In our morning revival time with the Lord we are now enjoying the topic of, Returning to the Orthodoxy of the Church, based on the 2016 fall International Training for Elders and Responsible Ones given recently in Australia. This topic is based on the seven epistles the Lord wrote to the seven churches in Asia, as recorded in Rev. 2-3.
We want to see what the Lord is speaking to the churches. This is not a “Bible study of Revelation”; rather, we are looking to the Lord so that He may speak to us through His letters to the seven churches, so that He may shine on us, expose us, judge us, and calibrate us.
We are not here to do yet “another Bible study” and pick up some “biblical knowledge about the history of the church”; we are here looking to the Lord for His particular speaking and shining. The Lord’s word to the seven churches in Asia is very particular.
Paul wrote to the churches in Phillipi and Colossae, but here the Lord Jesus Himself spoke to a group of seven churches, which represent the entire history of the church. These seven epistles are not just the apostles speaking one with the Lord, but the Lord Himself speaking directly to the churches.
God chose not two, three, or nine churches to speak to but He chose seven actual churches to speak in a very meaningful way; they represent the sevenfold history of the church in the church age. This speaking is applicable to all of us today and to all the churches throughout the past two thousand years.
The Lord’s speaking in His epistles to the seven churches in Asia is timeless, up-to-date, and it covers the entire church age. At the end of each of the epistles He concludes with, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; these words are serious and severe, otherwise the Lord wouldn’t repeat them.
We may be familiar with the content of these epistles, but we need to come to them before the Lord as for the first time, praying that we would have a humble spirit and a pure heart without any kind of presumptuousness.
We need to let Christ as the Son of Man, the High Priest, walk in our midst and speak freely to us what is on His heart; we need to humble ourselves before Him, not assuming that we know anything, and have ears to hear.
Only the Lord knows where the churches are, what is their condition, and what needs to be touched in a specific way.
Three Main Things to Understand with regard to the Seven Churches in Rev. 2-3
In Revelation 2-3 the Lord speaks a specific word to each of the seven churches in Asia, which John the Apostle wrote down and send to them as an epistle; with regards to the seven churches, which are represented by the seven lampstands, we should understand three things:
1. The seven churches were real churches existing at that time. The Lord didn’t write these epistles to seven hypothetical churches; they existed at that time in that area. Of course, they were not the only seven churches in Asia – there were more other churches in that area, but the Lord selected these ones for His speaking.
2. The seven churches represent the sevenfold history of the church. The Holy Spirit selected these seven churches to represent the sevenfold history of the church, covering the entire period of the history of the church.
The first stage is the initial church, symbolized by Ephesus, and it was the church at the end of the first century. Then we have the suffering church, signified by Smyrna, from the end of the first century to the fourth century.
The stage of the worldly church, signified by Pergamos, is from the time Constantine received Christianity and mixed it with the world; it lasted from the fourth century to the full establishment of the papal system at the end of the sixth century.
The stage of the apostate Roman Catholic church, symbolized by Thiatyra, is from the end of the sixth century all the way until the Lord’s return. The stage of the Protestant church under the Reformation movement, symbolized by Sardis, covers the end of the sixteenth century with Luther’s reformation, lasting until the Lord comes back.
The stage of the recovered church, the church of brotherly love, symbolized by Philadelphia, is from the beginning of the nineteenth century until the Lord returns. Then, lastly, the degraded church, symbolized by Laodicea, from the end of the nineteenth century until the Lord returns.
The Lord specifically chose these seven churches to show us the sevenfold history of the church.
3. The conditions of the churches exist simultaneously in the church’s sevenfold history. Yes, they existed in Asia at the same time, and yes, they represent stages in the history of the church in a prophetical way, but at the same time their conditions exist simultaneously today.
Today we are not merely in the stage of Laodicea and Philadelphia, but all the other conditions of the churches apply to us also. We should not say, Oh, let’s wait until the fulfillment of all these prophecies and then the Lord will come…rather, we should refuse to be slothful slaves or evil servants (Matt. 24:48) and be those praying to the Lord to make us His overcomers today!
