As I mentioned this morning, tonight I want to give you a few sort of mementos of my recent trip to Europe. Last Sunday, a week ago today, I was preaching in Geneva, Switzerland. Geneva, of course, is famous because of its tremendous importance during the time of the Reformation. It was in Geneva that John Calvin established his great base of teaching; and from 1536 to 1564 exposited the Scriptures through all of those years, with the exception of a few, and established himself, really, as the great power, the theological force of the Reformation.
So last Sunday, I was in Geneva. All of the churches came together in one place; and I had the privilege of preaching in Geneva. And I thought that I ought to preach on the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, which was, of course, the great doctrine of the Reformation. So I did that. I preached on the doctrine of justification, hoping to be something of a faith echo of John Calvin four hundred years later.
In that service last Sunday, among many people was a man who for twenty-two years had been a Jesuit priest in the Roman Catholic Church. For twenty-two years, as Jesuits do, he had studied the Scriptures. At the end of that message on the doctrine of justification, he confessed, “In all my years as a Jesuit priest, in all my study of Scripture, I have never heard of that doctrine.” And in a word, in a single testimony, he gave to me the reason why there was a Reformation.
That was true, for the most part, of the whole world at the time of the Reformation. Nobody had heard of the doctrine of justification by grace, through faith alone, nobody. That’s why it was so monumental in 1517, when Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, who came to the knowledge of the doctrine of justification, put it into a thesis and pinned it on the door of the church in Wittenberg, and launched the Reformation.
About eight years before Luther pinned his thesis to the door of the church in Wittenberg, 1517, about eight years before that, in the year 1509, was born Jean Calvin, as they call him there, John Calvin. Born north of Paris, he was the son a secretary to the bishop. And he studied to be a lawyer in Paris.
In 1532, you can tell, in his very early twenties, under the influence of Luther’s writings he became an evangelical. And as a result of that, he had to flee to Paris because he was accused of writing things that were insurrectionist against the Catholic Church. By the year 1536, still in his early twenties, he had completed the great institutes of Christian religion, his monumental Calvin’s Institutes, as they are known. He originally wrote them in Latin and later translated them into French.
Because of the tremendous persecution that broke out in France, Calvin went to Geneva, because in 1536, the city of Geneva had declared itself a city of the Reformation, and adopted reform theology, brought an end to the Mass in 1536. He converted the Catholic cathedral into a reformed cathedral. That cathedral is still there. I stood in that cathedral by John Calvin’s chair. And next door, I stood in John Calvin’s pulpit where he preached in the little chapel that’s adjacent to the cathedral where he exposited the Scriptures for all those years from 1536 to 1564.
Well, John Calvin came to Geneva in 1536, the very year that the Genevan people had, by popular vote, accepted the Reformation. He came there, not intending to settle there, but he was confronted by a man named Farel, Guillaume Farel, who was a great Reformer. He actually outlived Calvin by a year. Farel was a fiery man, and he told Calvin that he should stay in Geneva and do his ministry there. And Calvin said he didn’t want to do that, so Farrell said to him, “If you don’t stay in Geneva, I’m going to pray that God curses all your teachings.” Well, that was a fairly convincing speech, and Calvin stayed; stayed there, really, until he died.
In 1559, he founded the academy, which is now the University of Geneva. According to some reports, he also established a seminary there. So many Protestants, called Huguenots in France, were leaving France under the fiery persecution of the Catholic Church. They were coming to Geneva, really, to save their lives.
When they arrived in Geneva, there was John Calvin, teaching the Word of God. He had established a seminary; and according to some reports, he trained two thousand pastors to go back with the true message of the gospel, two thousand preachers to go back into France with the gospel and the true reformation faith. His seminary became known as the seminary of death, because so many of the preachers he trained went back to France and died as martyrs – seminary of death. Might be a little hard to recruit people to that today.
The effect of John Calvin’s life and ministry is almost beyond description. We know his masterpiece, “The Institutes of Christian Religion,” completed in 1536, as I said, in Latin, and later translated in French. Book one is on the knowledge of God, revelation. Book two is on sin, the fall, the separation of man from God, and God’s redeeming activity. Book three on faith, salvation by faith on election, by which God directs our lives. And book four, on the true and the false church, and the ordinances or sacraments of the church.
