Friday, December 03, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Ephesus

I usually try to undertake a project for Advent. I thought it might be apposite, in this time of Ecclesiological upheaval, to reflect upon the seven churches which appear in the Apocalypse. So here is the first of seven.

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write ; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne , and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured , and hast not fainted. 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 . But this thou hast , that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate . He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

Ephesus was a major city, home to the famous temple of Artemis and of course where Paul caused a little fracas in the acts of the Apostles. If you recall, he challenges the Ephesian idolatry and starts a riot with the cry of "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"

The Ephesian Church clearly has much to worry about. It exists in the midst of a culture of idolatry and materialism. So it has a choice, either resist the prevailing tide of popular opinion or incorporate them into its Christian worship. Some Christians decide to do just that. They begin to eat food sacrificed to idols and practice certain immoralities, making up defences for doing so. These are the Nicolaitans whose practices Christ loathes.

So the Ephesian Church is very careful about the teaching that it hears. Any hint of heresy and idolatry is purged and the false apostles thrown out, all to preserve the Holiness of a Church that Christ holds very dear, as St Paul demonstrates in that wonderful opening to his letter to this Church. Christ Himself announces his presence to the Ephesians as the one in control of the Churches, who holds their spirits in His hand and who ensures that His Light still burns in the Church.

What has gone wrong? How has the Ephesian Church lost its first love? It is praised for its endurance, for hating detestable things, for not putting up with evil, but there is no mention of a desire to reach out and proclaim the Gospel by Holy living. This seems to be a Church which has barricaded itself in against the world and refuses to engage with anyone outside it. Perhaps it has transferred the hatred of the practices of the Nicolaitans to the hatred of the Nicolaitans themselves,. It is this that Christ contests by emphasising that it is the practices we must hate, not the people.

It is very easy for us to start to tar people with their own failings. We live in very similar circumstances now, and so it is easy to bind people to their misdeeds and to see no further than that which gives us grief. We have to endure this tendency of humanity to be misled along paths which are foolish. While we must necessarily separate our religion from that of idolatry, we must still integrate with idolaters in order to proclaim the Good News of Christ, though perhaps without causing the riots.


Almighty God who hast called Thy people out from the World, and yet ordained them to live in the World, that through them the World may hear of its Salvation in Christ Jesus, Thy Son, Our Lord; Grant us, we beseech Thee, the gift of Love to separate a man from his deeds, that, detesting those deeds which are detestable, we may show him the same Love that Thou hast shown in the same Christ Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, One God World without end, Amen.

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