the United States Selective Service in 1942, stated, “During the closing years of the last century and the first years of this century a number of people in the British Isles and in America were exercised in heart and mind, through their study of the Scriptures, in regard to the methods of preaching and worship in several churches of which they were then members.” The letter goes on to describe the organization of worship in homes, entry into the United States, church structure with Ministers, Overseers, Elders, and the holding of Conventions.
It is possible that some thread of succession can be found through the ages. Possibly there have always been sects that worshipped in a similar manner, but if that is so, why is there no written record, or any attempt made to show followers that this is so? The Friends are mostly good earnest people, possessing the best of intentions. Many seem to be well adjusted, apparently not having gone through the trauma that others of us felt. If there is a thread, do they not deserve to know about it, rather than being expected to blindly follow the dogma of The Truth?
Would believers still follow if they knew that The Truth did not start in biblical times, but was started less than one hundred years ago, by men who could not agree on its structure, and who were unwilling to acknowledge its true beginnings to its followers? The grip of The Truth is always there for those of us who grew up with it, even for us who have long ago rejected it.
My wife and I both grew up with The Truth and rejected it as young adults. We are soul mates. We understand things about each other that cannot be explained to those who have not been there. It was she who discovered the websites detailing the history of The Truth. She said she felt like a burden had been lifted off her shoulders when she realized that The Truth is just another religion devised by men and does not go back to the Apostles.
We find it curious that William Irvine’s Alpha Message and his Living Witness Doctrine are accepted tenets of The Truth to this day, but his Omega Gospel caused him to be thrown out, sent away, and shunned. If he received revelations from God, how could other men say which ones were valid, and which ones should not be accepted?
The Truth is based on a certain amount of deception which causes me to believe that it cannot truly be a Christian religion, because honesty is a basic tenet of Christianity.
By David (Beaver) Johnson
Ashby, Minnessota, 1989
“Accounts of Early Days” by Goodhand Pattison, 1935
Research and Information Services
“A Short History Timeline for The Truth”
Research and Information Services
Walker, George “Statement to the Selective Service,” 1942
Research and Information Services
“When Did ‘The Truth’ Really Begin?”
Parker, Doug and Helen, The Secret Sect, 1982 (out of print)
Daniel, Kevin, Reinventing The Truth, 1993