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The Seven Churches of The Revelation of Jesus Christ

by Michael L. Gonzalez

August 15, 2001


Christians of the United Methodist Church today observe with dismay the pastoral and episcopal disobedience, the apostate leaders, the heretical preaching, and so on.  And these Christians debate with one another the appropriate action, if any, to take in the face of this situation.

If we simply study the book of Revelation, we will gain much insight into our current dilemma.  After all, through Revelation, Christ has already spoken to us about our situation.

The Church of Ephesus -- Revelation 2:1-7 

In verses 1 and 2, Jesus states that he is the authority who holds the seven churches (including at Ephesus) in his hand, and he commends the church of Ephesus for its endurance and dedication, as this church does not put up with anyone who is evil; and anyone who claimed to this church to be an apostle was tested, and some were found by the church to be liars.  This is an encouraging statement, and it applies to many individual churches within the UMC today.

Further, in verse 6, Jesus tells the church of Ephesus that it is doing right to hate what the Nicolaitans are doing, because He also hates what they are doing.  According to the language scholars, the name of these people is a word combined from two Greek words, the first being nico which means to conquer and laitan which is the origin of our word laity.  Thus, the Nicolaitans are thought to be a group of self-selected persons who placed themselves as the higher level in the church (bishops and clergy) with the objective to conquer the laity.  This certainly strikes close to home in the UMC.

However, Jesus criticizes the church of Ephesus in verses 4 and 5 saying that as time has worn on, this church has lost its fervor for Him, and Jesus tells the church to repent and remember how the church once was, with the ambition and undenying love for Christ, and He tells the church to turn back to what it once was; and then He threatens to snuff out the light of the little church at Ephesus, if the church doesn't do as commanded.  Have we seen churches or even entire regions of the UMC where it would appear that God has removed the light?

Certainly Jesus is clear in this writing that the people of the church must be discerning, must root out the evil, and do so zealously.  We must battle the forces of evil at every turn, and never cower.  Prayer is obviously a central core to any effort to battle evil, but we don't need to wait for a miracle from God to wonder what we are to do about the evil within the UMC.  Scripture has already made it crystal clear that we must take all measures available to rid the church of this evil.

This is a church which Christians must renew and support.
 

The Church of Smyrna -- Revelation 2:8-11

The very few UMC churches who see themselves in the letter to the church of Smyrna are given hope by Jesus.  Just as the pastor of Smyrna was burned at the stake in 156 A.D. with the assistance of some ethnic, ungodly Jews and other pagans because he would not swear by Caesar, we have pastors and laity who are being persecuted by the ungodly in the UMC (verse 9).  But Jesus speaks in this passage to those of the Lord, that they will be encouraged (verse 10) to continue to worship God no matter the harassment by evil, as they will be rewarded with eternal life--just remember Jesus' words to be fearless and be faithful.

In verse 8, Jesus reminds this church that He is the beginning and the end.  This is an appropriate reminder for us today, as the persecutors in the UMC (the ungodly) believe that it's not Jesus who is forever, but rather they preach that it is man and the worldly that is forever.  These persecutors insist that everyone bow down to the idol of diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance (to the exclusion of the Word of God), just as those of the church of Smyrna were forced (to death) by the pagans of their time to bow down to the idol of the Roman emperor.

This is a church where all Christians must support each other, as each are persecuted.
 

The Church of Pergamum (Pergamos) -- Revelation 2:12-17

This church of history was situated geographically in the midst of Satan's minions (verse 13), and it's the same for UM churches which hold tight to Jesus yet are situated in a region controlled by Satan's minions. 

In the text, Jesus praises this church for its faith, but then criticizes it for its compromise with the culture.  Unlike the church of Ephesus who stood firm against the Nicolaitans, the church of Pergamum had begun to embrace these people who Jesus said he hates.  These Nicolaitans (a self-appointed bishop/clergy class) led some of the people of this church to follow pagan teachings.  These people were compromising God's church by marrying the church with the sinful culture, and these people had the motto of Balaam:  If you can't curse them, then corrupt them!

