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The Harlot Church System (part 1)

 

The Harlot Church System (part 1)
By Charles Elliott Newbold, Jr.

Zion vs. Babylon

Scripturally Zion represents the kingdom of God, the presence and authority of God. Babylon represents the kingdom of Satan. Babylon encompasses all of Satan's deception to deceive mankind into following him. Satan's plan has not changed since he deceived a third of the angles to be separated from their creator.

Both cities originally had there historical settings and have latter become symbolic representations of these two kingdoms in conflict to this day. Zion and Babylon.

1 Peter 2:6, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious; and he who believes on Him shall not be confounded." This corner stone in Zion, the body of Christ, is clearly Jesus. (Rom 9:33 also)

Eph 2:20, "having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." NKJV

Revelation 14:8 is a good example of how Babylon has been used in this figurative sense: "And there followed another angel, saying, 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.'"

Rev 17:3-6, "So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement. NKJV

Rev 18:2-4, "And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury." 4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues." NKJV

It must be understood that Babylon represents all that encompasses the kingdom of Satan, both religious and secular. There is religious Babylon, of which God calls His saints to come out of her and there is secular Babylon out of which the world conduct there business.

Our focus is going to be on religious Babylon and how it has infiltrated the church and has affected its doctrine and life. Babylon represents the work of Satan to institutionalized the body of Christ and compromise the church with the world standards and methods.

Though the word "Church" is the wrong word representing the Greek word ecclesia, for the time being we will use it and then deal with the word.

However, the kind of flesh written about in this book is in reference to that fallen nature of sin within all mankind that came about when Adam rebelled in the garden. Paul wrote regarding this, "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery [which is witchcraft], hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Gal. 5:19-21. Flesh is capable of committing the most vile evils without conscience even while having an awareness of what is good and evil. Such occurred in the days of Noah. Gen. 6:5-7. These practices are not the deeds of the physical body, but of that fallen sin nature that resides in us.

Paul had already established in Galatians 5:17 that "the flesh lusts [sets its desire] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish." Romans 8:7 attests that "the carnal mind is at enmity [hostile] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."

The carnal mind and the Spirit of God speak languages that are foreign and unknown to each other. The carnal (fleshly) mind cannot speak Spirit and the Spirit of God cannot speak flesh. The carnal mind has no ability whatsoever to understand the things of God which are Spirit. 1 Cor. 2:12-14. When inspired things of God are reduced to rigid doctrines, systems of theology, reasoning and logic, they are no longer Spirit but have become flesh. And if flesh, then deception. The carnal mind is at total odds with the Spirit of God; it is hostile to God.

THE DEATH SENTENCE

The sentence of death has been pronounced over the flesh. The flesh nature of man is separated from God who is life; therefore, the flesh is dead and all that comes from the carnal mind is death.

Nevertheless, flesh has a life of its own. It is earthly, sensual, self-centered, and at war with God. Its life is born out of the seed of death. It has an inherent drive to preserve itself at all cost. It fears annihilation. Yet, it cannot save itself because it is destined to self-destruction. The flesh nature rules a person until the life of God in Christ is planted within his spirit, at which time the old seed of flesh and sin is understood to be what it already is--dead. Unfortunately, even after we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and while we remain in this life, we carry about both seeds: the seed of flesh and death, and the seed of Spirit and life.

THE HARLOT OF SELF

The flesh loves Self. Self with the capital "S" is the term I use throughout this book to refer to that the self-centered, self-indulging, self-absorbed, self-willed, self-serving nature of fallen flesh. The flesh nature of Self turns in on itself. It is selfish, prideful, arrogant, haughty, vain, narcissistic, manipulative, controlling, dominating, impatient, stubborn, insensitive, resentful, angry, unteachable, rebellious, fearful, anxious, complaining, disagreeable, judgmental, negative, critical, cynical, indifferent, greedy, lustful, sensual, envious, covetous, jealous, fault-finding, dishonest, and deceitful. It is deceived and suffers from delusions of grandeur. It always asks, "What's in it for me?"

The harlot, broadly defined, is anything for Self. I refer to these Things we call church as the harlot church system because they have been created out of our fleshly minds and desires for Self. Churches as we experience them today have no basis in scripture. They are icons of self-worship. Moreover, they are idolatrous, deceptive, and dangerous.

A TROUBLING MESSAGE

I will hit hard on the idolatry of the church system as we know it and experience it today. If you are not prepared to hear this message by the Spirit, you will no doubt take serious offense to it. The message of this book will be troubling to many of you who are victims of the church system, but will be most troubling to those of you who depend upon the church system for your livelihood and who find your significance, identity, validation, recognition, power, and security in it.

If you choose to continue reading this book, it will take you where you may think you do not want to go. You will journey beyond the facade of that Thing we call church and see how it is an invention of flesh. You will discover the demons that empower it. If you go the distance, you will hopefully find, with Abraham, that "city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is the Lord." Heb. 11:10. You will "come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn, who are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirit of just men made perfect." Heb. 12:22-23.

ZION AND BABYLON

Before I plunge forward into exposing the idolatry of this harlot system, I want to abbreviate some comparisons between spiritual Zion, where Jesus is the only thing there is, and spiritual Babylon (the harlot), where the carnal mind of Self exalts itself, in order to provide a better point of reference for what follows. Many of the thoughts below are developed further throughout this book.

Zion refers to the true body of Christ, the bride, the ekklesia; Babylon refers to the false church system of men's traditions and religions. (Ekklesia is the Greek word in the New Testament which has been mis-translated "church" in most English versions, but it literally means "called-out-ones".)

Zion is a people--the people of God; Babylon is a Thing--church institutions and systems.

Zion is a living organism; Babylon is characterized by organizations, institutions, and systems.

Zion consists of people who have been born into it; Babylon consists of people who have joined it or been voted into it.

Zion is a people who are called by the name of Jesus; Babylon is a people who are called by many different names that represent divisions within this Babylonian church system: Baptist, Catholic, Charismatic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and all the rest.

Zion is Jesus-centered; Babylon is self-centered.

Zion is living by the Spirit; Babylon is living after the flesh.

Zion is heavenly; Babylon is earthly.

Zion is grace; Babylon is law.

Zion is life; Babylon is death.

Zion is being; Babylon is doing.

Zion is rest; Babylon is works.

Zion is light; Babylon is darkness.

Zion is humility; Babylon is full of pride, arrogance, and haughtiness.

Zion is liberty in Christ; Babylon is bondage to the flesh.

Zion is the Kingdom of God; Babylon is the kingdoms of men.

Zion has Jesus Christ as her head; Babylon has elected or appointed men as their heads.

Zion is a Spirit-led people; Babylon is led by rules and regulations of man's own making.

Zion is Spirit-sensitive; Babylon is man-pleasing.

Zion is obedience to the Holy Spirit; Babylon is busy church work.

Zion accomplishes things in Holy Spirit power (Zech. 4:6); Babylon tries to accomplish things in self-strength.

Zion has its authority in the Word of God; Babylon places its authority in man-made doctrines.

Zion is one body in Christ Jesus as Lord; Babylon is sectarian and divisive, consisting of many divisions of people.

Zion worships in spirit and in truth; Babylon programs praise.

Zion preaches Christ and Him crucified; Babylon proclaims denominations, doctrines, heritage, traditions, creeds, personal views and opinions.

Zion is the priesthood of all believers; Babylon is the clergy system. The clergy are those who want to make a difference between themselves and others.

Zion answers to God as the highest authority; Babylon answers to men and their institutions as the authority.

Zion calls forth revelation; Babylon depends upon imagination.

Zion conforms people into the image of Jesus; Babylon conforms people into its own image.

Zion decreases that Christ may increase; Babylon increases itself in power, position, riches, and domination.

Zion counts the cost; Babylon counts the money.

Zion lays down its life; Babylon preserves and protects itself.

Zion waits upon God to raise up what God wants in His timing; Babylon schemes, organizes, and promotes to execute its own plan in its own way and time.

Zion seeks the Lord with a whole heart to be possessed by Him; Babylon goes after things and people to possess them.

Zion is the city of God; Babylon seeks to build a city, a tower, and a name for itself. Gen. 11:4.

Zion longs to be gathered into Jesus; Babylon passionately seeks to gather people unto itself.

DENY SELF

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ one must be willing to deny Self, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. Luke 9:23. Self-denial is the cross we bear. The old man of flesh and sin has to be rendered dead. The laid-down life defines the New Testament concept of agape (love).

When we live according to the flesh, we are living for Self. Conversely, when we are living for Self, we are living according to the flesh. When we live according the Spirit, we will bear the fruit of agape. We have not been called to live unto ourselves. We have been called to surrender our lives to Christ that He might live His life of agape through us. We cannot be the bride of Christ and at the same time live selfishly in this world. We are either the bride or we are living the life of the harlot.

Self-centered living is making ourselves out to be god; therefore, it is idolatry. I will show in a subsequent chapter that idolatry is spiritual harlotry. I will also show how this Thing we call church is an idolatrous extension of ourselves--thus, spiritual harlotry.

We become spiritual prostitutes when we create something and give our hearts to it rather than to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what men have done with this Thing we call church. They have made church a substitute for Jesus. Many within these harlot church systems are true believers who love the Lord, but are uninformed and deceived. They have unintentionally given their hearts to these Things we call church. God loves us all but hates our idolatries.

Judge the words in this book for yourself and judge yourself by these words. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit that He might instruct you and point you to Jesus. I hope to reveal Father-God's heart to you that your heart may be revealed to you; that you may dare face your idolatries, cleanse His temple of whom you and I are, and return to the God of your salvation. The idolatry revealed in this book is not about "them" but about each of us.

Chapter 2 - Show The House To The House

With much fervor Brother Leonard, the visiting preacher, began his message by asking the congregation to turn to the gospel of John, chapter 15. He readily established that Jesus is the true vine and we were the branches. Then he made a startling point of saying that fruit-bearing was not the most important issue in this passage; abiding was. "Bearing fruit is mentioned four times," he pointed out, "while abiding is mentioned nine times." He hammered repeatedly the phrase, "We must abide." "We must abide." I waited for him to complete his sentence by saying, "We must abide in the vine who is Jesus." He never did. Then I saw it coming. He had to say it. It was the abundance of his heart. He was, after all, a church man. He stepped back from the podium, pointed an accusatory finger at his unsuspecting victims in the congregation, and said, "The problem we have in society today, and especially in the church, is people don't abide. They go from church to church and never make a commitment to the church or to the pastor."

Did he actually believe that abiding in that system we call church is what it means to abide in Jesus? Did he believe that committing to a church or the pastor is the same as committing to Jesus? His conclusion was an outrageous misrepresentation of scripture, spoken for the benefit of that local pastor whose church had a history of losing members. Rather than liberating the saints to have a deeper relationship with their Lord, he set a snare to enslave them even more to that Thing we call church.

He did not set out to deliberately deceive the people. In all truthfulness, he was deceived himself. We have all been deceived. Lied to. Beguiled. This deception has been passed through the generations of Christians since at least the third century A.D. Those who perpetuate this lie are equally victims of it. This deception is so deep and cruel that we have believed it as the truth. We minister death with this deception, thinking we are offering life.

Worse yet, people are unknowingly missing out on their glorious union with Christ because they have been given a false assurance of their salvation. This beguilement has puffed us up in self-importance. It has caused many believers to forsake their first love, Jesus. The devil has seduced us into dancing with him while making us think we were dancing with the Lord.

THE LIE

This is the lie: We have been made to believe that this Thing we call church is of God and that our membership and participation in it is essential to our Christian walk when in fact it is an idolatrous substitute for Jesus and quite often a hindrance to our walk with Him.

This Thing we call church, as we have come to experience it, is an idolatrous extension of our own Selves. Though it exists as an entity unto itself, we are in it and it is in us. It is an icon of self-worship that has grown out of the traditions of men and has no basis in scripture. We proclaim that this Thing we call church is the Kingdom of God when in fact it has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. Rather, it is the modern-day Babylonian captivity of the elect of God.

We have confused our relationship with Christ by fusing it with this Thing we call church. We are led to believe that when we are in a proper relationship with it we are in a proper relationship with Christ; that we have to be a member of a church to be saved or to be a good Christian; that serving it is serving Christ; that loving it is loving Christ; that tithing to it is tithing to Christ.

In many instances this Thing we call church is like a tent we have made to spread over the moves and revelations of God in order to preserve them, touch them, contain them, maintain them, manipulate them, own and control other people in them, and use the people and the system for our sordid, fleshly gain. We find comfort in the restrictions these church walls set for us. We can hide in them and feel good in them. We widen these tent pegs just enough to let others in who want to walk, talk, and dress as we do.

We talk about this Thing we call church in strange ways. Where do you go to church? What is the name of your church? How was church today? Are you building an annex onto your church? Wow, did we ever have church at prayer meeting last night! The pastor or priest often greets the Sunday morning crowd, saying, "Good morning, Church." These statements make church out to be a building, an institution with a name, a service, a meeting, the kind of time we have together, and people.

The word "church" as it is used in English translations of the New Testament refers to the people of God, but we no longer limit its meaning to people. If we really meant that people are the "church" when we use that term, these same statements would have to be made this way: Where do you go to you? What is the name of you? How was you today? Are you building an annex onto you? Wow, did we ever have us at prayer meeting last night. We know better and insist in theory that we, the redeemed people of God, are the church. Yet, in practice, we make no distinction between the people and this Thing we call church. That the word church is used interchangeably this way is not the problem though. Much more is going on here than meets the eye.

The word church, as we use it, speaks of an illegal, unholy mystical union which embodies buildings, institutions, denominations, and people. These have been so fused and confused with each other that they perpetuate the dangerous lie that this Thing we call church (buildings, institutions, denominations, and the people associated with them) is Christ's assembly of called-out-ones. This Thing we call church looks good in its outward appearance, but is often inwardly controlled by men and women ambitiously, often unknowingly, seeking something for themselves.

SUBSTITUTE FOR JESUS

When we preach church, as we craftily do, we thereby preach another gospel, a false gospel. We perpetuate the lie. We are often zealous to evangelize people into our churches; yet, we are uncomfortable calling them to deny themselves and take up their crosses to follow Jesus. Such a command by Jesus is a foreign concept to most Christians today. If we happen to lead someone to Christ, we immediately impose church membership upon them, especially hoping that they will join "our" church.

I have personally longed to be in fellowship with other believers who were willing to be the body of Christ with me without having to sign on to the bondage and play the games that come with being a member of one of these institutions. I find no satisfaction in paying my dues to church just to "shake and howdy" with a few other believers while hiding behind our phony religious facades.

If it were true that going to church is synonymous with coming to Jesus, then we would have to ask: Which Jesus is it? Is it the Baptist Jesus? The Church of Christ Jesus? The Methodist Jesus? The Presbyterian Jesus? The Roman Catholic Jesus? The Orthodox Jesus? The Protestant Jesus? The Charismatic or Pentecostal Jesus? The Independent Jesus? There are so many to choose from. Unchurched people look at this mix of churches they are invited to join and wonder why anyone would want to be a part of that.

We give our hearts to these Things we call church rather than to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are enemies of God because they stand in place--in substitution--to what is holy, to what is His.

SHOW THE HOUSE TO THE HOUSE

This deception is not new. The children of Israel in Judah and Samaria were spiritually blinded by their own harlot hearts. They refused to hear the words of the prophets to return to the worship of their God. So, God scattered the people of Samaria to Assyria and later exiled Judah to Babylon.

The prophet Ezekiel had been carried away with the captives of Judah to Babylon. He had visions from God which he was told to tell the "stiff-faced" and "hard-hearted" elders of Judah whether they listened to him or not. God wanted them to know that a prophet had been in their midst. Ezek. 2-3.

Twenty-five years later, God took Ezekiel by way of a vision to the land of Israel and showed him a man whose appearance was like brass. This man had a line of flax and a measuring reed in his hand. He measured all around the Temple. He measured the width and the height of the wall, the gateways, chambers, and courts. Afterwards, he took Ezekiel to the gate that faced the east, and the glory of the God of Israel came from the east. "His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory." Ezek. 43:2. The Spirit lifted Ezekiel up and took him into the inner court as the glory of the Lord filled the Temple. Ezek. 43:5.

Then Ezekiel heard the Lord speaking to him from out of the house and told him that this house, the temple, was the place of His throne, the place of the soles of His feet, where He would dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. It would be the place where His holy name would dwell. Ezek. 43:7. God told Ezekiel that the house of Israel would not defile His house any more by their whoredoms; neither they, nor their kings, nor by the carcasses of their kings in their high places. Ezek. 43:6-9.

Then the Lord charged Ezekiel to show the condition of the house of the Lord to the house of Israel saying, "You son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the going out thereof, and the coming in thereof, and all the forms...ordinances...and laws thereof...this is the law of the house: upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy." Ezek. 43:10-12.

Next, Ezekiel was shown a temple of stone. From the New Testament perspective we believe this temple of stone represents God's spiritual house of lively stones--the body of Christ which is the temple of the Holy Spirit of whom we are. The condition of their hearts reflected the condition of God's temple. Conversely, the condition of God's temple reflected the condition of their hearts.

It still works this way.

Centuries later, the aging apostle John was given the revelation of Jesus in which he was asked to measure the temple again. He wrote, "There was given me a reed like a rod: and the angel stood, saying, 'Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship therein.'" Rev. 11:1.

Today, the Spirit of the Lord calls out for us to show the house to the house that we might be ashamed of all that we have done; that is, show how we have given our hearts to our denominations, institutions, buildings, stained-glass windows, memorialized pews, patron saints, rituals, liturgies, doctrines, rules of order, programs, the Sunday morning service--so many, many things. The Spirit of the Lord wants to show us how we seek after our own agendas though they contradict the agenda of God. He calls us to keep His pattern, not ours; His laws, not ours. For this is the law of the house that we should be holy (separated) unto the Lord. Ezek. 43:12.

If we were asked to measure a physical house structure, we would pull out our measuring tape and calculate numbers. We would check the width, length, and height. Those who are in the institutional church typically measure themselves by how many members they have, how big their buildings are, how many buildings they have, how tall their steeple is, how many cars can be parked in their lot, what kind of cars are parked in their lot, how much money they take in. They measure these Things because they give the greater honor to those pastors and ministries who have the biggest and most. This is a false house.

The true house of God is measured by love, faith, mercy, grace, peace, life, light, rest, joy, hope, forgiveness, acceptance, righteousness, praise, worship, turning the other cheek, submitting to each other, receiving the prophet in the name of the prophet, employing the gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the body, having a passion for Jesus, and being excited about the things that excite God. These are expressions that define our relationship with Christ as His bride and with one another as the household of God. We measure the temple of the Holy Spirit of whom we are by these Biblical terms. If that which we are in that we call church is characterized by such terms as dissension, backbiting, dead works, unbelief, legalism, manipulation, and fear, then it is a harlot's house. We have a Thing--an idolatrous extension of Self that is not of God.

Church: The Thing

Chapter 3

We were few in number as we sat comfortably face to face in the living room of a godly couple's house. I had something to share that Wednesday night. It was the first and most significant revelation that I had received from the Holy Spirit since my conversion a couple of years before.

"That which we call the church is not the church but is a Thing. "I began my personal journey in discovering the idolatry of the church and the difference between it and the true bride of Christ.

