The Move (Sam Fife)
The Move (also known as The Move of the Spirit or Move of God) is the unofficial name of a non-denominational charismatic Christian group that was started in the 1960s in Florida by Sam Fife, a former Baptist preacher.
In his ministry in the early 1960s, Sam Fife used elements of charismatic ministry, first at his church in New Orleans, then in his prayer group in Miami, Florida. He was a former Baptist preacher and his theology has been related to the Body of Christ movement.
At a time of searching by young people and social disruption, Fife's teachings inspired groups throughout United States, Canada and, later, other countries. Considered by some to be an apostle, under the concept of the Fivefold ministry, Fife attracted a group of ministers who believed his vision of the role of the church in the "end times". In the fall 1971, Fife began to preach what was referred to as the "Wilderness Message."
Within a few years, thousands of his followers had moved to a number of communal farms, mostly in Alaska, Canada, and Colombia.[dead link] They followed various practices in combining their resources in common. Sam Fife wrote numerous booklets about his beliefs, which were distributed among members of The Move. At the age of 54, he died with three of his followers in the "Body of Christ", in a plane crash in Guatemala on April 26, 1979.
Following Fife's death, his teachings were carried on by other ministers in The Move, notably C.E. "Buddy" Cobb. In 1982, Cobb and others founded Covenant Life College, with sites in Whitehorse and Yukon, Alaska and Fitzgerald, Georgia. The Move's traveling ministers operate under the name International Ministerial Association (IMA). Small groups of The Move continue to operate, primarily in rural areas, in the first decade of the 21st century, but their numbers have declined since the late 1990s.
The scholars A. James and Marcia Rudin have erroneously identified Donald Barnhouse, an evangelical minister, as an early major theologian of the "Body of Christ" movement; he preceded Fife. In fact, although some of the Move's early adherents were strongly influenced by Barnhouse's preaching, he died before the Move was founded; there is no record of his ever having met Sam Fife. As the well-known senior pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1927 to 1960, his recorded sermons are widely available. During his lifetime, they were broadcast on a weekly radio program, Bible Study Hour.
The number of people involved in The Move has been in a long, slow decline, which began in the early 1980s with the closing of some Move farms in British Columbia (BC), Canada. In the early 1990s, by contrast, farms in northern BC attracted new members, or groups set up new sites, with some of the communes numbering over 100 people, many of them youth. Don Murphy, a Hutterite, reported on visiting Blueberry Farm in January 1994, where 140 followers of the late Sam Fife had a commune. He noted the members gave half their income to the commune and generally dressed conservatively. Members needed the leaders' permission to go into town, even if using their own cars. He was favorably impressed with the communities in British Columbia in regard to their outlook and spiritual vitality, writing, "It seems to me that these people probably are like the Hutterites were at the time of Jacob Hutter and Peter Reidemann - very strong in faith and close to God." He faulted them for not adhering more strictly to New Testament rules about divorce and women's roles.
The apparent revival lasted about ten years, before people began to leave again in the late 1990s. Since then, some of the farms have closed, some are reduced in population, and some thrive.
Some ex-members have criticized The Move, and reported suffering physical, sexual and psychological abuse by leaders and elders while involved with this group. More than 300 people formerly associated with The Move and a similar group, I'SOT, have traded stories in the Sam Fife/Move Yahoo! Group started in 2005. The forum has provided a venue for considerable discussion of widely varied views and experiences within the Move. Four members wrote an open letter to the ministry of The Move, which they published on the Internet to publicize the abuses that allegedly had occurred. Many other members claim to have endured long-term social, psychological, and spiritual damage, usually stemming from the Move's teachings of complete submission to leadership, whose members have sometimes created an impure and corrupt system. Reports have been made of financial exploitation in the form of work without pay and encouragement for members to turn over life savings to The Move. Some critics and former members have characterized the Move as a cult.
The Move's teachings gradually changed. As one observer said, "Alongside that word was a revelation of 'Christ in you,' with a vision of overcoming all things, but through the last several years before I left that fellowship, 'doing what He says' had triumphed over 'Christ revealed in us.'"
'Divine Order' teaching
Sam Fife's vision and teaching on what he called Divine Order became the guiding principle that characterized the Move's authority structure. He wrote the following in explication:
"This is ... the move of God in which God is bringing forth a many-membered manchild to govern the world, through whom Christ will govern the world during the millennium that is to come. Therefore, we are in God's school of Divine Government, and God is training us as one many-membered man, teaching us, training us, preparing us to be the government through whom the Spirit of Christ will govern the world. The way that he is teaching us and training us is by letting us practice on one another, by teaching us to govern one another and to be governed by one another after the order of Melchisedec, which is a theocratic spirit government order."
"Now that governmental order, at this point, is a five fold spirit ministry governmental order consisting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, elders or pastors (those two terms are synonymous) and teachers."
"What God wants...is a group of elders to be His government that can disagree with one another, but in the right spirit , the humble sweet gracious Spirit of Christ and in the divine order that God has established for disagreeing with one another and thereby be one another's perfect check and balance."
