Valley of the Steeples

by Brian J. Hennessy

"It is hard to escape the conclusion that today one of the greatest roadblocks to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the institutional church...(it) too often represents something radically different from the Jesus Christ of the Bible." 
- Howard A. Snyder, The Problem of Wineskins, 

"The church itself, because of its institutional focus, has become a major hindrance to the fulfillment of Christ's scheme for effective revelation of Himself in the world."
- Robert C. Girard, Brethren, Hang Together, 

"The church as it has been organized over the centuries, in many ways has become organized into structures that are contrary to the plan of God as expressed in the New Testament. And one thing is perfectly clear: God does not bless that which militates against His purposes."
-Rev. Terry Fullam, Miracle in Darien by Bob Slosser

"Even though the leaders of the Protestant Reformation sincerely intended to break with the traditional Roman Catholic conception of the church, nevertheless, the tradition arising from the Reformation did not succeed in making the break."
- Hendrick Hart, Will All the Kings Men, 

"The church is never a place, but always a people; never a fold but always a flock; never a sacred building but always a believing assembly. The church is you who pray, not where you pray. A structure of brick or marble can no more be a church than your clothes of serge or satin can be you."
- John F. Havlik, People-Centered Evangelism, 

"The church is found wherever the Holy Spirit has drawn together a few persons who trust Christ for their salvation, worship God in spirit and truth, and have no dealings with the flesh and devil."
- A.W. Tozer, The Best Of Tozer.             

 

            In 1976, about two years after my wife, Maureen, and I had been spiritually awakened to Jesus Christ, the Lord gave Maureen a vision that was as powerful as it was perplexing. While making the bed one morning, a "scene" suddenly appeared before her eyes. In this vision she saw Jesus sitting on a hillside looking down into a valley filled with steepled churches of all shapes and sizes. As she stared at the scene she saw that Jesus was weeping. Then He slowly turned to her and said, with tears in His eyes, "I'm not in there." The sorrow in His voice was so deep it caused her to start crying also. Then the scene faded.

            Being new in the Lord we did not fully understand what Jesus was saying to us. How could He not be in those places? Weren't those Christian churches? At the time we ourselves were attending a Roman Catholic Church. It would take several more years after leaving that denomination and trying unsuccessfully to settle down in the Protestant world before we would finally understand what He meant. Just as He declared - He wasn't to be found in any of those buildings! Most of His people were in those places. His Word was often in those places. And His Name was repeatedly mentioned. But He was missing. Men and their traditions were being served instead!

            Later we found this truth confirmed to us in the Word of God. For the Bible clearly states, "The Most High does not dwell in houses (religious buildings) made with human hands; as the prophet says: 'Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet, what kind of house will you build for Me?'" (Acts 7:48,49). Although He had allowed His people to build Him a temple under the first covenant, it was never meant to be more than an interim step to a more intimate place of worship, which was finally realized under the new covenant. For Hebrews 9:8 declares, "The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing , which is a symbol for the time then present...." Having served its purpose, God allowed that Jewish temple to be removed in 70 AD to make way for the new and greater revelation. As the Bible reveals, we are now the temple of God. ( 1 Cor. 3:16) We are now the only place on earth where He is officially present.

            To set up again another "outer tabernacle," i.e. a physical building on earth as a divine sanctuary, is to actually nullify a major part of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. (Which is why I'm certain that we will never see another stone temple built in Jerusalem!) For by His death and resurrection, Jesus acquired for us direct access into the true holy place in the spirit realm via His Spirit who indwells us. Although we may think the church building has been part of Christianity from the start, in fact there were no such buildings constructed for the first 300 years. 

            Once we began to understand the enormity of this, we had to ask ourselves: "If Jesus wasn't in those church buildings, why were we?" We soon concluded we didn't need to be in there - and left. And once you see clearly that the institutional church is not the Church of Jesus Christ, you too can leave with a clear and joyful conscience as well. 

Two Churches

            What we eventually realized was that the ecclesia, the Body of Jesus Christ, and the institutional church (Catholic or Protestant) are two completely different entities. The true "Church" of Jesus Christ is a people called out of all generations and nations to be members of His Body. It is a living, breathing organism - not an organization - being taught and discipled by the Holy Spirit in this age to "grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ...." (Eph. 4:15). It's membership includes only those whom the Father has called and placed His Spirit and then given to Jesus as servant brothers and sisters (see John 6:37). Although this "family" is always complete, it is also always expanding to include those whom the Father has preordained to be sons and daughters. Drawn from both Jews and Gentiles, these "descendants of Abraham" (Gal. 3:29) are destined to become a holy nation that will one day be exalted in righteousness on planet earth as the restored Israel of God.

            The institutional church, on the other hand, is merely a religious framework derived from pagan antiquity, which long ago, was imposed on the Body of Christ. It usually includes, in all its expressions, an earthly sanctuary, a certain well-defined theology, a professional clergy, a calendar of holy days and celebrations, and a hierarchy of spiritual authority. Organized according to the pattern of all other organizations in this world, it is run like a business corporation. It was established first in the church of Rome and later carried over and continued by the Protestant churches. It even has a name: Catholicism. Although most members of Christ's Body belong to some form of this "Catholic Church," there are many who do not (like my family). And likewise, there are many who belong to the organized church who say they are members of Christ's Body and are not - for they have not the Spirit of Christ within them (Rom. 8:9).

            The institutional church then is clearly a mixture of believers and unbelievers, the result of trying to provide for both saint and sinner through what is called "public worship." In spite of the many "good" things that this religious system does (and there are many), and the often friendly, spiritual environment it provides, it is a Trojan horse in our midst. In the long run, it does not advance the cause of Christ, it undermines it. It has it's own agenda, and almost always takes far more than it gives. (The same warning the prophet Samuel gave to Israel when they had insisted upon a king is true in principle for our wanting a "pastor." See 1 Samuel 8: 10-18)

            When someone is given the grace needed to believe in Jesus Christ, that person is immediately enrolled in the only "church" they will ever need to join - the Body of Christ. Membership in the Body means you are automatically part of the local group of believers in your town or city. You can enter into fellowship with them immediately, meet wherever and whenever, and function in the gifts and calling of your own unique calling or "ministry" as you grow in the Lord. There is no requirement from God to join any other church or devote your time, energy, or money to one of those other places (unless, of course, you are specifically led into one by the Holy Spirit for His purposes). 

