“Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3)
I watched the first Presidential debate yesterday. Over the last two months I have also been watching many of Premier Daniel Andrews daily press briefings during the Melbourne lockdown. To say politics has been both enthralling and disturbing in 2020 is an understatement. There is much that is concerning, polarising, frustrating, and even dangerous.
At Mentone Baptist we made the decision to preach through the book of Revelation during the latter months of 2020. We settled on this last book of the Bible for several reasons, among them is how Revelation reminds us that the local church is key to God’s eternal purposes.
Jesus authored the book of Revelation. He tells John to write down everything he sees and hears and to have messengers send the manuscript to the 7 churches. These 7 churches were real and historical churches, each located in what is today Western Turkey (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea). In apocalyptic literature the number 7 also denotes wholeness, suggesting that Revelation is not only for those original 7 churches but for the entire church. The timeframe in which Revelation is set (from Jesus’ resurrection to his return) and the way Jesus addresses those who are forgiven and are made citizen of his kingdom, all strongly suggest that this book is for all churches regardless of time and place.
Importance in our society is laid at the feet of Governments, education institutions, and celebrity opinion. Public conversation and newspaper columns are filled with stories about politics, disasters, and sport. What is remarkable about Revelation is that as Jesus interprets the world and defines justice, life and death, it is to his churches that he speaks. He does not address Governments, Prime Ministers or Presidents. His attention is not toward political representatives, corporate CEOs or university Vice Chancellors. His message is for his churches.
Not only is Revelation addressed to the church, the message is largely about the church. The central message is the triumph of Jesus Christ over death and evil, but this Gospel is tightly connected to the church, both the challenges they will face in this temporary world and the hope that is guaranteed to all who persevere to the end.
For example, the first of two visions that are recorded in Revelation (1:12-20) explains that the Son of Man is among his churches. Jesus Christ is described in terms of holding sovereign authority and majesty and yet is found among the 7 golden lampstands. He is with his churches and he is concerned for them. The seven letters that follow this vision (chs. 2 and 3) demonstrate the love Jesus has for his churches, whether he is consoling them or correcting them. Not only is the Son of Man addressing his churches, but God reveals the Church to be more pivotal than any other institution, and to have greater influence than even an Empire such as Rome and an Emperor such as Domitian.
This vision strikes a different song to the one our own culture plays on repeat. Keep in mind that this was equally the case in the First Century AD, only those churches had even less public capital and fewer legal protections. As apocalyptic literature reminds us, what we see and what is, are not always identical. This is no excuse for entertaining speculations and gnostic theories about Governments and cultural power brokers. The function of Biblical apocalyptic is to reveal that which would otherwise be veiled. In a world like ours where secular ideals takes centre stage and where progressive religion serves as priest, Revelation reminds us that the message is Christ triumphant and his church is where God is centralising his work and purposes.
In other words, the best thing Christians can do in this unhealthy political environment is to invest in your local church: join, commit, persevere, serve. There is an important role for Christians in politics and in the public square, but we must not engage at those levels at the expense of the mission and life of the local church. As Jonathan Leeman often reminds, the best solution to the mess and fears and divisiveness that mark our culture is to ‘build healthy churches’.
Is this counter intuitive? It is certainly counter-cultural, for it means investing in a covenant community that is assumed by many as irrelevant, antiquated, and even as a threat to society. That is why Jesus’ words to his 7 churches are so poignant for churches today. Let his word rules our hearts and let his purposes set our agenda. If the Son of Man identifies his church as central to the purposes of God, how can we suppose otherwise?
Perhaps we are suffering from an Ephesus problem. Have we forsaken the love we had at first? Our attention and affection is drawn elsewhere and we have little time for giving effort in our local church. There are plenty of distractions and demands on us and Jesus recognises that Church life is not always easy. The 7 letters to the church show how church life can be rocky at times, and yet see how Jesus persists with even erring churches.
Are you concerned about ideological changes that are grabbing hold of our society? Are you concerned by the lack of integrity and humility that so often absent from the public square? Are you frustrated by dangerous theories that are sexualising our children in perilous ways? Do you fear the lack of resolve among political leaders to address issues that effect the most vulnerable in society?
Instead of entrenching ourselves into partisan politics, we need deeper roots in our local church. Rather than sliding into the ditch of either pole in the culture wars, and lobbing tweets at opposing views, our allegiance to Jesus Christ expects us to hold tightly to his word.
In an apocalyptic world there remains one message of salvation; the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even in an apocalyptic era, the one who is the Alpha and the Omega remains with his churches; this is the testimony of Revelation. Jesus’ words being true, how can Christians therefore consider abandoning the local church or diminishing ones commitment? In this fracturing world we need healthy local churches more than ever. Recent Barna research indicates that during the pandemic many Christians are deciding to think less of church and even of leaving altogether. For any who confess the Lordship of Christ, to take that route is to ignore the words of the Son of Man and to be played as fools by the world around us.
As Christ said to the church of Sardis,
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent’