When “Biblical Gender Roles” Aren’t So Biblical: An Evangelical Woman Reviews “Beyond Authority and Submission” by Rachel Green Miller

Some Christians ask, “Is it appropriate for men to read Bible commentaries written by women?” Or “Are women allowed to be police officers?” Others suggest that women are more easily deceived than men, and therefore cannot be trusted. Still others suggest that the fundamental difference between the sexes is authority and submission. For many people, these are the things conjured by the term “complementarian”.

About a year ago, I remember having a conversation with myself about gender roles. I’ve heard enough bizarre teaching and seen enough horrific behavior in my years as an evangelical to have gotten burned out on the topic of gender roles.

But last year I started wondering what the truth really is after we cut through all the distortions and cultural layers. It was in this context that I said to myself, “I’m not sure what I believe about gender roles, but it’ll probably end up being what Rachel Miller and Aimee Byrd believe.”

Thus, when Rachel Green Miller put out a tweet asking for volunteers for her book launch team, I, in faith and with some trepidation, volunteered.

Rachel Green Miller is a theological conservative, a member in good standing at a Presbyterian church, the former editor of The Aquila Report, and a prolific blogger. All of her work is highly researched and clearly communicated, and she possesses the uncanny ability to see and trace connections between ideas and people. I know her primarily from her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation, and from Twitter. I gravitated towards her work immediately, feeling that she was both discerning enough and conservative enough for me to feel safe with and trust her thought processes. She has been immensely helpful for me in moving from being a “cynical evangelical” to a “discerning evangelical,” and for that I am immensely grateful.

For a more “official” introduction, here’s her bio taken from the P&R Publishing website:

Rachel Green Miller is a researcher and popular blogger who is passionate about elevating the dignity of women, improving the cultural conversation about gender relations, and defending orthodox Christianity. A member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, she lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Matt, and their three sons.

In Beyond Authority and Submission, Miller overviews the history of gender roles and the nature of men and women before looking to how these concepts apply in marriage, the church, and society. She summarizes the message of her book in this way:

“…as theologically conservative Christians, we must acknowledge where extrabiblical and unbiblical ideas about women and men have permeated, weakened, and confused our teachings. We need to move beyond a focus on authority and submission in order to incorporate equally important biblical themes in our discussions, such as unity, interdependence, and service. As we do, we will strengthen our vital relationship as co-laborers in Christ.”

In this book review, I will share highlights from each section and then give my response and recommendation.

Summary

Miller begins her book by clarifying that she is not comfortable identifying as egalitarian, complementarian, feminist, or patriarchalist. She does, however, believe that God created men and women to be equal and interdependent; that marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life; that husbands are called to servant headship and wives are called to voluntary submission; and that ordained church leadership is restricted to qualified men.

She does, however, disagree with many voices in complementarianism, such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Voddie Baucham, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Doug Wilson, and Mark Driscoll. Throughout her book, she provides dozens direct quotes from these organizations and individuals to back up her claims about what complementarians believe and practice.

History

In Greco-Roman times, women were viewed as inferior to men, had few legal rights, and were thought to operate in the “private sphere” whereas the “public sphere” belonged to to men. In Victorian times, women were treated as children, were expected to endure abuse by their husbands, and had no legal recourse if their husbands were unfaithful.

Things begin to change with first-wave feminism, which emphasized votes, education, and employment opportunities for women and chasity for men. Second-wave feminism pushed for allowing divorce in cases of abuse. Some feminists of this time bought into the sexual revolution as well as promoting abortion, whereas other feminists saw industries such as abortion and pornography as exploitative of women. Third-wave feminism is largely joined to the abortion and LGBT movements, with some exceptions, as well as being one of the drivers behind and the #MeToo movement, which helps men and women speak up against sexual violence.

From a historical Christian perspective, feminism is a mixed bag—doing much good as well as sometimes supporting immorality. As evangelicals grew in their concerns regarding feminism, they rightly spoke up for biblical truth, but unfortunately often “corrected” by doubling down on ideas borrowed from Greco-Romans and Victorians rather than Scripture; this has resulted in concerning teachings and practices in evangelicalism today.

The Nature of Men and Women

For many complementarians, the fundamental difference between men and women is authority and submission. A tandem belief is that women are more easily deceived and have a core desire to usurp male authority. Together, these beliefs set men and women up to be at enmity with one another.

Miller describes the typical complementarian belief that women are to be “submissive, gentle, quiet, responsive, soft, life-giving, and helping” while men are to be characterized by “strength, authority, and theological discernment and as being initiating, providing, and protecting.” She suggests that these stereotypes come not from Scripture but from culture. In fact, in looking at Scripture,there are positive examples of women leading and initiating (Deborah), providing (Lydia), protecting (Miriam and Abigail), demonstrating strength (Jael), and having theological discernment (Lois and Eunice, Priscilla). Likewise, there are biblical examples of men helping (Barnabas), being gentle and quiet (see the instructions in Paul’s letters to both men and women), giving life (Adam), responding to other’s leadership (Barak and Apollos), and being soft and tender-hearted (David and Paul).

Not only are the complementarian stereotypes not biblical; they can also cause harm and unnecessary pressure. Women who have strong muscles or leadership qualities may feel condemned in their femininity. Men who are short, like poetry, or have emotional intelligence may feel inadequate in their masculinity. However, these stereotypes are merely cultural. There is much freedom within the biblical definitions of maleness and femaleness for uniqueness, and we do well not to add cultural rules to biblical ones.

Marriage

When authority and submission are the main lenses through which complementarians view marriage, the man is seen to be the ruler (prophet, priest, and king) of the house while the woman’s role is to run the home in practical matters. Miller, on the other hand, believes that from a biblical perspective, companionship is at the heart of marriage, along with interdependence, unity, and service. Within this context, she affirms men are to be servant heads and women are called to voluntary submission.