He also wrote commentaries on every book of the Bible that came out of his constant teaching from 1536 to 1564. He wrote a commentary on every book in the Bible except Revelation. He wrote catechisms. He collaborated in the translation of the Bible into French. He was the one who instituted the public education as compulsory in the West and Europe. He developed a system of charity directed at the poor and needy. He developed a system for the regulations of loans and interest and the legal offices of the city of Geneva and the regulation of justice in the courts. He had an immense impact.
Those countries which accepted the Reformation – Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and England – became the most prosperous countries in Europe. In fact, if you look at the history of the world you will find those countries most strongly influenced by Protestant reformation, including America and Canada, to be the most prolific, the most economically successful, the countries that enjoy the greatest freedoms in the world, largely influenced by Calvin and his profound and lengthy ministry.
You look at the impact of this man’s life, you look at the impact of the Reformation in Europe and how it brought the true and saving gospel to Europe, and you wander around Europe today and you say, “What in the world went wrong?” I stood in Calvin’s Cathedral by his chair, and I looked up on the wall, and I was with our missionary, my good friend, John Glass, and he said, “I want you to see if you can read that. It’s in Latin.” And I tried to remember my high school Latin, and I kind of sorted through it. And then I got a little paper that explained the words that I couldn’t figure out.
Basically what it said was, “We are declaring the true gospel. We are declaring the true biblical faith. We are declaring that we stand against the Roman system for the true gospel,” and it goes on and on to basically say, “This is our reformation statement. And we deny the things that have been a part of the Catholic Church, and we embrace the true and biblical doctrine of salvation.” It’s a beautiful, big, brass plaque.
And as I was looking at it I was thinking of how strong a statement that is, how great a statement that is. And I asked John, I said, “is the gospel preached in this cathedral?” And he said, “Oh, no.” He said, “In fact, the word is that within a few years that will be taken down because it’s so politically incorrect.” I said, “Is the man who is the current pastor of Calvin’s Cathedral a Christian?” He said, “Oh, no.”
He then took me into the basement of Calvin’s Cathedral in the old City of Geneva, which is still there with the walls around it and everything, just as it was in Calvin’s day. We went down into the basement, and amazingly they done archeological digs there. And as you go into the digs, you find that the site of that cathedral has been the site of a Christian church way, way, way back. In fact, they have artifacts down there even before the Christian era as far back as 450 B.C.
But they have baptisteries there that date back into the 300s. And as each layer goes archeologically, you find another church with another baptistery. And by the way, none of them were little sprinkling fonts, they were all great big holes in the ground, which indicates clearly that early church was engaged in immersing people. But just consistently, this was the place where the church met in 300, in 350, and all the way through the centuries, on up until Calvin’s Cathedral was built by the Roman Catholic Church in the 12th and 13th century. That was a place of early church baptisms. Then it became the place of Catholicism, and eventually it became the place where the Reformation found its center in the ministry of John Calvin and William Farel.
It’s also something to say about that I think you’ll find interesting. During the time that Calvin was there, people who were being persecuted by the Roman Catholics were coming to Geneva for the protection that the city of Geneva provided them and in fellowship with Calvin. There were also scholars there, and scholastics, and great students of Scripture, and students of theology there. And so, it was a good place to come to refine one’s theology.
One of the men that came there was a former priest born in 1505 who didn’t die until 1572 when he was murdered. His name was John Knox. And John Knox came there, because over in England, Bloody Mary on behalf of the Catholic Church, was also executing believers. And so Knox, under the threat of death, left England, came to Geneva in 1556. While he was there, John Knox translated the Bible from the original languages into English, 1556.
In 1559, John Knox went back to Scotland to print that Bible, 1559. He went back to print that Bible in Scotland, and also to establish the Reformation, which became known as Scottish Presbyterianism; 1559 he went back. Well, took him a few years, but eventually they printed that Bible. It was the first Bible ever printed in Scotland.
And while I was in Geneva, I was getting all this history. And I was talking to John Glass and we were going over all this history, and I said, “By the way, John, you might be interested to know.” He said, “What?” I said, “I have that Bible.” He said, “What?” I said, “I own that Bible.” “What do you mean you own that Bible?” “I own the Bible that they printed that John Knox translated and took back.” “You own that Bible?” He said, “Do you know how much that Bible is worth?” “I said I have no idea who much that Bible is worth monetarily. I know how much it’s worth to me.”
