Sunday, June 05, 2016

Presenting CWWN v05 - The Christian (3)

kw: book summaries, watchman nee, christian ministry

Volume 5 of the Collected Works of Watchman Nee concludes his "Meditations on the Book of Revelation" from Volumes 3 and 4. The meditations on the letters to Thyatira and to Sardis each take up about fifty pages, while he treats of the letters to Philadelphia and Laodicea in something over sixty pages each.

Throughout these Meditations he stresses repeatedly the dual interpretation of each letter. Firstly, each was a letter to the "messenger" of a particular local church. Thus, there is no gospel message in any of them because each church consisted entirely of believers. The late First Century was not like today, in which it is rather easy to be called a Christian while having no reality. The Western countries abound with church-goers for whom this activity is primarily a social function. In about the year 95, when John was exiled to Patmos, to become a Christian and to present oneself as a believer in Jesus was to take a deadly risk.

On the other hand, Nee dwells upon the historical interpretation, for each letter has something to teach us today. The eras represented by the first three letters, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, have come and gone. The era represented by Ephesus was ending as John wrote. In the later letters by Paul thirty years earlier we can see that many were forsaking the way of Christ, and the love of many was already growing cold. The era represented by Smyrna (=Myrrh, representing suffering) occupied the Second and Third Centuries, and the first part of the Fourth Century, the era of official persecution of Christians. The era represented by Pergamos (meaning "fully married"), in which the Christian church became wedded to the world, particularly to the Roman Government, lasted about another two centuries.

Although these eras have ended, these three letters have something to say to us, no matter what kind of "church" we may attend or adhere to. Do we love the Lord with the first love? We may have many works, yet be motivated either by a desire for other's good opinion or by a self-righteous sense of duty. The first letter is for us. Maybe our love of Christ has not waned, or has been rekindled, and we are suffering persecution. In America and other Western countries it is less likely that you could be killed for your faith, but not entirely out of the question. But more subtle works of Satan induce others to exclude us or humiliate us, or some might lose jobs "for being too religious". The second letter, with its lack of rebuke by the Lord, and its many words of comfort, can sustain those suffering for their faith. But are we instead someone who loves to attend the richest congregation, the one filled with political and business leaders? Do we love hobnobbing with the great of the world, "even at church"? The third letter has significant warnings of the spiritual peril we are courting, and remedies to induce in us a pure love for the Lord and a straight walk in His presence.

The latter four churches represent expressions of the church that coexist now. They began at different times, but the later ones did not replace the former ones. Thus, the local church in Thyatira had characteristics that made it the prototype of worldwide Catholicism. This is primarily the Roman Catholic Church, but in principle it includes the eleven other Orthodox, or "old Catholic" churches. Sardis represents the churches that arose out of the Protestant Reformation, particularly the State Churches: Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Anglican, and so forth. Other "mainline denominations" would also be included, such as Methodist or Presbyterian, but not Congregational, which we'll get to in a moment. The weak but faithful church in Philadelphia represents those expressions of the church that are characterized by love among the believers ("Brotherly Love"), holding fast the Lord's name and keeping his word. For this the Lord appreciated that they had "a little strength", and a little is all that is needed. The fourth church, Laodicea, had become quite "democratic", replacing revelation with elections. The name means "rule of the laity", and in a certain way, it harks back to the proverb of the times of the Judges, "Each man does what is right in his own eyes." The Congregational denomination is the epitome of this kind of expression. But the "Christian world" abounds with denominations of all kinds, rampant division of the body of Christ, such that division is the "new normal", and those who separate from divisions and attempt to attain Biblical unity are considered heretics. Modern Philadelphians experience a taste of Smyrna! But this "new normal" kind of church expression is most hateful to the judging Jesus Christ, who promises—it was no warning this time—to vomit them out of his mouth. Though shut out of the church, He remains near the door, knocking, and blessing any who answer and let Him into their own heart, though the church door remains shut to Him. Thus we can discern a third mode of interpretation, the personal. It is possible to be sitting among faithful believers in a church that primarily expresses the love and faithfulness of Philadelphia, while inside being a lukewarm Laodicean or a chilly Sardisite (as some even boast, they are "God's frozen chosen"!).

In these Meditations we see a measure of incipient maturity in one who was about the age at which I received Christ. Is it not true that nearly all of us spend most of our lives as a mature adult? So why is spiritual maturity so rare? These seven letters, each with their call to the overcomer, and each with a remedy given by Christ for the local situation, contain the "supplies" we need to overcome and to mature in Christ, loving Him first, relying on Him, and living a life of faithful testimony to Him. May the Lord at His return find us doing so!

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