When marriage goes wrong, the question of divorce is raised. There are three main views held by evangelicals. The first is the “Permanence View”, which is that no marriage is ever to be broken by divorce. The second is the “Adultery-Desertion View”, which is that divorce is permitted only in cases of adultery and desertion. The third view is the “Serious Sin View”, which allows for divorce in cases of serious sin such as all kinds of abuse. Miller advocates for the third, asserting that serious sin breaks the marriage covenant; divorce, when chosen, merely makes the broken covenant legal while freeing the aggrieved party from a broken situation. She writes:

Because we hold a high view of marriage, we need to acknowledge that some sins are so heinous that they destroy a marriage. Hard-hearted sinners who break their marriage vows shouldn’t be allowed to make a mockery of marriage through their actions. Marriage is important, but it’s not meant to be preserved at all costs.

Church

When it comes to church, some complementarians believe that men should be the priority, that women are theologically inferior, that men mediate between God and women, and that the church should have a masculine culture. All men are to lead in some capacity, and women may participate in hospitality and childcare.

Miller affirms that women have direct access to God and that only qualified men should be ordained (and therefore preach, administer church discipline, and administer the sacraments) while pointing out that in the Bible, women are shown as singing, praying, prophesying, evangelizing, learning theology, and serving. Miller suggests that women should generally be able to do anything that an unordained man can do.

Miller’s final topic in this section is abuse. Domestic abuse exists in all circles and is justified by people of all belief systems, but there is a particular kind of man who finds cover in hyper-complementarian churches. It’s imperative that we are honest about this, that we condemn both the abuse and the wrong teachings used to justify it, and that we prioritize the lives and safety of the women at risk. The world is watching, and the name of Christ is often slandered because of how churches respond to abuse victims.

Society

When it comes to men’s and women’s roles in society, some complementarians teach that men are to initiate and form while women are to complete and fill. They suggest that godly societies and persons will prefer male leadership in business and government and that female co-workers are dangerous. (Miller, as usual, provides ample documentation that these views are actually widely taught.)

Miller, on the other hand, points to Genesis in saying that work is a shared calling for both men and women. Education, also, is rightly given to all people. There is much freedom as to how men and women work and function in society, to be guided by wisdom, situation, needs, and preferences. Miller also points out that Scripture dignifies both business leaders and employees.

My Response

As I read this book, I found myself often and involuntarily saying either “yes!” or “ew!” as I was struck by Miller’s insights or horrified by quotes from others. What I read put words to my concerns and beliefs. Miller provided data and quotes backing up my intuitions regarding the problems in much of complementarianism. She connected the dots and showed where things came from.

I loved the biblical examples of men and women performing different kinds of tasks and displaying different types of character qualities! I felt a sense of relief and assurance that it’s okay not to fit societal stereotypes. I found myself wishing that various friends and acquaintances of mine who have struggled unnecessarily in the past could feel the same relief.

I love how Miller points to Jesus as the ultimate example of both authority and submission and urges both men and women to look to him as their model for both!

I really appreciated Miller’s balanced approach to feminism. It was fascinating to read a good summary of each of the different “waves” and then to realize that I’m probably a 60 to 66% feminist.

I love the emphasis Miller put on companionship in marriage. Over the years, I’ve been unsure and uncomfortable when I’ve heard people talk about marriage being primarily about either hierarchy or holiness. I think that in the biblical text, particularly the beginning of Genesis, companionship is at the heart of marriage.

In recent years, I have researched the topic of different Christian views on divorce. Hearing Miller list the three main views gave categories for me to better understand. The “Serious Sin View” lines up well with the PCA’s position on divorce, which is that unrepentant serious sin is a form of abandonment and therefore biblical cause for divorce. This is my position as well, and it was helpful to have Miller’s reasoning to further strengthen my position.

I’m very thankful that Miller touched on the topic of abuse in the church. This is something close to my heart, and I think there is opportunity for Christians both to repent of how they have dealt with abuse in the past and then to set an example for the watching world of what it looks like to treat with dignity and truth those who have been victimized by all kinds of abuse.

In general, reading Beyond Authority and Submission has made me less afraid of the topic of gender roles and more confident in my faith, the Bible, and in the wisdom that I have developed over the years. I feel affirmed in my belief that the Bible is safe for women when properly understood and practiced.

My Recommendation

In summary, Miller engages insightfully with topics vital to the health the church, the dignity of all image bearers, and the witness of the church before the watching world. I recommend this book for those interested in the connection between history and current Evangelical teachings, for those who want a robust interaction with Biblical truth, and for those who are developing their own theology of gender roles. This book is good for both church leaders as well as lay people, both men and women.

I will note that this book is from a primarily Western and Caucasian perspective, meaning that it looks at the history of the West and specific teachings prevalent in white evangelicalism in the United States today. Other cultures may be able to relate to varying degrees, but I want to acknowledge that Miller’s critiques may or may not be true of other cultures. (She never claims that they are, but for those reading in a different cultural context, I just want them to be aware.) For example, Kyle James Howard, a seminary student and biblical counselor, has written about the teachings and practices regarding gender roles in the African American church and how they differ from teachings and practices in many white churches.

Miller’s writing itself is clear and concise, well-organized and easy to follow. The concepts are fascinating, the historical overview is helpful, and the many quotes shared back up her claims regarding prevalent teachings in evangelicalism. She is committed to historical and credal understanding of the Christian faith and she has the endorsements of people such as Carl Truman, Aimee Byrd, Jacob Denhollander, Wendy Alsup, and Liam Goligher.

In conclusion, thank you, Rachel, for writing such an insightful and helpful book! I give it five out of five stars, and I highly recommend it. I found it personally refreshing, clarifying, and helpful. I believe it is an invaluable resource for the church as we wrestle with what it means to be biblically male and female in our homes, our churches, and our societies.

You can purchase it from Amazon here or P&R Publishing here.

I’ll leave you with a superb summary quote and call to action from Rachel Green Miller herself:

Too often we find ourselves fighting each other face-to-face instead of fighting side-by-side as we were meant to. From the beginning, when Eve was made to be a helper for Adam, they were meant to work together for God’s glory and for His kingdom. As believing men and women, we have been united together in Christ. Instead of being distracted by what could divide us, we should focus on what unites us. We are the body—the church. Through the work of the Spirit, we are knit together and our true goal has been restored: women and men united and interdependent, serving together as co-laborers, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

Keeping Your Hymnal Isn’t Good Enough

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[This article is a response to Tom Raabe’s article over at The Federalist. You can read his article here.]