And all of this Revelation is directly applicable to many churches in the UMC as they struggle to maintain holiness while their bishops, district superintendents, and other leaders attempt to lead the churches to compromise God's Word and to bow to the culture of immorality and further ungodliness.

With the compromise of the church of Pergamum, the cancer had been formed in the Church.  And we can see just such a cancer is growing in the UMC.  Jesus also speaks encouraging words to the few holy people of this church, saying that they will receive heavenly rewards.  Depending on the unique circumstances of each church in the UMC, maintaining holiness of the few may mean physically separating from those of the church who are following the pagans (to be holy means to be set apart).

In verses 12 and 16 Jesus makes crystal clear that if the church does not repent of the sin of compromise, then He will come quickly and pronounce judgment congruent with His Word (the sword). 

This is a church of which Christians must be weary and must take action to check the growing cancer.
 

The Church of Thyatira -- Revelation 2:18-29

Jesus praises this church in verse 19, indicating that He knows their love, faith, and service, and how they have endured.  He mentions their growth and maturing, but we can see in verse 24 that it's only some of the people of the church of Thyatira who will, if they hold firmly to His Word, be rewarded.

As for the rest of the church, they lack both backbone and discernment, so Jesus condemns both the leader and the followers who lack holiness and are being immoral.   Jesus says that these people allowed a false prophet to take leadership in their church--unlike the church of Ephesus; they invited Satan into their midst.  Thus, the cancer of the church of Pergamum spreads.

Have we witnessed this in the UMC?  Yes, many of us have personally witnessed the false prophet in the pulpit, and even the false prophet being elevated to the position of bishop.  Some conferences in the UMC are not led by false prophets.  And yet there are other conferences that are led by false prophets, but yet there are churches within these wayward conferences which are holy.

What is a local church to do if it finds itself in a regional group of churches where all other churches are following a false prophet?  Jesus says in verse 25 to hold firm to The Word and He will give this church and its people power over the worldly.  Holding firm to The Word includes being righteous while others aren't and maintaining holiness--which requires separation from the unrighteous.

Likewise, what should a person do who realizes the local church is following false prophet(s)?  The words from Jesus speak the same to this person as they speak to a righteous church, that is to remain moral even though all those around you have become immoral.  Hold firm to The Word and be holy.

This is a church where holiness is maintained through distinction and separation.
 

The Church of Sardis -- Revelation 3:1-6

This church is fully and completely condemned by Jesus Christ; He has no words of praise for this church, although he does commend a few of its members.  This is a church that died from within from complacency; it hadn't even noticed its own death.  It was once a great church, but it withered, most likely as a result of the cancer and false prophets recorded in the earlier churches.  This is a church full of nominal christians who, like the Pharisees, perform outwardly in order to gain favor with men, rather than being holy, in order to gain favor with God--"they have a form of Godliness, but they deny the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5).

In verse 2 Jesus warns this church to wake up and become vigilant and use what little strength there is left in its membership to build up the unbelievers in the church.  He calls on the church to repent and remember the teachings that originally made the church great (The Word).  He's speaking to the few believers who are left in this church--a church which is only partially obeying God.  Jesus reinforces to the holy ones in the church that no matter what, they will be rewarded with eternal life (verse 5).

Have we witnessed church death in the UMC?  Yes, without a doubt.  Jesus is certainly speaking directly to churches and denominations which we see today, such as the UMC.  So, what is Jesus saying to today's Christian in the UMC?  He's saying just what He said to the faithful of the church of Sardis:  Wake up!  Become vigilant!  Bring the unbelievers to the Truth!  Repent!  Bring the church back to The Word!  And Jesus assures the Christians that they won't lose their salvation, and that's something which members of a dead church must hear, as it is natural to fear that hanging around a dead church could cause a Christian to suffer the second death.

This is a church which Christians must revive from death.
 

The Church of Philadelphia -- Revelation 3:7-13

This church is the one with which every Christian desires to be associated (although the church of Smyrna is the most holy--but who wants to be part of a persecuted church?).  Jesus points out in verses 7 and 8 that he holds the keys and has opened a door for this church which no one can close.  And this open door is the call to this church to pursue evangelism and missions.