            At the very most, the institutional church should be considered a para-church organization. That is, it is a peripheral church-related organization - or ministry - on the level of say the Full Gospel Businessmen, the 700 Club, or Campus Crusade for Christ. Howard Snyder explains this clearly in his book, The Problem of Wineskins. He writes, "Since the Church biblically understood is always a people and can only be people, therefore any institutional structure, whether a denomination, a mission agency, a Christian college, an evangelical publishing house, an evangelical association, is a para-church structure. In other words, from the biblical standpoint, both an evangelistic association and a denominational organization are para-church structures, while the community of believers within these structures are the Church (emphasis added)." 

            Therefore, if you are presently attending some form of the "Catholic Church," it's liberating to know that you don't have to continue there. As with any para-church organization, you are free to leave at anytime. Although many (most?) believers are quite happy with their church situation, many are not. To these folks I say that before you pack your bags, it is important to be fully convinced in your spirit that you can leave. You can only gain that necessary confidence through a study of the Scriptures. Most people have grown up under a legalistic Christianity for so long concerning church attendance, that they would have a guilty conscience about leaving. A troubled conscience would show that you are not yet walking in faith in this area, and that you should stay put until you are. "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." 

            Ironically, once we truly know we have God's permission to leave, we are also free for the first time to stay. It is no longer a legalistic "have to" situation, but a "God do you want me to stay here?" situation. And sometimes He does want us to remain in a particular church for awhile. Maybe to teach us something. Maybe to teach somebody else something. It's His call. But stay or leave, now we are free to follow His Spirit and not some non-existent, legalistic commandment to belong to one of these para-church denominational structures.

            One of the early warning signs that God is indeed trying to lead someone out, is what I have come to call "a holy discontent" with the whole church scene. It may begin as just boredom. Or the hassle of getting the family ready each week and having to participate in all the scheduled events. Or it might result from persecution for a scriptural truth you know the Lord has shown you. Or it might be over a doctrine your church is teaching which you no longer consider scripturally valid. However it starts, it leaves you discontented. You become perplexed about exactly what you can do about it. Especially if it's a doctrinal issue. Should you just submit to the authority of the leadership, even though you may strongly disagree about certain teachings or activities? That might require you pulling back though and keeping a low profile as you feel yourself getting more critical and judgmental of the status quo. Or should you just leave and go somewhere else? But where? What should you do?

            If you're struggling with those kinds of questions right now, then this message could be very timely. It will help you realize you are not crazy. That you are not the only one "feeling" this way. Chances are, God has been trying to speak to your spirit about this "church business" all along. But you never realized it was Him. The truth is, He has been speaking to all His people ever since we were taken prisoner and led captive into "the valley of the steeples." For centuries, God has been calling His own to come out to Him outside the camp. It is in the wilderness of the peoples that the Spirit can truly disciple us to walk in the faith of our fathers. It is away from the denominational names and theologies that the unity of the Body is truly found. It is apart from the artificial legalism of formal services that the true koinonia fellowship of the Holy Spirit is experienced. "Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13). 

Ox-Cart Christianity

            The institutional church can be easily likened to the ox cart King David used in his enthusiasm to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, which ultimately met with such disastrous results. (See 1 Chronicles 13.) The cart may have been a logical and practical solution to the problem - but it was not the way the Word of God had instructed the Ark to be moved. The Ark was supposed to be carried upon acacia poles, and only by the Levite priests (1 Chron. 15: 2,13; Ex. 25). The ox cart idea was the way the pagan Philistines had chosen to return the Ark to Israel, and David had copied it. Sure it will carry you along for awhile, but sooner or later you hit a bump in the road and everything unravels. With our church system, we too copied the ways of the Philistines. And just as the wrath of God finally stopped David's praise-filled procession dead in it's tracks - God will surely bring this church system to a halt, also. Not because God is a legalist, but because He knows His ways are life, and ours are death. It's just amazing to me that He has let us go on with this church system as long as He has.

            It's because we've adopted the world's pattern for church organization, and not God's, that we've been so chronically weak and powerless - and divided. Although we moan and groan about our divisions and lack of power, we continue to march forward to Jerusalem with our denominational ox carts in tact. Unbelievers see what a disgrace our divisions are even more readily than we do. The only solution is to do what David did. Stop. And go back and do it God's way. As someone once said, when you adopt God's pattern, that's when the glory falls. Therefore, if we ever want to see the glorious witness of the Church restored, we'd better return to the Word, discover God's instructions, and then apply them. 

            Is there an alternative to the institutional church? Yes, but it's not found in replacing one religious system with another. To paraphrase Paul's argument to the Galatians, all religious systems are forms of law which can give no life, or impart any righteousness. If life or righteousness could be acquired through practicing a system of religious works, Jewish or Christian, then Jesus died for nothing. So how can we, after having begun our life in Christ in the Spirit, be so foolish as to think we can perfect our righteousness by conforming to a routine of religious activities? (See Galatians, chapters 2 and 3.) These systems, which have the appearance of godliness deal only with the flesh and make nothing perfect (see Heb. 7:18,19).

            Like Israel in the first century, we have stumbled over the stumbling stone. We have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. We need to see that we've been set free from all religious systems to follow the spontaneous life-giving leadership of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is a unique, personal walk of faith and obedience that ultimately leads to our "sanctification without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). It also leads to experiencing true, God-ordained corporate fellowship as well. Christianity is not our savior. Jesus is!

            The New Covenant pattern that we have been given is found in the life of Jesus Himself. As He lived before God upon this earth, laying down His self-life to walk in complete dependence upon the Spirit, is how He wants us to live. John the Baptist said it best: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). If you're looking for something more "religious" to do than just allowing Jesus to live His resurrected, perfected life through you by the Spirit - I'm afraid you won't find any suggestions here. This message is about understanding the freedom you have in Jesus, about learning how it was taken away, and about daring to reclaim it - which will prepare you for what God is about to do next! "Now therefore, what do I have here," declares the Lord, "seeing that My people have been taken away without cause? ...Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am the one who is speaking, 'Here I am'" (Isa. 52:5,6).