Years later, my wife and I were living in west Tennessee and were waiting for direction from the Lord. While there, He led me to start a meeting on Sunday mornings and invite some people I knew to come. Some of them came. We gathered in the name of Jesus. We sang; I shared the revelations and teachings the Lord gave me; we prayed, dismissed, and went our way. We were fairly close to one another and had some contact with each other during the week. We were beginning to be the body of Christ to one another.

Then, we bought a building, renovated it, opened the doors, and had our gatherings there. We called the building "The Christian Teaching Center." I did what I believed the Lord said to do and people began to come.

We were free of men's burdensome traditions, formalities, creeds, rules and regulations, and programs. We were committed to following the Holy Spirit wherever He chose to take us. His presence was powerfully felt in most of our gatherings in those early days.

I insisted that we were not a church, that God had not called me to start a church, and that I was not to be the pastor of a church. I tried to make a distinction between the building, which we had given a name, and those of us who gathered in that building, whom I refused to name. I explained that this was a teaching center for the body of Christ in that area. Perhaps it was a mistake, but we held Sunday morning meetings for those who chose not to go elsewhere. That Sunday morning meeting became the main event of the week.

The pressure was on. Some who came there wanted it to be a church and wanted me to be their pastor. I was pastoring individuals, but I insisted we were not a church.

A local pastor disputed my contentions, insisting that we were a church. He contended that there was no scriptural precedent for the para-church ministry that we had. He said, "If you look like a duck, walk like a duck, and quack like a duck, you must be a duck. You look like a church, walk like a church, and talk like a church." I did not want to hear that then, but looking back I had to admit he was right. This Thing we call church had weaseled its way into our work. The work at the Teaching Center was never supposed to be a church.

Once we began to "have" church, we began seeking something for ourselves. We created a Thing that had gone beyond what God had called me to do. We went back to the very thing that we had come out of. We had Sunday morning and Sunday evening services, Sunday School, and a youth program. We took up offerings and put them in a bank account. Our group became known by the name I had put on the building.

I lost my vision to build up a people and began, instead, to build up a Thing. We began to go after it instead of going after the Lord Jesus Christ. We gathered around it instead of the presence of the Lord. People started leaving and they did not know why. The more they left, the more I tried to hold on to them. I felt abandoned. But it was I who had abandoned them by allowing the work to become a Thing. Not long after that, Ichabod was written over our door, spiritually speaking. 1 Sam. 4:21. As with Elijah, the brook dried up and the ravens ceased to bring their morsels. 1 Kings 17:3-7. It was time for us to move on. It took a year for me to muster enough courage to finally shut it down.

While most of us know that the word "church" as it is used in scripture refers to the people of God in Christ, we nevertheless have made a Thing of it. It is an extension of ourselves and exists as an entity unto itself.

THE EVOLUTION OF CHURCH

How did this Thing we call church evolve?

Believers in the New Testament did not have such baggage. At first they were simply called the followers of the way. They gathered spontaneously in the temple and in some synagogues for a period of time. Mostly, however, they met in private homes and went from house to house. They were drawn together by the presence of the Lord in their midst.

Christians did not have church buildings until Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome from 306 to 337 A.D., embraced Christianity. His endorsement of the faith created a free climate for men to erect buildings "to the glory of their God."

The earliest church buildings are believed to have been built after the pattern of the Roman basilica--architecture that was firmly rooted in the traditions of the Roman empire and has no basis in scripture. Church buildings became more elaborate with the Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic influences. The layout of these cathedrals often hid the monks and choirs from the people, advancing the idea of the separation of clergy from laity which is unfounded in scripture.

During the reformation, Protestants halted the building of great edifices. The reformers were content with simple, rectangular buildings. They were primarily interested in gathering the people and having a place to preach. By the nineteenth century, however, Protestant church architecture had likewise become elaborate and consisted of elements from a variety of styles.

The enchantment with church buildings throughout the centuries has contributed to the institutionalization of the church system as we now know it.

THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE WORD "CHURCH"

With the inclination toward the construction of buildings for the worship of God, it is little wonder that the translators of the King James Version of the Bible chose to translate the Greek word ekklesia by using the English word "church." A deeper look at the etymology of the word "church" is quite revealing.

Moving backwards into time, the word "church" was derived from the Old English word cirice which is related to the Norwegian/Scandinavian word kirkja. These were derived from the Germanic word kirka; which was derived from the late Greek word Kyrite; which was derived from the Greek word kurios which means "ruler," "lord," "master." In the Greek, Kuriake oika means "lord's house." Thus, the word church came to mean "a building set apart or consecrated for public worship."

Though the word "church" does not have its root in the Greek term ekklesia; it is used to translate ekklesia. Ekklesia is the formation of two Greek words: ek which means "out of" and kaleo which means "to call." Combined, the word literally means "to call out of." Ekklesia was commonly used among the Greeks in reference to a body of citizens who "gathered" to discuss the affairs of state. A correct and quite appropriate translation of ekklesia is "called-out-ones" although there are times when the context demands that "assembly" or "gathering-of-called-out-ones" be used. The word has to do with a people who are called-out to be gathered together.

From that time to this, the word church is used to refer to more than people. Its use has been so adulterated that we ought never to use it when we are referring to the body of Christ. It is appropriate to use the word "church" when we are actually talking about a building but not when we are talking about the body of Christ. What we call church is a Thing. The ekklesia is a people.

THE THING

We organize this Thing. We name it, incorporate it, elect officers to it, open bank accounts in its name, and train and hire staff to run it. We take up money for it. We devise campaigns to recruit more people to join it. We track attendance to it. We love it, get mad at it, resign from it, and leave it. If we are particularly fond of it, we make up brochures and buy ads to market it.

We evaluate the Thing to determine its success or failure. "The praise service was good," we might say. "The sermon was okay." "The offering was poor." "The attendance was down."

Ask a pastor how his church is coming along and he may answer with such comments as: "Oh, our building program is great." "We're getting in members left and right." "We've doubled our membership in the last year." "We are losing people out of the back door as fast as they come in the front." See where his heart is? He is evaluating the thing over which he is likely the head. The growth of his church reflects upon his success or failure as its leader. If, on the other hand, he answers regarding the spiritual well-being of the people, he understands more of what it means to be the body of Christ. "Well, you know, many of them have endured some affliction, but it has made them stronger in the Lord."

If he talks about his people in a possessive sense, he is snared by his own conceit. They are not his people. On the other hand, if he talks about the sheep who belong to the good shepherd who is Jesus Christ, he may be free and more likely to set God's people free.

FOR THE SAKE OF IT

Soon after a church is started, it nearly always takes on an existence of its own and begins to exist for its own sake. The people in it exist to serve it rather than it existing to serve the people. Those dedicated to keeping the church going expect their members to attend it, support it, and serve it. They plan various programs that fit the model of what they think a full service church ought to look like.

The Conners family had been supported by their church for eight years of difficult but faithful duty on the mission field. After their return, they attended their church for awhile before dropping out. The first pastoral or administrative inquiry about them was by the church accountant. "Are the Conners attending church?" "No," a friend of theirs answered. "Why?" "For no particular reason." He was indignant. "After all the money we've given them, now when they could help they're not around." Perhaps that would have been a genuine concern under other circumstances, but his interest in them came one and a half years after their return. As Mrs. Conners regretfully said, "I was frustrated by the obvious fact that no one on staff seemed to notice we were no longer going there and when they did notice, the first comment was about money." Had the money been spent on the Conners? No. They were in another land to be spent by the Lord for the sake of serving the saints there. It seems the Conners were expected to serve the institution, but were themselves abandoned by the so-called leadership within that institution.

Brother Billy became the pastor of West Side Church after his father died. His father founded the church. Brother Billy announced one Sunday that he was fulfilling his vision to have a jail and bus ministry. "We lack these things to be a complete church," he explained. "We need volunteers for the jail ministry and for the bus ministry. Sign-up sheets are on the back table." Many dear hearts who felt no calling for such service signed on to make Brother Billy feel okay about himself and his church. They had to serve him so he could fulfill his vision for a Thing.

People often grow weary of these works of men and drop out. Leadership is hard to find. If the services or programs were really meeting people's needs, people would be more likely to support them. A lack of support may be a clear indication that the event no longer meets a need worth supporting.

PROVOKING GUILT

If we do not provide the expected support for the Thing and its programs, whether we want to or not, whether we are called to serve in a certain capacity or not, we are made to feel guilty. Have you ever felt guilty for missing a function of the church? Those little shame-based voices in your head whisper "naughty, naughty." "It was my fault the program failed. I didn't give enough of my time and money to it." You can know by those feelings of guilt that you are serving a Thing and not the Master.

When we are asked by leadership in the church to make a commitment to the church, we are actually being asked to make a commitment to the Thing. Our loyalty is measured by how well we serve this Thing. We are thought to be slothful Christians if we do not support it; and if we do not even attend a local church, we are assumed to be backsliders.

On the other hand, when we "do" church, we have expectations that it ought to be a certain way. It has to work according to our expectations, or we will feel like it has failed.

If the Thing has to work a certain way before it is successful, then those who support it will be pressured into performing in such a way as to make it a success. If it is not a success, someone is to blame. It is either the people's fault, the pastor's fault, the choir director's fault, or the church board's fault.

What if you and I have different expectations about how a church should work? We will have conflict. There will always be conflict in the church because there will always be expectations in conflict. These are man's expectations, not God's.

ADDICTED TO THE THING

Some people are clinically classified as religious addicts. I am a recovering church-addict. Soon after my conversion in 1978, I saw how this church Thing was an idolatrous system of men's traditions. I despised it (not the people in it); yet, I felt a seductive pull back into it.

I needed it. I had previously found my identity in it. I had presence, power, and position in it. As the pastor of it, I thought I owned at least a part of it. My heart would secretly boast, "This is mine!" It was my source of financial support. It was the only thing I was trained to do. I was joined to it and it was joined to me.

We bond with that Thing we call church and thereby get in bondage to it. We join it and it somehow takes possession of us. We do, in fact, get addicted to it. As Dennis Loewen wrote, "It is addictive. How do we know? One way is that we all go through withdrawal when we leave it."

Some discerning believers who attend spiritually stagnant churches realize they no longer need to be there. The Holy Spirit is absent. The services are dead. The preacher is boring. People argue over petty, irrelevant issues. They feel their tithes are wasted on worthless salaries, programs, and mortgages. Their huge buildings stand empty more often than not. They feel obligated to serve on committees that serve the institution more than they serve the people. They see the leadership trying one gimmick after another to make the Thing relevant in order to get more people to join it and be active in it.

These precious believers want to leave but find that they cannot. Mother wouldn't understand. "Why, that stained glass window was dedicated in grandpa's name. How can you even think about leaving?" They rationalize that they have life-long friends there. "How can I leave them?" They are made to feel like traitors, deserters, troublemakers, or mavericks. Some people disown their own family members who leave their "faith." Some traditions believe that a person will go to hell if they leave their particular brand of church.

So, they feel stuck in the system. They put on their Sunday morning smiles and hide their secret resentments for feeling stuck. They shake and howdy down the aisle, pretending, "Isn't it good to be in the house of the Lord?" They settle into their familiar pews and begin again to fellowship with the backs of people's heads.

Many who dare to leave one church go down the street hoping for a better "spiritual climate" only to find the same old whore in a brand new dress. Only the rules are slightly different. They go from church to church looking for that which is genuine only to find more phony religious facades; they go looking for Spirit and truth only to find more flesh and hypocrisy. Yet, they continue their search, because they are addicted to it. They bob up and down on their wooden horses unable to dismount because of the velocity of that carousel--the church system that perpetually spins round and round, going nowhere.

A few discerning persons are able to break away from the bondage of church, but often leave damaged and resentful. Some of these attend anonymous groups, seeking recovery from the religious abuses inflicted upon them by these religious systems of men's traditions.

Church, as we have come to experience it, permeates every aspect of our society. It is the only thing we have seen and known that supposedly represents Christ. In going after it, just as did Israel of old, we have played the harlot and provoked the Lord to jealousy.

I hope you are praying for the Holy Spirit to lift the veil from over your eyes to see how church is a counterfeit system, to see how we have made a Thing out of who we are in Christ and gone after it instead of Jesus.

Chapter 4 - Jealousy: Playing The Harlot

Most everyone in the small, rural church I was serving accepted the fact that I believed that speaking in tongues, divine healing, casting out demons, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for today, even though the officialdom of that denomination disagreed. Nevertheless, I tried to make Jesus the only issue that mattered. Everyone was happy with that arrangement until the Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit requiring that I abolish the Sunday School.

"You're messing with my mind, Lord," I argued. "One doesn't abolish Sunday School, especially as a pastor in this denomination. The Sunday School belongs to the elders. You should know that, Lord." I dismissed the thought as reckless. I had plans to build up the Sunday School. Studies have shown that the existence of small groups such as the Sunday School class contribute to church growth, and at that stage in my understanding, I wanted to build up the church.

However, after being sternly directed to abolish the Sunday School for the third time, I knew I had to do something. I called the men of the church together and presented my dilemma to them. Most of them were willing to test it out to see what God might do. "After all," many of them reasoned with me, "if it doesn't prove profitable, we can always go back to having Sunday School."

Not every one was willing to test it out, however. I did not know why God wanted me to take such action until I tried to negotiate the deal with the main person of influence in the church. Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke with a broken, yet, certain voice, "You're not going to take MY Sunday School away from me." Then I knew what this was about. Sunday School was a golden calf to some of them and I had dared to touch it.

IDOLATRY: THE EXTENSION OF SELF

Judson Cornwall aptly says, "Idolatry is principally the response of personal adoration toward something less than Jehovah God, whether that something is Self, an object made by ourselves, or a concept we may have embraced. An idol is anything or anyone, including ourselves, that is given the credit for the abilities that only God possesses." Monty Stratton adds, "Any image we have of ourselves that is not God's image of us is an idol, a false God."

We, as created human beings, make things and accomplish things that we come to adore. We set these things before us and pay homage to them whether they are the songs or novels we write, the athletes we create, the gardens we plant, the businesses we build, the trophies we win, the children we sire, the rockets we orbit, the cures we invent, the sermons we preach, or the churches we institute. We live vicariously through the idols we have made of movie stars, music stars, and sports stars. We want the power that we imagine fame and fortune would bestow upon us. We want to be god, especially over our own lives.

Though we are greater than the images we make, we still bow down and pay obeisance to them. We take such pride in our works. We allow them to control our lives, our emotions, and our relationships. We love them. We look at them, and our hearts swell with pride. They are idolatrous extensions of ourselves.

IDOLATRY: THE WORSHIP OF SELF

All idolatry is the worship of Self. It is an extension of ourselves: our adored opinions, speculations, plans, programs, and projects; it is the self-exalted work of our hands and the imaginations of our minds--all the things we do in our old man nature of flesh and sin that causes us to esteem ourselves more highly than we ought to. It is the attitude of the wicked stepmother in the story of Snow White who asks, "Magic mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?" fully expecting for the mirror to answer, "You are the fairest one of all."

Idolatrous, fallen man is self-centered by nature. To be any different, we have to be transformed into a new creature. We need a new nature that gives us the desire to surrender Self for a higher good, namely, the life of Christ in us. Only Christ through His Spirit can implant that new nature within us.

Whatever appeals to Self is not of God. Self is in love with Self. It seeks its own. It is vain, prideful, arrogant, self-exalting, self-indulging, self-absorbed, power-hungry, and lustful. It strives for independence, self-reliance, and self-management. It uses and abuses others, if necessary, to achieve its own ambitions. It lies, steals, cheats, murders, covets, blames, justifies, and does whatever seems necessary to save itself. It goes to any end to protect itself. It is addicted to more. It can never be satisfied.

The flesh nature of Self generally looks to its own inventions--science, government, military, religion, education, sports, and other human institutions and inventions--to save us, feed us, protect us, make us happy, give us our identity, and provide us with a better lifestyle. We create institutions to serve us, and we get angry when they fail us.

Because Self is centered upon itself, it is a black hole upon the space where it stands, forever suctioning itself inward as a vacuum. Self consumes itself, is self-destructive, and has death as its final reward. Self lives and dies for Self.

IDOLATRY: SELF-STRENGTH

The idolatry of Self is seen in our drivenness to accomplish things in our own strength. We see things to do, and we must do them. We are constantly distracted by the busyness we create for ourselves. Busyness is a distraction from intimacy with God. We would rather be doing something for God than spending time with Him. Yet, He did not create us to do for Him, but to be as He is that we might have fellowship with Him and with one another in Him.

We enslave ourselves to the works we require of ourselves. Moreover, we enslave others to our works when others allow us to do so. We adore our accomplishments. Consequently, we have even made idols out of our quiet time, Bible study, intercessory prayer, street witnessing, and other works that seem "good" to us. These are not wrong. They are wonderful when they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. They become idolatrous to us when we use them to make ourselves feel like we have done something for God.

IDOLATRY: THINGS THAT POSSESS US

Our idols have to do with those things that possess our hearts. Whatever we own, owns a part of us. In the Old Testament, Jacob served his father-in-law, Laban, for twenty years to earn his wives, Leah and Rachel, and to earn his flock so he could return to the land of his father. Because Laban restrained him from going, Jacob left Laban by stealth with his wives and animals. As she went out, Rachel stole her father's household idols to take with her. Gen. 31. These idols may have been valuable heirlooms and that could have played a part in her motives to carry them away, but more likely it was because her heart had already been carried away by them.

The things we go after usually overtake us. I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, the country music capital of the world, where there is a saying about many of those musical hopefuls who live there that they are "chasing the beast." This beast is an imaginary quest for significance through the fame many of them hope "making it in music" will bring them. It appears to me, though, that the beast is chasing them. The beast can be any of those things we seek for Self to possess. These things we seek often possess us. We can be possessed by quest.

A JEALOUS GOD

God created us for Himself. He wants intimate relationship with us. He wants us to know Him, love Him, trust Him, depend upon Him, and obey Him. He is a loving and faithful Father to us who believe and requires of us that we return love and faithfulness to Him. He is profoundly jealous of anything we put between Him and us. Allow yourself to feel God's passionate disdain for our idolatry as you carefully read the text below. You who truly love the Lord should be impacted forever by the quotes from scripture.

God spoke through Moses to the children of Israel, saying: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make unto you any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them." Exod. 20:1-5; Deut. 5:1-10.

Jesus answered the Pharisee saying, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment." Matt. 22:37. This kind of love is agape, which has to do with surrendering your life for the well-being of others. In this case, it has to do with wanting only what God wants, wanting nothing for Self.

Idolatry breaks the heart of God who jealously wants our undivided love, worship, and faithfulness. God is jealous of our idols. He is jealous when we glory in ourselves and our achievements rather than recognizing that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights." James 1:17. God said, "You shall not bow down yourself to them [other gods], nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God." Exod. 20:1-5. His name is Jealous. Exod. 34:14.

Moses charged the people to keep God's ordinances and warned them not to commit idolatry saying, "The LORD your God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God." Deut. 4:24. Joshua reaffirmed to the people that God "is a holy God. He is a jealous God." Josh. 24:19.

Elijah expressed jealousy on God's behalf: "I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and slain Your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." 1 Kings 19:14. [Also read: Ezek. 8:3; 16:38-42; 23:25; 36:5-6; 38:19; 39:25.]

Asaph lamented: "How long, LORD? Will You be angry forever? Shall Your jealousy burn like fire?" Ps. 79:5.

The prophet, Nahum, feeling the pulse of God, declared that "God is jealous, and the LORD revenges and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and He reserves wrath for his enemies." Nah. 1:2.