We need to tell the Lord,
Lord Jesus, shine on us through Your speaking in Your word. We humble ourselves before You and we want to receive Your speaking for us. You know our condition and our situation: speak to us and grant us an ear to hear what the Spirit speaks to the churches. Touch what needs to be touched, expose what needs to be exposed, and deal with what needs to be dealt with. Lord, we just open to Your up-to-date speaking in Your word so that we may hear You and be produced as Your overcomers today!
Returning to the Orthodoxy of the Church to be the Overcomers, the Normal Believers
Revelation chapters 2 and 3 show us what we need to do to return to the orthodoxy of the church; in these chapters we see what it is that actually pleases the Lord, what it is that the Lord condemns, and what the Lord’s actual way is for the church.
Returning to the orthodoxy of the church doesn’t mean only that we need to return to the proper teaching and practice as revealed in the Bible; we have to come back to the Person of the Lord Jesus.
The first thing we need to see is the vision of the glorious Christ; at the beginning of each of the seven epistles the Lord reveals who He is, what He is concerned about, and at the end He gives us a way to come back to Him. We need to take heed and realize what pleases the Lord. Watchman Nee once said,
Today if a man really wants to walk in the Lord’s way, he must read Revelation 2 and 3. Today the church has problems; therefore, Revelation tells us what to do. If you do not seek the way in Revelation, I do not know how you can be a Christian. (W. Nee, the Orthodoxy of the Church, ch. 1)
Today we need to seek the Lord to walk in His way, and for this we need to read and pray over Revelation chapters 2 and 3; here the Lord shows us how to be a Christian at the end of this age.
The seven epistles to the seven churches are the Lord’s way for us to return to the orthodoxy of the church; they start with the Lord and end with a call to be the overcomers.
What are these “overcomers” for whom the Lord is calling today? Are they the super-spiritual Christians, the “spiritual giants”? The overcomers the Lord desires to gain, those who return to the orthodoxy of the church, are normal and ordinary believers, those who are not abnormal during the time of abnormality in the churches.
For each and every situation the Lord has something to rebuke or admonish, and He also has a way for us to go on and be produced as overcomers. The overcomers are not extraordinary or super people; they are the normal, ordinary ones, those who are according to God’s level.
God today is calling for the overcomers to rise up and walk according to the normal pattern in the beginning; they walk according to God’s never-changing word, being according to God’s standard of being a Christian.
Today men fail, fall, and continually go downward; even worse, the church’s situation is declining and degrading, but the overcomers are recovered anew into the will of God.
We do not know whether we are overcomers or not: not even the apostle Paul didn’t assume that he was an overcomer in his last epistle, Philippians. We should all aspire to be the Lord’s overcomers, those who see what pleases the Lord, what it is that He condemns, and what is the Lord’s actual way for the church.
We need to aspire to be the stars in the Lord’s hands, the messengers that have His fresh message. We need to tell the Lord,
Lord, make us Your overcomers. We don’t know what it means to be an overcomer, but we want to be normal according to Your standard and requirements. Impress us with what pleases You, what You condemn, and with Your actual way for us to return to the orthodoxy of the church. Lord, in the midst of this abnormal situation of the church today, grace us to be normal, continuing in the things that have been handed down to us. Recover us to the will of God and cause us to return to the orthodoxy of the church!
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by brother James L. for this week, and, Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 47, “The Orthodoxy of the Church,” ch. 1, as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, Returning to the Orthodoxy of the Church (2016 fall ITERO), msg. 1 (week 1), The Church in Ephesus.
- Hymns on this topic:
# In Revelation chapter one / God gives a vision of the Son, / Of Him who was and is to come; / Oh, let us to this One now come. / In spirit hear His trumpet voice; / We must be turned to see His choice— / The seven lampstands golden fair; / The Son of Man is walking there. (Hymns #1184)
# In Revelation two and three, / The seven local churches see: / The lessons there for you and me / Are for the Lord’s recovery. / The words to them are words to us, / So that the church be glorious, / And all their warnings we must heed / So that the Lord can meet His need. (Hymns #1274)
# Christ has called us once to Him, / But He calls us once again. / To His call we say Amen! / Overcome! / For the church has fallen low, / Thinking everything they know, / But the life is missing; so, / Overcome! / Overcome! Overcome! / Overcome degraded Christianity! / All your working lay aside, / All the teachings that divide; / Eat the Lord whate’er betide— / Overcome! (Hymns #1273)
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