What Kind of Congregation Will You Be?

Not all congregations or churches are alike. This is one reason why some Christians move around until they find “the church of their choice.” One of the key factors in remaining in a certain congregation is the pastor. Another is the members of the church themselves. However, if you are currently a member of a congregation, what kind of church is it?

What do we mean? Well, if Christ were to judge your church and its pastor what would be his opinion? Or, does Jesus even do such a thing? Perhaps he is content with any pastor and his church no matter their spiritual or moral condition? Perhaps Christ just accepts all just as long as they are known to be Christian?

We do not have to speculate about this. For the Bible contains seven inspired epistles written to seven real congregations of the 1st Century in what is today the country of Turkey. We find these letters in he Bible’s last book Revelation. What can we learn about individual congregations and their pastors when we read these letters?

In the opening chapter of Revelation our Lord Jesus Christ is described as a Heavenly Overseer who walks among the congregations making his invisible inspections. As he makes his unseen visits he examines the pastor and his congregation. These congregations are likened to lamps whose spiritual light is shed in the community. The presiding minister or elder [presbyter] is compared to a star or angel. As an angel the presiding elder of a church is also something of a messenger who supplies news and information to the whole congregation.

Revelation chapters two and three contain seven letters written to “the angel of the congregation.” Some understand this to mean the presiding officer or presbyter of the congregation. The letters all use the Greek singular “you” indicating the main thrust of the material is directed to the angelic presbyter. In some cases the other members of the congregation are mentioned.

In these seven congregations it is the judgment of Christ himself that only two of these angelic presbyters receive only praise. The other five come in for reproof and rebuke, sometimes in the sternest language. These letters tell us much about the Sender. [For details see the article What Can We Learn From Your Letters.] However, let us assume that we were back there almost two thousand years ago as members of these churches. Modern elders could see themselves as each of these angelic presbyters. As we examine these letters briefly we can ask ourselves: What kind of church do I belong to? Am I guilty of Christ’s censor? Am I part of the problem or part of the solution to it? How will I respond to Christ’s censor and rebuke? Will I repent and come into alignment with my heavenly Lord? What will happen to me if I do? What will happen if I refuse?

With these questions in mind let us take a quick look at each of these congregations and their angelic presbyters. [Revelation 2:1-3:22] Let us imagine that we are members of these seven congregations.

To the Angel of Ephesus Write

The first congregation ”angel” is addressed in the singular “you” indicating that this message is directed to him as the presiding elder. After introducing himself as the one who controls the “stars” - as well as walking among the congregations as an invisible visitor - the Sender of this Christine epistle says: “I am aware of your works.” Christ lists these as labor, endurance and intolerance of bad or harmful men. Also this angelic presbyter has tested out pseudo ‘apostles’ and also endured under the burden of Christ’s name. Here it sounds as if we have a fine presiding elder in our congregation.

However, the invisible Inspector offers a rebuke. We wonder what is lacking in our presiding elder. Christ says, “You have abandoned your first love.” We are shocked to hear this as we thought our church guide to be a fine example of faithful endurance. But, Christ sees the heart and realizes that this man no longer has that fire that originally burned in his breast. He has fallen from his first zeal for good works. Perhaps we in the congregation have been subtly affected by this? May we also examine ourselves to see if we have lost that first love of ours?

What counsel does our Lord give to this angelic presbyter? Christ tells our “angel” that he ought to think about the past and how far he has fallen from this first love. He should feel regret over this and turn to doing the “first works.” It is not his faith that is in question. But rather his “works.” No doubt when he first became a Christian his “works” of charity, service to others, and the spreading of the Gospel were one-hundred percent, but now they have become a mere shadow walk. In words and time, yes, there appears to be an enduring and faithful presbyter. But, down deep, where Christ can see, the mere spiritual appearance is not the same. The great flame has become mere flickering coals in danger of growing cold. [Matthew 24:12]

Even though our presiding elder hates some of the things Christ also hates, he needs to follow the instructions of our Invisible Lord. We need to listen carefully. For the Sender of this letter to our congregation concludes with a warning given to all the congregations: “Let the person with ears listen to what the Pneuma is saying to the congregations.” Those who do and become victorious will be given the authority “to eat from the Tree of Life that is in the Paradise of the God.” 

