Several years ago John Stott wrote an excellent little book on the seven letters in Revelation 2-3, entitled, “What Christ thinks of the Church.” Sad to say, there are some today who purport to be either church growth experts or skilled ecclesiastical analysts and/or consultants who honestly don’t seem to care much about what Christ thinks of the church. Yes, that sounds a bit harsh on my part, but let me explain.
I’ve often lamented what I call the loss of the “functional” authority of Scripture in the body of Christ in our day. Most Christians are diligent to affirm that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and practice. But you could never tell that from the way they actually structure their churches or formulate their beliefs or cast their vision or shepherd their sheep. In other words, there is a vast chasm separating their theological affirmation of what the Bible is, as God’s Word, and how they employ the biblical text in shaping the strategy and expression of ministry. All too often, the Bible bears a token authority that rarely translates into a functional guide and governor, so to speak, that dictates and directs what we are to believe and how we are to be God’s people in a postmodern world.
So, when I say that certain folk don’t appear to care much about what Christ thinks of the church, I have in mind the way in which they elevate sociological trends and marketing surveys and demographic studies, together with the “felt needs” of the congregation, above the principles and truths of Scripture itself. That’s not to say we can’t learn from the former, only that an undue focus on them often leads to the neglect of Scripture and even the abandonment of clear biblical guidelines on how to “do church”.
I feel considerable energy on this point because of what I see in Revelation 2:1. There we read, "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.’”
Are you as moved as I am by the fact that these are the “words” of Christ himself (lit., “these things he says”)? Yes, all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). Every statement in the Bible is the revelatory “word” of our great God and Savior. But these seven letters are the direct and explicit address of the risen Christ to his people. He addresses his Church in “words”: statements, assertions, propositional utterances, theological concepts, doctrinal truths, ethical demands, etc. We would do well to heed what he says!
But second, I want you to notice how Jesus is described. Earlier in Revelation 1:12ff. John is granted a vision of the glorified Christ. The significant thing is that each of the seven letters in chapters two and three begins with a description of our Lord taken from that remarkable vision. (Others have also argued that each description is uniquely appropriate to the situation of that particular church.)
The letter to the church in Ephesus proceeds from him who “holds” the seven stars in his right hand and who “walks” in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. The meaning of this symbolism is given in the immediately preceding verse (Rev. 1:20).
When John turned he saw “seven golden lampstands,” a clear allusion to Zech. 4:2,10. Most believe that the lampstand in Zechariah with its seven lamps symbolizes the temple and by extension the faithful within Israel. Here in Revelation the lampstands represent the church. The church is to serve as a light to the world. In the middle of these lampstands is the risen Christ. “Part of Christ’s priestly role is to tend the lampstands. The Old Testament priest would trim the lamps, remove the wick and old oil, refill the lamps with fresh oil, and relight those that had gone out. Likewise, Christ tends the ecclesial lampstands by commending, correcting, exhorting, and warning . . .in order to secure the churches’ fitness for service as lightbearers in a dark world” (Beale, 208-09).
What is of special note to us is the advance made from the description in 1:13,16 to that of 2:1. Jesus not only “has” the stars, he “holds” (lit., grasps) them. He not only “stands” in the midst of the lampstands, he “walks” among them! The Lordship of Christ over his people is not passive, distant, or indifferent. It is active, immanent, and intimate. Our Lord patrols the churches with an intense and ever present awareness of all thoughts, deeds, and activities. Thus it is no surprise that each letter begins with the ominous, “I know your deeds” (2:2,9,13,19; 3:1,8,15).
The move from “has” to “holds” and from “stands” to “walks” is designed to highlight both the sovereignty of Christ over the church and his loving presence and unfailing ministry within it.
He “holds” or “grasps” the church because it belongs to him. He owns it. He has redeemed it by his blood. At no time does the church slip from his grasp or elude his grip or operate under its own authority. As difficult as church life often becomes, Christ never ceases to be its Sovereign. As disillusioning as human behavior within the church can be, it ever remains “his” body.
But more important still is the fact that he “walks” among the lampstands. He is present in and among his people. He guards and protects and preserves the church. He is never, ever absent! No service is conducted at which he fails to show up. No meal is served for which he does not sit down. No sermon is preached that he does not evaluate. No sin is committed of which is he unaware. No individual enters an auditorium of whom he fails to take notice. No tear is shed that escapes his eye. No pain is felt that his heart does not share. No decision is made that he does not judge. No song is sung that he does not hear.
How dare we build our programs and prepare our messages and hire our staffs and discipline our members as if he were distant or unaware of every thought, impulse, word, or decision! How dare we cast a vision or write a doctrinal statement or organize a worship service as if the Lord whose church it is were indifferent to it all!
Do you care “What Christ thinks of the Church”? Or are you more attuned to the latest trend in worship, the most innovative strategy for growth, the most “relevant” way in which to engage the surrounding culture? Yes, Jesus cares deeply about worship. Of course he wants the church to grow. And he longs to see the culture redeemed for his own glory. All the more reason to pray that God might quicken us to read and heed the “words” of Christ to the church in Ephesus, then, and to the church now, whatever its name, denomination, or size. It obviously matters to him. Ought it not to us as well?