The Church Militant

Leading Question: How does one know which of the seven churches of Revelation offers the closest match to our own experience?

For this week’s lesson on the seven churches in Revelation, the official study guide states that “we shall study them from the perspective of the original recipients.” Such an approach may leave some readers unsatisfied since Adventists traditionally have used the historicist approach for both Daniel and Revelation. Thus they plot all events on a historical line to the end of time.

That approach is rooted in the prophetic chapters of Daniel where each line of prophecy extends from Daniel’s day to the end of time. In 2 the great stone strikes the image and grows until it fills the whole world; in 7, either the son of man (7:27) or the saints (7:13-14) receive the kingdom; in 8 and 9 the sanctuary is restored; in 10-12 Michael stands up and delivers God’s people. In short, in Daniel, the historicist pattern is unmistakable.

Not so in the book of Revelation. Only when one imports the historicist method from Daniel – and there are many echoes from Daniel in the book of Revelation – can one “find” historicism in Revelation. Thus, having imbibed historicism from Daniel, pure historicists interpret the seven churches as seven successive eras of history, with Laodicea being the last. But the Book of Revelation itself doesn’t even hint at such an approach.

Similarly, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 most naturally refers to the second coming of Christ. But Adventist historicists have also seen that passage as a road map of the great disappointment because Ellen White adopts that approach in The Great Controversy. Remarkably, the writings of Ellen White also preserve the contextual understanding of the parable of the 10 virgins as applying to the expectation of the 2nd Advent itself. Ironically, the comments on the parable in the Seventh-day Adventist Commentary don’t say a peep about the historicist application.

Here are the two passages from Ellen White which should allow us to adopt a both/and approach to biblical passages that have been interpreted more than one way:

Historicist Interpretation: “The coming of Christ as our high priest to the most holy place, for the cleansing of the sanctuary, brought to view in Dan. 8:14; the coming of the Son of man to the Ancient of days, as presented in Dan. 7:13; and the coming of the Lord to His temple, foretold by Malachi, are descriptions of the same event; and this is also represented by the coming of the bridegroom to the marriage, described by Christ in the parable of the ten virgins of Matthew 25” (GC 426).

“The proclamation, ‘Behold the Bridegroom cometh,’ in the summer of 1844, led thousands to expect the immediate advent of the Lord. At the appointed time the Bridegroom came, not to the earth, as the people expected, but to the Ancient of days in heaven, to the marriage, the reception of the kingdom. “They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage, and the door was shut.” They were not to be present in person at the marriage; for it takes place in heaven, while they are upon the earth. The followers of Christ are to ‘wait for their Lord, when 20 He will return from the wedding.’ [Luke 12:36] But they are to understand His work, and to follow Him by faith as He goes in before God. It is in this sense that they are said to go in to the marriage.” (GC 427)

Contextual Interpretation: “As Christ sat looking upon the party that waited for the bridegroom, He told His disciples the story of the ten virgins, by their experience illustrating the experience of the church that shall live just before His second coming.” – Christ’s Object Lessons, 406

“The coming of the bridegroom was at midnight – the darkest hour. So the coming of the Christ will take place in the darkest period of this earth's history.” Ibid. 414

In short, the historicist interpretation may be helpful devotionally, but our study guide correctly focuses on the original recipients of the messages, seven very real churches in Asia minor. But regardless of the method of interpretation, one can find helpful personal applications.

These then are the messages to the seven churches. All references are from the NIV:

Ephesus (2:1-7): “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

Smyrna (2:8-11): “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.”

Pergamum (2:12-17): “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 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 21 city – where Satan lives.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

Thyatira (2:18-29): “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’”

26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ – just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Sardis (3:1-6): “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Philadelphia (3:7-13): “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have 22 placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Laodicea (3:14-22): “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

A “diversity” reminder. Another quotation from Ellen White is worth noting, one that again gives us “permission” to differ in our understanding of Scripture: The landmarks in Adventism are simple and secure. Our only problem comes when we try to make everything a landmark.

This quotation consists of the first two paragraphs of the chapter, “In Contact with Others” in the book The Ministry of Healing:

Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing.

So frail, so ignorant, so liable to misconception is human nature, that each should be careful in the estimate he places upon another. We little know the bearing of our acts upon the experience of others. What we do or say may seem to us of little moment, when, could our eyes be opened, we should see that upon it depended the most important results for good or for evil. – The Ministry of Healing, 483 23


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7375
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It has always seemed rather strange that so many descriptions and stories in the Bible are eagerly reinterpreted to have contemporary allusions to whatever era the expositor believes are fitting examples. The original writers were most certainly limited to their own knowledge of the times and could not possibly have seen the many different re-interpretations that would be given.

