Saturday, April 28, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Sardis

Outline: Seven Churches – Sardis
Passage: Revelation 3:1-6
Discussion audio (1 hour 26 minutes)

We turn the corner on the series of letters. This is letter number 4 – now past the midway point in the series. Like its chiastic counterpart, letter number 3 to the church in Pergamum, this letter is addressed to a church that is going through severe problems – the letter contains no commendations; only warnings and exhortations.

On the outside the church in Sardis appears to be vibrant and healthy; but Jesus, who knows all, sees otherwise – it is dead. Although we cannot know for certain precisely the manner, the church in Sardis has managed to find a way to avoid all tribulation and persecution that should have been expected for a Christian church at that time and place. Therein lies the problem: in avoiding persecution, the church has managed to compromise its faithfulness to Jesus. It has wandered away from the true source of Spirit and Life, seeking security and stability in the practices of the world.

The precise type of temptations we face today, in regards to accommodating worldly practices, differ from that faced by the church in Sardis. But we can apply the general principle found in this letter: anything that leads us to depend on the security offered by the world above that offered in Jesus is faithlessness; i.e., sin. No matter how “religious” we may appear, even to ourselves, if we are not depending upon Jesus completely in every part of our lives, we do not have the Spirit and Life – we are dead.

The good news is Jesus does not give up on anyone, even those that may be “dead.” He has the power to resurrect and bring to life even those that have died, if they choose to respond to his breath of life. The church at Sardis was spiritually dead, but Jesus did not give up on it. He sent this letter to “wake them up” so that they might choose to receive the Spirit Jesus wanted them to have.

Monday, April 16, 2012

No post weekend of April 21

Due to the Petersburg Community Health Fair on April 21, there will be no new discussion this upcoming weekend.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Thyatira

Outline: Seven Churches – Thyatira
Passage: Revelation 2:18-29
Discussion audio (1 hour)

Yesterday, we discussed the fourth of the seven letters in Revelation, the letter to Thyatira. It is the middle letter and the longest of the seven letters. As was noted in earlier sessions, we are interpreting these letters according to a chiastic structure that places this letter as possibly the most important and key to all of the letters.

One of the most distinguishing features of this particular letter is that there really isn’t anything new that is introduced. It borrows words, phrases, and imagery from the first three letters. It is as if all of the good and bad characteristics of the first three churches are all found in this fourth church, Thyatira. The church itself appears to be sharply divided between those who have been led astray vs. those who remain faithful. This letter contains words that, more strongly than in others, indicate that this letter is to be read and heeded by the other churches. All the preceding characteristics make perfect sense if we see this fourth letter as central to the seven and see it as the key to the whole series.

There are some indications that imply this letter is also a concise summary of the book of Revelation itself. The imagery of Jezebel and all the Old Testament allusions it brings up parallels much of what can be seen in Babylon that follows later in the book. The confrontation of Elijah with Jezebel (through her “prophets”) on Mt. Carmel may be a pattern that John had in mind when he wrote Revelation. If this is the case, the theme of Revelation is not principally about end-times or even history, but rather about the conflict that God’s people have always had with those who belong to Satan, and about the confidence that God’s people can have in God’s faithfulness to them.

A perspective on apocalyptic biblical literature

The current (March/April 2012) issue of Adventist Today (requires subscription for access) contains a review of a book, Finding My Way in Christianity: Recollections of a Journey, authored by Harold Weiss. The book is the author’s autobiographical journey within the Adventist brand of Christianity. Part of this brand includes fascination with apocalyptic end-time scenarios and the review spends a large portion of its text describing the book author’s change in perspective through his life.

I want to quote excerpts from the review article what I find most relevant to the subject matter of this blog.

For Seventh-day Adventists, Weiss says the books of the Bible that serve as a canon within a canon are “the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation. All evangelistic meetings center on the interpretation of these apocalyptic books, which Adventists have always considered to be prescriptive biblical prophecy.”

Having been raised with this emphasis on prophecy, some of Weiss’s earliest
memories include depictions of dreadful beasts and the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, which faithful Daniel and his companions refused to worship. Just as others have expressed concerns about long-established Adventist evangelistic approaches, he too worried that there might be “something manipulative” about how Scripture was construed and conveyed to reap baptisms.

“In her interpretation of the last days,” Weiss chronicles, “Ellen White makes the point that Adventists, along with those who keep the commandments and in particular the Sabbath commandment, will be persecuted by both Catholics and what she designates as apostate Protestantism.” Having enshrined Daniel and Revelation in the Adventist canon within a canon, it is no wonder that Adventist theology speaks with an apocalyptic accent.

Weiss summarizes in three sentences the core take-away message of a typical Adventist evangelistic campaign: “According to the Adventist interpretation of the book of Revelation, a law by the United States Congress supporting observance of Sunday as the Christian day of worship is one day to be established as the Mark of the Beast. Thus, in the large scheme of things, the United States government is to be at that time on the wrong side of the divide between the forces of good and evil. The United States government would renounce the wall of separation between church and state and side with Catholics and Protestants who worship on Sunday, for all practical purposes establishing a state religion.”

These specific words are not among the 28 fundamental beliefs, leaving
progressives to interpret their exclusion to mean they are not fundamental, whereas conservatives insist that they are so fundamental as to render inclusion unnecessary, much like Adventist churches declining to post “No Smoking” signs in Sabbath school classrooms because everyone knows better.

Weiss recalls coming “to terms with the historical roots of apocalypticism,” realizing “that the Adventist approach to apocalyptic interpretation was based on a misunderstanding of the character of these books. As a testament of faith, apocalyptic literature makes perfect sense. As prophetic foretellings of what would happen in the future, at the end of time, the books have been a source of much confusion and hubris of the worst kind: spiritual pride.

Rather than provide frightening details for use in a provocative prophecy poster or PowerPoint slide, apocalyptic literature is “primarily concerned with the affirmation that God’s justice will triumph.” When correctly reading “apocalyptic literature as theology rather than as predictive of the sequence of tragic events preceding the coming of Christ,” eschatology becomes faith in Christ, not faith in chronology.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Pergamum

Outline: Seven Churches – Pergamum
Passage: Revelation 2:12-17
Discussion audio (1 hour)

We continue in our journey through the first act of Revelation – the seven letters. This one is to the church in Pergamum which appears to be having some serious problems in its faithfulness to Jesus. The imagery presented in this letter seems rather violent and threatening.

The main point of discussion is how to reconcile what appears to be contradictory teachings given by Paul and John in regards to eating food offered to idols. We took some time discussing the difference between morality and ethics and how scripture seems to point to God’s judgment being based on ethics rather than on morality.

This letter contains additional imagery and symbolic language that we covered:

  • The sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth and the nature of the war this entails
  • The relevance of “hidden manna”
  • The relevance of the “white stone”
  • The interpretation of “a new name”