B A B Y L O N
Is it organized churches?
Is it independents?
In recent years the number of church drop-outs has been increasing. Young people especially have become more dissatisfied with established Christian institutions. Youth movements, home prayer groups and underground churches have been increasing rapidly, while attendance at formal worship services has dropped off.
Many revolutionary voices have been raised. The cry, "Come out of Babylon!" has been heard again and again. Any by Babylon, the voices generally mean the institutional, organized churches. Down through the centuries the voices of reformation have repeatedly tagged the existing order of things with this label. The Reformers in the days of Luther and Calvin saw the Roman church as "Babylon" and the "Come-outers" of every generation since have seen the groups they left as Babylon.
Today, some who emphasize freedom and simplicity say any organized, institutionalized church is part of Babylon, while others who place a strong emphasis on the unity of the body point more to all divisions of the churcheven down to the independent home meetingsas representing Babylon. Either of these groups would tend to equate denominations with Babylon, and urge all Christians to come out.
Is this right? If it is, then sincere Christians in denominations had better get out before the judgment falls, and those outside should even more zealously urge this action upon their brethren. But if this view is not right, then what is Babylon? For there is something meant by God when He says, Come out of her my people." Could it be that both denominational and un- (or anti-) denominational Christians are missing the real point?
The Testimony Of History
The history of all Christians who have dropped out of the existing church structure to begin a new thing in their day shows one of two things: either they disintegrated or in their success they formed another institution. Certainly Luther and Calvin did so, although in their case they apparently did so deliberately. Others, such as John Darby and the "Plymouth" Brethren, for all their strong willed intention not to do so, only formed another denomination. Of course, many in that group even today will deny this, but how are they different? Merely saying we are not a denomination (or division) does not make it true! The fact remains that all the marks of a sect or denomination are obvious.
The early Pentecostal movement was universal and truly catholic, including any and all. But it quickly became as sectarian, institutionalized and divisiveif not more sothan the rest of Christendom. It seems no matter what the intentions are of those who "come out of Babylon", they themselves wind up being Babylon for the next generation of come-outers!
Is Babylon "Division"?
As the Spirit of God moved in many hearts with a longing for manifest Christian unity, many groups have sprung up claiming to be or to represent the true Church, separate from all division. Their ground of meeting is simply unity in the Body of Christ. Such groups range from non-denominational churches, virtually indistinguishable from any denominational evangelical congregation, to little, fiercely independent, home meetings.
Some of these refer to the historic captivity of the Jews in Babylon, pointing our that Gods call to His people then was to come out and return to Jerusalem. They say God had only one place where Jews were to worship, and that was Jerusalem. There were many synagogues built in captivity but only one temple in Jerusalem. To remain in Babylon when God was calling to return was an act of divisiveness. Likewise today, they say, where Christians are scattered among the various denomination, God is calling us to unity, to come out of the divisionswhich are Babylonand return to the ground of unity.
On the surface, this is a powerful argument. It seems true to the Scriptural type. But it depends on one assumption: that Babylon represents divisions. If this can be proved, the argument stands. We will return to his point in a moment.
These views of coming out of Babylon is that they tend to created spiritual pride in
those who hold them. "WE" have come out; "you" have not.
"We" have seen the light;
"you" have not. "We" have come out and will be blessed; "others" will be cursed or fall into limbo.
Even the move toward unity tends to create the very division it vocally deplores. "We" are on the ground of unity; "you" are not. "We" have the truth; come and join us. There is a pronounced awareness that some are "in" and some are "out".
Every attempted move to recover the true church, the New Testament church, seems to have ended in splintering, sectarian division. Somehow no one seems to have found the right combination, but there is always someone who thinks that he has at last uncovered the key and so makes another attempt, only to fail again.
A Misunderstanding Of Babylon
If every attempt to follow the divine injunction to come out of Babylon results in only more confusion and division, we must be misunderstanding what it is we are to come out of; we must be misunderstanding Babylon. The conclusion is inescapable, so I suggest that we re-open the question. Just what is Babylon?
The origins of Babylon date back to the eleventh chapter of Genesis and the tower of Babel. "Babe" means confusion, or division, and so some find further ground here for identifying Babylon with division. A closer look at the text however, tells a different story.
"The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
"And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
And they said one to another. Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime hand they for mortar.
And they said, Let us build us a city and a tower whose tope may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men builded.
And the Lord said, Behold, the people are one and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained (or withheld) from them, which they have imagined to do.
Let us go down and there confound their language, and that they may no understand one anothers speech.
So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did confound the language of the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth."
