SIGNS OF THE CHURCH

As we approach the second coming of Jesus Christ, the great falling away is becoming more evident. The professing Christian church is becoming more like the world and the ways of the world are appearing within the church, first by trickery and deceit and ultimately as readily accepted church practice. We must remain steadfast, following Jesus and the written word, refusing to be led away with the error of the wicked. We must approach unity with caution, desiring unity brought about by the Holy Spirit among believers, while refusing to unite with the world, the ways of the world, deceivers and antichrists. Pray that you will know the difference. Unity brought about by man is suspect. Any effort to achieve unity which does not insist that Jesus is the only way, but instead unites believers with unbelievers, is not of the Holy Spirit. Any effort to achieve unity which does not insist that you forsake sin and live a holy life consecrated to Jesus is fatally compromised. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (II Corinthians 6:17)

Jesus is the Focus

The church has one focal point and that is Jesus Christ. The church has one direction and that is to follow Jesus Christ. The church has one purpose and that is to serve Jesus Christ. We are to serve Him here and our service will continue up there. We have a book called the “Bible” which is the standard that we are to lay all we do up against. We must not rewrite the Bible to fit our lifestyle. Rather, we are to conform our lifestyle to what the Bible says. Based upon these elements of our faith, let’s examine what is going on in the church today. Or, should we say, what is going on in the buildings that we call the church today? The church (“eklesia” or “called out ones”) is and always will be the church. The building sometimes houses the church, but not always. The church is not a denomination, although some of the church will assemble in denominations and some will assemble in non-denominations. But then you can get so non-denominational that you become a denomination of non-denominationals.

The church is the body of Christ, made up of believers that cross denominational boundaries. The church has its very existence in Jesus, not in idols, colleges, hospitals, buildings, athletic teams or size. The focus of the church is upon Jesus and reaching the lost. However, when we look into the buildings that we so readily call the church, we are finding many New Age teachings, worldly ways, practices of witchcraft and sleep, creeping in, polluting, deceiving, and shifting our focus away from total dependence upon our Lord Jesus Christ. When we think about the church, our thoughts seem to go first to white buildings with a steeple on top and a bell. Or, if we have gained some theological knowledge, we might think of the church of the book of Acts. However, we might better turn our eyes upon Jesus, and try to understand His view of the church. And rather than to focus upon a building, we should instead take to our heart the message He has for His church. In particular, the church ought to hear, as Jesus commands, the messages He sent to the seven churches of the book of Revelation (Revelation Chapters 2 and 3).

Seven Letters

Some believe that each of the seven churches represent a different church age. That would place us in the Laodicean age, and that would make sense because Jesus described the church in Laodicea as “lukewarm”. Others believe that the seven churches do not represent seven ages, but seven different kinds of churches in this age. And that would also make sense because we see the lukewarm gathering together in a building with a steeple, and we see legalists gathering together in a building with no steeple, and we see those who have lost their first love gathering together when it’s not too inconvenient, and we see people who hate this or that gathering together to discuss someone else’s error, but too often blinded to their own error. But, sometimes we find all of these folks gathering together, in the same building, and they are called the church. And this is why others believe that the seven churches do not represent seven different church gatherings, past or present, but seven different peoples that are found within the church of every age. Perhaps all of the above make sense. But, rather than relying upon other men’s opinions, we should look at Jesus’ opinion, as stated in His word. Let’s look at the seven churches described in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3. And when we do so, let us not be too quick to discard what is written in red, simply because it does not fit into other men’s theories of interpretation.

Church at Ephesus:

Revelation 2:1-7 This is a church that had it all together. They had patience and discernment and could not stand evil. And they also used a spiritual polygraph on some who said they were apostles. And they correctly found them to be liars. This church labored in the name of Jesus and hast not fainted. You cannot get a much better report than this. But what else did Jesus say? “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:4-5). Jesus was warning that the first love was more important than any of the surface works that were being done. The most important SIGN OF THE CHURCH is that it has intact it’s first LOVE. The church at Ephesus did have that love . . . at one time. And then, as time progressed, and as their works mounted, the church left its first love. When our works, no matter how good and Nobel, become a substitute for that intimate relationship with Jesus, we then are beginning that slow walk away from our first love. The love did not leave the church. Sadly, the church left the first love. My friend it is up to you. Church leader it is up to you. If you have left your first love, Jesus tells you what to do “repent and do the first works.”

