Thursday, April 21, 2011

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 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 testified against them that God had indeed witnessed correctly.

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 message for 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 (together with Philadelphia) received no rebuke and is the only one which still has a present-day congregation of worshipers.
'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 affirms we must already possess this unity through Christ. You cannot 'keep' what you don't already have. We are one body. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, Baptist nor Charismatic in Christ's eyes. Various 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 truth, value our unity and act out who we integrally are in Christ.
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, a city with over a million people about 400 kilometres from Moscow, best known as the 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 on my way to class, I would pass by one of Lenin’s few still-standing statues in Russia in the city's main square and sarcastically greet him,
“Good morning, Comrade Lenin. My, but you don’t look very well. Are you sick? Losing your balance? You seem to be tilting a little more each day?!”
Towards the end of my two weeks there, I was invited to join one of the first unity meetings of a group of pastors in Ulyanovsk. My interpreter kept me informed on what was transpiring, but the pastors’ body language needed no interpretation and even my limited Russian understood 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 the date!
Should it be the Western December 25th or the Eastern Orthodox January 6th?
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 would either.
The Pentecostal pastor objected; then still another objected more to the Methodist pastor's involvement: she was a woman.
It was starting to get uncomfortably hot in the room.
I watched and prayed and felt a Holy Spirit tug on my heart.
I asked my interpreter if I might share something with the group.
They agreed and so 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 a city church in a geographical area, that is, 'in Ephesus', 'in Philippi', or 'in Corinth'.
As long as you continue to see yourselves divided by different walls and 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 I had given the message clearly enough. Had they at least understood what I was trying to say, let alone accepted it?
However, the silence ended, the contention seemed to break, and they began relating and sharing in more positive, inclusive ways. They even started serving tea and enjoying one another’s company!
A few months later, I heard that they had indeed held their unity service and God had blessed their coming together. The Orthodox priest spoke, but I don't know if the Lutheran pastor overcame his stumbling block.

I thought of my own city.
Our City of ___________needs the Church of ____________
(fill in the blanks with your city's name)
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 our unity to heart and demonstrate it 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: you can't find Laodicea today.