I love the Body of Yeshua. I love the people of God, his church. She is the apple of His eye, the longing of His great heart is for her! The greatest destiny in all of creation awaits her.
I am, however, not particularly impressed with the expression of church that I see today.
I see little similarity between that which commonly calls itself the church, and the dynamic assemblies, the beautiful woman, which turned the roman world upside down.
Rather than being a visible expression of the love of the Messiah, she has too often become a visible expression of the egos of her handlers and rulers. Instead of being a flexible, growing, organic body of the New Man, the living, breathing, actual Body of Yeshua (Jesus), she has become an institution.
Just in case you might be thinking that I am referring to the traditional church expressions like the Catholic and Orthodox churches, or perhaps the mainline Protestant expressions like the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians or Methodists, please allow me to burst your bubble.
I am referring as well to the institutions that I myself know best: the Baptist, evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations. These are perhaps freer and more natural than the ritualistic and liturgy-bound churches, but they too have become stiff and unbending institutions.
How can that be? Aren't many evangelical churches "free churches" that aren't even a part of any denomination? Don't many of these churches have powerful and free worship services, in which the power and presence of the Holy Spirit manifests, especially in some pentecostal and charismatic services? Yes. That is true, and I have great respect for every congregation which has pressed forward into knowing God and learned how to come into his manifest presence. Hat off to all of you! Every God-chaser is worthy of great respect!
Unfortunately, the characteristics of an institution are not merely that it binds and controls a number of assemblies into a system with hierarchical control.
The word institution means to set-up or establish something, so that it may be perpetuated and carried out into the far future. That sounds actually not bad, in a sense, that we should want to hold onto something good and preserve it for future generations. The problem with it has to do with the source and the means of this "preserving."
The source of our attempts to preserve is through human control and human leadership instead of complete submission to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and trust that He himself will preserve his church. Oh, we say that the Holy Spirit is Lord of his church, but watch any church leadership (or Christian organization) that finds itself in trouble and you will see the true foundation of their trust.
In the vast majority of cases they will circle the wagons, attack the problem people or attack the leadership, as the case may be. They will use manipulation, outright control and domination. They will say, "That is the spirit of Jezebel at work!" or "You are in rebellion (against me)." They will even lie and destroy the reputations and lives of others in order to preserve the work.
Did you notice what I italicized here? They will turn from loving the brothers as Yeshua loved (which means giving up our lives for others instead of preserving our lives - or life's work) and they will instead destroy them - for the sake of the work, for the sake of the gospel, or for the sake of the church, depending on which excuse they use.
Let's cut through the fog: what is really at stake is not the gospel, not the Lord, and not the continuation of the church. What is at stake is our work, our efforts or our favorite doctrines.
So the first characteristic of an institution, this thing which is "set-up" to preserve itself, is that it becomes in itself a thing more important than the Lord, his words, and his love for people. It takes on, much like a bureauocracy, a life of its own. A life that must be preserved at all costs.
It gets worse. The Bible actually speaks of this system which builds institutions and gives it a name. The name is Babylon.
I realize I am taking a risk here, first because it might sound like I am over-dramatizing the situation and calling on the boogie-man to scare people into believing me. And many other people have a different concept of what Babylon is, and I risk alienating them by pointing out that Babylon is primarily something quite different.
In Revelation 17-18, the angel introduces us to a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, with these words written on her: "Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations." She is described as "drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." She is described as the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth. The kings and merchants of the earth are made rich and powerful by her. He describes her destruction and then calls on the Lord's people to come out of her.
Now usually the description of Babylon here and in Jeremiah 50 will be understood in one of two ways. Many foresee the fulfillment of this prophecy about Babylon as a resurgent and re-established city of Babylon in Iraq which comes into world prominence in the last days of the End Times and becomes something of a world capital city. They believe this because the Bible says the word "Babylon," and for many, everything has to be taken literally, despite the fact that Revelation is by its own admission a book that signifies or symbolizes what is to come. (chapter 1:1, signify: in the Greek text it means to make known by a sign, mark, to indicate...)
