We continue to look at the ancient churches of renown. John addresses the perspectives and challenges of these churches, which are as applicable today as they were in their time. We continue with chapter 2:18-29, which focuses on the corrupt church of Thyatira.
The Church At Thyatira, The Corrupt Church
So the next phase is Thyatira, the corrupt church.
Romans 2:18. And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass: I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels—as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’
So this is Thyatira, the corrupt church. But again, there are good things that are in all of these eras. It’s not that the whole church is corrupt. It’s that there’s corruption in the church.
And we see during this time period—I’m going to propose this is the time period of 800 from when Charlemagne ascended the throne in order to be the holy Roman emperor until 1517, which is when Luther tacked the 95 theses to the door.
There are a few things that happened during this time period that might give some color to what’s going on during this era. One is, in 1384, Wycliff died. Wycliff translated the Bible into English. Wycliff’s remains were later dug up and defiled because he had done this terrible thing of translating the Bible into English.
William Tyndale followed on with Wycliff. Tyndale wanted to put it in the common language, and he was actually murdered as a result of this. He was strangled and burned at the stake. What Tyndale wanted to do—that’s in 1536—Tyndale’s stated objective was, “I want the plowboys in England to know more about the Bible than the Bishops do.” Which wasn’t much of a lift at that point in time because the bishops had just become a corrupt political office that the highest bidder got. Which again is the corrupt church.
So these guys are sowing the seed for reform during this era, and you can see that now the church has become a church where control and power is the key thing. Because we can’t let the Bible get into the hands of the people lest the power of the priests be diminished.
So we’ve gone from faithful church, the persecuted church, where these bishops are showing their mettle, to these bishops then being given the authority during this syncretistic era, and now they’ve become completely corrupt rulers.
A personal experience that we had that kind of illustrates this is Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria. If you watch The Sound of Music and you watch the part where they’re singing Do Re Mi, in one of the scenes they’re going through this really beautiful garden, and they’re all running along by the fountain. That garden is in a palace in Salzburg.
It was built by Wolf Dietrich. Wolf Dietrich was one of the prince bishops that ruled Salzburg, the city and the area around it. And for hundreds of years, Salzburg was ruled by a prince bishop. This is a guy in whose office is vested the bishop of the church as well as the prince of the government.
Well, Wolf Dietrich built this palace and this garden for his mistress, because the official Catholic church had celibacy of the priests and the bishops. Well, this guy had eleven children by this mistress! Everybody knew it. Everybody knew it. There is the castle. He built the castle for them. It’s not a secret. But everybody has to pretend that he’s the holy man who’s celibate while he has eleven kids by this mistress!
Well, that’s corrupt! It’s corrupt to say one thing publicly and do something else—it’s not even private. It’s just like a lot of things going on in our political world, isn’t it? Some things never change. Say one thing, do another.
Now, of course, there are some really good things that happen in this. You’ve got St. Francis of Assisi in the 1200s. So, it’s not that it’s all bad. But the official church during this time period basically just became a control scheme. They took confession, which is a way to get cleansing, and turned it into a cash machine. They took the ordinance of communion and turned it into a weekly necessity that you have to pay money for. It was a corrupt era.
The Church Of Sardis, The Dead Church
The next church, the dead church. This one may surprise you a bit. I’m going to propose my model. It’s just a model.
Revelation 3:1. And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’
Now, I would guess that one of the reasons why you have people say no, this isn’t really an historical thing is because of this church and the Laodicean church, both of which kind of hit home.
But this dead church has a reputation that it’s alive. And I’m going to propose that this era is 1517, the nailing of the 95 theses, until 1727, which is a little bit of an arcane number; but that is the year of the Moravian revival, which I’ll talk a little bit more about in a minute.
The Reformation was taught to me as a golden age of the church. I’m a big Francis Schaeffer fan, and in How Shall We Then Live, he pointed out how many things from the Reformation unwound this superstitious morass that had taken place during this corrupt church era and brought truth back in. And when you bring truth back in, you bring all sorts of wonderful things to the world. And I think that’s a totally appropriate thing. Which is why I think this era gets its reputation to be alive. But it’s dead.