Joel, looking to a day of renewal, prophesied, "Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity His people." Joel 2:18.

Zephaniah spoke, "Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD'S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy: for He shall make even a speedy riddance of all them who dwell in the land." Zeph. 1:18. He continued to speak for God saying, "Therefore wait upon Me, says the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for My determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them My indignation, even all My fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy." Zeph. 3:8.

Zechariah wrote, "The angel that communed with me said unto me, You cry, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy." Zech. 1:14. And again, he wrote, "Thus says the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury." Zech. 8:2.

The apostle Paul asked the Corinthians, "Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?" 1 Cor. 10:22. As did Elijah, Paul felt the fire of God's jealousy in his belly and wrote again later, "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." 2 Cor. 11:2.

ISRAEL: CHOSEN FOR A PURPOSE

Israel was chosen by God that He might have a people who were called by His name. Deut. 28:10; 2 Chron. 7:14; Dan. 9:19; Acts 15:14. They were to be a people through whom God would make a name for Himself. 2 Sam. 7:23; 1 Chron. 17:21. They would be to Him a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. Jer. 13:11.

Israel was to be a holy (separated) nation of people unto the Lord. It was three months after they left Egypt and were encamped in the Wilderness of Sinai that Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God. God told Moses to tell the people "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now, therefore, if you will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all peoples: for all the earth is Mine: And you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." Exod. 19:4-6.

The followers of Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, are the fulfillment of divine expectation. Peter wrote regarding those who believe in Jesus Christ, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 1 Pet. 2:9.

The Lord was to be their God and they were to be His people. They were not to have other gods before them. They were not to call upon the name of any other god and give that god the glory for the things that God had done for them. That would have been a great insult to God, to His name, and to those who were called by His name. God is zealously jealous of those things in which we put more confidence, comfort, and pleasure than in Him.

THE BAN

God knew that the only way to ensure that the Israelites would remain faithful to Him was to ban them from mingling with the heathens of the land. He made a covenant with them while they were in the wilderness. He told them that He would do marvels among them by driving out the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite from before them when they entered Canaan.

God warned them, however, to be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where they were going. Failure to destroy the idolatrous altars of the heathens, to break their images, and cut down their groves (places of idol worship) would be a snare in the midst of them. The Israelites would "take their daughters unto their sons, and their daughters [would] go a whoring after their gods, and make their sons go a whoring after their gods." Exod. 34:10-17.

The worship of other gods is idolatry, and idolatry is playing the harlot so far as God is concerned. God also calls it fornication and adultery. The King James version of the Bible translates it "a whoring." This radical language portrays the heart of God in the matter of idolatry. It should cause us to fall on our faces, quickly repent of our idolatries, and turn to Him with a pure, unadulterated heart.

THE VIOLATION OF GOD'S BAN

God told Israel not to mingle with the inhabitants of the land and go after their gods, but they did it anyway. God knew that they would do it. He told Moses that after he died "this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land where they are going and will forsake Me, and break My covenant which I had made with them.

Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide My face in that day for all the evils which they shall have brought, in that they are turned unto other gods." Deut. 31:16-18.

Israel's failure in the wilderness

The Israelites violated God's ban while they were still in the wilderness. They were in a place called Shittim when they committed whoredom with the daughters of Moab. The Moabites seduced the Israelites to make sacrifices and bow down to their gods. Israel joined itself to Baal-peor, the idol god of Moab, and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

The LORD instructed Moses to take all the heads of those who had broken the ban, "and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel." Moses, in turn, commanded the judges of Israel to kill their men who were bowing down to Baal-peor.

One of the Israelites shamelessly brought a Midianite woman to his brothers in full view of Moses and the people. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, rose up from among the people, and took a javelin in his hand.

He went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through. This brought an end to the plague upon the children of Israel that day. His jealousy for God turned away God's wrath. Twenty-four thousand people died in that plague. Num. 25:1-11.

Deuteronomy 32:16-17, and 21 tells us that the Israelites provoked God to jealousy with strange gods, and that these were abominations to Him. "They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not"...to new gods whom their fathers had not even feared. "They have moved Me to jealousy," God said, "with that which is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation."

Israel's failure during the judges

God brought Israel out of Egypt with attesting signs and wonders. They miraculously crossed through the Red Sea on dry ground. They were given the manna, water, and quail. They heard God on the mountain and saw His glory on Moses' face. They wandered for forty years, and their sandals did not wear out. They experienced the jealousy of God at Shittim. They entered the land of God's promise under the leadership of Joshua, miraculously crossing the Jordan river and taking Jericho with marching, the blowing of horns, and shouting.

They were supposed to drive out all of the inhabitants of the land lest they mingle with them and bow down to their gods. Many of the tribes of Israel did not do that. They did not utterly drive out the inhabitants of the land and were, thereby, disobedient to God.

An angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and told the people of Israel, "I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I swore unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break My covenant with you. And you shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; you shall throw down their altars, but you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you, but they shall be as thorns in your sides and their gods shall be a snare unto you." The people lifted up their voice and wept at the words of the angel. Judg. 2:1-4.

Nevertheless, a new generation grew up after Joshua, and they also did the very thing that was evil in the sight of the Lord: they abandoned the Lord and served the idolatrous god and goddess, Baal and Ashtoreth. Judg. 2:13.

And so it happened, over and over again. God raised up individuals like Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and other judges in Israel. The Israelites would not listen to their judges but went "a whoring" after other gods. After they fell under the oppressive hand of their enemies in the land, they repented and cried out to God, and He changed His mind and delivered them. (Read Judges 2:17-20.)

The period of the judges ended with this tragic commentary: "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes." Judg. 21:25. Anarchy is the ultimate idolatry of Self.

Israel's failure during the kings

The Israelites wanted their own king like all of the other nations, thus rejecting God from reigning over them. So, God told Samuel to give them what they were asking for. 1 Sam. 8:5-7. How frightening that God might really give us what we think we need and want!

Nothing changed. They had harlot hearts. 1 Chronicles 5:25 reports that "they transgressed against the God of their fathers, and went a whoring after the gods of the people of the land, whom God destroyed before them."

The Psalmist laments: "They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the LORD commanded them: But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yes, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood. Thus, they were defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions." Ps. 106:34-39. This entire Psalm is a powerful recantation of Israel's forgetfulness.

GODS OF THE FLESH

The Israelites set up their own high places and made altars to Baal. They carved out Ashtoreths and bowed down to them. They sacrificed their children to Molech by making them walk through fire.

The chronicler of 1 Kings 14:22-23 wrote, "And Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree."

Asaph, the Psalmist, lamented the sins of the people against a jealous God singing, "For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images." Ps. 78:58.

Baal means "master" or "lord" and has also been translated "husband." Baal was the farm god believed to be responsible for the increase of flocks, crops, and families.

"The worship of Baal, as it existed when Israel began to filter into Canaan, was conducted by priests in fields and on mountain 'high places' where communities brought 'taxes' to their favorite deity, in the form of wine, oil, first fruits, and firstlings of flocks. The cult included joyous, licentious dances and ritualistic meals."

The Ashtoreth was the name given to the goddess of the moon, sexuality, sensual love, and fertility. It was also the name for the wooden female figures or poles that were set up to represent her.  Her temples were centers of sacred prostitution. Ashtoreth is mentioned some forty times in the Old Testament.

Molech means "king." His worship was characterized by parents who sacrificed their children, compelling them to walk through or into a furnace of fire. Hebrew law strictly forbade this practice. The Lord had spoken to Moses saying, "Again, you shall say to the children of Israel, Whosoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, who gives any of his seed [children] unto Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people because he has given of his seed unto Molech to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name." Lev. 20:1-3. Ezekiel spoke for God: "For when you offer your gifts, when you make your sons to pass through the fire, you pollute yourselves with all your idols." Ezek. 20:31.

Jeremiah 3:9 laments that they committed adultery with stones and trees. James 4:4 teaches us that friendship with the world is adultery.

God demanded their undivided, unadulterated worship and obedience to Him. The true worship of God requires that we lay down the wants of our old man nature of flesh and sin--that we deny Self in total abandonment to God.

GOD DIVORCED ISRAEL

Israel was regarded by God as His betrothed. Jer. 3:14. God was faithful to her, but she was repeatedly unfaithful to Him. She attempted fidelity, occasionally, and there were times of repentance and restoration. The good kings purged the temple of idolatry, but even they did not always complete the job. They consistently kept their high places.

Of Solomon it is written, "Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places." 1 Kings 3:3. Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He banished the sodomites from the land and removed the idols of his father; he removed his mother, Maachah, from being queen because she had made an idol in a grove; but "the high places were not removed." 1 Kings 15:11-14. "Jehoshaphat walked in all the ways of Asa his father, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD," but did not take away the high places. 1 Kings 22:43. Jehoash (2 Kings 12:1-3), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:1-4), Jeroboam (2 Kings 15:1-4), Uzziah and Jotham (2 Kings 15:32-34) likewise did what was right in the sight of the Lord except they did not take away the high places.

The scriptures tell us that Hezekiah and Josiah were the only Kings who removed even the high places. Hezekiah "did what was right in the sight of the LORD; according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the groves." 2 Kings 18:3-4a. The record says Josiah removed the high places "and like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him." 2 Kings 23:25. But for these two, king after king had this one thing in common: they did not remove the high places.

During the days that Josiah was king, the Lord asked Jeremiah if he had seen what backsliding Israel had done. He said that she had gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree and played the harlot; and for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, God had her put away and given her a certificate of divorce. Jer. 3:6, 8.

TAKEN CAPTIVE

Earlier in Israel's history, after Solomon's reign as king, the Kingdom of Israel divided. The kingdom of Israel (later called Samaria) consisted of the ten tribes to the north which split from the kingdom after the death of Solomon during the reign of his son Rehoboam. It was ruled by Jeroboam. The Kingdom of Judah consisted of the two remaining tribes in the south, Judah and Benjamin.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God portrayed these two kingdoms as daughters of one mother. He gave these daughters the names Aholah and Aholibah. Aholah means "her own tent" and Aholibah means "women of the tent" or "the tent is in her." Aholah was the older daughter, Samaria, and Aholibah was the younger daughter, Judah (or Jerusalem). Ezekiel says, "...they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: their breasts were pressed there, and the teats of their virginity were bruised." Ezek. 23:3.

Though Aholah belonged to the Lord, she played the harlot and doted on her Assyrian lovers. She committed her whoredoms with them and defiled herself. So, God banished her into the hands of her lovers, the Assyrians.

Her sister, Aholibah, saw all that her older sister had done and how she had been taken away into captivity by her Assyrian lovers; yet, she multiplied her whoredoms more than her sister.

God sent the Babylonians to take Judah away into captivity as a judgment against her. God said, "I will set My jealousy against you, and they shall deal furiously with you." Ezek. 23. Therefore, because of their idolatries and harlotries, Samaria was scattered to the nations by the Assyrians. Judah (Jerusalem) was taken into Babylonian captivity by the Babylonians.

The scriptures make it clear that these adulterous acts of idolatry were abominations to God. Ezekiel 16:51-52 reveals that Judah had committed twice the sins of her sister Samaria. She had multiplied her abominations.

Of all the sins Israel and Judah committed, idolatry was the most abominable to God. Their idolatry was the one thing that led to their downfall. They forsook God for their high places. We are no different today. We, too, have our high places and our high places are just as much a snare to us.

Chapter 5 - Our High Places

I rarely saw Benny without hearing some piece of profound wisdom suitable to a sage. This day was no exception. With that typical twinkle in his eye and that wry west Tennessee grin on his face, he asked me, "Do you know how you can tell when something is an idol in your life?"

"No." I waited for his reply. I knew it would be good.

His grin widened. His words were slow but short. "By how big a fight you put up when it's taken from you."

Many of the things we fight over are likely idols in our lives. We get angry when something we adore is taken from us or when we fear that it might be taken from us.

OUR HIGH PLACES

We, as with Israel of old, have our idols. Our idols are our high places. Our high places are those things we cherish above our consecration to God. We, too, have gone "a whoring" after the gods of our own making. We "burn incense" to the work of our hands and the imaginations of our minds when we take self-exalted pride in our accomplishments. Such things as science, government, the stock market, religion, the arts, diets, entertainment, and sports can work for our good, but they become idolatrous when we put our trust in them rather than in God. We make ourselves out to be God.

This was the lie in the garden of Eden: if we could know as God knows, we would become as God. So we, in Adam, became knowledgeable, and that knowledge became a curse to us. We play God when we glory in our own intellectual abilities to figure things out, reason things, understand things, invent things, and imagine even greater achievements. We exalt that which we think we know above the knowledge of God. It keeps us at arms-length from God and prevents us from entering into intimacy with Father-God, our Creator. Puffed-up knowledge is the arrogance of Self, and Self is that high mountain upon which we build our altars.

EXTENSIONS OF SELF

Our high places are extensions of ourselves. We stand back like a master painter and survey the canvas of our works and sigh, "Ah! This is what I did!" Our identities are wrapped up in our achievements. We want to be somebody, to make our mark, to leave our fingerprint on something important. Our old man of flesh natures are driven by the need for power, position, recognition, possessions, and domination.

We bow the knee to those who are rich and famous, and snub, or at best patronize, those who are poor and uncelebrated. We, as Nimrod, have journeyed to our land of Shinar, looking to build a tower, a city, and a name for ourselves. Gen. 11. Those who have "Ministries" do this as well.

CHURCH AS AN EXTENSION OF SELF

This Thing we call church can be one such extension of ourselves. It is one of those things we go after in our hearts because we love it so. That is to say, we love the works of our hands and the imaginations of our hearts that are expressed in that Thing we call church. We are in church because church is in us. It is an extension of us. Therefore, we are serving ourselves when we serve it.

"Ah, come on," you say. "You can't be serious. Aren't you being too hard and critical of the church? I love my church. I have life-long relationships in my church. We have a great choir, good preaching, souls are saved, the Holy Spirit often moves in our services. The ritual and symbols make me feel close to God. How do you account for the fact that God shows up in church? How can you call church evil?"

Good Christian people go to church. In fact, the stronger they are in their faith, the more likely they are to go to church. They identify "going to church" with their faith. Their faithfulness to church is often the yardstick for measuring their faithfulness to Christ. After all, the churches even belong to Christians, at least in name and perception. God's presence is manifested in some of these churches on occasions, but none of this means that these Things we call church have been born of the Spirit. They are still idolatrous extensions of Self.

God often blessed and prospered His people in captivity. God blessed Israel on numerous occasions even though she was engaged in idolatry. Even when He banished Judah to Babylon, He commanded that they build houses, plant gardens, eat the fruit of them, and increase in families. Jer. 29:4-6. God even pronounced severe judgment against those idolatrous Jews who tried to stay behind in Judah. Jer. 29:16-18. "After seventy years are accomplished in Babylon," the Lord promised Judah, "I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place." Jer. 29:10. God had to visit His people in Babylon in order to deliver them from Babylon.

The Holy Spirit has often moved upon His people to save, heal, and deliver them throughout the history of the institutionalized church system. The Protestant reformation, the great awakening of the 1800's, and the Pentecostal revival of the 1900's are major historical examples of how God sought to deliver His people out of an old order to bring them into a new order.

A few churches have experienced what they call renewal. God is filling the lamps of those willing to be prepared with enough oil to go the distance when that last trumpet sounds. It would be a tragic mistake, however, to take God's anointing upon His people as an endorsement of their idols. If the Holy Spirit is moving in your church, He is not present to bless your idolatries, but to prepare a people unto Himself. God cares for His people who happen to be in captivity to church. He is preparing His bride. He has to go into these illegitimate places we call the church to prepare her so He can take her out.

THE BRIDE IN HARLOTRY

Bill Shipman saw it this way. "It was almost like a vision," he explained.

I was there in the chambers and on the streets with them. I saw Jesus waiting in a groom's chamber. The bride was in another chamber. He was preparing to go in to see her. While He delayed, she was drawn to the window and became interested in the activities in the street. The appeal of the street tugged at her harlot heart until she wandered out there herself.

Soon after she walked out onto the streets she was raped. Her shame deceived her into believing that she had no other life but to become a prostitute, which she did. She was in a house of prostitution, locked behind huge, solid-oak, medieval doors. They looked formidable. They were bolted through with a braided kind of thing with copper on it and different kinds of ironwork.

Jesus went looking for her. He knew where she was. As He approached the doors, demons howled and hissed at Him and tried to rush Him, yet were cowardly toward Him. He opened the doors and went in. She was really a mess, and He pleaded with her to come with Him. In her guilt and shame, she refused, and so He left.

He waited a time and visited her again. Still, she wouldn't look Him in the face. Once again, He left her. As He was waiting in His chamber, fires of passion and anger suddenly flashed in His eyes. He stormed out of His chamber and strode down the street, approaching the house where His bride in harlotry abided.

Everyone saw Him coming. They fled to get out of His way. The demons took one look at Him and ran ahead of Him to lock the doors, hoping to prevent Him from entering. Without hesitation or pause in his stride, He hit those doors with the palms of His hands. POW! They exploded. Splinters went everywhere.

He walked in and found her withered in shame. Her face was hidden in her hands. This time was different though. This time He didn't ask her to come with Him. This time He grasped her hand, led her out, and took her back to the bride's chamber while she was still in her filthy, semen-stained dress.

I could see the passion and love He had for her in His eyes. Jesus saw her only one way. He saw her as a virgin. Yet, she wouldn't even look at Him. He reached out, touched her gently, and lifted her face toward His. Hesitantly, she slowly lifted her eyes to look into His. He saw her beyond her shame and forced her beyond her shame. The moment her eyes connected with His, they were filled with the same passion for Him that He had for her.

I was right in there with them. I could almost see into their faces. I backed off and saw that she had changed. She was beautiful. She had the same radiance as did Jesus. They were one. There was no longing or attraction for anyone or anything other than for one another. She had eyes only for Him. She looked like Him, and He looked like her. They were standing in one light. He was not diminished at all, but she was increased in Him. Even though she looked like Him and had the same fire in her eyes as He had in His, she was still under His feet, still under His authority. That's what made it as beautiful as it was.

I believe Bill's vision is from the Lord and reveals perfectly how He sees His bride in harlotry and how He intends to come for us. Indeed, even as His bride, we have played the harlot with our substitutes for Jesus. Perhaps even now we feel the shock waves of His footsteps coming near to rid us of our shame and dress us in robes of righteousness.

THE HIGH PLACE OF CHURCH

To substitute church for Jesus is idolatry in enormous proportions. We are not to lift up church and make it the way of salvation. Jesus alone is our salvation.

Many people have made an idol out of church just as the Israelites made an idol out of the serpent in the wilderness. When the people accused God and Moses of bringing them up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, the Lord sent fiery serpents among them, and the serpents bit the people because of their grumbling. Many of the Israelites died. The people repented, and God relented. God told Moses to make a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole. All who had been bitten could look upon it and live. Num. 21:4-9.

That should have been the end of the story. But notice 2 Kings 18:4! Hezekiah had become King of Judah, and the Bible says that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord. "He removed the high places, broke the images, cut down the groves, and broke in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it." They took an act of God and made an idol out of it. In this same idolatrous spirit, people have turned the moves of God into the denominations they later adored.

That which we call church today is an idolatrous system of men's traditions which is spiritual harlotry. Church is what we do in addition to being who Christ has made us to be in Him. If what we call church can be incorporated, joined, named, referred to as it, and can be taken from us, then it is not the real thing. The true ekklesia is a corporate body of people who are born into it. They have taken only the name of Jesus because they are in a relationship with Him. That relationship cannot be taken from them.

