Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent and Apocalypse: The Church at Pergamum

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write ; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 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 hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written , which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

As Smyrna finds out, the problem of being a Christian in an inimical society is that faithful folk tend to get killed - horribly. The Church at Pergamum is in a similar predicament. This is one of the first places to practice Emperor worship and here we can identify Satan in his capacity as prince of this world. The consequence is that there is a heavy price to pay for fidelity to Christ as St Antipas has found out. Some traditions have this holy saint being burned alive on a sacrificial altar.

So what do the folk at Pergamum do? Well, it's clear that they don't deny Christ and remain faithful and true, but there appear to be those among them who are saying, "look, let's make life easy on ourselves. Let's go along as far as we can with everyone else and we won't be terribly conspicuous and get murdered horribly." Here is a church that is being tempted to adopt synchretist belief in order to make life easy on themselves, just as Balaam wanted to make life easy on himself by cursing the Israelites as a favour to Balak in return for all kinds of lovely things.

Of course God, through Balaam's ass, ensures that the Israelites are blessed by Balaam rather than cursed, and we get the impression from Numbers xxii-xxv, that Balaam isn't exactly happy to be blessing Israel either.

We cannot be Christian and expect the easy life, however nice it is when things are going smoothly and we aren't being poked fun at. Christ is perfectly clear: there is to be no compromise. The word of His mouth has the power to slice finely and carefully cutting out that which is corrupt in order to preserve the holy. The price of seeking holiness - separation from the ideals of the world - is sustenance from God, the nourishing food of the desert rather than food however sumptuous sacrificed to a false deity.

Those who seek holiness are given a new name: Conor (Latin for 'I try') becomes Victor (meaning 'conqueror') permanently etched in a stone that reflects the pure light of God as any truly white object must. It is the duty of the Christian to ensure that no practice of the modern world interferes with the true worship of God. Synchretism is an hypocrisy as well as a sin.

O Lord God, Whose Word like a sharp sword divides Soul from Spirit, Truth from Error, and Life from Death; grant, we beseech Thee, to Thy Church the careful swordsmanship to cut away that which seeks to draw the souls of Thy little children away from Thee and we pray Thee that, nourishing Thy faithful people with Thy Heavenly food, Thou wouldst bring all souls into Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy, Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen

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