The People Were One
Note verses 1 and 5. All the people of the earth had one language and one speech. They gathered together in the land of Shinar. God Himself said, "The people are one"! And they began to build a tower "unto heaven". There was a unity there more profound and complete than any unity mankind since has ever known.
Everybody had one language with one pronunciation. All linguistic research tends to bear out this fact that once only one language existed on earth, enabling mankind in the flesh to be perfectly united.
Man desired to build a tower whose primary purpose (vs.4) was to preserve this unity. What that tower was is debatable. Some infer from the Hebrew text translated "whose top unto heaven" that it was the culmination of astrological knowledge of the ancients. The similarity of the signs of the Zodiac the world over, adds support to this theory. Whatever the tower was, it surely demonstrates the advanced degree of civilization at that time, for it contained bricks backed in ovens cemented together with asphalt ("slime"). It clearly dealt with some kind of knowledge, for in order to destroy it God destroyed communication; he confused languages so men could no longer communicate. The tower must have been a thing of titanic importance, for God Himself said, "This they begin to do" (or "This is only the beginning"): and now nothing will be withheld from them, which they have imagined to do." (vs.6).
If man had built the tower, everything he could imagine would have been his! Nothing would be withheld! Without God, in the power of the flesh, operating solely by the knowledge of good and the evil, mankind would have unlocked all the secrets of nature, conquered the earth and achieved the perfect society. Utopia would have arrived. This tower was to be the consummation of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, the highest accomplishment of carnal man. If men reached this stage, they would have become almost, if not completely, unredeemable if God had so allowed.
In His mercy God did not let it happen. He stepped down, confused their language so they could not understand each other, and scattered them over the earth. Acts 17:26 tells us he sets the boundaries of the nations so that men cannot join together.
National boundaries and thousands of languages still stand as the two most formidable obstacles to world unity. It is not without significance that, despite the many fantastic accomplishments of modern computers, computer language translation has been almost completely abandoned as virtually an impossible task.
Much damage has come as a result of confusion, misunderstanding of speech and national differences. Wars result almost entirely from these roots. Man tends to regard these barriers to unity as a great evilyet it was God who ordained them! Get that: God ordained the confusion. God scattered the people. God destroyed the unity.
To sum up then: the city of Babel is a symbol of fleshly unity, mans attempts to be one apart from the Spirit of God. Such attempts at unity God destroys. The confusion which followed was not Babel; it was the result of Gods destruction of Babel. The story of the tower of Babel is a story of Gods destruction of carnal unity.
Babylon Is A False Unity
Is this picture of Babylon as representing a false unity borne out by the rest of Scripture? Assuredly yes! In the first chapter of Daniel we see how Babylon was attempting to unite the earth under one great empire. Defeated nations were razed and their cities leveled. The intelligent youths of these nations were re-named with Babylonian names, taught Babylonian science and Babylonian language, and given Babylonian food. It was historys first world empire, attempting historys most ambitious brainwashing project, with an aim to produce a united earth by institutionalized force.
Right down to the book of Revelation we see Babylon as a unifying, building power attempting to set up the kingdom of man. Babylon is the utter antitheses of division! And throughout history God has continually stepped in, time and time again, to smash, scatter and destroy a whole succession of Babylons. In the end, however, prophecy tells us political Babylon will apparently succeed in uniting the earth under antichrist, but "the stone cut without hands" (Christ in his many-membered body) will pulverize the "image of a man" and will break them with a rod of iron.
WHAT HAS ALL THIS TO DO WITH DENOMINATIONS AND OUR COMING OUT? Simply this. As startling as it may seem, denomi-nations in a very important sense are ordained of God! What? Yes, denominational confusion and division, the scattering of Christians over the face of the earth, the theological confusion and contradiction of terminology and language, is all a direct result of Gods will! He is not opposed to denominations: He caused them.
Wait! Dont quit reading here or youll miss the main point.
Denominational division is the result of Gods merciful stepping in to break up a false Christian unity. It is Gods way to keep us from going too far in the wrong direction.
Fleshly Christian Unity
From the end of the First Century, Christians began to try to "protect and preserve the unity of the Body" by fleshly, worldly means: institutions, creeds, laws and official leaders or priests. That was the beginning of religious Babylon. Eventually it got so bad that God simply had to break it up. The result was divisions and denominations.
Every time man takes it upon himself to build, "the true church", God breaks it up! Thats why every attempt has, and always will, end in failure. God is opposed to it. That isnt His way. It is simply not in the power of man to build the Church: it is not mans responsibility. Man is not capable of doing the job, and the minute we think we are, we begin to exercise our flesh. We get trapped in a kind of corporate salvation-by-works.
