Jesus said Come, Follow Me!

 

Chapter 5 Ė What is the Church?

Generally, when a person is engaged in conversation concerning their relationship with Jesus Christ, one of several responses is voiced, as follows: "I go to church," "I need to start going to church." or "Where do you go to church?" To most people the term "church" as commonly defined or understood is synonymous with relationship with God. Is this a valid assumption? Those who say, "I go to church" need to understand that itís not something you go to, but it is what you are if you are following Jesus Christ! Individually you are not the total body of Christ, but you are a unique and necessary part of the corporate whole (Rm 12:5, 1 Cor 12:27). Throughout the remainder of this book, a biblical distinction will be revealed: Religion verses Relationship with God. The relationship God desires might be better termed "Living Faith" or abiding in Christ daily. The difference between religion and relationship is the dissimilarity between manís ways verses Godís way (Is 55:8-9). Godís way being righteous and holy and manís ways being self seeking and are generally rebellious to Godís purposes (Rm 10:3).

Often the religious will become offended by a conversation that convicts their heart. They will want to know where you go to church, meaning: what is your authority? Jesus came doing the Fatherís will (work) and speaking the Fatherís Words. This threatened the religious: Luke 20:1-2, "And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?" Perhaps they wanted to know what synagogue He attended or where He received religious training or what His lineage was. Those religious judged Jesus as unworthy to follow and they rejected Him and ultimately killed Him. Christís Words undermined their authority and quite frankly He did not have the credentials (qualifications, diploma, certificate, background, etc.) they were looking for. Man exalted his will to Judge God. We are Godís representatives on earth (Christís body) and our authority will also be questioned by those who are self seeking and religious Ė where do you go to church? Well my pastor saysÖ These religious ones do not consider your merit to be "life in Christ," but rather desire to associate you with institutions of man, such that they may judge your words by familiar standards. Most cannot separate life in Christ apart from the religious institutions of man. This is because these institutions have seated themselves as the head for many. They serve the institutions and this is "another gospel" altogether with "another authority." A true believerís life is found soley in Christ (Col 3:4, Gal 2:20, 2 Tm 1:1). 1 John 5:12, "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life."

Some terms in our language have taken on new and different meanings over time and through practice. Sometimes the derived and accepted understanding of a word is far different from the original intended meaning. Such is the case with the term, "church." For this reason it is necessary that I define the words "religion" and "church" for the understanding of their use within this book. Whenever the term, "religion" is used, I am referring to manís attempts to please God apart from a Spirit led, filled, taught, and guided life of living faith from the heart, through love, with Jesus Christ as absolute Lord. Religion is manís attempts to reach God his way which always seems right in his eyes (Pv 21:2) and always leads to blindness and deception (2 Cor 4:4). It is very difficult to adequately describe the vast religious systems man has built apart from the Spirit, which most people accept and reverence as the church. These will be referred to as what they are, namely: religious institutions, religious organizations and religious associations. The scriptures also reveal such as the harlot or whore (Rev 17:5 & 19:2). This is an adequate description when one considers that much of what calls herself the bride of Christ actually has her eyes on another, namely self, the flesh and the world. Those members of the religious system who are not whole hearted followers of Jesus Christ will be referred to as "the religious" or "professed believers." The scriptures refer to light (righteous) and darkness (evil). Many professed believers think there are many acceptable shades of gray and that the degree of oneís dedication to the Lord is somewhat optional. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus equated his followers as hot and those who are lost as cold. The lukewarm would be those shades of gray (Rev 3:15-16). Jesus said He desired that we be hot or cold, but the lukewarm He would vomit out of His mouth. These were especially displeasing to Him. Some would call them fence sitters. The lukewarm are noncommittal, lack zeal, and are generally deceived and hard to reach because they have a powerless form of godliness that keeps them content (2 Tm 3:5). The lukewarm may be very hard to distinguish from the world due to a life of compromise or hypocrisy (Mt 23:28). The lukewarm mostly believe that they are hot and certainly superior to the cold.

 

The Accepted Meaning of "the Church"

What is the church? The popular notion of "the church" is that it is a facility, building, meeting place or religious organization/institution where one goes to find, worship and serve God. Preachers/pastors are looked upon as a sort of priestly order having lordship and authority over their members (Mt 10:42). These are mostly viewed as Godís authority on earth to teach, administer or facilitate salvation and perform religious ceremonies or rites such as baptisms, weddings, funerals and the Lordís Supper. If pressed most would acknowledge the church is a body of individuals, but it is mostly referred to from the standpoint of a facility, building or denomination Ė i.e. "at my Church." Another popular notion is that membership, attendance, support, devotion and faithful service in one of these institutions is the primary gauge to reveal right standing before God (Acts 17:24-25). This is why most peopleís thoughts immediately conjure up their images of "religious organizations" when engaged in any discussion of Jesus. Most have difficulty separating a personal relationship with Jesus Christ from a religious institution, denomination or doctrine. Often it is because the religious organization has become their form of relationship with Jesus Christ as it has exalted itself as the head of the body. This is a poor substitute for the real thing!

Often men and religious things are placed between the believer and God. There is only one way to approach God. Ephesians 2:18, "For through him (Jesus) we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." Notice that through Christ we have access to the Father through the Holy Spirit (Heb 4:14, 8:1, 9:24, 1 Jn 2:1). Man and the things of man have been totally left out of the equation. Jesus brought reconciliation and has given us His Spirit, let us walk therein (Eph 2:13-17). Ephesians 3:11-12, "According to the eternal purpose which he (God) purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him." Our faith must be in Christ and He must be head of the body (Eph 1:22, 5:23, Col 1:18). Anything that exalts itself in the place of Christ is not of God. 1 John 5:11, "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." We are complete in Him: Colossians 2:10, "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power."