No Grace In The Reformation
Terry and I, years ago, I think it was our 20th anniversary, which is almost 20 years ago now, we went to Austria and Switzerland. I had always wanted to see the Alps. I had flown over them in my twenties. I always wanted to go down there and see what they looked like. She never wanted to go because when she was a kid, she went to high school in Germany, and they always had to go skiing in the Alps on vacation, and they wanted to go to the beach. So to her the Alps meant just “bummer”.
But then she, one day, said, “You know I was 16 when I thought that. I would probably not look at it that way anymore. Let’s go!”
So we went. We got a car, and I said, which way do you want to go? So we just kind of had some basic ideas in mind. We just started wandering.
And we went to Austria, and we went to Switzerland. And what we learned—that I had not known—is that Austria exiled like 15-20,000 people during the Reformation. We’re not having any reformation in this country! So it stayed pure Catholic all the way through.
And Switzerland was the Reformation. John Calvin was in Geneva. Bern was the capital center, and it’s where the main monastery was. And in the east, you had Zurich which was Zwingli who was one of the great reformers. It was the Reformation!
So, there you have them, side by side.
And we went through all the churches in Austria, and they were museums for all practical purposes. They were as dead as a doornail. People still came some, but they’re mostly just relics.
And then we went to Switzerland, and the church there literally was a museum. They charged you money to go in and see it. It wasn’t even a functioning church anymore. It was just dead and sterile.
And all the vestiges I saw of it were just dead and sterile.
We got back to the US and I ran into Earl Radmacher who was a guy who’s had a real positive impact on our church, now deceased; and I said, “Dr. Radmacher, was the Reformation an era with no grace?” He said, “Oh yeah, there was no grace in the Reformation.”
I was like, “how come nobody ever told me that?”
A little episode that might illustrate this was John Calvin. Calvin, was a lawyer who took Augustine’s writings and sort of translated them into his era. By translating those writings into his era, he came up with his institutes which he then added to as time went on. And that has become the protestant foundation for western theology, whereas Augustine is kind of the father of Catholic theology. They basically say the same thing a different way.
John Calvin had a guy, Michael Servetus—so this would be in 1535. Michael Servetus taught some stuff. He was deemed a heretic. And he happened to be wandering through Geneva, and he went to church in Geneva. They had him arrested, tried, convicted, and killed because among other things he was criticizing John Calvin’s theology. And there are documented letters where Calvin is saying this guy needs to be killed.
How is that so much different than the corrupt church era? So they killed Tyndale because he wanted to take their power away. What’s the difference? I think what we have is this era where there are tremendous positive things that happen. The pilgrims, 1620, were in this era. They came over to America.
But, the Pilgrims didn’t have a theology we would really be comfortable with. It’s not that they didn’t do some wonderful things. Look at the courage they had. They came across because they didn’t want their kids to be corrupted.
But, in Bradford’s Plymouth colony, he mentions this funny guy named Roger Williams who had some odd notions. Roger Williams is actually the father of religious liberty as we know it in the United States. He founded Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations. And what he said was, if we have to force people to become Christians then we haven’t really introduced them to the gospel. Why don’t we try to live it in such a way that they want to copy us?
Well that sounds natural to our ears, doesn’t it? That’s because Roger Williams’ innovation is really what took root in America.
So, this dead church had some really good things but it was, full of legalism. Maybe the grown-up seed from what started to take root in Ephesus.
OK. So I have run out of time. I thought I could get all this in one session. I made it through five [churches].
So we’ve got the underperforming church era. We’ve got the persecuted church era. We’ve got the syncretistic church era. We’ve got the corrupt church era. And the you’ve-got-a-reputation-that-you’re-alive-but-you’re-actually-dead church era.
The next two are going to be the faithful church, and the church with no criticism. The only-other no-criticism church in addition to the persecuted church, and then our era, the Laodicean church.
By the way, Revelation had a hard time getting into the New Testament because there was one church that really wanted to hold out, that it didn’t think it should—Can you guess which one it was? Laodicea.