The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations: Recap 2: Struggles of the Church
Rev 1:4 To the seven churches
Perspective: When we read the letters of the various apostles we find them addressing the various things they feel the local church needs to consider and often it is in the context of who we are. One of the things I have not sought to consider in these studies, to keep them relatively short, is the nature of the environment in which each church found itself, the spiritual background of the city or the culture of the area, for although they are important the problems that they throw up tend to be the same sort of problems that the Church across the world faces in one degree or another all the time. I have titled this short series ‘The Church Kaleidoscope’ meditations because it crosses my mind that, as I have commented before, we all have similarities but also differences. However, when it comes down to it, the reality is that the sorts of problems we face as church can ultimately be boiled down to just a few. Rather than go through each church as I did in the previous study, here I will simply try to group together the different sorts of issues that face the church.
Enemy Opposition: This varies from place to place and from nation to nation. If we sought to categorize the ways the enemy wages war against the saints, this would be identified as ‘outright opposition or hostility. In some parts of the world enemy hostility against Christian believers is blatant and intensive and, if reports are true, in China the opposition of the Communist Party (which is greatly outnumbered by the number of Christians in the country) has become more intense at the end of this second decade of the twenty-first century.
In Smyrna, the Jews slandered the church (2:9) and indeed (and we’re not told by who) the opposition against the church is going to intensify so that some believers will be even put in prison for their beliefs (2:10) and there will be a (limited) spate of ongoing persecution. In Pergamum, they had likewise suffered persecution and one believer, Antipas, had been martyred, so intense had been the persecution. In Philadelphia there was also a hint of persecution (3:9,10).
Deception – Wavering Belief: Again, it is often said, the battle that the enemy wages is a battle for the mind. Ever since the Garden of Eden (see Gen 3) deception has been a weapon he employs. Throughout my Christian life (over fifty years now) I can look back and see a number of instances where some new fad or way of thinking and doing has come to the fore that has proved to be a deception which has then passed away. Although those ways of thinking were specific (tending to be) doctrinal issues, there has, especially in the last ten to twenty years I believe, been a general watering down of the Faith in many quarters (not all thankfully). I have commented on it before but the whole area of sexuality has become a battle ground from the enemy, so that the biblical standard that limits sexual activity to ‘one man plus one woman, committed to each other for life’ has been abandoned in many quarters and is under severe pressure in others, and mayhem reigns. In an even more troubling battle-zone attacks upon the Bible have been coming from within the church, by what were once described as liberal thinkers, but has been regularly occurring in recent years, a trend where books are appearing that demean or demote the Bible as our foundation. The foundation for Christian belief and practice has been getting whittled away.
Deception in one form another is always near the surface. In Ephesus, they had to contend with false apostles (2:2) as well as with the false watering-down doctrines of the Nicolaitans that also appeared in Pergamum, linked to that softening deception of Balak (2:14,15), which we summarized as ‘a little conforming to the ways of the world is all right.’ If you have any doubts about this deception in today’s church, ask yourself, “Do I see a church where people are on fire for God, on fire for His word, and on fire with the Holy Spirit, or do I see a people more concerned with the ‘good life’ that affluence and materialism and modern technology brings in the twenty-first century?” Thyatira suffered another form of deception (2:20) by having a woman (or was it a whole way of looking?) who, as I noted above in parts of today’s Church, allowed sexual immorality and blurring of the boundaries between righteousness and unrighteousness. These are all belief issues that lead into changing of behaviour issues.
Seduction of heart and mind: The third enemy strategy we see coming out in some of these letters has to be a seduction that uses complacency and indifference to lull the church into a place of deception, not so much of false teaching but more as shear spiritual laziness that produces a lack-luster faith which more and more walk away from. This probably can be seen as simply an absence (and the joy with it) of the life of the Spirit in the life of the Church. Again, if you are not sure of this, ask yourself here, “Do I see in my church the outright activity of the Holy Spirit so that there is a life and vitality in the congregation that produces a regular flow of people being born again, delivered and healed, with a sense of the wonder of the Presence of the Lord in the midst that creates a mixture of awe and rejoicing?” Be honest, can you say you see that in your church? If not, it’s time for prayer!
In Ephesus, this was manifested as having lost their first love (2:4). In Sardis it was seen in the form of comatose religion, where they appeared spiritually dead and needed waking up. In Laodicea it manifested itself as luke-warmness, or what I called half-heartedness. The first of these three were good at activities but it failed to have love for Jesus at the heart of it. The second would have had a good reputation for holders of doctrine but not for life in the Spirit. The third one were just blind to their true state, no doubt like many of us today who think we are ‘fine’ or ‘OK’ without realizing how far short if the biblical picture on Christ’s heart we are.
And So? These things are not said to depress or make us feel bad about ourselves, but to open our eyes to the truth or reality of how life can so often be in the Church and this is why Christ says these things to these churches back there in history, so that we might see them and through them perhaps see where we too fall short. The goal is not to pull down but to stir hearts to prayer and action and bring change. Jesus wants his Church renewed and revived and where we fall short of what is on his heart, then repentance is the first step. Identifying where we are similar to these churches should then enable us to seek him for his wisdom to put things right, or seek his Spirit to bring fresh life to us so that we may truly become the body of Christ that the New Testament describes, gifted, empowered and sent to do the works of the kingdom (check out Lk 4:18,19 and Mt 11:5 together with Jesus instructions in Jn 14:12 and Mt 28:20). To conclude this penultimate study, can we heed James’ instructions to, “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (Jas 1:22) Amen.