 

The True Body of Christ

The Greek word for our term, church, is Ekklesia (ek-klay-see-ah) meaning: "Called out ones." The true church is the body of believers who are disciples and followers of Christ, consisting of individuals past, present and future. There is one body, one Spirit and one Lord (Eph 4:4-6). Jesus said it like this: John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (also Ps 95:7)." The sheep would represent the church, not the pasture, pen or stable. Hearing Christís voice & Christ knowing them, represents relationship. Following is much more than a profession, mere mental belief or acknowledgment, but seeks and lives Godís will over your own. Following is obedience and is best described as walking in the footsteps of Christ (1 Pt 2:21-22, 1 Jn 2:6). How did Christ walk? Jesus walked the way of the cross, meaning: He came to the earth when directed by the Father; He totally denied SELF to do/perform the Fatherís will to the point of giving His physical life; spoke and taught His Fatherís Words; did the Fatherís Work; prayed often; forsook the things of the world; became a servant; was tempted yet did not sin; was reviled and rejected; and always obeyed the Father. In order to do these things, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit. The example that Jesus left for us to follow has been discussed in much more depth in previous chapters. It is also important to note that wherever the word "church" is used in scripture, such as in the King James Bible, it was translated into English from this Greek word "Ekklesia" meaning "called out ones." On occasion the term may mean an assembly or gathering of called out ones. The body of Christ is not something you join, but is something you are born into and only God can do this (Jn 1:12-13, 3:3, 6:44, 6:65, 1 Cor 3:7) - not by the will of man or the flesh (Jn 1:12-13). Ephesians 5:30,32, "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church."

What have the Ekklesia (called out ones) been called out of? We have been called out of darkness which is all sin, evil, and unrighteousness (Mt 4:6, Lk 11:35, Jn 3:19-21, 8:35, Col 1:13, 1 Jn 3:8). We have been called out of worldliness which is the cares/pleasures of this life, deceitfulness of riches, pollutions of the world, and lusts of the eyes and pride of life (Mk 4:18-19, Lk 8:14 & 21:34, 1 Jn 2:15-17, 2 Pt 2:20, Js 1:27, Gal 6:14 ). We have been called out of Mystery Babylon which is confusion, a mixture of government, paganism/idolatry & religion - Doctrines of Balaam (2 Pt 2:14-16, Jude 1:11, Rev 2:14). This is manís attempts to reach God through manís will while retaining the things of the world (Rev 18:4, 2 Cor 6:17, 1 Cor 6:15-16). We have been called out of SELF which is self-sufficiency, self-love, selfishness, self-seeking, self-gratification, self-righteousness, self-preservation, self-centeredness, and self-knowledge, known as the flesh (Mt 10:39 & 16:25, Mk 8:35, Lk 9:24 & 17:33, Jn 12:25, Romans chapter 8). All sin results from a pursuit of self-will rather than Godís will. Self is prideful and arrogant. God would have us humble and meek. Self wants to be sovereign. God would have us to be dependant upon Him. In short, we have been called out of all rebellion to God and must lay down all resistance and come back under His authority - freely and lovingly.

 

Jesus is the Head of the Body

Jesus is the head of the church, for it is His body and He has purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Ephesians 1:20-23, "Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. The church represents Christ on the earth. The power that drives the church is the Holy Ghost and is manifested as love (Rm 5:5). Jesus must be the sole focus of all activities within the church (His body). Colossians 1:18, "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" (also Eph 5:23). The religious institutes of man have actually set themselves in the place of Christ. Men are looking to these organizations to save them, rather than Jesus Christ. There is a distinction here that most are blinded to and do not see. Christ scolded the church at Ephesus because: Revelation 2:4, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Jesus must be the love of our life and our sole motivation must be to please and bring Him glory in all things. The Jews had trusted in the law to save them rather than God. They had a heartless observance and this was not Godís desire. Some have a heartless "religious observance" because their heart is on the world. Woe to you because God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb 4:12). We are not to serve buildings, personalities, or institutions. We are to serve Jesus Christ with a whole heart of devotion.

Many will say, I am of the Baptist; or I am of the Methodist; or perhaps I am of the Pentecostals (institutions Ė of man). Perhaps they will say, I am of Billy Graham, Charles Stanley or Benny Hinn (personalities Ė men); or I am of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (entities Ė of man). These will associate themselves with man or the institutions of man. 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" The Baptist, Methodist or whatever did not die for you, neither are they the head of the body (these are institutions of man, the Spirit brings unity, man divides). Salvation will not be found in a man (other than Christ) or a television network. We are to look to Jesus alone for our salvation. Not to doctrines, traditions, personalities, institutions, etc. Jesus Christ must be our first love and our heart must be for Him alone (Rev 2:4). Secondly we need to start putting denominational loyalties aside and look for individuals that have spiritual life and fellowship with them as members of Christís body. Spiritual life is found in one who has yielded totally to God and seeks His will through the Holy Spirit. This one will be living a life of demonstrated faith. If we are being led of the Spirit, then we will come to understand Christís gospel (not manís doctrines). Those who are following men such as John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, John Wesley, Martin Luther, or whoever need to repent. You are being led by doctrines and not by the Holy Spirit. Many of the religious institutions of today are based upon what men (such as the above) believed, taught and wrote about rather than Christ Ė and they will argue endlessly about it (strife between denominations). Godís truth is revealed through His Spirit and His Word. You may have truth, but if you do not have the Spirit, your in error. Open Godís Word and seek the Spiritís guidance. All these competing doctrines and confusion could be cleared up if you will put your eyes upon Jesus and submit to His Holy Spirit.

All these groups who have named themselves and set up distinctions (of man) only prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are being led of man and not the Holy Spirit. Where is the unity in Christís body that these religious denominations/factions presume to be (Eph 4:3)? Where is the one-mindedness (Rm 15:6, 2 Cor 13:11, Php 1:27, 2:2)? Where is the love? Man separates; the Spirit brings us to unity of purpose and understanding when we will humble ourselves and be led (obedience). This cannot and will not be accomplished through the flesh. This will only happen through obedience to the Spirit. Thus man cannot convert, direct nor control. Man can humble himself and obey and this is what God requires. In other words, God will do the leading and man will do the following (in love through faith). It is through Christ that we have access by one Spirit to the Father (Eph 2:18, 3:12) and not through manís religiosity. Man presumes much!

