Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience
Salt Lake City and Provo (Utah), June 20-23, 2002
1) The rumours
In late October 2001, the Dutch press suddenly began issuing alarming reports about a dangerous sect called Efraim. It consisted of a small group of roughly 100 people, whose members placed unquestioning trust in their leader. At the focus of these reports was an announcement by the leader. He had declared November 21 as the day of rapture, when the believers would be taken from earth and returned later for their 1000-year reign as the bride of Christ.
According to the reports, the group had retreated into complete isolation, severing all contact with relatives and friends. The members had withdrawn their children from school and had given up their jobs to live in the total seclusion of a camping ground, waiting for the rapture. Rumour had it that mass suicide was a very real threat. This fear was based on something one of the members had said: "if Christ doesnt come that day, we will go by ourselves". The news was so alarming that judicial authorities decided to investigate the matter and find out whether the children involved were in danger of any abuse.
As I am known in the Netherlands as an "expert on sects", I was consulted on numerous occasions and asked many questions. Did I, for instance, know of this groups existence? What would happen when the rapture did not take place on November 21? Was there a chance that they would commit suicide? To be honest, I had never heard about this group. Nor had I ever read anything about them. Nonetheless, I was able to reassure many of the people who consulted me. I was certain that the group would not resort to suicide, simply because it is clearly an evangelical movement. In evangelical movements, suicide is considered a terrible sin. It is by no means an act that would be encouraged. I was also able to reassure people with my prediction of the response to the absence of the rapture. The group would not commit mass suicide. Rather, the leader would issue an announcement some weeks later to explain why it did not take place.
This prediction proved to be on target. In early January 2002, the movement published exactly such an explanation. The whole affair, however, left me with a nagging dissatisfaction about my lack of knowledge about the Efraim movement. For that reason, I launched my own research study and made two important discoveries. First, I learned what this group really was. Secondly, I discovered that Efraim was not just any evangelical movement, but a very specific and interesting one.
2) The real situation
In my own investigations, I learned that the rumours in the newspapers and on television were either untrue or grossly exaggerated. Apparently, the media were greatly inspired by the ideology of the anti cult movement. So what was the truth?
Admittedly, the group did expect the rapture of the Bride before January 2002. However, the leader had never designated November 21 as the actual date. This had only been done by various members. Moreover, the members had not retreated into isolation or severed their contacts. It was still possible to communicate with the movement by phone. Almost all members were still living in their own homes; there was no general withdrawal from public life. A very small handful of women had left their husbands and homes to go to the centre in Puttershoek, where the leader was living. There were also some members who were no longer in contact with their relatives; but again, these were only a number of cases. By and large, the members were not living in isolation or withdrawal. The rumours that children had been removed from school also proved untrue. These rumours were based on one family, in which one daughter had skipped school to attend an evangelical conference in Germany, and another daughter had refused to attend her secondary school because she did not want to participate in the "occult activities" that she was required to engage in there. The "impending" rapture was not the reason for their absence from school, (although the girls certainly believed that school no longer mattered since the rapture was near). Did any members resign from their jobs or sell their houses? While this did occur in a few isolated cases, it did not, by any means, take place collectively. Some members took an unpaid leave of absence in the summer. The underlying idea, which they openly admitted, was to return to work in January if the rapture did not take place. One member sold his house and factory, but made so much money from the sales that he did not really encounter problems as a result. Reportedly, some members said farewell to relatives and destroyed all their photographs and personal belongings, etc. in the belief that they would not need them when the rapture came. But the impression is that only a few members did this (and possibly only one). The movement as a whole did not go to these lengths. The members kept working and remained in their homes. Moreover, the leader never asked his followers to do such things, although he was firmly convinced of the impending rapture.
The rumour that the group had retreated to a camping ground was not only untrue, nothing even remotely similar had ever occurred. The groups members were living in different locations throughout the entire country; only a small portion lived near the centre in Puttershoek or Heinenoord, where the leader lived. The declaration by one of the members that "they would go by themselves," which created fears of their suicide, proved unverifiable. Personally, I doubt very much that anyone actually said this since nothing in the movements books and journals suggests any ideas of this nature.
In short, the image portrayed by the media was based entirely on rumours and generalizations of very specific characteristics of the group. It did not take judicial authorities long to reach the same conclusion. On 3 January 2002, they announced that they had found nothing of significance and that they deemed further investigation unnecessary.
This brings us now to the question of what is true about this movement. Efraim is a small movement. It is very much dominated by its leader, who considers himself a special prophet and has very outspoken ideas. The movement itself can be described as apocalyptic, and its members as very tight-knit. Let us now turn and examine the ideas at the core of its belief system.
