When we read the accounts of the Israelites while in slavery to Egypt, or the accounts of Nehemiah and Ezra regarding the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem or the Kingdom of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar we get a better feel for the physical events surrounding that time frame and the practical aspects of what really happened on a more human daily basis. Many times when we read scripture we have a tendency to not relate to what we read since many times it has no context for us having happened so long ago in a civilization and lifestyle we are not familiar with on a personal level.
Recently I have been writing strongly for the return of the Church to the ideals of the Early Church that was written about in Acts and taught about in the New Testament, by our Lord, Paul, Peter, John, James and others. But what truly is this Church: is it alive today and how do we find it? It is this very strong desire leading me to look at other groups both currently and through history that have pursued the same. Although I am not a historian, I have read and studied extensively so I could get a better understanding of what others have faced and it is surprising what I have found.
What I have found is that, almost universally, mankind is extremely capable of producing collective results on a grand and impressive scale, especially in the name of religion. Yet very seldom do they mirror the Early Church. I have found abundant examples of religious communities and groups that have tried to emulate it. It is worth to mention Anabaptists, who were heavily persecuted for their desire to return to the ideals of the Early Church. They were active some 500 years ago, mostly in Bohemia and Moravia with other small gatherings in Holland, and Prussia.
One of the very first examples we have of a collectivistic community is the people who were building the Tower of Babel. Let's look at how soon this took place after the flood.
And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtecha: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. (Gen 10:6-10)
Nimrod was the great grandson of Noah: it was less than 150 years after the flood that Nimrod came to authority and power being recognized as a mighty hunter. Even though it was this long after the flood, we must also remember that Noah lived another 350 years after the flood and could have been alive during the rise of Nimrod's impressive leadership and establishment of many cities including Nineveh. It is difficult to ascertain the exact time frame for Nimrod, since it is not easy to trace Ham's descendants, the disgraced son of Noah, but it appears to be close to Noah's time. Regardless, Nimrod either lived while Noah was still alive or at least grew up with the events of the flood very fresh in the minds of those around him at the time of his rise to authority and influence. In addition the landscape would have clearly still showed the evidence of the flood due to its complete upheaval and destruction that it wrought. There is no doubt that Nimrod was very aware of God's punishment of man's sinfulness through the destruction of the earth and most of humanity through the great flood that covered the earth. Let's now look at the passage of scripture about the construction of the tower.
And 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 throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top 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 is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's 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 there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. (Gen 11:1-9)
The most interesting portion is Gen 11:4.
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
Their words are in a stark contrast to God's command given to Noah and his sons to be fruitful and replenish the earth, as recorded in Gen 9:1.
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
As a result of Nimrods leadership and rebellion to God's command, whether intentional or not, God chose to cause multiple languages to be imposed on humanity to ensure that they would be scattered and be obedient to his direction to replenish the earth. I am not sure if building the city and the tower was a result of intentional disobedience, yet it was for a noble human cause. Invariably mankind's acts of disobedience against God are cloaked in what I call "noble causes" with hints of religious intentions, especially when dealing with a community effort of this size and commitment.
Since the biblical record only takes a few verses, it is easy to discount the significance of the training, skill, organization, and time a project like this would involve. It wasn't something that materialized in just a few days or months, but most likely involved years. People of particular skill and trade were employed, furnaces were constructed, and materials were searched for and gathered. Plans were looked over, and many people were engaged in the common good of building this city and its tower. There was an atmosphere of a "greater good," one that allowed a commitment to a greater cause and purpose that was beyond ones immediate family: one of sacrifice and hard work. All of these activities have good qualities, yet they are still founded in disobedience. Just look at where the excuses of Saul got him after he was commanded to destroy Amalek.
And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD. And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed. Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on. And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel? And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD? And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Sam 15:13-23)
We have a tendency to discount this story of rebellion as something that doesn't apply to us. We have history to our advantage and most believers have a poor opinion of Saul, yet we must not forget that he was anointed of God to be the King of Israel. He was the ruler and leader of God's chosen nation, the only one on the entire earth at that time. If he was able to be deceived into thinking that his noble causes and actions would be overlooked by the Almighty, how much more should we also be concerned that our expressions of community are acceptable, given the fact that we are likewise disobedient to God's commands pertaining to our church structure and our community involvement? He learned nothing from the history of Babel with regard to the fundamental importance of obedience to God's commands. We are not exempt any more than Nimrod or Saul was, especially when we excuse our behavior based on noble religious pretenses.