 

What about Religion?

What shall we say of religion? Matthew 16:21-23, "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." Jesus had put His will aside and was traveling the "Way of the Cross" in perfect loving obedience to the Fatherís will. He was going to be killed by very religious men who claimed to represent God, although their hearts were far from Him. Peter believed he was aiding Christ by his comment, but finds himself equally opposed to Godís will. The elders, chief priest and scribes thought they were serving God by killing Christ; whereas Peter thought he was serving Christ by trying to save Him. In both cases, the individuals believed they were serving God, but were actually conflicting and resisting with His purposes and were mostly self serving. Jesusí response to Peter describes manís religion very well. It is a stumbling block or offense to God, and does not delight in, take pleasure, relish, enjoy, love, appreciate, or value the things of God, but does relish the things of man. So what is to be done with manís religious system? Matthew 15:13, "But he (Jesus) answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." Man will never please God his way. We must come to God on His terms. No flesh will glory in Godís presence (1 Cor 1:29). God says that we must die to what we are (sinful and self-seeking) and be born again (desiring Godís will be done). We must approach God humbly with a heartís desire to yield to Him and perform His will in faithful obedience. Man only wants to put on a religious exterior, yet retain self will. God is going to do some shaking and rooting up during the tribulation period and this is discussed in Chapter Ten Ė many will be purged, or tried and purified.

Our God is a jealous God and we are to follow Him alone and not set up any other image or entity in our lives (Ex 34:14). John 10:3-5, "To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." The sheep know the Shepherd and He communicates with them. This is relationship. The Shepherd intimately knows the sheep, by name! This is the close personal relationship that Christ wants to have with you. The Lord once said of Moses, "I know thee by name" (Ex 33:17). Notice: the Shepherd leads and the true sheep follow because they are listening and focused on the Shepherd and they obey Him (Is 40:11, 1 John 2:3)! The Shepherd goes before them and provides for them. The sheep walk in His path. Sheep are humble and obedient. God desires that we look to Him alone for all our needs, not ourselves or other men (Ez 34:31). The true sheep will not follow after someone (man Ė no matter how likeable) other than the Shepherd because they are focused on the Shepherd. There are many other sheep in the religious world blinded and following after strangers or institutions, which have set themselves in the place of the Shepherd. Strangers want to tell you what the Shepherd really said or meant as they beckon you to themselves in their own fenced pen or pasture which may become a spiritual prison. They may tell you that they alone represent the Shepherd and their pen is the only correct sheep place. These leaders tread down the pastures and foul the waters (Ez 34:18-19) and consume the sheep (Ez 34:10). Perhaps if these sheep read their bibles and sought God in prayer and daily life, this would not be the case. These sheep also seek to go about independent of the Shepherd and provide for themselves (self-sufficient), their way (self will), and in their timing (impatient). The Shepherd is going down a narrow trail and the sheep must pay close attention and listen for a still small voice (1 Kg 19:12). Many sheep have had their eyes on the surroundings and worldly delights that are off the narrow path. These have wandered off the Shepherdís path, but are absolutely convinced they are still following Him, yet they are in the midst of wolves.

 

Personal Relationship

We must be careful not to elevate any method or mechanism of our worship to be the emphasis or substitute for our relationship with God. In the wilderness, the children of Israel were constantly complaining, whining, and rebelling against God (Ex 17:2-3, 7, Num 11:4-6). They tempted Christ (1 Cor 10:9). Numbers 21:6, "And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died." When the people repented of their evil, God sent deliverance. Numbers 21:8, "And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." This solution was to be a foreshadowing or symbolic object lesson to represent what Christ would later do on the cross. John 3:14-15, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." The symbolism was that we are all dying in sin, and only when we look to Godís provision (Christ) for salvation can we have life. Satan overcomes man by injecting his venom in manís blood (which is the life of the flesh) and thus corrupting it. Christ is the only cure. Jesus being lifted on the cross being Godís great sacrifice of love for us. Those who did not obey and look to Godís provision, died in their rejection and rebellion. The people of Israel later corrupted what God had done by worshipping the means of deliverance rather than the deliverer. 2 Kings 18:4, "He (King Hezekiah) removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." Israel had made a false god of the brazen image thereby greatly dishonoring God. Likewise, many today have made their own God and deliverer out of the religious organizations, ceremonies and rites (sacraments), charismatic leaders, religious works, baptisms, doctrines and traditions, etc. They rejoice in the works of their own hands (Acts 7:41). When we place our faith in these things rather than Jesus Christ, we have missed Godís will and exalted manís. God knew that man would improve upon the method of worship, evolve it, and eventually exalt it in the place of God. This is why God forbid Israel to carve an altar. Deuteronomy 27:5, "And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them." God desired to be the focus of manís worship rather than have man improve, beautify and exalt the means.

King Ahaz saw a pagan altar that he liked while visiting Syria and sent the pattern of it to Urijah the priest to have a similar one built (2 Kg 16:10-18). This altar violated Godís Word (Moses was told not to deviate from Godís pattern, Ex 25:9, Heb 8:5 and subsequently David and Soloman) and the one in Damascus certainly didnít save the Syrians who offered upon it from Tiglathpileserís (Assyria) invasion which was orchestrated by Ahaz. Rather than follow Godís pattern, Ahaz chose manís Ė and that of the heathen. King Ahaz incorporated a similar pagan altar into his worship of God at the temple. He offered worship unto Syriaís gods because they seemed stronger (2 Chr 28:23). The truth is that Ahazís demise was due to his own evil (2 Chr 28:19, 22). We are told of the people: 2 Kings 17:33, "They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence." King Ahaz had a form of religion, but was wicked in Godís eyes as he did that which opposed God (2 Kgs 16:2-4, 2 Chr 28:24-25). King Ahaz would not see his own wickedness and repent, but sought other solutions. Nothing has changed in our "modern day." Many will "profess Christ" and then take the things of the world and Christianize them. Many will desire to fear God and also serve the world and their own idols after the manner of the culture/society around them. God will not share His majesty with manís idolatry. We cannot incorporate our own will or idolatry into our relationship with Jesus Christ. Idolatry is mostly incorporated within a religious context (observance). Israel constantly provoked God with their idolatry (2 Kgs 17:8-18). We must decide - ritual or relationship? Which do you think Godís emphasis will be on during Judgment Day? Heart or formula.

