After the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, He resurrected and showed himself alive by many infallible proofs. He walked on the earth for forty days teaching his disciples the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). Faith, hope, and love were vibrant, and the church was equipped to take the good news of Jesus to the world. Just before Jesus ascended, He promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come and endue the church with power from on high to enable them to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). As Jesus ascended, the angels asked and promised, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit came upon the church which consisted of one hundred and twenty saints gathered in the upper room. They were empowered to proclaim the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:11). The outsiders noticed how joyful the saints were and thought they had been drinking and had become drunk. It was only nine in the morning. The Apostle Peter, a man forgiven of his sins, stood up and preached about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The environment was religious and hostile toward the gospel. However, as a result of this message, three-thousand souls came under conviction by the Holy Spirit, were saved, baptized, and added to the church. This was a mighty move of God.
The method of the early church was to teach the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. The church was in one accord. The saint’s homes were open and filled with hospitality. The believers were united, and there was a commitment to their first love—the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the main attraction of the church at Jerusalem. The saints were praising God and gaining favor with all the people. The Lord continued to add to the church.
At this time, the church was focused on knowing Christ and making Him known, and the message of salvation would not be limited to Jerusalem. Through the book of Acts, the gospel would spread to both Jew and Gentile and be extended beyond Israel to other continents through the work the Apostles Peter and Paul and other servants of the Lord. The book of Acts ends with churches being established and the gospel spreading throughout the world. The joy of the resurrection and God’s life changing power was alive and well—at least for a time in these places. Nearing the end of the first century, the Lord of the church, instructed the Apostle John to write to seven churches in Asia Minor in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. This was approximately forty years after these churches were established. In essence, Jesus gave his churches a “State of Religion” address. Some churches fared better than others.
Five of the seven were called to repentance, and two of them were remaining faithful and were praised. If five of seven (or 71.4%) needed to repent and have their vision renewed, where does that leave us today? Jesus knew the works of every one of His churches. He complimented, corrected, and promised a reward to the overcomer for obedience or godliness. After reviewing the State of Religion for the seven churches in Asia Minor, we have listed 11 statements or questions to consider the condition of our individual churches.
1. Vision: The early church had seen and passed on the vision of the Risen Christ. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ never grows old or irrelevant at any time or in any culture. Does your church have a vision to know Christ and make Him known.
2. Honest Assessment- He knows the works and condition of every single church (Revelation 2:2,9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). Have you considered evaluating your church on biblical standards to get some sense of spiritual health and areas that need improvement and growth?
3. God-called and appointed pastor- He holds the God-called pastor in His hand (Revelation 1:20). Are the churches seeking the Lord for a pastor or looking for the pastor to be the Savior? Both church and God-called preachers need to be prayerful and obedient to God in filling this office in the church. When the right man is in the hand of Christ to pastor the church, there can be a wonderful and blessed union. The church has the responsibility to care for and pray for the pastor.
4. Love: (Ephesus) Has the church lost its first love for the Risen Savior? You can have right doctrine and moral purity without having a passion for the Risen Savior. The Lord is looking for more than formalism. He is looking for passionate followers of Jesus and for His disciples to love one another!
5. Commitment in the midst of External Conflicts/Persecution-(Smyrna- Good Report) Are we prepared to remain faithful in the midst of persecution? The congregation at Smyrna was facing slander by religious Jews, would suffer, and be imprisoned. They were encouraged to remain faithful to the point of death.
6. Focus on the Family- What are the state of the families in our congregations? (Pergamum) The doctrine of Balaam consisted of seduction of Moabite women with Israelite men in order to commit adultery and intermarriage. As a result, the women invited the men to the sacrifices of their gods, their feasts, and to worship false gods (Numbers 25:1-2). How are we promoting a godly seed where believers marry believers, worship in their homes, and make disciples of their children?
7. Internal Conflict- How are we laying a foundation of sound doctrine? The churches in Asia Minor were plagued with the false teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14-15). This consists of proactively teaching the truth of the gospel and giving a defense of the hope that lies within us with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15). Also, are personal preferences of individuals or groups within the church creating conflict and confusion in the church?
8. Church Leadership and Moral Authority- (Thyatira)-Are we allowing the roles of church leadership to be usurped and caving into the pressures of the sexual revolution in the world? A woman was given the name “Jezebel” in this church. She considered herself a prophetess and was teaching the congregation. She was teaching and deceiving Christ’s servants into committing sexual immorality. She was also promoting food sacrificed to idols. Are our churches being led by faithful men who are being faithful to their wives and families?
9. Spiritual Life and Fruit- (Sardis) Are we teaching the reality of genuine conversion and are we awake to the overwhelming need of evangelism? The church at Sardis has a reputation for being alive, but in reality, they were dead. The church is also encouraged to wake up and strengthen what remains, which is about to die. This church was not in a good place spiritually even though it had outward signs of life and activity. Numbers and programs do not always mean there is spiritual fruit. Baptist churches throughout history have stood for regenerate church membership. You must be born again.
10. Evangelism and Missions- Is the church actively involved making disciples locally and around the world? How are the church members on the go and making the most of opportunities to advance the gospel? (Philadelphia) This church was given doors of opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. How are we advancing the kingdom and is the current state of our church one that would be worth exporting to the world?
11. Holiness or Worldliness- Has the church lost its vision to come out of the world and be separate? Is a state of worldliness or being “lukewarm” a description of the church? Where there is no vision the people perish. The Risen Lord Jesus Christ, Conqueror of death, hell, and the grave, Binder of the strong man on earth, and soon coming Bridegroom of the church is our Vision. Does He have our attention and affection or are we allured by the things of the world?
As we consider the state of religion for our Missionary Baptist Churches, we must remember that every church is autonomous and in a different place spiritually. Further, lest we become discouraged, God will be working through His church until the end of the age. His name will be made great among all nations (Malachi 1:11). The church is the only institution who has been commissioned by Jesus to take the gospel to the world. Take heart, church of the living God. Take heart, dear pastor. We all have work to do. In case we find ourselves discouraged and ready to give up, it would be wise for us to hear the reality God shared with Elijah. Elijah, filled with a zeal for God and on the run due to the fear of man, was counseled from the cave. God said, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” Elijah thought he was all alone in serving God. The Lord basically told Elijah He had a whole lot more going on than Elijah knew about or could fathom. Be encouraged and keep looking to Jesus. Ephesians 3:20 reminds us, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”