Agonizomai: Rev 2:13 - Pergamum - the Morally Compromised Church<br>Faithfully Holding to the Word

Friday, May 08, 2009

Rev 2:13 - Pergamum - the Morally Compromised Church
Faithfully Holding to the Word

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Rev 2:13 ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

Pergamum (Pergamos) was the home of many cults, not the least of which was Aesculapius, the serpent god of healing. It may be that John refers to the prominence of this god which so closely resembles the great serpent, Satan - especially since this god seems to offer a false healing. It was reported that the Roman emperor Antoninus went there to find healing.

In any event we know from scripture that the power at work behind all idols and false gods is that of the demons. {1Co 10:20,Re 9:20} This church lived amidst active persecution and lived faithfully. As is often the case, it was through the purging hyssop of tribulation that the church was purified of much false profession - for only those truly knowing the Lord would pay the price of loving him to the end.

A case in point is the martyr Antipas. Interestingly, this name, like all Biblical names has meaning. It means "against all". This is what it takes to be a faithful witness (martyr = witness) - to stand against all that detracts from the truth about Jesus Christ and His work. One can be a witness - but to be a faithful witness is to be proven by one’s unswerving adherence to the Truth. Will we faithfully hold to and propagate that truth about the coming, the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ? Not just the outward facts, but what He taught about the reason for those facts coming to pass. Not just that He came, but that the reason He came was to seek and to save that which was lost. Not just that He died, but that he was the sin-bearer for all who believe. And so on...

Let us not now be trapped in the shallow and meaningless puddle that regards a simple "decision" as the means of our salvation - as if we were choosing between brown or black socks in the morning; or as if we were choosing between perfumes at the department store, according to which most appealed to our senses. To witness of Christ and to receive Him is to agree with all that He has said and done, or at least to agree to agree with it. It is to regard Him as Lord. Ineffable Truth. Infinite holiness and power. It is to stand "on the Lord’s side" of that great divide into which all the ungodly will eventually be cast. Witnessing is not what you do when you go out and hand out tracts or try to introduce Christ in the conversation with a neighbour. Witnessing is simply assenting with mind, body and soul to the Truth of Who Jesus is and what He has testified of. The rest will come out naturally. It is not something you do, but testifying to what someone else, namely Christ, has already done.

This is why Antipas was a faithful witness. He held fast to the truth about Christ no matter what, and lived in the light of that truth. He declared the Truth. He declared Christ, Who is the truth. And Christ declares by His whole revelation that God is holy, God is love, God is gracious and merciful, God is judge, man is lost, man is rebellious, man is sinful and man cannot save himself.

All aspects of the Truth are constantly under attack in all ages. In this Satan is no fool. He only occasionally uses frontal attacks. Gradual erosion more often works better. Let slip the truths of God a bit at a time and it works like botulism, or like the slow asphyxiation that Boa Constrictors put upon their victims, tightening their grip only as the victim must exhale in order to draw new breath. Satan co-opts the church both through the minimization of proper teaching and the introduction of the false. And much of the church sleeps while he does it.

We speak of maintaining the "essential" truths of the gospel as if there were any part of it that was not from the mouth of Almighty God. But all of it is worthy of fighting for because it is all of a piece. It is living truth. It is organic, holistic integrated truth. Just as offending in any one point makes a person guilty of breaking the whole law, so throwing away one aspect of the truth detracts from the entire testimony of it. Little by little, inch by inch, precept by precept and line by line Satan erodes, corrupts, opposes, undermines and subverts. He unteaches the principles of the faith a little at a time, as they were once given to the Israelites. {Isa 28:10-13} Giving up “this” or “that” small point to the vagaries of individual opinion and accepting two views of the truth is “alright”. It’s only a small point. It’s not essential. You can still be a saved person without it. Then this point, now another and another and another - all non-essentials, all so-called minor things.

It is the death of a thousand cuts. It is habit-forming and precedent-setting. Take, for example, women in leadership. A non-essential matter - a cultural matter that does not affect whether a person is saved or not, so why sweat it? Yet the Word of God explicitly gives an order by which His people must live and that order puts the responsibility for leadership squarely upon men and the responsibility for supporting that order squarely upon women. Failure to first believe and then to uphold these plain Biblical teachings has grave repercussions, just like all refusal to hear the voice of God. But, of course, such things ought not to be allowed to disrupt our unity. (/sarcasm)

It is really selling the house a bit at a time. More properly it resembles donating your organs, one at a time, more and more frequently to others. Eventually your altruistic, well-intentioned actions will result in your own death. It is not the death that Antipas of Pergamum chose. He chose another death by holding fast to the entire truth and opposing all that came against it.

Antipas was not the only one. He was the only one mentioned as having been killed for holding fast the Name of Jesus. Those to whom John was writing (in the Spirit at Christ’s behest) had all likewise held fast and were commended for it. They had held fast the Name of Christ.

Most people will skip over this phrase without a second thought "the Name of Jesus" or, "the Name of Christ." But "the name" means vastly more than something you call a person. It conveys the sense of all that the person represents. His nature and character and personality and stature; his rank and power and authority and place. Thus, to "hold fast the Name of Christ" is more than to say a word - it is to uphold all of what Christ is and what He said, and what He represents. His Name is actually many names. Prince of Peace; Redeemer; Messiah; Truth; Life; the Way; I AM...and so forth.

The Greek carries the literal words "and you did not deny the faith of Me," implying that it was the whole body of faith arising from the revelation and work of Christ, which He Himself declared as starting at Moses and the Prophets. The faith of Christ is a whole thing. The Bible is a whole. It cannot be picked at. It cannot be strained and sorted and segregated and separated. It is like the Christ of Whom it speaks. Christ was at sundry times, tender, angry, amazed, omniscient, powerful, weak, miraculous, common. He was tolerant, exacting, plain, mysterious, simple, complex - gentle and forgiving, yet unswervingly warning of punishment, hell and damnation.

To hold fast such a Name is to declare Christ to be both God and man, to be the sole Saviour of a world that is already universally condemned. It is to declare righteousness in Him and total depravity in all humanity. It is to hold forth the light in the darkness where people hate it, and refuse to come into it, unless God Himself moves them. It is to love the unlovely by showing them what they are and pointing them to Christ, their only hope. For doing this, tradition tells us, Antipas was shut up inside a red hot brazen bull.

Do I know what the Name of Christ means? Do I stand for all that the Name of Christ means? Or do I stand for a part of it? Do I cave under pressure? Do I prefer popularity and safety? Do I hold fast to the entire Truth, or do I pick and choose which bits suit me? God commends the church at Pergamum for holding fast all that Christ means in the face of persecution and opposition. What do I do?


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