Revelation 2:12-17 - Dear Church, p. 3
And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The little nation of Greece is the third largest Olive Oil producer in the world - producing 800 million pounds of the product each year from its 150 million olive trees.
If you are doing the math - each healthy tree accounts for about 5 and ⅓ pounds of oil each year. Not a lot of oil in an olive!
But the most famous of Greece’s olive trees, produces considerably less than it’s younger counterparts. In fact, some years it doesn’t produce any fruit at all.
It is the tree of Hippocrates: the oldest tree on the planet… believed to be 2,400 years old!
As you can see in the photo, it is a rather grotesque tree - Its trunk is HUGE, but completely hollow… little more than thick bark. There are a few long, scraggly branches, but their weight jeopardizes the health of the tree - so every few feet they are propped up by sturdy wooden poles. The tree has very few leaves and only produces a handful of olives each year. While in the fields surrounding it are olive trees in every direction – strong, healthy, young with a bounty of fresh fruit.
Though the tree of Hippocrates can still be CALLED an “olive tree,” it has long since ceased to fulfill the purpose for which it was created. Tourists come from all over to take photos of this ancient relic with a once glorious history… but truthfully - it has outlived its purpose.
There are a lot of churches like the tree of Hippocrates...
...empty relics of a bygone era. It has been YEARS since they did what God created them to do.
Many, it seems, are so preoccupied with what they once WERE – that they have no purpose in the present or vision for the future… cleaving to memories of former greatness – doing LITTLE to advance the mission of Christ today.
Extravagant, empty buildings. Sadly, way too many have outlived their usefulness. I’m not hatin’… just statin.’
How should the church respond to this reality? Given the fact that so many churches are ‘drying up on the vine,’ WHAT should we do?
Well, SOME have sought to make the church more “relevant to the culture,” by focusing on entertaining crowds instead of evangelizing them.
- Worship is now about fog machines, light shows, and performers on stage.
- Pastors run these massive churches like CEOs of a “Fortune 500” company.
- Sprawling compasses with large, professional staffs.
- “Hip” churches that feel more like a Starbucks or a Comedy Club than a place of worship.
But I have a question:
When does “cool” become - - worldly?? Where do we draw the line???
For instance, there is a church in St. Louis that has become so focused on getting crowds that they have even resorted to inviting people to the local brewery to sample their favorite intoxicating beverage, while they sit down and discuss everything from current events to God.
And their approach has proven QUITE successful too – people come from all over for these “beer samplings” that would NEVER darken the doors of a traditional church.
“Their success,” they argue, “makes their methodology acceptable…” It’s a matter of ‘what works.’ The thinking goes, “as long as the church grows, it doesn’t matter HOW they are doing it.”
Some call that “edgy.” I call it “worldly.” And their retort would be, that I “have chosen death by traditionalism.”
If you study religion in America, you will see whole denominations following their lead, forsaking their conservative moorings in an effort to become “relevant” once again…
… becoming LIKE the world in order to “REACH” the world.
BUT - must it be an “either - or” situation? (1) ‘death by traditionalism - OR - (2) Growth by worldliness???
Interestingly, this is not a new struggle for the Church. The church at Pergamos found itself struggling with the pressure to conform to societal norms in an effort to be popular. Rather than lead cultural change, they were caving to the pressure of society. Though there WERE a FEW in the church that resisted this pull, the vast majority had chosen worldliness over holiness.
The Lord had something personal to say about their approach to ministry. His message is particularly relevant to ANY church wanting to grow today.
There are three things I want you to notice:
1. First - the Faithful Christians in this Church in v. 13, “I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”
There were those faithful few who had remained loyal to Christ and His Word in spite of Satanic attack. The great truths of the faith -
- the Virgin Birth
- the Lord’s miraculous life
- atoning death
- bodily resurrection,
- his ascension and soon return
were still being taught by that faithful few. All was not lost. Though the situation was dire, there remained a faithful remnant who refused to yield ground to the overwhelming tide of liberalism sweeping through this church.
I am glad our church and our denomination has remained faithful these many years to the fundamental teachings of the Bible! Since our denomination began there have been many cultural changes, but our message has NOT. Our forefathers gathered in worship of the name of Jesus… they believed the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. They encouraged Christian growth and discipleship… they spent their resources and time promoting the faith and changing the world – and for all these years, our mission has remained the same. Many generations have been promoted to glory, but STILL our church stands as a beacon of truth in troubling times!!
But our world IS changing. And many young Christian leaders are convinced that the church needs to keep up. Denominations with a glorious history of heralding the gospel are caving one by one to the pressures of a post-Christian society.
Our Lord’s message to the church at Pergamos is a reminder: only a fool would compromise God’s truth to satisfy the changing winds of the times. The mission of the church is lost when the message of the church is compromised.
2. But after showing us the Faithful Christians in this church, Jesus then speaks of the False Creeds in this church in vv. 14 and 15, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”
In addressing the error being taught in this church,
Jesus mentions the Doctrine of Balaam by name. The story of Balaam comes from the OT book of Numbers.
Balaam was NOT a member of the family of God, but was none-the-less regarded as something of a prophet. He was hired by King Balak to pronounce a curse on the people of God as they traveled through his land on their journey to the Promised Land.
Four times Balaam tried to curse God’s people – and four times God turned that curse into a blessing.