I have a Bible that John Knox held in his hand that was printed by carving out individual letters in wood, setting them in one page at a time, rolling a roller over one page and then dumping the letters and doing it all over again for the next page. “And by the way,” I said to John, “it’s a study Bible.” It has notes up and down both sides, and all across the bottom, and down the middle column, and in the front and in the back. And I said, “It was that Bible that motivated me to do a study Bible. I figured if John Knox could do one, I wasn’t really treading on sacred ground; I could do one, too.”
All that just to say, you know, when you get into that environment and you feel the pulse of the Reformation in Geneva – and we climbed to the top of the tower of the church and looked over the city, as it used to be, with all the same clay tiles and the same buildings inside the Wall of Geneva, and you realize that John Calvin probably stood in that place many times, concerned about the people of Geneva, taught regularly, daily in a little chapel next door. His ministry caused the Reformation that really gave birth to the great revival out of which we have been born who really understand the gospel – and you look over that same city today and it is utterly indifferent.
John Glass pastors the Eglise Evangélique in Geneva, which is the largest church in Geneva, and it’s two hundred people. The city is secular. It’s a city of half a million people who, for the most part, could care less about the gospel, who have no interest in anything other than the sort of ancient history of these pieces of antiquity. And you go all over Europe and you find that the church is small; and it’s a tragic, tragic situation.
And I’ve been into Eastern Europe, and I’ve been into Western Europe, and I’ve seen the picture. And I think the best way to understand what has happened there – and it’s something that we can translate into what we see in our own experience here – is to look at Revelation chapter 2 and 3 for a minute; just a perspective that I want to give you tonight, I’m not going to unfold everything.
But, you know, you say to yourself, “What happened here? This is sad. I mean, what went wrong?” You had a reformation that starts in 1517 with Martin Luther, and you have John Calvin with a flourishing expository teaching ministry that goes all the way through the whole Bible, as well as writing the great theology that he wrote, and it goes till 1564. You have the printing press invented around 1545. You have Bibles being published at that time.
You have all of these marvelous influences of the Reformation. You have preachers going everywhere preaching the Reformation gospel. You have the establishment of a state-reformed church in Holland, a state-reformed church in Switzerland, a state-reformed church in Germany, and going back to England with John Knox, the great Scottish reformation, and back into England the great reformation that ultimately yields the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, and you have all of this tremendous influence.
Obviously, the Catholic Church maintained its power in many places – Spain, France, and Italy. But the Protestant Reformation had a massive impact upon England. And of course, we are the beneficiaries of that. Wherever England went, they basically took the gospel, whether it was here or whether it was Canada or whether it was other of their colonies, including South Africa, which was settled by the English and the Dutch, whether it was India. English took the gospel to India, although there it was smothered by the impenetrable darkness of Hinduism.
But there was tremendous influence out of the Reformation. It was not a small event. It changed the face of Europe economically in terms of civil law, in terms of society, in terms of how people lived their lives. It brought in democracy. It broke the back of monarchies. It was a tremendous movement. And yet, you go there today and the church is small and the church is weak, and the church, in many ways, is defeated; say nothing of being liberal and apostate, et cetera, et cetera. The churches that linked themselves historically with the Reformation have all but on totally apostate.
And you ask yourself, “What happens? What is the sequence? And how does it happen?” And it never happens on a sort of a macrocosm without happening in a microcosm. That is to say, it doesn’t happen countrywide until it happens in individual churches. So it provides for us a warning, not only of what happens on the big scale, but what happens on the small scale and what we need to be aware of as a church; because it starts in the individual churches and escalates until it takes them all down the same path.
To look at Revelation 2 and 3 is to get the answers. Satan has a five-step plan. It’s a five-step plan that’s to take over the church, to basically do more than neutralize it, but to run it right out of existence. And we see this five-step plan unfolding in seven letters to seven churches from the Lord here in Revelation 2 and 3.
Now, the seven churches here were seven actual churches in Asia Minor. In fact, they really run in the sequence of the postal route that began at Ephesus, ran through the country all the way to Laodicea. They were the main sort of regional postal stations from which mail would be disseminated to other areas. And so, this was the postal route. And on that main road, that main route, they established seven churches. Those churches were most likely established by influences from the church at Ephesus, which was the mother church were Paul had spent three years of his ministry, and that church had grown strong. So out of Ephesus, the message was taken, and other churches were planted.