Others believe that America is Babylon. The best representatives of this belief admit that it is only Babylon at the moment, until its days are over, and then another, possible the UN or EU will take over the mantle of Babylon. Because many prophetic words have double applications, there is a sense in which this may be true.
I would like to suggest something different. First of all, the descriptions of Babylon do not fit a nation. How can any one nation be responsible for the blood of all matryrs who were ever killed? As it says, she is guilty of the blood of prophets and saints and of all who were ever murdered on earth. Yet Babylon is. Nor can it fit any religion or church denomination, for the same reason.
No, Babylon is a demonically inspired controlsystem which is world-wide in scope and has many tentacles. If you will notice in reading the descriptions, it has economic, political and religious aspects.
To get to the bottom of this mystery we have to go back into the grey mists of pre-history.
According to Gene Edwards in his book, "Climb the Highest Mountain," the angels were created differently than mankind. As anyone who has had much experience in deliverance ministry knows, demons are bound very tightly into a hierarchical system. Each is subordinate to a higher, more powerful demon and must deliver full obedience or be heavily punished. I know this from personal experience in deliverance as well.
Angels as well are described in the Bible as having such a leadership structure. Michael and Gabriel, at the very least, are described as being arch-angels (arch is Greek and means ruling) over the other angels. It appears to be the way they were created as servants of God and part and parcel of their life experience to be ordered this way. The NT refers to angels by describing them as organized into legions. Organization was God's idea and was given to them to be part of their history and destiny.
The sons and daughters of Adam were created with a different purpose and destiny and therefore we were created with a different nature. It is our purpose to walk in intimate fellowship and close relationship with our God. It is our destiny to be so closely connected to Yeshua that we are called his very Body. This is no metaphor. If Paul can say that Yeshua is the head of his body and not the entire body, it stands to reason that his very body is made up of not just him, but all of us together.
Rather than being hierarchical in nature, humans are relational in nature.
Control systems, hierarchical leadership structures and chains-of-command are therefore learned behaviors and not a part of our nature. I am quite sure that that sounds absolutely crazy. None of us, anywhere on earth, have ever grown up or experienced a moment of life without being tied to at least one or usually many more control structures and chains-of-command. Whether in school or in the office or in government, we are part of a chain-of-command.
Yet that is not because it is innate to humanity, but because we were taught it, then sucked in and enslaved in it until the prison bars feel completely natural. When did this happen?
Genesis 4 hints that there was a time when technology and knowledge exploded on the earth (if you've never heard of ancient technology, don't laugh. The governments of the powerful nations aren't laughing and have been searching for it and profiting from it for decades. Hitler had a whole government department with a budget of billions searching worldwide, the Ahnenerbe of the SS. Google it yourself).
Genesis 6 describes the "sons of God" who found the daughters of men attractive and came to earth to take them as wives. They had children with them who were giants, the Nephilim. (Google Michael Heiser and the Sons of God). The book of Enoch, a book highly thought of in the first century church and Judaism, and which is quoted directly in the book of Jude and alluded to in 2 Peter, gives much more detail:
Enoch says that these 200 sons of God, watchers or fallen angelic beings, took human wives and taught their knowledge and technology to men. This technology included just about everything: metallurgy, astronomy, astrology, arts of war, make-up and the like. Though neither Enoch nor Genesis 6 mentions this directly, it stands to reason that they also organized mankind and forced them into the organizational and hierarchical structures that they themselves knew.
Whether we accept or reject the witness of Enoch, anyone who accepts the Bible as truth will recognize that fallen angels led by the archangel Helel, or Lucifer, have taught their ways to humans since the days of Adam and that our nature is no longer that pure human nature given us by God but a corrupted, fallen nature.
The entire corruption injected into the human race by the invasion of the watchers resulted in the judgment of the Flood. After the flood it took a while for Helel and his fallen angels to again subject the people. By the time of Babel their rebellion was in full swing. It was apparently led by a man called Nimrod and his wife Semiramis. Nimrod was the first conqueror, the first king and first emperor on earth after the flood. He founded the cities of Nineveh and Babylon. He was quite an ambitious guy.
