Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: It's popular to say, "I love Jesus, but I don't have use for the church." But Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says . . .

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Ladies, Christ loves the Church. He gave Himself up for her, according to Ephesians 5. You cannot love Christ and not love His Church. It’s that simple.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Friday, August 4, 2017.

“I love Jesus, but I’m just not interested in organized religion.” That idea gets thrown around a lot these days. In our study of the letters to the churches of Revelation, we’ll take a hard look at that idea. Nancy’s continuing in the series on the "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 1: A Vision of the Glorified Christ."

Nancy: I receive in my email a daily religion report that talks about major news events or trends in the religious world both nationally and internationally. It kind of helps me keep abreast of what’s going on in some areas that matter to me.

Increasingly I’m seeing headlines in those reports like this one that said “More Americans Skipping Church.” Here’s what that piece read:

The latest study by the Barna Group identifies a growing trend for spiritual Americans to exercise their faith in places other than church. And George Barna said it would not be surprising if a larger portion of the born again population shifts "from the churched to the unchurched column of the ledger over the next ten years.” 1

If you look around, it seems that a lot of people are fed up with church these days, including a lot of people who’ve been in church for most, if not all, of their lives.

Let me give you a couple examples. I received an email from a staff member of a parachurch ministry (this is not somebody on our staff). This email said,

One of our fields reps [that would be somebody who is ministering to the ministry's donors] told me that he and his wife have quit going to the church that they started years ago. They are attending another church, but he said they wouldn't get involved in the other one like they had. The main reason for him is the music and the worship style. He said [now this is the man on the ministry staff who ministers to those who give to the ministry financially] that 50–75 percent of the ministry partners that he visits are not regularly attending a church.

This is 50–75 percent of those who are giving financially to this ministry tell him that they are not regularly attending a church.

And then the woman writing me, who also serves in the same ministry, said,

The music and "non-worship" is one of my reasons also. [Another church drop-out.] But others reasons rank higher on my list.

I received an email recently from a Revive Our Hearts listener saying,

I do not attend any local church consistently, perhaps once every two months. I relocated several years ago to another state and I could not find a church anything like the one I was used to. I have been feeling like a lone ranger. But now you have me reevaluating my position and my decision not to attend church regularly. I have just been very discontented with the churches in my area.

And you know people who feel this way. You may be one of the people who feels this way. You may have been the one who sent me that email. I don’t know the name of the person it came from. But I’m hearing that kind of thing a lot today.

Now as we turn to Revelation chapter 1 and continue in the first chapter, I want to take what to some may seem like a little bit of a diversion. But as I’ve been meditating on this chapter over the past several months, I think it’s one of the important things in this chapter. We’ve seen the vision of Christ. We’ve seen Him in His holiness and His splendor and His glory. But we’re also going to see in this book a vision of the Church and the churches as Christ sees them.

In chapter 1, verse 4 we read, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia.”

And then verse 10:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write what you see in a book and send it” [to whom?] “to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Now those names may not mean much to you. They don’t mean a whole lot to me because I don’t live in that part of the world. I’m not familiar with that region. Those are not churches for the most part that are even in existence at all today, so we’re not familiar with them.

But he’s listing churches like he might list churches that are in your community or mine. The book of Revelation is actually a letter, a message, that is written to these local churches. These were specific local assemblies of baptized believers in the Roman province of Asia, which is the west central region of modern-day Turkey.

If you have maps in the back of your Bible, you may want to turn there at some point and see these cities. They’re listed in the order that a messenger would have traveled if he had sailed from the island of Patmos where John was in exile and gone about forty miles across the waterway there to the seacoast town of Ephesus.

Then there was a postal route. You would have come to Ephesus first and then you would have gone in kind of a circle going north to Smyrna, then to Pergamum, then continuing down southeast kind of in a circle to Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, all these churches within about fifty miles of each other.

This letter was written directly to those churches which were, by the way, not the only churches in that region. They weren’t even necessarily in all cases the best known churches. But I believe they were representative of all the churches. Seven is the number of completeness. And these churches which were individual, specific churches were representative of all the churches in that region and in that day.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man” (v. 12).

Skip down to verse 16: “In his right hand he held seven stars.”

Now you say, “What are those lampstands? What are those stars?” Well, in verse 20 Jesus explains to John,

As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Now let me take just a moment on that phrase, “the angels of the seven churches.” The interpretation of that phrase is difficult. In fact, I think it’s impossible because no one seems to know for sure. Some commentators have suggested that these are actual angelic beings and that each church has a guardian angel.