This is seen with OT prophecies written for a specific situation but changed completely by NT or later “fulfillment.” (The child to be born to the prophet in the book of Isaiah and the prideful king of Tyre which later became Lucifer by the fluke of erroneous translation.)

Many, if not most of assurances found in the Bible are not time dependent as well as the many principles that can be appropriated for all at any time they are found to be comforting.

The Bible has been so often used to be all things to all people at all times that it may have lost some of the true purposes for which it was written, which is mostly historical and written for the readers of that time who needed no reinterpretation

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As a Sabbath School teacher, I find myself often at odds from the get-go with the quarterly; just look at this week: The Church Militant. I’m not a militant, nor a live by the sword, die by the sword person.The authors set us up for what they assume to be the tone of the texts, starting with these odd titles, then assuming that everyone agrees with the ‘marching through history’ timeline of the seven churches. I appreciate Alden Thompson’s review here, giving us an alternative perspective. It was a happy day when our little church group realized that they are not necessarily ‘Laodicea’ just because they are living post-1844 and somebody said so. Even as individuals, we can’t be classed as one of those churches forever, as we all have differing characteristics and spiritual experiences throughout our lives.

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What many Seventh-day Adventist theologians do not understand is that language structures are human constructs.

Our theologians have at best a foggy perception that words are human constructs. Even though most of our theologians have never read Ferdinand de Saussure, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, and other theorists of linguistics and semiotics, there is some familiarity with James Barr’s The Semantics of Biblical Languages (1961), which sets forth common exegetical fallacies that rest upon a misunderstanding of linguistics and semiotics. Ironically, the most eloquent semiotic statement regarding Scripture, perhaps in all of history, is Ellen’s White’s observation that the words of Scripture are not divinely inspired. But Seventh-day Adventists have been uniform in their failure to understand her statement’s semiotic significance or even acknowledge that her statement has semiotic significance. Alberto Timm does a very good job at chronicling 150 years of Seventh-day Adventist ignorance regarding language in his essay about inspiration. His essay is very much a painful read. Contrary to what most Seventh-day Adventists presume, the meaning of words is conventional, arbitrary, unfixed and unstable. Accordingly, not even the words spoken or written by God can be said to be divinely inspired. You will find in the words attributed to God in Scripture the same grammatical errors, lack of clarity, ambiguity, vagueness, and other manifestations of fallibility that you will find in the words attributed directly to the biblical authors, not because God is fallible but because the medium of human language by which He expresses Himself is fallible. To suggest that words possess the capability of being divinely inspired is just as absurd as to suggest that a mailbox, sidewalk, or traffic light can be divinely inspired.

Although there is a foggy perception that words are human constructs, there is no understanding that I have seen that language structures are human constructs. There are a handful of our theologians astute enough to point out, for example, that the meaning of a word in Isaiah is not an interpretive key that informs us what that word means in Leviticus. But language structures, such as the perceived historicist literary pattern in apocalyptic prophecy, are often erroneously described and treated as interpretative keys. We are all excited when a new chiasmus is found in Scripture, but not even a chiasmus can be regarded as an interpretive key. The biblical text is full of literariness, but no literary device should ever be regarded as an interpretive key. There are three reasons for this. First, because the atoms of language structures, i.e. words, are human constructs, language structures themselves are necessarily human constructs. Second, contrary to Flacius’s suggestion in his Clavis Scripturae Sacrae (1567)–(“clavis” means key)–there is no such thing as an interpretive key in the study of hermeneutics. All hermeneutical thinking is circular and does not lend itself to the analogy of a mechanism in which a key unlocks a door. Third, language structures like any other structures can be deconstructed. We witnessed, for example, in the recent debate regarding women’s ordination, a credible (but not incontestable) deconstruction of the hermeneutic of the analogy of faith in the argument that the privileging of some passages of Scripture (specifically Galatians 3:28) over other passages of Scripture is not structurally sound.

I am not attempting to smuggle into the conversation an alternative interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy but merely am attempting to suggest that our caution about what we deduce from the words of Scripture merits a corresponding caution about what we deduce from the language structures of Scripture.

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I have a friend, who, is translating Dead Sea scrolls. He is very upset that the old and newer scrolls don’t say the same thing.

I have been told that there are 12 words that have reversed meaning in the KJ old English.
English speakers struggle with Shakespeare and can not read Chaucer or Beowulf. English evolved beyond readable in 500 years. Hebrew morphed through many different types over the years. Denying this is a big problem.

