Scripture: Revelation 2.7
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches…
Reflection: To the Worst Churches in the Bible
By John Tillman
There are many strange and unfamiliar images in Revelation that we have no context for and do not easily understand. But one that has a very familiar ring is the description of scandal-filled churches.
In many recent articles, such as The Fall of the Village, by Jake Meador and The Wrath of God Poured Out, by Albert Mohler, Christian writers have been agonizing over recent revelations of sins from the past as well as current scandals.
In an article on moral failings, Ed Stetzer noted that of the leaders who spoke with him at a conference in 2010, half had stepped down for some kind of moral failing.
At a time when Evangelicals have changed their minds about whether leadership requires a moral private life (they no longer think it does) most still say a church leader’s private life should be morally upright. And Christians all over are justifiably upset both at the sins that had been covered up (or ignored) and the attrition of leaders and churches falling to scandal.
For those who picture themselves in the role of prophet, this can seem like a cause for celebration.
Down with the hypocrites. Down with the failures. Let rise the greater and wiser leaders of a more humble and sacrificial church. But this is just new idolatry to replace the old.
It is notable that the first things revealed to John in the book of Revelation are not heavenly wonders, but earthly sins. But the more shocking revelation is that Jesus loves and cares for sinful and dysfunctional churches and their leaders.
Despite the deep brokenness of most of the churches in Revelation, Jesus finds positive things to say about each of them. Not one is he willing to give up on without a fight.
He does not merely threaten them with punishment, but gives them a purpose, a path to redemption, and a reward for obedience.
Make no mistake. The redemption described is primarily for the church as a whole. Individual redemption from sin, does not require a restoration of position, power, or influence. Those individuals who have harmed others should not be back in the pulpit.
But if Christ can speak lovingly and redemptively of churches as corrupt as these, why can’t we?
When defending people from harm, may we intercede with the strength of Christ and his sword of truth.
But may we also not shirk from Christ’s call to reach out in redemption to even that most vile of sinners, the fallen leader.
Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4
– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.
Full prayer available online and in print.
Isaiah 32 (Listen – 2:46)
Revelation 2 (Listen – 4:59)