Let me state my position right out of the gate, I’m in favor of using hymnals in church. The only time I think we should use screens in church is if the pastor wants the congregation to learn a hymn or worship song that isn’t already in the hymnal. My purpose in writing this article is two-fold. I want to point out the fundamental flaw in Raabe’s argumentation, the fundamental flaw being that Raabe is presenting an opinion as fact, and my second purpose to show that because he is presenting his opinion as fact, his conclusion has some very large gaping holes in it that a post-modernist could easily toss a basketball through.

For example, at one point, he says that we shouldn’t use screens in church because “they’re ugly.” His opinion is subjective. This is like a 4 year old protesting eating his greens because “I don’t like it” even though you know good and well he’s never tried them. It doesn’t matter how correct your conclusions are if the basis for your conclusions is nothing more than your subjective opinion, then all it takes for you to go down the wrong is for someone to convince you to change your opinion.

I could easily tell you that it is my personal opinion that grass is green, and while my opinion may be correct, the fact that it is my opinion doesn’t make grass green.

Part 1: When Your Confirmation Bias Doesn’t Reflect Reality

First of all, Raabe is using old data to make a claim that the worship wars are over and that contemporary Christian music industry has won. The data he is using spans from 1998-2012. 2010-2014 is the time when millennials started branching out and finding their own churches (assuming they even stayed in church), and as a result the data changed.

Thom Rainer points out in a 2014 article that millennials aren’t really as concerned about modern worship styles as Raabe would have you to believe.

You see, most Millennials don’t think in the old worship war paradigm. In that regard, “style” of worship is not their primary focus. Instead they seek worship services and music that have three major elements.

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.

  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.

  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

Now, the evidence doesn’t look so bleak, does it?

Drawing from my own experience, I remember being out of town for a couple of weeks and my wife and I visited a church that had both a traditional and a contemporary service. We decided to go to the traditional service for the first week, and then go to the contemporary service the next to compare and contrast the difference between the two.

We noticed immediately that the traditional service had twice as many people as the contemporary service and more than half of the congregants were 18-35 year olds. The contemporary service had half as many people as the traditional service and most of the congregants in that service were in their 50’s or older.

I’m a millenial and I am a pastor so I can tell you that what millennials are looking for is a worship experience that is grounded in the history and tradition of God’s people. We long for a history that doesn’t just go back 50-200 years because that’s not good enough. That’s not ancient enough. We crave meaning from a tradition that goes all the way back to the early church. We want to worship with the Apostles.

Part 2: Careful, Your Theology is Showing

Even though Raabe insists that we keep our hymnals, one thing he’s not taking into account is church’s that have shoddy hymnals. I’m not going to blame him for that because he probably comes from a background where he’s never encountered a bad hymnal. If that’s the case, then he’s obviously never attended any small rural churches in the Bible belt (which again, isn’t necessarily his fault).

I grew up in and pastor in a culture where it is perfectly acceptable to sing whatever you want as long as it comes out of the hymnal regardless of whether or not that song has any theological leg to stand on because after all, our hymnals are infallible, right? Wrong.

The reason songs like “If I Could Hear Mama Pray Again,” “America,” and even our own national anthem still have a place in our hymnal and are still being sung in our churches because one of two things is happening: we’re either assuming that our hymnals are infallible and therefore, all songs are acceptable or we just don’t care enough about what the songs are implying to give a hoot.

  • On a completely separate note altogether, it’s interesting that most of the people who sing songs about Mother in church on Mother’s Day (If I Could Hear Mama Pray Again) and sing songs about God allegedly shedding His grace on a country that He didn’t show to any other country (America the Beautiful) on the Sunday before July 4th are the same people who bemoan the idolatry of the Roman Catholic Church because they kiss statues and pray to saints. But again, that’s another sacred cow for tipping over at another time.

Keeping your hymnal and training those coming up in your church to sing the songs that you sing instead of using modern music and screens only works if your church intentionally sings the truth about who God is and what He is doing in the world through His people therefore, simply keeping your hymnal isn’t good enough if you’re hymnal isn’t any good.

You can tell what a church believes by listening to what they sing. If they avoid the hymns that speak truth about God’s judgement or holiness and sing only songs about flying away to some sweet by and by then that’s a sign that the church is assuming a problematic eschatology that stems from an even more problematic view of God and His people.

Singing about Heaven and the eschatological consummation of all things is perfectly fine as long as you’re assuming the same vision of the consummation described in the Scriptures as opposed to some dispensationalist nonsense view of Heaven dreamed up by John Darby, C.I. Scofield, and more recently John Hagee.

Part 3: The Climactic Finish

A while back, my church and I was challenged by our Wednesday Night Bible Study curriculum at the time to go through our hymnal and see much how often the hymns we sing reflected Biblical ideas about God.  We were limited on time (because that part was only the introduction to that evening’s study), I think if we had probed hard and had been honest with ourselves and honest with the Scriptures then we might have come to the conclusion that while a lot of our hymns have a solid foundation there are others that should never see the light of day again.

 

Brief Thoughts on Pastor Platt’s Public Prayer for President Trump

This past Sunday, President Trump unexpectedly showed up at David Platt’s church, McLean Bible Church, and asked for prayer.

Platt prayed. Trump stood silently. The crowd applauded. Trump left. And social media erupted.

I wish to share some of my thoughts as well as some of the critiques that are important to consider. To start, here is a transcription of the prayer.

The Prayer Itself

I think the prayer was fantastic:

  • Acknowledging God as ruler of all
  • Praising God for salvation
  • Praying that Trump will look to Jesus in faith
  • Praying that Trump will lead with wisdom in the cause of righteousness and justice and equity
  • Praying for Trump’s family
  • Praying for all of our governing officials
  • And back to praising God as ruler of all.

This prayer is very biblical and very non-partisan. It clearly spoke the gospel over our president and called him to rule with wisdom and righteousness.

Other Considerations

Many opinions have been offered and many critiques have been made. Some of the ideas I find ridiculous. Others make sense to me and are worth our consideration; there are three in particular that I want share.

First, some have pointed out that we should not give extra honor to the wealthy or the powerful when they come to our services. That we ought to pray for our leaders, but that to do so from the pulpit may or may not be appropriate.

Second, it’s plausible to assume that that Trump was using Platt and Platt’s church for optics sake, and they, therefore, should have refused to what could be viewed as complicity in using the church to prop up Trump’s reputation.