Even the best "New Testament Church" can be just another Babel to God, more dangerous than most because it looks more like the real thing. So God breaks it up even quicker. Havent you noticed that? The more "right" we are, the faster the failure, the more drastic the division.
Man is Not to Build the Ecclesia
Man is not supposed to build the ecclesia. Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Gk."ecclesia"). The very word "church" is so tainted with mans carnal efforts that I prefer to use the transliteration of the Greek, "ecclesia", to help us toward new and fresh thought. There-fore, from now on I will use the term "church" to indicate what man builds and the word "ecclesia" for reference to what Jesus Christ has built.
When God sends division, what does He divide? He divides the churches. The ecclesia is never, has never, and will never be divided. If Jesus Christ, Gods only begotten Son, prayed that we all may be one, I believe God answered and still is answering. If we for one moment admit that division among the churches represents real division in the ecclesia, we are saying that millions of Christians have been left out of Jesus prayer.
If the ecclesia (not just the churches) is truly divided today and I died tomorrow, then Jesus should have prayedfor my sakethat all except myself may be one. And He should likewise have excepted all who have died in ages gone by.
But He prayed for all "that they all my be one". God hears His Son. If the Father does not answer the prayer of Jesus, we may as well give up! No, all are one; the ecclesia is not divided.
Division Exists in the Flesh
Division exists only in the flesh. Come out of the flesh, and for you the divisions cease to exist. This has been the great discovery (but little understood) in the charismatic renewal. Enter into real spiritual experience and denominational barriers seem to melt. The Holy Spirit has been able to break down that great wall of partition between Protestant and Catholic. Truly, in experience, thousands have found that "in one Spirit" we are all baptized "into one body" (1Cor.12:13).
So, coming out of Babylon does not necessarily mean leaving institutional Christianity. It does not necessarily mean leaving divisions. It means leaving every attempt to build "the true church." It means ceasing from every effort to do something that God has already done. It is essentially an inner, spiritual move, a heart move.
Yes, denominations are in the will of God, but they are not even part of the ecclesia. We cannot leave a denomination to join the ecclesia. We dont have to leave, for we are already in the ecclesia by the fact of new birth. To the degree we live our lives for a denomination or church, to that degree we are in Babylon. But it is quite possible that we could be members of a denomination and yet be living for the ecclesia. Our hearts would simply refuse to be limited by a denominational structure, but would reach out and include all who are born of the Spirit.
So you dont feel that God wants you to leave your denomination? Ill buy that! I can believe it. Many in the denominations are probably more free of the spirit of Babylon than some of those shouting loudest about coming out! But beware, my brother. Dont confuse that "church" you belong to with the ecclesia of Jesus Christ!
Others of you feel you cannot be bound or limited by human institutions any long, you have to break free? Ill buy that! Thats where I find myself. But beware, my brother. Dont confuse this physical departure with a true departure of your heart. Have you ever witnessed an encounter between a denominational Christian (Mr. In) and one who has "come out" (Mr. Out)? The conversation eventually comes to this:
Mr. In: What church or denomination do you belong to?
Mr. Out: I belong to none.
Mr. In: That sounds awfully independent to me. Do you think youre superior or something?
Instead of "I belong to none", Mr. Out could have more wisely answered, "I belong to all of them". It expresses the spirit of Paul when he said, "All are yours", and "You are all members, each one of the other." True., I dont belong to any denominational organization, but I do belong to my brothers and sister who are in them! And they belong to me, regardless of whether or not they realize it.
Thats who Paul argued with the Corinthians. They were saying, "we are of Paul, we are of Apollo, we are of Cephas, we are of Christ". They were saying they were divided. Paul replied, "You cannot be divided! Is Christ divided? If you say you are divided, you are being carnal, behaving like ordinary men. You are looking on things with the eyes of the flesh. All of these leaders belong to you all, and together you all belong to Christ." (1Cor.1:12,13; 2:3,21-23).
"Is Christ divided?" If we can admit to a divided Christ, then and only then can we admit to a divided Body of Christ. To admit to the division of the Body is to admit to the division of the Head! Let go of that fleshly viewpoint! See and confess that there is one Lord, and one Body.
I say again, it is not the ecclesia which is divided; it is the human additions and mutations. I am no longer striving for Christian unity. I am celebrating it. Why should I strive for something already accomplished? "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh. "I simply refuse to see that any brother is divided from me. I confess the fact of our unity. He may think he is separated from me, but I will never believe that lie; I will never look on the fleshly separations; I will look on the unifying life of God we both share.
How the Ecclesia is Made Visible
Maybe you are thinking as you read this, "I agree that in spirit we are all one Body, and that this must be emphasized; but what about the expression or manifestation of that unity? How can this unity be made visible and practical? Dont we need to leave all divisions behind and come together in a united testimony of oneness?
