David Berg: Founder of the Children of God

Before David was born, his mother, Virginia Brandt Berg, had dedicated him to the Lord, and the Lord had given her the name David for him.

Born with the flu and a weak heart during the great Spanish influenza epidemic which claimed millions of lives in the few months following World War I, he was spared through his parents’ prayers and faith in God. At three years of age, his foot was run over by an automobile, and the doctor said he would never walk again. But again, his parents believed God and prayed, and his foot was miraculously healed, although the doctor said that many of the bones were crushed.

When he was seven years old, a water heater exploded in his face and the doctors said he would be permanently blinded. But this time God used an old friend, a real saint, Leland Valentine, who prayed for his eyes, and they were instantly healed. Just as it says about Paul in the Bible, scales peeled off just like scabs from his corneas—not the eyelids, but the eyeballs—and he could see again! (Acts 9:18)

David was frail, shy, reticent, and a veritable bookworm, who, as a preacher’s kid was constantly bullied by other kids, who threw his books around, tore his papers, and even broke his left arm. The only way he could beat them was in the classroom with pen and paper—which he did, graduating with the highest scholastic record in the 80-year history of Monterey High School of Monterey, California.

Shunning scholarships at several colleges and universities, he decided to go into full-time evangelistic work with his parents. His first love was the Lord.

However, after a couple of years of service he began grumbling about serving God, about how many sacrifices he had to make serving God full-time. Wasn’t there some easier way? His relatives were continually reminding him that he would never amount to anything, and that he ought to make something of himself instead of travelling around like some kind of “Gospel bum.”

He finally began to listen to them and joined the U.S. Army only a few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Though he had failed to meet the army’s physical requirements, he was recruited anyway. He served his time as a conscientious objector because he didn’t believe in killing his fellow man, much less sending to hell Japanese who had never heard the Gospel. His army days were short, and he ended up in a hospital bed, suffering from double pneumonia and a temperature of 106 degrees. The army, fearing his enlarged and leaky heart, twice its normal size, was ready to collapse, notified his parents that he was dying.

After three days of unconsciousness, he made a promise to God that He would serve Him faithfully for the rest of his life if He would save it, and he was instantly healed, to the amazement of all his doctors and nurses. The army, however, not believing his healing, had already processed him out with a complete disability discharge, and sent him home, telling his mother that he might live another year if she kept him in bed.

Having promised God to serve Him, he refused to stay in bed, and launched out again into full-time evangelistic work, and despite many heart attacks survived over 36 years since. He felt so good, in fact, that he married in 1944 and subsequently had four children.

His father, meanwhile, had retired from evangelistic work to join the faculty of Westmont College, and David took his place in helping his mother in her evangelistic work, a work that began in 1937, and with a few interruptions, such as his army stint, lasted 12 years, travelling across the nation in an old battered bus, until David was married and had two children. Then his mother finally quit, saying that they had too many children to travel with on the road.

By this time David himself was an ordained minister in his parents’ denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which was supposed to be the most missionary-minded group in the United States, and he put in his request to go as a missionary to Vietnam. They told him he was too old, had too many children, and too bad a heart, so he asked them to give him a chance to prove he could do it by giving him the toughest field in the States.

So in 1949, he and his wife, Eve (1922–2011), affectionately known as Mother Eve, found themselves in the blistering heat of the desert summer of Valley Farms, Arizona, building a little church building out of adobe almost singlehandedly. His congregation, a mixture of southern whites, Indians, and Mexicans, didn’t like each other much, and eventually the wealthy family which controlled the church board urged the denomination to send him elsewhere. They didn’t like David because of his integration policies and his preaching that they should share more of their wealth with the poor, beginning with him and his little family, whom they failed to support.

Although he had built their church building with his own hands and raised most of the money for its materials, as well as his own support, from outside friends, the Alliance hierarchy controlled the property, and they threw him out with his little family of an expectant mother and three children—penniless, with no job and no home.

Having witnessed the hypocrisy of denominational politics for many years, this final act of injustice turned him so sour on the religious system that he nearly gave up—but not quite. It was hard to give up something for which he had been trained his whole life. He tried to get another pastorate, but the Alliance said, “With your attitude, never!”

The Alliance, he thought at the time, had taken away his only opportunity for service to the Lord. After all, how could you serve God full-time without being a preacher? And there weren’t any other organizations with which he could agree, which were as radical and mission-minded as the Alliance was.

Almost completely embittered with the churches, but still keeping his ministerial credentials in hopes of some future pastorate, he returned to university, determined to study philosophy, psychology, and political science rather than religion, and for a time became seriously involved in the study of socialism and communism.

However, he soon saw that their Marxist utopian goals were impossible to obtain without the love of God in the hearts of men, as in the early Christian church, which he was beginning to see bore little resemblance to the modern church. Politics didn’t have the answer, but then, neither did the church system.