And third, there are people of color and victims of sexual assault who would have (and did!) find seeing Trump on stage extremely distressing. People such as these need to be taken into account when situations of this nature arise. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I can see how empathy and sensitivity is needed. (See Kyle James Howard’s comments on Twitter to learn more about this perspective.)

Note: Pastor Platt wrote an explanation of what happened and his thought processes throughout, as well as expressing genuine empathy for those who were hurt by his choice. (Some have mischaracterized this as an apology, but it does not read that way to me.) You can read it here.

Concluding Thoughts

Pastor David Platt was put in a difficult situation for which he had little time to prepare. I think that he made a reasonable, good faith choice. The prayer itself was awesome! I also think the conversations surrounding the intersection of faith and political leaders, the powerful and the marginalized are vital and profitable.

Check out some of my other articles:

Revelation 2:12-17 // The Church that Compromises

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TEXT: Revelation 2:12-17, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

God of all Wisdom, we have gathered before You to read your holy Word and to be guided by it. Send your Spirit to this place that we might feast upon Your word and digest its meaning to fill our souls with Your wisdom and truth.  In name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

If you were to travel to the West African country of Liberia 25 years ago, the danger was clear and present. Civil unrest. Armed insurgencies. Political instability. In the 1990’s, the country had become a killing field. But if you would have traveled to Liberia just five years ago, the danger would not have been so obvious. Most likely, you would not find yourself looking down the barrel of a machine gun. But 5 years ago, a simple sneeze could have killed you. As we now know, the Ebola outbreak was just beginning. As of October 2014, almost 2500 Liberians had died from the disease.

This morning, as we once again explore the book of the Revelation together, we will also discover that sometimes, we can become blind to what is truly dangerous. [2]

Some of the most dangerous poisons are the ones that go undetected until it’s too late. Nothing will poison the body of Christ like the poison of compromise. [3]

 

Just listen to what some of those who have gone before have us about this.

 

    • “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    • “A new Decalogue has been adopted by the neo-Christians of our day, ‘Thou shalt not disagree,’ and a new set of Beatitudes too, ‘Blessed are they that tolerate everything for they shall not be made accountable.’” – A.W. Tozer

    • “Truth always carries confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.” – Francis Schaeffer

 

 

 

 

THE SWORD OF HIS MOUTH

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword” – Revelation 2:12, NRSV

We know from the context clues of the rest of Scripture (Revelation 1:16; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:11-16), that this sword is God’s authoritative word.

  • Whatever God speaks, happens. His word doesn’t go forth void.

What the Sword Means

  • According to Paul in Romans 13:4, governments bear a sword.

    • Swords are symbols of authority, and unless someone isn’t using their authority correctly or their being immoral (etc.) then you typically shouldn’t argue with someone that God has given authority to.
    • Just like guns are typically (not always) symbols of authority. A police officer pulled me over on Friday and he said I was going too fast. I didn’t believe him, but I don’t think it would have behooved me to argue with someone who wields a firearm.

  • Jesus is telling them to fear the sword of God rather than the sword of the government.  

 

“As the earliest Christians found in Acts, the church always has to be able to say ‘We must obey God rather than human authorities’, even if the ‘authorities’ in question are not the official magistrates (though the magistrates, too, may pose a threat if the Christians refuse to join in with state religion) but simply the insidious pressures of people saying ‘but this is what everybody does’.

Jesus’ response is clear. The Roman governor may wield the sword, but Jesus has the sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth (verses 12, 16, as in 1.16). His word will cut through the half-hearted spirituality that is happy to face both ways at once.“[4] – N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone

What the Sword Does

This sword that’s coming out of Jesus’ mouth is the word of God.

 

God’s word is His is message to us, but it’s not just His message, it’s His authority, and listen to what it does.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” – Hebrews 4:12-13, NRSV

  • The word of God reveals everything when it gets inside of us, and it has to. When you go into a room in your house to clean it out, you’ve got to turn on the light to see what’s in there so you know what to throw away, and that’s what God’s word does with us.

  • According to James 1, the word of God is like a mirror and when look at it, and don’t do what it says it’s as if you look at yourself in the mirror and then walk away forgetting what you look like.

 

But our passage in Revelation 2 describes the word of God as a two edged sword. The two edges of the sword are God’s ability to kill and make alive by His word. Look at Deuteronomy 32 just a minute and listen to part of the song of Moses.

 

“See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand. 40 For I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear: As I live forever, 41 when I whet my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment; I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me.”
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41, NRSV

 

Now, the question is which edge of the sword are you going to get?

Some might say, “Well, that’s just Old Testament stuff. We’re under the new covenant now. God was mean and nasty then, but since Jesus came along He’s really chilled out.”

 

  • A lot of people really interpret Scripture that way, but God hasn’t changed.

 

This is what’s going to happen, according to Revelation 19, in the New Testament.

 

“Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war…  13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God… 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” – Revelation 19:11, 13, 15-16, NRSV

 

This is what Jesus means in verse 16 of our text when He says, “Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

A TESTIMONY OF FAITHFULNESS

“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.” – Revelation 2:13, NRSV

 

The commendation here is simple: considering, you live where Satan lives, you’ve been faithful.

 

“Pergamos was the first city in Asia to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living emperor. Hence, Satan’s throne, where he holds court, can also indicate the altar where Caesar was worshiped as lord, and/or where the Roman governor sat in his judgment seat, dealing out capital punishment by the “law of the sword.”
– Orthodox Study Bible

 

  • As I said last week, in that time and in that part of the world, there was no separation of church and state. In that time and place, the state was the church, and caesar was their god. The motto of the state was “Caesar is Lord.”

  • The phrase “Jesus is Lord” is not simply a religious message, it’s a political message. It’s political message that says we will have no king, but Christ.

 

“According to tradition, the early martyr Antipas was bishop of Pergamos and was martyred in AD 92 by being burned to death in a heated bronze bull, having witnessed before the Roman governor that Jesus is Lord.” – Orthodox Study Bible

 

We need pastors and church leaders like Antipas with a backbone who will stand up and say, “Hello, World! Jesus bought this place with His blood. Deal with it.” (Tony Sumpter, Blood-Bought World)

So, so far we see that they have a Testimony of Faithfulness, but unfortunately, they also have a Tolerance for Corruption.

