church study

Examples of The Crippled Church

I wanted to illustrate the main point from my last post: that any gathering of Christians might still be an ekklesia albeit horribly crippled. Up front I wanted to make my point clearer—I think we’ve restricted the meaning of the Local Church to center around a building or a specific service but have ignored the goal and work of the church as well as the boundary markers that define of what the church looks like. In so doing, I think we’ve effectively divorced the markers of the ekklesia and have made them stand on their own apart from it

So when we look at Revelation1:20 we see that Christ is examining the lamp stands of seven churches. How much light are they giving? Where are they falling short in performing their task? At what point do these gathering of Christians stop being churches?

Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7)
They had good deeds, they persevered in the work, they had strong disciplinary principles and their study of apostolic doctrine was razor sharp. They endure for the name of the Lord and it appears their moral practices are very focused. Christ’s charge against them: they’ve left their first love (it was to be either of the first priority or it was the love they had from the first—in both cases it likely points to a community defined by its love—be it for people, one another or God). Unless they repent they’re in danger of being snuffed out, but they’re still a church.

Pergamum (2:12-17)
In the midst of a tremendously bad situation the faith of the church in Pergamum remained strong. Yet the charge against them is that they have perverted their doctrine, perverted their worship practices and perverted their moral practices. Oh they’re still a church—but the Lord will make war against the ones doing the perversion within the Church. Therefore, the entire church is told to repent.

Thyatira (2:18-29)
This church was known by Christ for their love, their faith, their service and their endurance in good works. The Lord in fact points out that their more recent deeds are greater than the first. But they didn’t maintain pure worship practices and perverted their doctrine by dabbling in the teaching of Jezebel (who apparently is teaching the “deep secrets of Satan” v.24). Christ says He will repay each of them their deeds. Those who are faithful there are to hold on to what they have until Christ comes.

Sardis (3:1-6)
The church does great works; they even seem to have a reputation. The charge was that it was all a charade. Their worship wasn’t genuine worship. Their spotlight on Christ wasn’t genuinely doing the task. And yet this church still has a chance as long as they repent by waking up.

Laodicea (3:14-22)
Laodicea has the worst of the charges. The church does deeds but they’re not great and they’re not awful. The church’s reputation isn’t even mentioned save what they say about themselves. They believe themselves to be rich and needing nothing—but Christ says they’re actually wretched, naked and poor. The situation is so bad that Christ says he’s going to throw up, spewing them out of His mouth. His request is not so much to change temperature but to realize their poverty, hear Him knocking, open their gathering doors and let Him back in to be actively part of the place.

To this tremendous list I can add the church of Corinth who Paul says that they are tremendously enriched in Christ in speech and knowledge, that they’re not lacking in any gift and they’re even eagerly anticipating the return of the Lord. And yet the church is a perfect example of James admonition: for where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. Their worship practices were frayed, their moral practices were wanting, their discipline was lacking—there wasn’t anything the church didn’t do. And yet, they were still a church!

Bottom Line: the idea of imperfect gatherings of believers still being a legitimate church is not foreign to Scripture—it’s in the text and our current crippled churches just reinforces the old examples. Of course, I’m not saying we should grin and bear it: I’m just saying that my previous conclusions are still within Biblical boundaries.

Here’s the rest of the series.

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