all god's people said 'ouch'
Why We're Not Emergent (Moody, 2008) which I have reviewed previously here. While the title is a mistake in my opinion, the epilogue is brilliant.
It is called "Listening to All the Churches of Revelation (239-253)" and suggests that here is a framework in which to engage the 'emerging church' - but also, I am suggesting, the issues raised by Rob Bell in his latest book. These guys assert that "the problems in these seven churches are the root problems in all churches (239)" - and off they go, one by one:
EPHESUS: your loveless, fundamentalist church - orthodox, moral, hardworking - to whom Jesus says, "Love".
SMYRNA: your persecuted church - afflicted, slandered, impoverished, but spiritually rich - to whom Jesus says, "Be faithful".
PERGAMUM: your ungrounded, youth-movement church - faithful, passionate witnesses, but compromised with the world - to whom Jesus says, "Discern".
THYATIRA: your warm-hearted, liberal church - loving, but overtolerant, undervaluing doctrinal fidelity and moral purity - to whom Jesus says, "Think".
SARDIS: your flashy and successful, but shallow, megachurch - a great reputation, but spiritually dead - to whom Jesus says, "Wake Up".
PHILADELPHIA: your small, storefront, weak and unimpressive church - struggling, but strong - to whom Jesus says, "Press on".
LAODECIA: your ritzy, influential church in the rich part of town - filled with affluence and apathy - to whom Jesus says, "Be earnest".
OK - so a little bit of cute preachers' licence going on here - but what is the point they are making? "We can all see our besetting sins mirrored here, even if we can see the sins of our neighbour church more easily ... we must pay attention to what Jesus says to ALL seven churches (241)."
And while their eyes are trained on the emerging church (NB: this is the reason behind their selection of three churches from the seven on which to focus), I do wonder aloud if there is some relevance here for the discussion around Love Wins: afterall "there are just as many undiscerning, overtolerant Pergamums and Thyatiras as there are loveless Ephesuses (241)."
Maybe the strength - and weakness - of Love Wins is that its eye remains trained solely on Ephesus?
Here is a bit more:
"Jesus commended them for two virtues scarcely mentioned (today): intolerance (of false teaching) and hatred (of immortality). For all the talk about the supremely inclusive kingdom of God, it should not escape our notice that Ephesus was not praised for their inclusion, but for their exclusion (242)... the people cared about being right, but they no longer cared for each other (243) ... We may think right, live right, and do right, but if we do it off in a corner, shining our lights at one another to probe our brother's sins instead of pointing our lights into the world, we will, as a church, grow dim, and eventually our light will be extinguished (244)" - which is literally what happened in the city of Ephesus!
"Ephesus was under-engaged with the culture; Pergamum over-identified with the culture ... Undiscerning tolerance was Pergamum's crippling defect. Their indifference to religious and moral deviancy was not a sign of their great relevance to the culture ... it was a blight on their otherwise passionate, faithful witness (245) ... Pergamum reminds us of what can happen to young people who aren't taught well or to youth movements that lack grounding in the Scriptures. People get converted, sometimes dramatically, and they live vibrant, courageous, evangelistic Christian lives, but they are also confused, undiscerning, and antinomian, thinking the gospel and grace make moral law unnecessary (246)."
Thyatira possessed the deeds that the Ephesians had and the love that the Ephesians lacked ... Its people loved, served, believed, and endured ... The big problem at Thyatira was tolerance. They tolerated false teaching and immoral behaviour ... I imagine Thyatira as a church with lots of community programs, a concern for social justice issues, a desire to be inclusive. But somewhere along the line warm-heartedness overtook clear-mindedness ... they love what Jesus loves but do not hate what Jesus hates (247)."
And all God's people said, "OUCH?!"
Yep - without a doubt, if I was a pastor I'd be planning a series on the seven churches of Revelation (again!) as a biblical way to engage the issues raised - and not raised - by Love Wins. Without returning to the Bible, there is a danger that the one who raises the problem might prove to be the only one from whom we seek the solution. Maybe Rob Bell rightly has something akin to Ephesus in his sights - but there are six other churches which should concern us equally as much. Let the full agenda of Jesus impact us as we forsake our half-truths.
"We need to catch Jesus' broader vision for the church - His vision for a church that is intolerant of error, maintains moral boundaries, promotes doctrinal integrity, stands strong in times of trial, remains vibrant in times of prosperity, believes in certain judgement and certain reward, even as it engages culture, reaches out, loves and serves. We need a church that reflects the Master's vision - one that is deeply theological, deeply ethical, deeply compassionate, and deeply doxological (248)."