 

A TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION

“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” – Revelation 2:14-15, NRSV

 

The first problem Jesus addresses is that there’s people who hold to the teaching of Balaam.

 

  • In order to really understand that you have to go back and read chapters 25-31 of Numbers. Basically, Balak is a king of Moab and he’s afraid that the people of Israel are going to come in and take up his land. What he doesn’t know is that God commanded Israel earlier not to touch anything that belonged to Moab.

  • So, he acts out of fear and contacts a man named Balaam. Balaam is a Moabite, he’s not an Israelite, he’s a pagan Gentile. Brandon Hanson actually describes Balaam like this: “He was a thief and a trickster who meddled with powers beyond his comprehension… He was one who regularly dealt with demons disguised as various deities, making deals and inquiring of them for the knowledge he needed to perform spells and incantations, blessings and curses. Like Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus, Balaam sought to steal “fire” of his own—divine knowledge for his personal gain.” [5]

 

  • Balaam was the kind of guy you would contact if you wanted a voodoo doll made. He was a Hocus Pocus Hitman.

  • Balak contacts Balaam to put a curse on Israel, and Balaam soon realizes that he can’t. God speaks to him several times and actually causes him to bless Israel instead of curse them. Balak finally parted company with Balaam who could do nothing but bless Israel. But as Balaam is leaving, he offers one last piece of advice: Moab might defeat Israel if he told the Moabite women to prostitute themselves amongst Israel and invite them to worship their gods, eat their food offered to their idols, and sacrifice.

  • What Balak is really saying is “If you can’t put a curse on them, then maybe you can get them to do things that are conducive to a curse. All you have to do is get them to do things that will invite chaos and destruction into their life, and they will take care of themselves.”

Satan doesn’t have to come into your house and knock stuff around for you to be under a curse. All he has to do is get you to do things that invite chaos into your life, and I’m not talking about something stupid like yoga or whatever.

  • Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony – There’s a reason the Catholic Church called these the seven deadly sins. Every time you sin, it’s because you give in to one of these seven things.

    • The cycle of sin is usually the same: we think we’re entitled to something, or we think we deserve better than what we have (pride), so we want something we can’t have (envy, greed, lust), so we lash out at those around us (wrath), and then we’re depressed and we overindulge in the things that we can have (sloth and gluttony.)

 

So, what then is the teaching of Balaam? The teaching of Balaam is that if you don’t like God’s Word, then just change it. Believe a different word. Balaam basically told Balak that if he didn’t like God’s word of blessing, then maybe he could get Israel to go whoring after other gods and get them to believe a different, a word other than the one God has spoken.

  • This is what people do when they don’t like God’s word, they try to change it. This is what society does when they say, “Well, I identify as…. Whatever.” God has established reality, and whenever people think they do something like change their gender, what they’re saying is, “I don’t like what is true so I’m going to change it.” What else do you expect from a society that believes truth is all relative?

    • The cry of much of the LGBT community is “Live your truth.” No, live THE truth. There’s only one truth, and you can’t change it.

 

One more thing that I thought was so profound about this passage is the way that Jesus addresses the church.

  • He doesn’t say, “You people are a bunch of heretics and Nicolaitans and heretics.”

  • Instead He says, “You have heretics and Nicolaitans among you.”

And what this reminded me of was Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. That kept coming to my mind all week while I was reading this passage. I want us to think about the parable and see if there’s some comparisons that can be drawn here.

We remember the parable of the wheat and tares, right?

  • You’ve got a wheatfield. And then while everyone is asleep an enemy comes in and plants tares or weeds among the wheat.

  • One of the slaves notices it and said to the owner of field, “I know you have sown good seed, but an enemy came in and planted these weeds.” And the slave asks, “Do you want us to pull up the weeds?”

“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” – Matthew 13:29-30, NRSV

 

So, what you have here is a congregation that has wheat and tares.

  • Jesus is addressing the wheat, and He’s saying, “I have this against you that you have some here who are tares.”

And what is Jesus’ solution to all of this? He doesn’t say, “Kick these people out.” He doesn’t tell them to go on an inquisition in an effort to “cleanse” the church – He simply tells them to repent.

 

THE INVITATION TO REPENT AND LISTEN

“Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” – Revelation 2:16, NRSV

What Jesus says is very simple – repent. He doesn’t lay out a 5 step church growth program or anything like that, just repent.

  • Repentance means turning to Christ, and turning away from your sin. When the church as a whole begins the process of repenting together, then you won’t have to weed out the tares, they’ll weed themselves out.

People who don’t want the uncensored, unfiltered Gospel of Jesus Christ won’t stay in a place where it’s preached for very long. 

Here’s the invitation.

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17, NRSV

Why hidden manna? Why a white stone with a new name?

It’s simple. They’re living in a secular, pagan wilderness where they are in danger of being killed for their faith, and while everyone else is out in the open, running to the temple of Caesar, and worshipping at the altar of Zeus in search of some blessing, they don’t need a temple. Their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Their sacrifice is one of praise and reasonable service. (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15)

 

CONCLUSION

It’s the same for us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we have been bought with a price, and our sacrifice is one of worship and reasonable service.

 

  • And part of our reasonable service to proclaim to the world that Jesus bought this place with His blood, and He sits on His throne.

 

Think about it, Jesus tells the church, “You live where Satan’s throne is.” Their job was declare that is Jesus is on His throne even though Satan was on his throne. That’s bold, and that’s possible because Jesus already defeated Satan 2,000 years on an old rugged cross, and Jesus got up three days later to affirm that victory. Jesus lives and because He lives, so do we. Let’s pray.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, Your Word is life and light. Give us the power to declare Your name even in the darkest of places, even where Satan’s throne is. Give us strength to share Your victory with those feel as those they’re defeated. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

___________________________________

  1. Based on the Prayer for Illumination found here: “Prayer for Illumination | Epiphany 3C | January 24th, 2016.” Liturgy & Hymns By Stephen M. Fearing, http://www.stephenmfearing.com/liturgy//prayer-for-illumination-epiphany-3c-january-24th-2016.
  2. Church Plant Media. “Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised (Revelation 2:12-17).” Way of Grace Church: Buckeye, AZ, http://www.wayofgracechurch.com/sermons/sermon/2014-10-19/pergamum:-constant-but-compromised-revelation-2:12-17.
  3. Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.
  4. Wright, N. T. Revelation for Everyone. Westminster John Knox, 2015.
  5. Hanson, Brandon. “Revelation 2:12-17 | To the Church in Pergamum: Part 2 | 016.” Christ Hold Fast, 16 Jan. 2019, http://www.christholdfast.org/blog/revelation-212-17-to-the-church-in-pergamum-part-2-016.
  6. ” “

Growing Up Pentecostal

holy ghost revival
Photographer: Trey Ratcliff

There’ll be singing, there’ll be shouting
There’ll be sorrow, there’ll be pain;
There’ll be weeping, there’ll be praying,
When our Lord shall come again.