How did Jesus define eternal life? John 17:3, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." Christ defined eternal life as knowing the Father and Jesus. This is a relationship! We know God as we follow and live in abiding faith. In following, we obey: John 14:23-24, "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me." So if we love Jesus, we will make sure we keep His commandments, it will be our desire. Do you know Christ? To know is to follow (see Chapter Two for details).

 

Putting us under Bondage

When you come to Christ and understand that we are to have a very real, vibrant ongoing relationship, there is such a freedom. Our acceptance with God is not based upon religious merits or works, but by loving faith lived daily for our Lord. Suddenly you realize that itís not about pleasing man or his systems. Christ's yoke is easy and His burden is light (Mt 11:30). Men will try and load us down with all sorts of religious requirements and keep us under heavy loads. Galatians 2:4, "And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." The early church came out of the Jewish religious system. Most were raised under strict doctrines and traditions. Initially, this break was not totally clean. The body of Christ was working out through the scriptures, being led of the Holy Spirit (unfolding the scriptures - teaching), and discerning Christís Words as to how the body was to function. Many could not part with their old religious ideas (instilled in them). They tried to impose circumcision and observances of the law upon the new believers (converts) and bring them back under the bondage that Christ had freed them from (Gal 4:5). Acts 15:5, "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." Even Peter had problems with holding on to the old traditions and doctrines (Gal 2:11-16). Things are no different in the modern religious institutions. Men will try and bring us into bondage by telling us we must attend their denomination, believe their doctrine, and support their organization through attendance, volunteerism, finances, good works, evangelism, missions, etc. What we really must do is be led by the Spirit of God through daily life which will undoubtedly produce fruit that is acceptable to the Father and liberty to those who follow (Ps 119:45). The law does not justify, but faith in Christ does (Acts 13:39). Galatians 5:1, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Those who love God use their liberty as His servants and not for evil Ė meaning those things which oppose God (1 Pt 2:16). Many have great difficulty parting with the institution and this in itself reveals the bondage. They have been instilled to think of relationship with God and manís religious institutions as one in the same. To separate from one is to separate from both in their minds. This is bondage! Iím not talking about becoming an independent agent, but joining the true body of Christ and seeking out those who have spiritual life. Come out, come out and let Christ be your authority.

Do not allow men to put you back into bondage because Christ will then become of none effect to you (Gal 5:4). Galatians 5:1, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." This is the nature of our liberty: Galatians 5:5, "For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." When we live daily in obedience to Christ with a whole heart, then God is pleased. For this reason: Galatians 5:18, "But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law." You will be performing the intent of the law with your correct attitude and obedience toward God as led by His Spirit. Since we are doing this, we have liberty and this liberty can never be allowed as occasion to the flesh (Gal 5:13). To seek after fleshly things would not be following the Spirit and thus nullify the liberty due to the wrong motives. So: Galatians 5:25, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." We will walk by the Spirit (narrow) or the flesh (broad) and you must decide which path you are on and where you choose to travel.

 

Trinkets and Paraphernalia

We read earlier how God doesnít desire an ornate artistically sculpted altar and doing such disqualifies it. All glory is to go to God alone and not to implements of worship as manís eyes tend to be drawn to fleshly things. Exodus 20:4, 23, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. John 4:24, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." We worship God in Spirit and not through physical representations (Rm 1:23) Ė recall the brasen fiery serpent discussion. Isaiah 42:8, "I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images." Godís glory will not be given to an inanimate object (Is 44:9, Ps 78:58). Acts 17:29-30, "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and manís device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent." Religious man has made all sorts of unauthorized Christian trinkets (images). Most ignorantly assume that their religious images are not the same, but all images have religious context. Examples would be gold and silver crosses (Ex 20:23) in every conceivable size and variety, with and without an image of Christ hanging on it; sculptures of praying hands; angels; nativity scenes; paintings; and fish/cross symbol jewelry, etc. (Deut 4:16-18, 23, 25 & 5:8). These things are manís ideas and not Godís direction. Scripture never directs us to use the sign of the cross as a Christian identifier. Christ died a horrible death for you on a torturous Roman cross to provide followers with forgiveness and reconciliation to the Father. We must never forget this act of love. The cross was the shame Jesus suffered for us (Gal 3:13). We remember Jesus through communion (Lordís Supper), which is Christís broken body and shed blood. The cross was never designated to be a religious icon. Many will be upset with this and that just proves the point that these are images because of the defensive attachment (possessive) placed on them. These same ones will have a form of worship regarding their crosses (or sculptures/paintings). If you cannot separate the cross image (icon) from Christ in your defense, then you really have a problem (attachment) Ė we do not worship a cross. Many worship the work of their own hands (Is 2:8). We are to seek our Lord directly through prayer and relationship, not inanimate objects. Women (applies to men) are told to dress in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety without gold, pearls or costly array (2 Tm 2:9, 1 Pt 3:3-4). Fashioning jewelry into religious symbols does not give license to violate scripture. Many people have a religious nature (outlook), but that does not mean that they have Godís nature. We are to have a heart for God and a love for His Word and not to serve Him based upon what we think He would like (see Chapter Seven, Christ (Mass), A Worldly Celebration). Religious man thinks surely God would be honored by religious objects (images) because they draw attention to religious things (such as God). However, do these religious ones read and obey His Word? (read on)

