Are We the Ephesian Church that Left its First Love?
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
Revelation 2:1-7, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. (2) “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. (3) I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. (4) But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (5) Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (6) Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (7) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
If our Lord wrote us a letter, “us” being the Bible-believing, conservative church of today – what would that letter say? What words of commendation would be in it, and what words of rebuke? Would we want to know? DO we want to know? An email from Christ! Would you really want to click on it? Talk about the possibility of a virus that would turn our traditions upside down!
Let me suggest that we already have that letter. It is right here in the 2nd chapter of Revelation. Christ’s letter to the church at Ephesus. And I believe that the deplorable manner in which we have been dealing with victims of abuse among us is the evidence that this is indeed the applicable letter to us. We are zealous for doctrinal truth, (though even that strength has grown quite questionable in many cases). We exegete the jot and tittle of the Word. We defend, and rightly so, the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. When some young theological whipper-snapper comes along and starts spouting off about God being too kind for hell to exist, we correctly send him packing. We’ve got those things right.
But what about this departure from our first love? It reminds me of my experience in college. I loved science and mathematics, the black and white stuff. But then there were the arts and humanities. Ugh!
I am not absolutely certain what Christ meant when He called the Ephesians to repent of having abandoned the love that they had at first, but I strongly suspect that this business of our maltreatment of abuse victims is a pretty likely candidate for exactly what Jesus was talking about. When we forget that the chief business of the Christian is to love God with all his heart, and to love his neighbor as himself, then all of our biblical studies begin to go awry. We slide into what we might call a New Pharisaism. We minutely examine the words of the Word, but our results get all skewed. We make the Sabbath an end in itself. We turn marriage into something man is made for rather than the other way round. We do things like – like this:
Matthew 15:3-8 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (4) For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ (5) But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” (6) he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. (7) You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: (8) “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
In other words, we do stupid things. Nonsensical things. We go kind of, mad. We tell women, poor women (sometimes men) who are battered and bruised and terrorized and confused, people who come to us for help, we tell them that they cannot divorce their tormentor. We maintain that no matter how badly a spouse violates their marriage covenant vows, the covenant is forever binding on the innocent party anyway. We do stupid and cruel things like this, and even the pagans look at us and shake their heads, once more confirmed in their minds that Christians are at best complete idiots and at worst, tyrants. “Yes, I see those black, swollen eyes. I see that split lip. Indeed, you certainly are an emotional wreck. But Jesus would have you go back and work things out. You are a model of Christ’s love for His church. You’re in this mess for life!”
When we leave our first love and then pick up Scripture for our scrutiny, we are like legally blind men who have decided to leave their glasses off. Everything gets blurred, but we claim to see anyway. Here is the end result of this trap –
Matthew 23:4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
Jesus’ way seems to be rather different –
Matthew 11:29-30 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
God requires the greater things, like mercy. That does not mean that we ignore sin. Justice and mercy are not competitors. Mercy above all else screams for justice on behalf of the oppressed. So when our theology leads us to conclusions and applications of Scripture that oppress people, then we need to stop and do some back-tracking to see where we have gone wrong. Because oppression of people in God’s name reveals that we have detoured from Him whom we are to love first and above all else. Somewhere we took a wrong turn from the Way. And our handling of marriage, of the reasons for divorce, of this whole issue of abuse is the spotlight that shows us we have gone wrong. It is well past time for us to replace the traditions of the New Pharisaism with the Word of God.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.