The Compromising Church Study Series Chapter -4

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Stay blessed and be a blessing.  Hope you enjoy reading the Book of  Revelation. Today we are  studying  just five verses ( Rev 2:12-17).  It is about the church in  Pergamum.  Variously referred to as Pergamum, Pergamon or Pergamus, this ancient  city  of Asia Minor was located near to the  modern city of  Bergama in  Turkey. Pergamum was an important religious and cultural centre in this part of  the Roman Empire, and  for nearly two centuries it served as the capital city of the province. Pergamum  had to its  credit the biggest altar for  Zeus, the Greek god. In the Roman era, when  Caesar was  worshipped as god, a big temple in his honor was also built there in BC 27, and tradition says that this was the  biggest of altars dedicated to Caesar.

Pergamus is the classic example of  a compromising church. When  we  studied the churches in Ephesus and  Smyrna,  we  observed that they  never  yielded to any kind of compromises. They stood their ground in the face of  persecution. They were  the archetypes of  early churches. When  time passed,  an element of compromise  crept in, which ultimately  corrupted the church’s soul. The only weapon  that could  destroy this spirit of compromise is the Word of God. This is the reason  Jesus  introduces himself  to the  church in Pergamum in  relation to the Word. “These are the words of him who has the sharp two edged sword’ (Rev 2:12). The Bible tells us about only one kind of two edged sword and it is the Word of God. It will hurt the preacher as well as the  listener.  It will  hurt the believer as well as the   onlooker. Whichever direction it moves,  those who come in its path will experience its  sharpness.  

The first reference  about this  two edged sword is  seen in the Book of Genesis. It is  not a coincidence that the  last book of the Bible also  tells about it.  Though the contexts are  different, the purpose is the same.  Let us first  look at  what  the Book of Genesis says. ‘He drove out the man; and at the east  of the garden of  Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword  flaming and  turning to guard the way to the tree of life’ (Gen 3:24).  The Scripture says that  to gain re-entry into paradise, man should  pass through the  test of this  sword. In the Book of Revelation we read about  a  Rider on the White Horse; ‘ From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike  down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron’ (Rev 19:15). Jesus is warning the  church in Pergamum that  the sword, otherwise reserved for the nations, will have to be  used against those  in Pergamum too if they   follow a teaching  against  the true gospel. We once again see  a mention  about this sword, after the incident  of  capturing  the  beast  and  the false prophet  and throwing them alive  into the lake of fire that burns with  sulphur;  ‘And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came  from his mouth’ (Rev 19:21).

Jesus acknowledges that  the  faithful of Pergamum were living in a place where   Satan’s throne is located. “I know where you are living,  where Satan’s throne is’ (Rev 2: 13). This is a direct reference to the  temple of Zeus and  also the altar  dedicated to Caesar  to be honored as  god.  Jesus knows how difficult it is  to   live a life of faith  in a predominantly godless  land. Jesus appreciates the church in  Pergamum for  holding fast to his name and  not denying  their faith in him. ‘ Yet you are holding fast  to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives (Rev 2:13).

When we know how Antipas was martyred, we also will  appreciate the church in Pergamum that he led as bishop. Antipas was martyred during the reign of Nero, by burning in a brazen bull-shaped altar. Indeed a cruel death  for the sake of the name of  Jesus Christ! Even this horrible incident could not   shake the  faith of the  Church in  Pergamum. They held fast to their faith, proudly proclaiming the name  of Jesus Christ. 

Then what happened? From  a church that persevered in persecutions, they   gradually  slipped into  complacence,  and complacence  led to  compromise. Compromise  in turn led them to  water down their   faith. In Pergamum  the political state  had a  religion of its own and   its tenets were totally  alien to  what  Christians believed. When  the church entered into an unholy alliance  with such a  state,  the natural  consequence was that the vices of their religion  permeated into the  church also.  The most dangerous partnership in the  world  is  the one between  a religious authority   and  a  political authority. Here it is worth remembering the words of  St Antony of Egypt (AD 251- 356): “Men will surrender to the spirit of the age. They will say that if they had lived in our day, Faith would be simple and easy. But in their day, they will say, things are complex; the Church must be brought up to date and made meaningful to the day’s problems. When the Church and the world are one, then those days are at hand because our Divine Master placed a barrier between His things and the things of the world.” In Antony’s prophecy, ‘those  days’  mean   end days, and  end days mean these days. He was prophesying that  when the affairs of the  church are   adjusted to please the world,  it is a sure sign of the  end times.