Jesus praises this church in verse 8 for obeying His Word and for proclaiming the Gospel and for not shying away from facing the world with that which the world does not want to hear.  And Jesus points out that this church has only a little strength in itself, but that in Him, they have mighty strength.

In verse 9 He says that he will humiliate Satan's minions who claim to be God's people, but who are liars, and they will be sent to the Christians at Philadelphia for guidance.  The remainder of this passage encourages these Christians that they won't have to suffer during the world-wide tribulation, and that they will have eternal life with God in the new earth.

What does the world want to hear?  The world wants to hear that there are no commandments other than love one another; that you can take almost any path to God; that you can find God by your own efforts; that God is not a God of judgment and justice, but rather only a God of love; that God is available when you need Him, and otherwise He can be ignored.  Thus, we know that today's liberal theology, which is what the world wants to hear, is not the theology for which Jesus commended the church of Philadelphia.

How does this relate to members of the UMC?  First of all, let's be straightforward and proclaim that the liberal theology that runs rampant in various churches of the UMC is not The Word of God, but rather it is all that talk that the world wants to hear.

On the other hand, we know that there are churches in the UMC where Jesus has opened a door, and no evil leader in the UMC will be able to close it.  Is your local UM church just such a church?  If so, Jesus expects great things from your church; your church has been commissioned to accomplish much.  To follow God's calling for you, you must get to work immediately--there's no time to waste.

God will then empower your church, if you seek God's will through intense and regular prayer, both individually and as a church.  However, once empowered, God expects you to act and carry out His will and perform your mission.  God doesn't empower you for you to sit and bask in your own glory.

This is a church with a mission that must not be ignored.
 

The Church of Laodicea -- Revelation 3:14-22

This is the last church of the seven, and this church represents the end.  There is no hope for this church, as Jesus says that this church is so disgusting that it makes him vomit--he will spit it out.  The distinction that must be made when studying this church is that Jesus condemns the church yet encourages its people.  Jesus sees the church as hopeless, but He calls the people home, at least those people who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Jesus has absolutely nothing good to say about this church.  He says in verse 15 that it is a church of compromise:  compromise of His Word, and yielding to money and feelings of pride and conceit (verse 17).

Does this sound familiar to Christians who observe the UMC as a denomination? 

This is a church which is forever counting money and counting people, which has lost the focus of God, and rather has placed the focus on the desires of people.  A church of humanism and materialism, and one which refuses scrutiny of itself.  A church which has lost sight of the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ--to reach the world for Christ.  This is a church which sees its wealth and believes that it is self-sufficient, and that its money will accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished in the world.  In verse 17 Jesus says that this church doesn't even know how bad off it is; it is wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.  This church is void of Jesus Christ.  This is a church which believes it will accomplish its goals through men and through government.  But from Jesus' point of view, this is a church which will accomplish nothing for Him, and thus represents THE END.

In verse 19 Jesus calls to those in this church (who can hear) that he loves them, even though he must punish and correct them.  He says in verse 20 that he is knocking on the door of the individual person of this church (not on the door of the church) and asks to be allowed into the person's heart in order to share the last supper with the person, and share eternal life.

Jesus calls on each individual of this church to repent and to be zealous for Him (to be hot, not lukewarm).  In verse 18 Jesus tells each person to seek the riches of Him, not of man; to wrap the body in the righteousness of God to cover the shame; and to treat the eyes in order to see Godliness.  In short, to disconnect themselves from that which is christless, and allow Jesus Christ to enter their lives.

This is a "church" that Christians must leave.

 


If you're a member of a UMC church, you must discern which church(es) characterize your local church, and your district, conference, etc.  Testing your circumstance against Scripture sometimes results in a quick obvious answer, but other times the answer isn't clear.  Those of you who are optimistic about your church may immediately identify with the church of Philadelphia, but if your church groups continue to feel like you're "beating your head against a brick wall" that's probably a sign that God hasn't opened that door for you.  If your groups have been regularly praying, and yet the church has not grown mighty in the Lord, perhaps you simply are not an example of the church of Philadelphia.

