"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: 'The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. -- Revelation 3: 7 (ESV)
As we continue in our series examining the lessons for the church today by considering the words of Jesus to the seven churches from Revelation, we come to the Church at Philadelphia. Of the seven churches, two were doing well and five were found lacking on different levels. Philadelphia joins Smyrna as the two that were found positive in the sight of our Lord and Savior. Whereas Smyrna is considered the suffering church, Philadelphia is considered the faithful church. So often we look only to the negative and certainly we should learn from mistakes. There is also however plenty to learn from the positive. The first lesson is that not all churches are apostate. Not all churches have embraced heresy, the purpose driven church model or the seeker friendly schemes of church growth. It seems that way sometimes but we must remember that the majority of churches we write about in discernment ministries are the ones seen on television with high profile ministry. I would wager that over 95% of churches that are on "Christian" television are compromised. It is difficult to grow a church to mega church size without compromising to draw people and keep them. This is not to say that local churches do not suffer from the same purpose driven, seeker friendly agenda. They most certainly do. We must remember that the way to eternal life is narrow and few are those who find it. Heaven rejoices when a single soul is saved because there will not be mega church amounts saved. Most will reject God or they will be caught playing church, as we see in Matthew 7.
But it is easy to get discouraged when you see so much wrong. It is then we must remember that we are only seeing what is widely known publicly. The stories I hear from local people about their church that refuses to compromise keeps me hopeful. They are out there. They might be smaller. There might not be smoke machines and rock concerts but they are there. There may not be a coffee shop in the lobby and the second coming of Tony Robbins in the pulpit but they are still there. Even within the apostate churches God will have a remnant. A swath of true believers who still serve Him. Another observation worth noting is the percentage of true churches to false churches. Two out of seven churches were true to Christ. That is only 28% of churches actually serving Jesus Christ and remember, this is at the start of the church! One would expect this percentage to drop as time progressed further and further away from the Apostolic Age. Fast forward to today and the church in America must be far below this percentage if one had to speculate, especially considering all of the truer churches in more persecuted countries. Still, even with only 28 percent, in Philadelphia, Christ had a church that was still serving Him.
Now let us turn to the letter to Philadelphia. The key verse is the opening line of the letter and reveals four characteristics of Christ that apply to this church and any church today that is faithful, as Philadelphia was. The first thing emphasized is holiness. These are the words of the Holy one. Now I know that holiness is a subject that is taboo in the seeker friendly realm today because you cannot address the holiness of God without eventually coming to the inherent sinfulness of man. The church today deems such conversations as a turn off to those they think are somehow seeking God. I qualify this because Romans 3 teaches us that no one is seeking God, all have turned away. This is one of the fundamental flaws in modern church growth theory. The supposition that there are all of these people out there seeking God is simply not supported biblically. Sure there are people who want to have their sin and be told they are saved but that is quite different from someone truly seeking after the Lord. God as it happens is actually not hard to find.
Holiness is the underpinning of a faithful church. Not that the church itself is holy or perfect because we know man cannot be such. But that it is emphasized as the primary characteristic of our Lord and Savior. Instead today we see "love" often as the primary reflected characteristic and even then it is this homogenized, carnal, sloppy agape love and not the actual love that God holds for His people. Love is used by a wayward church as a cudgel against chastening and correction. But holiness is revered by a faithful church. It is aspired to. The Bible does command that we be holy as He is holy. We are supposed to be transformed into His image with each passing day. Within the fallen four churches we have seen so far, it is a lack of holiness that is behind the majority of the problems. Erroneous teachings of lasciviousness and idol worship. The faithful church and the faithful believer start with holiness. Not perfection but an understanding that He who we serve is holy and we as His followers should at least be striving.
Secondly, He is true. He is the true one. Do we get that today? The one we claim to serve is true. There is nothing false within Him or about Him. I find it painfully ironic that the cudgel of love described earlier is wielded most often against the truth. You simply cannot tell someone they are following false teaching or are inaccurate in their beliefs without being pummeled with the notion that you are somehow being unloving. Only a sinful church can decide the truth is unloving. After a realization that a faithful church starts with holiness comes the understanding that it is only maintained through truth. How many of the churches we looked at so far in Revelation had their problems firmly rooted in bad theology? All of them except Smyrna and Philadelphia. It is no wonder then that Satan attacks the church through false doctrine. Romans 16 teaches us that false doctrine is the cause of disunity, not those brave enough to point it out. One of the fastest growing false teachings out there is the experiential Christianity. This is at the core of the false signs and lying wonders churches such as Bethel and IHOP. It is even creeping into mainstream as we saw in the recent Andy Stanley false teachings that emphasized the experience of the disciples over the infallibility of Scripture. The basics are that one must experience God instead of "learn" about Him. The Bible takes a back seat to the wickedness of our deceitful hearts. We saw Perry Noble last year chastise as "jackasses" those that wanted to go deeper in the word of God. Another mega church pastor said that such people were "excrement in the body of Christ." Realize this all started in the Purpose Driven Church. Warren teaches pastors to "blessedly subtract" people who disagree. These people are the ones who are sticking with true doctrine! A faithful church is focused on the truth and holiness.