But there are a number of problems with that interpretation. The word translated angel actually means “messenger.” And many Bible scholars believe that this is a reference to the human leaders or the pastors of these churches. Honestly, there are interpretive problems with that position too. The bottom line is we don’t know who these angels are.

What we do know is that they are in some way representative of the individual churches and obviously some sort of entity, human or angelic, with the responsibility of communicating a message to these churches. Now what is clear is that the churches themselves are portrayed as lampstands.

The old King James Version says “candlesticks.” Actually, lampstand is a better translation there because candlesticks make their own light. Lampstands have no light of their own; they have to be lit. In those days there would have been oil lamps, a picture of the oil of the Holy Spirit being the light and being the oil for the churches.

But the lampstand would have been a portable lamp stand that would have had sitting on it a lamp—an oil lamp. And the Church itself was not the light. The light is Christ. And the Church is intended to be a stand on which to display Christ, who is the light of the world, and the gospel of Christ. The Church is intended to set apart Christ to show Him as light in the darkness of this world to keep people from stumbling, to help them find their way.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).

Philippians chapter 2 says we are to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (v. 15).

Now, again, we have no light of our own. Christ is the light in us, Christ the light of the world who fills us and shines through us. We’re just lampstands, just carriers, containers, holders for that light of Christ within us.

And then we come to Revelation chapter 2, verse 1,

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: "The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”

What are the seven golden lampstands? The churches. And here you see the relationship of Christ to the churches. He is not absent. He is not distant. He is not removed from the churches. He is not a passive observer. He is present. He is there. He said before He went to heaven, “I will be with you throughout all the ages” (Matt. 28:20, paraphrased). And He has fulfilled His promise.

John sees Christ walking among the churches. He is active. He is engaged. He is involved. He is connected with the life of the local churches.

It says He holds the stars in his right hand. Again, we’re not sure exactly what those angels are, but in some way they’re representative of the churches. The grammatical construction of the verb in that phrase is important.

He holds the stars in his right hand. “Hold” can be used in two different ways. I could say right now, “I’m holding this stand.” But I’m actually only holding part of it. The stand is too big for me to hold the whole thing in my hand, so I can just hold onto a part of it.

Now say instead that I were to hold this bracelet in my hand. I can hold the whole thing in my hand. I am holding this bracelet in my hand. That construction of the word hold was the one less commonly used in Greek, but it’s the one used here.

Christ holds the stars in his right hand. He doesn’t just hold on to them. He doesn’t just have a part of them. He holds all of them—the churches—in their entirety in His hand. He’s got the whole world in His hand. He’s got the churches in His hand. He’s got the pastors in His hand. He’s got the church members in His hand. He’s got you and me. He holds us in His right hand.

The construction means to hold the entire object within one's hand. These churches, all the churches, they belong to Christ.

This should encourage us when we get discouraged about the condition of the churches, the needs of the churches. Jesus is going to point those out very honestly in chapters 2 and 3.

But remember the position of Christ—walking among the churches. He's there; He's active; He's engaged; He's involved. He holds them in His right hand. He walks among the lampstands. He’s not present just in some of the churches, but He’s present in all of them.

You see Christ in this vision being the central unifying figure in the churches. He is the glue that unites them, that holds them together. Churches in different cities, churches of different denominations, churches where Christ is honored, where the gospel is preached, where the Word of God is preached—Christ walks among them. It's not just my church, not just your church. It is His Church, and He walks among all of them. He holds them together.

He cannot separate Himself from the Church. The Scripture tells us in the book of Ephesians that He is the head and the Church is the body (5:23). You can’t separate the head from the body, and the body can’t function without the head. Christ is attached to His Church. He cannot separate Himself from it. I want to say that suggests to me that you and I cannot reject or discard or walk away from the Church ourselves.

Now I’ll be honest and tell you that there have been times when I have wanted to, and there probably have been times when you have wanted to. But we can’t do it. Christ walks among His churches. He could have plenty more reason than we could have to be fed up with the churches. And we’ll see in Revelation 2 and 3 He has lots of concerns. But He stays engaged. He keeps them in his right hand. He holds on to them.

And yet, tragically, many believers today are walking away from the church. Christ is walking among the churches. To walk away from the Church—listen to me carefully here—is to walk away from Christ and from what He is doing in the world today.

