“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Part 3 in a 7-part series on the Seven Churches in Revelation. PDF Handout.
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” (More)
MLK delivered a powerful sermon on July 4, 1965 entitled The American Dream. It included this paragraph:
You see, the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the imago dei, as it is expressed in Latin, the “image of God,” is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. (Yes) We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.
He concluded the sermon with this plea:
We open the doors of the church now. If someone needs to accept Christ, (Yes, sir) this is a marvelous opportunity, a great moment to make a decision. And as we sing together, we bid you come at this time by Christian experience, baptism, watch care. But come at this moment, become a part of this great Christian fellowship and accept Christ (Yes, sir) as your personal savior.
I especially like the sentence “we open the doors of the church now” in the final paragraph. He was probably speaking logistically. But to me it is a connection between his imago dei-based rights argument and the way that in Jesus there is unity.
I recently went to a Christian conference in Atlanta. It was my first exposure to Megachurch Culture. Coming from the Northeast, where I serve as a pastor of a 450 member church, I made some observations of what Meagachurch Culture loves.
Happily, after the skits, videos, more videos, and flashing lights, the message being preached was about Jesus: his gospel, his saving work, his redemptive grace. I might have expected legalism or do-good-ism, but I heard the good news. Sweet!
Saddleback. Northpoint. Willow Creek. These are the examples of successful churches. Whenever a speaker was being introduced, the emcee would be sure to include the astonishing details of the speaker’s church explosion. “So-and-so is going to speak to us now. He’s the founding pastor of Ridgepoint Crossings Church in Fort Lodge, Texas. He started Ridgepoint Crossings 9 years ago with four families; but now ladiesandgentlemen, it has 12,000 people and four campuses!!!” Applause applause. During one of the final keynote speeches, the speaker stated that “bigger is not better; better is better.” You could have heard a pin drop.
Everywhere I looked, everywhere I walked, people were shilling merchandise. There was swag. iPad giveaways. “Thousands of dollars of free curriculum.” More. There seemed to be a total surrender to the idea that what we all really want and need is more stuff.
In one of the early worship sets, the emcee introduced two singers who had recently been contestants on a television show called The Voice, which, I’m told, is much like American Idol. The crowd seemed to really like that announcement. The music was deafeningly loud, the lights blindingly bright, the pace fast and driving. The production was amazing and flawless, easily as good as American Idol. There were multiple cameras constantly feeding images to the large hi-def screens. The entire arena was dark except for the ambient light from the stage lighting and jumbotrons. It was ZooTV* but without any irony.
There seemed to be universal agreement that people in Africa need our help, and that it is the American church’s responsibility to send money, food, medicine, and hope there.
I heard several times throughout the conference that the Church’s goal is to “lead people into a growing relationship with Christ.” That goal is best reached by connecting interpersonally to others. I found a great deal of irony in this message because it was delivered, via jumbotron, to an arena full of people sitting in rows in the dark.
NOT FEMALE PASTORS.
Except for backup singers and one keynote speaker, it was an all male cast on the main stage. And in the senior pastor’s lounge, where I hung out most of the conference, the only women seemed to be the wives of male pastors. Apparently Megachurch Culture has not yet heard (or been convinced of) the strong Biblical case for women in the pastorate.
*Speaking of U2, I recommend this related article, in which the writer ponders the idea that people used to say things like “that U2 concert was like going to church,” but now say things like “that church service was like being at a U2 concert.” I wonder who has influenced whom–church or popular culture?
David Read was the illustrious pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (MAPC) in New York City from 1956 to 1989. My office is in the parish house at MAPC, and I know many people who used to call him “pastor.” But it wasn’t until recently that I began diving in to his books, notably his published sermons. I so appreciate him for his powerhouse of gospel-centric words and Reformed perspective. The Presbyterian Church could use a few more David Reads these days.
In one of his most famous sermons, God’s Mobile Family, Read succinctly defines the Church and exposes the folly of both the progressive and conservative tendencies to adapt to culture or flee from it, respectively. He describes the Church as a mobile family thusly:
This is what the Church means in our modern world. To be a member is to be a part of this movement of redemption. We are here because we believe that God is on the move in this world, and his people are called to follow.
“Get thee out!” said God to Abraham. “Go ye into all the world,” said Jesus, “heal, teach, preach, cast out demons.” And the Church marches through the years with the slogan: “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” — the mobile army of the living God.
Read goes on to talk about the tendency for the American Church to settle in that postcard-perfect white steepled enclave and escaping the rigors of a sin-stained world. He also talks about the tendency of the progressive Church to “bend over backwards” trying to adapt to the ever-shifting cultural norms, morals, and fashions. One is nostalgic and the other exhausting, he says. Neither are God’s intention for his people.
The good news is that God, who has redeemed the world in Christ, is alive and present among us with his redeeming and transforming power. And he is calling us to get out from under the load of past failures, to get out from the narrow citadels of fears and prejudice, to get out from our bondage to the climate of the times, and to live as those who are members of the company of faith, who go out, like Abraham, “not knowing whither he went” but looking “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
I could only hope to preach like that! And more poignantly, I could only hope to help lead the Church to that place.