3) Description of Efraim
a) The leader
The movement was founded by Heinrich van Geene (born 1936). Although raised a Roman Catholic, Van Geene was never an active member of the Catholic Church. During the 1980s, he came into contact with a Pentecostal group, and became an enthusiast member. It appeared he had a special gift: in 1989, he began receiving revelations from God. When his Pentecostal circle refused to recognise his revelations, Van Geene withdrew from them and embarked on an independent course. He continued to receive revelations, which won him followers when he published them. In 1996, he organised his followers into a group he called "Genootschap Efraim" (roughly translatable as "the community of Efraim believers). The name Efraim was chosen for its meaning, i.e. "to grow fruits" or "to achieve full growth." Van Geene believed that this small group would flourish and mature into the Bride. In 1996, he also stepped up recruitment activities in order to win as many members as possible in the Bride. Finally, 1996 was the same year he began prophesying the coming of the rapture by the end of 2001.
It is important to note how these revelations are received. According to Van Geene, they come to him during a kind of prayer process that he refers to as 'talking with God'. Van Geene claims to talk to God regularly and to receive answers directly from Him; the concept is very similar to the kind of communication that takes place between people. The things God tells him in these talks is what he calls the revelations. He does not use the term to signify that God tells him things that cannot be found in the Bible or that God reveals the original meaning of Biblical passages. To the contrary, Van Geene views the Bible as the absolute truth; it forms basis of his thoughts and words. As Van Geene himself points out, these revelations are, above all, explanations of Biblical passages, or of the deeper meanings of those passages. In addition, Van Geene feels that he can receive new information from God about current events.
Apparently, Van Geene is assigned a very important role in these revelations. Initially, he was told that he was "a prophet", i.e. "someone God uses as an instrument to communicate His revelations". Shortly after that, Van Geene appeared to be the only prophet in this era that God uses to convey His revelations. Van Geene claims, in no uncertain terms, that he alone knows what God will do in these days and that he is the only instrument through which Gods will can be revealed. In 1998, he took this a step further. He announced that he is the prophet Elijah, or rather, that he is the third person in whom Elijah is manifesting himself; he is the Elijah who was intended to come. He, Van Geene, has in these last days as Elijah the task to fulfil the time. In fact, he has even gone further than this. According to Van Geene, when the rapture will happen he is not supposed to go to the Lord. He has been assigned a very special task in the last, terrible days to come, a task to be carried out with Moses, who will soon return (or has already done so). He claims that (as Elijah) he will be killed in 2004 because of his testimony and faith.
It is very important to note that Van Geene receives secret revelations. The problem to the researcher is that he does not know these secret words. This implies that the picture of Efraim in this article is not complete.
b) The Bride
The concept of the Bride is the central focus of Van Geenes theology. The Bride is comprised of the group of true believers. In fact, there will not be many true believers. The grand majority of Christian believers do not belong to the Bride. The idea of the Bride is a complex theological construction. The starting point of Van Geenes belief system is that there is one God, comprised of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This God is 'seeking a wife'. In fact, God has created all things, the world and mankind, in order to find a wife. Mankind was intended to be that wife, but that plan went awry in the very beginning with Adam. Adam sinned, and sin became part of the blood and has been part of the blood of every man since. Therefore, mankind is not suitable as a wife for God. Gods Son, Jesus was intended to resolve this. Thus, a child was created in Mary by the Holy Spirit. As blood is passed down by the male, so too is sin. However, since the Holy Spirit is without sin, Jesus was without sin. This sinless status put Jesus in a position to liberate mankind. Whoever truly believes in Jesus Christ is cleansed of all sin; sin vanishes from their blood. The true believer is really a new man. As mentioned earlier, together, these true believers form the Bride. If God wants a wife, He wants to have her with Him. God will unite Himself with His Bride; He will take her from the earth. This is what Van Geene refers to as the 'rapture'. Once the union has taken place, God can no longer be described as the trinity or a tri-une God, but rather as the 'quadrinity' or 'quadri-uni' God. The Bride would become one of the four persons comprising God, a person existing on the same level with the other three.
Before I continue, I should comment on the ideas regarding other Christian believers. According to Van Geene, there is a clear difference between the Bride and the 'believers'. Believers are people who believe in Jesus Christ, but do not join the Bride. In the end, they may enjoy the bliss of eternity, but theirs will be a lesser happiness as compared to what the members of the Bride will experience. But many believers will turn against Van Geene. And in criticizing and judging him, they will also renounce Jesus Christ. They will not experience the bliss of eternity. Van Geene is not always clear in his view on them. At times, he states that everyone who refuses to join the Bride will receive judgement only; at other times, he claims that these believers will have some bliss and eternity.