Many have paintings or movies that depict Jesus (or depictions of Jesus hanging on a cross). This is a direct violation of the Word of God and thus is against Godís will. Please consider this verse: Exodus 20:4, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (also Deut 5:8)." This verse cannot be more clear. Jesus was in heaven, came to earth and now is in heaven. God never revealed His simlitude (form) to Israel because He did not want them to make images of Him. Deuteronomy 4:15-16, "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female (also Deut 4:12)." AND Isaiah 40:18, "To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?" We do not know what Jesus looked like and these have portrayed false images. Most portray Jesus with long hair yet the scriptures say, 1 Corinthians 11:14, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" Jesus is always depicted as having very desirable features. Isaiah 53:2, "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness (beauty, attractiveness); and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." Comeliness is that which is becoming, fit or suitable, in form or manner - less forcible than beauty, less elegant than grace, and less light than prettiness. We are not to worship the image of a man, for God is so much greater. One day we shall see Him as He is, in all His glory (1 Jn 3:2, 1 Pt 4:13). Most will think this to be innocent, but most will also have these portrayed images in their mind when they think of Christ. God has forbidden this (Deut 4:23, 28:47)! The point is that our worship of Christ is not found in objects of adornment. God never wanted it to be this way and was very clear about it. Isaiah 46:5, "To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?" Religious man seeks to worship God his way and never sees fault in anything he does. Some will say that they have had visions of Christ, but do we trust manís visions or Godís Word? Do not visions agree with the Word? Why is Christ depicted as a man of which we have no description and not as John described Him in Revelation (vs. 1:13-17, 2:18, 5:6)? John said, "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead (Rev 1:17)." Christís righteousness was once seen by Peter, James and John (mount of transfiguration) as Jesus was transfigured before them: Mark 9:3, "And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them." Jesusí shining white clothing represented His total righteousness. This is the understanding we should have of Him. We are to "follow" and conform to His image as the Spirit leads us and God works in us (Php 2:13, Heb 13:21). God does not allow physical representations of Himself no matter how man feels about the results (winning people to the Lord?) of the artistic license he presumes. To presume is to venture without positive permission (to suppose entitlement). This is a form of arrogance (pride Ė stiffnecked, rebellious).

Many will be thinking that they absolutely do not agree about the crosses because it has been so instilled in them to accept them and they are attached to their worship of them. Images could never portray the awesomeness and totality of God. Israel greatly feared God when He spoke to them through the midst of the fire in the burning mountain (Deut 5:23-27). However, they didnít fear the images that they made and controlled Ė big difference! They made THEIR god and offered sacrifices to THEIR god and rejoiced in the works of THEIR hands (Acts 7:40-41, Ps 106:19-20, Is 2:8). They chose their way over Godís way just as so many religious do today. Do we obey God and His Word or do we rebelliously worship a God of our own making in the image we wish to construct? Men love images and always have. They want something physical and tangible that they can see and worship. God says that we must approach Him through faith (Heb 11:6). Man tries to compromise by making his images of a religious nature. If you find comfort in your images youíre an idolator (maybe a prayer garden/grove, cross, prayer beads). God is a Spirit and we must worship Him in Spirit and by His Word (Jn 4:24). We are not worshipping an idol that we can see with our physical eyes. Instead, we are to serve God with love in faith Ė the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). 1 Peter 1:8, "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."

God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt by His strong hand (Ex 6:1). When Moses was meeting with God on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16-18), the children of Israel were making a golden calf and worshiping it (Ex 32:1-6). The people wanted something tangible that they could see and touch. They said the calf was their god (representative) that brought them up out of Egypt (Ex 32:4). After all, they had grown up in Egypt and this is what the Egyptians did Ė they made images of their gods and worshipped them. Hey Ė everybodyís doing it! Israel was not guiltless and this was not innocent fun because God had just prior told them: Exodus 20:3-6, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." Perhaps they just wanted to relegate God into an image of their creation? Ė They were afraid of God as He had presented Himself to them (Ex 20:19, Deut 5:23-27). God had come to prove them (Ex 20:20) and the results were disappointing. God told Moses the people had corrupted themselves and had turned aside quickly from following His commandments (Ex 32:7-8). God also said they were stiffnecked (rebellious, Ex 32:9) and He was prepared to consume them (Ex 32:10). Had Moses not intervened (Ex 32:11-14) they would have been destroyed. The people later mourned and "put off their ornaments" - they stripped themselves of the ornaments (things displeasing Ė jewelry items, religious images, Ex 33:4-6). Woe to those who look to images!

Many movies have been made concerning Jesus. The gospel was never intented to be entertainment to the flesh, yet these dramas are made to be just that. As mentioned, we do not know what Jesus looked like, nor do we know His actual personality, His body language, His thoughts, how He interacted with others and His emotional expressions. If Jesus the man could be portrayed, the deity certainly could not. These movies are manís opinions and speculations based upon what appeals to the flesh. Men conform Christ to their image of Him (opposites Ė demonic). To make an entertaining movie, men must take many liberties in filling in unknown details. The whole thing becomes a huge fraud with some semblance to the biblical account. These movies could never be truly accurate and are thus deceptive. The truth is not accurately represented and therefore becomes a lie. False impressions are burned into the minds of the audience. These surface during prayer, worship and devotion and thus become idolic. This is not the way God intended to be worshipped or represented. Woe to man! Good intentions are not license to do evil. People will not be drawn to God by manís disobedience to God (God draws men unto Himself, Jn 6:44, 65). A lie will not draw hearts to the truth. We may not worship any other god, including manís assumed likenesses of the real God (Ex 34:14).

Do you have paintings of Jesus or statues (Jesus, virgin Mary, angels, nativity scene, saints, etc. Ė Deut 27:15)? If you do, then you have put up images and this is forbidden (Deut 16:22). This is not innocent Ė you have rejected Godís Word in favor of your own thoughts or ideas Ė doing what is right in your own eyes (Deut 12:8). Israel did this over and over and always thought it was innocent Ė everybody was doing it. Jesus said that if you do not keep His sayings (Word) that you do not love Him (Jn 14:24) Ė this is rejection! Jesus also said: John 15:23, "He that hateth me hateth my Father also." There is not a pick and choose option for serving God. Many worship an image of Christ Ė few "follow" the living Christ Ė there is a tremendous difference that the blind will never see. Many will put religious symbols or bumper stickers on their cars. Jesus would have others see Him through us by the faithful lives we live Ė do and not say.