Church at Smyrna:

Revelation 2:8-11 What is this tribulation thing that is going on? “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life?” Wait a minute. Isn’t there an easier way? Jesus said “fear none of those things which thou SHALT suffer” (2:10). Jesus makes it sound like suffering comes with church membership. (Like in China and so many other parts of the world is the church in this nation somehow exempt from these words?) Did you notice that Jesus did not say to this church which faced persecution and would suffer, “repent”? Could it be that when you are suffering, prayer and repentance are already the topic of conversation? Jesus said their reward is a crown of life. I ask you my friend, are you willing to pay the price? The SIGN OF THE CHURCH is that those who are members will suffer.

Church at Pergamos:

Revelation 2:12-17 You talk about a church in a tough neighborhood. This is a church which was on Satan’s doorstep (“I know where thou dwellest . . . where Satan’s seat is”). And yet Jesus in verse 13 commends them, noting that “thou holdest fast my name and hast not denied my faith.” We talk a lot about faith and what we would do if we were tested. Here is a church where Antipas, “my faithful martyr,” was slain. This church had faith and held His name. But notice that a false gospel was residing in this church. In fact two groups had come in and were teaching false doctrines: the doctrines of Balaam and of the Nicolaitanes. Now the church at Ephesus had hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes and uncovered the false apostles. But here we find these false doctrines were permitted in the church. Pergamos was a city of wealth and corruption. Jesus said that Satan’s seat, or his throne, was there. This was a tough place to build a church. How does this speak to us today? If your church gathering is located in an area which is upon Satan’s doorstep, you will have, not might have, the modern Balaams and Nicolaitanes, bringing their false doctrine and a pocket full of money to teach you some NEW gospel that does not line up with the word of God. We pray for you shepherds, that you stand strong. And if false teachings have entered in, REPENT and you will be rewarded with hidden manna and a white stone with a new name (verse 17). This SIGN OF THE CHURCH is that wolves will come in sheep’s clothing. And think about it did they have to first kill a sheep to get the clothes?

Church at Thyatira:

Revelation 2:18-29 This is a church that was very active. Works, and Charity (love) and Service and Faith, and Patience, and more WORKS. Big works at the end. This was a works oriented church. But, they were so busy working at WORKS that they had not used discernment at all, and in one of their teaching programs had allowed a self-made Prophetess to teach. And not only did she teach, she was a teacher of spiritual adultery and caused them to commit spiritual fornication. Jesus gave her time to repent. And she did not. And the most tragic thing is that she will take many with her into her bed of false teaching and man-made feel good doctrines of soulish experiences. Now many of you might say, “not me”, because you don’t let women teach and so that solves the problem. But is it so simple? If it were that easy, so many churches where women are not allowed to speak, teach, or preach would not have this very problem. Yet, they still have teachers (men) who have this perverse and seductive pillow prophet teaching that which causes them to eat things sacrificed to idols. This seductive leading away is not about women teachers compared to men teachers. It is about perverted and ear-tickling teaching. The answer once again is to repent. The SIGN OF THIS CHURCH is perverted teaching, but to him who overcomes, power over nations (2:26).

Church at Sardis:

Revelation 3:1-6 This is a church that had a reputation that they were alive. But Jesus knew they were really nearly dead. And what life they had was fading away. History shows us that the richest man living at that time was Croesus. And he lived and reigned in Sardis. The church was built on the doorstep of wealth and wealth can and usually does influence the preaching in a church. The church that gets caught up in the world, and the cares of this world, will not know when Christ is coming. And, one by one, what the church has will fade away. And all that will remain is a church-shaped coffin, full of dead bodies. But still, there are going to be some (3:4) that will walk with Him in white raiment. These are those whose names will not be blotted out of the book of life (3:5). We do not find faith mentioned to this church. And it may well be that the wealth had replaced the faith. Know, however, that wealth is not the problem. It is the reliance on wealth that becomes the problem. And soon, the wealth controls you, instead of you controlling the wealth. The SIGN OF THIS CHURCH is the question, WHO or WHAT is in control?

Church at Philadelphia:

Revelation 3:7-13 This is a church with an open door. A church that no man can shut down. And Jesus in verse 9 promises “I will make them know that I have loved thee.” This was a church that had little strength. Yet, it had powerful love. Love opens doors that cannot be shut. Gossip, backbiting, strife, and your and my sin is exposed by open doors. You cannot darken a room that has an open door. The world can look in to your church and upon your heart when the door is open. And they will worship and bow down with you when what they can see through that open door is the love of Jesus in you. The church that has an open door has no fear of being labeled a cult. No, all can look in and see its inward parts. The church that is built on the love of GOD may be small or it may be large. Love is not measured in numbers. And we should not expect that the God of yesterday and today, who was not real impressed with David’s numbering the people, is any more impressed today. For the church that is built upon love, Jesus promises (3:12), He will make them pillars holding up the temple of GOD. The SIGN OF THIS CHURCH is up over an open door.

