What Kind of Church Are You Going To?
By Edwin Christiaan
This might be a good question. The church, or Body of Christ, today is split and fractured into literally countless denominations, fellowships, associations, and the like. Many of them will not allow fellowship with a brother or sister from another church or denomination. I know many of God’s people, especially pastors and ministers, who tend to be very judgmental and look down their noses at others who do not belong to the same group as they do. They are proud and arrogant like the Pharisee who thanked God that he was “not like everyone else.” (See Luke 18:9-14) Too many are prone to “judge their brother” because of doctrinal errors on minor points (or what some might call “major points”), when they themselves have major problems with attitudes, hidden sins, and a wrong spirit.
The first three chapters of the book of Revelation in the Bible are written as letters to various churches in Asia Minor, warning them against their specific sins and shortcomings.
Historians typically interpret these seven churches as representing seven different periods in the history of the Church from the time of the apostle Paul until the return of Jesus Christ.
Personally, I believe, that these seven churches were seven actual churches, and that the messages written in the letters were designed for the original congregations, as well as generally throughout the ages, and chronologically through seven major periods of church history.
These prophetic messages to the seven churches are timeless. The problems, sins, temptations, promises, and blessings are all still issues that we wrestle with today. The Spirit is still making the plea today for those who “have an ear” to hear what Jesus Christ is saying to the churches. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7 NLT)
Most of the messages to these seven churches follow a similar format (with Smyrna and Philadelphia being the exception to this rule). Jesus Christ addresses each of the churches in a particular way as He finds areas of strength, virtue, and commendation to reinforce and encourage the churches. He will then talk about the negative aspects of the church and the various sins each is guilty of, like that of idolatry, false teaching, apathy, and immorality. He then pleads with each church to repent of their sinful deeds. Then the churches are faced with the choice of a blessing or a curse. For the “overcomers,” there are great promises of reward and blessings. Consequently, for the unrepentant, there is the promise of sure judgment, both temporal and eternal. One theme that you begin to see is the great love that Jesus Christ has for His churches and for His servants. Even despite their sins, failures, and shortcomings, you see the outstretched arms of a loving Savior. Rather than leaving each church to their own devices, Jesus intervenes to warn them of impending danger.
Let’s see what Jesus Christ is saying in the letters about these seven churches and the similarities you might find with the kind of church you are going to. In general, two of the seven churches were very good – Smyrna and Philadelphia; two were very bad – Sardis and Laodicea; and three were in-between, a mixture of good and bad – Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira.
Starting with the first church in the line of seven, this church is in Ephesus, an influential capital city of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea. Ephesus is now known for its huge metropolis of ancient streets, arches, and ruins.
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.” Revelation 2:2-6 NLT
The Ephesus church was once a congregation who was on fire and in love with God. It was a church who did not tolerate evil people. But the fervent desire to please God, the passion to know Jesus Christ and His Word, ultimately gave way to formal, cool worship, and religious dogma. The devotion and enthusiasm for God faded away, and a church once on fire for God became a compromising church conforming to the world around them. The church began drifting, replacing light with darkness, zeal with fine church buildings, and freedom of the Spirit with formality and form. It was all so subtle, undercover, but gradually the influence of Satan took over. Over time, the church at Ephesus was totally corrupted. They forgot their first love. The only way back into God’s grace was via the route of deep, sincere, earnest repentance!
One thing in their favor, they hated the teachings of the Nicolaitans – the followers of Nicholas.
The Nicolaitans were church elders and leaders who taught authority, and stressed ministerial authority, ruling over the flock like tyrants, threatening members with ex-communication, and abusing them whenever they felt they were not properly honored and glorified and meekly submitted to by the flock. In other words, the key was subjection of the people, which also included access to the people’s tithes and money. They organized the church by human government, calling it the “government of God.” They made it sound good, calling it “democracy,” as they appointed boards and committees. They ruled the church like an army with various ranks in the ministry, patterned after the military in many cases. The ministers set themselves in ranks over each other, one over another giving themselves titles. Ministers began to be called “father,” “your holiness,” “reverend,” “bishop,” and “most reverend.” Thus, rank consciousness entered the church with much bowing and scraping.
Once these ministers acquire the “authority,” they can lead the flock wherever they want to, and the flock dutifully follows, meekly and without argument. They are taught to “follow God’s church,” right or wrong, or “follow Pastor so-and-so, right or wrong!” It is assumed by them that he cannot be wrong since he is “chosen” by God, or because he is “an apostle” or “a prophet” chosen by God. This Nicolaitan doctrine corrupted the church and led it astray, while men sought political power among themselves, competing with each other in different church organizations. Human government in the church is politics, plain and simple. In God’s eyes, it is an abomination!
