I live in the Southeastern United States...an area some might call the "Bible Belt". It's an apt moniker I suppose. We have a lot of churches, and we have a lot of people that go to church.
I have some friends who live here now, but aren't from here originally. They have all, at some point, commented about the number of churches we have, as well as the sheer number of people who go to church. It's as if here in the south, you are expected to go to church, but in other areas of the country you go to church if you believe and are a Christian. There are fewer Christians in other parts of the country. Or, are there really?
Did God bless the southern part of the the good old US of A with more Christians per capita than anywhere else in the world, or do people simply go to church here because they are socially pressured to do so? Are Churches doing their job to minister to those who come, even those who come under social pressure, or do they simply accept the fact that little Johnny walked down the aisle when he was 10 and told the pastor that he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, baptized him (if it's a Baptist church) and made him a church member. He's a Christian now!
There is a popular mega church that has a campus in my area. I know some people that go there, and I'm always seeing tweets and Facebook statuses...it seems every week that "200 were saved today"..."250 met Jesus as their personal savior today". That sounds great, but is it true? There are a lot of people that are passionate about that church -- I think that's great. Did several hundred people really become Christians today, or did they feel peer pressure or social pressure to become Christians today because it's "cool", and spoke the words with their mouth and not with their hearts? Did God really change their hearts, are they true believers? How many of these new believers could even debate what it is that they now believe? Do they even know what they believe? I wonder how much time they will spend in the Word tonight... or tomorrow, next week, next month, over the next year. How about in prayer? Any time at all outside of church? I hope so. I really do. I really hope that they have really become believers and are now Christians, so don't get the idea that I don't.
I taught my first ever Sunday School lesson today. I really enjoyed the experience. I had last week off from work, and it really gave me time to really dig into the passage I was teaching, read some commentaries, listen to some sermons and prepare a lesson. The passage I was teaching was Revelation 3:7-13 which is the letter to Philadelphia.
Each of the seven letters at the beginning of Revelation was to a different church. These were all real churches that John was writing to, however they can also represent different kinds of churches we have even today.
The first letter was to Ephesus which was the loveless church. They had persevered in their faith, but had lost love not only for one another, but for Jesus himself. John tells us several times in his first letter that God is love, and we can't be God's children if we do not have love for God and for our brother.
The next letter was to Smyrna which was the persecuted church. Like Philadelphia this was a church that God had no warning or punishment for. They were a true church and along with Philadelphia had stood against Jews from a corrupt synagogue. They are to suffer and some are to be thrown in prison, but they are told not to fear! They are told that if they are faithful until death they will be given the crown of life.
The crown of life; this is eternal life. 2 Timothy 4:8 mentions a “crown of righteousness”, and 1 Peter 5:4 mentions a “crown of glory”. Eternal glory, eternal righteousness -- all for eternal life.
Next, was Pergamum -- they were the compromising church. Pergamum was known as the place where Satan had his throne. They had some that held fast to the name of Jesus but some fell to false teachings and allowed themselves to become corrupted and practice idolatry, sexual immorality and other sins. They are warned to repent or the Lord will come again and fight against them with his all knowing mouth, those who overcome will get hidden manna to eat.
Thyatira was a corrupt church who had fallen to the teachings of a woman like the Jezabel of the Old Testament who called herself a prophetess -- she taught and seduced those of that church and they were warned that if they follow her they would be throw into a great tribulation unless they repent.
Sardis was a dead church they had fallen away from God and are warned to repent. There are some in Sardis who haven't fallen away and they will be allowed to walk with the Lord, as well as those who overcome and repent.
Philadelphia was the faithful church. Like Smyrna they had persevered against the corrupt Jews and dealt with devastating earthquakes yet stood fast. God has promised to exempt them from the final trial that he will put those on earth through because they have proven their faith, much like a professor would allow students who have proven their knowledge to exempt a final exam. The church in Philadelphia will have the crown of life and will be a pillar in the temple of God.
Lastly we get to Laodicea -- the lukewarm church. They are told “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot."; "because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." They have become spiritually blind. Both cold and hot represent something positive -- cold refreshes in the heat and hot warms in the cold. Lukewarm does neither -- it's just bland and unappealing under any circumstances. They are also told "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." This is the Lord saying he will knock as the master of the house expecting his servants to let him in. Christ will come in and eat with them if fellowship if they do.
These are all kinds of churches that you can find today not just at the time that John was writing these letters. I wonder how many churches like Philadelphia and Smyrna there really are...how many are in my area? In the country? In the world? How many Compromising, corrupt, dead or lukewarm churches are there today? How many lukewarm Christians are there at any church? Don't be lukewarm - be hot or cold. Believe and most importantly know what you believe.
What got me thinking about this? Well, after church I was at the gym listening to R. C. Sproul lecture on Apologetics as I was working out. It got me thinking about how many Christians could hold their own in defending their own believes, and how many even know what there beliefs are, and how many are simply taught what to believe, are lukewarm and aren't really believers but go through the motions of being a Christian because it's cool to go to a church that has entertaining music and to make friends, or that it is socially acceptable in our area to be a member (or active part of) a church. How many go to church "to be seen" as I've heard some old folks say. I really hope there are churches out there churning out hundreds of true believers every week. I really do. Don't just go to church "to be seen"!