This week the Free Reformed Church in Kelmscott hosted a conference for “past, present and future” office bearers of Free Reformed Churches in Kelmscott and Mount Nasura. Thursday evening, 19 May 2016, Rev R Bredenhof held a speech, with seven headings, about the significance of Christ’s seven letters in Revelation 2 &3 for office bearers. The speech was followed by group discussions. The findings were then shared with the other groups after which Rev R Bredenhof answered a few questions. I hereby pass on the contents of some hastily scrawled notes which my wife has kindly typed up in italics. Keep in mind that there is always a degree of selectivity and interpretation when note-taking.
Notes on the speech:
- Directed to the Leaders
Each letter is directed to “the angel of the church” in a particular place. Who is this “angel”? Commentators differ but best interpretation seems to be that it refers to the bishop, overseer, messenger, or pastor who is to relate what the Jesus Christ says to His people. Leaders are the watchmen on Zion’s walls and therefore have a serious responsibility. Jesus says to His office bearers today that, where appropriate, commend the church members, but where there’s a problem, you must earnestly warn the people. As office-bearers, as overseers, we need to feel both the sting and the encouragement in what Christ says to us.
2. Sent to Local Churches
Each letter is sent to people living in a particular city with its own characteristics and influence. For example, Ephesus was a prosperous city, but its wealth brought with it the hazard of materialism. The city of Smyrna had the cult of emperor worship so that the Christians there were faced with questions of loyalty. Thyatira was small and seemingly insignificant but was challenged by the woman Jezebel who enticed people to sexual immorality. Jesus is giving personal details about each church in its own cultural context. For us there are likewise the challenges of our own context. Local conditions can vary and office-bearers must meet the challenges. So it is for us to identify them and see how to help our congregation in facing the challenges these bring about.
3. From the Exalted Christ
Jesus takes a very personal interest in every one of His congregations; He walks among the lampstands (His churches). His greeting to them is also from the Sevenfold Spirit of God. Seven is the number of fullness, completeness. In the Sevenfold Spirit we have a Divine agent of change. With His Spirit and Word Christ opens and closes hearts. He uses Christian preaching and discipline. Notice how each letter begins with Jesus focussing attention on Himself, on His attributes. He is the One who holds the seven churches in His right hand, He is the First and the Last, has eyes like a flame of fire, etc. In other words, He is almighty God and we must continue to look to Him since He can provide for our every need. People need to focus on what is found in Him.
4. He Commends
Jesus understands exactly what’s going on in each congregation. We tend to focus on the things that go wrong in the congregation but notice how Christ also praises most of the churches. Each church is praised in one way or another. For example, Ephesus is praised for testing the spirits. Pergamus is praised for holding fast to His name. Where things are going right, Christ praises. Paul does the same in his letters to the churches. If there is a good home visit, don’t be afraid to tell the people where you see fruits of faith. But in it give God the glory because of what Christ is doing by His Word and Spirit in His people.
5. He Criticises
Christ also criticises. The church in Ephesus focused on doctrine, but had left their first love; the love was starting to fade. The members again needed to show concern and care for one another. We too must indeed fight for the true faith but must also love, have compassion and show concern for one another. Sardis, on the other hand, had a name for being alive: it was untroubled by heresies; there was smooth sailing. Yet they were dead; they were self-focussed, blending in, too harmless to persecute. Each church needs to turn from sin, needs to know what Jesus says and how and when to apply it.
6. He warns
Where needed, Jesus threatens. There is an immediacy to His warnings. Churches need to know that if they don’t repent Christ will remove the candlestick. We can apply this to the members. A person who is lukewarm can be told straight out that he is not a Christian, but the warning needs to be given in love. In love we have to tell the person the consequences: a life not in Christ leads to death.
7. He Promises
Jesus promises things. He promises to give gifts to those who overcome. For example, he promises the morning star, or being clothed in white robes, etc. These are references to one’s position in eternal life. For many church members, eternity seems a long way off. Yet it is important to foster the knowledge of where we are heading. Every person is heading either for eternal glory or eternal destruction. As God’s children we are heading to a better land. But are we consciously living in readiness for Christ’s return? Are we preparing ourselves and our church members for life eternal? We must constantly remind the brothers and sisters of where we’re heading. Christ is in heaven and has made us stewards of His churches.
Group Discussion Questions (again, my notes are in italics)
- It’s evident from Revelation 2-3 that Christ knows intimately each of his churches. What do you identify as particular challenges faced by your local church today? Unique opportunities?
One of the challenges and opportunities Kelmscott members have is people coming off the street and attending church. Most are new migrants who have settled in the area and attend out of curiosity. As new migrants they have their own cultural distinctiveness and we need to be sensitive to that; for example, in the conventions of speaking and eating.