I have lived with Jews. Reading the bible with out Jewish symbolism is to misunderstand most everything. Symbolism; 2016 English; “Dial 911!” has a meaning that 3000 year ago Jews would not understand. The reverse is also true.

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I wonder how this article would square with Hanz Gutierrez’ Sign, Text, and Reader advocating “a balance and healthy hermeneutics never excludes complexity, paradox, and lightness.”

The atmosphere in our churches could be much healthier if there was less focus on text memorization as the ultimate sign of Christian devotion. Starting with the youngest, all the way down to the adult SS, the definition of “people of the Bible” infers word-for-word Bible quote to any question.

There are, as the quote from EG White indicates, many levels of understanding and experience. We can never impose our personal relationship with Bible hermeneutics on another individual for fear of destroying their faith, as faith is a very personal experience rising out of our understanding. With that in mind, the church should stick to simply reading texts without assigning rock solid interpretations - totally impossible for a church that relies on special revelation as the final word on any meaning from the Bible.

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The war that began in heaven has continued unabated on earth. the episode in Babylon is typical of the tactics down through time. The issue has been and continues to be–Who alone is worthy of worship? Begiling and force are the two weapons of Satan. He infiltrates the church with guile and the nations with greed and power… Revelation is a story of the victory of the Lamb. The question remains, will we join the Lamb come what may? Tom Z

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Carolyn–
I think if you will Re-Read the Philadelphia Church, that IT is the ONE that will usher in the Coming of Christ. The Laodicea church members will MORPH BACK into the Philadelphia Church.
So you ARE Correct! Your fellow-members may BE more Philadelphia, and ones ready for Christ’s Return.

Ron – Chaucer and Wycliffe were contemporaries. By the time of Henry VIII Wycliffe was unreadable also. So required a NEW English Bible Translation.

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Recently, I sent an email to a young pastor who is so institutionalized that he typically mentions the Laodicean message. I told him that it is brow beating since it is used so much.
Now if a survey was taken…as far as exposure, Laodicea would get 1st place (WAY HIGH!), maybe Ephesus would get 2nd (1st love) and Philadelphia would get 3rd place. The other churches…nada. Most don’t even know what the other 4 churches are.
Militant: having or showing a desire or willingness to use strong, extreme, and sometimes forceful methods to achieve something
or
combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.
When I saw the lesson title, I thought of how few SDA are/were military service people since most SDA are CO’s or haven’t served.
To that end they are pacifist but …to issues like WO, LGT, LGBT, IJ, politics they are militant.
Here is the real battle–
2 Corinthians 10:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
2 Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
1 Timothy 1:18 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;
1 Timothy 1:19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:

The SS teacher that led the lesson for our large SS class kept asking the class…how did the observations of Jesus about the churches show the great controversy?
. Most SDA do not even know the main issues of what the great controversy is about. It has been watered down to mean a general conflict between good & evil. Superficiality persists.

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I concur.

The Church Militant begins from top down to the pew. Be cautious of zealous Church Pastors with their oxygenated skewed interpretation of the Bible set biblical histories to simmer read the scum conjure “new” stories cooking with missing biblical euthenics Saffron, Spices, Herbs and Salt of these, too important, to be left out to Generals and Pastors.

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Actually there is a third more meaningful approach similar to a developmental psychosocial orientation.

The reason the seven churches of Revelation resonates so well within us is that we have lived it all in our lives, one way or the other, as it parallels our psychological growth. The church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7), known as the church that has forsaken its first love would reflect the phase in our life when our love is transferred from our nuclear family to first our friends, contemporaries, mentors and then to a life partner. The church of Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), known as the church that would suffer persecution, would reflect the phase in our life when we struggle with internal conflict to establish psychological autonomy from our parents. The church of Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17), known as the church that needed to repent, would reflect our phase of early adulthood when we realize that our life trajectory is at odds with our parents dreams and wishes for us. The church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29), known for having false prophetess, would reflect the phase in our life when our perceptions turn out to be the opposite of what we expected. The church of Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) known as the church that had fallen asleep would reflect the phase in our life known as adolescence. The church of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) known as the church that endured patiently would reflect the phase in our life where our personal gratifications are placed at bay for the betterment of our future. And lastly the church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) the church known for lukewarm faith would reflect the phase of our life when towards the end of our life we now come to terms with life’s disappointments and satisfactions and feel helpless. Some of us even vacillate between stages and at times get fixated in a particular stage.

Has anyone noticed that there is never a religious TV show where a rabbi interprets the NT but there exist a plethora of Sunday TV religious programs from various denominations interpreting the OT? Why is that?

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