by Phil Enlow

One of the greatest challenges throughout the Church’s history has been avoiding assimilation by the world. Spiritually, our world is rightly labeled “Babylon,” a system ruled over by Lucifer that stands in fierce opposition to the kingdom of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ. Babylon comes in many “flavors” but all express Lucifer’s rebellion against God in one form or another.

In Col. 2:8 Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” In the context he was concerned about religious teaching that turned people away from the full and complete salvation provided in Christ. Yet his warning applies equally well to any aspect of the world’s wisdom with its ways of thinking and doing.

In spite of Paul’s warning in Rom 12:2 not to “conform any longer to the pattern of this world” the church in America has in general been so compromised and absorbed into contemporary culture as to be almost indistinguishable from it. Many so-called “churches” are nothing more than organizations with a religious theme run by men. Christ’s name is used but He has little or no influence over what goes on. The salt is no longer salty. Matt. 5:13.


In reality every characteristic of deception we have noted thus far has its roots in the world and its god. There is one in particular that bears special mention at this point because it strikes at the very heart of what God intended for His Church. That characteristic is individualism.

Here are some dictionary definitions of individualism: “a social theory advocating the liberty, rights, or independent action of the individual;” “the principle or habit of or belief in independent thought or action;” “the pursuit of individual rather than common or collective interests; egoism.”

Individualism is a very important part of American culture. This nation was born in part because of people seeking religious freedom from government tyranny. They fled to the new world to escape persecution from those who refused to allow them to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. The principles of freedom and individual rights were carefully enshrined in our constitution by our founding fathers.

Surely, most men would readily agree that in the realm of human affairs freedom is better than tyranny. I’m certainly thankful for the degree of freedom we still enjoy. Of course the rights of individuals must always be carefully balanced with the rights of society in general. We cannot allow murderers to run around murdering people in the name of individual liberty!

Who is in Control?

It is really about control. Am I in control of my life, free to do as I please, or do I live subject to the will of a king, a dictator, or some other form of governmental control? In human society those are basically the options and everywhere in the world we see the tension between those who want to impose their will on others and the desire of individuals to live in freedom.

Remember what we said earlier about the principle of “control” or “dominion.” It flows from the rebellion of Lucifer against God. When he deceived our first parents in the garden that principle became a fundamental part of human nature. The temptation involved calling into question God’s motives and therefore His trustworthiness and then promoting the idea that they should be as gods, that is, in control of their own lives and destinies.

One word describes all this: it is simply “rebellion.” While this spirit of rebellion in man is what brings him into conflict with others it is really a rebellion against God. God’s will is not paramount; mine is. I decide. I make the rules. I do as I please. And regardless of whether a particular society is a democracy, a dictatorship, a monarchy, or anything else, this spirit of rebellion is the driving force. It promotes self-will and seeks the interests of self above all else. It drives some to seek to control others and it drives others to live in a spirit of rebellious independence.

Is not this precisely what Jesus came to save us from? Isn’t this what salvation is all about? And yet we see everywhere the ways of lost men carried over into religion. In some cases we see a spirit of control that subjugates people and in others we see self-willed individuals running around doing as they please, subject to no one’s judgment but their own, and yet claiming to serve “Jesus.” If they don’t like it “here” they feel free to leave and run “there.” They see this as their “right.”

It would probably come as a shock to most Americans to hear that the Church of Jesus Christ is NOT a democracy! Of course it is not some form of human tyranny either. It doesn’t matter where you are on the scale between democracy and tyranny: the real authority is human. Men are in charge. Men make the rules. Men decide. That may be how it is in the world but it is NOT how God’s kingdom works. His purposes cannot be fulfilled by the ways of man.

Once God enters the picture there is another alternative to both the individualism and the tyranny that we see so much of, not only in society, but also in religion. That alternative goes right back to what Adam and Eve rebelled against in the beginning: divine authority. God is the creator. He makes the rules. It is His will and purpose that will prevail. Adam and Eve lost confidence in God’s loving rule and we see the results of their rebellion everywhere in our world. It is only in heart surrender to divine authority that we return to a proper relationship with our Creator.

Personal and Private

Yet it is right here that Satan deceives. He promotes the idea that serving God and walking with Jesus is such a personal and private thing that the rebellion of individualism is untouched. Self reigns. It may be religious yet the real authority is “self.” It is religion according to me, according to my understanding and convictions. No one has the right to tell me what to do — or even to suggest that I am wrong. Jesus is leading me! Is He?