What was the  root cause for the church in  Pergamum getting corrupted? Jesus says  that  the corruption came through  following the teaching  of  Balaam. Who was this Balaam? From the Book of Numbers, we understand that Balaam was a  prophet of high standing in those days. Though  not an  Israelite, he could hear the  voice of the True God. When Balak, the king of Moab invited  Balaam to curse the Israelites, Balaam  answered that  he could not curse the people whom the Lord had blessed.  Yet, his  avarice  led him to   give evil advice to Balak. He advised   Balak to  send the women of Moab to the camps of the Israelites to seduce their men. And that  strategy worked. Men of Israel committed adultery with the women of  Moab and  that brought a heavy chastisement upon them.  Once they broke the sixth commandment, breaking the all important  first commandment was only a matter of time. 

The pattern is similar even today.  Sexual immorality leads to idolatry and worship of false gods. Now look around. Are we not  living in   a world  where everything against the sixth commandment is  made legally  permissible? Our generation has created our own gods instead of the true living God.  And in the  process we reject the true God and his only son Jesus Christ. Judgement will follow but  never think that on the last  day, Jesus is going to judge  those who rejected  him. Jesus says: “I do not judge anyone who hears my words and  does not keep them, for I  came not to judge the world, but to save the  world. The one  who  rejects me and  does not receive my word has  a judge; on the last  day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge’ (Jn 12:47-48).  Yes, the Word of  God is a sword and  it is an   instrument of  judgement too.

Why did Balaam hesitate to curse  the Israelites?  We know that Balak took Balaam  first to  Bamothbal and then  to the top of Pisgah, and from there to the top of Peor. Wherever they  went, what  greeted Balaam’s eyes  were the camps of  Israel in the plains of Moab across  the Jordan.  There was something  peculiar with the  layout of the camps. It was  as  commanded by  the Lord. ‘They shall  camp facing the tent of meeting on every side’ (Num 2:2). Three tribes on the east, three tribes on the north, three tribes on the west and three tribes on the  south. All these four camps were facing the  tent of meeting  situated at the centre.  It is interesting to  imagine what Balam would have seen from  a distant and elevated place. I think  he might have seen the  camps of Israel arranged in a rather unusual pattern, in the  shape of  a CROSS!  Who can curse  somebody taking refuge  under the  ensign of the  cross? On the other hand,  If we  camp under something else, who will protect us?  

If we are under the protection of  the cross no evil will  touch us. Satan also knows it. Being the  master of deceit, he will never tell us to come out of the  protection of the cross. He will never tell us  to  abandon  sacraments. He will never prevent us  from  going to church or  from praying for hours on end.  He needs just one thing. A little bit of compromise here and a little bit of compromise there.  And he knows   very soon  the line  distinguishing a true believer and  a man of this  world will  cease to exist. In other words, the believer will become a man of  this world, and the church will become a secular institution. Remember once again the prophecy of St Antony of Egypt. ‘When the Church and the world are one, then those days are at hand’.

More than the   layout of the camps  resembling  a cross,  what perhaps caught  the  attention of Balaam was the  way Israelites lived. It is  relevant  to   every believer even today. ‘Here is a people  living alone, and not reckoning itself among the nations!'(Num 23:9). Compromise  creeps in  when we  start living with others and start living like others.  Compromise  increases when we  reckon ourselves among the nations. If our benchmark is  what the  secular world does, we are not entitled to be called Christians.  We  are not  supposed to  live the way others live. We are not  supposed to   reckon ourselves among the nations. ‘  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Pet 2:9).

After  giving a call  to repent, Jesus  tells them the  reward that is awaiting them.  “To everyone  who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a  new name that  no one knows except the one who receives it’ (Rev 2:17). Manna  was the  bread that  sustained the Israelites  in the desert. Manna also stands for the  true bread of life which Jesus  revealed to us  as his own body.  White stone brings to  our mind the  ancient practice in certain civilizations where a judge  used to give a white stone to those who are found innocent in trial.  On the other hand, a black stone was   given to those who are found guilty.  As for the new name written on this white stone, Jesus tells that  no one except the   one receiving it   can know it. It represents a deep personal  relation  with   Jesus, an intimacy  which he alone knows. 

For us who live in a  world of  compromises, the possibilities are that  we are  swayed towards the worldly unless we  hold fast to the name of  Jesus. In Esau we  find a   man  who compromised the  most  precious birthright for something as silly as a piece of  bread and some lentil stew.  We are  warned  against compromising our birthright for citizenship in the  kingdom of heaven for mean and meaningless things. ‘ See to it that   no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that  later,  when he wanted to  inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears’ (Heb 12:16-17).

Today, when we  stand  at the  crossroads, there are  two signboards; one pointing towards Pergamum, the  evergreen pasture of  compromises. But remember that  there  is also another signboard pointing towards a   narrow alley  alongside that leads us to a place where  we  will be served with the hidden  manna and where we will be honored with a white stone with our new name written on it.  If we  forfeit  our birthright to inherit it by  compromising our faith,  it means we have   learnt nothing from the history of Pergamum. 

Let us pray for the strength to withstand  the offers of compromises this world  extends to us.

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