But by the time you reached 96 A.D., this is only a few decades after these churches has been established, they’re already beginning to run into serious problems, and the sort of five-step plan of Satan is beginning to show itself. First of all, chapter 2, the angel or the messenger of the church in Ephesus is to be told this: “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands says this: ‘I know your deeds, your toil, perseverance, that you can’t endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you’ve found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My namesake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you’ve left your first love. Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I’m coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place, unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I’ll grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’”
Now, this letter is written to be directed at the church at Ephesus many years after Timothy’s ministry had concluded at Ephesus. Remember, Paul established the church later on and Timothy ministered there. In fact, Timothy was laboring there when Paul wrote him 1 and 2 Timothy. And Timothy did his task very well. I mean, the church was strong in doctrine. He says that to them: “You cannot endure the evil men, and you put to test those who call themselves apostles and they are not, and you found them to be false.”
So they were pretty clear on their theology and they could measure anybody by that theology. Strong in doctrine, committed to godliness, they couldn’t endure evil. They were committed to doing deeds and working hard and persevering, many good things. “They endured for My namesake” – it says in verse 3 – “and didn’t even grow weary.”
But in spite of all these strong elements – strong in doctrine, zealous for service – there was a tragedy there indicated in that familiar statement in verse 4, “You left your first love.” Ephesus, you remember was a city where the worship of Diana, or Artemis, was centered. And the temple of Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. According to archeologists, it had a hundred and twenty-seven pillars, each one made out of marble, given by a hundred and twenty-seven different kings, each one covered with gold and studded with precious stones. This temple was literally the center of pagan debauchery. There were eunuchs and prostitutes and singers and dancers and flautists and other instrumentalists, all stirring people to a kind of hysteria, a frenzy that ended up in an orgy of sex and even sexual mutilation.
The church had been founded there, according to Acts 19, by Paul. And the birth of the church was so powerful that the whole church was thrown into confusion. People literally burned their idols and they burned their books on magic, and created a riot in the city. So huddled in this mass of pagan vice was the church. And for three years, Paul had been their pastor. And they were the ones, really, who founded the other six churches. They later had the privilege of having Timothy as a pastor, having Aquila, and even Apollos, the great Old Testament teacher.
Through the labor of Timothy, they were drawn out of false doctrine. Through the labor of Timothy, they were drawn to solidify around the true faith. And through the leadership of Timothy, they reacted and rejected ungodly leaders, and established godliness as the basic principal of spiritual leadership and Christian living in the church. And they knew what it was to correct lies, to hang onto truth, and to fight heresy, and to discipline evil men, and to confront ungodliness, and recognize demon doctrine, and even be strengthened by some persecution. So they were strong Christians.
But, even with all the commendation, verse 4 strikes a tragic note: “You left your first love.” And the clear, penetrating eyes of Jesus see through see through to the heart of this church. Their hearts had grown cold. Their passionate love for Christ, their zeal for God, their deep sense of thankfulness was becoming cold orthodoxy. It was becoming perfunctory service. First love was gone; enthusiasm was gone. The thrill was gone, the joy was gone, the honeymoon was over, and the Christian routine took over. They were in a rut.
Like the puritan who once prayed, “Oh God, I know I often do Your work without Your power, and sin by my dead, heartless, blind service; my lack of inward zeal, love, delight; my mind, heart, tongue moving without Your help.” That was Ephesus.
And this is step one. This is where it all begins. You lose your first love. You leave that fiery passion, that hot heart. And He says to them in verse 5, “You got to get back. You got to get back.” You get back by first remembering from where you’ve fallen. Remember the precious love-filled early days. You know, spiritual defection comes from forgetting. “Trace your memory back to the early joys,” He says. “It was there at the start. Remember.”
And then He says, “Repent and recognize your present state as sinful, even though you’re orthodox. Confess your lack of love, your lack of communion with Christ, your lack of worship, your lack of joy.” And then He says, “Repeat. Repeat the works you did at first. Go back and do it the way you did it then.”
Well, they didn’t. The church failed; the light went out, never to be lit again. I’ve been to Ephesus; just ruins. And the City of Kusadasi, which is just a short bus ride away in Turkey, is a city dominated by Islam. That’s where the disaster begins. And I think that’s where it began in Europe, when that fiery passion of the Reformation became cold orthodoxy.
