A Church Called Pergamum – Revelation 2:12-17

Posted by: cghearn | 10/19/2014 | 12:22 pm

Download: A Church Called Pergamum – Revelation 2:12-17

Have you ever been part of a church that refused to practice church correction?

In the passage that we’re going through today, we’re going to hear that which is good about the church in Pergamum…but we’re also going to hear what Christ thought was bad. Primarily, the church refused to practice church correction.

I remember a few years ago hearing from one of our congregants a shameful story.  Inside of their church of around 1,500 people, one of the staff at the church began to have an affair on his wife and then even went as far as to kick her out of their home.

This staff member happened to be a very prominent figure inside the church and since he was able to draw a large crowd on Sundays, when the church found out about it, they allowed him to continue leading in this particular organization while the woman he was having an affair with sung praises to God on Sundays and his wife went from house to house sleeping on other people’s couches.

Should the church have done something? According to the world around us, it’s not the church’s job to decide on these matters because we’re not supposed to judge.  However even some of the most immoral people would have issues with this circumstance that I just proposed.  Shouldn’t the church?  Pergamum had allowed false teaching and certain practices which were not meant to be permitted in the church to spring up among them.

We need, as a whole to change our understanding of what love is. If you have children that are allergic to bees, it’s best not to go into bee-keeping as a profession.  If you have a canary for a pet then leaving a cat at home all day with the bird cage open is not a good decision.  If a shepherd has a flock of sheep, then he needs to be on the lookout for wolves.  Common sense says that love protects and that means determining what may be threatening to others.

Doctrine of sermon:
The church that practices church correction properly is rewarded, while the one that does not is corrected

The church that practices church correction both properly and improperly will face persecution

This church was no different than any other church that had believers in it. If there are believers that are authentic in their faith in the assembly, you can be sure that persecution is on the agenda.  If you look at the church of Smyrna, Christ didn’t have anything bad to say about them, yet they still faced horrible persecution.

The Gardener will always have weeds to pull up, the fisherman will always have storms out at sea, the judge will never be without criminals, the carpenter will always have splinters, and so the Christian will never be fully free of persecution.

Turn to 2 Timothy 3:10-13

We see in this passage that there was already a Christian martyr by the name of Antipas and then that Satan is mentioned twice in that his throne is among the saints in Pergamum and second that he dwells among them.

  1. We never hear of Antipas ever again. What a worthy mention of him though.  Tradition records that he was roasted alive at the whim of a local governor.
  2. Satan’s throne isn’t that big of a metaphor, the seat of the Supreme Court was located in Pergamum for this region during this time. Apparently Satan was using this power  to persecute the church through local government.
  3. Finally, Pergamum was the central location of worship for the god Aesclepius who was the god for medicine. His symbol, ironic enough, was a serpent around a staff.

Rod of AsclepiusWhat would happen back during these days is if you were sick, you’d go to the temple of Aesclepius and make sacrifices to him.  Then, you would lay down in a sanctuary where the priests of the temple would release non-poisonous snakes to slither around you.  They would interpret any dreams or visions that you had during this time as a sign from Aesclepius on how to heal your sickness.  You can imagine in this time when medicine was so primitive what an important of a god Aesclepius was.  Satan doesn’t have any new tricks and just like the serpent that was twisted around the staff of Aesclepius, so he also twists the truth and power that come only from God who is the Great physician.

It is not up to us as a community of saints to decide when, how, or why persecution comes; it is only our duty to know how we should respond. First, we shouldn’t be shocked when it happens and second, we should know that it is only that God has allowed it to come that it should come in the first place

Often the greatest medicine for the church may seem negative at first, but may be the greatest thing for us…

The church that practices church correction improperly will have issues with Christ

I think one of the main problems that has faced the church for as long as it has existed is that we forget that this is Christ’s church and we run things his way. Church discipline is not fun…in fact I downright hate doing it, but as a Christian I’m okay with making people mad and I’m okay with the devil being angry with me….I’m not okay if Christ takes up a cause against me.  The church had not been practicing church correction at all and so the congregation was growing sick.

It was 2010 and we had just started Breathe a few months prior.  We had a couple of people that started coming to our gatherings and they seemed very nice and eager to help.  I asked them where they went to church the last time and went to go talk to their former pastor, who I knew.  After speaking with him, I found out that they had been told to leave the church because they had taken pictures of the pastor’s wife’s cleavage when she was bending over and posted it on facebook as a joke.

