As a congregation that comes from a historical movement to restore what the New Testament reveals about the Church, we have a drive to be more like the early church. When we read through Acts, we get a picture of a vibrant body striving to be what Christ has called us to be. But when we read through some of the letters to individual communities, we start to see that even the early church was pretty messy.
As we continue to read and study through just chapters two and three of Revelation, we start to see similarities with the modern church. If we want to be more like the early church – take a deep breath – we are. Consider the struggles of the churches to whom Jesus dictates letters in Revelation:
- It’s too easy to do the right things without love, and God can’t stand that (Revelation 2:2-4).
- It’s too easy to remain faithful to Christ as an individual and permit unfaithfulness within the church, and God can’t stand that (Revelation 2:13-16).
- It’s too easy to do more and more good things and tolerate false teaching and practice, and God can’t stand that (Revelation 2:19-23).
- It’s too easy to have an appearance of life in Christ but to be dead inside, and God can’t stand that (Revelation 3:2-4).
- It’s too easy to take confidence in things of the world and be indifferent to the things of God, and God can’t stand that (Revelation 3:15-18).
Sounds like an article straight from Christianity Today, doesn’t it? The problem, it seems, is that the Church often focuses on the blessings God promises but ignores the responsibilities of faithfulness: love, unity, humility, and obedience.
The struggle between faithfulness and compromise for the modern church is quite the same as it was for the early church, and it boils down to selfishness. That attitude is revealed not only in “what I want” but also in “what I believe.” If the Church cannot submit itself to God’s authority and the authority of the Scriptures, it will continue to slide away from faithfulness into compromise. Unfortunately, the widespread decline of biblical literacy within the Church makes Satan’s original temptation, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1), all that more effective, as too many Christians just don’t know what God really said. So when the Church becomes indifferent to God’s Word, the Church slides further into compromise with a greater appetite for consumer-driven activity.
Frankly, that’s the same attraction that drives the relatively new perspective of Revelation that focuses on the second coming of Christ and what is to come after rather than being faithful until that blessed moment. Far too many Christians focus on the signs and happenings, often the sensational images made more sensational by books and movies, rather than their own faithfulness. The early church didn’t look to Revelation as a step-by-step guide to the end times; instead, suffering Christians looked to this letter from Jesus as a note of encouragement from the One who suffered it all first and who wanted them to keep on keeping on through it all. We should do the same.
How do I know that Jesus is more concerned about us keeping the faith despite suffering and temptations of selfishness than beasts, bowls, trumpets, and dragons? Read the letters in chapters two and three again. Over and over again, after warning and commending the churches (the Church), Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Jesus knows our suffering and the suffering yet to come; he also knows that we are able to overcome it because he has already overcome it. If you’re looking for that kind of comfort and strength, you’ll find it in God’s Word, even (especially?) in Revelation.