If church is not the real thing, then it is a counterfeit. The problem with counterfeits is that they look deceptively like the real thing. Church, as a counterfeit, is presented and perceived as the real thing. Strangely enough, though, it does not even remotely look like the real thing. Nevertheless, we have been beguiled into believing that it is.

Many people burn the incense of self-adoration to all that is associated with this Thing we call church. They have made idols out of their doctrines, forms of government, heritages, programs, rituals, liturgies, buildings, Sunday morning services, going to church, budgets, personalities, the Sunday School, youth meetings, missionary guilds, men's meetings, annual bazaars and events--everything associated with church. They frolic around their corporate achievements: their cemeteries, denominations, Bible schools, nursing homes, children's homes, hospitals, missions, jail ministries, and prison ministries. These can be God-appointed ministries and worthy causes, but they become idolatrous when we operate them to make ourselves look good and feel godly. Busyness is not godliness. These institutions are often more about those who operate them than about the ones they seek to serve.

Many of these church Things were originally started to meet the needs of people but soon became ends within themselves. Many of the institutions have become profit-driven instead of service-driven. Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." Mark 2:27. We have reversed that saying. Now, it is as though we exist for the sake of church and not church for us.

Moreover, we may have the attitude about our church that it has the right stuff. If possible, we competitively build a bigger and better steeple house than the folks down the street. We plan our services and harbor the hope that we will have the best show in town. Some of us hype our praise and worship, our prayers, our preaching, and even our offerings to convince even ourselves, perhaps, that the Holy Spirit is upon us.

We may devise programs in the name of evangelism and market ourselves in such a way so as to corral more folks--to rope, throw, and brand them with our special mark, to clone them like us. Yet, we want to stand out from the other churches in town. We craft our creeds to distinguish ourselves from them. The names we give ourselves reflect our separateness from them. We sometimes even brag about our differences. A young man at a gathering of men sported a T-shirt which was likely intended to communicate an innocent but catchy phrase; nonetheless, it revealed this separatist notion. It read, "Vineyard Church: Experience the difference."

For many deceived hearts, their church is their plan of salvation, and we have about as many salvation plans as we have churches. We stress the necessity of church membership and regular attendance to church and thereby communicate the subtle message that we are saved by these Things. We are considered unscriptural if we do not go to church.

Many churches associate water baptism with membership in their church. Some denominations (cults) preach that you are lost unless you are a member their church. For some, acceptance into their fold involves strict adherence to their rigid code of behavior. For others, acceptance involves strict adherence to their rigid doctrine. "We have the right doctrine. Agree with us and be baptized into our church, and you will be saved." How absolutely ludicrous. Is not Jesus our Savior?

We have raised up shrines for ourselves, and we have become our own corpses within them. We have enshrined ourselves with a grandeur we seek for ourselves. There is no life in these shrines nor can there ever be. There is no hope of resurrection life within them for they exist to provide something for Self. Resurrection life comes through the denial of oneself and not to those who seek to save themselves.

OUR IDOLATRY IS SPIRITUAL HARLOTRY

When the bride plays the harlot, she becomes one with the harlot, and distinguishing between the bride and her harlotries becomes difficult. If you play the harlot, you become the harlot. The apostle Paul wrote, "Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. What? Know you not that he who is joined to a harlot is one body? For two, says He, shall be one flesh. But he who is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." 1 Cor. 6:15-17.

Paul was writing to Corinthian believers who were, with all saints in all places and in all times, the bride of Christ. A bride is feminine in gender. A harlot is feminine in gender. I mean no disparagement against anyone who is sexually broken, but when the bride of Christ joins herself to the harlotry of Self, she is operating in the perverse spirit of spiritual lesbianism and practicing spiritual self-sex. We are more "in lust" with ourselves than we are in sacrificial relationship with our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is jealous of that.

STRONGHOLDS OF THE MIND

These idolatries of Self are strongholds of the mind. A spiritual stronghold is the preoccupation with an object, a person, or an institution; with anger or fear; with a fetish, an addiction, or a sin. A spiritual stronghold is anything that fascinates us, dominates our minds, and causes us to behave obsessively and compulsively. These are things that rule over us. We seem powerless to do anything about them. Yet, we cannot deny that these things are harmful to us or others.

A spiritual stronghold can also be the grid through which we see things. Church is one such stronghold of the mind. We have been brainwashed into believing that church as we know and practice it is what we ought to do. We have never known anything other than church as we practice it. So, when I say church is an idol and a stronghold in your mind, you may have a difficult time believing it. You cannot see it. Even if you see it, you have a hard time accepting it because of your programmed mind-set. Once you see the deception, however, receive the truth, and begin to walk in that light, you find your mind changing. The stronghold is being torn down.

Taking the bride of Christ out of church is not an easy matter, because church is a stronghold in her mind. God has to take church out of us, as well as take us out of it. Strange language is it not? For while God is trying to take us out of church, we are trying to get people into it. If we try to leave the stronghold of church before it has been taken out of us, we will simply return to it.

Christmas. Christmas is one of those strongholds of the mind. It had not been celebrated in any form before the third century. Alexander Hislop explains, "Long before the fourth century, and long before the Christian era itself, a festival was celebrated among the heathen, at that precise time of the year, in honor of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven; and it may fairly be presumed that, in order to conciliate the heathen, and to swell the number of the nominal adherents of Christianity, the same festival was adopted by the Roman Church, giving it only the name of Christ." They took this strictly pagan celebration and put Jesus in the center of it.

Rome instituted a mass which was called Christ-mass--shortened to Christmas. Christmas has always been, is now, and ever shall be a pagan festival. It has grown over the centuries to become the enchanting, magical, merchant-driven insult to God that it now is. We are mesmerized by it. Hooked on it. Enslaved by it. In debt to it. Dennis Loewen adds, "Christmas is another example of how powerful the false living spirit of harlotry is. There is a spirit of Christmas. It is warm; it is wonderful; it is good...and it is not from God."

The world loves Christmas as much as Christians do. What does that tell us? One "Christian" celebrity said on national TV that Christmas is three things: "decorating, gift-giving, and eating." We must know that what the world loves cannot be of God. The apostle John exhorts us, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." 1 John 2:15-16.

The fact that most of what people do at Christmas has its roots in this pagan mid-winter festival should be reason enough for Christians not to do it--the tree and lights, the candles, the mistletoe, the exchange of gifts, the yule log in the fireplace, the cakes, the goose, the drunkenness, and even the date of December the 25th. The fact that this season is so merchant-driven today should add to our disdain for it. However, the real slap-in-the-face to God is that we love these soulish things more than obedience to Him. They are emotional strongholds in our minds. We would lack sound judgment to believe that we can relentlessly celebrate these days and seasons and stay free of their captivation.

The idea of not celebrating Christmas carries such an affront to others that most people could not give it up even if they were convinced that it was an abomination to God. We are thought leprous for not going along with it. We are pleasers of men rather than of God.

I have heard the cliché once my childhood to "put Christ back into Christmas." It is often inscribed this way: "Put Christ back into X-mas." Even though the X probably stands for the Greek letter chi in Christ, we tend to think of it as X-ing out Jesus. Well, for years I have been thinking it and now I dare to say it: Instead of putting Jesus back into a pagan festival where He never belonged in the first place, let us take Him out of it altogether and give it back to the world to whom it belongs. After all, the Bible never called for this celebration, and Jesus would never impose such crazy-making bondage upon us. Paul wrote, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Gal. 5:1 NAS. This is what we should teach our children.

Christmas is one of those "high places" that most of us seem unwilling to tear down, even knowing how God might feel about it. Our minds are made up. "I like Christmas," one young mother told me. The rest of her sentence was implied, "So I'm going to do it." We build manger scenes in our yards and erect glow-in-the-dark Santa Clauses next to them. Buddy at the checkout counter illustrated this mix very simply. He had a Santa Claus hat on his head and a W.W.J.D. (what would Jesus do?) band around his neck. Buddy, Jesus would not have worn that hat.

After I told a dear old lady why I no longer do Christmas, she responded, "But I don't think of pagan gods when I look at my Christmas tree. I think of Jesus." That seemed reasonable to me. I asked God about it. He answered. "What would you think if you caught your wife in adultery, and she answered, 'But, honey, I was thinking of you the whole time'?"

Many people reason, "we do it for the children." If Christmas is idolatrous for the parents, then why would the parents want to sacrifice their children to these idols?

Easter. Easter is equally idolatrous and chilling. Most Christians affectionately use the term Easter in association with the precious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ with no regard to the fact that Easter is the English word for the goddess Ishtar (also called Astarte and Eostre in other pagan cultures). Ishtar was celebrated as the queen of heaven. Much of what we do at Easter time also has its origin in paganism. The date on which we celebrate Easter does not regularly coincide with the resurrection of Christ, which occurred three days after Passover. Lent, the sunrise services, the dyeing of eggs, the bunny rabbits are all unscriptural abominations to God.

So, how did we come to do those things? Alexander Hislop writes, "To conciliate the Pagans to nominal Christianity, Rome, pursuing its usual policy, took measures to get the Christian and Pagan festivals amalgamated, and, by a complicated but skillful adjustment of the calendar, it was found no difficult matter, in general, to get Paganism and Christianity--now far sunk in idolatry--in this as in so many other things, to shake hands."

Dennis Loewen observes, "The harlot isn't picky about these things. She will lay down with anything as long as it is another Jesus. She reasons, 'Why bother with these details?' God, on the other hand, does mind. How could anyone read the scriptures and see Him otherwise?"

EMPOWERING OUR HIGH PLACES

We empower those things we bow down and pay homage to. We release God's power in our lives when we bow down and worship Him. Likewise, we empower our idols when we bow down to them whether they are men, buildings, institutions, ideas, science, opinions, demons, or that Thing we call church.

Patrick came to town to start a new church. As is often the case, the Lord's anointing was present, and people freely entered into praise and worship. Relationships were forming. The vision seemed, at first, to be targeted toward building up the people into Christ. There was liberty. Then came the desire for a building, then the need for a loan, then the need for more money, and finally a drive for membership. The people found themselves drawn back into that which they had tried to come out of. Patrick was taking them back into what he came out of, because what he had come out of had never been taken out of him. Instead of building a people, he was consumed with building a church--his church. A few discerning people who went to his church left when they realized that staying served only to endorse and empower his idolatry.

We empower the idolatry of church when we attend its services.

We empower the idolatry of church when we contribute to it.

We empower the idolatry of church when we insist upon using the term church in reference to the body of Christ.

We empower the idolatry of church when we ask one another where we go to church?

We empower the idolatry of church when we measure other people's spirituality by where they go to church.

We have our high places; yet, we know God's heart in such matters because He clearly told us, "You shall have no other gods before Me." Exod. 20:3.

The Holy Spirit may lead a mature, liberated believer to attend a church and perhaps contribute to it for a purpose known only to God and that believer. If, however, that believer becomes joined in his heart to that system, once again lifting it up, he has returned to the idolatry and spiritual harlotry of it. He is deceived. One who feels called of God to stay in or return to one of those harlot church system situations has to be honest with himself regarding his true motive lest he say, "God told me to" in order to justify the harlot desires of his heart.

AUGURING OUT THE IDOLATRY

For the most part, first century believers went from house to house which may be an ideal plan for gathering even today. More and more believers in relationship are being drawn into each other's living rooms for praise and worship, sharing the word, breaking bread, prayer, and fellowship. These settings can provide tremendous liberty in the Holy Spirit, create opportunities for each one to use his or her gifts, draw them closer together in relationships, and maintain support for one another in times of need.

However, we must understand that our salvation does not depend upon meeting in home groups anymore than belonging to church. Our salvation is in the Lord. We can make an idolatrous thing out of home groups just as easily as we can out of church. The problem is not in having a building or not, having regular meetings or not, having programs or not, or having structure or not. The problem has to do with what is in our hearts about those things. It may be possible to have all of those things and not become joined to them, though I doubt it. Sooner or later, without realizing it, we make a Thing of them and begin go after the Thing rather than the Lord. That is how our harlot hearts work. For, after all, those things came out of our hearts. I think it is most unlikely that we can organize ourselves as a group of believers with a building, a name, a bank account, belief system, and such without those things sooner or later becoming a source of pride in us as idolatrous extensions of our fleshly need to exalt Self.

I find that there is a mix in many churches. There is both flesh and Spirit because, until now, God has responded to His people wherever they call upon His name. He responds in spite of the fact that we have made these Things idols in our lives. He responds to the Holy Spirit and His nature within us. Nevertheless, He despises our flesh and our idolatries. I dare not touch what God is doing in any person or church. I desire only to augur out the idolatrous part of it all and expose our harlot hearts that we might repent of that.

If you are in one of those Things we call church and are truly growing in the Lord, I would not want to say leave it physically, but abandon any idolatry of it. And beware! Phil Perry observed that "the more the Holy Spirit seems to be moving in one of those Things, the more deceiving it is. People see all that God is doing, and fail to see all the things that are wrong." The "things that are wrong" are terribly wrong. The snare is still set to trap you and engage you as a slave to the system for life. Many groups may have begun in the Spirit, but are continuing on in the flesh. Gal. 3:3.

We are to be a people who are led by the Holy Spirit in all that we do, say, and are. We are to worship Him in spirit and truth. Anything, including church, that hinders us from doing so cannot be from God.

Our high places are our Babylonian lovers, and church is the modern day Babylonian captivity of God's people.

Chapter 6 - Spiritual Babylon

What is spiritual Babylon today? Opinions rival one another.

Alexander Hislop argues that the woman in Revelation 17 said to be "sitting on seven mountains," and having on her forehead the name written, "Mystery, Babylon the Great," is associated with the Roman apostasy [the Roman Catholic Church]. Others are of the opinion that Babylon is the whole world system which is under the domain of Satan. A friend of mine has a convincing argument from scripture that the United States of America is modern Babylon. An internationally recognized prophet in our time has said that New York City is modern Babylon.

I say that Babylon is all of the above, yet more. Babylon was once a city in Mesopotamia. It has been spiritualized in the scriptures as something that is in contradiction to God. It is now a type of something spiritual. Babylon is not the Roman Catholic Church, but is a type of something often found in the Roman Catholic Church. Babylon is not the United States of America, but is a type of something in the United States of America. Babylon is not New York City, but is a type of something in New York City. Babylon certainly is not the body of Christ, but is a type of something in the hearts of many in the body--something that ought not to be there.

As I defined in chapter one, Babylon is all that the carnal mind of man devises in the exaltation of Self--the preeminence of Self over God whether in nations, cities, politics, government, science, technology, religion, philosophy, psychology, sociology, commerce, education, entertainment, or church. It is all that is in the world and of the world. It describes the spiritual condition of the church.

THE CARNAL MIND

Spiritual Babylon is primarily characterized by the idolatry of the carnal mind. Carnal is another word for the flesh. "Flesh" often refers to that fallen sin nature of man that is at enmity with God. The carnal mind is all thought, reason, logic, imagination, opinion, and speculation that is associated with the old Adamic mind of fallen man. We practice Babylon when we do things according to our notion rather than God's.

The apostle Paul explained that those who do things according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who do according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. "For to be carnally [fleshly] minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God." Rom. 8:5-7a.

The appeal in the garden was for Adam and Eve to exercise the power of their God-given intellect to elevate themselves in their own minds. God told Adam that he could eat from all of the trees in the garden except one. He was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. "For in the day that you eat thereof," God warned, "you shall surely die." Gen. 2:16-17. This ban was clear and simple. God said what He meant and meant what He said. That should have settled it.

Satan, however, slithered onto the limb of their intellect and reasoned, "You shall not surely die: for God knows that in the day you eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Gen. 3:4-5. Knowing good and evil was an appeal to the idolatry of the mind. Once they yielded to the temptation and ate of the fruit, their minds became fleshly. They were transformed into a nature that was different from the way God created them.

Genesis 3:6 tells us three things about Eve: She saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. This verse also tells us that God created man with the ability to make choices, with the desire to be like God, and with the vulnerability to be deceived. Eve was enticed with the prospect of having knowledge and being equal to God. So, she bit into the lie and gave it to her husband to eat of it also. Gen. 3:6.

The ability to make choices is not a sin. It is a gift from God. We sin when we make choices contrary to God's will. We think we know better than God. Therefore, we exalt our knowledge, logic, reasoning, opinions, imaginations, speculations, and every other high-minded thing above the knowledge of God. 2 Cor. 10:5. We ignore that part of God's word that does not agree with our aspirations, expectations, theologies, and doctrines. We believe what we want to believe. We foolishly make ourselves out to be God. We even make up God to be the way we want Him to be. Thus, we are in rebellion against God just as Adam and Eve were.

Paul wrote against the arrogance of knowledge saying, "If a man thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself." Gal. 6:3. Again he wrote, "If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know." 1 Cor. 8:2 NAS.

DECEPTION

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by deception. Satan deceived Eve. He implied that God had lied to them. If, indeed, they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Satan argued, they would become like God, knowing good and evil.

Eve believed Satan's lies and immediately structured her own false reality around those lies. She incorporated those lies into her paradigm of reality. She constructed her own truth about God and sighed, "Oh, I see now!" Rather than having her eyes opened, however, she actually became spiritually blind.

Before they went in to possess the land of Canaan, God warned the Israelites to guard their hearts lest they be deceived. Deut. 11:16. Paul wrote, "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." 1 Cor. 3:18. He charged his readers several times not to be deceived. 1 Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7. To the Ephesians he wrote, "Let no man deceive you with vain words." Eph. 5:6. To the Colossians he wrote, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, and not after Christ." Col. 2:8. To the Thessalonians he wrote, "Let no man deceive you by any means." 2 Thess. 2:3. We can be blinded to the truth by lust, pleasures, malice, envy, and hate. Titus 3:3. We can be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Heb. 3:13. We can deceive ourselves by being hearers only of the word and not doers. James 1:22. We can deceive ourselves by being religious. James 1:26; 1 John 1:8. John adds: "Little children, let no man deceive you." 1 John 3:7. With this battery of scriptures in mind, do you believe we can possibly be deceived, even as believers in Christ? "For many deceivers have entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." 2 John 1:7.

Hosea spoke for God saying, "Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel: for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land...My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge [of God]: because you have rejected knowledge [of God]." Hos. 4:1, 6a. Spiritual Babylon--all that the carnal mind devises--is the exaltation of what we construct as truth over what God says is truth.

PRIDE

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by pride. The prideful nature of Self thinks it knows. It thinks it knows better than God. It makes decisions all day, every day without consulting God, without even asking for wisdom. When smitten with pride, we are lifted up in who we think we are and what we think we know. Self is prideful, arrogant, and haughty. "Knowledge puffs up." 1 Cor. 8:1.

Spiritual Babylon is associated with the arrogance of those who followed Nimrod to the land of Shinar (Babel). The Bible says they were of one language and one speech and said to one another, "'Let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and they had slime for mortar. And they said, 'Let us build us a city and a tower, whose tip may reach heaven; and let us make a name for ourselves'." Gen. 11: 3-4.

Churches and ministries are snared by the prideful temptation to gather larger numbers of people, build bigger buildings with steeples pointing to heaven, and make names for themselves, succumbing to the temptation to exalt Self. We name our churches, ministries, and institutions after ourselves. We dedicate stained-glass windows and pews in memory of men. We put our names on things for self-glory.