Finally, I would like to add one interesting remark about the Bride. By and large, the Bride consists of all the people who have joined Her and are members of Efraim. However, the Bride is not necessarily limited to that body of believers. In other words, it is possible for individuals, acting independently at home, to declare themselves as "belonging to the Bride", without ever saying that to Van Geene and joining Efraim. Therefore, Van Geene is uncertain whether the Bride, as currently known, is actually complete. Efraim numbers roughly 100 members, but the number of members in the Bride is presumed to be higher.
c) The latter days
Van Geene is an apocalyptic thinker. In his school of apocalyptic thought, numbers and calculations are essential. While accurate chronology is very important to his calculations, they also contain a great deal of speculation with numbers. Moreover, his speculations and calculations draw tremendously on symbols. Many characters in the Bible are considered symbols of later events and characters. At the same time, however, these characters and events are translated into numbers and into the symbolic meanings of numbers. Many of Van Geenes revelations are so full of numbers that they look more like excerpts from a book on mathematics than communications from God. While a detailed look at this falls beyond the scope of this discussion, it would be helpful here to examine this phenomenon in general with an example.
Gods creation will exist 7000 years. Van Geene counts from the year 0, the year in which God made Adam. The entire history of the Old Testament is described in years. Based on that description, the year 4004 is the year 0 in our timeline. This implies that the world can exist just 2096 years after that. This 2096-year period includes the millennium, the 1000-year reign of Christ and the Bride. What remains once that reign is subtracted is 1996 years. It follows, therefore, that the millennium began in 1996. The mere fact that we have arrived at the millennium, however, does not mean that the events of this period will enter into full swing immediately. All it means is that we are in the dawn of this period. The year 1996 marked the end of those 6000 years and the beginning of the preparations for the rapture.
The Messiah will accomplish the work that will lead to the fulfilment over a span of 12 years. It follows, therefore, that this 12-year period will end in 2008. This line of reasoning is combined with beliefs based on the symbolic significance of the story of Joseph in Egypt, in which a period of seven lean years follows a period of seven plentiful years. The plentiful years began in 1994, which means they ended in 2001. In this "plentiful" period, mankind enjoyed tremendous prosperity. The year 2002 marked the onset of the "lean" period, a period that will witness only misery and suffering. All the horrible prophecies in the book of Revelations will come to pass in these seven years. When the lean period ends in 2008, the events of the millennium will gain real momentum. The Bride, according to this belief system, was not to experience these lean years. She was to be taken away by the end of 2001 and receive a "glorious eternal body." She was to be united with God in the highest bliss and to reign with His Son on earth.
These final years are described carefully. The year 1996 was that in which the Son would do what the Father asked; 1997 was the year of the Great Jubilee as well as the first year of the Great Payment. In 1998, the Bride would face the task of making a clear choice. In other words, all those wishing to belong to Her had to join in that year. The years 1999 and 2000 brought the tasks of further expansion, preaching and awakening. And 2001 was the year that was to witness the Rapture.
The events assigned to all these years were derived from numerous calculations. Take the year 2001, for instance: "7 x 487 = 3409 years after the Israelites held possession of the holy land (in 2596)". The jubilee in 1997 was derived as follows: "49 x 77 = 3773 years; after this period, which began with year 2228 and ended with year 6001, the Lord re-took possession of His own properties".
We now come to the issue of speculation. The number 77, for example, is considered the number of Jesus Christ. (I will not enter here into the reasoning behind this). The number 7 is the number of the Bride. When Christ and the Bride join, the numbers will combine to form 777 (not 77 + 7 = 84). This sequence of three sevens is then used as a basis to derive the number 3777. This is not just any number; it is the number of years in a specific period. Note: Joseph stood before the pharaoh in the year 2228, (as calculated from the first year, 0). Add 3777 to 2228, and the sum is 2001. Thus, the number 77 was to join with 7 in the year 2001. In other words, the rapture would take place in 2001.
d) Elijah and the twelve tribes
As already mentioned, Van Geene claims to be the third manifestation of Elijah. Elijah has a very important task in the latter days. He is to unite the twelve tribes, or as the prophet Ezekiel says: "Thou son of man, take the one stick . Then take another stick and they shall become one in thine hand." (Ezekiel 37: 16-17). Elijahs task is to join the one stick, i.e. the tribe of Judah, or the Jewish people or the modern state of Israel, to the second stick, the remaining 11 tribes. But where we can find these vanished 11 tribes?