By the early 1950s, he had a wife and four children, had worked in almost every kind of job, from construction to the district attorney’s office, and was now teaching high school at a Christian school—about the only kind of job open to the talents, training, and idealism of an unemployed preacher.

He felt he was passing his prime and had not yet found God’s perfect will for his life. He became desperate for greater power to use for the Lord, more gifts, and greater usefulness to Him. “I was seeking Him desperately, with strong crying and tears, falling flat on my face before Him in abject desperation, crying out for Him to speak! I turned on, tuned in, and He began to turn my key.”

The first thing God told him to do was drop out—out of his education, out of his denomination, and out of his job—to forsake all and follow Him and go out not knowing whither he went or how he would live, neither him nor his little family. If he was willing to do all this by faith, the Lord said He would begin giving him what he was asking for and showing him what He wanted him to do.

“I’ll never forget when I said that final ‘yes,’ lying flat on the floor with my face wet with tears and stained with the dirt of that old plush carpet in which it was buried, in that old theatre building being used for Spirit-led meetings by a prophet of God, and the Lord asked me if I would be willing to turn in my denominational credentials, my trade-union card for the one skilled craft in which I had been thoroughly trained, the church ministry!

“So I said, ‘Okay, Lord, I’ll do it right away.’ Immediately I felt two strong hands upon my head and one of the fine young prophets began to prophesy over me!

Doing as the Lord had asked him, he quit his job, and in a short time he, his wife, and their four children were living in the cramped quarters of a tiny trailer, just 14 by 7 feet in size. But he still didn’t know what God wanted him to do. Then one night he stood outside his trailer praying, telling God he had done what He had asked him, now what did He want him to do? “And the Lord drew my attention upward toward a blinking red light atop a tall radio broadcasting antenna, saying, ‘I want you to be like that red light atop My Broadcasting Antenna, beaming My Warning Message to the world!’

“As I climbed back into my little trailer and asked God in prayer what He meant, the Lord told me to open my Bible and read the first passage my eyes fell upon—and it was the Call of Ezekiel in Ezekiel chapter 2!” The Lord told him that this was to be his message also!

Like Ezekiel, David was now to go and give God’s message to His people (the church today), held captive in slavery, worshipping their money and their jobs, their own ways, their own religion, more than God.

About the time David found the message that he was to take to them, he met a man who felt the same way about the churches that he did. The man was Fred Jordan. He had been the pastor of a 2,400-member Baptist church in Southern California. After trying fruitlessly to get his congregation to obey Mark 16:15, Fred thought he would set them an example. He asked for a year’s leave of absence and went on the road hitchhiking, doing as Jesus had said: “Go ye into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23). By year’s end he had won over 300 outstanding businessmen to the Lord. But when he came back to his church and told them that they could do it too, they threw him out!

So Fred went out and started his own work, based on the belief that the church could live again like the Acts of the apostles if Jesus’ commandments were truly obeyed and Christians would forsake all to follow Jesus and go into all the world to preach the Gospel personally to every creature by faith—without church buildings or pulpits, but with just the simple love of Jesus and the simple way of life of His first disciples—and it worked! In a few years Fred’s Soul Clinic had trained and sent out over 300 missionaries to foreign fields, and trained many others in personal witnessing in their own countries, winning thousands to faith in Christ.

Needless to say, the Soul Clinic, with its de-emphasis on church buildings, was anathema to most of the church. It was spoken against, lied about, and misunderstood by many church people. Even David’s own mother couldn’t understand it. Though she eventually came around, she at first opposed David’s decision to join this dropout movement.

Asking the Lord to help him in this difficult step of forsaking his parents for what he knew to be the will of God, the Lord gave him the story in I Kings 13, a story about a young prophet and an old one. God had given the young prophet specific instructions about what he was supposed to do, but because he heeded the counsel of the older prophet who was telling him something different, he didn’t do it. For his disobedience in listening to another prophet, even one who was older and respected as a true prophet, the Lord let the younger prophet be destroyed. David determined he wasn’t going to be like that young prophet!

The simple communism of the Early Church (“And all that believed were together and had all things common ... and daily ... they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” Acts 2:44 and 5:42) now became David’s ideal and example too, and it worked for him just as it had for them. That’s how he and his wife, Eve, began operating a small Soul Clinic missionary training school in Miami, Florida, in 1956, helping to train and to supply missionaries going abroad, and where he eventually had about 40 students and missionaries, supporting them on a small salary meant for a family of six, mixed with a lot of faith in God.

David went to Miami with a plan and policy of co-operation with the churches, going first to them to try to give them the Soul Clinic message, and, like Ezekiel, to try to liberate them from all that held them in bondage—especially the religious tradition that “service” for God was only an hour on Sunday within the confines of their church. Many of them, when he first came, received him with open arms and were good to him, allowing him to speak and teach the Clinic’s personal witnessing course. Soon he was holding classes in eight different places up and down the coast of Florida.