“And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” 1. Peter 5:1-5 NLT
But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” Matthew 20:25-27 NLT
“Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:8-12 NLT
God’s true government is always based on His written Word, the Scriptures, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and will never come from human origin.
The second church was Smyrna, located north of Ephesus in a powerful trading center on the Aegean Sea known for its harbors, commerce, and marketplaces. The primary ruins of Smyrna are located in the modern Turkish city of Izmir.
“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:9-10 NLT
The church of Smyrna had no material wealth and was relatively small. It had been suffering persecution by a great number of professing “Christian” churches, who had forsaken Jewish and Biblical practices and laws such as Passover observance and Sabbath keeping, and instead adopted pagan practices. They were false brethren from the synagogue of Satan, who looked down upon these Smyrna Christians. They were violently attacked, imprisoned, and martyred.
The “ten days” of suffering or affliction mentioned in the above scripture refers to the ten years of persecution and affliction upon the church during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan, who ruled from A.D. 98 to 117. He considered Christianity an illegal religion because Christians refused to take part in emperor worship. The church was looked upon as a secret society, and when Christians were found, they were severely punished and even killed. The Smyrna church was willing to pay the price for being true, faithful, unto death followers of Jesus Christ.
The next church was found in Pergamum, which is located on the plains and foothills along the Caicus River in Western Turkey. It was considered a major city in Asia Minor since the third century BC and became a Greek and Roman hub for temple worship.
“I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city. “But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Revelation 2:13-16 NLT
This church was loyal to God even in the midst of persecution, but it had some serious flaws which they needed to repent of. They tolerated false teachings like that of Balaam, the false prophet who attempted to defeat the children of Israel as they came out of Egypt, by encouraging Israel’s enemies to seduce them through sex and festivals of immorality, causing God to turn His back on them. (See Numbers chapters 22 to 24)
Surrounded by this kind of culture, the church of Pergamum suffered from constant temptation and a spirit of compromise, as these false teachings and heathen idol worshiping practices kept infiltrating the church. Idol worship and sexual compromise are rampant among churches today. Fornication, adultery, and homosexuality have become common practices among Christians. Many churchgoers like to have their crosses, crucifixes, icons, images of various “saints,” movie stars, actresses, pop stars and rock and roll musicians and sports figures. It is all a form of idolatry. And among some of the churches nowadays, many virtually worship a so-called mighty “man of God”; his memory, his personality, his charisma; and will follow him “right or wrong,” as they put him on a pedestal.
Next in line would be the church of Thyatira, which is located in western Asia Minor about 42 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. The ancient city was known for its textiles and dyeing trade and is now known as the Turkish city of Akhisar.
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.
“But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.
“Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.
“But I also have a message for the rest of you in Thyatira who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them—depths of Satan, actually). I will ask nothing more of you except that you hold tightly to what you have until I come.”
Revelation 2:19-25 NLT
The Thyatira church was noted for its “love, faith, service and patience,” but like the Pergamum church, they were tolerating false teachers in their midst! This congregation followed a seductive woman referred to as “a Jezebel,” who called herself a prophetess, as she rebelled and defied the Word of God as the apostle Paul writes, “Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.” (1. Timothy 2:11-13 NLT)
This “Jezebel” woman controlled the Thyatira church in a militant and diabolical fashion, using subtle teachings and seduction. Because of her, the people began to compromise their values and beliefs.
Thyatira was famous for its magnificent temple to Artemis, another name for Diana, a goddess the original Queen Jezebel of Israel (1. Kings 16:29-33) was a strong devotee and worshiper of. Artemis/Diana is also called Astarte, Isis, Ishtar, Venus, Aphrodite, and Easter. Jezebel came from Tyre in Phoenicia and was a daughter of Ethbaal, who was the head priest of Astarte and the King of Tyre. She grew up as a highly devoted Astarte priestess, skilled in the pagan arts and the sorcery practices of Baalism. Tyre was also the “birthplace” of the goddess Astarte, so when Jezebel came to Israel to marry King Ahab, she proudly introduced and enforced the worship of Astarte and Astarte’s god-“husband” Baal to the Israelites by erecting temples to worship Astarte-Venus and Baal-Zeus, the sun-god, and by hosting elaborate sexual festivals in the gods’ honor. Queen Jezebel kept her own Baal prophets and persecuted and killed the prophets of God.
Not all the members in the church of Thyatira were guilty of compromising like the ones who were cleaving to the false teachings of the “Jezebel”-woman. Those who did not follow the “deeper truth” teachings were warned to hold tightly to the truth.
The fifth church was in Sardis, which is located on the banks of the Pactolus River in western Asia Minor, sixty miles inland from Ephesus and Smyrna. Popular ruins include decadent temples and bath house complexes.
“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.
Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”
Revelation 3:1-4 NLT
The Sardis church had fallen asleep, and therefore it was as good as dead. Like many churches today, the Sardis church was a powerless, unspiritual, uneventful, boring, and ineffective church that totally forgot God’s commission that says:
“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.” Mark 16:15-18 NLT
Fortunately, there were some true believers in the Sardis church who refused to go along with the rest of the dead bunch.
The next church is called the church of brotherly love, located in Philadelphia on the Cogamis River in western Asia Minor, about eighty miles east of Smyrna. Philadelphia was known for its variety of temples and worship centers.
“This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open. “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love. “Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.” Revelation 3:7-11 NLT
The Philadelphia church was small, humble, and faithful to the Word of God. It demonstrated the love of Christ in the midst of a corrupt and pagan society without compromise.
The Philadelphia church was not the type of church who, like many of the usual churches nowadays, uses organizational profiles and business managerial methods in order to maximize dollars and income. In other words, these modern churches are running the church like a corporate business. The Philadelphia church followed instead the pastoral model set by God’s apostles, which is the method of prayer and dependency on God in faith.
There is not a word of critique, but rather encouragement from God to this church. God had strongly warned the churches of Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis against the sin of compromising.
The Philadelphia church was routinely sneered at, ignored, ridiculed, and attacked by the “synagogue of Satan.” These were branches of the church which had given themselves over to satanic influence, teachings, and a spirit of competition. God encourages the Philadelphia church to realize that His approval is all that counts and not prestige, money, or membership numbers.
This is the church that in the end times will restore much of the Biblical truth and understanding and knowledge of the commandments of God. It will disprove the heretics and compromisers, who claim to teach the full Gospel of God, and yet refuse to live according to God’s Word. It will teach the truth about the Godhead, the true relationship between the Father and the Son of God. It will be an example of restoration and revival of the truth of God.
The Philadelphia church is known as a church of love and affection, and not one who is puffed up with pride and who compares itself with others. It has learned to pray with patience and endurance, waiting patiently for God’s expected answers. It seeks only to serve God, and feed and take care of His flock and proclaim His wonderful true Gospel message of salvation and hope and the kingdom of God.
Do you know a church that really fits this description today?
The seventh and last church I am addressing was in the city of Laodicea, which is located in the Lycus River Valley of western Asia Minor, a primary trade route between the cultures of the West and East. Laodicea was known as a primary hub for the Roman aqueduct system.
“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
Revelation 3:15-20 NLT
The Laodicean church was amazingly lukewarm. It had all the problems of the previous churches, only compounded and magnified. This is the only church of the seven that rebelliously speaks back to God; “I am rich,” it boasts. They were arrogant and proud, lacking in humility and the fear of God. They had a form of religion without God’s love, mercy, and faith – a dangerous mix.
They were rich, but they neglected the poor, the widows, and the orphans among them. They had a large bankroll, but they were spiritually bankrupt.
This church says, “I don’t need a thing.” It believes it has all the truth. It is unteachable and uncorrectable. It is “full,” complacent, and has that “satisfied” feeling. It isn’t striving to seek God, to seek the His Holy Spirit, more of His divine power, and a closer walk with the Savior Jesus Christ. It has no spiritual power, no hunger, and no true love.
This church is “wretched.” In the Greek, this word is talaiporos, and literally means “enduring trial” – in effect meaning it was a constant, never-ending trial to God. It is also translated as “miserable.” The Webster’s Dictionary defines “wretched” as meaning “grievous, deeply afflicted, woeful, hatefully contemptible, despicable, and very poor in quality.”
The Laodicean church needed real cleansing, inside and out. It is blind to its own condition, and yet it is arrogant and prideful and will hear nothing, listen to no rebuke, and take no correction. It is a depressing, sad church.
It is unfortunate and sad that the majority of end-time Christians can be compared to this ancient Laodicea church; they are neither hot nor cold!
They say in their hearts that they are spiritually rich, wealthy, and need nothing, everything is going very well for them, or so they think. But in reality, they are wretched, miserable, poor, and naked, and yet they don’t even realize it. Why? Because they are absolutely blind to their own spiritual condition. They often rant and rave, accusing one another, but remaining in total denial of Biblical truth!
The seven letters to the seven churches contain God’s warning messages to His people to prepare their hearts, their minds, and their character for the perilous times that are coming. God corrects those He loves. He points out our faults, so we understand what needs to be changed. Then He offers to come in and change us if we open the door of our hearts. In the months and years ahead, severe persecution such as we have never seen, is going to break out against all true Christian churches, which will be termed “cults” and “bizarre sects” by the mass media, under the control of government propagandists. The true Christians will be persecuted vigorously, even before the “Great Tribulation” ever arrives! Now is the time to make up your mind and ask yourselves whether you are truthfully and wholeheartedly following and obeying Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and what kind of church you are going to? Again:
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” Revelation 3:13 NLT
Copyright©2011 Edwin & Sophia Christiaan