Building a Healthy Church: Faith – Anchored To Truth

Faith: Anchored To Truth

Revelation 2:12-17


The Niagara River falls some 180 feet at the American and Horseshoe Falls. Before the falls, there are violent, turbulent rapids. Farther upstream, however, where the river’s current flows more gently, boats are able to navigate. Just before the Welland River empties into the Niagara, a pedestrian walkway spans the river. Posted on this bridge’s pylons is a warning sign for all boaters: “Do you have an anchor?” followed by this question: “Do you know how to use it?”


An anchor is a strong, solid, stable, secure point to which something or someone is connected. In it’s most basic form, an anchor is something heavy that is thrown from a boat to hold that boat in place in the face of winds and waves that might move it. Anchor posts sunk deep into the ground hold tents and canopies and awnings in place when storms threaten campers. Rock climbers and mountain climbers use anchors in rock and ice to hold themselves securely to the vertical faces of mountains. Navigators and surveyors use visual anchors, points of reference, fixed points that won’t move to determine courses through air and sea and boundaries around properties.


Sometimes we talk about people being anchored. An anchored person is a person whose life is lived in the light of their values and convictions. They are a person of integrity, with their outer words and actions consistent with their inner reality. An anchored person is stable, secure, grounded.


The American missionary Adoniram Judson arrived in Burma, or Myanmar, in 1812, and died there thirty-eight years later in 1850. During that time, he suffered quite a bit for the sake of Christ. He was imprisoned, tortured, and kept in shackles. After the death of his first wife, Ann, with whom he was deeply in love, for several months he was so depressed that he sat daily beside her tomb. Three years later, he wrote: God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I cannot find him.


And yet he threw himself into the work to which he believed God had called him: a translation of the Bible in the Burmese language, a task he finished in 1834.


Statistics are unclear, but there were somewhere between twelve and twenty-five professing Christians in the country when he died, and there were no churches to speak of. At the 150th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into the Burmese language, Paul Borthwick was addressing a group that was celebrating Judson’s work. Just before he got up to speak, he noticed in small print on the first page the words: “Translated by Rev. A. Judson.” So he turned to his interpreter, a Burmese man named Matthew Hia Win, and asked him, “Matthew, what do you know of this man?”


Matthew began to weep as he said, “We know him – we know how he loved the Burmese people, how he suffered for the gospel because of us, out of love for us. He died a pauper, but left the Bible for us. When he died, there were few believers, but today there are over 600,000 of us, and every single one of us traces our spiritual heritage to one man: the Rev. Adoniram Judson.” But Adoniram Judson never saw it![i] He never saw the fruit of his labor, but he kept going anyway.


Imprisoned. Tortured. The death of his beloved wife and his questions about why all of this was happening, but he kept going. How did he do that? He was anchored. Solidly anchored. His life was anchored to Christ so tightly that no matter how the wind and waves blew and battered him, he was able to keep going.


This fall we’re in a sermon series called “Becoming A Healthy Church,” not because I think we’re an unhealthy church. Given the level of outreach into the community we carry out on a weekly basis and the quality of our worship and the quality of our groups and Bible studies, I’d say we’re a quite healthy church.


But health, whether physical or emotional health for a person or emotional and spiritual health for a church, isn’t our default mode. We tend toward unhealth. Left to our own desires and devices, we tend to become unhealthy. Health requires intentionality, doing some things and not doing other things on purpose. So we’re looking at the seven letters Christ sent to seven churches in Asia Minor through St. John that are recorded in the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation.


Each one of those letters includes Christ’s revelation of a characteristic about himself that is especially important for that church given what they’re facing. And they include Christ commending them for what they’re doing well, and challenging them where they’re weak, where they’re messing things up. And then each one includes a special promise for that church. Two of these letters are unique, because they don’t contain any criticism. There’s no challenge at all, only encouragement to keep doing what they’re doing. And those two letters were written to the two churches that were currently facing intense, lethal persecution. Do you realize that outside forces, outer pressure have never caused the church to stumble? No once. In every instance in human history in which the church has faced intense persecution, whether in the 1st Century in the Roman empire in it’s earliest days, or in communist China or Russia, or in predominantly Muslim countries today the church has never folded under pressure from the outside, pressure from the government, from persecution. Those things have only, ever, made us stronger.


