Church Shopping: Pergamum


Sometimes compromise is absolutely essential to living life well. In 2005, the Guinness Book of World Records said that Percy and Florence Arrowsmith held two records—the longest marriage of a living couple (80 years) and having the largest married couple’s aggregate age (205 years). Both Mr. and Mrs. Arrowsmith have since died, but they left good advice for those who want to have a lasting marriage. Florence said, “You must never go to sleep bad friends. If you’ve had a quarrel, you make it up. Never be afraid to say, ‘sorry’.” Percy had slightly more humorous advice. He said the secret to his long marriage was just two words, “Yes, dear.” Source: New York Daily News, June 1, 2005


Other times, compromise is excessive. Bill Hybels tells the story of pulling up to his church in the burbs of Chicago called Willow Creek. It is a massive campus, and one evening he stopped by the church just to encourage those who were there rehearsing for the spring musical. He didn’t intend to stay long, so he parked his car next to the entrance. The parking lot was across the street, it was late, dark, and it was going to be quick. After a few minutes, he ran back to my car and drove home. The next morning he found a note in my office mailbox. It read: A small thing, but Tuesday night when you came to rehearsal, you parked in the “No Parking” area. A reaction from one of my crew (who did not recognize you until after you got out of the car) was, “There’s another jerk parking in the ‘No Parking’ area!” We try hard not to allow people-even workers-to park anywhere other than the parking lots. I would appreciate your cooperation, too. It was signed by a member of the maintenance staff. Bill went on to say, “I’m sorry to report this staff member is no longer with us. He was late coming back for lunch the next day, and we had to let him go. You have to draw the line somewhere . . .” After drawing a laugh, he went on to explain—“No, I’m kidding. Actually he’s still very much with us, and his stock went up in my book because he had the courage to write me about what could have been a slippage in my character.”

We are in the midst of a sermon series called Church Shopping, through the 7 letters to the 7 churches in Revelation. Our goal is not to just be searching for a church that meets our needs, fulfills our preferences and desires, but become the church that makes Christ happy.

Our third letter is addressed to Pergamum, literally translates “thoroughly married” and although the Christians were supposed to be united with Christ—there were more than a few suitors trying to steal their hand. A city built on a lofty hill, the city of more than 150,000 people was a hub of intellectual excitement (maybe like Harvard of today) it boasted a library with over 200,000 volumes all handwritten on parchment and papyrus, a university, at every turn there was something to worship or work towards. Christ like a Great Physician looking at a growing tumor, begins by digging down to see if the church is living off the essentials or given in to excess: 12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. Hebrews described the word of God as living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, looking into our attitudes and actions. Christ opens up the church in Pergamum to see where they had said, “YES, DEAR,” “NO DEAR,” and “NEW DEAL”

“YES, DEAR”—(Revelation 2:13) 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. What’s so impressive about each letter is how much insight Christ has into each church, the situation on the ground, their history, their heroes, and areas of heartache. For John living in exile on Patmos, it speaks to how divinely inspired this work truly is as Jesus starts off commending the Christian of Pergamum for holding on to their faith even though they lived in a city controlled by Satan. The opportunities for compromise, slipping in with the crowd was numerous: There was the temple to Dionysus where wine and women abound, you could seek counsel with Athena—wisdom and arts, or Zeus—ruler of all the gods, but as Jesus references the death of Antipas, the city seemingly had the prescription for life, but what looked so good on the surface, missed the mark down below. The city boasted a temple of medicine and healing—where the sick would spend the night in the temple to Asclepius—god of medicine and healing…you would arrive at the temple, stay overnight, where you would find some of the worse bedside manner imaginable: Indiana Jones-Raiders of the Lost Ark: The wonders of modern medicine, you’d lay down and if the snakes crawled on you then you were healed. Beyond the façade of a beautiful temple, was emptiness.Maybe that is how you’ve been living. You’ve done what feels good in the moment…I won’t sit here and tell you that it doesn’t at times sound good, taste good, feel good, but what’s the result? A little boy, when his mother was out, got a chair and climbed up to a shelf in the closet to see if there was anything good. You know how it works, all the good stuff is hidden away so it isn’t eaten so quickly. You probably have your own hiding places at home. On his tippy toes he finally saw the small white paper parcel. Victory! It was filled with white powder. His mother was a little bit of a health nut, so she avoided most sugary treats, so his eyes lit up. The boy tasted it and found it was sweet; he took more and could have spent the entire afternoon there, but he thought he heard his mom coming back from the garden. Finally, he put it up, just in the nick of time. As his mother came in he played it cool, yet 15 minutes later he started to feel sick. He figured he had just eaten too much sugar, but his mother started to question him as he lay on the couch, “What did you eat?” Finally he broke down and confessed that he had eaten some of the “sugar on the top shelf of the pantry!” Her face turned white as a ghost, “That wasn’t sugar, that was rat poison. It could kill you!” Thankfully, she was able to call the doctor and save his life.

The town of Pergamum seemed to have all the answers, but don’t we live in the same type of world. Everything from WebMD to a YouTube video, 24 hour news cycle offers us more information, the façade without the follow-through of wisdom. We can chase after all sorts of things that look tasty: our prosperity, our preferences, our parade of priorities, but here is the danger, that without God being put in first, those things created by God become worthless. God doesn’t allow himself to be added as an extra, because he is an absolute essential. It is like the difference between a flash light and a headlight. One gives off a puny amount of light, it is extra, while the other gives off what is essential. You can try to steer without the headlight, but don’t be surprised when you end up on life-support. This isn’t just theology, but absolute practicality.

You look around the church world and it can be depressing, people fighting over the type of music, carpet color, service times, chairs or pews, when people are dying for the bigger mission- and people dying without the greater message. We live in a modern-day Pergamum—where you get to decide if you are thoroughly married to Christ or just flirting with him?



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