Words to hymns like these filled the air every Sunday morning, and every Sunday and Wednesday evening. In those days, we didn’t have to wait for our Lord to come again hear singing, shouting, weeping, and praying. In those days you never knew what was going to happen, what songs were going to be sung, or who had “the key to the service.”

We would be in a worship service and the pastor of the church (usually) would stand up in the middle of the service and say, “Someone has the key to this service! All you have to do is obey God!” And then sure enough, someone would spontaneously shout, dance, pray for someone who was sick, share a testimony of their salvation, or sing a song, and the whole atmosphere be filled with the peace of heaven.

As much as my hardshell Calvinistic theology would like to inform me that this goes against the “regulative principle of worship” or that “things simply don’t happen like that,” I’ve seen an entire congregation come to life with godly joy over someone simply coming down to the altar for prayer.

There wasn’t a “repeat this prayer and you’ll be saved” kind of rhetoric (most of the time). There were genuine, Jesus-loving people who want to help you communicate with God in prayer.

Tim Challies wrote an article about a well-known leader the early Pentecostal movement, and someone who commented on the article was disparaging their own Pentecostal upbringing (they are Reformed now). I am also Reformed now. I’m a Calvinist, and I hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith (with some minor caveats), I can’t disparage my roots. Maybe their experience was bad, but mine wasn’t. Granted, I’m not going to say that everything I witnessed go on in a Pentecostal church during a worship service was right and biblical because it wasn’t, but overall, I feel as though my upbringing helped me more than hurt me.

My grandparents taught me the Bible. By the time I was in my teens I could quote more Scripture from King James Version of the Bible than anybody my age, and it wasn’t because I participated in Bible Quiz Bowls or sword drills. My grandparents didn’t pressure me to memorize verses or play with Bible flash cards. They didn’t do in-home discipleship, family worship, devotions, or anything like that. They simply lived godly lives at home in front me, and as a result, I learned the Bible by watching how much they valued the Bible. I learned hymns by listening to my grandma sing while she was doing chores around the house. When she taught me to play piano, she taught me to play hymns and southern gospel because that’s all she knew.

When other people talk about their bad experiences in Pentecostalism, I have to sigh and unfortunately say, “I know.” I’m all too familiar with the legalistic horror stories of young women being called whores because they had a little blush on or because they wore a pair of knee-length shorts that might cause someone “to stumble” *eye rolls* …whatever.

In those moments, I can only wish they had had my experiences. My experiences weren’t completely free of legalism and unwarranted insecurities, but those things didn’t matter when the worship service would start (or at least, those things didn’t matter to me).

I was free and somehow, I knew it.

Revelation 2:8-11 // The Church that is Suffering and Afflicted

sevenlettersgraphicp2

TEXT: Revelation 2:8-11, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen. [1]

INTRODUCTION:

Smyrna was founded in 1200 B.C. That is two hundred years before King David, and back in the days of the judges of Israel. In the sixth century B.C., Alyattes, king of Lydia, conquered Smyrna and dispersed the inhabitants into tiny villages throughout the area, where they could be no threat to his rule. For almost four hundred years, Smyrna was in eclipse. Alexander the Great wanted to rebuild it, but the task fell to his successor, who rebuilt the city around 300 B.C. on the slopes of Mount Pagus, about two miles south of its former site. It had wide and spacious streets. Its major street (called “the street of gold”) began at the harbor, curved around Mount Pagus, and ran on to the foothills away
from the sea.

Smyrna had been destroyed, yet she had come back to life. It was remarkable, and Smyrna ended up with the nickname “the city that was dead, yet lived.”

  • Jesus reminds them, “You may be a resurrected city, but I am a resurrected savior.”

Smyrna was not only beautiful and prosperous, she was extremely nationalistic. Three hundred years earlier (265-146 B.C.), when Rome was fighting for its life against the Carthaginian empire, Smyrna had sided with Rome. She was the first city in Asia to declare allegiance to Rome, and she built a temple to Roma, the goddess of Rome. That was in 195 B.C., almost one hundred years before Julius Caesar.

In 26 A.D., when the whole world wanted to be friends with Rome, eleven cities competed for the privilege of erecting a temple in honor of Tiberius Caesar. Smyrna won the honors. Rome considered Smyrna the most noble and worthy of the cities of Asia. Cicero called Smyrna “the most faithful of our allies.” Roman nobility came to visit and vacation there. After 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed, Smyrna was a favorite place for Jewish settlement, and the Jewish community there was large and influential.

So the scene is set. Smyrna is beautiful, prosperous, highly patriotic, and of esteemed reputation. Its citizens are proud of their city, and they feel fortunate to live there. [2] Sound familiar?

No one really knows the origin of the church at Smyrna, but the facts are clear. They are guaranteed suffering, and this is completely antithetical to North American Evangelicalism.

Jared C. Wilson, who is a Christian, wrote an article this week about how Christian movies are sending the wrong message, and he said:

“There is a kind of prosperity gospel that pervades contemporary Christian art. It’s there in Christian Music radio, of course, and it’s all over Christian movies, including the ones based on true stories. The team has to win. The sick person has to defy the odds. (If you can get a sick person and a sports team in the same story, you’ve hit Christian movie gold.) The atheist professor must get owned. The unbelieving spouse must be converted. On and on it goes. Why? Because “if you just believe,” you can win.

