Three Points of Public Repentance
At a recent national pastors’ conference, one of the excellent preachers spoke from Revelation chapters 2 and 3. In his early comments he asked, “Have you ever heard of a church that repented of its sins against the head of the church – Jesus Christ?” He asked a subsequent question, “Have you as a pastor called your church to repent collectively and then warned them that, if they do not repent, judgment from heaven could fall on them?” His response to these questions was, “Not likely!”
Just by way of review, Jesus called several of the churches from these chapters to publically repent. The church of Ephesus was called by Christ to repent of their spiritual apathy as they had left their first love (2:4-5). He called the church at Pergamum to repent of idolatrous teaching that had led to sexual immorality (2:14-16) and issued a similar call to Thyatira (2:19-21). The church at Sardis was called to repent of their superficiality and hypocrisy as they had a “name to live” but were “dead” (3:1-3). Christ issued a stern call to repentance to the Laodicean church to collectively repent of their self-sufficiency and lukewarm condition (3:15-19).
I am certainly not Christ, and I do not know the core issues of each church. I do see trends in the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 that seem to parallel today’s Christian culture. In view of that, could I recommend three possible points of necessary repentance for local churches in our nation that could restore, renew, and revive the work of the Gospel?
Lip Service in Prayer
Two of the seven churches were mired in a similar spiritual malaise. Ephesus was doctrinally sound but was no longer pursuing passionate love for Jesus. Laodicea was proud and self-reliant but spiritually listless. Their repentance would lead them to once again welcome Christ, the head of the church, back into the central place of their worship, with a new cherished intimacy with Him.
I would suggest this to be one of today’s central sins requiring open, honest, authentic repentance. Like Ephesus, we give great attention to doctrine in many of today’s churches. We have full heads but hearts empty of intimate love for Jesus. Like Laodicea, we are rich and increased with multitudinous capabilities. But in many of these churches there seems to be little appetite or allowance for honoring and seeking Him through earnest prayer.
We know that Jesus expected His “house” to be a house of prayer. Paul told Timothy that the first order and focus of church life was to be prayer (1 Timothy 2:1). Yet, today we have time for multiple songs, announcements, videos, and extended sermons – but hardly any passionate, loving, demonstrated reliance on Christ through prayer. This, I believe, expresses a loss of our first and simple love and evidences a lukewarm self-sufficiency that presumes much about prayer but practices little of it.
We have made of church something very different than the original model. (See Acts 1:14, 2:42, 4:24-31, 6:4, 12:5, 13:1-2). We speak about prayer, and even listen to someone up front verbalize a prayer – but our churches do not pray substantively, collectively, and passionately as a central function of our primary gatherings. This being the case, have we lost our first love? Do we humbly recognize our spiritual poverty? Are we opening the door to the living Christ, that He would be the centerpiece of our gatherings? Maybe it is time to publicly repent of our corporate prayerlessness as the first step in Christ’s plan for restoration. (Even the above-mentioned conference, for all its solid teaching, gave virtually no time to united prayer.)
Superficiality in Worship
The church at Sardis rested in their superficial reputation and worship. They gloried in a shallow sense of spiritual life but were not fully awake to Christ. I would suggest our modern-day obsession with church growth, crowds, buildings, programming, events, and ecclesiastical celebrities has infused us with self-satisfaction as we express surface expressions of faith. We think we are “alive” based on man-made, outward indicators. In fact, we need a new awakening to Christ Himself.
I see this illustrated clearly in many of our congregational worship songs that make extraordinary statements about our all-out devotion to Christ. The lyrics, usually written by some Christian recording artist, express full surrender, repentance, abandoned love, and undivided loyalty. Yet, in the noise of the instruments, the atmospheric smoke, and the excitement of the crowd we should stop and ask, “Really?” Do the souls in our theater seats even grasp what it means to sing about surrendering “all”? To wholeheartedly love and follow Christ? To declare Him as our “everything”? Are we just casually, and maybe mindlessly, repeating these overarching phrases to the point that we have become immunized to the reality of what this actually means?
Perhaps like Sardis, we need to “wake up” to our true spiritual condition, seeing that our satisfaction with status quo is leading to the death of our real spiritual impact. Perhaps we need to remember what we have received and heard from Christ and from the old paths of early Christianity and realign our worship and commitments to the New Testament standard.
In summary, both Pergamum and Thyatira had given themselves over to the competing teachings of the day that had led to idolatry and the toleration of sexual immorality. Today, while there are definitely false religions afoot, our big threat is the growing secularism that offers idols of various sorts and is drawing even the church to justify and embrace various forms of immorality. The lust of the flesh has its hooks in us like never before via internet smut and infidelities of various kinds. The lust of the eyes stimulates sinful discontent as television lures us with “bigger and better” houses, vacations, cars, and forms of entertainment. The boastful pride of life is causing us to place human reason and human rights above the unchanging standards of wholesome, biblical, and Christ-honoring morals. Perhaps the church needs to repent first, then seek to be a beacon of light in the culture.
In these chapters of Revelation, the hardest pill to swallow is the “or else” warnings of Jesus. None of these seven churches from these chapters exist today, as Christ’s work is not limited to individual congregations or even churches in a particular nation. He warned that He would take away their spiritual influence (2:5). He said He would oppose their work and chastise them severely (2:16, 21-23; 3:5). But to all, He issued this final plea: ”Let him who has an ear hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In this hour, this culture, and this imperative moment – may we hear what the Spirit is saying and respond in humble repentance for the sake of our churches, our families, our communities, and the nation we so dearly love.
Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.