“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 golden lampstands.'”
[To the church in Smyrna] “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) …”
[To the church in Laodicea] “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
These verses from Revelation demonstrate a couple of important things about church – that church is all about Jesus, and that church appearances can be wrong.
Firstly, church is all about Jesus being present. In Revelation, the image of seven stars and seven lamps symbolise the seven churches. No church is defined by its building, its programmes, its leadership, … It’s a church because Jesus is there. Take away Jesus and you have no church.
But secondly, church appearances can trick us. The church in Smyrna was described as poor – yet Jesus’ point of view was, “but you are rich”. The church in Laodicea was very confident that they had everything, and more than enough. But Jesus’ words could not be more different: “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”.
So how should we speak about churches? I reckon we speak in two ways: one way for our church, another way for other churches.
Talking about other churches: humility
The way to speak about other churches is with humility.
We have good reason to speak about other churches – it’s not gossip! I want to hear about churches. I try to listen and remember what I hear about churches. If I know someone moving to a new town, I want to be able to say, “Hey, when you move, try out Church X.”
On the flip side, it’s a great help to know if a church might be going astray. If I meet someone from there, or they move to my area, this knowledge gives me a head-start on what issues to be wary of, and what conversations to have.
And yet …
And yet appearances can be wrong. Reputation might be inaccurate. So while I argue that we can talk about other churches, we must be humble. In others words, we admit that we don’t know everything – only Jesus does – and we might be plain wrong.
Talking about our own church: not humility
But when we speak of our own church, let’s drop the (false) humility. If we are part of a church, it should be because we are convinced that Christ is with us by his Spirit. A church with Jesus lacks nothing.
In short, we know our church as a real and living church because of the presence of Jesus – no matter what the appearance may be.
So let’s speak up confidently!
Let’s forget the, “We’re not doing much. Nobody really knows us. You’re probably not interested in this, but I’ll invite you anyway …” Instead, we remember that Christ walks among us!