Church at Laodicea:

Revelation 3:14-22 The City of Laodicea had a couple of things going for it. First of all, it was a banking center and second it was also the home of a famous medical school. Today, this city is in complete ruins. Laodicia was the city of people’s rights (“laodicea” means people’s rights “let’s vote on it”). And the church followed along, bending to the way of their surroundings, to the point that no matter how hard they tried, they could not heat up a cold congregation. We might say that with great effort, they maintained about 60 . And Jesus warns, in verse 16, that because of lukewarmness “I will spew thee out of My mouth.” (Now, maybe some in the lukewarm church will mistake this for the rapture, and will wonder why they only got to the front sidewalk, and wonder why they smell so bad.) But for those who refuse to follow any doctrine which explains away Jesus’ words (I Timothy 6:3), the call is to be zealous and to be different than the church of Laodicea. Let us today refuse to be the church of relative righteousness, refusing to be comforted because we believe we are more righteous than our relatives, and friends, and other churches, comparing ourselves to others, but not comparing ourselves to the righteousness which the word of God establishes as the standard. Let us not join the ranks of those who will be told by Jesus that they are wretched and miserable and poor, and blind and naked (3:17). Well so much for comparative theology. Jesus tells them that they need His gold and His clothing and His eyesalve that they can see. Folks, it is not by accident that we are compared to the Laodicean church today. We put our faith in the medical community and the banking institutions and VISA and Master charge and all the other neat banking things. In verse 20, we find Jesus standing at the door and knocking, while the church is forming a committee to elect someone to open the door. He tells this church to repent and overcome and sit with Him in His throne. THE SIGN OF THIS CHURCH is that we have always done it this way, and we will continue to do it this way because everyone says that we are okay and most of all, it’s comfortable.

Be an Overcomer

When we look at the seven churches, we can choose to see seven church ages, with six of them past. But, instead, we can open our eyes and ears and hearts, and look to see if we find a noticeable reflection of our own lives. I would pray that you would go to the word, to the book of Revelation, and let GOD speak to you about where you are with Him, revealing to you if you are in one of these churches, and make sure you are an overcomer with Him. Now if we have considered seriously the seven letters which Jesus wrote to His church, we might discover that many of the things which are creeping into the church are worldly ways and adulterous practices disguised as fun and amusement. Consider the following practices which the church is fast grabbing hold of practices commonplace in the world, but that are not of God. Do These Belong in the Church?

Harlequin: Definition: Name of a devil, or troop of demons, a comic pantomime character, usually masked, dressed in colored tights and bearing a wooden sword or magic wand; a buffoon.

Buffoon: Definition: Jester, one who makes a practice of amusing others by tricks, odd gestures and postures, jokes, etc.; a clown; a jester; hence one given to undignified joking.

Clown: Definition: a clumsy boorish fellow; a jester; joker; buffoon; to act in jesting or grotesque manner, as a clown. Magician: Definition: one skilled in magic; an entertainer performing tricks of illusion and deception; an enchanter.

Magic: Definition: pertaining to sorcery, the art of producing effects by seemingly superhuman control over the powers of nature; sorcery; enchantment; any power or influence that proves irresistible or extraordinary; the use of legerdemain to create illusions or perform tricks.

Legerdemain: Definition: slight of hand; a deceptive performance which depends on dexterity of hand, usually magic or juggling; trickery; deception.

Legerdemainist: Definition: one who practices sleight of hand; a juggler or magician.

Society may try to change the name for us, but the church must continue to recognize these practices as witchcraft and an abomination to our Lord: “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” (Ephesians 5:3-4) We are not to learn the ways of the world (Jeremiah 10:1) or to love the ways of the world or the things in the world. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (I John 2:15-16). Just remember we are in this society but not of it. Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples and for each of us: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:15-16). You can search through the Bible and you will not find a Christian clown, magician or deceptionist. Yet, we are letting them into the church and into our lives, under the guise of innocent fun. There is nothing innocent about Satan. We are deceiving our children and ourselves if we look at these things as innocent fun. God says we are to be a separate, holy people unto Him. We are not to take part in the customs and traditions of the heathens. We cannot allow these abominations to pollute our ways. Changing the name does not cut it, witchcraft is still witchcraft and we remain accountable to God for things we allow. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)