Christian movies have embraced a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. This is why, apart from inauthentic dialogue and stilted acting, Christian movies ring so untrue to ears tuned to reality. We know real life doesn’t work this way — even for believers. The world of Christian movies is uncomfortable sitting in the ambiguity of suffering, confusion, or chaos for too long. But if we must have Christian movies, they above all others, should be brave enough to tell us the truth, which is messier than what the market usually wants to hear.[3]

There is an implicit lie within Christian media that if you believe hard enough you’ll always win in life. Try selling that to starving Christians in Venezuela.

In John 16:33, Jesus said in no uncertain terms, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows.” That’s the bad news and it’s important that we remember because it makes the good news so much sweeter.

  • The good news is the rest of John 16:33, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

So, as we look at the text this morning, I want us to see three things: A Picture of the Savior, A Promise of Suffering, and A Promise for Faithful Conquerors.

 

A PICTURE OF THE SAVIOR

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” – Revelation 2:8-9, NRSV

What we’re mostly dealing with in these two verses is who Jesus is and what Jesus knows. And, if you’re suffering, both of those things should be comforting.

  • Jesus told us I would have trouble. He knows we’re in trouble, and He is the Son of God who conquers the world that is giving us trouble.

The first thing Jesus says is that these words are the words of the first and the last.

In the Revelation 1:17, the first thing that Jesus says to the Apostle John is, “I am the first and the last.”

  • This is Jesus affirming Himself to John. This title of the first and the last is something that God says about Himself three times in the book of Isaiah, and by telling John, “I am the first and the last” his mind immediately goes back to Isaiah 44:6 where God says, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

 

The second thing is, “These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life”

  • Resurrection is authentication. This proves that Jesus is who He says He is. So, Christ’s resurrection is central to the life of the Church.

    • His resurrection means our resurrection.

  • How much do we really believe this though? Here’s the test: Imagine if Jesus’ had never risen from the dead. If Jesus had never risen from the dead, and you [as a church, not an individual] can go on living how you’re living now, and function as you are now if Jesus had never risen from the dead, then you are not living in the power of His resurrection.

“and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, NRSV

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11, NRSV

Let me say this again: Christ’s resurrection is central to the life of the Church. If the life of the church wouldn’t be any different if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, then we are not living by the power of His resurrection.

The next thing that we learn about Jesus is in verse 9, “I know your affliction and your poverty…”

Jesus knows our affliction and our suffering. He identifies Himself with the poor, the afflicted, the suffering. He identifies Himself with the marginalized.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” – Isaiah 53:3, KJV

A man like this isn’t coming for the righteous, but the unrighteous. He’s not coming for people who don’t suffer. He’s coming for the oppressed. He’s coming for the victims.

  • He’s coming for people who mourn, people who are hungry and thirsty, people who are meek. Because, according to Matthew 5, they’re the ones who receive the blessing.

The fourth idea here is that He knows our hearts.

“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” – Revelation 2:9, NRSV

So, who are the Jews in question? Are they actual Jews by lineage and race or is Jesus using the word “Jew” to mean something else?

“For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.”
– Romans 2:28-29, NRSV

  • Just as a side note: Romans 2 is the key to understanding Romans 11, when Paul says, “All Israel will be saved.” He’s not talking about the nation of Israel or all ethnic Jews. He’s talking about all those who trust Jesus as their Savior and Messiah.

In Revelation 2, Jesus is saying “I know those who say they are Jews and are not, they are not they are of the synagogue of Satan.”

  • In Smyrna there was a Jewish synagogue not too far from where the church would meet, and the Jews would do all kinds of awful things to get this church in trouble with political authorities.

  • They would even come into the church and pose as converts and try to tear the church apart.

Jesus knows who they are. Jesus knows who is a genuine believer and who isn’t. Jesus knows who really loves Him and serves Him and who doesn’t.

In this passage, not only do we see A Picture of the Savior, but we also see A Picture of the Suffering.

 

A PICTURE OF THE SUFFERING

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:10, NRSV

When we talk about suffering in terms of persecution, I always want to make sure that if we’re suffering, then we should be suffering for the right reasons.

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed… Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14a, 16b-17, NRSV

Now, listen to what Peter says in the next chapter.

“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.” – 1 Peter 4:14-16, NRSV

Let’s put this in perspective: Revelation, 1st and 2nd Peter, and Jude, and John’s Letters are all written to Christians who are suffering under persecution, and Peter is saying: If you’re going to suffer (and you will because Jesus said you would) then do so for the right reasons.

This important information for us because here in America we think we’re being persecuted when someone says, “Happy Holidays!”

Meanwhile there are Christians in China who are actually suffering for their faith.

  • If we’re suffering we need to evaluate why we’re suffering. Are we really suffering for our faith or are we suffering because we are “mischief makers” as Peter says.

Jesus knows the suffering of the Church of Smyrna, and it appears that they’re suffering for the right reasons, and so He tells them, “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction.”

This is not the message of the prosperity Gospel. You’ve got people in the charismatic movement who will walk saying, “God told me to tell you x.”

  • There are really people with prophetic gifts and I don’t want to disparage that, but when you claim to have that gift and all of your “prophetic words” are encouraging and positive, then I’ve got to wonder what’s real and what isn’t because in the Bible, not even all the messages from the men and women who spoke for God were positive and encouraging.

The prosperity Gospel will not tell you that you are going to suffer, but Jesus does. Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush, but there’s good news here.

  • He says, “for ten days you will have affliction.” Here’s the thing: you can interpret this a million different ways, but ultimately it all means the same thing. Jesus named a specific amount of time that their affliction would last and that tells me that it’s temporary.

Your suffering, your affliction, your trouble is temporary. If you’re a believer, if you’re a Christian, then Jesus personally sees to it that your suffering is only temporary.

  • Satan is at work to make sure you have pain and trouble, but Jesus is has come to make sure your suffering isn’t forever.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NRSV

Not only do we see A Picture of Jesus, A Picture of Suffering, but we also see A Promise to Faithful Conquerors.

 

A PROMISE TO FAITHFUL CONQUERORS

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.” – Revelation 2:10b-11, NRSV

Listen to what’s being promised:

  • Be faithful until death and you’ll receive a crown of life.

  • Conquer and you will not be harmed by the Second Death.

Here’s the thing: because we haven’t faced the real threat of death for our faith yet, I don’t think we appreciate this as much as Smyrna did.