Many have made images of angels (paintings, sculptures, jewelry, etc.) and have a form of worship thereof (Deut 16:22, Col 2:18). We are told more than once in the Word of God not to worship angels (usually by the angels themselves, Jdg 13:16-18, Heb Chap 1&2, Rev 19:10, 22:8-9). Many also depict angels inaccurately as winged and feminine or as young children. Angels are always referred to in the masculine and as mature, in Godís Word.

 

Compromise

What an evil word compromise is. We have to understand that the nature of man is fallen and as such is in rebellion against God. Man always seeks to please his flesh. The best situation for the unconverted is if he can please his flesh and soothe the guilty conscious at the same time. If God says you are not to have graven statues, then man will immediately respond, "what if." What if they were molded rather than engraved with tools? What if they are metal rather than clay or wood? What if we had a painting rather than a statue? What if they were of Christian symbols? In other words religious man will overlook the intent and major on the fine points of the law. Men will strain at a gnat, but swallow a camel (Mt 23:24). The best possible justification for the religious man would be a verse from Godís Word even if it has to be taken out of context or is an obscure and less understood verse that may even contradict a multitude of other verses. Those that have a heart toward God will uphold the intent of what God desires. Those who are seeking God, but want to live in the flesh will look for loopholes. Those who serve through the flesh will at best grudgingly follow God and in their way. Another word that some will hide behind is "tolerance." This is going along with something that you know to be wrong for the sake of unity. Most likely this will be associated with the golden rule Ė do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We are to seek peace with all men if possible, but never, ever compromise the Word of God in so doing (Heb 12:14).

 

Assembling

When asked the question, "Where do you go to church?" If you do not respond with the appropriate answer you are immediately viewed with much suspicion and basically considered a heretic or apostate until possibly proven innocent. The desired answer being a membership with an established (known) and generally accepted form of manís organized and incorporated religion (one of the thousands of denominations). The religious institutions have been tremendously successful in furthering this concept. You may find that the most biblically illiterate person may be able to conjure up some form of this verse of scripture: Hebrews 10:25, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." It is so important to understand that this does not necessarily mean perfect attendance at a religious institution. That is a doctrine and tradition of men which is mostly fear based Ė not in love. The scripture is saying that true followers assemble wherever and whenever appropriate to exhort one another in the faith. The early church assembled in private homes, courtyards, upper chambers, synagogues, or wherever. The importance was why they were assembling. Exhorting means to give spirit, strength, comfort, courage and to entreat (pray against an evil) and pray. Jesus said: Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." If we include the full text of Hebrews Chapter 10, we find that God has written His law in our hearts and minds and we have a new life of love and faith to draw near to Him with correct motives. We are to come with a pure heart or whole heartedly due to our love for Him in unwavering confidence. We look to Him alone. We assemble ourselves to provoke each other unto love and good works, the forsaking of sin and having conduct that is pure and holy always seeking righteousness in following our Lord. We encourage one another to forsake the things of the world and wholly seek Godís righteousness. This is generally not what the religious are doing and this will be more thoroughly covered in Chapter Seven. Two people form an assembly. There is no rule about meeting in religious buildings with pomp and ceremony. Those that think there must be some sort of religious structure to legitimize the gathering only show their ignorance of the truth.

The truly sad thing is that although many have taken religious attendance to heart, they have not taken true faith to heart. True faith is loving obedience and service to Christ as Lord, everyday and in every way. This is a denying of self and a forsaking of sin and the world. Faith will save, religious attendance will not. The priorities are all out of order and this is the confusion that God allows for those who love not the truth (live, apply, do). Those who do not love the truth, have no use for it and will not be given it Ė this you can be assured of. This is the spiritual blindness that Christ talked about so often. This was also always associated with the religious. The religious will interpret Godís Word through the flesh and mostly wrongfully apply it. The truth of the gospel such as coming to the light (living righteously), self-denial, and sacrifice becomes a reproach to them as it does not soothe the flesh, and they have no delight in it (Jer 6:10). The spiritual will have the Word of God unfolded to them as taught by the Holy Spirit as they live it and travel the narrow path conforming to Christís image more and more along the way. To conform to one, you must die to the other. To become spiritual and Christ like, you must die to self and the flesh.

If we are not assembling to truly serve God whole heartedly (fanatically) and encourage, exhort, and edify others in their walk, then we have missed the whole point of assembly. We are to have relationship with God (through Christ) first and with others second. Assembling is not about building facilities and serving them, shallow relationships, religious form, ceremony, rites, etc. Itís all about Jesus Christ, the head of the body. Itís about helping each other live daily in a world that undermines and opposes all that Christ stood for. This should be a time when a believer finds refuge and support Ė does he?

 

Who will Lead the Body?

Whenever there is a true move of the Spirit of God, menís hearts will be truly changed and cry out to Him. This will be evidenced and demonstrated in their daily walk. They will essentially follow in the steps of Christ in self denial (dying to self) and devotion to Him. Such a group of men will form a powerful body and the gifts of the Spirit as identified in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 will be clearly manifested as the Spirit of God leads the body. Inevitably man will rise up and attempt to franchise the move of God and institutionalize it. The gathering will be named, facilities will be sought and soon the Spirit will absent as man takes over and improves, develops creeds or doctrinal statements and otherwise legislates the move. The Spirit of God must be free to move and direct the body. Man must be obedient through faith always looking outward to God rather than inward to himself. Although there will be much similarity from group to group this may vary somewhat as the Spirit determines the need. The Spirit of God cannot and will not be boxed in by man as man determines what truths of Godís Word will be emphasized and what will be reduce in importance (relegated).