This mystery has been revealed to Van Geene in what could be termed "geo-theology". He starts with the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. The prophet asks his servant if he sees any signs at all of rain. The servant answers that he sees a little cloud similar to the hand of a man. After many talks with God, it was revealed to Van Geene that this small cloud was shaped like the Netherlands, the right hand of a man. Thus, everything to come will begin in the Netherlands. Within a very short time, the small cloud turned into an enormous thundercloud. Similarly, Van Geenes message will spread rapidly throughout the world. The fact that the Netherlands is the right hand also means that it is one of the eleven lost tribes.
As this illustrates, Van Geene sees specific meanings and functions in the shapes of many countries. In much the same way, he sees Germany as a head, and the former German Democratic Republic as the hair. Spain is shaped like the upper right section of the body and Poland its upper left section. The lowest part of the body can be found in France. Czechoslovakia appears to be the left arm, and Portugal the right. To the arms belong hands. As already mentioned, the right hand is the Netherlands; the left is Denmark. The legs are formed by Norway (including a foot) and Sweden (without a foot). The missing foot can be found in Luxembourg. This accounts for all 11 tribes.
All these parts combine to form the image of a dancing man. This dancing man is David. What about the other countries in Europe? Unfortunately for them, they do not belong to the tribes. There is one exception: England (not Great Britain, but England). England is the Lion of Judah. A close look, however, would reveal that it is missing its head. The head can be found in Northern Ireland. The dancing David is dancing towards the Lion of Judah, thus indicating that England is the Christian country par excellence and has an important task.
This brings us to the question of the Philistines and their whereabouts. The explanation is as follows. The Philistines god, Dagon, fell into parts. We can recognise his body in the form of Ireland. Dagons hands were found on the threshold: we can see them in Wales and Southern Scotland. Dagon was the god of fish. A look at the northern part of Scotland would reveal that it is shaped like the open mouth of a fish. In short, all these countries are remnants of the Philistines. In other words, the Celts are the Philistines. The north Welsh island of Anglesey is separated from Wales by a small canal. Near Anglesey is a small island called Holy Head. In this configuration, we can recognise Goliath. Holy Head is the stone that killed him. Anglesey is the head, separated from the body. One of Goliaths arms is stretched out and forms the peninsula of Caernarfon; the hills of Wales are clearly recognisable as the scales in his armour.
The question is where does all this leave the other countries in the world? They are unimportant, with one exception: America (United States). This country has a specific calling from the Lord to be the leader of the world. But it has renounced its duty and has betrayed Israel. The disaster on 11 September is a punishment for this.
As it is Elijahs task to reunite the tribes, obviously, the state of Israel will play a very important role. To Van Geene, it is clear that the Jews are entitled to live in Israel. All of the occupied territories belong to Israel and they may live there. In his opinion, Israel made a big mistake in returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Israel needs to be big and powerful. And, as people who hate God, Muslims (whom he sees as one large mass of Arabs and Palestinians) should leave Israel and resettle in other Arab countries, since they have enough space to accommodate them. By drawing on symbols and speculating with numbers, he can prove that not only Arafat, but also Peres are very dangerous, unreliable and treacherous leaders. In fact, they have damaged the part of the world the Lord has given to Israel.
e) Absence of the rapture
The rapture did not take place in 2001. Apparently, it did not occur for certain specific reasons. Two fundamental conditions must be fulfilled for the Bride to be taken up in the rapture. The Bride must be without stains and wrinkles; She must be flawless and really complete, i.e. fully prepared. And that was almost accomplished. However, all the rumours and criticisms regarding the end in 2001 left the Bride with stains and wrinkles. She was damaged, for instance, by the doubts that arose among the members of the Bride Herself. Moreover, She was not complete: all the criticisms made many people, who may have wanted to join the Bride, very uncertain, so they postponed their membership. Thus, the Bride was not ready for God to take Her. The movement issued an official statement by way of explanation:
?"The blame lies entirely with the so-called believers, who deliberately fabricated lies in an effort to withhold from Jesus Christ what is needed for Him to take His Bride. Those who dissuaded others or held them back bear even more guilt. By acting in this most terrible way, they served to prevent Jesus Christ from coming and taking His Bride away."
However, Van Geene does see one positive thing in this. The postponement of the rapture will give more people, who did not know about the Bride, the opportunity to join Her:
"Rejoice that the Bride has still not been taken, as you are not too late to join."
