7 Churches—Which is Yours?

Think about where you are and where you’ve been.

When I began this study, I pointed out that there are four popular approaches used when interpreting the book of Revelation—preterist (the contents of the book mainly describe the native, first century setting in which Revelation was written), historicist (the contents of the book mainly describe church/world history), futurist (the contents of the book mainly describe future events), and idealist (the contents of the book mainly describe timeless spiritual reality).

In the name of being time and space economical, I’ve paid more attention to some approaches than others.  Can’t help it. If I tried to give equal space to all of them, my blog entries would be twice as long as they already are.  And I’m already treading thin ice with the skull-crushing length of my previous posts.

At any rate, it has left me wishing I could reflect on some of the content without necessarily “teaching” it. So that’s what I’m going to do today.

Call these musings and ramblings.  

For instance, if the seven churches in some sense represent stages or conditions found in church history (which historicists maintain), then what do Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia, and Laodicea each mean?  More than a few see in Thyatira the Roman Catholic church. If that is true at least in certain respects, it would mean Sardis should loosely describe the time period of the Protestant reformation (with mainstream protestantism in tow).  

And Philadelphia?  Well, that’s where it gets fuzzy.  There might have been a narrow slice of time after the Protestant reformation when non-sectarian Christianity came along, when believers began to understand the folly of trusting in unscriptural ways and ideas, and found fresh riches in the Bible.  And yet the name of the church—Philadelphia (lit. brotherly love)—does not give the sense that these people were stubborn dogmatists, but in keeping the word were simply taught of God to love one another. It is hard to identify this collective in a phone book.  What network are they part of? Even those claiming non-denominational status might be as dead as those rebuked in Sardis, or as heretical as those rebuked in Thyatira.

You could say Philadelphia is the most shy of any condition described here.  Many Bible teachers have fancied that they captured the Philadelphia dynamic in a bottle.  Ironically, even if they have, the moment they label it they begin to lose it. The very worst incarnations of this attitude happen where church leaders teach and lead their people into a lamentable superiority complex.  Virtually at that moment, Philadelphia leaks out and a proud Laodicean attitude appears, where surface level living takes over.

Laodicea is where believers won’t suffer for what they say they believe, won’t do what they say they believe, and even stop seeing what they purport to believe.   But according to them, they are spiritually rich. Maybe that’s a commentary on the contemporary church, where we swim in workbooks, strategies, gadgets, and gimmicks while thinking we’ve heard it all and know it all. Laodicea is the end of the line in the seven church historical pattern.

I have been in each of the big four in their literal forms–Catholicism, Protestantism, Non-sectarianism, and Contemporary mainstream.  I’ve even switched around from one to the other.

Here’s what I’ve learned:    

You can get bigger and you can get smaller.  You can change the names over the door. You can throw all additional materials away and only read the Bible.  You can change your mind, reach back into the dumpster, and retrieve the classics. And on a return trip, maybe the stuff that just feels good to your faith.  You can meet in homes or cavernous warehouses, or both. You can keep moving the pieces around in the frame.

But there’s a call to conquer, to overcome, in each church, and you can’t escape it.  Wherever you are, there are challenges, even if, like in Philadelphia, the only one is holding onto your victory.         

Jesus knows what the challenges are in every church setting, and He calls you to reach through them. There’s no such thing as simply occupying space until He comes.

We’re supposed to be part of the shining.

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