To the Angel of Smyrna Write

Now we are members of the second congregation in Smyrna. Our angelic presbyter has received a letter directly to him. We rejoice to learn that our elder is a spiritually rich man despite his physical afflictions and poverty. We rejoice that our loving and faithful elder does not come in for any rebuke. We knew he was a good man, who though poor and afflicted labored for us in the congregation. We are so grateful he did continue to minister to us despite his difficulties.

We are not surprised that great difficulties lie ahead for all of us in the congregation. For our Lord wrote: “The Devil is about to throw some of you into prison.” [Revelation 2:10] We realize this will test all of us for “ten days” as it where. Our Lord writes to us: “continue to be faithful unto death and [I] will give you the crown of life.” We do want to be those with ears who listen to what our Lord is telling all the congregations. We know if we do this we will never be harmed by the Second Death. [Revelation 2:11]

To the Angel of Pergamum Write

We are now members of the third congregation and our angelic presbyter has also received a report from our Lord who walks among us. We are startled to learn that Christ is not the passive, all-forgiving person we assumed him to be. For he introduces himself to our elder as the One who has a long double-edged sword. We are pleased that Christ knows where we live - right in a center of Emperor worship “where the throne of Satan is.” We are pleased that he is aware we still claim to be Christians despite recent persecution when our beloved brother Antipas was martyred.

However, we are somewhat shocked when our Lord tells us that he does have something against our angelic presbyter - and likely we other members of the congregation. We know there have been certain elements in the congregation. Some whose teachings have not been in harmony with our Lord. We have heard them speak and teach things that stumble others. We ourselves have been misled to eat foods sacrificed to idols. And we know others who have actually become immoral and nothing was done about it by our elder. There are other sectarian persons in our midst and we should have stood firm for the teachings of the Nazarene, but we compromised.

It frightens us to hear that if we do not repent, our Lord - the One we thought would love us no matter what - says, “I am coming to you suddenly and then I will war with them by the long sword of my mouth!” [Revelation 2:16] That certainly moves our angelic presbyter, and we ourselves as members of the congregation - for we are also partly responsible - to use our ears to listen what our Lord says to the congregations.

We are assured by our Lord that if we do repent -- and shun those who corrupt our congregation - and finally conquer these problems - we will be eternally nourished by our Lord. He promises to remain our Friend as long as we obey his commandments. [John 14:15; 15:14] We will enjoy an everlasting relationship with him in the celestial realms of his Father.

To the Angel of Thyatira Write

Now we are members of the congregation in Thyatira and our angelic presbyter has received a letter. It unsettles us a bit to hear how our Lord introduces himself: “The One having his eyes like a fiery flame!” [Revelation 2:18] However, we are pleased to know our elder has works that result from faithful service and endurance. We rejoice that the present activity of our elder is more than his first works.

But with all this good news it really does not surprise us that our pastor has tolerated his immoral wife. Everyone knows she acts the part of the prophetess and teaches others in the congregation. They have been misled by this so-called ‘sister’ to do immoral and idolatrous things. We should have sad something - we should have objected - when she introduced lowered moral standards by compromising the teachings of the Nazarene.

It does not actually surprise us that our Lord calls this woman “Jezebel” for we have seen her “egging on” her husband like that ancient evil woman did King Ahab. [2 Kings 9:22] We older ladies in the congregation should have counseled her just as Paul instructed. [Titus 2] Perhaps this problem would not have become so severe.

We tremble with our Lord’s rebuke that if she does not repent he will bring terrible spiritual sicknesses on her and those who got involved with her. He even warns that he will destroy from the congregation any offspring she produced from her immorality. We now realize how true it is that our Lord always examines our deepest motives and inclinations. Nothing escapes those “fiery eyes” of his!

We were relieved that our Lord was not going to over-burden us with even more rebuke. Most of us did not learn of the “deep things of Satan” that Jezebel talked about. We know we must “hold fast” and remain alert until the Lord returns. We will do this by observing the example of our Lord’s own works and this not half-heartedly but completely. We rejoice at the thought that if we conquer we will reign as kings with our Lord. During the Thousand Years we will rule with “a rod of iron” so that evil never take over the whole globe again. How blessed we will be if we let our ears listen to what our Lord says to the congregations.

To the Angel of Sardis Write

Now we find ourselves members of the congregation in Sardis. We are surprised what our Lord has to say about our angelic presbyter. It comes as a shock that our elder is “dead” even though he is well known to be spiritually alive. Perhaps he was just going through the motions in his sermons and duties in the congregation. Have we been affected by such an attitude?

