Sunday, May 10, 2020

How to kill a church

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Easter

After cycling around Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos, we have discovered the need to keep elements of those churches alive. We need to be as strict with our doctrine as Ephesus, admit that we are in spiritual poverty as Smyrna, and seek to be as well-read and as intelligent about the ways of the world as Pergamos. If we follow this, what could possibly go wrong? 

Unfortunately, we find our answer in the churches of Thyatira and Sardis.


As we enter the church in Thyatira, we are confronted with a charismatic woman - a prophetess - who claims to be speaking the word of God. Although we don't know her real name, Jesus names her Jezebel. That's rather harsh. You will remember that Jezebel is the wife of Ahab who incites people to worship Baal rather than God and opposes the rightful prophet Elijah. You may also remember that she meets a bad end, courtesy of faithful servants and a pack of dogs. 

So this Thyatiran prophetess is being identified with that wicked queen. Like Jezebel, she is enticing people to sexual immorality and to idol worship. And she claims to be a Christian.

Sometimes, all it takes is a charismatic leader to make a church turn bad. We see this time and again with the likes of those televangelists who cream off vast sums of money and live morally reprehensible lifestyles while prattling pious platitudes to the people. This Charismatic Leader will convince people that God has changed His mind about certain sins and that it is now okay to commit them. The Charismatic Leader will put up a picture of Jesus which fits this teaching and make Him unrecognisable. This picture is a cartoon, not an ikon. This Charismatic Leader, male or female, has the spirit of Jezebel.


The church in Sardis doesn't fare much better. Jesus call that church dead. Why's that? It looks okay, services are taking place, people call themselves Christians. But there is a great big temple in the centre dedicated to Cybele who is thought to be able to bring the dead back to life. So the people of Sardis don't consider it any problem that they can go to church to worship Jesus and then pop in to offer a sacrifice to Cybele. After all, they both teach the same thing that the dead can be raised. Doesn't matter, does it? It's all good.


No, it isn't. While different religions teach similar things, even things that we Christians believe, we believe in one God, not one God among many. We believe that only in Our Lord Jesus Christ is there true salvation from sin and death. Only in Him will we find our own resurrection as part of His Church.

In Sardis, we see how it is easy to pay lip-service to all gods and none in order to get what we want.

The lesson from both Thyatira and Sardis is clear: if you want to kill a church, embrace paganism, embrace sin especially those of idolatry, fornication and idolatry, and embrace the cult of personality. 


Thus we must leave Thyatira and Sardis, not on foot, or by cycling, but by Formula One racing cars. We have to avoid these churches like the plague, isolating ourselves from their contageous teaching that leads to death.

The only Charismatic Leader we must embrace is God who is truly charismatic for He gives His good gifts to His children. Our bishops and clergy only ever lead us by holding fast to the teaching of the Church as it has been given to us. We can trust our bishops but we need to educate ourselves so that we encounter God for ourselves in our Bible reading, our study and in receiving Him in the sacraments of the Church which are unalterable for the very reasons that Thyatira and Sardis show us. Knowing that we are active in our faith helps our bishops and clergy to continue the teaching and the sacraments of God so that we can all work together to bring life and light to the world. 


Our duty is always to love God first and then neighbour. Jezebel does neither. However, we have God's promise: Jezebel will fall from her tower, and the Children of God will rise from the dead to Eternal Life. Let's live that promise!

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