We Were Institutionalized

            Coming out of the institutional church is very much like coming out of a cult. Centuries of unscriptural practices have created a false world and a false dependency upon the folks who manage that world. Consequently, a certain amount of renewal of the mind through the study of the Word - what the world would call deprogramming - is always necessary. (Getting Sunday to "feel" like any other day of the week, for instance, may take some time.) Generally speaking, the closer your Christian experience has been to Roman Catholicism the more renewal that is usually required. What you actually do for God once you are outside institutional Christianity is between you and God. For me to even try and tell you what to do would be to interfere with the leading of the Spirit in your life and put you right back into the religious-formula life I'm trying to help you escape from. 

            In many ways we are like the people of Russia coming out of decades of communism. For seventy years they were a captive people whose freedom and happiness had been involuntarily exchanged for state-regulated security. When the gospel of communism finally proved false, the iron curtain was miraculously ripped open and the people released. They were now free to live their own lives and seek their own fortunes and happiness (more or less). Suddenly they alone were responsible for their own success and failure. And as we've seen, it's been a bit frightening for them. So much so they might even revert to the security of communism again. Didn't the Israelites yearn to return to Egypt after they got a taste of the wilderness, forgetting the harshness of their former slavery?
            
            We too will face the same fears as we allow the religious props we once depended on to fall away. But unlike the Russian nation, we're not alone. Or on our own. He said He would never leave us or forsake us. He sent the Holy Spirit to guide us, comfort us, teach us, empower us, and provide for us. All He's asking us to do is believe Him and walk by faith. And isn't that our calling? Are we not children of Abraham? He, who "by faith...when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out not knowing where he was going....he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land...for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb.11:8-10). 

            I would like to say here also that this message is not intended to be anti-clerical. I realize that pastors and other members of the clergy are as much a victim of this system as any other Christian. Most have paid a heavy price for their commitment to serve God in this manner. Convinced that this was God's system, they were told that if they wanted to serve Him "full-time" in response to their heartfelt, personal call to the ministry, it was off to Bible college or theological seminary to be ordained. Having attended one of these "pastor factories" myself (the Lord led me to leave my career to attend one for awhile), I have seen first-hand how systematic and intellectual most of that preparation is. And the school I attended was considered one of the "hottest" inter-denominational "schools of the Spirit" of its day in the mid 70's. 

            No, my heart aches for the men and women who have been saddled with keeping this man-made organization afloat in whatever capacity they serve, while the once vibrant call in their heart grows more moribund with each passing year. I realize that facing the truth about the system will be even harder for these servants of the Lord, because in most cases, they have made a lifetime commitment to it. Their family's livelihood probably depends upon continuing in it. They may have even gained a measure of success, which in spite of the pressures and gnawing awareness of how much "flesh" is required to get things done, lets them justify staying in. 

            If you dear reader are a member of the clergy, I say have the courage to read what I'm saying and do what you hear in your heart. If this message is of God, will He not make a way for you? Will He not provide for you and your family? Will he not bring you into your true place of calling and ministry in the Body? For this freedom is meant for you also. And as you begin to get free, release those who look to you for spiritual truth. Tell them Jesus is the head of the church, not you. Tell them to listen to the Spirit - and mean it! Tell them they belong to God - not you. In other words, let His people go! 

            Hopefully, this message will also speak to those of you who have recently awakened to the truth about Jesus but who have not yet been contaminated with too much churchianity. It should help you avoid some unnecessary pain and detours and speed you to a quicker maturity in the Lord. For again, it is in the proportion that we completely entrust our lives to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the Word, and depend not upon the ways of men, that we advance spiritually in the Lord. As A.W. Tozer so aptly put it: "True religion (or worship) is removed from diet and days, from garments and ceremonies, and placed where it belongs, in the union of the spirit of man with the spirit of God."

            To all those who hopefully discover truth in this message and now find themselves free enough to leave the institutional church, I offer this word of caution from the Apostle Paul: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). 


The Steeple Chase

            Where did this entity known as the institutional church come from? How did it manage to so subtly and so completely foist itself upon the Body of Christ? The short answer is to say it was the result of a changing of the guard. (For a more complete study, see my article, 'The Prophet Thomas Jefferson.") As the Jewish leadership passed from the scene after the first century, the incoming Gentile administration decided to put their own mark on how the new faith should be organized and practiced. It was they who began to introduce worldy concepts that twisted the words of Scripture and moved the ecclesia off the rock of God's Word and onto the tradition of men. The faith soon became a pagan religion, complete with holy days, a sacrificing priesthood, an organizational hierarchy, temples of worship and a growing body of theology. Known as "Christianity," this religion soon replaced the simple faith delivered to us by Jesus Christ. And time did the rest. So imbedded was this religion in our collective psyche, that not even the power of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century was able to completely dislodge it. Although those godly Reformers did manage to get free of Rome and jettison much of the false doctrine, they could not/would not part with the organizational framework. And just as a little leaven always leavens the whole lump, it wasn't long before the message of the Gospel was once again corrupted by the ecclesiastical vehicle that carried it. 

            But don't think this religion of Christianity is a new religion. It is in fact the very same "old-time religion" that has plagued mankind since the Fall in all its manifestations. One of the best clues as to the ancient identity of the religion was in that vision the Lord gave my wife. The thing that symbolically unified all the churches in the valley was the "steeple." Did you ever wonder why churches have steeples? Historically, it could be argued, they were constructed to house the bell that called the people to service. But why continue to incorporate such an outdated function today? True, steeples are very picturesque, especially as you drive around New England. And if you're looking for a church they make it easy to quickly locate one in town.

