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The Harlot Church System, Part 2
6 September 2014
 
 
This is the second in a six-part series of articles presenting excerpts from Charles E. Newbold’s book The Harlot Church System, taken from chapters 4 and 5.

In this book, the author’s thoughts and arguments build from one chapter to the next. Therefore, if you have not read Part 1 yet, I strongly encourage you to do so now before you read today’s article. This is especially important because throughout the book, Mr. Newbold uses words like church, “it,” “Self” and “Thing,” with very precise and special meanings. So you will want to read his introduction in Chapter 1 of Part 1 very carefully.

As I shared previously, Entire sentences highlighted in this color are MY emphasis — thoughts which struck me as especially important. All other emphasis is the author’s, or implied by the author. If the flow of thought from paragraph to paragraph feels disjointed at times, that’s because it is! Except for the three articles in which I share entire chapters, I’ve taken paragraphs which were spread throughout each chapter, so there can be large chunks of text missing in between the paragraphs I’ve included here. That’s why you need to buy your own copy and read the whole thing!
Chapter 4 — Jealousy: Playing the Harlot
Most everyone in the small, rural church I was serving accepted the fact that I believed that speaking in tongues, divine healing, casting out demons, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for today, even though the officialdom of that denomination disagreed. Nevertheless, I tried to make Jesus the only issue that mattered. Everyone was happy with that arrangement until the Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit requiring that I abolish the Sunday School.

“You’re messing with my mind, Lord,” I argued. “One doesn’t abolish Sunday School, especially as a pastor in this denomination. The Sunday School belongs to the elders. You should know that, Lord.” I dismissed the thought as reckless. I had plans to build up the Sunday School. Studies have shown that the existence of small groups such as the Sunday School class contribute to church growth, and at that stage in my understanding, I wanted to build up the church.

However, after being sternly directed to abolish the Sunday School for the third time, I knew I had to do something. I called the men of the church together and presented my dilemma to them. Most of them were willing to test it out to see what God might do. “After all,” many of them reasoned with me, “if it doesn’t prove profitable, we can always go back to having Sunday School.”

Not every one was willing to test it out, however. I did not know why God wanted me to take such action until I tried to negotiate the deal with the main person of influence in the church. Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke with a broken, yet, certain voice, “You’re not going to take MY Sunday School away from me.” Then I knew what this was about. Sunday School was a golden calf to some of them and I had dared to touch it.

We want to be god, especially over our own lives. Though we are greater than the images we make, we still bow down and pay obeisance to them. We take such pride in our works. We allow them to control our lives, our emotions, and our relationships. We love them. We look at them, and our hearts swell with pride. They are idolatrous extensions of ourselves.
Idolatry: The Worship of Self
All idolatry is the worship of Self. It is an extension of ourselves: our adored opinions, speculations, plans, programs, and projects; it is the self-exalted work of our hands and the imaginations of our minds — all the things we do in our old man nature of flesh and sin that causes us to esteem ourselves more highly than we ought to. It is the attitude of the wicked stepmother in the story of Snow White who asks, “Magic mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” fully expecting for the mirror to answer, “You are the fairest one of all.”

Idolatrous, fallen man is self-centered by nature. To be any different, we have to be transformed into a new creature. We need a new nature that gives us the desire to surrender Self for a higher good, namely, the life of Christ in us. Only Christ through His Spirit can implant that new nature within us.

Whatever appeals to Self is not of God. Self is in love with Self. It seeks its own. It is vain, prideful, arrogant, self-exalting, self-indulging, self-absorbed, power-hungry, and lustful. It strives for independence, self-reliance, and self-management. It uses and abuses others, if necessary, to achieve its own ambitions.

Because Self is centered upon itself, it is a black hole upon the space where it stands, forever suctioning itself inward as a vacuum. Self consumes itself, is self-destructive, and has death as its final reward. Self lives and dies for Self.
Idolatry: Self-Strength
The idolatry of Self is seen in our drivenness to accomplish things in our own strength. We see things to do, and we must do them. We are constantly distracted by the busyness we create for ourselves. Busyness is a distraction from intimacy with God. We would rather be doing something for God than spending time with Him. Yet, He did not create us to do for Him, but to be as He is that we might have fellowship with Him and with one another in Him.