What a contrast to those who follow Jesus! As Paul exhorted, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Phil. 2:5-8.

EXALTED SELF

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by the exaltation of Self. The exalted Self says, "I can save, heal, deliver, and fix myself." "I will increase my knowledge in science, my power in politics, my performance in religion, my investments in the marketplace, my insights into the psyche of man." "I will alter the genetics of humans, clone humans, abort babies, and change the laws so I will feel comfortable doing these things." "I will become an entertainer, rock star, model, sports superstar, politician, writer, musician, or televangelist in order to achieve fame and fortune." "I can build a church around my revelations, my teachings, and my programs by which I imply that others can be saved, healed, and delivered."

This is the spirit of the king of Babylon in our hearts which Isaiah calls Lucifer (meaning "light-bearer"--the name also given to Satan). He is the one of whom Isaiah writes: "How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How are you cut down to the ground, which weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart, 'I will ascend into heaven. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the most High.' Yet you shall be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit." Isa. 14:12-15. "I," "I," "I."

The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, walked in the palace of his kingdom and said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" Dan. 4:30. We who lift ourselves up like King Nebuchadnezzar will be brought down like King Nebuchadnezzar. "While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, 'O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from you.'" Dan. 4:31. He was driven from men to dwell in the field with the beasts where he ate grass as oxen do, possibly for seven years. This happened to him that he might come to know that the most High God rules in the kingdom of men and gives kingdoms to whomever He will. Dan. 4:32.

We have believed the lie of the serpent in the garden; we believe that we are our own god. How pathetic! We get so joined to this lie that it is perceived as truth and as something to be desired. We esteem ourselves over God.

Jesus said, "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he who humbles himself shall be exalted." Matt. 23:12.

CONFUSION

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by confusion. Babel means confusion. Gen. 11:9. The Lord saw that the settlers in Shinar were one people and spoke one language which meant, according to God's own words, that nothing would be held from them that they imagined to do. Thereupon, God said, "Let us go down, and there confound [confuse] their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." Gen. 11:7. The Lord scattered them to all parts of the earth so that they were not able to finish building their city.

Everything that is in the world continues to be marked by confusion. We have confusion among nations, confusion among ethnic groups, confusion in government, confusion in the economic marketplace, confusion in education, confusion in science and technology, confusion in the home, and confusion in the local church. Because Christians have refused to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and have insisted upon building their own little towers to heaven, we have great diversity, disunity, and confusion among us. If we find ourselves in confusion, something other than or in addition to God is talking to us. The carnal mind is in operation and in opposition to the Spirit of God.

James says: "For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work." James 3:16. If we have the mind of Christ, we will be of one mind. If we are not of one mind, one or all of us are wallowing in the slime of the carnal mind. When we, as God's people, however, seek His will, He will not cause us to be in confusion. God is not the author of confusion. 1 Cor. 14:33.

IMAGINATIONS

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by vain imaginations. God said of those in Babel that "nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." Gen. 11:6. They were building unto themselves by their own hands with brick and slime what they had imagined in their minds.

The ability to imagine, as with the ability to reason and make choices is a God-given virtue. Imaginations are not evil in and of themselves. They become evil when we glory in them and glory in those things we invent as the result of them. We can accomplish spectacular things with the work of our hands from the imaginations of our minds. We walk the moon and put land-rovers on Mars. We pack gigabytes of memory onto tiny computer chips. We surf infinite miles on the information superhighway of the World Wide Web. We dwarf the great pyramids of Egypt with our modern skyscrapers. One person in the right place with the wrong mind-set can push a button and annihilate large cities in minutes.

By the same powers of intellect and imagination, we can build mega-ministries, universities, cathedrals, and circle the globe with "Christian television" and "Christian programming." We do what appears to be "mighty exploits for God" in the arm of self-strength. Nothing seems impossible to us if we can only imagine it.

Mary said of Jesus while He was yet in her womb: "He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts." Luke 1:51. Paul wrote regarding the unrighteous that "they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened." Rom. 1:21.

We are to cast "down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God," and bring "into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." 2 Cor. 10:5. Unless our works are inspired of God, they will not withstand the fire of God. They are wood, hay, and stubble. 1 Cor. 3:11, 15.

BABBLE

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by babble. Babble is useless chatter. "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise." Prov. 10:19 NKJV. Words, words, words. Have you heard it said of some people that they babble on and on? Their words are often senseless, boring, and toxic. They talk when they need to be listening. They answer before they hear. Of such, Proverbs 18:13 says, "He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him." Such people are said to have no ears.

Proverbs pictures the wordiness of Babylon in these verses: "He who opens wide his lips shall have destruction." Prov. 13:3. "In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride." Prov. 14:3. "Idle chatter leads only to poverty." Prov. 14:23 NKJV. "The mouth of fools pours out foolishness." Prov. 15:2. "A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for strokes. A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly." Prov. 18:6-8. "See a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him." Prov. 29:20.

Some people talk and never say anything. Some people talk until they say something. Rare are those who talk only when they have something to say. Peter wrote, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." 1 Pet. 4:11. Would not that be the day!?

ACCUMULATION OF KNOWLEDGE

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by the accumulation of knowledge. The extremely rapid increase of knowledge in this present day is foretold in Daniel 12:4: "Conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth and knowledge will increase."

The time in which we live has been classified as The Information Age. Knowledge mushrooms. Every new piece of knowledge multiplies what we learn. There seems to be no limit to the knowledge we can accumulate today. There seems to be no limit to what we humans can do with the knowledge we accumulate. Because of what we know, new thresholds in space are constantly crossed with each succeeding launch. Computers and computer programs are outdated by the time they hit the market. Major surgery is performed without intrusive incisions. High-tech wars can be won in a matter of days. Knowledge becomes more powerful than money.

We rely upon our own abilities to research, explore, examine, know, understand, and discover things. We have an insatiable appetite for more knowledge, to pull things up by the roots to see what they are made of. We have become a society of technomaniacs. We presume that we can solve our own problems with more knowledge.

Knowledge is one of our Babylons, one of our high places, and we are the god we worship. Knowledge that leads to self-idolatry is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Every year men and women graduate from seminaries by the thousands to fill pulpits around the world. There they will apply the higher-critical and near atheistic interpretations of the scriptures which they learned. They are spiritually bankrupted by such high-minded learning and are spiritually bankrupting their parishioners. Paul would have the same fear today that he had for the Corinthians: "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." 2 Cor. 11:3.

SECTARIANISM

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by sectarianism.

After the people in the land of Shinar purposed in their hearts to build a city, a tower, and a name for themselves, the Lord came down and said, "Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." The place was called Babel because the Lord confused their language and moved them to all parts of the world. Gen. 11:2-9.

Because this Thing we call church is of the flesh and is an aspect of spiritual Babylon, it is under this same curse of confusion and sectarianism. It is founded on sectarianism, even thrives on it. It promotes the disunity of the body of Christ. Its very existence depends upon how each church system differs one from the other. This is easily seen in how their names billboard their differences.

Sectarianism says, "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos." Paul accused the Corinthian believers of being "fleshly" and "mere men" because of their sectarianism. There was jealousy and strife among them. They put their identity in personalities (Paul, Apollos, Cephas) rather than in the person of Jesus Christ. Apollos and Paul were both servants of the same Jesus. One planted; the other watered; but it was God who caused the growth. The one who plants and waters is nothing, but God is the One who matters because He causes the growth. When we understand that we are all fellow workers, God's field, God's building, then sectarianism will be edged out of the way. Disunity in the body turns into unity, oneness. There can only be one foundation, Jesus Christ. If what we have is sectarian and contributes to the disunity of the body, it has been built upon the wrong foundation. 1 Cor. 2.

Once we see this truth, we should have no need ever to name ourselves in order to identify what we are about. We are all about the Father's business, allowing the Holy Spirit who dwells in us to build us up as the temple of the Holy Spirit. "If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." 1 Cor. 3:17. The more we separate ourselves within the body of Christ, the more we destroy the temple of the Holy Spirit.

RELIGION

Spiritual Babylon is characterized by religion. Even though masses of people seem to abhor religion of any kind, our sinful nature has a bent toward it because it is under the curse of condemnation and works. The first Adam was driven from the presence of God (condemnation) and told that he had to till the land and eat his bread in the sweat of his face (works). Gen. 3:19, 23. Because the fallen man of flesh and sin is under the curse, he feels shame and wants to do something to make himself feel okay. Pagan man made up gods and then made up rituals (religious things to do) to try to appease their gods. Some of them even fed infant children to these gods of their own making.

Even though many people may be truly redeemed of the Lord, they still bring their shame-based flesh tendencies over into the life of the church; they know of only one way to relate to God, that is, through religion. Religiously inclined people love religion. It does not matter from one end of the spectrum to the other how people choose to express themselves religiously. Religion is still religion.

They love the religious atmosphere of church because it gives them something to do to salve the guilt of condemnation. Many well-meaning Christians are unaware that they go to church and do religious things out of a false sense of duty. They go because it makes them feel good. Perhaps they have not fully comprehended that there is "now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Rom. 8:1.

Religion is foreign to God. He requires no religious thing of us. We are made spiritual beings by the presence and power of His Holy Spirit dwelling in us. His presence and power in us causes us to be and do what the Father requires of us. There is no way we can be righteous without it being His righteousness at work within us. That is why it is called grace. "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." Eph. 2:8-10. Religion stinks in the nostrils of God because it keeps us from having intimate relationships with Him. Our relationship is with our religion or with our church.

Flesh man deceives himself into thinking that if his religion makes him feel good, it must be good; therefore, he goes on doing his religious things. For such a one, church is often the religious thing he does. Yet, at the end of the day, after all is said and done, nothing is any different in him than it was before he engaged in that religious activity. He is just as empty on the inside as he was before. An abiding relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ is the only food that fills the soul to satisfaction.

RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS

The religious systems that make up and govern that Thing we call church characterize spiritual Babylon. Just as Judah and Jerusalem were once in Babylonian captivity, so are God's people today who are joined to church in their hearts. The brick and slime are the sectarian doctrines, creeds, traditions, festivals and celebrations, liturgies, rituals, lectionaries, polities, heritages, and ecclesiastical calendars. These things stand in place of or alongside a personal, living, dynamic relationship with God. These things that govern church have little to do with the Kingdom of God.

Most of us were born and raised in spiritual Babylon and have never known anything else. We have never seen what the body of Christ looks like as a pure and holy bride. Even though we know that all is not well within what we call church, we think that it can be fixed or at least made better, but it cannot.

THE ABOMINATION THAT MAKES DESOLATE

The rebellious carnal mind--immersed in deception, pride, the exaltation of Self, confusion, imaginations, babble, the accumulation of knowledge, sectarianism, religion, and its religious systems--is in the church as well as in the world. The abomination that makes desolate the holy place of God's temple of whom we are as believers, is rule of the carnal mind over obedience to God.

Jesus talked about this. While picturing the signs of the end to His disciples, He mentioned the abomination of desolation which had been spoken of by Daniel the prophet. He told them that when they saw the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place they were to take various actions. (Read Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14.)

The abomination that makes desolate is described by Daniel for a future time. Dan. 12:9-11. Daniel was told that a vile person shall arise, muster forces, defile the sanctuary fortress, take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. Dan. 11:21-31 NKJV.

Some believe Daniel's prophecy was fulfilled around 165 B.C. when Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), Greek ruler of Syria, did the unthinkable. He sacrificed an unclean pig on the holy altar of the Jewish Temple. Others believe it was fulfilled when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. Still others suggest it will be fulfilled when the "man of sin" takes over the Temple and forces people to bow down to him, making himself to be like God.

All of these suggestions point to natural, historical events. Perhaps it was or will be one of them. Perhaps it has multiple fulfillments and includes all of them. Consider, nonetheless, that what is generally expressed in the natural is also fulfilled in the spiritual realm. The New Testament writers explained that the spiritual is not first, but the natural; the spiritual follows the natural. 1 Cor 15:46; Heb. 9:11.

Jesus placed this abomination of desolation event in the future, even as a sign of the end times. Paul's writings agree that it was for a time future to his. 2 Thess. 2:3-4. Matthew indicated that the reader would need understanding. Matt. 24:15.

Consider that the body of Christ is spiritual Israel and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Where, then, would the abomination that makes the holy place desolate take place? It would take place within the minds and spirits of members of the body of Christ. We have already established from scriptures that it is possible for believers to be deceived.

The abomination occurs when the carnal mind is given precedence over the word of God and the mind of Christ. When we allow that, the holy place of our spirits is made desolate. When we bow down to those idolatrous systems of men's traditions as enshrined in our churches, we allow the abomination into the holy place which is our spirits. Our idolatries pollute the temple of the Holy Spirit. The carnal mind rules.

THE FALL OF BABYLON

This Babylonian church will fall just as did historical Babylon.

Historical Babylon was used by God to judge Judah for her idolatries. Isa. 10:5-6. Daniel called Judah's judgment in Babylon a time of indignation (wrath). Dan. 11:36. When that seventy-year period of God's indignation was accomplished, God brought judgment against Babylon. Jer. 25:12. God prophesied to Babylon through Isaiah saying, "I was angry with My people, I profaned My heritage, and gave them into your hand. You did not show mercy to them." Isa. 47:6, NKJV.

God notes Babylon's pride: "Now, then hear this, you sensual one, who dwells securely, who says in your heart, I am, and there is no one besides me. I shall not sit as a widow, nor shall I know loss of children." Isa. 47:8.

He predicts what is going to happen to her: "Sit silently and go into darkness...For you will no more be called the queen of kingdoms...These two things shall come upon you suddenly in one day: loss of children and widowhood. They shall come on you in full measure in spite of your many sorceries, in spite of the great power of your spells...and destruction about which you do not know will come on you suddenly." Isa. 47:5-11 NAS.

God's judgment upon historical Babylon foreshadows His judgment upon spiritual Babylon. When we go to Babylon, we are more than captives in Babylon. We run the risk of becoming Babylonians. If we stay in Babylon and in our idolatries, we can expect God's judgment to fall upon us. We can expect a time when God will empty the Babylonian systems of His children, leaving them childless and without husbands. Isaiah 47, quoted above, has as much to do with God's impending judgment upon us in spiritual Babylon as it did upon historical Babylon.

Revelation predicts that a time is coming when an angel will come down out of heaven, having great authority, and will shout with a mighty voice, saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies." Rev. 18:2-3.

Then another voice from heaven was heard saying, "Come out of her, My people, that you might not be partakers of her sins, and that you not receive of her plagues." Rev. 18:4.

This speaks of the one in Revelation 17:5 who had written upon her forehead the name, "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."

Coming out of spiritual Babylon is not easy. We are comfortable there. The institutionalized church makes us feel safe, secure, and sufficient. It gives us status, position, reputation, security, and identity. We have become institutionalized within the institutions of our own making.

Chapter 7 - Institutionalized

Bob and Joy, Chris and Jena, Troy, Rachel, and Darlene felt connected to one another in the Spirit of Christ and began meeting in each other's homes. They sang spiritual songs, shared revelations and teachings the Lord gave them. Bob did most of the teaching. He had the gift for it. They prayed for each other's needs. People were free to come and go as they pleased. When word got out that God was showing up at their meetings, more people started coming. They soon outgrew their living rooms and decided to rent a meeting room elsewhere. They took up a collection for the expenses. The crowd grew and they decided Bob needed to go full time as their pastor. The money was plentiful and in order to act responsibly, they decided to open a bank account. The bank required a name. So they named themselves. They continued to grow and decided to save rent expenses by buying their own piece of property. They elected elders to oversee the business they were growing into. Several years later, they occupied their fine new building for which they were indebted. But something different had happened. People no longer felt as free to come and go as they pleased. They were expected to be there and expected to pay their tithes there. They had a budget now. They went from being a fellowship of believers to a church. The day they gave themselves a name, they became a Thing. They institutionalized themselves.

Institutions seem to take on existences of their own as if they had minds of their own. They often become greater than the sum of the individuals who instituted them. They can take over and consume everything and everyone around them.

Yet, these institutions are devoid of life. They mesmerize, neutralize, ensnare, and enslave us. We become enmeshed with them and they become our idols. It is not long before our altruistic institutions--orphanages, nursing homes, colleges, universities, seminaries, hospitals, cemeteries, church edifices, and "ministries"--become more important than the people for whom they were initiated. People exist to serve and preserve them rather than them existing to serve the people. Their marketing programs may claim that they are meeting personal needs, and they may even be meeting personal needs, but the underlying motivation of their marketing schemes is often to increase their customer base in order to maintain or increase the institution.

Don Potter wrote in the Morning Star Journal that he had spoken to Jim Bakker after his release from prison, and Bakker admitted that he had questioned if God was in some of the things they were doing in his mega TV ministry. Things were growing so fast that no one would let him stop. Bakker couldn't imagine letting all those people down. Don commented, "He was caught in a ministry machine that had started running itself."  This happens to churches and ministries of all sizes.

Institutions often garner large sums of money from the people associated with them. People feel good about giving to them, but oftentimes come to realize that most of their time, energy, and resources are consumed merely to fuel the system. Altruism within the system is too frequently reduced to a token. Many TV ministries use altruistic appeals to tug on the emotions of potential donors, but end up using most of the money to keep their own ministry machine cranking.

INSTITUTIONALIZED

It is strange enough that these institutions seem to take on an existence of their own. It is stranger yet how our institutions institutionalize us.

Brooks "done time" in Shawshank prison for fifty years. He spent many of those years as the prison's librarian. Then it happened. He was paroled. Good news? Not for Brooks. He went crazy. They released him, and days later he was found hanging from a noose of his own making. The newer inmates didn't understand. They sat around on a rock waiting for Red to explain. Red had already spent most of his life behind those walls himself. He knew the score. Red answered philosophically. "He was institutionalized. Been in here fifty years. This is all he knows. In here, he's an important man. He's an educated man. But outside he's nothing. Just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn't get a library card if he tried...These walls are funny. At first you hate 'em. Then you get used to them. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized."

BECOMING LIKE THEM

The longer we stay in our institutions, the more we become like them. A few years ago I awakened from a dream in which someone said to me, "Be careful you don't become like the club you join." This saying had a twist of humor to it when I heard it in the dream. On the one hand, it sounded like a warning not to become what I join. On the other hand, it was suggesting I already was like the club I joined. Why else would I join it? A club is made up of people. Once you join the club, you are the club. Once you join a church, you are that church.

Something in us draws us to the things we join. Soon after we join those things, they seem to have a way of possessing us. They become us and we become them. We find our identity in them. We boast, "I am Presbyterian." "I am Southern Baptist." "I am Methodist." "I am Roman Catholic." "I am Pentecostal." Then, we cannot resist asking others, "What are you?"

Jesus told us that we were in Him and He was in us, just as He was in the Father and the Father was in Him. That was not my experience growing up in the institutional church. I felt more joined to it than to Christ. I was in it and it was in me. I was programmed to be one with it and to bring others into that illegal, unholy, mystical union with it. We are either in Christ or in the harlot.

BELIEVING WHAT THEY BELIEVE

To truly belong to one of these institutions, we are somewhat required to believe what we are told to believe by those who rule within them. We often do not know what we believe ourselves apart from the doctrines of our church. Jerry Wilson recounts, "While studying for the ministry a fellow student began asking me questions about what I believed. I answered each one by telling him what the Baptists believe. I continued on for a while. Then he smiled and asked, 'Don't you believe anything?'"