It is pressure from within that cripples and kills the church. It is the church in a position of power and ease that becomes lazy and weak. By the way, by “church” I mean not any one organization, but simply followers of Christ everywhere. The persecuted church always flourishes. The church in Ephesus was in danger of ceasing to be the church because while they held passionately to the truth, they had forgotten to love one another. They had become judgmental and harsh, so focused on truth, but so lacking in love. The church in Pergamum had the opposite problem: they didn’t want to come across as harsh and judgmental. They were quite accommodating to the culture around them. So accommodating, in fact, that they’d become wishy washy. The church in Ephesus lost her love. The church in Pergamum lost her anchor – truth. The truth of Christ. Let’s look at Revelation 2:12-17.


Christ identifies himself to them as “him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” Now remember, Revelation is full of symbolism and imagery that is often hard to understand. These seven letters are really the easiest part of the book to really get. And the writer of the book of Hebrews uses really similar language in describing the Word of God, the Bible. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4:12). Now, while the Word of God is here actually called SHARPER THAN, greater and more effective than any two-edged sword, the point of the imagery is pretty much the same. One of the things the “living and active” word of God accomplishes is “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” In other words, it judges. WE don’t judge, but the living and active Word of God does judge. AS truth, it DEFINES truth, and it delineates truth and falsehood. Our beliefs, our words, and our actions are shown to be true or false when the light of God’s word shines on them.


And that imagery would be very vivid to the followers of Christ in Pergamum, because Pergamum was Rome’s capital in the region. Ephesus was the center of commerce and wanted to be the capital. Smyrna was a magnificent, beautiful city whose allegiance lay unquestioningly with Rome. But Pergamum was the first Asian city to align with Rome in the earliest days, before the empire was even established. And the governor in Pergamum had the right of the sword, the right to judge and to hand down his verdict up to and including death. Persecution was much harsher, much more severe and consistent in Smyrna, but it actually started, broke out, in Pergamum. If you look at V. 13, Antipas was martyred there, and he was likely the first Christian martyr in Asia. And these constant references to “where Satan dwells.” They could be a reference to the great Temple of Zeus that stood in Pergamum, or to the first two temples Roman citizens built to LIVING, currently ruling Caesars were built there as Caesar worship went from worshipping Rome’s great leaders of the past as gods to worshipping the current Caesar as a god. Regardless, this wasn’t an easy place to follow Christ. Maybe not quite as deadly as Smyrna, but not easy nonetheless. But the people aren’t denying their faith. They’re remained faithful – so far. They haven’t turned their backs on God – yet. Look at Vv. 14-16.


They were flirting with danger. While in the much safer city of Ephesus believers were holding so passionately to truth that they had lost their love for one another and created a culture of suspicion, in Pergamum the believers were becoming wishy washy. The Ephesian believers had rooted out false teaching. The believers in Pergamum were allowing it. And how do we know that?


Well, it all centers on what exactly Christ means by “the teaching of Balaam.” If we look back in the Old Testament book of Numbers, we find the people of God during their wilderness wandering being unfaithful to God. Look at Numbers 25:1-2. “ While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.” So they became so much a part of the culture in which they were living that they compromised what they knew to be true and began to worship false gods. Now, if you flip over a few pages to Numbers 31:16, we read, “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.” Balaam was a diviner, a non-Israelite prophet who told a rival king how to get the Israelites to turn their backs on God so that God would leave them and no longer bless them. And what ended up happening is the Moabites simply befriended the Israelites, and over time enticed them to engage in sexual immorality and attend their pagan worship ceremonies to worship their pagan gods.


