As one reaches the closing of Jesus’ 7 letters to the Churches in Revelation, a couple of curious things catch one’s attention. Let me point these out ever so briefly. They seem to me to have something timely for us to note in the Church in America today. I don’t want to be overly simplistic, but there are some things worth considering here.
a. Each person in each Church was to think in terms of: This is where you are, deal with it. Sins at home are the most critical, not the sins of others. None of the 7 are told to censure any of the other 7. No pot shots. All 7 are to read all of the letters. As the text repeats 7 times: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churchES.” But the instructions for each Church are for that Church and that is to be the concentration for those congregants. Each Church has its problems. The question is, what are the problems in the Church where I am? And how do I address them in repentance and fidelity?
b. Each Church is warned about its issues, and the call to each then is to pray and to repent where THEY are. There is no call to criticize the others Churches. No call to intervene in the affairs of the other Churches. There is an implicit warning that we too might fall into the same errors of others. But MY preoccupation is not to be with THEIR problems, it is to be about serving Christ where I am. In our day, there is a morbid and destructive preoccupation with the sins of others. We need to shut up. Nor is there any room for a romanticized envy of another Church. Each has its own faults, foibles, sins, defects and its pluses. So what? How am I contributing in walking with Christ rightly where I am?
c. There is no call for anyone to leave their Church over the issues raised. Be faithful, be repentant, serve Christ as fully as you can – where you are. There is not a single call for anyone to start or be their own Church because the Church they are in isn’t up to snuff. No abandoning even though some of the errors are grossly problematic. They didn’t have the false luxury we imagine we have today in the American consumer Church. Jesus never tells anyone to leave their defective church and run to another. Even in Laodicea, which was only 10 miles away from Hierapolis and pastored by the venerable Papias, and a mere 6 miles from Colossae. Even these had some viable options within their general region. If the basic Gospel is still preached – serve Christ where you are. Make it better by your prayers, your repentant lifestyle, your devotion to Christ and His Word, His people and His cause.
Is there never a reason to leave? Sure there is. A topic for another day. But from what we have in these 2 chapters, the first and best response is personal repentance and fidelity. I find it interesting Jesus never abandoned the local Synagogue nor the Temple – as broken and defective as those were in His day. He sought reform. So ought we.