We are to believe in Jesus. Our faith in God through Jesus Christ is how we are brought into the Kingdom. "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Eph. 2:8. Believing what our institution says to believe will not save us. Yet, we tend to think it does.

BECOMING DEPENDENT UPON THEM

Just as Brooks became dependent upon those walls at Shawshank prison, so we become dependent upon our institutions. We trust in them to take care of us. In a similar way, our institutions need us. The authorities within them need for us to be dependent upon them and the institution in order to perpetuate their existence and that of the institution.

Bill Shipman noticed this dependency principle when he worked at a developmental center for young offenders. Rather than encouraging them to become productive citizens, the authorities did things that made the inmates more dependent. If one of the inmates showed any individuality, they were prescribed more Valium. Those in charge wanted to conform them rather than reform them because they needed the inmates to be dependent upon them.

On several occasions Bill tried to get some of the inmates out of institutional dependency but was undercut by other staff members. They used fear to keep their young men feeling inadequate about themselves. "You better not listen to Bill," they would say. "You'll get out there and it'll just be a matter of time before you're back in here again."

"I saw things in this institution," Bill related, "that looked just like what I'd seen in the church by heavy-handed leaders with selfish ambition. It's okay when you're bettering the institution or bettering their positions, but when you try to better the clients--the people in need--you're booed down."

"This same thing happened in Haiti," Bill remembered. "The priests first came to Haiti with a mission to truly help the people. Under the influence of the government, the politically-minded superiors in the church persuaded the priests to do otherwise. They were told to teach the slaves that they were second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God and the only way that they could get in the Kingdom was by serving the whites. The black Haitians came to believe that about themselves. It is still difficult for them to break out of that thinking. That idea is institutionalized in their thinking."

You cannot preserve the institution and, at the same time, work to put yourself out of business. Institutions may start out to do good, but by their very nature, almost always end up fostering dependency.

PREEMINENCE OF THE INSTITUTION

Our institutions often become more important than the people for whom they were intended. Here is a case in point. The year was 1750.

Jesuit missions were located around the border lands of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. The Portuguese wanted to take possession of that territory and required the mission to transfer their territory to them. War was waged against the mission and many of the natives lost their lives in the ensuing battle. In the movie The Mission, about this true story, Father Gabriel was puzzled by the decision of his superiors to sacrifice the lives of the natives in order to comply with the Portuguese demands.

Señor Hatar, trying to make Father Gabriel understand, asked what he thought was at issue here.

"I think the work of God is at issue here," Father Gabriel naively answered.

"No," answered Señor Hatar. "What is at issue here is the very existence of the Jesuit order both here and in Europe."

To save the order, Señor Hatar did what he thought he had to do. He allowed the slaughter of many natives and the destruction of the mission. His rationale: "If the Jesuits resist the Portuguese, then the Jesuit order will be expelled from Portugal--and if Portugal and Spain, perhaps Italy, who knows. If your [Jesuit] order is to survive at all, Father, the mission here must be sacrificed." The preservation of the institution--in this case the Jesuit order--was a greater cause than the lives of the people they came to save.

When we see the truth and attempt to speak against the abuses of institutionalization, we are viewed as the enemy. We are of no use to the institution. When we cease to be of use to the institution, the institution seeks ways to expel us.

THE CORPORATION CHURCH

Many church organizations have chosen to incorporate themselves according the laws of the states, primarily to receive tax breaks and to offer tax deductions for donors. Churches ordinarily have this tax status without having to legally incorporate. Nevertheless, whether they have officially incorporated or not, most have structured themselves according to the principles and policies of corporations. They turn who they are as a fellowship of believers into a business and give this business the power to control the activities of their members.

The corporation church, like corporations in the world, have distinct characteristics. They are typically human-initiated and governed, management-based, profit-oriented, success-driven, client-friendly, product-focused (programs and services), and image-conscious.

A distinction must be made between the corporations of men from the body of Christ. We are not necessarily serving God and contributing to His causes just because we serve and contribute to these corporations. The ministry of Christ is accomplished in and through the members of the body of Christ as they serve each other, not through legal documents in filing cabinets. God's building is not made with hands, but is eternal in the heavens. 2 Cor. 5:1.

This corporation church mentality is a modern invention of the western world which is completely foreign to the New Testament expression of what it means to be the body of Christ. Yet, missionary boards and Christian zealots peddle the principles and policies of the corporation church mentality around the world. This worldly concept is promoted as the only way to do church. Believers who dare to stand outside of this system are thought to have backslidden. Bob Hughey says, "What began as a movement in Israel became a philosophy in Greece, became an institution in Rome, became a culture in Europe, and became a big rich enterprise in America."

INSTITUTIONAL HIERARCHIES

All institutions whether governmental, educational, social, scientific, or religious have some form of hierarchical power-positions structured into them. These are the old guard, so to speak, those who not only have vested authority but exercise strict control. Very little, if anything, is allowed to happen without their say-so. It is no less true in the churches.

This hierarchy is often tiered as in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Eastern Orthodox traditions. The highest position within the Roman church is the Pope who is given extraordinary authority and esteem. The college of Cardinals are tiered under the Pope, having been appointed by the Pope to assist him. Bishops in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Eastern Orthodox traditions are clergymen who rank above a priest and have authority to ordain and confirm, and usually govern a diocese. In these traditions, Priests are clergymen who rank below a bishop and are authorized to perform the sacred rites of their churches. Deacons in these traditions are clerics who rank next below a priest. In most other traditions of Christian churches, deacons are laymen who are elected to perform various functions in worship, pastoral care, or administration.

Less liturgical traditions, such as we have in most Protestant churches, have their own form of hierarchy. Nearly all church groups have some form of high court in their general assemblies, conventions, or conferences to which officers are elected and given limited powers. People rarely stay in office long enough to build a political machine.

However, control in these traditions is more likely to come through certain individuals of influence who are sometimes hidden within the system. Hugh was one of those men. He quietly influenced much of his denomination's social policies. For more than four decades from his hired, bureaucratic position at his denomination's headquarters, he remolded the theology of this church from conservative to liberal.

Some associations have been formed to cluster independent churches of like nature. These associations are generally headed by a charismatic personality who in turn has an inner circle of drones to help fulfill his agenda--a variation on the Pope and Cardinal scenario. Local assemblies, likewise, have positions of hierarchical authority within them--pastors, elders, deacons, and boards. Many Pentecostal traditions have bishops who are given greater esteem than others. These hierarchies within the churches are the traditions of men and have no basis in scripture, but appear necessary for the perpetuation of institutions.

INSTITUTIONAL RULES AND REGULATIONS

Many things have been started in the Spirit and founded upon solid scriptural principles, but were later institutionalized. The process is quite simple, natural, and common. Once the activity has begun, men tend to want to organize it. They wish to put some kind of structure around it in order to control it or at least maintain control within it. Institutional structure is generally made of rigid rules and regulations. Once set in place, these rules are hard to change. They become the authority over even those who made them. Even the people who make them bind themselves to the rules and, thereby, elevate the rules as the higher authority.

Organization requires rules. Once we institute rules and regulations to govern our relationships with one another, we have almost always institutionalized ourselves. We restrict the Holy Spirit's liberty to lead us. Control is one of the greatest enemies to our liberty in the Spirit. The rules men make to control church life are likely to become unhealthy boundaries. We often become slaves to these rules.

Nevertheless, good rules provide healthy boundaries and are necessary even for our participation in one another's lives in the body of Christ. These rules are generally in the category of "love one another." The word of God is the law of God and serves the well-being of those who keep it. We have the ability to keep God's law by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us.

All too often, however, the rules of the institution supersede the word and Spirit of God. Such was the case when I believed the Holy Spirit wanted to abolish the Sunday School. The rules of the organization did not allow that. "We don't do that here" is the common excuse. Church rules confine the activities of the Holy Spirit.

We need to distinguish between God's law which sets us free in Christ and church laws which impose restrictions upon us and bind us to men.

The institution of church is one among many of our Babylonian inventions and is perpetuated by those in THE Ministry.

Chapter 8 - THE Ministry

While driving home one drizzling winter day after sharing with some believers in Georgia, I kept hearing the words rumbling around inside of me: "Quit the Ministry." That word was most troubling because I thought I had already done that. Still, there it was, relentlessly hounding me: "Quit the Ministry." Then I noticed the emphasis on the article: "Quit THE Ministry." I knew it was a refining word of God at work within me. THE Ministry, with the emphasis on the article "THE" and a capital "M," was a stronghold inside of me that had been passed down to me through the generations of religious tradition. This stronghold is what we call being in THE Ministry.

"What does it mean to quit THE Ministry?" I asked my wife, Nancy. As usual, with keen perception, knowing it had to do with me in particular, she thoughtfully answered. "It means not feeling responsible for the people in the little groups we minister to, making a syllabus or a book of everything that comes to you, systematizing everything into a formal teaching with the idea you have to teach it, starting a ministry school, putting out newsletters, nor pastoring anyone. It means to just be."

"I understand that," I told her, "but I don't know how to quit. How do I quit what has been programmed into me since childhood?"

From that beginning, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see some things about THE Ministry and began to set me free from the false expectations that go with being in THE Ministry.

IDOLATROUS EXTENSION OF SELF

On the outside, THE Ministry appears to be a noble life devoted to the sacrifice of Self; but when the inside is exposed, it is found to be a life of self-centeredness and self-exaltation. Just as it is with that Thing we call church, so is it with THE Ministry. It, too, is an idolatrous extension of Self, a Thing that exists outside of and in addition to the one in ministry. It is a mantle we put on ourselves that God has not woven for us.

We make a Thing out of being in ministry when we surmise, "I am in ministry, therefore, I have a ministry." Many well-meaning saints have started Ministries on the basis of an unusual testimony or an unusual gifting. It is good to have a testimony. It is good to share our testimonies. That is probably why we have them, but we do not have to go into THE Ministry just because we have a testimony. We do not have to go into THE Ministry just because we have a gifting to evangelize, prophesy, heal, teach, sing, or even preach. We do not have to go into THE Ministry just because we feel God's call to serve. God has called us all to minister. We are to do the ministry of the saints.

Paul, the apostle, illustrated how we are all members of the body of Christ and each has a different function. These functions are gifts and services to one another in the body. Paul said that if we have the gift of prophecy, then we are to prophesy according to the proportion of our faith. If we have the gift to ministry, then we are to minister. If teaching, then teach. If exhortation, then exhort. If giving, then give with simplicity. If ruling, then do it with diligence, If you show mercy, then do it with cheerfulness. Rom. 12:6-8. Nowhere does he remotely suggest that we are to get a private, non-profit corporation, name it, and solicit funds for it so we can be who we are in the body of Christ. Just do according to who you are.

When we start out in THE Ministry, we start something God has not started because we are wanting something for Self. We get possessive of this thing we call Ministry. We refer to it as "MY Ministry," or "THIS Ministry." We even make a business out of it. We name it, incorporate it, build a database for it, solicit funds for it, and traffic our giftings like five-and-dime store merchandise.

OBLIGATIONS OF THE MINISTRY

When one chooses to enter THE Ministry as a career, profession, or mind-set, he needlessly adopts a system of false obligations he feels inside of himself that enslaves him to that Thing we call THE Ministry. Here are some of those false obligations:

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to think of himself, behave himself, and perform his duties in a certain way in order to live up to the expectations that go with his ministerial position. He feels obligated to produce sermons, perform rituals, conduct services, visit parishioners, develop programs, print bulletins, mail out newsletters, increase numerical growth, boost the finances, write books, sell tapes, be on television and radio, dress the code, and in some circles heal the sick and work miracles. These are the kinds of things that falsely attest to his success.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to set up the playground in which we can play church, so that he can lead the rest of us in playing church. Playing church is doing anything religious that is not inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is faithfully doing all of those things we do at church that make us feel like we have done our religious duty. We play church by the way we dress up to go there, by the pretentious ways we greet each other, by the programs and rituals we follow, by the way we line up in pews, and by the way we do things at each other without ever having a sense of involvement with each other. We more accurately express what it means to be the body of Christ when we do things with and for one another. Our gathering together should be "to consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching." Heb. 10:24-25. We accomplish these things by being sensitive to the Holy Spirit who alone knows how to minister to our individual needs. We minister to one another by the Spirit with the gifts of the Spirit named in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to justify his ministry. He relies upon phony outward proofs of his success by counting noses, increasing the budget, multiplying his salary, building bigger buildings, making more visitations, keeping longer hours in the office, counseling more people, increasing the number of programs, acquiring more invitations to minister, scheduling more TV appearances, engaging a wider listening audience, and selling more books and tapes. Could this be the driving force for those who post the attendance and offering records on the church wall each Sunday with a comparison to "this time last year?"

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to present himself in a certain way to his public that will impress them so they will approve of him. It may be in the way he dresses, the way he grooms his hair, or the way he talks; it may be in the kind of car he drives and house he lives in.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to be pious and religious, pretending to be more spiritual than he truly is. He becomes hypocritical as he puts on his phony religious mask. Piety and religion have nothing to do with the simplicity of following Jesus in honesty and brokenness and allowing His Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to stay somewhat aloof from other saints. As a result, those in THE Ministry often form exclusive fraternities as evidenced in the existence of ministerial associations, the holding of clergy conferences, and other gatherings that bolster the unscriptural existence of clergy and laity.

The one in THE Ministry today more frequently feels obligated to establish a legal corporation to provide tax exemptions for their contributors. Often, however, this paper entity becomes more than a tax provision. It becomes the name and image of "his" ministry. He presents himself as the president and founder of it. He speaks of "this Ministry" in the third person as though it was the source from which the ministry of Christ flows. In so doing, he makes himself appear bigger than God has made him to be.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to start something--anything. He cannot present himself as idle. He organizes, institutionalizes, formalizes, establishes, and systematizes things. He, with deep heartfelt concerns, starts things in his own strength and has to keep those things going in his own strength. When he stops working his plan, his plans stop working for him. But what God starts in Holy Spirit power, God finishes in Holy Spirit power.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to build his reputation and to market his talents, gifts, and wares. Consequently, he has to have his own public relations program to promote himself. He proudly puts his name and his face on the work that he believes God has called him to do. Whereas James wrote, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up." James 4:6, 10.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to know more about the Bible and religion than those he ministers to. Thus, he is obligated to achieve academic prowess which often opens him up to pride and intellectualism. He is not content for people to just know. He has a need for people to know that he knows. He feels obligated to compete with other ministers to know as much or more as they and to be as good or better than they. He sometimes feels it is necessary to keep those he ministers to ignorant; thus dependent upon him.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to solicit support for his ministry whether from his "partners" or from a salaried position. When he receives a salary for his so-called leadership role in the body of Christ, he makes a distinction between himself and the sheep. He ignores the fact that he, too, is a sheep and that all sheep are in ministry. The one in THE Ministry lacks faith in God's ability to use him in season and provide for him without having to manipulate others into supporting "his" ministry.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to have a title for himself--Pastor, Reverend, Bishop, Apostle, Doctor. The more prestigious the title, the better. Bob Hughey says, "Titles divide; function unifies. A testimony is more important than a title."

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to clone others to be like him or his kind of church. He needs to clone them in order to own them. If he does not own them, he fears losing their support.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to be set apart from the "laity" by being ordained. Many church traditions ordain their clergy through what the historical church calls "apostolic succession." Apostolic succession is the perpetuation of spiritual authority by the successive ordination of clergy from the time of the apostles. One must be ordained in apostolic succession in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox traditions in order to administer the sacraments and orders. While Barnabas and Paul were confirmed as apostles by the prophets and teachers in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) and elders were to be appointed in every city (Titus 1:5), the common tradition of ordination as it is practiced in western Christianity is not found in the New Testament. Barnabas and Paul were not set apart by the twelve apostles but by certain teachers and prophets in Antioch. Acts 13:1-3. The anointing for ministry comes from God and not from men. Eph. 4:11.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to perpetuate the industry of THE Ministry. THE Ministry is big business. It drives the economy of seminaries and Bible colleges, churches with their staff positions, new church construction, church furnishings, Ministries, publishing houses, recording companies, book stores, conferences, and radio and television shows. It is a web of economic support in which the Minister himself becomes entangled and from which he cannot easily break away. Those in THE Ministry live compromised lives under the influences of man-pleasing spirits. The merchants who peddle their wares to those in THE Ministry and those who are in THE Ministry are dependent upon each other for their existence. This mutual dependency for existence is another reason why this whole system is a stronghold not easily pulled down.

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to perpetuate the institution of THE Ministry as well as the institution of church. THE Ministry is an institution within the institution of church and is the singular most powerful force that perpetuates the institution of church. If we were to remove this erroneous notion of THE Ministry from the equation of church, this Thing we call church would fall apart. Similarly, without the church system, THE Minister would have no context in which to practice his craft. Church is sustained by money. Once the money ends, the church institution folds. Likewise, when the money ends, THE Ministry ends because those in THE Ministry depend upon the money and the system.

THE DATABASE

The one in THE Ministry feels obligated to build a database in order to maintain visibility with his supposed supporters. He lives under the fearful code: "out of sight, out of mind." He may keep a record of the baptisms, weddings, and funerals he has performed, as well as the number of attendees to his meetings and new members he takes in as though they were notches in his spiritual gun handle.

He who owns a database for the purpose of increasing himself in ministry wants to broaden his sphere of influence.

He tends to think he owns the people on his database.

He tends to think that he has a responsibility toward the people listed on his database--that he needs to answer to them.

He tends to think the people on his database owe him support for "his ministry."

He tends to measure his success in THE Ministry by the size of his database. Names are like trophies. The more he has, the more he wants and the better he thinks he is. He may periodically, with pride, inventory the numbers just to see how many are on his mailing list.

He can become obligated to his database even if those names are no more than a short fax or e-mail list. The database can own a part of him and put him in bondage to it. He has not quit THE Ministry until he has trashed his self-serving databases. Inability to trash his self-serving database may indicate that it is an idol in his life.

The key word here for those in THE ministry is "self-serving." Most of the "newsletters" I have seen read like a brochure promoting the one in THE Ministry who sent it out, most of whom are seeking financial support for themselves.

We must honestly evaluate: Does our database exist to increase ourselves or Jesus? John the Baptist caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God when he said, "He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30. THE Ministry is a ministry of the increase of Self, while true "ministry" is the ministry of the increase of Christ in others.

FULL-TIME PROFESSIONALS

The one in THE Ministry often seeks it as a full-time career or occupation in the hope that it might provide an income for him. Such was the case with John and Sue. Ellie wrote about them:

It had been some time since I had heard from Sue. I was happy to hear from her but felt the same emotions I feel when friendly telemarketers call. Uncertain about my perception, I continued a friendly conversation. Both of our families were free not to be a part of a local church and had independently decided to stay home on Sunday mornings. Since then, however, Sue and her husband, John, had started a church of their own.

Finally, she got around to asking where we were going to church. I told her we felt we were not to be in a church at this time. She sighed and made a comment about how much time they were spending in prayer. "When you start a work you need to spend a lot of time in prayer" she said. "In fact," she added, "we still don't really know if." Her voice and vocabulary failed her. I could tell she was sad to think their work might not continue to provide them with a livelihood. In an attempt to encourage her I said, "No matter what happens, the growth you are seeing and the relationship you are developing with these other people is eternal and above The Ministry and A Work."

Sue replied in all sincerity, "We really feel called to the ministry, and if the ministry is going to be our livelihood, then at some point it has to be viable and more than just a couple of families meeting in a living room."