Mankind has a strong desire for community and religious affiliation, this being no different for those in or out of the church. I have seen many examples of religious communities that have sprung out of the frustration with the anemic church just in my lifetime, let alone in the past 200 hundred years with the arrival of groups such as the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses. Therefore, we must not look to the good noble things within a community (or church) that have the appearance of Godliness, but rather we are called to stand solid on His truth first. Standing solid on God's truth is attained by obeying and studying the Scriptures
If we choose to add, include, or entertained certain things in our community that are clearly contradictory to the Scriptures, we are simply pursuing the human desires of the world and not that of God's kingdom. We may think that we do God's will, but truly we do not. How much natural skill, abilities and human talents are we employing, just as those who worked on the tower of Babel, into building our own reality of the church? If we introduce elements of carnal worship, entertainment, women in positions of leadership, we are not building God's church, but rather our own Tower of Babel. Are we looking to reach heaven? How about our churches, do they have steeples reaching for the sky? Do we support mission and relief programs around the world, or in our backyard, all the while allowing our churches to be registered by the state: so that we can provide a government sanctioned charity, so that we can be more efficient and raise more funds by enticing others to give, so that they can receive a tax deduction as a reward for helping out?
Do we excuse others of completely different Christian denominations on the basis that God understands and desires to overlook the differences we have doctrinally so that we, his feeble creatures can better impact a heathen world, all the while we embrace and celebrate pagan festivals, such as Christmas, in our churches? Do we subscribe and pay for TV. that exposes ourselves to filth and garbage, even if it is only the advertisements we are subjected to? Do we eat and visit in places of carnality by choice that expose us unnecessarily to immodest dress and foul language, justifying our sources of entertainment that promotes proud feelings, envy and even lusts?
Or have we chosen to distance ourselves from the world and the anemic church, yet still establish rules and regulations that give us an air of self righteousness, when they simply are commands Christ did not give us? Even though human made regulations look good, they are buried in legalism rather than anchored on true authority of God's word.
In our pursuit of being obedient to the dictates of the church, we must remember that this is the ultimate target of the evil one as well. He knows and understands the strong desires of humanity to have a sense of community and we have seen both amazing and horrific examples of what mankind can do when united in this way. Yet a religious focus of a community does not make it the true church.
The true church is distinct and different than any community man has aspired to or created. Noble elements of a community do not in themselves make it the church. We must be so careful not to interject our own thoughts and standards into the church, for in reality we are only replicating something that can not be replicated. It is original, known by the Father as his own, and no substitute will do or will be returned to.
Many in the past thirty or forty years have tried to separate themselves from the world and create an alternative environment that they believe resembles the church by applying old covenant laws to maintain order and compliance. Others seek new revelation to explain away the failings of the churches they have left and give them new insight in order to be part of God's elect, feeding foolish doctrines to the spiritually weak. This too doesn't work, with many of the first founding generation dying off to leave the group with lack of focus and goals, adapting rules and loosening legalism to try to keep the next generation from leaving. Once again we see the collapse of their original communities changing into something that is unrecognizable from the original, all failing miserably to be the true church established by our Lord and the Apostles. Why is this so? It is because of disobedience and rebellion.
It is this very disobedience and rebellion that Christ died on the cross for, yet we continue to try to fit the church around our own ideals of what it should look like. I also look to be part of the vibrant church written about in Acts, but I must not pursue the church from without but rather from within, for the Kingdom of God is within me just as it is within you. We must desire and be faithful to Christ's teachings, first and foremost continually looking to be rooted and founded on Christ. The example and teachings are there, all we need to do is follow them and the Spirit of Truth will abide in us just as it did in them. Let us be found in His Church, always guarding against the imposture which is always appealing to some element of our flesh.
In closing, it is my prayer that we are not craftsmen in the employ of Nimrod, but rather servants of the church and the Most High God.