Before that, they had a Bible study that they had hosted and they were getting drunk while they were teaching it.  I eventually told them that they needed to go back to that church and make amends with those they had hurt.  They refused, wrote me a very angry email, and left the church.  Some call this legalism, I call it church correction.  I’ve heard many pastors call it a “holy bowel movement.”

Most scholars believe that the church in Pergamum had begun to forget that there are moral laws which must be kept in order to please Christ. You cannot take the Old Testament and simply throw it away, that’s antinomianism (which means to say that when Christ died on the cross, the law was abolished).  Christ himself says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

So the moral law of the Old Testament still stands.  “Do not murder” is one that we would say still applies to us as Christians.  “Do not commit adultery” is another one that we would say still applies to us as Christians.  But under the guise of false liberty, more than likely the churches in Pergamum had people that were going to pagan temples, eating the feasts to please the gods, and were having sex with the temple prostitutes.  “Do as you please because Christ has set you free” is not a song you’ll hear us sing anytime soon (if indeed it were a song).

I’ve only ever had to excommunicate one person from this church and I pray that it remains so for the rest of my pastorate.  It was 2012 and we had a certain woman who was attending services here who we were trying to help out. She was frail both in a physical sense and in a spiritual sense.

At one point, one of the members of the church started dating her, then moved in with her, then got her pregnant, and wanted her to get an abortion.  I told him unless he changed the way he was doing things then I would have to take action and he told me where I could go.  Some call this legalism, I call it church discipline.

Finally, there is not performing church correction and then there is doing it from the wrong motivations. Whenever church correction is being done, it should be done with love and a spirit of restoration as its guiding principles.  It does require, however that the one that has done wrong is willing to change their behavior because it’s harmful for those around them.  If church correction is done poorly than it is just as damaging as not doing church correction at all.

Turn to Matthew 18:15-19

If the church is willing to practice church correction in the right way, we are spared Christ’s wrath and given access to heaven…

The church that practices church correction is granted access into the presence of God

The church that fails in this endeavor will have Christ go to war with them, the one who does them rightly is promised reward:

  1. The hidden Manna is a Jewish symbol for eternal life and the white stone is a symbol to the Gentiles. The manna in this passage is that which was placed in the ark of the covenant that symbolized eternal life because, unlike the rest of the manna in the wilderness of the Exodus, this manna never went bad.
  2. The white stone has deep meaning also. In Greek culture, the government was very democratic and what they would do is tally votes by how many white stones there were and how many black stones.  The black stone was a vote for no when you’d put it into a clay jar and the white stone was a vote for yes.  When Christ promised a white stone, he was promising that “yes” you’ll be allowed to enter into heaven.

The other side of this is that if the church refused, Christ would come and he would personally deal with the individuals that were causing problems.

A few ideas are present here:

  1. Christ has made the local church to carry out his will in a very real and material sense. We saw that in Matthew 18 just a moment ago when Christ agrees with both the process and the outcome of the church’s decisions.  Tangible decisions have spiritual consequences.
  2. Christ will not allow the inability or unfaithfulness of the saints to stand in the way of his will. He can do as he wishes and will do so when the saints are unwilling, but that this is an embarrassment to a congregation that supposedly desires to follow Christ.

I can remember the first few times I was teaching my kids how to clean.  They would, the first and maybe even second or third times try their best to clean the way that you had told them to.  When you come back to see how they did, you give them a big hug for their effort and give them a high five…then you clean up the mess they made while they were trying to clean.

Let me say finally that church correction isn’t something you do with those who sin unawares. It is reserved for those who explicitly and knowingly go against God’s word.  Each one of us are trying our best to do what God wants and sometimes, no matter how hard we try we’re still going to make a mess.  Christ has issues with those who aren’t even making an attempt.

Church correction is about pleasing Christ and it’s about being made holy


Doctrine of sermon:
The church that practices church correction properly is rewarded while the one that does not is corrected

Illustration: Have someone stand at the front and blindfold them.   Then have another person come to the front and turn the person with the blindfold in circles after you have shown them which way is straight, then remove the person who’s turning the other one around.

Application: All of us really do have a difficult time when determining which way is the straight way to go.  What’s funny is that the word “orthodox” actually means “straight way of glory.”  Sometimes the only way to maintain orthodox views is to remove that which is unorthodox.  If you want to get rid of sugar ants, you get rid of the sugar.

Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 121.