In all things we must test that which we hear against Scripture.  We know that God would never call any one of us, or any church to take action which is in conflict with Scripture.  For example, Scripture is clear throughout:  we must cling to that which is good, and separate ourselves from that which is evil.

Certainly, we would never support evil, either as a member of a church, or as a church with respect to the connection of churches.  Yet the vast majority of UMC members are actively supporting evil and either don't realize it, or refuse to recognize it.  Any good, holy Christian who is vigorous in working against evil, yet who provides monetary support to false teachers either in their local church, or the UMC connection beyond, are undeniably supporting evil.

If your local church is led by a false teacher and surrounded by protective minions, yet the light of God is still remotely visible in the church, then by all means work to fan this flame into a raging fire, to bring the local church back to Godliness.  However, there is never a valid reason to support the false teacher and the minions monetarily.  God's church does not require physical, worldly adorning to be a Godly church, but the false teacher and the minions most assuredly will use any monetary support from you to continue their hold on the unbelievers, and to lead them to destruction.

If your regional connection of churches is led by a false teacher and surrounded by protective minions, yet your local church is holy and righteous, then support your local church with all your time, talent, and treasure.  However, certainly do not provide monetary support to the greater connection as the false teachers will most certainly use your gifts to gain a foothold in ever greater numbers of what could have been Godly great churches.

So the preceding few paragraphs indicate what not to do with regard to the false teachers, but what proactive steps does God's Word tell us to take? 

Let's be sure to understand the key point: God will judge the unrighteous and will punish them.  It is not our place to judge the souls of these false teachers.

However, we are charged with the obligation to judge the behavior of all fellow members of the church, and to discern good from evil.  We are to test against Scripture, and where evil is discovered, we are called to take proactive measures, not to simply sit back and watch the evil do its work.

We are called to pray for God's strength, and thus we are commanded to put on the full armor of God and fight evil.

In time of war, we pray for God's strength, and we fight evil with every weapon available.  We fight against the minions of Satan with worldly weapons when Satan embodies himself in worldly form.  On the other hand, we fight against Satan spiritually, when Satan works against God's people by incorporeal means.

In the case of the false teachers who lead the UMC today, we have recognized their evil deeds, and as these evil forces use worldly weapons to fight against God's people, we will pray for God's strength and fight these evil forces with worldly weapons.

Don't misunderstand, this is not a call to condemn these souls, that is God's purview.  Our commission by God is to remove the false teachers from the church.  Just as Paul called on the church of Corinth (1 Cor 5) to excommunicate the immoral member, we must expel the false teachers from the UMC.

Thus, I believe that God is calling His people to use every worldly weapon available to excommunicate the wayward apostate and heretical bishops (and any other evil UMC leaders) from the denomination. We have no call to judge their souls, but remove them from the church, we must.

It's clear that the General Conference is useless in this effort, as is the Judicial Council.  It's clear that using the procedures of the Book of Discipline are useless, as all of the bishops have banded together to erect a shield around them collectively, such that no complaint can penetrate their inner sanctum.  It's clear that the polite evangelical movements such as Good News, Confessing Movement, and even the recent CUMA are useless, in their current make-up, to thwart the rouge bishops.

So what worldly weapon, which would test positive with respect to Scripture, could be used to expel these false teachers?  After studying Scripture (including 1 Cor 6 and Revelation) I believe a Godly weapon is arguing breech of contract of employment by disobedient bishops through the secular courts.  It's peaceful, it's orderly, it's congruent with Scripture, it's not judgmental of the bishops' souls, but rather only of their behavior, and it appears to be our only worldly weapon not neutered by the bishops themselves.  Please understand that God will destroy all evil in His own time, but we are placed on this earth to do God's work--the mission of bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world--and any worldly thing or worldly person who stands in our way in performance of this mission must be moved aside.

For all UMC evangelicals who want to be obedient to God's Word as made clear to the seven churches, heed God's encouragement as well as His warning! 
 

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