2.Smyrna – Revelation 2:8-11
John’s vision makes it clear that faithfulness may result in suffering at the hands of the Fallen Babylon world, but how relevant is this for 21st century African Pentecostal churches when more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than the preceding nineteen. Christians will always be called to account for their faith and the genuine incarnation in their lives. The values and perspectives of God’s Kingdom are always a threat to the dehumanizing perspectives and negative values of the Fallen Babylon world. Jesus’ word to Smyrna is in sharp contrast to those who proclaim a gospel of prosperity. Laodicea represents a perfect example of a “prosperity” church; in contrast, Smyrna from the Revelation’s account was one of the faithful churches, a community of God’s people living out their lives as disciples of the kingdom. The terms associated with this faithful church are not comfortable; suffering, poverty, blasphemy by others, being afraid, prison, being put to the test, facing death. These are not terms or experiences that would induce people to sign in for the Christian pilgrimage. We have often “domesticated” the Gospel to make it palatable to those of our Fallen Babylon world. It is imperative to be faithful citizens of God’s New Jerusalem, no matter the cost. It is costly to follow Christ, and that is why He asked people to carry their crosses and follow Him.
- Pergamum – Revelation 2:12-17
Like the Ephesians’ church (2:1-7), the Pergamum church receives praise from Jesus for aspects of its faithfulness. It has even held fast in the face of persecution in which one of its members was martyred. Like Ephesus, it seems to be a faithful church, living as citizens of God’s New Jerusalem amid the pressures of their Fallen Babylon world. Also, like Ephesus, the Pergamum church has problems. Their problems differ from Ephesus. In Ephesus, the entire church seems involved in its cold orthodoxy. In Pergamum, there are two groups. One group is verging on apostasy with its advocacy of eating food offered to idols and spiritual fornication, participating in the worship of other gods. The rest, who appear not to participate in this activity, tolerate those who do. In a culture similar to the present age, where toleration has become the primary virtue, it is easy for the community of faith to ‘Christianize’ tolerance and allow all sorts of destructive perspectives and behaviors into its fellowship. It is evident that the surrounding culture cultivates and promotes toleration as the ultimate level of maturity and caring. No one wants to be accused of being ‘intolerant.’ It is even more, the case when we consider Ephesians’- type churches that tend to manifest a brand of intolerance that rightly brings the world’s scorn and ridicule down upon them. If the Ephesian church represents the intolerance of cold orthodoxy, the Pergamum church represents the toleration of mild heterodoxy.
- Thyatira – Revelation 2:18-29
Thyatira is the central church of the seven and embodies all three conditions. Only by highly artificial constructs of history can this be made to be an outline of church history. The first three churches are patterned: problem church, perfect church, and problem church. The last three are patterned: perverse church, perfect church, and perverse church. Thyatira appears to combine all three types: perfect, problem, and perverse. Not only does Jesus praise them for their faithfulness, but he also indicates the constant improvement in all these things (2:19). However, some of them are perverse, following the apostasy of ‘Jezebel.’ These will return to spiritual impotence if they do not repent.
Some are problematic, tolerating her and her followers. While they have love, faith, service, and patient endurance, these are the ones who are warned for their toleration of Jezebel and her followers. Some are perfect, not following this false teaching. These are the ones exhibiting constant improvement in all things and of whom Jesus asks nothing more. The more we understand what is represented in these churches, the more we see that John’s vision speaks powerfully to the church in every age. There is a three-way division in many “mainline” denominations in 21st century African Churches. On the one side are those who seek to live lives of faithful Christian discipleship at various levels and in diverse ways. These are often labeled “conservatives” or “fundamentalists” or “evangelicals.” On the other side are those who, in equal diversity, adopt various apostate or heretical perspectives and behaviors.
These are often labeled “liberals” or “radicals.” In the middle are those, for various reasons, ally themselves with neither side but “tolerate” the extremes of both sides for the sake of preserving the myth of structural or denominational “loyalty” or “unity.”