It’s not to say that the Church is perfect—far from it! We’re going to see that in the remaining days of this series. But we cannot walk away from it.

I read another report that says,

Alarming number of stayaway saints affecting today’s church. [This report, based on another study by the Barna Group, said,] An alarming number of Christians are staying home on Sunday mornings. . . . A recent study by the Barna group . . . found that about 13 million Americans whom the researchers identified as being born again were "unchurched." 2

The definition of unchurched was they have not attended a Christian church service other than for a holiday at any time in the past six months. Thirteen million Americans who identified themselves as born again are also unchurched by that definition.

David Barrett, author of the World Encyclopedia, estimates there are about 112 million "churchless Christians" worldwide. He projects that number will double by 2025. 3

Now let me just tell you that biblically there is no such thing as a churchless Christian. The biblical pattern is that every Christian is a part of the entire body of Christ. Some would call this the universal Church. And I know I’m going to get on some controversial ground with some of our listeners here. Go ahead and write us. We love to hear from you.

But the biblical pattern is that every Christian is also a part of a local assembly of believers and under the care and the teaching of the leaders of that assembly. The New Testament knows nothing of Christians who are not part of the local church.

People are saying today, “Yeah, I’m a part of the whole Church.” Well if you are a child of God, that’s true. But the New Testament knows nothing of Christians who are not also a part of the local expression of that church, a local body of believers.

Now they may look different in some places. They may be very tiny. They may not meet in a building we may call a church. I’m not talking about all those trappings. But I’m saying there’s a local expression of those baptized believers who join together for worship, for the ministry of the Word, and who come under the leadership, the teaching, the authority, the feeding of biblically qualified leaders.

There is one universal Church and all true believers in Christ are members of that church. But every one of us is to be a member of a local, organized expression of that church, that has biblically qualified leaders and exists to proclaim Christ to the community and to bring people to spiritual maturity in Christ.

Let me go out on a limb a little further and say that media ministries like Revive Our Hearts are no substitute for your involvement in and your commitment to a local congregation of believers. And if I haven't stepped on toes yet, I will with this next sentence. Sitting at home and watching your favorite preacher on television may be a blessing, and nothing wrong with doing that, but it cannot take the place of active participation in a local assembly of believers that the New Testament calls, a church. The ones that I know anything about, those preachers who are committed to the authority of the Word, they would tell you the same thing. 

Being a part of a local church does not mean that you just park your body in a seat on Sunday morning, sit there as a spectator as the worship leader and the pastor minister to you. It means more than that. It means being an active, engaged, contributing part of that body of believers, using your gifts to serve others in that body.

Can I say I'm a church member, "Yeah, I go to church on Sunday morning, tip God in the offering. I'm a good church member." That's not what church membership is all about. That's a minimum. That's a starting place. You are to be a part of a local body. They need you and you need them. 

Now I have taught on this in a whole series on Revive Our Hearts on the church, why we need the church, why you need the church. And you can go listen to that series. But I just feel like in this series on the churches in Revelation, it’s important to insert a few comments along this line.

The local church meets together, and you need to be a part of that for purposes of worship, observance of the Lord’s Supper, mutual accountability, instruction, discipline, mutual growth and edification, missions, evangelism, caring for the needy.

That doesn’t mean you have to be involved in every program of your local church; you probably shouldn’t be involved in all of those. But it means you have a place and you function. The parts of my body all have a responsibility; they have a function. If they don’t fulfill their function they’re useless. We call that diseased or sick or something that needs medical attention. And a lot of us need medical attention, spiritually speaking, because we say we’re part of a body but we’re not really functioning and fulfilling our responsibility in that local church.

Ladies, Christ loves the Church. He gave Himself up for Her, according to Ephesians 5 (v. 25). You cannot love Christ and not love His Church. It’s that simple. You cannot be a part of Christ and not be a part of the Church.

These seven churches named here in Revelation chapter 1 were specific local churches. And any Christian who lived in Ephesus was part of the church of Ephesus. Leaders of that church were responsible for the spiritual nurture, the growth, the health of the believers under their care. They were all present and accounted for.

When they disobeyed God and were unrepentant, there was discipline that took place. There were miracles that took place. There was giving that took place laterally so that needs were being met. They were inextricably bound to each other, the believers in that city.

I don’t believe that the believers in Ephesus all met in one geographic location, because they didn’t have church buildings. They probably met in small groups in homes. But they were part of that whole body of believers in the city of Ephesus and they were all accounted for. And the spiritual leaders were told, “You will give account for the spiritual condition of those under your care.”

You couldn’t sit out the local church. That is not an option Christ has given us. You say, “But my church has so many issues!” I hear this and my heart breaks as I hear people talk about the concerns—and many of them valid concerns—about the condition of the local church.

Yes, the Church is sick today. The Church is in desperate need of revival. There are very few illustrations in our country today of churches functioning as healthy, biblical, revived churches, sad to say. So, yes, I know your church has issues. So does mine.

There are many churches today, that call themselves churches, and they are almost nothing like a New Testament church is supposed to be. But read the New Testament epistles to see what those churches were like. Read the book of Corinthians and see about the issues in that church if you think your church has issues. Read Revelation 2 and 3 and see about the issues in those churches, churches at the end of the first century. They had all kinds of issues including contention, divisions, coldness, “lukewarmness,” blatant immorality, serious doctrinal error. One church, Jesus said, was close to dead.

But where was Jesus? Walking among the lampstands holding the angel to that church in His right hand. Jesus did not, would not, and could not forsake His own body. It’s His Bride. He loves it. And neither can we forsake it.

There’s a hymn I have loved for many years. I’ve sung it often over the years, sometimes probably through tears because the Church is so needy today. And I’m a part of that. I need revival. My church needs revival. You need revival. Your church needs revival.

But Timothy Dwight—who was the grandson, if I’m not mistaken, of Jonathan Edwards—in the early 1800s he wrote a hymn called “I Love Thy Church, O Lord.” Here’s how a few of those stanzas go:

I love Thy Church, O Lord, the house of Thine abode,
The Church our blest Redeemer saved with His own precious blood.

I love Thy Church, O God; her walls before Thee stand
Dear as the apple of Thine eye, and graven on Thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be given till toils and cares shall end. 4

Ladies, weep for the Church if you must. And we need to weep for the condition of the Church today. Toil for her, care for her, intercede for her, plead with God for her. But do not reject her. Do not walk away from her. You are part of the Church. Jesus loves the Church. He gave His life for it.

When I hear people talking . . . and I grieve myself over the condition of the Church. But when I hear people talking with disdain or disrespect about the Church, about their church, my heart grieves because Jesus loves the Church. It’s graven on His hand. He holds its angels in the palm of His right hand.

A lot is at stake. God has ordained and established the Church as His plan to carry and to shine the light of Christ into the darkness of this world. His goal is for the Church to fulfill God’s purpose in the world. And the Church is to be part of that plan moving toward the consummation of God’s eternal redemptive program.

So no wonder that Satan wants to get believers disillusioned and giving up on the Church and walking away from it. In Revelation, throughout the book you see this cosmic conflict. And Satan is always at work trying to destroy the Church, to contaminate it, to neutralize its witness and its effectiveness in the world. He applies pressure to it from within and from without.

But Christ loves the Church. Satan is trying to destroy it. Don’t side with Satan against the Church. Jesus loves the Church. He’s committed to it to protect it, to preserve it. He walks among the churches. He holds them in His right hand. And that is why He sent these messages to the churches.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is walking us through the letters to the churches in Revelation in several series this year. Today’s program is part of the first series called "A Vision of the Glorified Christ."

A lot of people find the book of Revelation to be controversial, frightening, or just confusing. And while it did challenge its original readers, it also offered great hope. They were living through very trying times and this book was a source of comfort.

I know a lot of listeners are being challenged and comforted by these words of hope. We want to offer you a tool to help you get more out of your Bible reading. It’s called Ears to Hear: Learning from the Churches in Revelation. This booklet with ask penetrating questions, and showing you how letters to the churches mean so much to twenty-first century women.

When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we'll send Ears to Hear as our way of saying "thanks." Your donation will help us stay on the air in your community, and reach women around the world. We appreciate it.

When you donate by phone, ask for the booklet, Ears to Hear. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

We’ve heard today why leaving the church isn’t really an option for a believer in Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that the church is perfect. Get hope for an imperfect church, Monday, on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth encourages you to serve at church this weekend. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1 Erin Curry, “More Americans Skipping Church,” Crosswalk.com Religion Summaries, March 31, 2005.

2 Andy Butcher, “When Christians Quit Church,” Charismamag.com, January 31, 2005.

3 Ibid.

4 Timothy Dwight, “ I Love Thy Church, O Lord,” 1800.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Join the Discussion