According to John MacArthur, this place was the hotbed of emperor worship. You must treat the caesar as a god.

  • In America, what little emperor worship we see is voluntary; in Rome it was mandatory, and it was all over the place.

  • The promise of a crown of life is more valuable to you when you live in a state that tries to suppress any kind of hope that you have simply because you’re giving your worship to Whom the worship is due, namely Jesus.

    • Jesus is always a threat to secular authorities because He has what they want and they’ll never have – absolute power and authority.

 

Jesus’ promise of a crown of life means that we can look at those earthly kings and rulers in face and say with boldness, “Do your worst.”

Do you know Jesus this morning? Do you understand that this promise to the Church of Smyrna is for you?

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we are Your people. When suffering comes, give us the strength to endure. Send Your Holy Spirit to give us power and strength when we need it most in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

_______________________________________________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 215, Second Sunday After Epiphany
  2. Revelation Sermon Series – Bruce Van Blair
  3. “Why Christian Movies Are So Terrible.” For The Church, 7 Jan. 2019, ftc.co/blog/posts/why-christian-movies-are-so-terrible. 

Making Word Vomiting Great Again

MWVGA

As a Christian, I’m tired. I’m not tired of being a Christian. I’m not tired of looking to Christ. I’m not tired of trying to help others look to Christ. But I am tired. I think I’m disappointed and frustrated so much with the current state of affairs that it’s actually manifesting itself in tiredness.

So, for the sake of my own sanity, I think I’ll voice my frustrations. I know some aren’t going to agree with me on a lot of these issues, but I don’t particularly care. I just have to get some things off my chest, and just for clarification, some of these issues are not related to one another, they are just things I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Jesus Doesn’t Care About Making America Great

It’s really hard to get people to look to Christ when people who are Christians are looking to politicians to “make America great again.” Yep, you know who you are. With our mouths we tell people to look to Jesus and seek His kingdom, but with our Facebook posts we give the middle finger to everyone who doesn’t vote like we do. As a pastor, that’s something really hard to watch, but I see it all the time, and it kills me. I’m proud to be a Libertarian, but at the end of the day, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, or a part of the Green Party. If you love and serve Jesus, then we can hold hands and fight the same battles side by side. The more Christians make political affiliation a matter of importance the more people will believe that Jesus is a flag waving, Republican or a Democratic Socialist, or a member of whatever party you affiliate with. You can either choose to make America great or you can choose to display the greatness of God’s kingdom. You can’t do both because the USA is not the kingdom of Jesus came to establish.

 

Christianity is a Religion, Get Over It

Secondly, can we stop pretending like “It’s not about a religion, it’s about a relationship” is not the dumbest thing to ever come out of someone’s mouth? Oxford (the only English dictionary that matters) defines ‘religion’ as such: “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Do you believe that God is personal? Do you worship Him? If your answer is “yes” to both of those questions then your relationship with God is your religion. Grow up and stop pretending like religion is a dirty word. If you think religion is a bad thing, then try to argue with God when He inspired James to write James 1:27.

Don’t know what James 1:27 says? Good, then I can move on to my next point.

READ YOUR BIBLE!

One of the biggest problems with the American Church is that Christians are biblically illiterate. It seems like no one in the south who claims they are a Christian reads their Bible, and if they do, then they tend to read it with preconceived ideas about what it means. According to Lifeway Research, 34% rarely or never read the Bible. That’s 1/3. That’s a lot of people!

If God has given you a book, and directly spoken in said book, and you rarely or never read it, then either a) you don’t care about what God has to say or b) you don’t really believe that God has spoken in said book. That’s a problem! The reason why there are pastors who continue to preach trash in the pulpit is because of biblically illiterate churches who let them.

Saved by Grace? Yes? No? Pick a Side and Stay Over There

I’m tired of hearing Christians say things like, “Well, we’re saved by grace, but…” and then they’ll follow it some with some qualifier that completely goes against the first part of their sentence. They put qualifiers on grace. If grace has qualifiers then it’s not grace that’s all there is to it. They might as well be saying, “Jesus loves you, but don’t let that go to your head.”

Sunday Morning Worship Isn’t About You, and America Isn’t a Christian Nation

“Well, I just didn’t care for the music.” How many times have you heard this to describe a church service? Or, “It’s just not my style.”

When people use words like, “I,” “My,” or “Me” to describe a worship service, then they are making themselves the center of worship. A Sunday morning service becomes a time where they can have their preferred music, their preferred hymns, their preferred elements in worship instead of what is pleasing to God.

On the Sunday before the 4th July, many churches sang patriotic songs including “America the Beautiful” and our own national anthem as part of their worship service that morning. Why? Because we either believe a) America is God’s country and therefore, America should be worshipped along with God or b) we just don’t give a damn about Sunday morning worship and we should be able to sing about whatever we want depending on whatever godless holiday the world is celebrating.

I can hear patriotic Christians now pecking away at their keyboard, “But ‘Murica is a Christian nation.” First of all, only people can be Christian not nations. The only way a nation can be Christian is if every individual who is considered to be a father of our nation is in fact a Christian, and if you believe Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin are Christians (as admirable as they both are), then you have terrible theology.

Before you recommend David Bartlett and Wallbuilders to me in an effort to change my mind, just know that it’s not going to work that easily, and I know I’m probably not going to change your mind either which is why this post isn’t longer than what it is.

I will finish this section of this post with this thought, when God gave Moses the law, the first command was first the Israelites to worship no other god before Him. They didn’t have freedom of religion. God told them Who they were to worship and the book of Leviticus told them how they were to worship. They didn’t have freedom of religion. So, it is with our nation. We cannot say that America was established as Christian nation while the first amendment people to worship whatever and however they choose. I have no problem with the Constitution, I think it’s a fine document, but I’m not going to pretend that it is a Christian document nor will I pretend that America is or was a Christian nation.

It up to the Christians of this nation, not to establish a nation or kingdom of our own, but to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” God establishes His kingdom. He doesn’t need our help. Our job is to live as citizens of His kingdom first, and in so doing we provoke others to inquire about the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15) Our hope is not that any politician will make things better, but that Jesus will make all things new.

Conclusion

Alright, I think I’m done for now.

Go ahead, type up an angry email.