I like to be right.
There, I admitted it. I think most of us think it sounds arrogant or somehow ‘unchristian’ to say such a thing but the fact is, most of us like being right. We like knowing the facts are on our side. We like knowing that what we believe is true. In fact, everyone in the universe thinks they are right. The problem arises when we realize not everyone has the same opinion. That is when we engage in discussions to prove just how right we are.
As a movement the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ have often prided themselves on being able to ‘get it right.’ But is this what we are called as the Church to do? Did Jesus commission us to get it right? To answer this question, let’s look at a Biblical church as a test case; a church that nearly always ‘got it right.’
The Church in Ephesus
When you study the church in Ephesus you realize that their lineage reads like an all-star roster of Biblical proportions. The church was planted by Paul, the guy who wrote half of the books in our New Testament, and Apollos, a man Luke describes as “eloquent,” “competent” and “bold” (see Acts 18:24-26). Timothy, who has two books of the Bible named after him, also ministered in Ephesus, as did the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved,’ the Apostle John. With such men as ‘founding fathers’ it is little wonder that the church succeeded in such a might way.
Take a moment and read Acts 19 to see the impact of the church in Ephesus. It was so dramatic that idol-makers were losing business because of the impact of the Gospel on the local culture. Imagine a church being planted in Las Vegas and casinos and strip-joints were forced to close shop because of the change in the lives of the city populace. That was the impact of the church in Ephesus. So great was the work, that Paul stayed there longer (two years) than he did in any city where he planted a church. Perhaps this is why the church in Ephesus receives so much attention in the New Testament. Not only do we read of her beginning in Acts, but we have Paul’s letter to the Ephesians as well as two of Paul’s letters to Timothy, who ministered in Ephesus. I would dare say that if Ephesus Christian Church existed today, we would all flock to it to see how church should be done. But she doesn’t exist, which means something, somewhere went wrong. To discover that, we must look at the final New Testament reference to the church in Ephesus: Revelation 2.
Ephesus was Good at Getting It Right in Most Areas
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who are apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” – Revelation 2:1-3
What would a letter directly from Jesus written to your congregation look like? I hope mine would start off as well as the one Jesus writes to Ephesus does. Notice all the things Ephesus was doing well:
- Good work ethic
- Patiently enduring
- Cannot bear evil people
- Test false apostles (in other words, they were committed to doctrinally pure teaching)
- Have not grown weary
What a list of accomplishments! From the outside Ephesus looked like the ideal Church. With hard working members, doctrinally pure teaching, enduring persecution with dignity, this was THE church to belong to and get involved. For those of us with a Restoration Movement background, their goal for doctrinal purity based on the Apostles’ teaching resounds deeply within us. If we lived in the first century we would be point at Ephesus saying, “That is what God’s Church is supposed to look like!”
But Jesus isn’t finished with His letter yet.
Ephesus Got The Main Thing Wrong
“But, I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first. If not I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:4-5
Ouch! Imagine this letter being read aloud in your congregation. Can’t you see the chests puffing out in pride, only to be deflated by these final words? Can’t you see the nervous glances around the auditorium as people start to contemplate the meaning of ‘you have left your first love?’ You may even think of a few individuals who would be defensive and try to justify themselves with phrases like, ‘We show our love by working hard! We show our love by being committed to proper teaching! We show our love by hating evil deeds!’
Lest you think that I am proposing we need to be soft on things like doctrine and service, let me assure you I am not, and neither was Jesus. The problem that Ephesus had is the same problem I have seen in more than one church: They loved pure doctrine more than they loved Jesus. They love being right more than they loved people. They valued the work that went into the Great Commission more than the commission itself. They had lost sight of their first love, and Jesus, who sees the motive behind the action, lovingly rebuked them for it
Our Ephesus Moment
I believe that our brotherhood of churches finds themselves at a similar crossroads in history that the church in Ephesus did. Like Ephesus, we look into a future clouded by uncertain times. The American church may be heading for a period of persecution as more and more of our rights are suppressed by earthly government. I have no doubt many of our brothers will stand firm (I’ve seen their stubbornness in board meetings!). I also have no doubt that doctrinal purity will always remain a hallmark of our movement. But, I must ask this question: What do we love more? Do we value being right more than we value King Jesus? Do we value doctrinal purity more than the lost soul in search of grace? I pray that we do not, and that we return to the roots of Christianity: an intense love for Christ and His Bride.
There is hope. Our lampstand is still burning. Jesus has not removed it, yet. Let us return to our first love.