Doctrine of Sinless Perfection
Since 1979, Buddy Cobb has led the group, following Fife's death in a plane crash. He has developed the concept that the goal of the Christian be "sinless perfection," and that it is a requirement to be saved. Cobb stresses that we shall be saved by his (Christ's) life. He defines his life as reaching sinless perfection in the teaching "Dead to Sin":
"Therefore, what are you saved by? His life! What are you saved from by His life? Saved from living your own life and when you live your own life you are always living in sin. There is only one way to get out of sin, that is to get into His life. The life in which there is no sin...
If you are not saved from your sins yet, you’re not saved yet... Now if you were living unto God, you would no longer living unto sin?... Because sin is our work, righteousness is His work. You can see how theologians got confused with the scriptures and tried to cut works out of salvation all together. Since it is on the basis of grace, it is not on the basis of works. That is a bunch of baloney. The truth is, that you will never be saved but by works."
Following a doctrine of separation from the world, women in the Move traditionally have worn dresses or skirts. Most men kept their hair short and shaved off facial hair. This was a common practice among most Move communes until after the year 2000.
If a man and woman are interested in each other, they can "walk out a year," with the permission of their local Elders. "Walking out a year" is a distantly similar concept to courtship. The couple is not allowed to be physically affectionate or hold hands, or to spend time alone together. At the end of a year, if the couple wants to marry and the elders approve and confirms the match with visions from the prophetic ministry, the couple may proceed to marry. The details of the rules vary from farm to farm.
Members who do not live on the communal farms often congregate in groups, numbering from a half dozen to several dozen people, and sometimes meeting in people's houses. Such regular small meetings are punctuated by large gatherings called Conventions, which are held several times a year. At these conventions, several hundred people meet for several days to praise and worship God, and listen to the preaching of elders and traveling ministry. The traveling ministry consists of elders who travel from group to group, convention to convention, with special messages. They are often highly respected by the rest of the members, while community elders are the day-to-day leaders of the groups.
Conventions have been held in Bowen's Mill, Georgia; Lubbock, Texas; Shepherd's Inn, British Columbia; Upsala, Ontario, and various other locations throughout the world.
Critics say that, although the Move teaches that everyone is free to hear from and be led by God, in practice members must have actions and thoughts approved by the local ministry. They believe that in practice, members must turn over their "headship" to the local ministry or be labeled divisive and rebellious.
- Rudin, A. James & Marcia R. Rudin (1980). Prison or Paradise: The New Religious Cults, Philadelphia: Fortress Press. pp. 72–73
- "Samuel Fife and the Move of God", Iglesia de Jesus en La Linea Website, Nuevo Pacto
- "Kingdom Triumphalism: The 3rd WAVE". Latter Rain. Let Us Reason Ministries. Quote: "Sam Fife [...] taught that the aging process had stopped for him and when asked his age, he would simply answer 'I AM'. He assured people that he would never die but was in the process of being changed into an incorruptible life."
- Margaret N. Barnhouse (1983). That Man Barnhouse, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House. ISBN 0-8423-7033-1
- Bratt, Susan A. Sytsma. "Tenth Presbyterian Church Philadelphia, Pennsylvania." Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought." Nov. 2009. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- "Dr. Barnhouse and the Bible." Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- Don Murphy (January 1994). "Canada Journal," The Anabaptist Voice, Anabaptist Church
- "Letter to Move Leadership", ISOT Survivors
- Yordy, Daniel (2009). "Weakness Versus Pretending". Christ Our Life. The Jesus Secret Society
- Priebe, Ed (1992). "Hearing From God". Sword of the Lord Ministries. Note: Priebe quotes from a booklet, "Unmasking the Move" by Jack Enlow
- Fife, Sam; "God's School of Divine Government;" Miami, 1974, pp. 1, 3-4
- Cobb, Buddy; "Dead to Sin;" Bowen's Mill, Georgia 2001
- Todd, Douglas; "Peace River Commune Awaits Imminent Apocalypse: Christian Community"; The Vancouver Sun; September 22, 2003; p. B1
- Leonard, Sheryl A. (2005). To the Wilderness and Back: A Personal Journey. Stephen House Press. ISBN 0-9737879-0-2.
- Albert James Dager. "Immortalization: Sam Fife". Apologetics; An Examination of Kingdom-, Dominion-, and Latter Rain Theology. Retrieved 2005-12-22.
- Enlow, Johnny (1986). Unmasking the Move. Atlanta, Georgia. A booklet examining the Move's teaching and beliefs, Foreword by Jack Enlow.
- "International Ministerial Association". The official website of the IMA, the Move's traveling ministry.
- "Fulfilling the New Covenant".Former member autobiography
- "Minor "Christian" Cults". SOA Web Ministries. Retrieved 2006-02-21. — This report discusses The Move's tendencies, referring to it as "The Body of Christ".
- "FACTNet Message Board: The Move/ Sam Fife". A FACTNet message board discussion among ex-members.
- Art Katz. "An Expression of Loving Concern". Rebuke by Art Katz, who had his own ministries, related to his view that The Move has strayed from Orthodox doctrine.
- Tim Tuohy. "Sam Fife's Move". Tim Tuohy Website. Retrieved 2007-10-13.[dead link]