Control structures were from the beginning a huge part of Nimrod's system of government, the first that is recorded for us. But Nimrod was eventually killed, possibly by Shem and a few of the "old Guard," servants of Y'hovah, who hunted him down because he had led the world into rebellion against God. (see "The Two Babylons," by Alexander Hislop)
By the way, there has been a period in one nation's history when they successfully existed with no known government at all! No controlling governmental institutions, no king, parliament or rulers. Until the kings came on the scene, Israel had existed for over 400 years from Moses to Samuel with no institutions of government - at all! They did occasionally have judges, but the judges were simply the mouthpieces of God and the means for their deliverance. When a crisis was over, they melted back into the population and did not reign over anyone.
When the people demanded a king, God made it clear that he was NOT pleased. He told them clearly that this would result in suffering and ruin for the nation. But as He also values our freedom to choose, He let them have their unfortunate wish in the end.
After Nimrod's death his queen needed to solidify her power base while not drawing the attention of the ones who killed her husband. As she was pregnant at the time, she turned to religion to mythologize her and Nimrod's life story as a way of preserving power and keep herself at the top. Because of the danger, she cloaked the new myths in symbolism and mystery so that only the "initiated" and "elite" would know what was really being said.
Her son, when he was born, she named Tammuz. She claimed that he was Nimrod, resurrected from the dead, and conceived in her womb without a man. The symbol that quickly grew up around this religion was of a woman with a child on the arm who looked strangely mature for an infant. She herself became the goddess of fertility and eros.
In doing this, Semiramis wasn't merely stepping into a void and making up her own script. She was stepping into a long-prophesied story and claiming to be the fulfillment of it!
You see, the basic outline of the gospel story was already known to the world since the beginning.* How? It was written in the stars. As Paul said in Romans 1, "For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes-his eternal power and divine nature-have been understood and observed by what he made, so that people are without excuse."
This is not astrology. Astrology claims that the stars determine and control the events on earth. The story in the stars is merely a story that is displayed by the stars for all to see and read, so that all mankind could know what God had planned.
The constellations of the zodiac predate astrology. They are the same in almost every language, in almost every culture, regardless of how far back one goes in history. Even the names are often the same across language lines. As the stars describe the story, a Virgin, Virgo, will have a son, who will be the Conqueror. He will trample the Scorpion (Cancer), and subjugate the serpent, who strives after the crown (another constellation). It is an amazing story, and it was known to the ancients.
This general knowledge is why the major world religions have characteristics of the true gospel story. It is because they knew God had ordained that these things were coming and so each tried to nail down their credibility by claiming to be the fulfillment of it.
The original Madonna, otherwise known as Semiramis, used this knowledge to set herself up as the Queen of Heaven. The story she wove around the events of her life, and the lives of her husband and son, quickly became the most successful false world religion. It influenced the growth of the other world religions, particularly since this was the time just after the tower of Babel when the peoples were being scattered across the world from Babylon.
There are great similarities between Semiramis / Nimrod and Asherah/Astarte (or Ishtar - Easter) and Molech/Baal in Syria, and in Egypt many characteristics of the unholy trinity can be seen in the main Egyptian gods Isis, Osiris and Horus. In Greece the fertility religion with Aphrodite and Adonis retained many of these characteristics including the characterization of the Queen of Heaven.
The new religion influenced the development of Hinduism in the east. Many of the same symbolism that found its way to Rome can be found in Hinduism and even further east to China and Japan. In China they practiced weeping for Tammuz, just as unfaithful Israel was condemned for the practice in Ezekiel 8:14. The very first catholic missionaries to Japan found statues of Madonna and child that were exactly like those in Rome.
What I want us to recognize is that Babylon is the source, the wellspring of world religions and of governmental structures that organize people in order to control them.
The spirit of Babylon, as it is referred to in Revelation, is a system of control and command. It is manifested primarily in three areas: Government, Economics, and Religion.
While it may not be possible for man in his fallen condition to function without governmental structures, the control spirit of Babylon is deadly for true spiritual development. To grow in relationship God ordained a freedom which is huge. For this reason it has no place in the church and for this reason we are told in Revelation 18 to "come out of her, my people, lest you share in her plagues!"