            Nostalgia and tradition aside however, the hidden reason churches have steeples is because it harkens back to the "mother of churches" - the Tower of Babel. That first church, which so arrogantly aspired to reach the heavens, was so displeasing to God that He dramatically halted all construction on it by confusing the languages of the church planning commission. As the people then moved on from Babylon, they took the idolatrous tower idea with them. Ralph Woodrow, in his book, Mystery Babylon, does a marvelous job of tracing how this phallic symbol of sun worship reappears as the ziggurats of later Babylon, as the obelisks of Egypt, as the minarets of Islam, as the pagodas of oriental religions, and as the lofty spires of Christian cathedrals. 

            Most church members would be horrified if they learned that their lovely steeple is a link to the Tower of Babel, or worse a phallic symbol. Nevertheless, the unbroken continuation of this mysterious tradition speaks for itself. And remember, the real horror is not the steeple. That is but a clue that points the discerning believer to the true identity of the religion that is served within the walls of the building upon which the steeple sits.

            But surely I can't be saying that the many wonderful Christian worship services that take place every  Sunday in steepled churches are pagan celebrations? Yes and no. The worship itself may be sincere and Godly and Biblical, but the context in which it is being organized and celebrated is none other than a Babylonian hybrid. Look at the worship service that took place at the foot of Mount Sinai. With all sincerity, the Israelites gathered to celebrate a "festival to the Lord;" a thanksgiving to the god who brought them up from Egypt. They were so sincere. It never dawned on them that they were doing something so wrong that God would slay thousands of them for this "idolatry" before the day was out. Sure Moses had told them not to build a likeness of God in the image of animals, but heck, hadn't they 'worshipped God" that way for centuries in Egypt? What's the harm? Well they found out, didn't they? The question to us is, do we want to wait for Jesus to come back down the mountain and tell us what God thinks of our institutional worship services? Especially when His word already clearly instructs us in the do's and don'ts of "our gathering together?"
"Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear." (1 Pet. 1:17)


To Whose Voice Are We Listening?

            Most Christians, if pressed, will say they believe that membership and regular weekly attendance at a local church is what is expected of us by God. The purpose of this involvement is to worship God, have fellowship with other believers and receive spiritual instruction. All this regular weekly activity, they think (because that is what we were told), will help keep us close to God and guard against our sliding back into the carnal ways of the world. Or as a denominational radio commercial promoting church membership preached it, "church is where we learn how to become better people."

            In accepting this as gospel, however, a subtle but critical transfer of power and authority has taken place. Instead of relying upon the indwelling voice of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to guide us on the straight and narrow, we have switched our dependence (and loyalty) onto someone else's voice. We have empowered the professionals who run the local church complexes to be the keepers of our soul. And then, having agreed to be part of this salvation plan, we try and build our spiritual house upon a foundation of men's traditions. A foundation that God's Word declares will not be able to withstand the spiritual storms of life, much less bring us into our promised inheritance.

            What we further fail to realize is that in joining a local church we're actually drawing close to the very thing we thought we were escaping from. Namely, the carnality of the world. Long ago the world's religious thoughts and ways became hopelessly intermingled in the organizational life of "Christianity" and gave birth to this hybrid church. It's no secret that "flesh" exists in the institutional church wherever you go. Not just in the leadership or members - but in the system itself! Yet what happens when the odor of that dead flesh can no longer be ignored and you bring the "issue" up? Too often you're told to relax and realize there is no perfect church. "The Church is made up of imperfect human beings," we're told. "What can you expect?" In other words, the Church, like everything else in the world, is subject to the influence of the fall - so get real! The standing joke is, even if you did find a local church that was perfect, it would stop being perfect the minute you joined it (which nicely takes the focus off the institution and puts it on back on you as the problem). 

            But what kind of message does this attitude send? Would it not encourage us to be lax even more about our own sins of the flesh, saying, "Sure I'm born again, but I'm only human." Should we accept some permanent carnality simply because we live in a world of fallen flesh? Especially at such a foundational level as the organization of the Church? If Martin Luther and all the Reformers had felt that way, we'd all still be under the thumb of Rome. The Bible urges us to always be striving by the Spirit to crucify the works of the flesh - wherever they are found. That means not only in our individual lives but in the corporate activity of the Church also. "So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh..." (Rom. 8:12). Whatever is of man cannot be of God. And whatever is not of God is death. And since we have been given the Word of God and the Spirit to show us the difference, we are really without excuse. "For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom. 8:13).

            I suggest to you that the reason the institutional church continually exhibits so much carnality is because it is itself carnal to the core. It couldn't change even if it wanted to (which it doesn't). It's a mixture of gospel truth and worldly religious thinking that is so organically fused it can never be separated (i.e. purified), anymore than bread that is leavened can become unleavened. It is corrupted, and as we are instructed by the teaching revealed in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it should be thrown away. That was what Jesus was implying when He likened the Kingdom of God to a woman who had inserted leaven in the bread "until it was all leavened." Contrary to popular teaching, this parable found in Matthew 13:33 is not speaking of the spread of the Gospel, but of the corruption of the Gospel. And as the parable prophesies, this leavening effect will continue until the corruption is complete. (With the recent ordination of homosexual ministers, I'd say we're close.)

            Many excellent books have been written in recent years by godly authors (I quoted a few at the start) zealous to see the church restored to the biblical purity and power so briefly demonstrated in the Book of Acts. Almost all these books point to the institutionalization of the church as the main stumbling block. They realize we can't turn back the clocks and be the Church of the first century, but like all of us, they want the Church to recapture the dynamic life that was so evident back then. They inevitably identify traditional practices, teachings, and organizational concepts accepted by the Church today that weren't present in the first century. These they correctly declare to be major obstacles to recapturing that lost life, even tracing a number of those practices to pagan influences. 

            Generally, the authors suggest that if we want to get the Church back on track, then those institutional practices or teachings must either be altered or abandoned. In effect, they try to reorganize the organized church to get it to work. Some of the more inventive solutions include tearing up the pews and arranging them in a circle for better fellowship, to selling off all the church buildings and just renting space, to ordaining all the members of the churches in order to eliminate the clergy/laity distinction. One author, Robert Girard, a pastor himself, didn't just theorize about it. He and his congregation actually returned their church building to their denomination! 