How well this fits in with relativism of modern thought where there is no such thing as objective truth. Each one is entitled to his own “truth.” And woe to anyone who dares to claim that they have THE truth in any area of life. “How dare you claim that you are right and that I am wrong. You are intolerant and I am offended!” What in the world would they do with Jesus!?

Religious Individualism

We see an example of religious individualism in Deuteronomy 12. Moses was instructing the generation of Israelites who would ultimately conquer and settle Canaan. He refers to the religious practices of the heathen with their many gods and many places of worship. In verses 4-5 he says, “You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling.” Remember that last part about God establishing a “dwelling.”

In verses 8-9 Moses says something rather telling: “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit, since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you.” It wasn’t just that the heathen did as they pleased when it came to religion; the Israelites did as well! Yet aren’t Moses’ words a pretty good description of how the modern church world does — “everyone as he sees fit”? And yet the Lord was telling the Israelites that it wasn’t to be that way. He would establish a place where they were to come and worship the way He prescribed.

It is a common saying in the church world: “Attend the church of your choice.” That sounds good — and it fits in well with our American idea of individual rights and liberties. It is based on the idea that there are good churches everywhere and each one of us should simply choose the one we prefer. Never mind the fact that they differ dramatically from one another. Just try them out and find one you like. You choose one you prefer; I’ll do the same; and it’ll be just fine. God’s cool with that. We’re all serving the same Jesus, heading the same direction. Are we?

I’m so glad that the Lord is merciful in the midst of the division and confusion of the religious world. He won’t lose even one of His own but to suppose that this order of things is somehow OK with Him is simply not so. In the scenario above, who is doing the choosing? Are not individuals choosing based on their personal ideas and preferences? Where do those preferences come from? What happened to the Lordship of Christ? Is He not in charge? Is it Christ that has established all this division and confusion — or does God perhaps have a different vision? Should we not seek Him for that? Will Christ return for a carnal divided church? Is that His plan?

Restaurant Religion

Recently I was meditating on this and the Lord quickened a simple picture of what most religion is like in His eyes. Think of the restaurant business. In a restaurant people — customers — pay money for ready-to-eat food. That food may be anything from a simple snack like ice cream to a full meal. It might be eaten in the restaurant or it might perhaps be carried out to be eaten somewhere else. A restaurant is different from a grocery store or a market where people buy food to prepare at home. A restaurant is designed for people who simply want the convenience of exchanging money for food someone else has prepared.

Since people have a wide variety of personal tastes in food there is naturally a similar variety of restaurants who cater to those tastes. Some people are happy with so-called “fast food.” They lead busy lives and are glad for prepared food that tastes reasonably good, is cheap, and doesn’t take up a lot of time from their busy schedules.

Other people are looking for more out of their dining experience. One important part of that is the menu. What kind of food is served. Of course the human family has developed a great variety of tasty styles of food and that is reflected in restaurants. Some people like Italian food, others Chinese, others Indian, others French, and so on. Some are vegetarians while others can’t live without their steak and potatoes. We could easily spend a lot of time listing just some of the kinds of food people go to restaurants to eat. But you get the point.

Some restaurant-goers want the same thing all the time and others like the variety they can get by visiting different places. Cafeteria type restaurants are popular because you can just go to the food bar and pick what you happen to want that day.

Of course the menu is not all that is important. While it is true that some people just want to grab some food to eat on the run others are looking for a total dining “experience.” Not only do they want just the right food; they also demand a certain kind of atmosphere in which to enjoy it. It certainly wouldn’t be appropriate to serve a fancy steak dinner next to a garbage can in the alley! Atmosphere matters.

Some want a quiet place where they can eat in peace. Others like to be in a noisy crowd. The kind of music plays an important part. It might be classical music or it might be loud rock music or country music.

One popular restaurant type in the United States is the “Diner” where customers either sit in a booth or on a stool at a counter. Diner restaurants typically cater to working class people who dress casually. They often have brassy friendly waitresses who call their customers “darling” and who yell out orders to the kitchen.

Other dining customers would turn up their noses at such a low-class place. They want something fancy, sophisticated, and of course, expensive. Diners are expected to dress up and make reservations. Often part of what draws the customers is a famous and talented chef who knows how to prepare real gourmet fare.

In short restaurants are as varied as the customers they hope to attract. And in our increasingly connected world you can find an amazing variety most anywhere. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to the Philippines on several occasions and can recall eating in an Italian restaurant, a German restaurant, and a Chinese restaurant, as well as enjoying foods from many parts of the world in hotel cafeteria type restaurants. I also recall eating there at McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and no doubt others that don’t come to mind. I even had a “Cajun” dish at one restaurant (at least that’s what they said it was!).