I'd like to put this another way by quoting Gene Edwards in his book, "Climb the Highest Mountain," pg. 83:
"The words "systemization" and "organization" are words very similar in meaning. I could say "organized religion" as well as I could "the religious system." What is the origin of "system" and "organization"? Well, the answer is a shocker!
God is the author of organization. In fact, the whole organization pattern of western civilization - that system of structure that pervades and permeates every facet of our daily lives...be it medicine, education, politics, business, labor, civic activity, social work or whatever - was invented by God.
Wow! God invented organization?! Then why am I so dead set against it in church life? The reason is simple. Organization may control the entire activity of all mankind, and God may have invented the thing...but...and that is a very big but...organization was never meant for man! Man was never to have anything to do with organization or systematization. For man to succumb to structuralization is to place on himself the ways of an alien life form.
Put it another way: For man to allow himself to become part of a systematized order is to enslave himself to the lifestyle of alien beings from another universe. Or to put it less dramatically, God invented organization for angels and not for man. Angels, if you please, turned around and super-imposed their civilization- their systematization, their angelic organizational life, their culture - on man. Angels have imposed their own innate way of functioning on that creature who was intended to be the freest creature in the universe! Man! Man has no business submitting to angelic ways. Their civilization and their systematization is organic to them, but alien to us. Man was created for absolute freedom."
Freedom is absolutely necessary for living in relationship. We can only love because we want to, not because we have to. We walk with God because we desire him, not because someone said it is our duty.
This is the problem with institutions: they organize us to get us to do what we have to first desire to do from the heart. Over time any institution and bureauocracy will eventually put the life and continuence of that institution over and above the needs of the people - and even above the desires of the Lord himself. And the members and leaders will probably believe adamantly that they are thereby preserving the Lord's work. I truly believe that anytime a group of people organize their meetings into an institution, drawing up by-laws and ordinances and constitutions, or organize a chain-of-command of church leadership, they are putting the body of Christ into a mold, into an institution, which stifles the life out of it.
Institutions can help a group impose a certain stability and longevity, but they cannot impart life. They cannot help us to change into the likeness of Jesus, because true change comes from the inside out, it cannot be imposed or molded onto us from the outside in.
We need to re-gain a vision of what the church is meant to be. It is not a stuffy institution. It is not a place where rituals take place, nor is it a preaching-station, nor is it a building where we come for a service.
The congregation of Yeshua is a beautiful woman in God's eyes. She is the new Eve for the new Adam, Yeshua. She is the counterpart for him, majestic in beauty and the desired of the Lord. Angels are amazed by her, awed at the glory given to her. Those who find this love relationship with him in this life will be honored by being called His bride.
We have so little concept of what a great honor and glory has been given to us who walk with Him. By being included in the Messiah, in Christ, we have been allowed to participate in the free-flowing fellowship and love which constantly flows between Father, Son and Spirit. We have been drawn up into their fellowship, where each loves and prefers the other, where there is no self-centered posturing for position and influence, where there is complete trust and vulnerability before each other, complete transparency.
This place of fellowship with Father, fellowship with the Son, enabled by the Spirit, is where church begins. It can only go forward if we respect each other and learn to submit to each other, not lord it over each other and jockey for influence and position as so often happens today. Church is relational, because it is our nature and our purpose.
True spiritual life is always organic. I don't mean that it is church life without the pesticides, but that it follows the rules of growth in nature. Seeds are planted, die and dissolve in the soil, germinate, grow and spread because the Life of God, the DNA he gave us, is within and will grow according to his plan if the right conditions are met.
An institution may artificially stimulate and preserve the appearance of life, but it is sterile in comparison with the Life which can come forth when the people of God come together as a community in fellowship with each other and with their Lord.
It is this organic, completely natural and beautiful expression of church which we will be exploring in further articles, in which we explore what this organic life might look like practically.
Next, I'd like to tell you a story, the true story of the church of Yeshua the Messiah and what happened to her that she turned out like she did, and how she became this other thing which we know so well today.