We enslave ourselves to the works we require of ourselves. Moreover, we enslave others to our works when others allow us to do so. We adore our accomplishments. Consequently, we have even made idols out of our quiet time, Bible study, intercessory prayer, street witnessing, and other works that seem “good” to us. These are not wrong. They are wonderful when they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. They become idolatrous to us when we use them to make ourselves feel like we have done something for God.

The worship of other gods is idolatry, and idolatry is playing the harlot so far as God is concerned. God also calls it fornication and adultery. The King James version of the Bible translates it “a whoring.” This radical language portrays the heart of God in the matter of idolatry. It should cause us to fall on our faces, quickly repent of our idolatries, and turn to Him with a pure, unadulterated heart.
Chapter 5 — Our High Places
Benny asked me, “Do you know how you can tell when something is an idol in your life?” “No.” I waited for his reply. I knew it would be good. His grin widened. His words were slow but short. “By how big a fight you put up when it’s taken from you.” Many of the things we fight over are likely idols in our lives. We get angry when something we adore is taken from us or when we fear that it might be taken from us.... Our high places are those things we cherish above our consecration to God.

This Thing we call church can be one such extension of ourselves. It is one of those things we go after in our hearts because we love it so. That is to say, we love the works of our hands and the imaginations of our hearts that are expressed in that Thing we call church. We are in church because church is in us. It is an extension of us. Therefore, we are serving ourselves when we serve it.

“Ah, come on,” you say. “You can’t be serious. Aren’t you being too hard and critical of the church? I love my church. I have life-long relationships in my church. We have a great choir, good preaching, souls are saved, the Holy Spirit often moves in our services. The ritual and symbols make me feel close to God. How do you account for the fact that God shows up in church? How can you call church evil?”
Anointing Does Not Imply Endorsement
Good Christian people go to church. In fact, the stronger they are in their faith, the more likely they are to go to church. They identify “going to church” with their faith. Their faithfulness to church is often the yardstick for measuring their faithfulness to Christ. After all, the churches even belong to Christians, at least in name and perception. God’s presence is manifested in some of these churches on occasions, but none of this means that these Things we call church have been born of the Spirit. They are still idolatrous extensions of Self.

The Holy Spirit has often moved upon His people to save, heal, and deliver them throughout the history of the institutionalized church system. The Protestant Reformation, the Great Awakenings of the 1800’s, and the Pentecostal Revival of the 1900’s are major historical examples of how God sought to deliver His people out of an old order to bring them into a new order.

A few churches have experienced what they call renewal. God is filling the lamps of those willing to be prepared with enough oil to go the distance when that last trumpet sounds. It would be a tragic mistake, however, to take God’s anointing upon His people as an endorsement of their idols. If the Holy Spirit is moving in your church, He is not present to bless your idolatries, but to prepare a people unto Himself. God cares for His people who happen to be in captivity to church. He is preparing His bride. He has to go into these illegitimate places we call the church to prepare her so He can take her out.
The High Place of Church
That which we call church today is an idolatrous system of men’s traditions which is spiritual harlotry. Church is what we do in addition to being who Christ has made us to be in Him. If what we call church can be incorporated, joined, named, referred to as it, and can be taken from us, then it is not the real thing. The true ekklesia is a corporate body of people who are born into it. They have taken only the name of Jesus because they are in a relationship with Him. That relationship cannot be taken from them.

If church is not the real thing, then it is a counterfeit. The problem with counterfeits is that they look deceptively like the real thing. Church, as a counterfeit, is presented and perceived as the real thing. Strangely enough, though, it does not even remotely look like the real thing. Nevertheless, we have been beguiled into believing that it is.

We want to stand out from the other churches in town. We craft our creeds to distinguish ourselves from them. The names we give ourselves reflect our separateness from them. We sometimes even brag about our differences. A young man at a gathering of men sported a T-shirt which was likely intended to communicate an innocent but catchy phrase; nonetheless, it revealed this separatist notion. It read, “Vineyard Church: Experience the difference.”