Overall, it was felt that in one way or another we face the same problems as the 7 churches, but in today’s situation. For example, there are the allurements of the world particularly in movies, sport and other forms of entertainment; watering down the doctrine of God’s Word to justify worldly thinking, laxness in the service of the Lord, etc. The attacks of Satan are many and varied. Whilst internet and Facebook can be used for witnessing, admonishing, etc., they can also be used for pornography, gossiping, bullying, etc. Through iPhones young people have the world in their pocket and need to learn how to use electronic devises in the service of the Lord. We are also quite affluent which can foster materialism. Are we using our resources sufficiently in service to the Lord? Is there conviction and energy and growing in grace and knowledge?
- These letters show that persecution is a reality in the last days. What is our response to persecution or marginalization? Evaluate these responses. How can we help God’s people through a time of increasing evil and opposition?
We have moved from a general Christian society to a multicultural society and presently society is showing increasingly antichristian sentiments. Christian views are increasingly marginalised and there have been cases in other religious bodies where those who have published material defending heterosexual marriage have been taken to court. Jesus said that if they persecuted Me they will persecute you. If we are not being persecuted are we speaking out enough? As always, we need faithful preaching. However, forums such as Bible Study or other discussion groups where we speak with one another in the safe and appropriate environment can also be helpful. We need to be bold and defend attacks on church and school – e.g. ‘Safe-sex’ agenda, which is anything but safe and promotes the homosexual agenda. We need to speak out against evils.
- We saw how each of the letters begins with a portrait of the exalted Christ. How can a more deliberate focus on Christ and his supremacy build up the church? What are ways in which we can promote this focus in our work among his believers?
Preaching has to have Christ central. Work at seeing the spiritual blessings given us in Christ. We need to learn to place our complete trust in Him, recognising that He is God with the Father and the Spirit, that he is Head of the Church through whom the Father governs all things and that to Him has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. We need to build ourselves up in the knowledge of His Word so that we can speak up in society.
- Jesus rebukes Pergamos for compromising in doctrine. Why is it so important to maintain true doctrine? Can this emphasis be overdone? Discuss.
Rev Bouwman was remembered as saying: Start with doctrine and then life will follow. We need to study the Word to get true understanding but with love. In 1 John 4 we are told not to believe every spirit but to test the spirits, whether they are of God because there are many false prophets in the world. But in the same chapter we are told to love one another because love is of God who showed this when He sent His Son as a sacrifice for our sins and therefore we need to love one another.
- The Lord praises almost all of the seven churches. What good things can you commend in your church today? How can you convey this praise in a way that is up-building to the individual, and still God-honouring?
We see openness, witnessing, showing love for one another, youth are active in promoting a positive (godly) youth culture. We see that there is still a culture of commitment to Bible Study. We hear the Word faithfully preached and need to apply it. We need to focus on the Covenant God has established with us His people and live in covenant faithfulness to Him. Serve God together in the family and in the church.
- Christ keeps calling his seven churches to repent. What place do such calls have in our regular pastoral work? Do we only call for repentance when the process of official church discipline has started? Or sooner? Discuss.
No notes on this question.
- Some of the churches were being tempted by pagan practice, or sexual immorality, or materialism. What are specific temptations that afflict the church today?
No notes on this question.
- Jesus warns his churches about coming judgement and even condemnation. Can we be so direct in warning our people when they are sinning? Why or why not?
Christ speaks of people who live in sin. Sin leads to death; therefore, we need to be blunt. Members of the church know office bearers visit them on behalf of Christ. We need to be direct in warning the people.
- Christ keeps reminding the churches about their glorious hope. How can we better keep that eternal destination in view when we do our work?
Need to live our life in the expectation of Christ’s return. The eternal perspective is generally found to be strongest in the elderly and widows.
- Reading all of the exhortations, warning and threats in these letters, do you wonder whether Christ expects too much from his office bearers and his church? Discuss
Christ never expects too much from His office bearers and church. He gives us His Word and Spirit and we need to hold fast to the Word. Work and pray. Fear God and keep His commandments. It raises the question: Do office bearers expect enough from the people they are warning? Do we perhaps soften the message so that we don’t get the full response we want?
A brief opportunity was then given for questions to be directed at Rev Bredenhof.
- Having come from Canada, what challenges to you see facing the churches here? Rev Bredenhof replied that we live here in a similar culture and hence there are the same sorts of challenges. As in Canada there is the need develop personal holiness, growth in faith and love for Christ. Perhaps there is a greater sense of isolation here; we also need to confront others with the truth of God’s Word.
- Does our Dutch cultural background lead us to take a softer approach to one another in comparison to North America where they seem to be more frank and open in building one another up and listening? Rev Bredenhof was not in a position to comment.
- Deuteronomy 6 speaks of teaching the children the ways of the LORD constantly – “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up”. However, there seem to be so many distractions today. How dangerous is technology in the home? Rev Bredenhof replied that there are indeed a host of distractions in the world in which we live – not only technology but also a dedication to leisure pursuits such as boatingt, sport, etc. We need to spend time in family devotions and worship. Learn to use technology and other things in God’s service. The questioner also referred to the danger of incrementalism whereby bit by bit we change our attitude to sins till suddenly we find ourselves having completely left the path of the Lord.