Thirdly, the faithful church is focused on salvation and operates under the authority of Christ. He is the one who holds the key of David. A key is symbolic in the Bible for authority. When Christ taught on earth people marveled because He taught as one who had authority (Matthew 7). But tied to this is the lineage of David, through whom the Messiah would come. The church is not supposed to be this weak amalgam of disparate theologies driven by human wisdom. It is supposed to operate under the unwavering authority of Jesus Christ and is supposed to be Messiah-centric. Instead what do we see? We see churches that are essentially humanistic in their attempts to be relevant to the contemporary culture. Everyone is dabbling in their own opinions, schemes and logic to try and sound pious while staying away from the Messiah. Sure they say the name Jesus Christ but deny His power. They deny Him by refusing to preach His entire Gospel. He is the Messiah beloved. He came to save us from ourselves. From our sins. From the clutches of Satan. Yet churches today focus on seven part sermon series' on the most exciting movies of the summer! Or about how we can feel more significant in our communities. How sadly absurd. The faithful church is grounded in His holiness, sustained on true doctrine, and operates in the authority of His stature as Messiah.
Lastly, the faithful church does not deny the power of who they serve. When we see Christ remind us that what He opens no man can shut and what He closes no man can open He is reinforcing His omnipotence. He is reinforcing how far above mere mortal men He is. How do we see this relevant today? The purpose driven modeled churches are in the business of minimizing Christ. He is reduced to the role of buddy or wingman. There was actually a sermon this year about Jesus as our wingman! We have changed worship music to fit this poor theology. Singing Friend of God does not make you a friend of God. Simply put, the faithful church reveres Christ because of His power. The faithless church has no fear of God before them. Let us continue now in the letter:
"'I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. -- Revelation 3: 8 (ESV)
Beloved, Jesus Christ knows all of our works. He knows what we do for ourselves and what we do for Him. He knows when our acts of charity are really just to feed our ego or to be seen by men. He knows when our acts of benevolence are just to cover up our acts of depravity. He sees that this faithful church has little power as man sees power. It does not have the 50 million dollar budget, the waterfalls in the lobby and the coffee shop downstairs. It does not have the light show and smoke machines. It does not have the fame of television or the glitz of celebrity pastorship. Yet despite these things it has refused to compromise. In the face of churches that compromise and gain power and influence, the faithful church stays true. How does Christ measure such faithfulness from His church? Two primary ways we see here. First by staying true to His Word in the way it operates and secondly it does not deny His Word when it comes to teaching.
You have kept my word. This applies to how we live our lives beloved. A faithful church is not filled with faithless people. Remember that Paul instructs Timothy to guard only two things -- his life and his doctrine. How we live and what we teach. That is all that matters. So the people at the Church in Philadelphia walked the walk. Today, how many stories do we need to see of church members and pastors falling from grace and treating restoration like a joke? I just heard yesterday of an openly bisexual dance ministry leader at a local mega church. The number one reason the unsaved give for why they refuse to come to church is that Christians are hypocritical. They are lost but not stupid. They see the holiness two-step. They see a church that vilifies sin from unbelievers but screams judge not when sin is caught inside the church walls. It should not be so. Besides keeping His Word in our lives we are also supposed to not deny His name. The Bible teaches us that He is His Word beloved. Denying His name is simply denying His Word. This is the primary reason why the church today operates under no power whatsoever. You cannot walk in the power of Christ while denying who He is. By denying His Word. There is always a price to be paid for butchering the Word of God. For proof texting to make your point means you will lose His point. You cannot strip mine the Bible, removing all possibility of offense. The Gospel was meant to offend! It was meant to divide brother against sister and mother against daughter. The faithful church today will not play games with their walk or their doctrine -- period. Again, not perfection but a striving for holiness, the truth, His authority as Messiah, and not losing His power through compromise. This was the church at Philadelphia and it still can be the church today that seeks true repentance for making the Gospel about something else.
Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. -- Revelation 3: 9 (ESV)
So what is Jesus saying here? In Philadelphia, there was a synagogue they called the synagogue of God only Christ here refers to it as the synagogue of Satan. They imagined that they were worshiping God but they were really serving Satan. This is the state of many churches today too unfortunately. The appearance of all the religious bells and whistles but inwardly serving the enemy. Remember the Bible teaches us we are either gathering people to Christ or scattering them away. Some of the greatest scattering sources today are the mega churches that compromise the Gospel, and then tell the people they are saved when they most assuredly are not. They also marginalize or even persecute those that are doing the right thing. They are deemed legalistic or not operating under the power of the spirit. Just like this synagogue in Philadelphia. They were persecuting the converted Jewish people in the church. Look at this fantastic promise from Jesus to the faithful church then. When a church stays true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even those who are your enemies will be saved through your faithfulness. I remember at my old job I had a worker who loved Jesus and always let everyone know. One woman tried to make trouble for her, over and over again. But when her life fell apart, she sought out the Christian she had been persecuting and was saved. That is the promise we see here.
Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' -- Revelation 3: 10-13 (ESV)
So the letter to the faithful church comes to an end with all of the mighty promises we have in Christ Jesus. There is a trial coming for this earth. There is tribulation coming. There is judgment coming. The church will see some of it but God will spare the worst for those who faithfully endure. We must hold fast to what we have beloved. We must hold fast to the pursuit of holiness. We must hold fast to the truth of an uncompromised Gospel. We must hold fast to His authority as Messiah. We must hold fast to the power found only through His Lordship. Philadelphia was the faithful church. While there are few and far between left like it today there still remain some who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Who have refused to compromise the Gospel and given in to the indulgences of man's schemes and wisdom. That we would seek out churches like these beloved. The time is short and there is only a short distance between Philadelphia and Laodicea"