“In the late 1950’s I discovered I had a neighbor who had once been a member of the Chinese church called the Little Flock. He had copies of books by Watchman Nee, in Chinese. This was before Nee was well-known in the West. My friend agreed to translate a few of the books for me. One was The Spiritual Man, the other was The Release of the Spirit. Later came a book entitled Spiritual Authority. I read these books before they appeared in print in English.
“That last book, Spiritual Authority, troubled me. This book presented no checks or balances on any man who declared that he had God’s authority.
“Years later the book Spiritual Authority was published. As the book began to circulate, we soon had a major mess on our hands. The mess grew to the point that thousands of Christians were being destroyed by men using this book as their excuse. The submission and authority movement was born. (Sometimes it was called the authority movement and the who is your covering movement, and the eldership movement.)
“Thousands of utterly unbroken men were bullying churches and people all over America. Their pronouncement: ‘You must submit to me; God has placed me in authority over you.’
“Soon this submission practice spread to the entire English-speaking world. The devastation was massive. The concept was untenable and unscriptural. Most of all, the whole movement had the aroma of men acting in the flesh.
“Soon I was receiving mail from Christians all over America that was full of horror stories about what was happening in this movement.
“Charismatic leaders in southern Florida were teaching this idea. It had all the makings of a worldwide disaster. (One of the men in that group later wisely disavowed this entire movement and teachings.)
“As I read letter after letter of the cruel conduct of Christians against Christians, I was at a loss of what to do. (My background is Southern Baptist, which is strongly democratic in nature. I have always moved by consensus or left decision making to others.)
“Then came a letter from Canada, from a lady named Peggy, who was living in a wilderness village, whose address was Mile 241 of the Alcan Highway. She had been excommunicated because she was deemed ‘worse then a witch’ because ‘rebellion is worse than witchcraft.’ This is an often-quoted phrase coming from those in this unbalanced movement. In this letter, the lady wrote that she had been left and on her own, penniless, upon her return to the United States.
“That was it!
“God, in his mercy, made it clear to me that there was no way to stop this spreading fire by writing a book about the movement. That would be futile.
“Instead, I decided to tell a simple story, with the thought that it might help a few people.
“The book was written in two days.
“There were 2,000 copies printed. The cover was in black and white. I hoped the 2,000 copies might someday all be sold.
“To my surprise, without publicity or advertising, this little book went out and made its home in the hearts of not just 2,000, but hundreds of thousands of believers. Who were all these people? Most of them were Christians who had been devastated either by a Saul or an Absalom.
“It turned out that the submission movement was but symptomatic of a larger issue: People were finding themselves in a situation where they had a Saul over them, causing a great deal of suffering. Counterwise, there were those who were at the bottom of the totem pole who destroyed others who were above them. In both cases, be it a Saul or an Absalom, they acted without ethics.
“The book, therefore, addresses an issue virtually all Christians found themselves in.
“A Tale of Three Kings has now been in print for a generation (published in 1980). It has been given away by countless organizations, including several of which have forsaken their teaching on submission. It has been given away on radio and television frequently. It often still appears on the list of the Top 100 sellers of Christian books. It has become assigned reading in Bible schools and seminaries worldwide, and has been translated into about thirty languages. Yet, I have no idea who wrote the book! It was inspired. I have virtually no memory of writing most of the words in A Tale of Three Kings.
“It has been called a masterpiece of Christian literature (not my words). No one gets the credit for having written A Tale of Three Kings.
“In a few days I will make my twentieth appearance on national television. The topic: A Tale of Three Kings.
“Further, the author has been profoundly affected by this book. I have been reminded I must never be Absalom or Saul to anyone. The book has been the North Star of my entire life.
“Because it has been used to heal wounds of Christians hurt by other Christians, it was later followed by three more books.
They are: The Prisoner in the Third Cell, Letters to a Devastated Christian, and Exquisite Agony. Exquisite Agony has had a profound effect on a number of Christian ministers who have suffered the ravages of being crucified at the hands of fellow ministers. (The title reflects the uniqueness of the pain Christians know when hurt by others.) The cry is universal and it is deafening. The conclusion is obvious: to never inflict pain on another of God’s dear children.
“Such is the tale behind A Tale of Three Kings.
“It is a story about brokenness, an example for any man who would dare lead God’s people.”