And the false teachers in Pergamum were playing a similar game, and the believers there were allowing their teaching. They were trying to get the Christians in Pergamum to blend into their culture a little better. After all, it was in their own best interest. If you refuse to go to your trade guild meetings because they pray to their pagan gods and eat meat sacrificed to those gods at those meetings, you’ll loose your livelihood. You’ll lose your spot in the trade guild and your business will dry up. THAT can’t be good for the church, can it? Less money for you means less money for the church. No money for you means no money for the church. What are we going to accomplish as a church of poor people, of nobodies? And you certainly can’t live for Christ if you’re dead, and if you refuse to worship Caesar at the temple to him, you could be killed. Remember Antipas? Want to wind up like him? What good is he doing anybody now?


False teaching, compromise with the prevailing winds of our culture, never comes into the church blatantly. It would never be accepted that way. It comes in subtly, quietly, like a serpent. It’s aim isn’t to kill the church’s witness in one fell swoop. It’s to neutralize the church, to kill it, over time. And it always appeals to human nature’s drive to survive. Do you really want to put your name on that, speak out about that, say THAT? People aren’t going to do business with you if they know you attend a church that says THAT. They’re going to make fun of you. Just water it down some, huh? That’s what the Nicolaitans were teaching. The Ephesian church had rejected them, sent them on their way. But the church at Pergamum was listening.


We see it today in the same place they were seeing in in Pergamum, in a sexual ethic that says, “Well, no one’s really staying pure anymore. People are waiting longer to get married but their urges are still the same. Everyone’s living together now, having sex before they’re married. When was the last time you attended a ceremony for a couple that wasn’t already living together? It’s unheard of today!!” We see it in the church’s striving for political power and influence instead of serving at the grass-roots, ground level. We see it in the gluttony and materialism and consumerism that is rampant in the church. We see it in our obsession with hero worship, only our heroes are the significant authors and the mega-church pastors and the rock star worship leaders and our worship services that look more like rock concerts. We see it in our tendency to make our political ideologies, whether liberal or conservative, more important than our commitment to Christ.


Now, Christ isn’t saying that we shouldn’t have appropriate interaction with our culture, he’s saying that we shouldn’t compromise with it. St. Paul had many close friends in the highest political places who weren’t Christians in almost every place he ministered, including Ephesus. He isn’t saying, “Completely separate yourself and never interact with your culture.” So you can’t go to movies and you can’t listen to music and you shouldn’t own a TV and whatever. That isn’t what he’s saying AT ALL. BUT, he IS saying, “You are supposed to be salt and light in the world. It isn’t supposed to be the other way around.” We are supposed to influence the world, not be influenced by the world. Who is influencing who here? And that influence isn’t by force. It isn’t through power plays and might. It’s by serving and by issuing and invitation. It’s by living an attractive life for Christ, not insisted that others see things our way.


And, look at the promise Christ has for them if they get their act together and get rid of the false teaching encouraging them to keep a low profile by saying its okay to do the things everyone else is doing. Look at V. 17. What’s the deal with the white stone with a name on it? And is the new name written on it the believer’s or a deeper revelation of Christ? We don’t know, but the two ideas are closely related. Names in ancient times were much more significant in many cases than they are now. A person’s name said something about who they were. That’s why sometimes peoples’ names were changed to suit their new identity in Christ. So Simon, which means “reed,” as in a piece of grass that blows in the wind, became “Peter,” which means rock.


If the name on the rock is Christ’s, it signifies a deeper understanding, a deeper knowing of who Christ is and what Christ has done. And if the name on the rock is the believer’s, it signifies a deeper understanding of who you are in Christ, understanding who you are from God’s perspective. Who Christ is and who you are in Christ as your deepest identity. You’ll know who you are and you’ll know who Christ is in a deeper way, a way that anchors you so that no matter what you face, you’ll be able to stand.


From the letter to the church at Ephesus: Don’t lose your love for one another. Without love, there is no church.


From the letter to the church at Smyrna: Stay faithful to Christ, no matter what it costs you, up to and including your life.


From the letter to the church at Pergamum: Hold on to truth. Stay anchored in Christ. Do you have an anchor? Do you know how to use it?


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”





[i] Adapted from Julia Cameron, editor, Christ Our Reconciler (InterVarsity Press, 2012), pp. 200-201