The Customer is King

Now think with me for a moment: in the restaurant business, who is in charge? Is it not the customer? You may have heard the expression, “The customer is king,” and that is certainly true. A restaurant owner stays in business and prospers because he provides customers with what they want. Suppose a businessman said, “I’m not going to do that anymore; I’m going to give my customers what they need, not what they want.” How long would he stay in business? Not long! His customers would simply stop coming and go somewhere else.

But is not religion like that? Is it not “customer-driven”? Are not even some good men held hostage by the religious tastes of their “customers”?

Think of Paul’s warning to Timothy in 2 Tim. 4:1-4 — “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

What would happen if real men of God suddenly stepped into every pulpit in America and did what Paul said? Do you think the result would be any different than what happened when Stephen told the truth to the Jewish Sanhedrin in Acts 7? They might not be literally stoned but the spirit behind the reaction would be exactly the same. Don’t you dare say anything about my religion!

Satan has largely corrupted the American church by turning it into a customer-driven enterprise. The customer is king. Pastors are hired and fired based on their ability to attract and satisfy the “customers.” Preaching style and ability, worship style, meeting style, programs and activities, personalities all play their part in providing the total religious experience. People want to leave with a good feeling about themselves, that everything is OK with them and God. If they don’t get what they want in one place they will run to another.

Self Reigns

Is this not individualism in action? The rebellion of self-will has been clothed with religion and passed off as real Christianity. Multitudes call Jesus “Lord” but they live and act in rebellion. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus spoke of in Matt. 7:21-23? He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“

The spirit of Babylon is designed by Satan to protect and even to promote “self.” The Spirit of God through the true gospel of Jesus Christ confronts self and brings about godly sorrow and genuine repentance. In salvation “self” dies and Christ lives in its place. The preaching of the cross never compromises with self. It never seeks to please men but only God. The stakes are too high. Men’s souls hang in the balance.

In religion “self” reigns. Preachers cannot afford to offend the “customers.” They might leave — and take their contributions with them. How would the mortgage payments on the big new church building be met? The ways of religion have a million insidious ways of standing squarely in the way of a true work of God.

Rock Stars

One interesting characteristic of modern religion needs to be particularly pointed out. Often we see gifted preachers, teachers, or singers become celebrities, sometimes almost “rock stars.” Some of these have a measure of genuine ministry. What is that about? I’m glad for anyone that the Lord in mercy reaches for himself but this celebrity culture is often of a different sort. Just as those Jesus described as calling him Lord were not in fact true followers so it is with many people today. People are able to “celebrate” truth and enjoy emotional religious experiences yet never truly bow to Him who is the truth. Self is never conquered.

Consider this biblical example. Surely everyone would agree that Ezekiel was a man of God, a prophet chosen of God to preach hard truth in a challenging time. Yet God spoke to Ezekiel on one occasion to explain what the real deal was with some of his listeners. It surely would have been natural for Ezekiel to suppose that people coming to hear him were true seekers of truth but that wasn’t the case. Consider what the Lord told him.

Ezek. 33:30-32 — “As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

Think about what the Lord was saying! These people were in such a hardened spiritual condition that they could sit before a true prophet of God and basically treat what he said as entertainment, as a performance. Is it really that different in our day? And how much of purported ministry in our day really is a ministry of the Spirit and how much is just a subtle form of religious entertainment? and “customer-driven” at that? God help us!

When Persecution Comes

When persecution comes — and it will — just how much of the American religious scene will simply evaporate? It isn’t real. Millions of people have been begotten in a system that protects self-will at all costs. They are lost and don’t know it. What God intended when Christ began to build his church and what American religion has largely become are two very different things. Many cry out for revival and revival is a wonderful thing but God’s heart cries out for something much deeper than revival. What He longs for cannot be fulfilled in “the system.” It can only happen “outside the camp.” It can only be engineered by Christ himself. It can never happen while individualism reigns. Christ is Lord and self must give way to his Lordship.

In the last part we began to speak of the nature of the church as God sees it. It consists of the company of the redeemed who literally share the life of God, with each other, and with the Father and His Son. It is not an organization but a living organism. Its members have given up their lives to possess God’s life. They have bowed to Christ as Lord. Yet it is not just about their relationship with God but also with each other. God has a vision laid out in His Word for the church, not just in eternity, but here in this world. To the extent that we have declared that to be impossible and have just accepted the current state of things as OK we have embraced deception. Satan is lying to us.

To be continued.

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