Thursday, August 20, 2009

The 8th Letter of Revelation

“And to the angel of the Church in _______(fill in the name of your city) write…”
What if Jesus added an eighth letter to His 7 Letters to the Churches of Revelation and sent it to the Church of your city today?
What would He talk to us about? What would be its highlights? Affirmations? Corrections? Warnings?
To whom would it be addressed? Who would receive it? Would we receive it?
It’s recorded in history that the church of Laodicea did not receive its letter. They could not accept that its contents described their church’s actual situation. They instead insisted that things were just fine.
The letter was wrong; they weren’t. “It’s addressed to the wrong church. That’s not us!”
The letter asserted they were self-sufficient, in need of nothing, not even God. Their refusal to accept God’s view of themselves ironically affirmed that God’s judgment was indeed correct.

A few years ago my wife and I visited Turkey and some of what are left of the 7 Churches of Revelation. Nothing remains of Laodicea today: neither the city nor the church. Its waters were neither cold not hot, but lukewarm. True to Christ’s Word, it has been spewed out, vomited, left desolate and in ruins. It is an amazing testimony to how we need to hear and receive God’s prophetic messages to us in our day or suffer the consequences.
In fact, the only church still functioning is in Smyrna (now called Izmir), the Suffering, Persecuted Church. Of the 7, Smyrna (along with Philadelphia) received no rebuke and it is the only one which still has a present congregation of worshipers today.
“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10)

I believe one of the things Jesus would highlight in His letter to the church in our city is
‘keep the unity of the Spirit.” (Eph 4:3) He does not say 'strive to attain', but 'keep', which reveals we already possess this unity through Christ. We are one body. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, Baptist nor Charismatic in Christ's eyes. You cannot 'keep' what you don't already have. Moves of the Spirit have impacted the body of Christ throughout history, but their full effect, value and legacy are ultimately realized in how they relate to building the kingdom of God and not their own little kingdoms. The church is one and we need to acknowledge this, value our unity and act in who we are in Christ already.
Jesus prayed, “That they may be one just as We are one.” (John 17:22)

After the fall of the Soviet Union, I was privileged to teach in the first Bible school opened in Ulyanovsk, birthplace of the father of Russian communism, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin. God has a sense of humour: our Bible school classes were held right in The Communist Hotel! Every morning I would pass one of Lenin’s few still-standing statues in Russia and sarcastically greet him,
“Good morning, Mr. Lenin. You don’t look very well today. You seem to be tilting a little more each day?!”
Towards the end of my two weeks there, I was invited to sit in on one of the first unity meetings of a group of pastors in Ulyanovsk. My interpreter kept me informed on what was happening, but the pastors’ body language and my limited Russian conveyed a clear enough message. They were enjoying their new freedoms, but old suspicions, rivalries and prejudices still surfaced as the different denominations struggled to find common ground together. They were trying to decide on holding their first public meeting together to celebrate Christmas, but….
they couldn’t even decide on a date…should it be on the Western December 25th or the Eastern Orthodox in January?
Who should speak? Some felt the Orthodox priest should, but the Lutheran pastor said that if the priest spoke, many of his parishioners would not attend and he wasn’t sure he even would.
The Pentecostal pastor objected; still another objected more because the Methodist pastor was a lady. It was starting to get uncomfortably hot in the room.
I watched and prayed and felt the Holy Spirit tug on my heart.
I asked my interpreter if I might share something with the group and they agreed.
I spoke: “I understand from the Bible that God views His church quite differently from how we see ourselves and one another. When He addresses His church, He writes to either His universal body, a specific ‘church in your house’ or the city church, that is, in Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, etc. As long as you continue to see yourselves divided into different denominations, you will remain fragmented and ineffective.
You need to see yourself the way God sees you, as His one church in the city of Ulyanovsk.
You will not be able to do what He has called you to do until you see yourselves as you truly are, the way God sees you….as one body and one church in this city.”

There was silence in the room and I nervously wondered if the message had been clear, had they even understood what I was trying to say, let alone accepted it.
However, the silence ended, the contention broke, and they began sharing along more positive lines. They even started serving tea and enjoying one another’s company!
I heard a few months later that they had indeed held their unity service and God had blessed their coming together.

I could not help but think of our own city.
Our City of ___________needs the Church of ____________ (fill in the blanks) to see itself the way Our God sees us and respond accordingly.
We need to be, stand and walk together in a kingdom mindset, in His unity, freedom, love and purpose.
We need to take to heart and demonstrate our oneness in prayer, faith and action.
We need to put away our petty, divisive distinctions and embrace the fullness of who we are in Christ…together, for Christ’s sake.
The alternative is clear: just try to find Laodicea today.