            All these attempts at reform are admirable and definitely headed in the right direction. But even if every reform they suggested was adopted, it still wouldn't solve the problem. Why? Because the problem is the institutional church system itself! Cutting out this or that offensive part isn't enough. Like the dandelion in our front lawn, unless we dig up the whole thing, root and all, it'll just keep coming back to haunt us. But that type of radical surgery is never mentioned. Because everyone knows it will never happen. There are too many vested interests at stake. So if complete change is unacceptable, what is left but for us to leave?

            What Christians need to hear said now more than anything is that they have permission from God to leave the institutional church completely! That permission to leave must be voiced and received if we are ever going to get back on track. But instead, if we continue to talk of repairing the system, or working around it when it presents an obstacle, we send a false message of hope. It says it's basically a God-ordained institution that just has a few glitches that we're working on. But the fact is, trying to transform the institutional church into something fit for the Kingdom of God is the equivalent of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. It will always be a sow's ear, fit only for dogs to chew on. 


A Christmas Story

            One of the first things that helped my wife and I see that the church system is unredeemable was in our attempts to celebrate Christmas correctly. After we were born again, we became more and more sensitized to the unscriptural tradition surrounding Christmas. We could see, for example, that Christmas was really centered more around the tree and gift-giving than around Jesus. Researching the "tree" I found its roots actually went back to pagan antiquity. It seems the "ever-green" tree was a symbol of eternal life (a substitute for Jesus) that had even ensnared the Northern Kingdom of Israel when she "worshipped under every green tree" (2 Kings 17:10). In an attempt, therefore, to "do it right" and restore the focus to Jesus, we tried to turn the traditional celebration into a "Happy Birthday Jesus" party. You see we still thought that Christmas was a legitimate Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus that had just become somewhat paganized and secularized over the centuries. 

            What we finally realized was that Christmas was actually a pagan holy day of sun worship commemorating the birth of Zeus/Jupiter, which had been Christianized over the centuries! (Jesus was probably born around the Feast of Tabernacles in October.) That changed everything about how we viewed and celebrated Christmas from then on. 

            As with Christmas, we eventually came to see that the entire institutional church system was nothing more than an amalgamation of the world's religious ideas with a Christian veneer. It was a conclusion we didn't arrive at quickly or lightly, but with great emotional turmoil and crying out to God. Not that I believe we are unique in either seeing or struggling with this disturbing situation. I'm convinced that every serious Christian from the second century on has wrestled with this very same issue to some degree. The Holy Spirit wouldn't be doing His job if we weren't. (And you thought the reason it was always so difficult to get the family off to church on Sunday morning was because the devil was hindering you. Did you ever consider that it might be God?)

            This is a hard concept to accept, I know. Look at the agony of soul that Martin Luther went through as he began to comprehend that the Roman Catholic church was not the official representative of Jesus on earth as it had declared itself to be. (It got even harder when he saw it represented the very antithesis of the Kingdom of God.) When he finally posted his 95 theses on the church gate at Wittenberg Castle, he was angrily denounced and persecuted by the leadership of the entire secular and religious world of his day. The words of one religious official at Rome, by the name of Alexander, were typical: "Has the Catholic Church been dead for a thousand years to be revived only by Martin? Has the whole world gone wrong and Martin only has the eyes to see?" 

            The fact that the Bible agreed with most of Luther's arguments, as did millions of believers, gives evidence to the legitimacy of the debate. It was just unfortunate that once the Believing Church acquired a number of reforms it settled down again within the system, and the public side of the debate ceased. But the internal debate has never ceased. The Holy Spirit won't allow it to cease. Which is why my wife and I, and so many others believers today, have had to struggle with the whole issue, over and over again. 

            What made it so emotionally exhausting for us was simply our own unbelief. The Lord had been plainly showing us the truth about the institutional church from the start. We just couldn't accept it. Awakening to the reality of Jesus after a lifetime of membership in Roman Catholicism had already shown us that at least one major denomination hadn't been telling us the truth. But it's one thing to see it in your own church, and another to believe it's true for the whole church system. But that was followed by the vision Maureen had of Jesus on the hillside, constant revelations in the Word, a study of church history, and our own subsequent church experiences. Still, it was like being told that someone you have long respected is actually a fraud and a cheat. At first you deny it. Then as the evidence mounts, you become more and more suspect, going back and forth between agreeing with the evidence and shying away from the conclusion it undeniably points to. 

            Part of the difficulty we realized is that the institutional church is a master at adapting itself to changing times. It's always working hard to brighten its image and make its programs contemporary and attractive. Just when you think you see it for what it is, it changes chameleon-like into something new and seemingly more relevant. And then you're not so sure anymore. 

            One reason we were continually fooled was because we were always looking at the wrong thing. It's like the story of the man in a foreign country who would ride his bicycle to the border every week and want to cross. Although the border guard was convinced the man was a smuggler, he could never find any contraband on the man or in his basket of goods, and would have to let him pass. This went on for years. After the guard retired, he spotted the man in the street one day and asked him to please tell him what he'd been smuggling. No longer concerned about being arrested, the man obliged. "Bicycles," he said with a smile.

            As long as we keep thinking that "what's wrong" with the church is the pastor, the building, the teaching, the denomination, etc. - we'll look right past the real problem: questioning the very legitimacy of the institutional church itself. As the oft quoted Marshall McLuhan has said, "The medium is the message." It's the vehicle carrying the message that often speaks louder than the message itself. That explains why so often we would hear a powerful teaching of truth preached from some church pulpit and think, "gee - at least this part must be of God." Before we knew it, we were giving the system another chance.

            When we finally sorted it all out and stopped doubting, we came to two bottom-line conclusions. First, Jesus is definitely not the head of the institutional church. Second, as a system of organization for the Body of Christ, it is completely dysfunctional. 

The Wrong Head 

            I was visiting the Museum of Natural History in New York City with my family and we found ourselves in the dinosaur exhibit. A tour was being given and the guide was pointing to a massive dinosaur skeleton towering above us. After describing the beast, whose name I've forgotten, the guide mentioned that the skull we were looking at was not the real head. Pointing over to a glass cabinet behind us that contained another skull, she said that was the real head. The mistake had been realized years before, but the curator felt the skeleton was too fragile to attempt putting the right head back on the dinosaur.

