Summary: If Jesus showed up at your church what would he find? What would he say?
“The Great Unveiling: Checking Out the Church”
At the end of chapter 1 we are reminded that the 7 lampstands are the seven churches. That’s an important description of the church – for she is to be the light of the world. And it’s a lampstand; which means we’re dealing with candles – candles that periodically need to be trimmed and cleaned.
That’s what chapter 2 & 3 are designed to do – trim and clean up the church. While we could certainly spend a sermon on each one of the churches, that does not advance our overall purpose in this series. But we do need to take some time to check out the church. As, Peter wrote (1Pt. 4:17 GNT), “The time has come for judgment to begin, and God's own people are the first to be judged.” Judgment begins with the church of Jesus Christ – with us!
So we begin with Jesus’ view of THE PROBLEMS OF THE CHURCH. As we read Jesus’ analysis of the 7 churches, we discover four basic problems. One is WRONG DOCTRINE. It’s dealt with most directly in the church at Pergamum (2:12-17). Jesus was pleased that people had not denied their faith, but displeased that they were ALLOWING HERESIES AND THEOLOGICAL COMPROMISE to enter and reside among them. Only a few people had departed from the faith but many tolerated the errors that led to their departure. Toleration led to compromise which led to worldliness. The truth is doctrine determines how we live. As A. W. Tozer pointed out, “It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right living. As men do not gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles, so sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching. (1)
Tolerance of wrong doctrine STILL PLAGUES THE CHURCH TODAY. There are those, in fact, WHO DISPARAGE DOCTRINE – “I don’t need doctrine; all I need is the Bible.” But since doctrine is, at its core, the content of what one believes, unless one believes nothing, one has doctrine! To downplay doctrine is to ignore what we believe and therefore to lose sight of what we believe. When we lose sight of what we believe, we lose sight of how to live.
Another wrong doctrine being promoted in the Church today is that JESUS IS NOT THE ONLY WAY TO GOD. In the name of tolerance, we dare not be so exclusive! I have, in fact, been challenged with “How can you be so exclusive? How dare you say that?” Note: I didn’t say it – Jesus did. If Jesus is not the only way, then the cross is emptied of its power and His death meant nothing.
Another error gaining strength is that THERE IS NO HELL; God is simply too loving to send anyone to hell. Point of fact: If there is no hell then Revelation is not necessary and God has lied. Still others promote that IF JESUS DOESN’T MENTION IT, IT ISN’T WORTH MENTIONING. Truth check: there are many things Jesus did not address – that’s why the whole biblical story is important. If we are only bound by what Jesus said, then all we need are the Gospels – the rest of the Bible is unnecessary and invalid.
The final instance of wrong doctrine in the church today is the tenet that TOLERANCE IS PRIMARY. You can have your belief and I can have mine but we should not argue - just respect and love each other; we have no right to insist on our doctrine over that of someone else. Fact check: where in the Bible does tolerance, or love, trump truth?
JESUS CRITICIZED TOLERATION OF INCORRECT DOCTRINE. (2:14-16) “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam…(and) who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (2:20) “You tolerate that woman Jezebel… (who) by her teaching misleads my servants into sexual immorality…” As Pastor James MacDonald preached, “Tolerance is for people, not principles…If an architect is building a building and the construction guys want to build it on sand, he’s not going to tolerate that. He might be kind in the way he says: ‘Are you crazy, we’re not doing that!’ But he doesn’t tolerate the error.” (2) Hear Paul’s words (2 Tim. 1:13-14 NLT): “Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.”
The second problem is MORAL EROSION – not only in society but also in the church. This is mentioned strongly in the letters to Pergamum and Thyatira. While only some in the churches were guilty of participating in sexual immorality, the church was tolerating it in their midst. Is there any doubt that sexual immorality STILL PLAGUES THE CHURCH TODAY? I could share statistics for the next 20 minutes but I think there’s common agreement among us that sexual immorality is rampant and increasing. So let me share just one example of its pervasiveness. In New York City, a new app on the city's Department of Health teen website points kids to the nearest abortion clinic and birth control freebies. The app says "Remember, teens in New York State have the right to sexual health services without getting permission from parents...or anyone else". In Los Angeles's Unified School District, the country's second largest, Qpid.me is partnering with grades 7-12 to bypass parents and text students about sex, STDs, and contraception. "The free service allows students as young as 12 years old to find a 'teen-friendly' [read: confidential] testing location, access their results online and then share their status" with potential sex partners. As part of another California health initiative (paid for by federal dollars) kids as young as 12 can go online and request 10 taxpayer-funded condoms. San Diego and Fresno County are part of the program, which advertises "confidential packaging" so parents won't be tipped off. Under California law, even fifth graders can have condoms delivered to their doorstep without their moms' and dads' consent. (3)