Our Lord has counseled our elder - and this is something we do well to listen to - “continue to remain awake and fix firmly whatever remains that were about to die.” We wonder if we also have fallen into something of just a routine in attending meetings and going through the motions in sharing the Gospel with others. If our presiding overseer has not completed his works before God, what of the rest of us? Our Lord has counseled him “to remember how he first received and heard” the Gospel. Perhaps we have all slowed down a bit in our faith and affections? Is it not the time to re-evaluate our original dedication to God? We know our Lord is right, and we do, indeed, need to feel regret for the change in our attitude. We take seriously our Lord’s warning that if we do not remain spiritually alert he will come upon us suddenly like a thief. This does not sound good.

It is refreshing to know that our Lord is aware that there are “a few names” in the congregation who have not become defiled and are considered by him to be “worthy.” How we truly long to walk with our Lord in his celestial realms as righteous and honorable Saints. The idea of just having our names erased from his Book of Life moves us to do as our Lord directs. O, the very thought of having our names confessed as friends of the Nazarene right in God’s presence! Surely, we will also now use these ears of ours to pay better attention to what our Lord says to the congregations.

To the Angel of Philadelphia Write

We in the Philadelphia congregation always knew our angelic presbyter was a loving brother who cared for all of us. How we rejoice that our elder has received no rebuke at all from our Lord! Instead, because of his good works over the years - his enduring charity, his affection for all, his zeal for Christ’s name - he is going to be privileged with new Gospel opportunities and assignments in our Lord’s service. How happy we all are that we followed his Christ-like example and to this day remain a loving and unified little church.

We surely want to follow our elder and continue to “observe the word of our Lord’s endurance.” He promises to keep us from some terrible future temptation that will test the entire Church of God in Christ. The very thought someone could take our crowns makes us shudder and we are all determined not to rest on our laurels and to pay even more attention to our Lord’s teachings.

We rejoice at the very thought of becoming a pillar - a pillar! - in God’s celestial Temple. To be recognized as a permanent citizen of the New Jerusalem! To enjoy an entirely new relationship with our Lord as dear and close friends - in heaven! Surely we are all determined to keep our ears open and obey everything the Pneuma speaks to all the congregations.

To the Angel of Laodicea Write

Well, most of us in this congregation were quite taken back to hear the supposed insults to our angelic presbyter! The idea that he is lukewarm toward Christ! We all know he has plenty of works! What a disgusting suggestion that our elder is not hot or cold - what does that mean anyway - for we know our brother is well-off and this is proof of God’s blessing on him. Yes, he tells us often how rich he is, but then he deserves his wealth because he is so dedicated to us. When we heard from this letter that the Lord was going to vomit our elder out of his mouth we were quite shocked. What a disgusting thought - vomit! This surely cannot be from our dear and precious Lord who never said such things when he walked the shores of Galilee. He would never speak that way to one of our elders!

To call our presiding elder - what? Destitute? Pitiful? Poor? Not hardly! Blind and naked? How revolting! If the Sender of this letter thinks that of him what must be his attitude toward us? And really, how can any of us “buy” gold or clothing from Christ? The very mention of our elder’s nakedness is repulsive. The Lord could never have said such things! And, “eye salve” for his eyes - as though he were blind? That is ridiculous! After all, the Lord loves us and he would never speak in such a manner to us Christians. Reproof? Discipline? These are not the words the Lord uses. The Lord is completely forgiving. His love is unconditional. No matter what we do, or don’t do, will affect his love.

And this so-called promise of sharing a meal with us if we - if we, if we, what, open a door to him? What a silly idea. The Lord is in heaven. He cannot eat a meal with us. How could he ever make a dinner for us? We know that no matter what our works are - whether we work harder than others and so have more to show for it materially - the Lord will make us kings to dominate over others just as he rules in heaven with his Father.

“Let the person with ears listen to what the Pneuma is saying to the congregations!” [Revelation 3:22 NCMM]

Well, now we are all back in our home congregations here at the beginning of the 3rd Millennium. What kind of congregation do we want to become? Shall we take a closer look at our church or congregation and see whether it might parallel those to whom Christ wrote? When we take a serious spiritual look at ourselves and our local group, do we see ourselves as part of the problem or part of the solution? Are we willing to repent of any failures on our part? What are some questions to think about?

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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