            In a flash, I realized the Spirit was telling me that this was the same situation in the institutional church. It has man as its head - not Jesus Christ. And because this structure is so unstable, any attempt to reintroduce the true head of the Church to this body will cause the whole thing to collapse (which is what happens during a revival). Better to preserve the dry bones in their present theological configuration, the thinking goes, than risk a total collapse. 

            This hierarchy of control found in the institutional church hardly lines up with the order of leadership spoken of in Scripture. For example, the pastors (shepherds) that Jesus gave to the Church were for the whole Body of Christ. They may in fact only minister to a limited number of believers, but they were to be available to the whole Body. "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit (for ministry) is given for the common good."(1Cor. 12:7) No ministry was just for the exclusive benefit of one group of Christians as you see happening in every institutional church. Visit one and you will hear, "Have you met our pastor, yet?" Paul chastised the Corinthian believers who were following after favorite preachers. "For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another says, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not (acting) as mere men?" (1 Cor. 1:4) 

            Under the New Covenant, all authority and leadership belongs to Jesus. And as it was exercised through His Body, that authority was to be based on mutual submission in love to one another. "The kings of the gentiles lord it over one another... You are not to be like them. The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." If you want to be first in the Kingdom of God," he said, "be the least." (Luke 22:24-26)

            All of this religious leadership with titles and a hierarchy of authority is classic Gentile religion. But Christianity was not supposed to be a religion. The remnant of Jacob who were chosen to follow Jesus and preserve the continuation of Israel were not being asked to trade in their perfectly good God-given religion for a better one. In trading in their Mosaic religion they were exchanging all religion for an intimate relationship with God through Jesus. They had been set free from scripted religious activity to serve Him in the newness of the Spirit. "It has for freedom that Messiah set us free, so keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)

            Even though most born-again Christians today would agree that Christianity is not a religion, we seem unable to grasp the simplicity of the concept that 'no religion' means "NO RELIGION!" We've been in the habit of attending church for so long - even before we were Christians - that the thought of not belonging to one is considered to be merely the habit of atheists and backsliders. Contrast that attitude with the situation of Christianity under the Roman Empire, as Sir Robert Anderson, a 19th century English Bible teacher, reports it in his book, Types in Hebrews. "In those days, the State required that all Roman subjects should profess some religion, but the Christians who had neither altars nor priests, neither sacrifices nor images, were held to have no religion at all... and so they were looked on as atheists and punished accordingly, and even by such enlightened rulers as Trajan and Marcus Aurelius." 

            The simple message of "Christ in me, the hope of glory," has been almost completely lost sight of over the centuries. I was reminded of that again when at another time I entered our local Y.M.C.A. to inquire about their sports programs. I was shocked to be confronted with a picture of Jesus Christ behind the main desk. Suddenly I remembered that in spite of the totally secular pursuits of the Y today, this whole institution was once the Young Men's Christian Association. But the original focus having long been forgotten (and the Spirit long departed), like any business, they had simply hung a picture of the founder in the lobby. The institutional church isn't quite the entertainment center the Y is yet, but lest anyone forget who the Founder was, His name is referred to at almost every service.

            We've deceived ourselves into thinking the institutional church is God's pearl that has simply become encrusted with man's religion over the years - that if we just chip away at the crust we can redeem the pearl. When you honestly measure this church against Scripture, you see it cannot be from God no matter how much crust you remove. It's so permeated with flesh that it clearly reveals itself a byproduct of man's reasoning. That's why all our efforts to revitalize the institutional church have failed. And will continue to fail. Christianity is Christ. No simpler, plainer definition was ever stated. He is all there is. The Church is not a bunch of individual people bound together in an organization. It's a bunch of individual people who now all share the same life of Christ within. Anderson again clearly discerned the difference when he wrote: "In Christianity the Lord Jesus Christ is all and in all. But in this system (the organized church) Christ is an institution to be administered by the Church...Christ as a person is forgotten. The fundamental questions of salvation are not answered by reference to Him....;' Ministers of Christ are the Church's ministry: the Lord's Supper is her sacrament: and even the Divine Scriptures which speak of Him are her Scriptures, bracketed with her creed as being of equal authority and value." 

The Spirit Voted Out

            It seems we have made the same tragic mistake ancient Israel did when she refused to heed the Voice of God through His official spokespersons, the prophets. They even murdered some of them rather than change their idolatrous ways. In the same way, the Church of Jesus Christ turned a deaf ear to the Holy Spirit early on, in effect banning Him from having any direct say in Church management. Which explains why, as A.W. Tozer observed, "It is now possible for the youngest pastor just out of seminary to have more actual authority in a church than Jesus Christ has." And, "among the gospel churches Christ is now in fact little more than a beloved symbol." 

            In His place a government of men was set up, which became known as "the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church." Or the Catholic church for short. Catholic, which means "universal," is the right name for it because it represents an ecclectic mixture of all the religious thought of man from around the world and across the centuries. One Roman Catholic writer, in a burst of zeal, declared that "Christianity is not a contradiction of paganism, but a cap for it." He saw the pagan thinking of previous ages as a foreshadowing of the "truth" as it was now embodied in "Christianity." And as it relates to organized Christianity he was right! It was an understanding that was championed by no less a light than Cardinal John Henry Newman, who held that the pagan writers and Greek philosophers were as God's prophets to the Gentile world before Christ. Is it any wonder that the Church is so confused, when the very darkness Jesus came to dispel was "sanctified" and brought into the sanctuary? 

            In time, the monolithic Catholic Church split apart into different national/cultural expressions, paralleling the breakup of the Roman Empire to which it had become so intimately wed. First it separated into the Western Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and then again into the various Protestant churches. But although divided, it was still all the same Catholic Church. Attempting to put it back together again won't turn it into something it never was - i.e. Christ's Body. It will only become what it always was: the evil fruit of men's religious reasoning. And to the degree we continue to advance it as part of the life of the Church we will reap corruption. 