That leads to the second letter and the second step in Satan’s sort of five-step plan. This letter goes, starting in verse 12 – it’s actually the third letter, but the second one I want to point to you – the letter to the messenger from the church in Pergamum, or Pergamos, “Tell them this, that the One who has the sharp two-edged sword,” – that’s Christ as He’s described in chapter 1 in the vision there – ‘I know where you dwell. You dwell’ – verse 13 – ‘where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name. You didn’t deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. Thus, you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent, therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I’ll make war against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I’ll give some of the hidden manna. I’ll give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’” This is Pergamos.
If Ephesus’ fatal flaw was they left their first love, Pergamos’ fatal flaw is compromise with the world. I’ll tell you something; when love for Christ goes out, the world comes in. This church was in the middle of paganism also. In fact, the Pergamum is basically described as “where Satan’s throne is.” What an amazing statement, “where Satan’s throne is.” This is the headquarters of Satan’s operation, Satan’s throne. Why? Because, well, emperor worship was there. It was the head city for the worship of Caesar.
Also, there was in Pergamum an altar to Zeus that was shaped like a throne, and it was one of the largest and most renowned altars in the entire ancient world. They also were engaged in the worship of Asclepius, the god of healing. You see him depicted on the medical symbol, he’s a snake wrapped around the symbol. He was the Pergamese god; he was a snake. And in the temple, snakes slithered all over the floor, and people came in to sleep among them to be healed – demon-healing from the prince of demons, the old serpent himself. That was a tough place for a church. But they were there.
And he says, first of all, “You hold fast My name, and you haven’t denied My faith.” They were orthodox. They named the name of Christ, and they held onto the true faith. “Even in the day of Antipas, My witness, who was a martyr, was killed among you where Satan dwells. But sadly” – in verse 14, he says – “I have a couple of things against you, a few things. First, Balaamism.”
You know Balaam. He taught the Israelites to intermarry with the heathen, and thus to become what the heathen were. This was a failure to be separated. To get the children of Israel to marry the pagans was to get them to eat things sacrificed to idols, and commit all the acts of immorality the pagans committed. This was a seduction. This was seducing Israel to engage in pagan activity. This is exactly what was going on in Pergamos. They were there tolerating the teaching of Balaam; they were starting to compromise with the world.
Same with the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans were some kind of a cult of sinful indulgence. Now here was a church that had taken the second step. First, you lose your first love; and when the love of Christ goes out, the world comes in, and you begin to compromise with the world and you intermarry with the heathen, and the church and world start to come together, and the church become characterized by sinful indulgence. And there’s no church discipline, and there’s no high standard of holiness. Even though the faith is still orthodox, even though you still believe in Christ and you still believe the truth faith, you just tolerate compromising sin and worldliness in the church, and there’s a failure of separation.
And I know that’s what happened in Europe. First, the love of Christ went out; and the next thing, the world came in. And certainly we’re seeing it, even in the churches in our own nation, aren’t we, churches that would say, “Well, we’re evangelical, and we believe in Christ, and we hold to the orthodox faith,” but they’ve kicked the doors wide open for the world to come in full force.
Well, verse 18 introduces us to step three in this process. A third of the letters that I point out to you here is to the church in Thyatira, the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like burnished bronze – again, drawing descriptions from him that are given in the vision of chapter 1, referring to Christ, the Lord of the church.
“He says this: ‘I know your deeds, your love, your faith, your service, perseverance, and deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you; you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. She teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent. She doesn’t want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I’ll cast her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. I’ll kill her children with pestilence; all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. I’ll give to each one of you according to your deeds. But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them – I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast till I come. And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I’ll give authority over the nations; and he’ll rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; I’ll give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
So, here’s the third letter to the church at Thyatira. And it starts out, you know, in some small compromises. You know, “You tolerate those who teach the doctrine of Balaam. You tolerate those Nicolaitans who want to open the door and let the world in. And let’s not make an issue out of separation, because that divides. And we want to invite the unbelievers in, and we want them to feel comfortable, and we want them to feel welcome, and we want them to feel accepted in the church.”
