The purpose of the church seems to have been co-opted by modern movements and philosophies that have perverted the role of the pastor, the congregation, and they interact with the world. It is not uncommon to find that churches that are so focused on bringing people into the congregation that the dedicated members are left alone. Churches compete for memberships and covet numbers of the mega-churches. Membership building is not the intended model or focus for the church. Denominationalism is another considersation in the church: what was a once unified church body in its early founding has splinted into different beliefs and models. One denomination even exists that believes there should only be one church in a given town (and of course if you do not go there you are probably not saved)! That isn’t right either. We are in a culture with many different churches and denominations in any given town and a valid question is ‘which church is good and which is not-so-good?’ Just because a church is growth-movement orientated does not mean it is not a good church, but recall the letters to the churches in Revelation: many of them were praised for some element but we also read that, “I have this against you… (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20).” These churches engaged in some element of the ministry but they also displeased the Lord.
Some of the churches did receive a hint of praise. To the church in Sardis, Jesus declares that they have a reputation of being alive, but instead they are dead (Revelation 3:1). It is not the membership in the church that is judged, but the heart of each person (Revelation 3:4-5; Ezekiel 18). The message to the church in Laodicea is equally terrifying. Revelation 3:15-16 say:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
I know, the Lord has high standards, so how could any church meet up with His standards? We can see from the churches that are praised and not condemned. These churches should inspire us. The church in Smyrna is poor in the world’s standards, but the words of James say:
Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
This church is a fulfillment of those words, Revelation 2:9-10 says:
I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the Devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death and I will give you life.
The persecution which the church suffered led to their being faithful giving the church its strength. In the modern view around the world this means living the Gospel even in countries where the Word is banished. Such persecuted Christians will achieve the life which God has promised. Here in America, however, we almost miss this one entirely, sometimes even causing dissent to make it look like persecution. For example, I once heard a pastor that was very intent on teaching that creationism, even wanting to provide a list of the hardest questions we could possibly ask of anyone that believes in evolution. Jumping the gun on how ‘stupid’ someone may be for believing in evolution is not exactly a loving way of sharing the Gospel, nor is a belief in creationism a condition of salvation! What is worse, sending people whom are not well grounded in scientific principles to those who are with the intent to debate evolution will likely result in harm to their faith, not conversion of the evolutionist. This is not persecution. Persecution is the couple that stood on their own beliefs and refused to bake a cake for a homosexual couple. They lost everything. That is persecution and they will be glorified in heaven because it was not out of hate, but obedience to their conscience on the matter.
To the church in Philadelphia he says:
Because you have kept the word of my perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 3:10).
The members of this church held fast to His word and commandments. Jesus likewise says in Matthew 7:24-27:
Whoever hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell-and great was its fall.
The principles are simple, but terrifyingly hard to achieve. The true church is one that as a whole and individually reads and encourages the reading of the word and keeps one another accountable to obey it. That means we live our life summed up in James 1:27:
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: visit orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being stained by the world.
Second is keeping true to that in the face of the world: the peer pressure, the marketing pressure, the legal pressure, the fad pressure. Holding fast to the world of God no matter which direction the winds of the world will blow.