I love the fact that our God OFTEN turns curses into blessings!
Fearing the wrath of the king, Balaam advised King Balak to attack Israel from another angle. He told the king that the best way to destroy Israel wouldn’t be through war - but through compromise. Instead of attacking them, Balaam advised the king to befriend them, and thus ROB them of their uniqueness.
The more time Israel associated with the idol worshippers and sexually immoral in the land, the more apt they would be to participate in those sins.
So as Israel roamed in the desert, Balak would have other nations enter peace treaties with them. Soon, the Jews would begin to marry those from other nations… and before long, this once “peculiar people” would be living just like the world around them. They would meet their ruin - - through compromise.
According to Jesus, the same had taken place in the church at Pergamos – they had become like the world. Like many so-called “Christians” today – they wanted to add a little Jesus to their lives WITHOUT subtracting sin. They believed that they could live for the Lord on Sunday, and be like the world the rest of the week. And because of this, they were in danger of being rejected by Christ.
That’s still a problem… and the advent of social media only exacerbates the problem: Christian folks posting pictures of fleshly things, ‘liking’ sinful stuff, destroying their Christian testimony! And beyond that - we think we can do things in secret OR pretend to be something we are not - and we think God is OK with that.
Jesus called them to a decision – either break away from the world or break away from the church – you can’t have it both ways.
The clarion call for the people of God has always been - “Choose you this day whom you will serve…” Christianity is not a one-day-a-week religion – but an everyday lifestyle encompassing all that we are and all that we do.
THEN Jesus mentions the Doctrine of the Nicolaitans; a people who taught that the church must conform to culture… rather than CHALLENGE and CHANGE it. Not only to make daily life in a pagan society easier, but also to make Christianity more desirable. The idea, was, in order to REACH them, you must be more tolerant. Since following the scriptures made the church less appealing to the world, the Nicolaitans promoted an easy - casual Christianity...
But gaining the favor of the world meant that they would lose the favor of Jesus. The Lord said, “I hate the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” Yes, this One known for His incredible LOVE - said that He HATES this distortion of the Gospel. Whenever a church seeks to please man at the expense of truth, it will come at a great cost.
Like the church at Pergamos, today’s church has become more tolerant of sinful behavior. People who live in sin can sit in a church today without ever hearing that their choices are WRONG… and if they DO - they will just go down the street to the next church that never says anything about their sin. Doctrine is being compromised, we are becoming more permissive, and the once bright light of the Gospel is growing dim. The modern church has given IN to the culture instead of confronting it, and preachers are seeking to make it fashionable to be a “Christian” once again.
As a result, churches are nothing more than glorified social clubs. There was ONCE a time when you could easily tell if a person was a Christian – but no longer. We GO to the same places, TALK like them, DRESS like them. Hence, society is on the fast-track to destruction, and the church no longer stands in its way.
Many modern churches now cater to rather than CONFRONT worldly, so called, “Christians.” The fastest growing churches in America are those which have bought into this permissive, EASY GRACE.
The False Creeds of the Church.
3. And finally, after referring to the Faithful Christians and the False Creeds of this church,
our Lord then speaks of the Fearful Crisis in the Church. Listen to v. 16, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth...
Two statements of Jesus are of particular interest:
First, He insists that they ‘REPENT!’ That word doesn’t mean “be sorry,” it means “to change directions!” If they refuse to change directions, Jesus will
“come to (them) … and war against them with the sword of (His) mouth.”
What THEY had perceived as “success,” had made them repulsive to the Lord.
How could a church stray so far from its conservative heritage? The same way it happens today – one compromise at a time. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can live like the world and still go to heaven.
But the Lord demands change. He would not tolerate their sins. He had called them OUT of the World – which is what the word “Church” means - ekkleysia - “the called-out-ones.” Should they turn from their worldly ways, THEN He would bless – should they remain in their sin, THEN He would fight against them.
Some of you are there now - fighting against Jesus. You don’t understand WHY your spiritual life has dried up, Why your joy, your peace is gone.
Understand, folks, we can’t just add a little “Jesus” to a sinful life and make it right. We can’t just come to church on Sunday and live like the world the rest of the week and be OK. It might make us more popular to compromise – when we sit around and talk with our friends it may make that brand of “Christianity” less offensive. But remember, on judgment day it won’t be one of your friends deciding your fate.
I wonder, if Jesus assessed US, if He wrote us a personal letter, would He call US to repent?
Are WE guilty of creating our own “relaxed-fit” -“EASY BUTTON” Christianity - watering down holiness so that people no longer feel shame about the things they are doing that offend the Lord?
So… WHAT are the ‘takeaways???’
- Many churches have become irrelevant clinging to traditionalism - and the Lord is not pleased with that. If we hold to our traditions like we do the Bible - we’ve got a HUGE problem and we deserve to die.
- But we dare not “soften” the truth to be more acceptable to our sinful culture.
- Worldly Christians are killing the church!
At the risk of sounding UNCOOL - God hasn’t changed His requirements just because the world, or certain parts of the church, condones sin. The Lord demands REPENTANCE!
In the beginning of the sermon I asked an important question: Given the fact that so many churches are ‘drying up on the vine,’ WHAT should we do?
I tell you what we should do ⇒ Repent! Or it will happen to us too.
And we have the opportunity to do that right now.