            Ultimately, this religious system undermines the faith and maturity of the individual believer. Instead of helping us to grow in Christ, it actually keeps us as babes, dependent upon it for nourishment and guidance. And then pastors wonder why so few members ever reach maturity in Christ. We are just like the Galatians, who having turned back to religion, caused Paul to lament, "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you!" (Gal. 4:19). Minus the Spirit's ministry and leadership, the institutional church system is but "a form of religion denying the power thereof." It simply is powerless to help us grow.

            You might think that because the Scriptures are read or taught in most churches that God's Word would surely have an effect on the human spirit. But too often it falls on deaf ears and remains unfruitful. I once thought that wasn't possible because Scripture declares, "My word shall not return unto me void" (Isa. 55: 11). But I realized Scripture also declares that our traditions do "make void the word of God" (see Mark 7:1-9;6-13). In the parable of the sower, Jesus also taught that the Word can be unproductive due to several causes (see Matthew 13 :18-23). Religious tradition, which kills the seed before it can work its way into the heart, would qualify as the seed in the parable that fell along the path that the birds (the evil one) devoured. (see v.4,19). The longer a church exists, the stronger its tradition, and the faster the Word is devoured. 

            There's another reason the Word of God rarely penetrates the hearts of those sitting in the pews each Sunday. By and large, the people are not there of their own free will. They come because they think God requires them to be there. They are living, not under grace, but under law. This also will crush the life out of the Word. To quote Robert Girard, "The law, neither the Old Testament law, nor the principle of seeking to please God by conforming to an outward set of rules, could ever produce life. The inevitable result of laying the law upon the flesh, trying to make human nature conform (even in a Christian) is always death. Frustration. Failure." 

            If only we'd see that the institutional church is not a heavenly blessing, but an earthly corruption. Then we could return to living in the reality that the Bible describes the Church. To quote John Havilik, "The church is never a place, but always a people; never a fold but always a flock; never a sacred building but always a believing assembly. The church is you who pray, not where you pray. A structure of brick or marble can no more be a church than your clothes of serge or satin can be you."

            There's a question that has been asked before, but which bears repeating because it really helps put everything into perspective. The question is: "If the Apostle Paul were alive today, and wrote a letter to the Church in your city, who would get the letter?" 

            Think about that for a minute. No doubt several area bishops would quickly claim to be the mailing address of the Church in your area. But they'd be ignoring all those believers, like you perhaps, who don't belong to their church. Where then is the Church found? As I quoted Tozer earlier, "The church is found wherever the Holy Spirit has drawn together a few persons who trust Christ for their salvation, worship God in spirit and truth, and have no dealings with the flesh and devil." I would just add this qualification. You don't stop being the Church just because you're apart from other believers. Alone or gathered together with other believers, you're still the Church. If you were the only believer in town, then you alone would be the Church (and entitled to receive the letter).

The Lord Is The Spirit. And Vice Versa

            The one, indispensable factor in our individual growth, ministry and fellowship - is the Holy Spirit. He not only represents the Lord, He is the Lord. "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). He is everything. He is Jesus. Where His rule and Presence are acknowledged and obeyed the Church thrives. Where His rule and Presence are denied, the power of the Church is short circuited and the institutional church arises. Freedom collapses. Death is introduced. In that type of environment, the only time life can spring forth is when the Holy Spirit chooses to invade the place with resurrection power - either sovereignly or through certain individuals filled with the Spirit. Which means that whenever life does happen in a Church it is not because of the system - but in spite of it!

            This realization puts an entirely different slant also on how we view the Holy Spirit revivals we've experienced down through history. Instead of seeing them as means to renew and purify the organized church as we may have thought, Jesus has been actually trying to awaken His people to set us free from those enclaves. (As well as birthing a new generation of souls into the Kingdom who had trouble finding the Door due to the church's preoccupation with religion.) But for the most part, we have been ignoring His voice calling us to "come out." 

            I have no doubt that this was the reason Jesus was weeping so in my wife's vision. He was expressing the same depth of sorrow over His people as He did nearly two thousand years ago when He cried out, "O Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling!" (Matt. 23: 37). Like Jewish Israel, we too have obstinately resisted His will and frustrated His heart's desire to shower us with the fullness of His love. And like them, we have paid an awful price for that stubborn rebellion. For the judgement Jesus pronounced, I believe, fell also on us: "Behold, your house is left to you desolate" (v. 38). In other words, the awesome presence of God in our corporate midst was removed with the introduction of institutional Christianity. And every time a free, spirit-filled people who have gathered together return to that form of government, the light begins to fade. We are then on our own. But thank God He doesn't leave us there. As He promised full restoration to the Jews one day (Rom. 11:15,26,27), he does the same with us. We just need to meet this one condition: "For I tell you, you shall not see me again, until you say, - 'Baruch haba hashem Adonai - blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord'" (v.39).

Delegated Authority

            At the heart of the matter is the issue of "delegated authority." That is, will we receive the one whom God has chosen to represent Him - the one who comes in His name - or not? It was to this principle of delegated authority that Israel agreed after arriving at Mt. Sinai and hearing the Voice of God directly. Accompanied by fire and earthquake as it was, they found the Voice so terrifying and awesome, that they cried out in terror to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die" (Ex 20:19). From then on God would only speak to them through a chosen intermediary. That meant, in order for them to "hear" His voice (i.e. discern that it came from God) they would have to exercise some faith. Scripture tells us that God was well pleased with their decision, saying to Moses, "They have spoken well" (Deut. 18:17). 

            So Moses became the first to officially come to them "in His Name." He was then followed by a long line of prophets. But Israel quickly ignored or rejected these men (even Moses) with their "annoying" messages from God. The consequences were that they suffered continual wars, and even exile from their homeland. 

            After the people returned from Babylon and became re-established as a nation, a period of 400 years ensued when no prophet was in the land speaking for God. Then one day, in fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, the Voice was heard again - "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," saying, "make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (Matt. 3:3). John the Baptist, dressed in the garb of the old prophets, proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. But He too was rejected and killed. Beheaded. But not before giving witness to the ministry "of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." In Jesus, God had now sent to them His only Son. But He fared no better than all the rest of God's servant intermediaries (even if it was according to God's plan). Allying themselves with the Gentiles, the religious leaders quickly had Him crucified. 