Ministry in the Holy Spirit comes out of who we are in Jesus and is not a position to attain to in the world. When we need to have a congregation in order to provide an income for ourselves, we have a harlot condition in our hearts. We are seeking something for Self. If we are truly called to be elders who shepherd God's sheep, we are to feed His sheep. God forbid that we would seek to feed off them.

THE SEDAN CHAIR

"It was supposedly a time of celebration," Bill Shipman recalled. "We were sending some leaders from our church to Chicago to start a new church. We showered them with expensive gifts while ignoring the needs of others in our midst. One couple," he remembered, "needed a refrigerator. They were having to buy ice. It was an imbalance."

Bill, sharing a vision he had from the Holy Spirit about this, saw these men being lifted up on very ornate and gaudy sedan chairs.

The chairs were gilded and had curly swirls and fancy tapestries hanging down with tassels on the top. The sedan chairs looked heavy. These men were being lifted up and carried by the little ones in the church. The little ones were glad to try to carry them as they started out across a desert.

The Holy Spirit spoke a word of warning to those leaders being sent out saying, "You are going out, but you're going out on your own will. You're not going in My will."

Soon after they went out, I saw that those who were carrying the leaders became weak and the sedan chairs tottered. The people kept trying to hold them up financially, praying for them, interceding for them, but everyone kept getting more weary. Finally, out of exhaustion, everyone had to let go. The sedan chairs fell and broke up.

"These brothers and sisters in Chicago were having a hard time financially," Bill said. "They sold their homes before they left. They did not make the best use of God's resources the way it was done. It was done in self-centeredness. People began to leave. They could not hold them up any longer. The leadership felt abandoned, but it wasn't abandonment. The children should never have been made to carry the fathers; the fathers are made to carry the children."

FALSE FLOW CHARTS

"False leaders still want to dust off those sedan chairs and get the people under them," Bill observed. "This is happening around the world. The leaders of this Haitian mission proudly displayed their organizational flow chart. The name of the main leader in the mission was positioned at the top of the pyramid. Next in line were other leaders with the people forming the base line. They asked me, 'What do you think about this?'

"'Do you really want to know?' I asked in return.

"'Sure, Brother Bill.'

"If Jesus walked in right now, He'd rip it off the wall and turn it upside down, and say, 'Now, that's a flow chart.'"

Bill concluded. "True leaders put the people in the place of honor and carry them in sedan chairs that are graced with tender care and mercy. If the minister does not see himself as one among the bride of Christ, he will rape the bride by using her to increase himself."

The Babylonian Minister views himself as not only having been set apart but having been set above the "laity." He is the "professional." He takes on titles for himself in his personal ambition to build for himself a city, a tower, and a name. Reputation is very important to him. Though he calls himself their servant, more often than not the flock is called upon to serve him, his plans, and programs. Yet, he is forever busy doing the work of the church in the place of the people--church work, not kingdom of God work.

Tradition has obligated this one-man-show ministry to fulfill many functions that are not within his gifting. Many in THE Ministry enter into pride when they try to take on responsibilities that do not pertain to their giftings. Such pride and ambition often leads to frustration and burnout.

SERVANTS

Whether we say we are "in THE Ministry" or "have a Ministry," we assume something that is foreign to the idea of ministry in the New Testament. THE Ministry with the upper case "M" is a Babylonian concept whereas the idea of ministers with the lower case "m" is quite New Testament. We do not have "a" Ministry. We are all the ministry of Christ. THE Ministry, as it has come to be conceptualized, is a hindrance to true New Testament ministry, because it stifles the saints from fulfilling their ministries. THE Ministry is in direct opposition to true New Testament ministry.

The word "ministry" in the New Testament is translated from several Greek words. Doulos (slave) and diakonos (servant) are two of the terms that have been translated "minister." All saints are ministers/servants according to the pattern set forth in the New Testament. While there are some the Lord Jesus appoints to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (elders), and teachers, they are given to the body to equip the other saints for the work of service (ministry). Eph. 4:11-12. Those equipping servants (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) are not clergy positions within the church. They are not offices. The term office is not a Greek New Testament word. Servant appointments are functions within the body of Christ. Those who exalt themselves as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are spots in our love feasts and clouds without water. Jude 12.

Those who have the mantle of a true elder do not use their giftings to lord it over the saints. They see themselves as being equal among the flock. Paul warned the elders from Ephesus when they were together with him at Miletus to "be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to shepherd the called-out-ones of God which He purchased with His own blood." Acts 20:28. Elders are among the sheep and not positioned piously over the sheep.

Paul warned them to keep watch over their own hearts because, after his departure, he knew that savage wolves would enter in among them, attacking the flock. Some among them would gain prominence, distort the truth, and draw away disciples to follow them. Acts. 20:29-30. Ministers of churches today are just as territorial. They chase off anyone they perceive might steal "their" sheep. They seem to forget that the saints of God are not their sheep! They are His sheep!

The servant does not seek to exalt himself--to increase himself in power, position, riches, and domination. He is content to remain nameless and faceless in order to serve when, where, and how the Holy Spirit leads. He does this without expecting anything for Self.

FOLLOWING JESUS

I called Bill Shipman to tell him I had quit THE Ministry. After pondering my announcement for a moment, he answered with glee in his voice, "I thought we were just supposed to follow Jesus."

Quitting THE Ministry does not mean inactivity. We have a walk to walk. We are to follow Jesus wherever He goes, and we do not have to turn it into a business, put a name on it, or put a title on ourselves.

Each of us has a gifting--a ministry--with a little 'm,' whether large or small, that we are responsible to steward. We have a responsibility to respond to the Holy Spirit when He prompts us to operate in that gift or ministry for the edification of the body, that we might build one another up into a spiritual dwelling as the household of God. Eph. 2:19-22. These are functions and not positions.

THE Ministry implies that some among us are big shots and the rest of us are inconsequential. It implies a one-up, one-down relationship between those who are especially gifted from all the rest of us. If ever there were big shots in the Kingdom of God, the chosen twelve apostles would certainly qualify. Nevertheless, Jesus told His twelve that they were not to be like the princes of the Gentiles who lorded their authority over the people. Matt. 20:25-26. With the twelve then, and even so for us today, "whoever will be great among you, let him be your minister [diakonos which literally translates "servant"] and whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant [doulos which literally translates "slave"]; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister [diokonesai which literally translates "to serve"], and to give His life a ransom for many." Matt. 20:27-28.

The five equipping servants of Ephesians 4:8 have the anointings to equip the rest of the body of Christ for the work of service, but this does not make them greater than the rest of the body of Christ. Those with the apostolic anointing are at best under-rowers. Recounting his conversion experience before Agrippa, Paul quoted the Lord as having said to him, "But arise, and stand upon your feet for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister." Acts 26:16. The word for minister used here comes from the root huperetes which literally means "under-rower." This nautical term generally denotes any subordinate who works under the direction of another. Apostles are subservient to the authority of Christ who sets them apart and sends them out. In 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:1 Paul includes Apollos and Cephas as under-rowers: "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ." This term was also used in reference to John Mark in Act 13:5.

I find that when I try to do ministry--that is, when I try to make it happen in my own strength, the anointing evades me. When I rest in being who I am without trying to do ministry, the anointing compels me. I am far more productive for the Kingdom when I maintain resignation from THE Ministry than when I actively pursue it. When I pursue THE Ministry, I miss the Kingdom. When I pursue the Kingdom, ministry (not THE Ministry) pursues me. True ministry is the measure of Jesus that He desires to pour out through me.

Many individuals who are in this Thing we call THE Ministry are Nicolaitans and have a Nicolaitan spirit.

The King James Version uses the word "office" in several passages, but is translated from various Greek words that mean different things. In Luke 1:8, in reference to Zacharias who was performing his Old Testament priesthood, the word "office" means "to serve as priest" and in Luke 1:9, it simply refers to the priesthood. In Romans 11:3, the word "office" has been derived from diakonian which means "service." This phrase literally translates, "I magnify my serving." In Romans 12:4, the word office comes from a Greek word that means "action." In 1 Timothy 3:1, no word exists at all in the Greek text where the word "office" has been implied. In 1 Timothy 3:10, again, the word is from the root word diakonas (service) and should not read, "Let them use the office of a deacon", but should read, "Let them minister (or serve)." In 1 Timothy 3:13, the word used there, bathmon, speaks of a manner in which one walks with dignity, rank, and standing

Chapter 9 - The Nicolaitans

Nicolaitans? Who were the Nicolaitans? They are mentioned only twice in the scriptures and both times with contempt. The first mention of them is in Revelation 2:6. The glorified Jesus told the old apostle John to write to the angel (messenger) of the called-out-ones in Ephesus. In this letter, Jesus praised the Ephesians for their works, labor, patience, and for the fact that they could not bear those who were evil. They had, furthermore, tested those who said they were apostles but were not, and had found them to be liars. The Lord severely admonished them, however, for having left their first love. Perhaps they had all the right doctrines and were doing the good works of a Christian, but were showing more affection for the things of the gospel than for the person of the gospel. Whatever the Ephesians were doing that caused them to leave their first love, it was severe enough for the Lord to call them to repentance. If they did not repent, He would remove their candlestick from them. He would remove the power, presence, and the light of His Holy Spirit. Then the Lord praised them saying, "But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate."

The only other reference to the Nicolaitans is in Revelation 2:15. The called-out-ones in Pergamos had those among them who held to the doctrine (teachings) of the Nicolaitans. Regarding them Jesus said, "So you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." He hated what they were teaching.

From these two references, we know that the Lord hated their "deeds" and their "doctrines" (teachings). It appears that we are left to speculate about who they were, what their deeds were, and what they taught. Not so! The evidence of what they did and what they taught is revealed in scripture. We learn who they were by what they did and what they taught. By this, we learn who they are in the churches today.

NICOLAITANS' NAME

The first clue as to who they were can be found in what they were called--Nicolaitans. The word Nicolaitan comes from two Greek words: nike and laios. Nike means "to conquer," "subdue," "overcome," and laos refers to a body of people, the common people. Nikos is the equivalent to nike and has been translated "victory." When combined, these two terms translate "conqueror [or subduer] of the common people."

These "conquerors of the people" were among the assembly of called-out-ones in Ephesus and Pergamos. They obviously had some major influence among the saints.

(Some scholars say they were followers of Nicolas who was one of the deacons in Acts 6:5. They speculate that Nicolas went into deception and led some of the believers away from the faith. This is impossible to document.)

Their name represents who the Nicolaitans were and what they taught. They were those who positioned themselves above the "common" people as having some authority over them and taught that this was the way things were supposed to be. I believe this was the beginning of the clergy system that came into prominence in the historical, institutional church system.

The clergy refers to persons who are ordained for religious service such as ministers, priests, and rabbis. The word cleric is sometimes used in relation to a clergy person. Clericalism is the "political influence or power of the clergy, or a policy or principles favoring this: generally a derogatory term." The clergy system in the churches advocates the elevation of the "professional" ministers above common believers.

ASSOCIATED WITH BALAAM

The second clue as to who the Nicolaitans were is found in the association of their name with Balaam. In Revelation 2:15, the King James Version translation reads, "So you also have those who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans..." The word "also" comes from the Greek word kai which can be translated "and," "also," or "even" depending upon the context in which it is used. The Greek text has, in addition to kai, the word omoios which means "likewise." Some of the translations dropped omoios and missed an important aspect of interpretation. The New American Standard kept it and translated it, "in the same way." It reads, "Thus, you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans."

We ask, "in the same way" as who? The answer to that question is found in the previous verses. In Revelation 2:14-15, the Lord said, "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. Thus, you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans." I suggest, therefore, that this reference to Balaam is the antecedent of the phrase "in the same way." "The doctrine of Balaam" (v. 14) and "the doctrine of the Nicolaitans" (v.15) is referring to the same thing or things.

If, therefore, "the doctrine of Balaam" is that to which the phrase "in the same way" refers, then it is necessary to find out more about Balaam in order to find out more about the Nicolaitans.

SAY, DO, AND BE

First, however, consider these three virtues of God's true ministers: they will say what God says, do what God says do, and be what God wants them to be. They cannot do otherwise. They are unlike Balaam in the Old Testament as told about in Numbers 22-24. Balaam could not be what he was not.

Balak was the King of the Moabites at the time the Israelites pitched their tents in the land of Moab. Balak was fearful of what the Israelites might do to his people because he saw that they had struck the Amorites and taken their cities. So he sent messengers to hire Balaam to come and speak a curse against these Israelites who had come out of Egypt. Balaam was a non-Israelite prophet.

Balaam was certainly enticed by the price they offered him, but warned Balak that he was bound to say the words that God put in His mouth. Balaam did just that. He spoke four prophecies favoring Israel, and one opposing Balak. Why then was Balaam looked upon with such disdain in both the Old and the New Testaments?

Remember, it takes all three virtues to be a true minister of God: say what God says to say, do what God says to do, and be what God would have one to be. Balaam fell miserably short when it came to this third virtue to be. Here is how we know.

THE MATTER AT PEOR

Later on in Numbers 31, we read where God told Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites for the sons of Israel. He had sent his captains and warriors from every tribe and the priests with the holy vessels and the trumpets of alarm. They killed every male and the kings of Midian. They burned the cities and took the spoil, but they captured the women and brought them back with them.

Moses and others went out to meet his returning army and saw what they had done. He was angry with the officers and asked them why they had spared the women. It would seem like the noble thing to do, would it not? Moses explained his anger in verse 16: "Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor."

So, what happened at Peor and what did Balaam have to do with that? Apparently everything! We see in Numbers 25 that Israel played the harlot with the daughters of Moab: "They called the people to the sacrifices of their gods: and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself to Baal-peor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel." Num. 25:2-3. Remember, God had made it emphatically clear that the Israelites were not to mingle with the people of the land. Deut. 7:1-6.

No reference is made whatsoever to Balaam in Numbers 25, but Numbers 31:16 informs us that this "sin" at Peor was due to the counsel of Balaam. In Numbers 22-24 we read how Balak offered both money and prestige to Balaam to get him to pronounce a curse against the Israelites. Balaam was not about to miss his opportunity for fortune and prominence.

Balaam must have known about this ban that God had set forth as recorded in Deuteronomy 7 and used it to defeat the Israelites. He "taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication." Rev. 2:13. In other words, Balaam counseled Balak to entice the Israelite sons and daughters to mix with the sons and daughters of Moab. This way, Balaam did not have to speak the curse, but he ensured that Israel would place themselves under a curse. Israel did just that. They played the harlot and brought the curse of a plague upon themselves that killed twenty-four thousand of their own. Num. 25:9.

Balaam collected his blood money and prepared to live lavishly among the kings of Midian. His life, however, was short-lived after that. Numbers 31:8 tells us that he was killed with the sword when Israel took vengeance on the Midianites. He was a false prophet. He was bound to say what God wanted him to say. He was forced even by his jackass (donkey) to do what God wanted, but it was not in him to be what God would have him to be. He was greedy and sought to increase himself in power, position, riches, and domination. He put Himself above the concerns of God and God's people. We are much like Balaam when we ask God to bless our flesh rather than denying our flesh to obey God.

BALAAM'S NAME AND REPUTATION

Another connection between Balaam and the Nicolaitans is embedded in his name. Balaam's name is the combination of two words from the Hebrew: beli and haam. Beli means "conqueror" and, haam means "the people." Put them together and we get "conqueror of the people." Balaam's name, therefore, translates the same as Nicolaitan. Is this not strong evidence that the reference to Balaam is the antecedent of the phrase "in the same way"?

Balaam is also mentioned in 2 Peter 2:15 in the context of false teachers. The false teachers were those "who have forsaken the right way, and have gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity; the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbade the madness of the prophet."

He is mentioned with disdain in Jude, verse 11: "Woe to them," Jude writes, "for they...ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward." These three New Testament witnesses against Balaam are harsh to say the least. Each of them speak of greed. Nicolaitans cause God's people to commit spiritual fornication by joining them to their idolatrous church systems.

SELF-AGGRANDIZEMENT

Having looked into who Balaam was, we come back to our original question: Who, then, were the Nicolaitans? They were leaders within the Christian community who were false prophets "in the same way" as was Balaam. They were ministers among the assembly of called-out-ones who were motivated by greed and self-aggrandizement--the need to increase themselves in power, position, riches, and domination. They had managed to exalt themselves in leadership roles above those "common" called-out-ones.

The New Testament mentions Diotrephes, who possessed this Nicolaitan spirit. The end of the first century A.D. was nearing when the aged apostle John wrote his third epistle. He wrote to the well beloved Gaius and addressed his grief over one who was known as Diotrephes. It appears from the letter that Diotrephes had positioned himself in an uncommon place of authority among an assembly of called-out-ones. He loved to have preeminence among them. 3 John 1:9. He not only refused to welcome the apostle John and others of the brethren, but removed from the assembly those who did dare to welcome them. 3 John 1:10-11.

The desire for preeminence is a characteristic of the Nicolaitan spirit. Nicolaitans are those who seek to elevate themselves above the so-called laity. I say they are "so-called" because no such distinctions are made in the New Testament between professional clergy and laity. Such distinctions smack insults at the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. The clerical exercise of such authority over the called-out-ones sprang up throughout all Christendom soon after the turn of the first century. This reference to Diotrephes in 3 John is clear evidence that it had already taken root. Nicolaitans are like goats. They like high places.

THE NICOLAITAN IN ME

I was raised in institutional Christianity. The Nicolaitan (clergy) spirit was programmed into me from childhood by those who had it programmed into them. It's generational. It was all I had ever seen or known. I had no way of knowing that ministry could be anything other than what my experiences and education taught me. So, I pursued the normal course of ministry that was expected of me.

I answered the call to ministry when I was about twelve years of age and enrolled immediately out of high school in the denominational college that trained me for ministry. Years later I finished with a Masters of Divinity degree from seminary.

I had taken the usual run of classes in Bible and religion that trained me to perpetuate the system I was in. I had been trained by the clergy system to be one of their own. I was hired by the elders of a local church to be their pastor. I was the chief administrator and, for all practical purposes, was the professional hired to lead the work of the church.

After twelve years behind the pulpit, I turned away from God and left the ministry. Following my conversion years later, God pinned me down in what I call my wilderness experience. It lasted for many years. God put me through His school of the Holy Spirit. This was a time of learning the word of God for myself, of receiving revelations, and of being purged of many spots and wrinkles.

One particular day on my wilderness journey, I was in prayer with the Lord when I saw in my mind's eye a miniature image of a man standing upon a high cliff, arms folded, chest puffed out, head cocked back, full of arrogance and pride. After doing a double-take, I said, "Lord, that looks like me!"

I knew that I was seeing a "spirit" of preeminence. I knew that it was the Nicolaitan spirit that had been implanted in me since early childhood. This was that clergy spirit of self-aggrandizement. As soon as I saw this, I renounced it and asked the Lord to separate it from me. It has taken years for that to happen.

THE RISE OF BISHOPS

This Nicolaitan spirit is deceptive and deadly. It is deeply entrenched in most of the men and women who have been trained and nurtured to minister in the church system. Nicolaitan personalities have ruled in the churches since the first century A.D.

In spite of those exceptions like Diotrephes, simplicity seemed to have characterized the life of the called-out-ones that we know about from the New Testament until after the death of John. Little is known about the activities of the called-out-ones for those few years between the death of John and the turn of the century.

