A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reflections on Revelation #4: Letters to Seven Churches (Continued)

The longest address is directed at the church of Thyatira. If Ephesus was the most important of the seven cities, Thyatira was the least among them. It was founded as a military outpost by Seleucis I. Like most of the other churches the risen Christ recognized their works, but like their brothers and sister in Pergamum, the Thyatiran Christians were culpable in gross accommodation with their surrounding pagan context. They must hold on and be faithful until the Second Coming; otherwise the consequences will be severe.

Of the seven churches, Sardis came under the harshest condemnation. The church's compromises with its pagan environment were apparently no cause for concern among the Christians there. It seemed untroubled by outside opposition, but that was likely because it had no trouble tolerating and perhaps even approving heresy and other things quite contrary to the gospel. They were living like pagans, so their "Christianity" was quite inoffensive, which led to the charge that they were spiritually dead. There remained a minority who had not compromised their faith, but the majority had fallen into such a severe state of compromise, that only confession and repentance could return their spiritual life and vitality to them.

Only the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia received unqualified praise from the risen Christ. The letter mentions that the Philadelphian Christians had little power suggesting that their congregation was quite small and, therefore, did not have much influence in the surrounding community. However, what was made clear was the tension between the Christians and the Jews of the city. It may be that the Jews objected to the Christians' claim to the religious heritage and identity and the inheritance of the people of God apart from the taking of the yoke of the Mosaic Law. The Christians are told to overcome and they will be made a pillar in the temple of God, an image that conveys stability and is an integral part of God's work. It also denotes God's acceptance of the Philadelphian Christians even though they are Gentiles.

The church at Laodicea is popularly referred to as the church of the end times by those who see the seven churches as representing seven ages of church history. This is primarily because the church in the West is seen by many today as a church that has seriously compromised the gospel. The problem with this view is that Laodicea is not the only church of the seven that are condemned for compromise, and even a superficial reading of church history reveals that the church has struggled with compromise from the beginning. This view also assumes that the most significant part of the world church today is to be found in Europe and North America. The church in Africa and Latin America and Asia is not in general decline nor has it fallen in love with the spirit of the age like many churches in North America and Europe. The church on the three continents of developing nations is currently exploding in growth and acting courageously in mission.

Laodicea was known as a city of medicine. It was quite famous for an eye-salve that was exported throughout the Roman Empire. So the irony cannot be missed that those Christians who gave healing to the eyes of so many were themselves spiritually blind. The most difficult problem for the population at Laodicea was an inadequate water source. Water was brought in through stone pipes from several miles away. Moreover, mineral-laden water from hot springs six miles north of the city flowed nearby. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it had cooled and was lukewarm. The minerals from the spring combined with the tepid temperature made the water quite difficult to drink. The risen Christ insists to the Laodiceans that their lukewarm faith is as nauseating to him as the tepid and disgusting water they would only drink if forced, but was only fit to be spit out on the ground.

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good thoughts, and I appreciate your perspective on this, Allan. Thanks.