            However, after Jesus arose and returned to heaven, God did not become silent again. To those who'd believed in Jesus and received Him He sent the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who had now come in the "name of the Lord." - just as Jesus had foretold. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things" (John 14:26). 

            Therefore, as far as we are concerned, the Holy Spirit is God's only delegated authority speaking to the Church in this present age. Preachers may preach, and teachers may teach, but it's the Spirit's Voice that God is still speaking through to His people. And it's only His Voice that we should be listening to. Now if Israel received such severe punishment for rejecting God's delegated authorities who came in the flesh, how much more accountable are we? "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven" (Heb. 12: 25).

            By ignorantly choosing to empower the institutional church, we rejected the authority of the Holy Spirit. Consequently "our house" was also left to us "desolate." As Jesus said in the vision given to my wife, "I'm not in there!" Therefore, while there is still time, we must repent and acknowledge that the Spirit alone is appointed to lead the Church. When we say of Him, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," then will He return to His House - His holy temple made without hands. And the world will then see a Church that gives glory and honor to the Lord. Even the Jewish people will say of us, "Blessed are you who come in the name of the Lord" - and their eyes too will be opened to see Jesus. And as Scripture tells us, the result of the Jews finally seeing their Messiah will be "life from the dead" for the whole world. (Rom. 11:15)

            Regarding this repentance from institutional Christianity, A.W. Tozer came to virtually the same conclusion after admitting that he himself, as a member of the church hierarchy, was "very much involved in the situation I here deplore." He concluded there was only one real course of direction for the Church. We should "...go down in meek humility and confess that we have grieved the Spirit and dishonored the Lord in failing to give Him the place His Father has given Him as head and Lord of the Church."

            Likewise, W.T.P. Wolston, in his book, The Church: What is it?, writes, "The greatest sin of Christendom is the way the Holy Ghost has been treated in what calls itself the Church." Now if our repentance is sincere, then it ought to be accompanied by a change in our behavior. We can't just go back to business as usual. Since this situation has been going on for centuries, we know that our time is running out. 

Christ and Anti-Christ

            I saved this insight till last. I figure anyone still reading must be getting some kind of blessing out of my message and can probably handle what I am about to say. I have already argued strongly that the institutional church and the Body of Christ are two different entities. Two different bodies. The question I now ask you to consider is, if the true ecclesia is the Body of Christ, whose body is that other group a part of? Especially when you realize that the institutional church claims to be the Body of Christ, but it is not? Who else but the body of the false Christ, the false Messiah - the one called Anti-Christ? Is it any wonder that the command is given in Revelation 18:4: "Come out of her my people. Lest you partake of her sins and receive of her plagues." 

            I believe we will see the institutional church finally possessed by the Spirit of Satan. He will come to his house and occupy it. Somehow he will unify the denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, and then they will go forth with great miracle-working power to deceive the world. On the surface this "Christian" entity will appear to be the true Body of Christ. Today I see congregation after congregation sincerely praying and fasting and believing for a new revival. But the next revival may not be from the Holy Spirit. It could come from the Spirit of the institutional church they continue to believe in. Hopefully, all those true believers still in there who have been ignoring all the prompting of the Holy Spirit up to now will wake up and read the handwriting on the wall - and get out! If not, it will be too late for them. They will have made their choice to be a part of that body, and sadly "they will receive of her plagues." Dame Babylon will then be revealed! 

Final Call

            I believe that we are hearing the Holy Spirit's final call these days to put aside childish things and separate from our devotion to playing "Christianity." It reminds me of when I was a boy and my mother would call me from the third-floor window of our apartment building on Long Island to stop playing and come in for dinner. I usually would yell up, "Just five more minutes, Ma, we're almost finished." This would happen several times, and then would come the final call that let me know that if I didn't come now, I might not see dinner. Or worse. That is the "call" I hear the Lord saying now.

            For those who won't "come in," they too could miss "dinner." Or worse. In the parable of the ten virgins, we read, "At midnight the cry rang out, 'Come out to meet Him!'" And the five foolish virgins who weren't ready suddenly had to go off in search of oil (those who hadn't yet learned how to be self-sufficient in the supply of God's power, but were still dependent upon the professionals - "the dealers" - to kindle their faith). "But those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut" (see Matt. 25: 1-10).

            Readiness is the key. Over and over the Lord warns us through the Scriptures to keep alert; to stay on our spiritual tip-toes, "for you do not know which day your Lord is coming" (Matt. 24:42). In conjunction with His coming there will no doubt be required of us a large leap of faith. Therefore we should be ready to move in faith at all times. We don't want to turn back in unbelief as Lot's wife did and become a pile of useless salt. We want to be as primed as the Hebrews were on the night of the tenth plague in Egypt. They had been told to eat the Passover lamb, "with your loins covered, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand" (Ex. 12:11). They were ready to leave on a moment's notice to enter into their inheritance. The command to us is the same: "Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight" (Luke 12:35).

            It is my prayer and hope that this generation will finally see the church system for what it is - a counterfeit, a false body of Christ. May all who are His be given the grace to finally separate from it completely, as the Lord leads, in preparation for our being truly gathered together unto Him. I believe we're living in the time of the fulfillment of all that the prophets spoke concerning the regathering of the whole House of Israel - a corporate term that includes the Jewish people who are at long last awakening to their Messiah, and those Gentiles who have been circumcised of heart with the covenant circumcision of God. 

            "Therefore behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they will no longer say, 'As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but, 'As the Lord lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel out from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.' Then they will live on their own soil" (Jer. 23:7,8).

            The Lord's gathering of us together, "as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings," could come at any time. But will we hear the call? And if we hear it, will we have faith to obey? It depends on whose voice we call "master." For Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters" (Matt .6:24). Are we so submitted to the voice of Mother church that we will not recognize the voice of our Father when He calls? Are we so conditioned to listen to official pronouncements from the altar concerning the activities of God, that the small still voice on the inside of us can't be trusted? 

            We must decide which Church body we want to belong to, and whose voice we are going to follow. We can't serve two masters. And the time to make that decision is upon us. 

            "And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also....Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you , whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time" (Acts 3:17, 19-21).

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