Well, brother, first of all, if you do that you are in danger of repeating the mistakes of others, merely starting another tower with will end in confusion. You will be confessing your unity with all the people who share your vision, but what about all the ones you leave behind? Youre separated from them. What then?, you say, "Do you believe just in some ethereal, invisible church?"
No, I intensely believe the ecclesia must be visible and that the oneness of the Body of Christ must be seen. Once again, however, we are clouded with an age old misunderstanding. That misunderstanding relates to how the ecclesia is to be made visible.
When I say, "one church", what do we immediately think of? One institution, one type of meeting, on type of church order, one set of beliefs. We think of some kind of human body which ties us together much like the Masonic order. And this is exactly what the ecclesia is not.
The Fellowship of Love
Jesus declared that we would be seen and known as His disciples. He said, "By this will all men know that ye are my disciples, (my company of called-out ones, my ecclesia), if ye have love one to another" (Jn.13:35). In Acts the unbelievers said, "Behold how they love one another." They noticed this: "These men have been with Jesus." Paul declared in 1 Corinthians that if an unbeliever walked into the Christian meeting he would confess, "God is in your midst." John, in his first epistle said, "These things declare we unto you that ye may also have fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ."
The ecclesia is made visible and known by two things: the fellowship of love to one another and the fellowship of the present communion with God. Not by meetings, organization, or doctrinal creeds, but by the fellowship of love. When I love God and my brother, and express that love in action, that is the ecclesia made visible. There is a unity and communion which is unearthly and inimitable. We may be of different races, different social levels, different educational backgrounds, and different cultureseven different doctrinal beliefsbut in a living way we are manifestly united. Thats the ecclesia.
It can happen within denominations, without them, or across denominational barriers. The ecclesia is a happening! It has utterly no relationship to "churches". It is like the air; regardless of where you are, it is available. The Spirit is like the wind, and He it is who unites the ecclesia.
Or when two or three believers get together for fellowship with Jesus, and He meets with them, thats the ecclesia. An unbeliever, seeing this, senses something real. He senses Someone who is present. Thats the ecclesia. Dont you See. We could build a huge auditorium and gather every Christian in the world, we could all elect the same leaders and recite the same creed, participate in the same kind of worship and what would we have? It would be impressive, but not much more impressive than world Communism today. They have that kind of unity.
The ecclesia is not just the sum total of all believers. It involves the inter-action of those believers through which and by means of which God expresses His life to the world., just as a man expresses his life through the inter-acting members of his body.
In 1 John 4:12, we read, "No man hath seen God at anytime. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us." In other words, God is seen in our love, and John always understands love as in action ("in deed and in truth").
Relax and Enjoy
The unity and oneness we have is visible only in our loving fellowship with each other and with God. Institutions of any sort, small or large, are not necessary to this fellowshipbut neither do they prevent our enjoying it! I personally believe that as more Christians see the ecclesia, realize that "it is finished", and relax and enjoy it, the institutions will, for the most part, simply wither away because they will have lost their significance. I am not however, going to waste my time fighting a straw man, trying to make it happen. That is the technique of Babylon. I can enjoy the ecclesia now irregardless, of my "religious" surroundings.
Oh, hallelujah! The reality of the ecclesia is changeless and unchangeable, and we can tap into it at will, by faith and enjoy the great throbbing, pulsing life of a universal Body. We can touch any Christian or group and touch them as one with them, perfectly and totally, in spirit! We can, as regards the ecclesia, simply cease from our labours and enter into His rest.
As for the practical questions of "Where do we fellowship?" and "What form shall our fellowship take?", we can see from the preceding that the answers are almost irrelevant to a true expression of the ecclesia. Our true worship is "in spirit and in truth", not "in a certain place with certain forms."
That is not to say the questions are unimportant, only that they have no pat answers. For myself, I will always seek the place or group where I feel most freedom is given for the practice and affirmation of the unity and fullness of the Body of Christ in love. But the very nature of the ecclesia means that I cannot ever be limited to any group no matter how perfectly it seems to accord with the New Testament pattern, for there is no group that includes all of this tremendous ecclesia to which alone I ultimately belong.
In the end, it comes down to our primary motivation. Are we giving our selves to building a human institution which includes only a portion of the Body of Christ, or are we first of all concerned with the edification in love of the whole Body? Are we furthering a thing, an"it", a tower of Babel., or are we developing a fellowship in spirit? Are we building a synagogue in which men meet, or the temple in which God dwells? To build synagogues is to live in Babylon, but to build the Temple..is to truly obey God when He says, "Come out of her my people."
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