However, they gradually began to get the point of what it was going to cost them! And it would have cost them dearly, if they had done it! They began to realize that David was not preaching “Pay me and I’ll go for you,” like most preachers, but “Everybody needs to go”—that they all needed to forsake all and preach the Gospel every day. When the denominational hierarchy and preachers realized that if everybody did that, then there wouldn’t be any need for them or their sermons or church buildings, they squeezed David out, until he didn’t have a single one of those classes left, and one pastor even lost his job for cooperating with him.

After that he was no longer allowed to go inside the local churches to give the message to the people. So the Lord showed him an excellent way of getting the word to them anyhow. He got his own children and a few students together and passed out literature to them every Sunday morning!

David organized these witnessing volleys in a scientific manner, with teams, routes, and meeting times, teaching his kids such tactics as rolling under parked cars if anyone approached—exciting stuff, especially for seven-, eight-, nine- and eleven-year-olds. Then, when the congregation was all nicely and securely within their four walls, they bombarded those churches with literature on their buildings, on their car windshields, in the parking lot of every church in the Miami area.

With just four little kids and a few students, they made quite an impact and hit the headlines. All the churches knew they had been there, and they began calling the cops. Getting a little glimpse of what his future might be, David hit the road again.

It was at this time, in 1957, that Fred’s work came to almost a complete halt. When a crisis arose in his work, most of his students and missionaries left him and went back to their former churches.

The crisis was Fred’s wife, who had never forgiven him for giving up his large, lucrative, and respected pastorate as a Baptist minister to go out on the road hitchhiking to win souls and to work with what she considered riffraff. During the time the Lord was mightily using Fred, his wife refused to sleep with him, and his bed was out in the garage—literally. As his marriage disintegrated, Fred began to fall for his youth director, Willie. He eventually divorced his wife and married Willie, and in the scandal that followed, most of his followers deserted him.

One of Fred’s great missionaries who hitchhiked across Africa, Dale C., when he heard what Fred had done, came back to California all the way from Africa with his wife. Organizing a meeting of Soul Clinic leaders, they demanded that Fred resign his position as Soul Clinic president and turn the whole thing over to David.

David told them to forget it; Fred was the boss and he would go on working for him, no matter what. He realized that God Himself would deal with His leader, as He eventually did. However, the Lord was not yet through with Fred, as He proved, putting His blessing on Fred’s television and radio Gospel show, using David to gain him over $2 million of free air time every year across the nation on 308 television sta¬tions and 1,187 radio stations during a twelve-year period.

For years David lived on the road for weeks at a time, away from his family in his television work, pinching pennies and sleeping in cheap hotels or in his car. “I sacrificed my own children to do God’s work for years on end. But they were getting the kind of training they needed in my absence under dear Eve, as well as my own training when I was at home.”

Mother Eve said at first it seemed like the kids were a burden and limited her from her full-time ministry, which had been as a church youth leader and teacher. But then she found her children were an asset, and that older people were often more inclined to receive things from a child than from another adult. “I began taking all four of them with me on the streets, to airports, parks, downtown, and they would sing together and witness and distribute literature. At age six Aaron was already playing the ukulele, and Faith was singing on the radio at three years. And the four of them together were real crowd-stoppers!”

Though the children sometimes attended as many as eight schools a year, to the horror of their relatives, David and Eve believed they were getting the type of training they needed to make them God’s leaders. They were really living the Bible, even suffering persecu¬tion for it, just as Jesus and His motley crew had. When they had to leave Miami, the family spent over a year on the road. They did settle down for a short time in Louisville, Kentucky, Eve’s hometown, where they opened another school and had more students, but they soon pulled up stakes again, leaving for Texas to help open the Texas Soul Clinic missionary school (TSC), which soon had 100 people in attendance. But after the TSC people became so busy farming that they had no time left for witnessing. David left, and the ranch eventually broke up into doctrinal arguments and everybody else left too.

So it was back to Florida again, where they finally settled into an eighteen-room, three-story dilapidated old mansion in the heart of Miami, which they soon filled with people they were winning to the Lord. The first time David had gone to Miami it was to more or less co-operate with the churches.

This time it was different. During the Christmas holidays of 1961, as David lay ill in bed, the Lord told him that his call was no longer just to be primarily the call of Ezekiel, going to the church in captivity to help them, but that he was now to prophesy the churches’ doom for forsaking God and rejecting His message. He asked the Lord to confirm it with scripture, and immediately he opened his Bible to the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was the last prophet God sent to His people Israel before He sent the Babylonians to destroy them for “forsaking God and worshipping the works of their own hands” (Jeremiah 1:16). Jeremiah’s message was of doom and destruction; God even told Jeremiah not to pray for His people (Jeremiah 7:16). And this was now to be David’s message too, a message to the people of God of the endtime. It was also a message of judgment to America.

David’s message was now both the message of Ezekiel, God’s liberating message to a captive church, and also the message of Jeremiah, doom to all the false systems of man—both of them messages of warning and woe.