By the way, that’s the very reason why after all the years of ministry that Jonathan Edwards had in the great church that he pastured for twenty-two or twenty-three years, the church kicked him out, because he wanted to keep the standard clean and clear, and he did not want to admit to the communion of the church those who didn’t belong to Christ. And they threw him out of the church, even after all the years of his great ministry in Massachusetts.
And that’s the same thing you see here. In the church at Pergamum, the doors are all thrown open and the world is invited in. And now once they come in, doctrine starts to change. And that’s what happens in Thyatira. All of a sudden, you have a Jezebel there who is a false prophet, and she’s given opportunity to teach and lead people astray. First, the first love goes. And then we open the doors to let the world in, holding onto our doctrine. And then we allow false teachers in, because we’ve already agreed we’re not going to make a separation. And false doctrine comes in.
Compromise leads to deep sin, deep sin. And He refers to that, “the deep things of Satan,” in verse 24. Boy, what a sad and tragic commentary. Idolatrous orgies were being held. They were committing acts of immorality, eating things sacrificed to idols. Now this could be exactly what even went on in the Corinthian church as people were coming to the Lord’s Table and then going to the table of demons, as 1 Corinthian 10 describes it.
The Lord says in verse 21, “You’re going to have to repent.” But she doesn’t want to repent. Now the church is tolerating sin; not only tolerating sin, it won’t repent, it won’t make a separation, it won’t deal with sin, it won’t do church discipline. Not only that, it won’t even deal with a heretic. It won’t even hold onto true doctrine anymore and expose the false, and judgment’s going to fall. Verse 24, He says there are few there, some who don’t this teaching teach. Verse 25, He says, “Hang one. Hang on till I come.”
You see, the great enemy destroying the church moves slowly. It takes time. First, you lose your first love and you end up with a cold orthodoxy that becomes a dead orthodoxy. And then you open the doors for the world to come in. Oh, ostensibly we want to embrace them, we want them to feel welcome, we want them to come in. And then all of a sudden, you tolerate their sin and you never deal with sin, and then you never deal with false doctrine.
And then the fourth step comes down in chapter 3. And the messenger of the church in Sardis is going to take this letter back to that church. Again, Christ is identified by the descriptives that come in the vision of chapter 1 as the One who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. And He says, “I know your deeds. You have a name that you are alive, but you’re dead.” There it is, folks. Now the church is dead. It’s dead.
First, you leave your first love, then you compromise with the world, then you tolerate sin, then you’re dead, then you’re dead. All you’ve got left is programs, programs, programs. Oh, He says, “You have a name that you’re alive. You have your programs. You pass out your little bulletin and your schedule, and you go through the motions. But you’re dead. Wake up,” He says. “Strengthen the things that remain which are about to die, or a few things that are just breathing their last. Try to salvage them. For I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. Remember, therefore.” Again, you always have to remember to go back to where you started. “Remember what you received and heard, and keep it, and repent.” You always have to repent because it’s so sinful. “And if you don’t, I’m going to come like a thief, and you’re not going to even know what hour I come.”
You know, when you look at the churches in Europe and even the churches in America that have followed this process, they’re under divine judgment. They’re dead, because basically the Lord shut them down. Oh, He says in verse 4, “There’s a few people in Sardis, a few who haven’t soiled their garments,” – and there are a few in these dead churches, a few people who are real – “and they’ll walk with me in white, because they’re worthy,” He ways.
By the way, seven hundred years before this letter, Sardis was one of the great cities of the world. Today it’s rubble. Sardis had a great king. When I say his name, you’ll remember it. His name was Croesus. When we want to say somebody is really rich, we say they’re as rich as Croesus – synonymous with wealth. But that city degenerated just like the church in it. It was a degenerate church in a degenerating city. By now, it was a corpse.
And there’s nothing to commend. He just says, “I know your deeds. You have a name that you’re alive, but you’re dead.” He doesn’t commend anything because the church is dead. All there is is dry rot. That’s what happened in Europe. The church lost its first love and became cold in its orthodoxy. And then it became compromising, and then it tolerated false doctrine, and then it was dead.
And all it had was social programs and politics and activities. It was like “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Do you remember that from your lit class? Corpses man the ship, dead men pull the oars, and dead men steer the vessel. Nothing left but form, nothing left but programs; lots of activity. “Sound and fury,” said Shakespeare, “signifying nothing.” Ichabod, the glory has departed. Again, the message, “You’d better remember and you’d better repent.”