It is not surprisingly at all that the movement has quietly continued. Ultimately, the spotlight disappeared and the investigating authorities found nothing. Some members did leave very disillusioned, but the core still believes the rapture is still to come. To date, I have not discovered whether Van Geene has said anything new about a certain period or era. In any case, he still is preaching and exhorting people to join the Bride. In my telephone conversations with him in recent months (he did not want to receive me personally), he always encouraged me to convert or join the Bride . He still believes very strongly that time is running out. It is vital to preach the Gospel to everyone every day.
At first we should note that Efraim has its roots in evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity. Although there are major differences, it shows strong similarities to evangelical movements. The authority of the Bible is fundamental; the members believe that they are living just as Christ intended them to. In my opinion, however, Efraim is no longer a Pentecostal community. The charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are not given to all the members. As far as I could determine, these gifts are reserved for the leader. I cannot be sure, however, as those who do not belong to the Bride are not permitted to attend the services (which can last for hours).
Secondly, a number of other aspects also reveal that Efraim is different from ordinary evangelical movements. The gift of revelation to the leader is very specific and has a much wider scope than "prophecy" normally has in evangelical circles. Unlike the case with evangelicals, these revelations carry tremendous authority.
The leaders special position is another case in point. He is not just a minister and source of inspiration; he is an important, specially elected prophet, a manifestation of Elijah with an exclusive mission. This gives Van Geene almost absolute authority and lends him a status higher than any ordinary person. By propagating these ideas, he crosses the frontiers of the evangelical world.
Another important aspect involves his ideas concerning God as a 'quadri-unity'. I have never come across this idea in anything I have witnessed in the evangelical world. This makes me wonder what the source of this idea is. Perhaps, one of you listeners can help me. At any rate, this idea is clearly not evangelical.
This brings us the ideas concerning the Bride. On the one hand, the Bride is a very well known concept in the New Testament. In fact, official, mainstream churches consider themselves to be part of the bride of Christ. The Efraim movement, however, has a very exclusive interpretation: they clearly distinguish the Bride from other believers. Access to the Bride is only possible through Van Geene. Moreover, the Bride is considered the fourth person in the Godhead. At times, the Bride is expressed as totally different being from other people. The Bride in the evangelical world does not have such an exclusive identity, although we can find those who believe the elect to consist of a very small flock. All things considered, I must say that Efraim is no longer an evangelical movement. Rather, it is an independent group within the broad spectrum of Christianity. Their position is formally comparable to that of the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons or the Unification Church. In short, it is a heterodox movement.
Thirdly, Efraim is also clearly an apocalyptic movement. It features all the essential aspects, (which incidentally, were not all described here). The idea of the rapture, the belief in prophesies based on calculations, the expectation of the end of the world in this time, the impending millennium, imminent doom and suffering, etc. All of these elements are present.
In two respects, Efraim differs from other apocalyptic movements. For one thing, the process of arriving at the right chronology is one of very complex and extremely detailed calculations. I have never before encountered such a detailed vision. The speculations with numbers are particularly noteworthy, as they involve very complicated juggling combined with beliefs based on the deeper significance of numbers and symbols. At times, Efraims numerical belief system resembles Kabbalah or numerology. Here too, I should point out that I have never encountered this kind of numerology in evangelical or Pentecostal movements.
The next point of divergence is Efraims geo-theology. Of course, many groups around the world have claimed to have located the lost tribes of Israel. However, I have never encountered such an extraordinary set of beliefs about this: the idea that the shapes of countries are significant and have a deeper meaning is completely new to me. This is especially true of the ideas regarding the Philistines. It is my impression that these ideas are the unique creations of Van Geene. If any of you listeners have ever encountered geo-theology of this kind, I would like to hear from you. I must say, however, that this geo-theology does not function properly within Van Geene's teachings. It is also unclear whether Van Geene, as the new Elijah, is doing anything with the countries that form the dancing David. Sometimes, I have the impression that he will fit the two sticks together in the lean years that have now started, and that it will be finished in 2008, but I do not find any examples of this. The only concrete thing that follows from his ideas is the position of Israel, but he does not actually need this geo-theology in order to assign Israel an important role. In short, I do not see how this geo-theology fits in well with Van Geenes teachings.
Finally, I am curious to know how Efraim will evolve further. The absence of the rapture did not deal a fatal blow to the movement: its members have stayed on. But Van Geene is no longer very young. He has little time in which to communicate new ideas and revelations (though I know that prophetic leaders can grow very old). I am waiting. Not as a believer, but as an outsider.
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