all god's people said 'ouch'

As a creative communicator Rob Bell is without peer. What he does with nooma - seeing the spiritually significant in the utterly ordinary - is reminscent of CS Lewis in Mere Christianity. Superb! But I have yet to finish any of his books. Sadly, I get a bit bored as they wander too much for me and the content does not hold me. I guess this is a concession to two things: my age and my context. [NB: I am off to Indonesia and Pakistan later today and those worlds might respond better to 'Justice Wins' (which I realise Bell believes, by the way!)]
But this post is about exploring biblically - maybe in a sermon series, if you are a pastor - a way to engage the important issues which Rob Bell raises and which are capturing the imagination of so many people. Last week I stumbled back into a chapter from Kevin deYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We're Not Emergent (Moody, 2008) which I have reviewed previously here. While the title is a mistake in my opinion, the epilogue is brilliant.
It is called "Listening to All the Churches of Revelation (239-253)" and suggests that here is a framework in which to engage the 'emerging church' - but also, I am suggesting, the issues raised by Rob Bell in his latest book. These guys assert that "the problems in these seven churches are the root problems in all churches (239)" - and off they go, one by one:

EPHESUS: your loveless, fundamentalist church - orthodox, moral, hardworking - to whom Jesus says, "Love".
SMYRNA: your persecuted church - afflicted, slandered, impoverished, but spiritually rich - to whom Jesus says, "Be faithful".
PERGAMUM: your ungrounded, youth-movement church - faithful, passionate witnesses, but compromised with the world - to whom Jesus says, "Discern".
THYATIRA: your warm-hearted, liberal church - loving, but overtolerant, undervaluing doctrinal fidelity and moral purity - to whom Jesus says, "Think".
SARDIS: your flashy and successful, but shallow, megachurch - a great reputation, but spiritually dead - to whom Jesus says, "Wake Up".
PHILADELPHIA: your small, storefront, weak and unimpressive church - struggling, but strong - to whom Jesus says, "Press on".
LAODECIA: your ritzy, influential church in the rich part of town - filled with affluence and apathy - to whom Jesus says, "Be earnest".

OK - so a little bit of cute preachers' licence going on here - but what is the point they are making? "We can all see our besetting sins mirrored here, even if we can see the sins of our neighbour church more easily ... we must pay attention to what Jesus says to ALL seven churches (241)."

And while their eyes are trained on the emerging church (NB: this is the reason behind their selection of three churches from the seven on which to focus), I do wonder aloud if there is some relevance here for the discussion around Love Wins: afterall "there are just as many undiscerning, overtolerant Pergamums and Thyatiras as there are loveless Ephesuses (241)."

Maybe the strength - and weakness - of Love Wins is that its eye remains trained solely on Ephesus?

Here is a bit more:
With Ephesus:
"Jesus commended them for two virtues scarcely mentioned (today): intolerance (of false teaching) and hatred (of immortality). For all the talk about the supremely inclusive kingdom of God, it should not escape our notice that Ephesus was not praised for their inclusion, but for their exclusion (242)... the people cared about being right, but they no longer cared for each other (243) ... We may think right, live right, and do right, but if we do it off in a corner, shining our lights at one another to probe our brother's sins instead of pointing our lights into the world, we will, as a church, grow dim, and eventually our light will be extinguished (244)" - which is literally what happened in the city of Ephesus!

With Pergamum:
"Ephesus was under-engaged with the culture; Pergamum over-identified with the culture ... Undiscerning tolerance was Pergamum's crippling defect. Their indifference to religious and moral deviancy was not a sign of their great relevance to the culture ... it was a blight on their otherwise passionate, faithful witness (245) ... Pergamum reminds us of what can happen to young people who aren't taught well or to youth movements that lack grounding in the Scriptures. People get converted, sometimes dramatically, and they live vibrant, courageous, evangelistic Christian lives, but they are also confused, undiscerning, and antinomian, thinking the gospel and grace make moral law unnecessary (246)."

With Thyatira:
Thyatira possessed the deeds that the Ephesians had and the love that the Ephesians lacked ... Its people loved, served, believed, and endured ... The big problem at Thyatira was tolerance. They tolerated false teaching and immoral behaviour ... I imagine Thyatira as a church with lots of community programs, a concern for social justice issues, a desire to be inclusive. But somewhere along the line warm-heartedness overtook clear-mindedness ... they love what Jesus loves but do not hate what Jesus hates (247)."

And all God's people said, "OUCH?!"

Yep - without a doubt, if I was a pastor I'd be planning a series on the seven churches of Revelation (again!) as a biblical way to engage the issues raised - and not raised - by Love Wins. Without returning to the Bible, there is a danger that the one who raises the problem might prove to be the only one from whom we seek the solution. Maybe Rob Bell rightly has something akin to Ephesus in his sights - but there are six other churches which should concern us equally as much. Let the full agenda of Jesus impact us as we forsake our half-truths.

"We need to catch Jesus' broader vision for the church - His vision for a church that is intolerant of error, maintains moral boundaries, promotes doctrinal integrity, stands strong in times of trial, remains vibrant in times of prosperity, believes in certain judgement and certain reward, even as it engages culture, reaches out, loves and serves. We need a church that reflects the Master's vision - one that is deeply theological, deeply ethical, deeply compassionate, and deeply doxological (248)."

nice chatting


Paul

Comments

Rhett said…
A couple of things about this made me smile...

First of all, we're starting a series on the 7 churches (a church a week) in three weeks time, morning and evening. Did you know!? I'm quite excited about it.

Also, ironically, Rob Bell's church has just finished a series on the 7 churches, and I listened to his sermon on Ephesus yesterday, looking for some inspiration. As usual came away with about a 50-50 spread of "inspiration/awe"-"frustration/what the"?

I went looking for his thoughts on Thyatira too, just now, but Richard Mouw was a guest speaker at Bell's church that weekend.
Paul said…
No - I didn't know any of that, Rhett. Fascinating...

I remember hearing Billy Graham being asked about the most important important section of scripture for the church today - a generation ago! And his response was as quick as it was convicted: the seven churches.

I am intrigued by the framework it provides to address a whole range of issues within the life of the church today, globally and locally.

When I was growing up we were in a family of seven. We each ended up with a day of the week - and a church from Revelation.

I was Thursday and Thyatira...

Hope the next few weeks go well for you, Rhett.
christplaysnz said…
Rob Bell is preaching from a pulpit in 'nowhere', Michigan. They are small THYATIRA in an ocean of EPHESUS. Everything they do assumes that Ephesian background.

When younger Christians wanted to stop being so EPHESUS and start loving (like Jesus commanded them), they were't very welcome, so they start a small PHILADELPHIA, and grew into a PERGAMUM

Of course EPHESUS doesn't like the small pocket of THYATIRA or PERGAMUM in their midst, and twitter nasty things about it, and call it a SARDIS behind its back.

Many of the LAODECIA use their cable TV shows to call THYATIRA the anti-Christ, or worse, a democrat.

This gives THYATIRA a SMYRNA complex...
Anonymous said…
Hi Paul

We have just completed a series on Revelation Chapters 1-3 at KBC. Graham Ng did an excellent series and has a very good summary of the seven churches and the various good and bad points.

It reinforces to me that there is no one perfect church and that there are tensions in the way a church interacts with the world.

I got the chance to preach on the Church at Pergamum, here are my four applications
APPLICATIONS:
We are in a battle – against Satan
Exercise Judgement – Stay True
Don’t be swayed by False Teaching
Open your Ears
If WE DO this we can win the Battle!