 

A Brief Historical Perspective

Just after the church was first established at Pentecost (book of Acts), it came under heavy persecution from the religious Jews. This persecution actually caused the church (body of Christ) to grow and be disbursed throughout the region (Acts 8:1, 4, 11:19-21). The church was divinely designed to endure, overcome and triumph in such persecution because Christ is their Head and it is directed by His Spirit. The church was not dependent upon human leadership to function. New groups (individuals, not buildings) were established all over the area with no more than one assembly in any given city. Almost immediately false prophets and teachers and those seeking personal glory began to arise (2 Pt 2:1-3, 3 Jn 1:9-10, 1 Tm 1:20). This was a constant aggravation to the apostle Paul. The apostles were busy establishing (maturing) the body with teaching, encouragement, and exhortation. Some brethren laboring in this effort forsook the Lord for the things of the world (2 Tm 1:15, 4:10). Some realized that religion could be "profitable" as a means to obtain their fleshly desires (money, power, control, influence, etc.). At times, Paul must have felt all alone. Philippians 2:20-21, "For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christís." So men seeking their will and purposes entered in from the very inception. Nevertheless, Christ has always been faithful to His "little flock" who truly seek Him and His Spirit. Luke 12:32, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." There will always be a counterfeit (and it will outnumber the true), but those who truly and intently seek Christ will find Him and His truth. Acts 17:27, "That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us." AND Jeremiah 23:23, "Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?" Beware of the counterfeits that seem right, but the Spirit is absent. Cunning men can craftily expound upon and interpret the Word of God their way. The Spirit unfolds (reveals) the Word and brings life to the hearer.

Almost as soon as the Jewish persecution subsided, persecution began from the Roman Empire. This persecution was severe and lasted through ten successive Caesars over a period of two hundred and fifty years. Most have heard of the horrible stories of Christians being thrown to lions and set ablaze on crosses. Throughout all this the church spread and grew tremendously, which seemingly defied logic. The Holy Spirit led the body and no persecution on earth could contain it. The church is spiritually designed to overcome when functioning properly. The church actually triumphed over Romeís efforts to stop it, resulting in the Emperor Constantine proposing a deal to church leaders who were eager to end the persecutions (If you cannot conquer from without, then you must conquer from within).

During this same time period many leaders were arising within the church. These were men who sought power, influence and control. They began to accumulate such power incrementally over time. They also established mindsets and methodologies, such as they could be the only ones to administer communion (Lordís Supper) and sacraments that were later added. They began laying the widespread foundation of what Jesus termed "Nicolaitans" (Rev 2:15) which means to "Lord over the people." These religious set-up seats of authority over the people contrary to Christís command that to be great in the kingdom of heaven, you must be servant to all (and not to establish titles or positions of supremacy). This became as the Levitical priesthood that Jesus had abolished on the cross (Mk 15:38). Today we know this system as the clergy-laity. The truth is that all disciples have direct access to God through Christ (Eph 2:18) and are to be led of the Spirit who instructs in Godís Word (2 Tim 3:16, 1 Cor Chap 2). Over time sacraments were developed and actually became the religious (manís way) means of salvation rather than faith in Christ. If you were not a member of their religious institution, then you were considered lost. The spiritual life seen in individuals should be the evidence of relationship with Christ through faith.

Under Constantine there was a sort of combining of church and state (Mystery Babylon) and the persecution of the visible church ended. Church leaders, who had been enduring the reproach of the cross and suffering persecution, tired and sought the relief that the state was offering. Rather than try and defeat the church from without, the devil changed tactics to defeat it from within. A little compromise here and there and the persecution ended. Christianity suddenly became very popular. The conversion of the masses soon led to pagan temples becoming church buildings as people changed religion. Later, cathedrals (monuments to the flesh) were built. Many of these new converts brought their pagan traditions into the church body. A little Christianizing here and there and these pagan observances were added right in. Ambitious leaders were happy to accommodate this mixing in order to consolidate power and influence. For some time, Godís Word was suppressed and not available to the common man and they were told what authorities wanted them to hear. Doctrinal arguments were settled by Church Councils, beginning with the Council of Nicea in 325 (which formulated the Nicean Creed). Religious man forms councils rather than seeking the Holy Spirit. Man wants to formulate, consolidate and control. Those who truly followed the Spirit were probably not part of these councils. The church literally became two separate entities. The true church was humble in spirit, less noticeable, and Christ-seeking. The false church (harlot) exalted the flesh, was highly visible, state approved, and was self-seeking. Those whose beliefs or practices deviated sufficiently from the orthodoxy of the councils now became the objects of efforts (persecution) to bring them into the fold. Resistance often led to persecution. This soon plunged the church into the Dark Ages whereby the resulting Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church Systems became the persecutors of all those who did not yield to their absolute rule (within their realms of influence). Believers were told that only by being a member of the now institutionalized religious system could one be saved (sounds familiar for today). These institutions assumed they held all truth and apart from them there was none other. They even claimed to speak for God. Even so, there were still many smaller groups of true believers who did not yield to this beast system. Itís amazing, but the worst and probably longest sustained persecutions of true believers were actually carried out by those who claimed to represent Christ, just as Christ was killed by those who claimed to represent God and who were looking for His coming. Torture, murder and destruction of written materials became the mode of control. Throughout a history of man exerting his will, God has preserved His Word for "whosoever will" and this is miraculous (Rev 22:17). We must seek Christ alone and understand this Word as guided and taught by His Holy Spirit. There is no justification in Godís Word to persecute or kill in His name. This activity showed without doubt that these institutions were following man and not the Spirit. The religious system totally misrepresented Christ through such authoritarianism and rule of terror.

The Church of Rome known as the Roman Catholic Church had many reformers. These were men who saw error in the church and sought to correct the error. In most cases these were Roman Catholics who never renounced their membership within the Roman Catholic Church. From these attempted reforms came additional protestors. These men were eventually forced to split from the Roman Catholic Church and became know as the Protestants (Protest-ants). Although the Protestants steered their memberships back to the truth of faith in Christ, they carried over much of the error of the Roman Catholics (lust for buildings/temples, holidays, ceremonies, Lordship authority/ control). Although these reformers had the truth of Godís Word, many were still deeply entrenched in doctrines and traditions of these systems of man (very hard to break free from, see Chapter Seven, Christ (Mass), A Worldly Celebration).