Finally, in chapter 3, verse 14, we come to the fifth step in the sequence. And this is the letter to the church in Laodicea. And this is the church which isn’t a church. The church died in step four. This is the non-church church. And, again, the Lord is described as, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” Again, descriptives from the vision in chapter 1.
“And He says, ‘I know your deeds. You’re neither cold nor hot; I wish you were cold or hot. But you’re lukewarm, and you’re not cold or hot, so I’ll spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I’m rich, and have become wealthy, in need of nothing,” and you do no know you’re wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked,’ – that’s about as strong as you can get – ‘I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by the fire that you may become rich, and white garments that you may clothe yourselves, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve that you may anoint your eyes that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove in discipline; be zealous therefore and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I’ll come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’” This is the church with Christ on the outside knocking on the door trying to get in. This is the church which is no church. This is the church of the tares, the first church of the tares.
There’s no mention of any in this church that are faithful. There’s new few here that still have their garments white, that are still holding fast, that are still worthy. But the door is open. I should say, the Savior is there. They can open the door if they want, salvation’s still available. But they’re nauseating to God. I mean, He would rather have them hypocrites, cold; or saved, hot; than lukewarm, professing Christians, playing church, no real faith at all. They were absolutely without God. “They were wretched and miserable” – verse 17 – “and poor and blind and naked.”
And so, in verse 19, He says, “Repent.” And so, this is our Lord, and He’s looking at a church, and He sees five kinds of churches here, in sequence. And He really gives us a picture of history here. This is how they go: they leave their first love; they let the world in; and once they tolerate sin, then they tolerate false doctrine, and then they die; and then they’re apostate. They’re centers of false religion.
You go to Europe today and you can see it. You can see the church when it grows cold in history. And all it is is a cold orthodoxy. And then you can see it when it begins to marry the world and tolerate sin and never deal with sin. And then you can see it as it begins to tolerate false teaching, and its schools and universities are filled with false teachers. And then it’s dead. And then today, it’s apostate. You go into those churches today, they attack the Bible, and they attack the deity of Jesus Christ, and they attack the gospel.
That’s what you see in the west of Europe. And that’s the process we’re even seeing in America. Liberal churches here once were the passionate, zealous churches of the founding fathers of this nation, and the pilgrims who established, for example, the Ivy League schools to train pastors and missionaries. And they’re all rank liberal and apostate to this day. It’s the process. It’s the way it goes.
The Lord always has His remnant. In the heyday of the Roman Catholics there were the Waldensians and Huguenots, which is the French word for “the Protestants,” “the reformed.” There were some anti-Baptists true to the faith; and the Lord always has His true people. But this is the historic cycle of the way the church goes. This is the story of the church in Western Europe.
And I tell you, folks, the need is profound. They need a revival of the hearing of the truth. They can’t even remember where they came from. They certainly aren’t willing to repent. And they can’t repeat the first works, unless somebody goes and awakens their heart to the true condition of the church. And I’m not talking just about Spain and France and Italy that are dominated by Roman Catholicism, I’m talking about places like England and Holland and Switzerland and Germany that are dominated by apostate Protestantism.
Now, there are two other letters here. I want you to see these two other churches. If you go back in chapter 2, verse 8, “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life: ‘I know your tribulation, your poverty, but you are rich. I know the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you’re about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison. You may be tested; you’ll have tribulation ten days. Be faithful to death, and I’ll give you the crown of life.’”
Did you notice where was absolutely no warning to that church? There’s no comment about sin. This is a good church. This church has only commendation. Why? It was a persecuted church.
Now go to the third chapter, verse 7. And here again is a church at Philadelphia. And as the Lord speaks. The Lord is identified again in verse 7 as the Holy One, the True One who has the key of David, who opens and no one shuts, shuts and no one opens.
He says, “I know your deeds. I put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power.” And this is a frail church. “But you’ve kept My word. You’ve never denied My name.” And that indicates, again, persecution. “And I’m going to cause those of the synagogue of Satan,” – that, again, is the same group of people that went after Smyrna; they say they’re Jews, they’re not, they lie – “I’m going to make them come down and bow at your feet, and to know that I loved you. Because you kept the word of My perseverance, I will keep you from the hour of testing, the hour which is about to come on the whole earth to test those who dwell on the earth. I’m coming quickly; hold fast what you have. Don’t let anybody take your crown.” Again, nothing said negative. Why? This is a persecuted church.
