Q: I attend a church that is in transition. The main goal of those involved with the politics of it is to keep the doors open no matter what. My question is, is this the right emphasis?
A: I appreciate your question. There are many churches struggling and going through transition in America. Some are on life support, as only one or two people are keeping the doors open, some are limping along due to the sacrifice and loyalty of a few committed saints, and sadly, even a few end up closing their doors.
It is a tragedy when the doors of a church close, but it is obvious that in Revelation 2-3, Jesus’ main emphasis was not keeping the physical doors of the church open in regard to the seven churches, but ensuring the quality of their testimonies. He was quite clear that the lampstand of the church would be taken away if the light of each church’s testimony failed to stand according to the light of their high calling.
This brings us to an important aspect of what constitutes the real Church of Jesus Christ. The real church is not made up of buildings but people. The biggest church in the world is one that has grown underground and the fastest growing church is the one that is experiencing grave persecution. It is important to point out that when it comes to God’s kingdom, He counts souls and not bodies in a pew.
Let us consider the example of the seven churches in Revelation, but before I go any further on this subject, I need to make something clear. I am not here to debate about the spiritual heart condition of the people in the churches, whether they are saved or not, for only God can judge such a matter. I do not care if each church in Revelation represents a different dispensational period in relationship to the Church age we live in. What I am concerned with is what Jesus said to them and why.
The excessive debates that go on over a simple mention of some Scripture or doctrine are unprofitable. Sadly, most of the debates we get into have nothing to do with whether a matter is truth, but whether Scripture personally applies to the individual. In fact, there appears to be an actual divorcement of some Christians from considering how the Lord Jesus looks at a situation. As followers of Christ it should be our first priority to come to an understanding of Jesus’ attitude towards a matter (Philippians 2:5). If He has any concern, we need to take it to heart, and properly apply any examples, instructions, and warnings that have been set Scripturally before us. The issues of righteousness and godliness are not matters of debate, but of faith—faith as to whether we believe what God says is true and properly apply those truths to our Christian walk.
The Bible tells us that we are to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). We are to rightly divide the Word of truth for the Bible gives us various examples as to what is right, instructions in righteousness, and exhorts us to walk in the ways of godliness (1 Corinthians 10:1-6; 1 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Timothy 2:15-16; 3:15-17). The truth is that the challenges the seven churches faced is still as prevalent today as it was in their particular day. Nothing is really happening that is new under the sun.
When you consider what Jesus’ main concern was about the seven churches, it was not keeping the doors of the buildings open; rather, it was challenging the people to keep the doors of their hearts open to humbly accept His rebuke, receive His instruction, properly deal with His complaints against them and warnings for them, and repent if necessary (Revelation 3:20). These seven churches clearly show us what is important to Jesus, who is the sole Head of the Church and the One who will bless a local church or withdraw His presence from it. If the light of His Spirit is not present in a local church, it will not be effective in standing as a viable testimony in and to the community as a witness.
It is also clear that Jesus did not die for buildings; rather, He died for people, for you and me. It is also obvious that according to Acts 2:47 that the Lord is the one who grows His Church, not man. He must ordain a matter in order to bless the work being done in His name. There must be vision and heart for the lost, and a living testimony and reflection of the Lord’s glory to ensure the local church does not serve as the Dead Sea where the only thing that counts are the people sitting in the pews. It must become a hospital where people can find spiritual healing for their souls (salvation), edification for their growth (discipleship), and be firmly established in their calling so that they are able to carry the torch in whatever harvest field they are led and called to (service). The Lord’s main concern is the well-being of our souls. When you consider Ephesus, this church appeared to be an exceptional body, but according to Jesus, the people of it had left their first love. When you leave your first love, you fail to keep the Lord the center of all you do.
In light of the second church, Smyrna, this body was experiencing persecution. Jesus’ main concern for the members is that they would be faithful unto death so He could give them a crown of life. It is clear that like the Apostle Paul, Christians need to faithfully finish the course set before them to ensure they receive the crown of life (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
For Pergamos, the people of this body had works and faithfulness, but they were becoming a stumbling block to others because they had an unholy mixture due to wrong doctrine. Jesus actually told the members of this church to repent because if they didn’t, He would fight against them.
The church of Thyatira had works, showed charity, was faithful in service, and had patience, but it was about to taste the Lord’s judgment. The members of this body allowed a false prophetess in their midst who was seductive and encouraged them to commit spiritual whoredom with that which was associated with idols. Jesus’ warning is that if they failed to repent and rid themselves of such defilement, they could expect great tribulation and there would be no future for their children.
The church of Sardis had works, but lacked any real life. They were not ready or prepared for any real visitation from Him. Even though much of the church was void of life, there was a remnant that had not defiled their garments, and was accounted as being worthy to walk with Him.
Philadelphia, the church whose name means “brotherly love” was commended for being faithful and keeping His Word, but they needed to hold fast their crown to ensure no man would take it away. Like the other churches, they had to overcome the trials of their environment in order to experience the promises awaiting them in the next age to come.
The final church is the Laodicean church. This church was worldly and lived in denial as to its spiritual poverty. The members were neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm and repulsive to the Lord. They were rendered ineffective by equating worldly abundance with God’s approval. They failed to test their spiritual fruit and had lost their edge to be affective in their Christian walk.
As you study where each these churches were located, you will realize it is now modern day Turkey. As many know, Turkey is now Muslim. The question is what happened to the light of the churches? Other than the example we have of them in Scripture, it appears that their candlestick has been removed.
Hebrews 12:1 talks about the great cloud of witnesses that have gone on before us. This witness was not established by groups of people, but by individuals who dared to walk by faith on the path set before them. They dared to trust God with the details of their life and risk all to gain Him as their portion, reward, and inheritance. They represent the remnant of those who, in their ordinary status, were used in extraordinary ways because of their faith.
It is clear that Jesus has a body, but it is also obvious that the body is made up of individuals who have the free will to decide how serious and committed they are going to be to Jesus Christ. It is also clear that if a church is going through transition and it desires God’s hand on it, it needs to seek the face of Jesus to know how He looks at its present condition. If there is something amiss, they must be quick to repent and right it.
Meanwhile, in every body, you will see different levels of commitment and growth causing various dynamics in a body that only the Lord can rightfully judge as being pleasing or displeasing to Him. However, the most telling statement the Lord made in relationship to those who would be found exceptional in their walk before Him was simple and to the point, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”