For many deceived hearts, their church is their plan of salvation, and we have about as many salvation plans as we have churches. We stress the necessity of church membership and regular attendance to church and thereby communicate the subtle message that we are saved by these Things. We are considered unscriptural if we do not go to church.
Strongholds of the Mind
These idolatries of Self are strongholds of the mind. A spiritual stronghold is the preoccupation with an object, a person, or an institution; with anger or fear; with a fetish, an addiction, or a sin. A spiritual stronghold is anything that fascinates us, dominates our minds, and causes us to behave obsessively and compulsively. These are things that rule over us. We seem powerless to do anything about them. Yet, we cannot deny that these things are harmful to us or others.

A spiritual stronghold can also be the grid through which we see things. Church is one such stronghold of the mind. We have been brainwashed into believing that church as we know and practice it is what we ought to do. We have never known anything other than church as we practice it. So, when I say church is an idol and a stronghold in your mind, you may have a difficult time believing it. You cannot see it. Even if you see it, you have a hard time accepting it because of your programmed mind-set. Once you see the deception, however, receive the truth, and begin to walk in that light, you find your mind changing. The stronghold is being torn down.

Taking the bride of Christ out of church is not an easy matter, because church is a stronghold in her mind. God has to take church out of us, as well as take us out of it. Strange language is it not? For while God is trying to take us out of church, we are trying to get people into it. If we try to leave the stronghold of church before it has been taken out of us, we will simply return to it.
Empowering Our High Places
We empower the idolatry of church when we attend its services. We empower the idolatry of church when we contribute to it. We empower the idolatry of church when we insist upon using the term church in reference to the body of Christ. We empower the idolatry of church when we ask one another where we go to church. We empower the idolatry of church when we measure other people’s spirituality by where they go to church.

The Holy Spirit may lead a mature, liberated believer to attend a church and perhaps contribute to it for a purpose known only to God and that believer. If, however, that believer becomes joined in his heart to that system, once again lifting it up, he has returned to the idolatry and spiritual harlotry of it. He is deceived. One who feels called of God to stay in or return to one of those harlot church system situations has to be honest with himself regarding his true motive lest he say, “God told me to” in order to justify the harlot desires of his heart.
Rooting Out the Idolatry
We must understand that our salvation does not depend upon meeting in [non-institutional] home [church] groups anymore than belonging to church. Our salvation is in the Lord. We can make an idolatrous thing out of home groups just as easily as we can out of church. The problem is not in having a building or not, having regular meetings or not, having programs or not, or having structure or not. The problem has to do with what is in our hearts about those things.

It may be possible to have all of those things and not become joined to them, though I doubt it. Sooner or later, without realizing it, we make a Thing of them and begin go after the Thing rather than the Lord. That is how our harlot hearts work. For, after all, those things came out of our hearts. I think it is most unlikely that we can organize ourselves as a group of believers with a building, a name, a bank account, belief system, and such without those things sooner or later becoming a source of pride in us as idolatrous extensions of our fleshly need to exalt Self.

I find that there is a mix in many churches. There is both flesh and Spirit because, until now, God has responded to His people wherever they call upon His name. He responds in spite of the fact that we have made these Things idols in our lives. He responds to the Holy Spirit and His nature within us. Nevertheless, He despises our flesh and our idolatries.

If you are in one of those Things we call church and are truly growing in the Lord, I would not want to say leave it physically, but abandon any idolatry of it. And beware! Phil Perry observed that “the more the Holy Spirit seems to be moving in one of those Things, the more deceiving it is. People see all that God is doing, and fail to see all the things that are wrong.” The “things that are wrong” are terribly wrong.

The snare is still set to trap you and engage you as a slave to the system for life. Many groups may have begun in the Spirit, but are continuing on in the flesh (Galatians 3:3). We are to be a people who are led by the Holy Spirit in all that we do, say, and are. We are to worship Him in spirit and truth. Anything, including church, that hinders us from doing so cannot be from God.
Other articles in this series: Shop for The Harlot Church System book on Amazon.com
This article is 43rd a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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The Harlot Church System, Part 2
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