Thursday, August 25, 2011

Which Church?*

(Questions for the latter-day believer)

*[I acknowledge and thank Anne Graham Lotz for sparking my reflections herein with her book: The Vision of His Glory, first published in 1996 with the subtitle, Finding Hope through the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Page references for quotes are from the 2009 edition.]

Chapter two of the book of Revelation begins with a critique of seven churches in seven city-towns inhabited by Christians. Have you ever asked yourself which church describes YOU? Is that what God (and John) hoped we would ponder (and self-assess) as tHey prepared to reveal the catastrophic prophecies of the latter days? So let us ask:

Church of Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7): Am I one of God’s faithful servants, shunning evil, exercising patience, enduring much, and discerning true leaders from false ones—YET giving so much time and energy to service-works that I have little left for God? Is that what God meant in accusing the Ephesians of leaving their first love? Was it a direct reference to Jesus’ words?
… Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Matthew 22:35-39).
How much time, thought, energy, passion do I give to inner work—reading the Word, pondering, meditating, praying, listening, hearing, communing, worshipping? Or in the words of Anne Graham Lotz: Am I “deluded by the importance of service”?[1] (p. 44)

Church in Smyrna (Rev. 2: 8-11): Am I one of God’s faithful, oppressed by tribulation and poverty—feeling more dead than alive (perhaps even desiring death to life)? Do I feel alienated from (perhaps envious of) those who seem more chosen, blessed, rewarded? Have I begun to doubt myself, my purpose, my mission—and maybe even God? Do I feel inconsequential in the great scheme of things? Have I begun to fear that I cannot endure—that I cannot overcome? Am I tempted to give up? Have I forgotten that “blessed” in the eyes of God means to “buy of [God] gold tried in the fire that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment that thou mayest by clothed … (Rev. 3:18)? Am I tired of well-doing without worldly reward? Am I deluded by thoughts that God’s reward for a righteous life should be a richer, easier one and that without such a life my endurance and testimony are not enough?

Church in Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17): Am I surrounded on all sides by the world and its philosophies and though I have kept the faith, do I find myself blending the Word of God with many of those philosophies—dulling the sharpness of God’s two edged sword? Trying to accommodate His mysteries to the dogmas of scientific theories? Trying to fit in? Hoping not to be too peculiar? Worrying about offending my neighbor with my beliefs and practices? Hiding God’s light under a bushel? Do I, like Balaam, find myself devising ways to circumvent or rationalize God’s words?[2] Or as Anne puts it: Am I “deluded by the importance of society’s intellectual and religious sophistication”? (p. 50)

Church in Thyatira (Rev. 2: 18-29) Do I say and do all the expected things, while at the same time entertaining alternatives? Do I think about justifications (sometimes spiritual) for doing things that are questionable (or things that tempt or glorify me)? Do I listen to leaders (or devoted followers) who excuse my sins because of my gifts, charisma, provocations, etc.? (On the other hand, do I excuse “Jezebels” because of their eloquence, motivations, etc.?) Do I consider that my failings and sins are not that important? That repentance is not so hard or that God will “beat” me with only a few stripes and then all will be well? Am I deluded, thinking that the mercy of God can rob His justice?

Church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6): Am I a hypocrite? Do I say one thing and do (or feel) another? Do I present a spiritual face to foster/maintain my own glory and reputation? Do I criticize others for the very sins that I commit in secret? Do I claim that worldly success witnesses God’s favor and my good standing in His eyes? Do I look down upon those who are not as blessed as I; even to consider them unworthy of God’s (or my) help/association? In the words of Anne: Am I “deluded by the importance of status symbols of wealth and power and success and spiritual maturity”? (p. 54)

Church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13): Am I one who waits patiently on the Lord (as He tutors me in the trials of faith, hope, and charity)? One who keeps the Word of God (because I know it)? One who does not deny His name (because I confess Him and seek His forgiveness for my sins and failings), even when I feel without strength? Do I know He opens doors for me that none can shut; and shuts doors that none can open? Do I know that He is, was, and will forever be holy and true? Do I trust that in the great cataclysms to come (Rev. 4-22), He can be trusted to keep His every promise, whether I live or die?[3] Am I one who has no delusions about the wisdom, power, and majesty of God? Do I know He is my strength, my hope, my salvation?

Church of the Laodiceans (Rev. 3:14-22): Am I lukewarm in my commitments—lackadaisical in manifesting my love for God and my fellow beings? Am I more committed to my own schedule and agenda than God’s voice and purposes? Am I rich, increased in goods, having need of nothing (except perhaps more of the excess that I already have)? Do I take pride in being self-sufficient? Am I convinced that I am doing everything right? That whatever service I give is more than sufficient? Do I watch for personal advantage more than for signs of the times? As Anne concludes: Am I “deluded by the importance of [my]self” ? (p. 54)

Six of the seven churches were rebuked, chastened, and warned (Rev. 3:19). All seven were given promises.[3] What will it take for me to find myself in the company of those who overcome?[3]

[1] And what does God say about the consequences of that imbalance? See Rev. 2:5: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”
[2] Numbers 22-24; 31:16; Pet. 2:15; Jude 1:11. Also see Louis Ginzberg’s The Legends of the Jews, vol. 3:381 and The Book of Jasher, p. 92, v.6 which details Balaam’s advice on how to set the children of Israel up for destruction (the reversal of God’s blessings) through enticing them into idolatry and fornication.
[3] > He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
> He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. (Revelation 2:11)
> He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. (Revelation 2:17)
>And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 2:26-29)
>He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:5-6)
>Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:12-13)
>To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:21-22)