apathy

Jesus loves the church

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It is easy to be critical of the church and to sometimes want to stop attending and being involved – but never give up on church for it is much loved by the Lord Jesus.

In Christian parlance we often hear the church of our age referred to as ‘laodicean’. Those who use this term usually mean that they perceive the church in general to be apathetic and materialistic. This idea is reinforced by dispensationalist scholars who take the seven churches of Revelation as representing seven different church ages; Ephesus representing the early church, and Laodicea standing for the end-time church. There is a lot wrong with this way of thinking because, among other things, it makes much of Revelation inaccessible and irrelevant to the church both now and in years gone by. A better way of understanding is to see the churches as representing different aspects of the church in all ages. We can therefore be both admonished and encouraged by what Jesus wrote to all seven churches.

It is easy to see the negative aspects in the letter to the church of Laodicea. It is lukewarm and therefore nauseating; deluded and complacent; spiritually blind… and so on. However, I want to focus on the positive message to the church that shines through the dark smoke of divine displeasure evidenced in this letter.

In verse 19 Jesus writes, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline”. If He didn’t care then He wouldn’t bother to correct us. The author of the letter to the Hebrews expresses this more fully when he writes:

‘Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

Yes, apathy and consumerism infect the body of the church, especially in an age of affluence, but Jesus still loves His church. If He had given up on us He would simply write something like “… so I have decided to close you down”. But, instead of this He writes, “so be earnest, and repent”.

After these words come probably the most misquoted text in all of scripture – “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’”(Revelation 3:20). This phrase is so often trotted out as part of an alter call or some other attempt to encourage people to “just say yes to Jesus” – ‘Jesus is standing at the door of your heart knocking but the handle is on the inside so all you need do is open your heart to him and he will come into your life’. Not only is this a pathetic understatement of the Gospel message, but it is also taken totally out of context. Jesus is writing to the church, the local community of believers, not to individual unbelievers!

When applied out of context it becomes an excuse for a form of spiritual inoculation that often inures the recipient to the true Gospel. But, taken in context it is a great encouragement to the church. In effect, the Lord Jesus is saying, “even if just some of you in this church open it to me then I will come in and fellowship with you”.

So, never give up on the church…. Jesus hasn’t. Yes, you may find hypocrisy, apathy, greed, and pride in the church, but you will also find love, spiritual passion, wisdom, and healing. And bear in mind, dear fellow Christian, you and I are part of the church; part of its problems and part of its glory.

I believe in the church. I have faith in the head of the church, Jesus Christ, and I love the church because I cannot love Him without loving his Body.

Paul instructed husbands to ‘love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (Ephesians 5:25-26), and then a few verses later he wrote, ‘but I am talking about Christ and the church’. When he was on his final journey to Rome he said to the Elders of the church of Ephesus that they should be ‘shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28). This is a powerful declaration of just how much Jesus values and loves His church!

The leaders or members of the church may sometimes offend you or even hurt your feelings but they, and you, are members together of the Body of Christ and He loves his church. Never give up on it because you are a part of it and Jesus will never give up on you.

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The Remnant

Banner for Sardis post

Consumerism and apathy are endemic diseases in the church of our day but this is not new for the church of Sardis suffered from this same malady nearly 2,000 years ago.

There are some very cool facets to the letters to the seven churches. One of them is the way the names of the cities represent a key characteristic of the church there. Another is how the Lord Jesus uses the geographic, historical, religious, and commercial attributes of each city to help the church members understand what He is saying to them.

Today we look at the 5th city church addressed in Revelation Chapter Two and Three – Sardis. There is some debate about the ancient meaning of this name but the most plausible is that it means ‘precious remnant’. Jesus has nothing to commend this church for but He does say that they have ‘a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes’; in other words there is a faithful remnant within this church.

Sardis picSardis was a center for the wool trade in that part of the world so, unsurprisingly, Jesus weaves this into His letter by referring to the soiled clothes of the many and the white garments of the righteous few (Revelation 3:4). The Lord rebukes the church with the words, “Wake up!” and warns them that if they do not then He will come like a thief (Revelation 3:3); it is obvious from the context that this will not be a happy visitation. Now the city of Sardis was built around a steep plateau some 460 meters above the valley floor and only accessible by one narrow and very steep road. The original town was on top of this cliff but at the time of writing only the decaying remains of the citadel were at the top and the main city was at the foot of the cliff. The fortress city had been invaded only twice in ancient times. On both occasions a party of enemy soldiers had found their way up via the deep cracks in the cliff face. When they ascended to the top they found the citadel completely unguarded for the occupants had thought that they were unassailable.

The lesson to the church both then and now is obvious – Wake up! Like the complacent ancient inhabitants of the citadel city we too are to wake up, repent and obey. If we relate to the condition of Sardis then we need to wake up from the delusion that we are alive when we are in fact dead, despite an alive reputation. This applies particularly to churches that are surviving on the reputation of past vitality, but I think it also applies to churches that appear to be alive but are not. Programmes and social activities are easily mistaken for spiritual vitality but only the presence of the Lord in a church community gives it life.

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to a friend who has been traveling to many parts of South Africa during the last couple of years. She and her husband stay at each location for a few months, freely serve the local church there with their gifting and talents, and then move on. They have interacted with about 15 churches so far. I asked her if there was any stand-out characteristics shared by these churches. Her answer was, “Yes, in every church the pastors are working frenetically and the church members are largely apathetic and uninvolved”. O dear! Perhaps we need to take Jesus very seriously when He says, “Wake up!”

The Lord’s prescription for this deathly disease is firstly to remember what we have received and heard. What all members of a once alive church have heard in the past undoubtedly concerned the centrality and lordship of Jesus Christ, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and the need to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit. If only our reputation is alive then we have no doubt forgotten or no longer obediently live by these foundational truths. The medicine is a large dose of Repentance and the treatment regimen is daily Obedience.

Repentance + Regimen of obedience = Righteous Remnant.

 

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.