Wherever you have persecution, you have the preservation of the church. And then you look at Eastern Europe, you look at Russia, the church was mercilessly persecuted. Not all of Eastern Europe, by the way, was under the influence of Christianity, a lot of it was under the influence of Islam; but that part of Eastern Europe, which got the Christian message, and then went under Communism. For example, in the Ukraine and in Russia, the church is strong, the church is pure, and the church has sound doctrine. The church disciplines sin; the church is separated.
I think if I were to define the church in Eastern Europe, the ones that I know of and that we minister to, that’s what I would say about them. Their theology is solid. They deal with sin. They are separated from the world. They have a passionate and zealous love for Christ. They’re going everywhere preaching the gospel, planting churches; and that’s the benefit and the blessing and the benediction of having been persecuted.
Sadly, with the Protestant Reformation came prosperity, economic prosperity. It was a boon, literally. Literally, the areas of Western Europe dominated by Roman Catholicism are behind the Protestant areas economically and socially. The gospel is a powerful liberating force in every realm, and it brought even social wellbeing. But the church didn’t handle that well; whereas in the persecuted areas, the church is pure and zealous and passionate and faithful and loyal and separated.
See, outside persecution tends to purify the church. That’s what you see so starkly when you go to Europe. You see the persecuted church strong, in love with Christ, passionate, zealous, faithful, separated, because the outside persecution kept them pure. You can go through the whole church in Russia, you’ll never meet a liberal, because you can’t become a liberal by reading your Bible; you have to go to a school to learn that stuff. You have to sit at the feet of a heretic.
Outside persecution tends to purify the church and keep it strong. Inside defection leads to its death. That’s what you see in Europe. So you have two great needs there. We have to help the persecuted church, because it has limited resources, it doesn’t have enough books; and its pastors aren’t trained well enough, and they don’t have enough money to build church. And there are thousands of cities throughout that part of the world that don’t even have a church.
But the church is so strong. You can use them as a powerful force. There are no liberals, there’s no compromise, and they are a pure force. You know, it’s like giving an army weapons and just turning them loose because you know what good fighters they are. But in Western Europe, it’s a whole different story: the church is weak, and the church is defeated, and the church is compromised; the church is worldly, the church is dead, the church is apostate.
Somehow, we’ve got to go in there and we’ve got to attach to those pure believers, those who have kept their garments white, who’ve held fast, who are hanging on by the fingernails, as it were. We’ve got to help them and strengthen them and equip them and challenge them and give them vision and meet their needs. That’s what we try to do.
On this trip, I got a dose of both. And as I was coming back, I was thinking of, “This is exactly the way it lays out in Revelation 2 and 3.” And I bring it to bear on our own church as well and just remind you that we don’t ever want to get caught in this cycle where we leave our first love, we lose the passion and the fire. I hope we have enough persecution to keep us pure. And I hope we have enough of that vision of the church at Philadelphia that was proclaiming all the time. That, too, is a purifying influence.
I don’t want to see us ever go on that slide: first, drift into coldness and indifference toward Christ, and then we open our doors like so many quote-unquote “evangelical” churches today and just invite the world to come in. And then you don’t do church discipline, you don’t deal with sin; you want to make the world feel comfortable. Pretty soon, you have false teaching; then you’re dead, then you’re apostate. What a sad cycle. That’s the cycle. Let’s pray.
Father, we praise You for what You’re doing. We thank You. We look back to the great Reformation, and we have hearts that are grieved and broken over such immense beginnings that dissipated; it seemed so fast. And yet, You haven’t failed your church and Your church is there. And maybe this is a time for a great, new launching that can, again, sweep across Europe. Maybe we can be a part of that.
We would pray for the same to happen even here in our nation, that You would use us mightily even in the city of Los Angeles, in our community here; not just in other parts of the world, but right here. Use our people as they touch lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We pray that our church may continue to be a maternity ward where there’s the constant cry of newborn souls in Christ, where we’re continuing to see people embracing Christ, being baptized and growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord.
Bless our church. Bless our people. Keep us faithful. Keep Your mighty hand of blessing on us. And we’ll give You praise and glory in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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