When the pages of church history began to flip again into the beginning of the second century, an interesting thing had occurred. Certain ones bore the title of bishop, such as Polycarp of Smyrna, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polybius of Tralles, and Onesimus of Ephesus. These were godly men, defenders of the faith, some of whom were martyrs for Jesus, but were nonetheless caught up in the power and position of the bishopric.

Justo Gonzalez points out in his Story of Christianity that James, the brother of Jesus, was erroneously given the title of "bishop" of Jerusalem by church leaders in later years. Gonzalez explains that "the emphasis on the authority of bishops and on apostolic succession was a part of the response of the church to the challenge of heresies in the late second and early third centuries. As the church became increasingly Gentile, the danger of heresies was greater, and this in turn led to a greater stress on episcopal [bishop] authority."

By the time of the monastic movement in the late third and early fourth centuries, bishops lived in great cities and enjoyed great power and prestige. Moreover, the bishopric had become an office to be filled rather than a calling by God upon a man. The story is told of a man named Martin, born in 335 A.D., who lived the monastic life and was elected to the office of bishop of Tours by popular demand. Gonzalez wrote, "When the bishopric of Tours became vacant, the populace wanted to elect Martin to that position. The story goes that some of the bishops present at the election opposed such an idea, arguing that Martin was unusually dirty, dressed in rags, and disheveled, and that his election would damage the prestige of the office of bishop." This story tells us that the bishopric of Tours had become a position or office to which men could be elected. What was once a calling of God upon individual men has since become an institution of men.

Many churches in the Presbyterian tradition have elected men, women, and young people as elders to fill a certain number of positions for limited terms. Where is any of this in the Bible?

According to New Testament records, elders were appointed in every city and they existed in plurality. No man was given that responsibility alone. Elders were not called bishop nor pastor. They were elders who shepherded the flock of God among whom the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (which is the Greek word episcopous, also translated "bishop"). Acts 20:20 NKJV. The terms elder, shepherd, and overseer refer to the same person. Elder has to do with who they were. Shepherd has to do with what they did. Overseer has to do with how they did what they did. An elder is one who is called of God to perform a function in the body of Christ and was never intended to be a position, office, title, or institution in the Kingdom of God.

This unscriptural "office" of bishop was the seedbed in which the hierarchical system of clergymen took root and flourished in the eventual rise of the Roman Catholic Church. The power of the office of bishop was such that simony became an issue in the church. Simony is the buying and selling of ecclesiastical (church) positions. Similarly, nobles, kings, and emperors were known to have appointed and investitured bishops and abbots in order to have political control of the church.

The veneration that is bestowed upon popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests has to be most revolting to the Holy Spirit of God; especially that the Pope, a man, should be called, Holy Father. The word cardinal when used as an adjective means "of foremost importance; paramount."

Jesus exhorted His followers regarding this need for veneration: "But you are not to be called Rabbi: for one is your Master, Christ; and all you are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither are you to be called masters: for one is your Master, Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he who humbles himself shall be exalted." Matt. 23:8-12.

In spite of the Reformation and other spiritual awakenings, the influence of the clergy system abounds in every denomination and independent church. Any challenge to a person's exalted position as "Pastor" (or whatever title they go by) are fighting words to most.

Nevertheless, I boldly declare that the Nicolaitans today are all those who promote the clergy system, which separates the so-called "professional" ministry from the so-called laity. They are those who seek to increase themselves in power, position, riches, and domination and generally do so at the expense of the saints. This "clergy system" is the work of the harlot spirit in the churches.

EAT THE SHEEP

The Nicolaitans are those shepherds of Ezekiel 34 whom God prophesied against for feeding themselves when they should have fed the flock. They ate the fat and clothed themselves with wool, killed those who were fed, did not strengthen the diseased, did not heal those who were sick, did not bind up those who were broken, did not bring back those who had been driven away, did not seek those who were lost, and ruled over the ones they did have with force and with cruelty. Their flocks were scattered and became meat to all the beasts of the field.

The Lord was against those shepherds. He said He would require His flock at their hands and cause them to cease from feeding the flock. They would no longer be able to feed themselves off of the flock because He promised to deliver His sheep from their mouths. His sheep would no longer be meat for them. Ezek. 34:2-5, 10.

Dennis Loewen notes, "Balaam did great damage by advising Balak to entice the Israelites through whoredoms to ultimately serve foreign gods. The modern-day Nicolaitans exact the same final effect when they wed the people of God to a foreign god--to another Jesus." Nicolaitans take advantage of the sheep to advance themselves. They eat the sheep to fatten themselves.

The time is coming, however, when God Himself will take these sheep from the false shepherds. He will search for His sheep and seek them out Himself. He will feed, tend, lead, and heal them Himself. Ezek. 34:11-16.

Chapter 10 - The Marks Of The Pharisees

Ministers who are smitten with the need for preeminence, power, position, riches, and domination have embraced the false teachings of the Nicolaitans and are likely to perpetuate both the teachings and the deeds of the Nicolaitans. They have the same marks that characterized the Pharisees in Jesus' day.

In Matthew 23:33, Jesus called the Pharisees "serpents" and a "generation of vipers." The Greek word for "generation" also translates "offspring." Here, Jesus is calling the Pharisees snakes and the offspring of snakes. He continues in verse 33, "How can you escape the damnation of hell?" The Bible identifies Satan as a serpent. Gen. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:9; 20:2. The association between Satan and the Pharisees is without dispute. Why did Jesus call the Pharisees snakes? What objection did He have to them? After all, they were devoutly religious and zealous to keep the law.

The scathing litany of woes spoken by Jesus in Matthew 23 define some of what were the detestable marks of the Pharisees. Though the differences between some of these marks of the Pharisees are little, they are important distinctions to make--not so much to judge others, but to judge the Pharisee in us all.

ABUSIVE USE OF AUTHORITY

Jesus hated the way the Pharisees misused and abused authority. Jesus said to the multitude and to His disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." Matt. 23:1-2. The Pharisees assumed the position of authority over people's lives. They considered themselves experts on the law. Therefore, they presumed to tell everyone else how to live.

The present-day Nicolaitan attitude is seen in that air of self-importance that wants to sit at the head of the table, to be elected to positions of authority, or to be hired to some prestigious office. Nicolaitans typically politic for higher positions of preeminence and authority within the church systems. They flatter themselves and seek the flattery of others. Moreover, they pass gavels of authority to designate someone among them as the head over them. Only Jesus is the head of His body, the ekklesia. 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18.

HYPOCRISY

Jesus hated the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. "All therefore whatsoever they bid you to observe, that observe and do; but do not do after their works, for they say and do not." Matt. 23:3.

Hypocrisy is pretending something on the outside that does not exist on the inside. It is the pretense of virtues, principles, or beliefs that are not genuine. Jesus said the Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. Matt. 23:27 NAS. He called them hypocrites. "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." Matt. 23:28. Again He accused them saying, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Matt. 23:14. What they said in keeping with the law of Moses was okay, but their failure to do what they expected others to do was not okay.

So it is in "THE Ministry" today. The pulpiteers may cry out for everyone else to be sexually pure, while pretending themselves to be pure when they are not. They may preach against smoking, drinking, cussin', and dancing, while pretending themselves to be holy when they are not. They may call for others to confess sins while they hide their own sins for fear of what others may think. They may condemn politicians for wrong doing while they continue to do what is most abominable to God--practicing their manipulations (witchcraft) upon "their" people.

The whole climate of church is clouded with hypocrisy. The church should be the one place we can go and feel safe enough to be ourselves, but it is not. We put on our masks and hide behind our Sunday morning smiles long enough to fulfill our obligations to God, feel good about doing it, and get to the cafeteria before the Methodists let out. Sunday morning church has little to do with how we live the rest of the week.

LEGALISM

Jesus hated the mean legalism of the Pharisees. "They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." Matt. 23:4. Jesus hated their heavy-handedness over the people and how they imposed their laws upon everyone else.

Legalists in churches still bind people to church systems and orders, church buildings, church services and rituals, church giving, and church work--things that have nothing to do with Jesus or the Kingdom of God. People are made to feel guilty and unspiritual if they do not go to church.

Keeping the Sabbath was one such issue between Jesus and the Pharisees. Some legalists still make an issue of keeping the Sabbath day holy according to how they think it ought to be observed. They want to make Sunday (sometimes erroneously called "the Sabbath") the day of rest even though for them it is far from a day of rest--it is their high day of church works.

We do not keep the Sabbath by going to church on Sunday or by napping all day Sunday. We keep God's law by entering into Jesus through faith. Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Heb. 4. He is our righteousness. Jesus is not looking for a people who will keep the Sabbath day holy. He is looking for a people who will keep themselves holy (separated). Keeping the Sabbath day is not how we keep ourselves holy.

Holiness is the work of God's Holy Spirit in us, separating us from the love of the world. Holiness is a change of nature from within us as the result of God's work in us. It is not what we do outwardly, but who we are inwardly that matters to God. We are as phony as the Pharisees if we think our righteousness could ever depend upon what we do outwardly--the clothes we wear, the way we fix our hair, the food we eat or don't eat, the way we worship, or going to church. We live, move, and have our being in Jesus every moment of every day. (See the chapter on Legalism.)

RECOGNITION SEEKERS

Jesus hated the Pharisees' desire for recognition and how they pursued admiration for themselves. "But all their works they do to be seen of men. They make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments." Matt. 23:5. (Phylacteries were small leather boxes that the Pharisees strapped on their foreheads containing quotations from the first five books of the Bible).

The Nicolaitans in many church traditions today are enticed by their own lusts for self-importance to wear clerical collars, vestments, robes with academic stripes on their sleeves, and other such appointments to distinguish themselves from "the laity." A cardinal in the Roman Catholic church is addressed by saying, "His Eminence" or "Your Eminence." Such veneration of men smacks insult to God. Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them as He would say today, "If any man desires to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." Mark 9:35.

PREEMINENCE

Jesus hated the self-inflated desire of the Pharisees to be above others. They "love the uppermost rooms at feasts" (the inner circle), "and the chief seats in the synagogues" (sitting on the platform). Matt. 23:6.

Preeminence is that air of self-importance within the present-day Nicolaitans that makes them want to be top dog in the system. They want to sit on the platform in bishop's chairs, making a difference between them and the people. Pastors give other pastors these places of prominence, because they love it for themselves.

It is that air of self-importance within them that causes them to gloat in their plans, programs, methods, organizations, building projects, heritage, traditions, statistics, and doctrines in order that they might be honored and recognized.

It is that air of self-importance within them to draw up organizational charts, pyramiding themselves at the top.

It is that air of self-importance within them that wants the bigger church and better salaries. They spare no politics to obtain them.

It is that air of self-importance within them that causes them to "sermonize" and wax eloquent from their pulpits in order to be highly esteemed of men.

It is that air of self-importance within them that wants to acquire knowledge, write books out of their own intellect, and achieve great things in order to be acclaimed of men. They hold their educated professionalism over the heads of the "laity," making themselves out to be one of the indisputable authorities in biblical and ecclesiastical matters. This is the tyranny of the clergy.

It is that air of self-importance within them that focuses upon the externals rather than upon the internals. They are preoccupied with building a kingdom for Self rather than building the Kingdom of God. They build church systems and church buildings rather than people. Worse yet, they confuse the one for the other.

It is that air of self-importance within them that compels them to pack their bags and run when the wolves of dissension nip at the heels of the flock. They are hirelings.

It is that air of self-importance within them that causes them to forget that they, too, are sheep under the staff of the Good Shepherd. Such pride and haughtiness makes them think more highly of themselves than they ought to think.

POSITION SEEKING

Jesus hated their desire for position. They love "greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi." Jesus continued to exhort them saying, "but do not be called Rabbi, for one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brothers. And do not call man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for one is your Master, even Christ." Matt. 23:7-10.

The present-day Nicolaitan attitude is seen in that air of self-importance within them that wants to be called Pope, Your Eminence, Cardinal, Bishop, Father, Reverend, Reverend Mr., Pastor, and Minister with a capital M. The competition for recognition is so fierce today that many clergy persons want to be called "Doctor." Some of them have earned doctoral degrees and some have honorary degrees, but some have purchased phony degrees. They bestow titles upon each other within the system. They politic for places of authority and seek to be hired by the largest congregation within their reach.

Insecure people in ministry get their strokes from being in the ministry. There they gain power, position, recognition, security, financial income, and their sense of significance. Mature believers find that Jesus alone is their all in all.

No such "one-up, one-down" positioning exists in the Kingdom of God. Jesus made it clear that true leaders were servants. True leaders do not exalt themselves.

REBELLION AND STUBBORNNESS

Jesus hated the rebellion and stubbornness of the Pharisees. "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men, for you neither go in yourselves neither suffer them who are entering to go in." Matt. 23:13.

Many of the Pharisees had to have known from their thorough knowledge of the scriptures that Jesus was Messiah. Too many coincidences existed between Old Testament prophecies and the events of Jesus' life and death for those to be ignored. They knew! But did not want to believe. (See John 9:39-41.) They had compromised with the world system in order to gain power, position, riches, and dominance. While many Pharisees believed and turned to Jesus, most of them did not. Those who did not believe hardened their hearts against the truth. They refused to enter in and hindered others from entering in as well.

Many leaders in the church system today should know that "their" membership is held hostage by the rigidity of their belief systems and governmental systems, but they refuse to set them free. They teach and preach church, church works, and church membership as "the way." They need commitment from their membership in order to build a kingdom for themselves.

People are stuck in those places. Those who run the churches invite us to stay put in their place forever and shame us for going from place to place. Those who remain in these places are served up the same day-old, worm-infested manna. Spiritual growth is minimal, if at all. Any growth one might experience is most likely experienced outside of and in spite of that place.

Spiritual growth is, in reality, a spiritual journey. It is a journey that answers the call of Jesus, "Come, follow Me." "But Lord, let me first go bury my father." To which He still replies, "Let the dead bury the dead." Luke 9:59-60. If you find yourself in a dead place, get up and follow the Way, Jesus. Jesus is the Way, not a place. If we are to follow Jesus, we must not get stuck in a place. Church as we know it today is a roadblock to Jesus.

DEVOURING OTHERS

Jesus hated the way the Pharisees took advantage of widows. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; therefore, you shall receive the greater damnation." Matt. 23:14. Pharisees are takers, not givers, though they pretend to be giving something in return for offerings and donations.

This practice occurs everyday on so-called "Christian" television and radio. Great promises are made by televangelists to their fleeceable viewers who send them contributions. "Send me a donation of $50 and I will send you this anointing oil from Israel." The "Jesus" junk they offer is ridiculous. Bracelets, special study Bibles, books, healing cloths. Some will promise to pray for you or send you a book if you send them a donation. What if you do not? Are they still willing to pray for you and send the book? These gimmicks are used to increase their data and support base.

Kathleen was the widow of a benevolent man. After his death, she felt obligated to continue his level of generosity though she could not afford to do so. Knowing her vulnerability, the president of a seminary persuaded her to give an extraordinary contribution to his institution. It was a feather in his hat. She was a devout believer and assumed that her contribution was advancing the cause of Christ. Little did she know that this school was corrupting the faith of young men and women with their liberal, anti-Christ curriculum. He devoured her house.

Rather than devouring widow's houses, we should set our hearts upon devouring Jesus. Jesus said, "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you...He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood dwells in Me, and I in him.." John 6:53, 56. He alone has the words of eternal life. John 6:67-68.

PROSELYTIZING

Jesus hated how the Pharisees proselytized converts to Judaism. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte [convert to Judaism], and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." Matt. 23:15.

A proselyte is a person who has been converted from their religion, faith, sect, or party to that of the one proselytizing them. The Pharisees were not doing others a favor by converting them to Judaism. Rather than bringing others to a faith in and relationship with Yahweh (God), they brought them to their religious observances of traditions, days, and rituals; thus implying, "This is the way, walk in it." In so doing, they put others under bondage to their law. Their motivation was to increase their own sphere of influence.

As with the Pharisees in Jesus' time, present-day Nicolaitans lead their converts to believe that salvation is assured by being associated with their form of religion. In so doing, they preach "another Jesus" and make their converts twice the children of hell as themselves.

Jesus came to set men free. Binding others to our religious practices is an offense to Him. We are to join people to Jesus in order to set them free. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." John 8:36.

SELF-RIGHTEOUS

Jesus hated the snobbish self-righteousness of the Pharisees. "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you pay tithes of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy, and faith. These you ought to have done and not left the other undone." Matt. 23:23. They kept the letter of the law: tithing "mint and anise and cummin," but knew nothing of the spirit of the law: "judgment, mercy, and faith." They thought by keeping the letter of the law, they would attain righteousness by the works of Self.

Self-righteousness is thinking that our righteousness has something to do with how well we perform. It suggests that we can appease God by being good or doing good works, by keeping the law, or such foolish things as fulfilling our Sunday morning obligation. The Pharisees kept the law in order to be saved by the law. Paul expressly stated that "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 2 Cor. 3:6. They knew the law, but did not know the Spirit of the law.

Self-righteous persons can be legalistic, prideful, arrogant, haughty, religious, pious, hateful, restrictive, judgmental, critical, rude, preachy, mean, dangerous, and lacking in mercy, compassion, kindness, and generosity. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control. Gal. 5:22-23.

Our righteousness is not God's righteousness. "Ours." "His." See the difference?! His righteousness can be ours only through faith in Christ, but our attempts at righteousness can never be His. Jesus is the righteousness of God. He alone fulfilled all the law and the prophets. Matt. 5:7. Philippians 3:9 reminds us that we are to be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.

We are the righteousness of God in Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21. It does not say we "will be," "we should be," or "we almost are," it says "we are." It has to do with being and not with doing. We are because Jesus made us to be who we are in Him through His own finished work on the cross. There is nothing in fallen, sinful man that has the potential to save himself or to be good enough for God to put his saving stamp of approval upon him.

MURDER

Jesus hated the murderous hearts of the Pharisees. "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous and say, 'If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' Wherefore you are witnesses unto yourselves, that you are the children of them who killed the prophets." Matt. 23:29-31. Moreover, Jesus predicted that they would kill and crucify some of the prophets, wise men, and scribes that He would be sending. "And some of them you shall scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city; that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon earth." Matt. 23:34-35.

Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews in John 8:44, "You are of your father the devil, and the lusts [desires] of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him." If Jesus said that the devil was a murderer and that the unbelieving Jews were his sons, the implication was that they, too, were murderers. Jesus had previously established that they sought to kill Him. John 8:31.

If they could, the unrepentant Pharisees in the church system today would kill those who threaten to dethrone them from their little empires. They are the tares that have grown up among the wheat. In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus said it would be that way.

Nicolaitans today spiritually slaughter the sheep of God when they use them for their personal and sordid gain.

I went to a seminary as a young man in the ministry. I was taught that the miracles were not real and that much of what was told in the Old Testament were myths. I was taught religion, but religion had no life. I was young, impressionable, and ungrounded in the word and Spirit. Rather than being built up in faith, I became spiritually bankrupt. Eventually, I became a professed atheist until my radical conversion years later.

We are instructed in the scriptures to turn away from those who have the form of godliness, but deny its power. 2 Tim. 3:5.

These present-day Nicolaitans, who bear the marks of the Pharisees, are the doorkeepers in spiritual Babylon. Babylon is the Great Mother of Harlots. Rev. 17:5. Her other name is Jezebel. She is the puppeteer behind the stage that pulls the strings of the Nicolaitans in the churches today.

The Harlot Church System (part 2) >>

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