The nation of America was born out of rebellion (Rm 13:1-2) Ė it broke away from the English empire by force of will. America has always been known for rebellion (independence), pursuit of self, and pride (see Chapter 7, Rock and Roll). Most of us were taught in school how the United States was founded by people escaping religious persecution in Europe. Escaping persecution is seeking relief, but in what? This has been called a Christian nation. The church in scripture has always been a remnant called out of the world into relationship with Christ. The true church would never be synonymous with an entire community or nation Ė there is no scriptural authority or historical precedent for such. Throughout the history of the church, Christ has always had a remnant that would carry the torch of His testimony. Inevitably these groups would eventually tire of the persecution and seek relief. In relief they found complacency and what was once alive would eventually die as they institutionalized to preserve what they had (Rev 2:4, 3:1-2). Fortunately there have always been others who would step-up and carry this precious testimony forward. What happens when believers seek relief from governments/religious authorities from persecution? Fleshly comfort and security are gained, but what has been lost? What has been compromised? Perhaps an examination of the United States of America might provide an answer. Throughout the history of this nation, the religious and government have had an arrangement. The church has lived in security, protected by law, and has even enjoyed special tax status. The state has been the Defender of the Faith. Churches have multiplied across the land and assemblies (franchises) are literally located on every block. There is a type of Christian culture flourishing with television, magazines, schools, entertainment, retail stores, sports, associations, etc. This country has exported religious denominations (missionaries) across the globe. The new trend is super mega-churches operating under church growth doctrines. So what is the problem? What has been lost Ė it seems so wonderful? The problem is that the culture/society of United States of America is the most decadent, self-indulgent, depraved, degenerate, morally corrupt nation on the face of the earth. Does this upset you? Examine the facts, not your emotions. America is prideful, America is arrogant, yet America is the worldís ideal of manís accomplishments. The USA is considered the greatest country on the face of the earth. It reigns supreme militarily, economically, culturally, religiously, socially, scientifically, etc. Everyone wants to immigrate to America. Some would consider the USA to be the worldís moral compass (and this is very telling of the great deception). The US proudly boast, "I Am, there is none else beside me" (Is 47:8-10). HOWEVER: The U.S. aborts its babies (murder of innocents) by the millions; glorifies every sin imaginable through its television programming and movie industry; promotes illicit sex, homosexuality & perversion and creates & distributes the worldís pornography; is consumed with a love of violence, alcohol, and drug use; wars with an occupies other nations or controls economically; enslaves (debt) its citizens through a system of banking and credit (Federal Reserve) combined with enticements of covetousness and greed; is very proud; promotes gambling (Lotteries, casinos, etc. Ė whole states are consumed) and rebellious music styles which lower inhibitions; uses the majority of the worldís resources and consumes its products (therefore: what America wants the world produces and also buys) Ė Americaís great "merchant men" (corporations) and financial institutions enslave the world (the souls of men Ė Rev 18:13, 23, consider the increasing multitude of third world sweat shops) Ė seeking the fruits that her soul lusts after (Rev 18:14); The greed and self-indulgence are unrivaled in world history; and worse Ė it exports immoral culture around the world. American culture is just a continuance of that of Rome (violence, sensuality, slavery, regulations, military superiority, roads, right to face accusers {Acts 25:16}, etc.). What all this is saying is that the American religious institutes are totally ineffective (even from a worldly perspective, given its size, resources, influence, etc.). The country that sends out so many missionaries is in desperate need of missionaries. The most popular toys, childrenís books and movies in the U.S. all concern witchcraft and the occult. Video games (played by most youth) are saturated with themes of graphic violence, sex and the occult. Many Christian families justify participation in these things by saying its just fun make-believe. In order for the organized churches to maintain popularity and draw crowds, the message of Christ becomes weaker and less offensive to such a point that now God has just become an unconditional "Love God" with no expectations. The banner on a local church proclaims: "God loves you no matter what." This may sound good to the flesh, but scripture does not support this - (Ps 7:11, 11:5, 119:155). Relationships are reciprocal: John 14:23, "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." John 15:10, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." Most religious institutions are worldly and very representative of the culture. A typical religious assembly will be very representative of the culture at large. America is the economic/religious Babylon described in the Bible! America undoubtedly corrupts the world with her fornication (Rev 19:2). She is wholly given to pleasures and living carelessly and deliciously (Is 47:8, Rev 18:7).

Americans like things quick and convenient so getting saved has been reduced down to a one-line repeated prayer formula. Most are blinded, having itching ears and will not endure sound doctrine, but are satisfied with fables (2 Tim 4:3-4). America is the modern seat of Mystery Babylon and the book of Revelation addresses its coming fate (Pv 16:18). If you cannot discern that there is something dreadfully wrong in much of Americaís denominational churches, then you need only to open your Bible and start reading it. Where is the church that Jesus described? Itís in following Him and not man. The last reprobate act of Sodom was open homosexuality. The modern church is now opening itís arms to unrepentant homosexuals Ė judgment is near (Jude 1:7). We are now at a point in Godís timetable (look at the signs in Matthew 24, Daniel, Revelation) when the world and the church is headed into the Great Tribulation. Much of the U.S. religious institutions propagate fables of pre-tribulation raptures (those less worthy than themselves as being "Left Behind" to face tribulation) - meanwhile the Churches in China, Sudan, Indonesia, etc. suffer heavy persecution now, for standing up for Christ. The people say: Isaiah 30:10, "Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits." The false prophets cry peace, peace, but sudden destruction is coming (1 Thess 5:3, Ez 7:25).

The harlot church wants to live for the flesh, she partakes of the things of the world committing spiritual adultery. Rev 2:20-22, "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds." This is referring to the doctrine of Balaam (Rev 2:14). This is a harlot church that mixes her worship of God with the things of the world. This church is an adulterer and will go into the great tribulation. Jesus does give those who will seek Him the ability to repent. The harlot wants to save her flesh (pre-tribulation raptures), but will be thoroughly purged. This will be addressed in Chapter Ten.

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