Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Seven Ages of the Church?

How many layers of application might John's Letters to the Seven Churches1 have? After a recent encounter with a 1919 book, there appears to be at least four, being application:
1. to the original seven churches;
2. to individual men and women in every age (including in our capacity as stewards / leaders / servants);
3. to individual congregations;
4. as a prophetic outline of the Church ages from Apostle John to the present day.
I explored application two in a 2011 post titled: Which Church? (Questions for the latter-day believer),2 but this past week I encountered the "prophetic view of the Church" in Rev. Clarence Larkin's 1919 book, The Book of Revelation, wherein he states:
[Revelation] chapters two and three, must be a description or prophetic outline of the "Spiritual History" of the Church from the time when John wrote the Book in A. D. 96, down to the taking out of the Church, or else we have no "prophetic view" of the Church during that period, for she disappears from the earth at the close of chapter three, and is not seen again until she reappears with her Lord in chapter nineteen.3
Larkin describes and dates the seven Church periods / ages as:
I. The Church At Ephesus (A Backslidden Church.) Rev. 2: 1-7.
    70–170 A.D.
II. The Church At Smyrna (A Persecuted Church.) Rev. 2: 8-11.
     170–312 A.D.
III. The Church at Pergamos (A Licentious Church.) Rev. 2: 12-17.
       312–606 A.D.
IV. The Church at Thyatira (A Lax Church.) Rev. 2: 18-29.
       606–1520 A.D.
V. The Church at Sardis (A Dead Church.) Rev. 3: 1-6.
     1520–1750 A.D.
VI. The Church at Philadelphia (A Favored Church.) Rev. 3: 7-13.
       1750–1900 A.D.
VII. The Church at Laodicea (A Lukewarm Church.) Rev. 3: 14-22.
        1900–present A.D.

Larkin further explains and cautions:
This interpretation of the "Messages to the Seven Churches" was hidden to the early Church, because time was required for Church History to develop and be written, so a comparison could be made to reveal the correspondence. If it had been clearly revealed that the Seven Churches stood for "Seven Church Periods" that would have to elapse before Christ could come back, the incentive to watch would have been absent.
While the character of these Seven Churches is descriptive of the Church during seven periods of her history, we must not forget that the condition of those churches, as described, were their exact condition in John's day. So we see that at the close of the First Century the leaven of "False Doctrine" was at work in the Churches. The churches are given in the order named, because the peculiar characteristic of that Church applied to the period of Church History to which it is assigned. It also must not be forgotten, that, that which is a distinctive characteristic of each Church Period, does not disappear with that Period, but continues on down through the next Period, and so on until the end, thus increasing the imperfections of the visible Church, until it ends in an open Apostasy, ..."4
Larkin's observations about all seven ages and their regressive, cumulative nature are thought-provoking and worthy of study. And as we are, allegedly, in Period VII, I include a few of his Period VII observations:
Our churches today are largely in this "lukewarm" condition. There is very little of warm-hearted spirituality. There is much going on in them, but it is largely mechanical and of a social character. Committees, societies, and clubs are multiplied, but there is an absence of "spiritual heat." Revival meetings are held, but instead of waiting on the Lord for power, evangelists and paid singers are hired and soul winning is made a business. The cause of this "lukewarmness" is the same as that of the Church of Laodicea--Self-Deception.5

The Church at Laodicea was not burdened with debt, but it was burdened with WEALTH.6

The trouble with the Church of Laodicea was that its "Gold" was not of the right kind, and so it was counseled to buy of the Lord "gold tried in the fire." What kind of gold is that? It is gold that has no taint upon it. Gold that is not cankered, or secured by fraud, or the withholding of a just wage. What a description we have of these Laodicean days in James 5: 1-4. But the Church of Laodicea was not only poor, though rich, it was blind. Or to put it more accurately--" Near-Sighted." They could see their worldly prosperity, but were "Short-Sighted" as to heavenly things, so the Lord counseled them to anoint their eyes with "Eye-Salve." Their merchants dealt in ointments and herbs of a high degree of healing virtue, but they possessed no salve that would restore impaired Spiritual Vision, only the Unction of the Holy One could do that.7

Then a most startling revelation was made to the Church of Laodicea, Christ said--
"Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock."
These words are generally quoted as an appeal to sinners, but they are not, they are addressed to a Church, and to a Church in whose midst Christ had once stood, but now found Himself excluded and standing outside knocking for admittance. This is the most startling thing recorded in the New Testament, that it is possible for a church to be outwardly prosperous and yet have no Christ in its midst, and be unconscious of the fact. This is a description of a Christless Church. Oh, the EXCLUDED CHRIST.
Excluded from His own nation, for they Rejected Him; excluded from the world, for it Crucified Him; excluded from His Church, for He stands outside its door Knocking for Entrance. How did Christ come to be outside the Church? He had been within it once or there never would have been a Church. How did He come to leave? It is clear that they had not thrust Him out, for they do not seem to have missed His presence. They continued to worship Him, to sing His praises, and engage in all manner of Christian service, yet He had withdrawn. Why? The reason is summed up in one word--Worldliness.
But how is Christ to get back into His Church? Does it require the unanimous vote or invitation of the membership? No. "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." That is the way to revive a lukewarm church is for the individual members to open their hearts and let Christ re-enter, and thus open the door for His reappearance. The character of the Church today is Laodicean, and as the Laodicean Period is to continue until the Church of the "New-Born" is taken out, we cannot hope for any great change until the Lord comes back.8
Could there be anything in Larkin's 1919 observations to provoke our 2020 self-reflection? our self-awareness? our repentance?

All bold emphasis has been added.  

1. New Testament | Revelation 2–3
2. https://dejavu-timestwo.blogspot.com/2011/08/which-church.html
3. Larkin, Rev Clarence. The Book of Revelation (Kindle Locations 453-456). Kindle Edition.  Note however that Larkin does not seem to consider that the little horn of Old Testament | Daniel 7:8 and 8:9 may have a parallel in Revelation (lamb-like beast with two horns: exercising secular & religious powers? Rev. 13); thus the "Church" would not be left out of the intervening prophecy period between Rev. 3 & 19 as he sees it.
4. Ibid., (Kindle Locations 457-466).
5. Ibid., (Kindle Locations 675-679).
6. Ibid., (Kindle Location 689).
7. Ibid., (Kindle Locations 692-698).
8. Ibid., (Kindle Locations 701-716).