Look for the Church in Catacombs, Caves, and Deserts
These are our Lord’s personal letters to two of His churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia. They both share at least two things in common. See if you note what those are:
Revelation 2:8-11, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. (9) “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (11) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.'”
Revelation 3:7-10, “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. (8) “‘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. (9) 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. (10) 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.”
Actually, I see four, no, five things that stand out:
- They were both suffering persecution
- They were hated by the established, dominant religion of choice (synagogue of Satan)
- They were poor/weak (not big, rich, and powerful)
- Jesus had not a single word of rebuke for them! He only blessed them
- They were obedient to Christ and loved Him
Smyrna and Philadelphia. Now those were true churches. These are the kind of church that every genuine Christian wants to find and be a part of. But we so often look in all the wrong places, as we have noted before.
I wrote this post in response to Pippa’s comment on our “Mercury Poisoning” article. Here is one point that she made and it is a really good one:
“The phrase in this discussion that is exciting to me and that I meant to respond to was. ‘You know, a suffering church, a suffering body of believers – now that would be a church community where the suffering of victims would be acknowledged and properly embraced.’ I really long for that. Do we have to wait for Heaven or are we suppose to be living in that sort of community now? A rhetorical question of course. And I am sure that in some way we are all doing that to an extent. But what is He calling us out to do?”
A suffering church. A church that shares the qualities of Smyrna and Philadelphia. That is what Christ is calling us to be. How do we get there? Live for Christ. I mean, really love Him and obey Him and be willing to be hated for Him. Because if you truly belong to Him, if you live as He calls you to live, you will be hated by the world. And in particular, you will be hated by false religion, and especially by false “Christianity.” I really believe that those of you who are believers and who have suffered at the hands of your abuser, have largely suffered because you love Christ. And because this has been your experience, because you have been hated even by that which claims to be Christianity, you are in search of the real thing.
Where do you find it? In strange places. Unconventional places. We are getting just a taste of it here in our little blog community. Anna and I and Barbara never began this forum with that in mind. But it has become somewhat of a fellowship and for that we are thankful to Christ. Where else might you look? Well, if you live in any size of a community at all, then there has to be other real Christians who have suffered in similar manner as you. Or are still suffering. Seek them out. Most of you are more inventive than I am. Ask yourself, “What might be a way for me to connect with Christians who have or are suffering abuse?” I can give a few ideas here, but I suspect you can think of more:
- Keep some books about abuse handy and watch for women that you can hand them to. Put your phone number in the front cover and maybe a short summary of your own experience. Invite them to call you.
- A church could put an ad in the local paper announcing a weekly support group. If a local church were to make abuse ministry a primary “mission field,” it would soon find itself slandered and maligned, I assure you. Synagogues of Satan around town will have all kinds of nasty things to say about you.
- Come to the aid of an abuse victim who might be in your church and advocate for her. In many cases, you will start to see what it means to be spurned and criticized and hated, if you haven’t already.
There are myriads of avenues, and ministry to abuse victims is just one of them. But ALL have to do with genuinely loving and following and imitating Christ. Refusing to go along with the ridiculous and shallow fads that sweep through churches. Rejecting the things that bring flattery and notoriety and power and wealth to a “church.” Calling for real, genuine repentance. Being radical. Selling your expensive car, buying a cheaper one, and using the money to help the widow, the orphan and the stranger in the land. People will call you stupid for that. Unwise and foolish. That means you are on the right track. Provide a place for an abused woman to live so she can get free of her abuser. Buy her groceries. Help her with transportation. Go to court with her. In short, entering into her suffering and helping her carry the burden. This is the stuff that James says is at the heart of true religion.
Where do we find Smyrna and Philadelphia? Well, don’t look in the fancy temples. There may be an exception, but very, very rarely. You will have more success if you look in these kinds of places:
Hebrews 11:37-38, “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated– (38) of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
Where might those kinds of hideouts be?