- Sardis – Revelation 3:1-6
Except for a few faithful souls, the church at Sardi’s is in dire straits. They are so spiritually dead that they are on the verge of having their name erased from the Book of Life. Unlike the previous “problem” churches, repentance is not enough, and they need to return to the essentials of their redemption experience. And once again begin to live out that reality in their life. The crucial problem with the church in Sardis is that they have a reputation for being alive. This church had “exciting” worship that appealed to the culture’s tastes but was dead to true worship’s genuine awe and humility. It was like a church alive to “entertaining” programs for children, youth, and adults that confirmed the status quo but were dead to the transforming grace of God.
Sardis could have been a church alive with “socially aware” attitudes and activities whose deadness sought to legitimize personal and social aberrations rather than witness to the liberating power of God. Was this a church so “alive” with the world’s perspectives, values, and behaviors that it was “dead” to those of the kingdom? (M. Robert Mulholland Jr.). There are many such Sardis-type churches in the world today that are easily identifiable.
- Philadelphia – Revelation 3:7-13
Philadelphia was founded either by Eumenes II (197-159 B.C.) or Attalus II (Philadelphos159-138 B.C.) It, too, passed into Roman control through the will of Attalus III in 133 B.C. As the center of a fertile wine-growing area, the worship of Dionysus, the God of wine, was a significant religious expression. The church in Romania under communist rule was hounded, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, martyred. However, the church triggered the movement that ultimately brought down the brutal, dictatorial regime. After the fall of the regime, the church’s bulletin board that had been at the center of the storm appeared this announcement: The Lamb Won! This church knew what it was to be a Philadelphia-type church, faithful followers of the powerless Lamb that was slain. Most often, a dedicated group of disciples had to withstand the pressures of the state and the power of a state church.
In the words of Kenneth Leech (Note 10): “Following the leadership of Jesus, his Church needs to stand as a sign of contradiction and conflict, affecting and, as it were, upsetting through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration, and models of life which are in contrast with the Word of God, and the plan of salvation.” Always, at some level of its life, the church lives against the grain of its culture.
It loses the power and prestige of being a supporter of the status quo when it does so. There is a powerful temptation to “play the world’s games,” to let the world set the agenda, operate by the world’s rules, and be an “influence for God” in the world. If we give up, individually or corporately, our positions of influence, prestige, and power in the world, we cannot advance the kingdom of God. But in a kingdom established by a crucified Messiah, life comes through death, victory through defeat, strength through weakness, power through powerlessness. The world today needs more churches like Philadelphia-type.
- Laodicea – Revelation 3:14-22
Laodicea church thinks she is rich, has prospered, and needs nothing more. Here is a “prosperity gospel” church. What Jesus says to the Laodicean church should pause the proclaimers and adherents of the “prosperity gospel.” The Laodicean Church is a Church almost immersed in the perspectives and values of its culture. The culture’s norms have become the standards of the congregation by which they evaluate the church’s life. They fit comfortably and smoothly into the ebb and flow of their world. They do not stand out in the warmth of their compassion for the marginalized, their concern for institutionalized injustice, and their zeal to be agents of God’s transforming grace in their broken and hurting world. They are not “hot”; neither do they stand out in their coolness toward the destructive and dehumanizing values of their Fallen Babylon world, their resistance to corruption, and their refusal to follow the idolatries of their culture. Jesus tells the church that true “riches” come only through “fire.” On the one hand, this is the fire of God’s holiness that purges the soul of all impurities, refines habits, burnishes behaviors, purifies relationships, and enables people to be in the presence of God’s love, truth, and grace in the world Jr. (Note 11). On the other hand, the “fire” of adversity and opposition reveals the weakness of our reliance upon our strength. That probes our dependence upon popularity, power, or possessions as the source of our identity and signs of our success, that drives us into the heart of God and leads us to entrust our entire being to Him.
Charles Wesley sings, “Refining fire, go through my heart, illuminate my soul, scatter thy life through every part, and sanctify the whole.” In contrast to the luxurious black garments of Laodicea, Jesus counsels the church to buy from him white garments to cover the shame of their nakedness. Unless Christians are “clothed with Christ,” they stand vulnerable and exposed to the powers of the world’s values and perspectives. The “body” becomes wounded by the manipulations of others, and it becomes scarred by rejection, broken by abuses, crippled by destructive relationships, deformed by dehumanizing life structures. However, they stand out when clothed with a white garment in a world clothed in black.
Instead of participating in dehumanizing economic, political, or social structures that marginalize and dehumanize others, they become those through whom God affirms the full humanity of others. G. J. Chesterton said, “the first time he read the Sermon on the Mount, he thought it was all upside down, but, on more reflective reading, he came to realize that it was the world that was “upside down.” Christ calls his followers to a divine way of seeing the world, themselves, and others.
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