“The Holy, Catholic Church”

The first entry in this series can be found here.
The previous entry can be found here.

The Apostle’s Creed–one of the earliest, non-canonical statements of faith we possess—states, “I believe in . . . the holy catholic church.” And in the version i accessed on the internet, the word catholic has a note appended to it: “that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places.” And what we have clearly seen throughout the past seven posts in our study of Revelation is that Revelation 2:1-3:22 describes “the holy, catholic church.”

Now, i know what you’re thinking: “How can those chapters be describing ‘the holy, catholic church’ when only two of them are depicted as holy?”

It’s easy. The number seven represents perfection/completeness. Remember that Revelation is apocalyptic—highly symbolic. In this case, it means that the completeness of the church throughout all of post-atonement redemptive history is depicted by these seven churches. All local churches today will find some common ground with some aspect of all of these churches at any given point in their history.

This is why i decided to add this post before moving into chapter 4. We need to look at all seven letters as a whole and discover what Christ loves witnessing in His church and what He hates observing in His church. You will note that the main section headings say “our” churches instead of His churches. This is because when we look at the situation, we are looking at the local gathering where we worship; when Christ looks at the equation, He is looking at it through the lens of history, as being the one who is outside of time.

Things Jesus loves to see in “our” churches

There was a heresy in the first one-hundred and fifty years of Christianity, propagated by a man named Marcion, who taught:

[Yahweh] is also vindictive, constantly keeping an account on those who disobey him, and punishing them. In short, Yahweh is a god of justice—and of an arbitrary justice at that.
Over against Yahweh, and far above him, is the Father of Christians. This God is not vindictive, but loving. This God requires nothing of us, but rather gives everything freely, including salvation. This God does not seek to be obeyed, but to be loved. It is out of compassion for us—Yahweh’s creatures—that the Supreme God has sent his Son to save us.

(Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, vol. 1 [New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010], 74.)

In other words, Marcion taught falsely that the Old Testament teaches a god of wrath, whereas the New Testament teaches a god of love. He explained that these two beings are at odds with each other.

In honesty, it is no wonder that Marcion might come to this conclusion. It does not take a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies to recognize that the tone of the New Testament is much more positive than that of the Old Testament. For crying out loud, compare the last verse of the Old Testament—in English Bibles—with the last verse of the New Testament:

  • Malachi 4:6 (HCSB, emphasis added)
    And he will turn the hearts of fathers to ⌊their⌋ children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.
  • Revelation 22:21 (HCSB, emphasis added)
    The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Now, i don’t say this to say that Marcion was correct. By no means! I bring this up to say i can understand why people might be led to this conclusion apart from a faithful teacher.

However, at the same time, i fear that we could be in danger of the anti-Marcion heresy nowadays. I define this view as follows: “The God of the Old Testament was wrathful, and the God of the New Testament is the same.”

I purposefully end it there, because that is why it would be a heresy. In our zeal to prove that the God of the Testaments are the same, we must not focus exclusively on proving that the God of the New Testament is wrathful like He is in the Old Testament and fail to focus on the equally valid point that the God of the Old Testament is loving and gracious like He is in the New Testament. There needs to be a balance, or else we are blaspheming the character of God who is simple. Matthew Barrett helpfully explains,

Yet if God were made up of parts—a composite, complex, and compound being—then [H]e would be a limited being if for no other reason than that parts make God divisible . . . Moreover, if something is divisible, then it is capable of being corrupted as well . . . In the end, simplicity is essential to a God immune to division and corruption.”

(Matthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019], 80.)

In short, if we talk about God’s wrath apart from His other attributes, we are dissecting a being incapable of being dissected, and as a result, we are misrepresenting Him.

“But,” you insist, “I thought you were talking about what Jesus loves about His church?”

I am. I just wanted to take a few paragraphs to try to prove that an essential part of God’s nature is grace and encouragement. Jesus is not merely out to smash everybody who offends Him. Two texts will seek to prove this before we dive into Jesus’ specific encouragements:

  • Romans 15:4 (HCSB, emphasis added)
    For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1 (HCSB, emphasis added)
    Finally then, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you must walk and please God—as you are doing—do so even more.

Perseverance (2:2, 8-10, 13, 19; 3:10-11)

The first thing Jesus loves to see in “our” churches is perseverance. And technically, the texts cited below are only five of twelve examples in these two chapters; each letter to the church ends with a promise to the victor, the “one who perseveres until the end.” Jesus wants to see perseverance in His people. He loves it when the people in your church are involved and committed, not only to the weekly meetings in the building but also to the saints throughout the week.

  • Revelation 2:2 (HCSB)
    I know your works, your labor, and your endurance
  • Revelation 2:8-10 (HCSB)
    Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna: The First and the Last, the One who was dead and came to life, says:  I know your affliction and poverty, yet you are rich. ⌊I know⌋ the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
  • Revelation 2:13 (HCSB)
    I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives.
  • Revelation 2:19 (HCSB)
    I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.
  • Revelation 3:10-11 (HCSB)
    Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.

Jesus notices when His people persevere, and He encourages them to continue. In essence, this is the reason for all seven letters in Revelation 2:1-3:22. Life is tough, as the rest of the book will undoubtedly prove, and Jesus Himself is encouraging His people to persevere.

Specifically, in those who take their calling seriously, Jesus is saying, “Your toil does not go unnoticed. Keep it up!”

Would Jesus agree that your church is full of people who persevere even when it gets tough?

Testing of those who claim to be teachers (2:2)

The second thing Jesus loves to see in “our” churches is when we make sure that those who are teaching us are teaching us accurately:

  • Revelation 2:2 (HCSB)
    You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars.

Jesus wants us to test our teachers to make sure that they are not just idly talking. What they say should align with the text. In the original, historical context—remember that these seven were real, physical churches in the first-century—John the Apostle was living, and as such others could have called themselves apostles in a deceptive way. John says a similar thing in 1 John 4:1, and we must believe that this is still applicable today. The apostles were the first teachers in the church.

Jesus loves to see us testing our teachers, and He loves it, even more, when we act rightly on what we discover from our testing of them. If we find them truthful, we must listen and submit. If we find them false, we must challenge them, and either do what we can to fix the situation or else remove ourselves from that local body of worship. Jesus will smile upon us for this.

But to do this, we must have a grasp on theology and Scripture, an accurate knowledge of our own hearts, and humility. Just because your pastor preaches premillennialism and you believe in postmillennialism, does not mean you should seek to get your pastor removed. This is discussing Gospel-specific situations.

Would Jesus say that your church is faithfully testing its teachers?

Growth in godliness (2:19)

The third thing Jesus loves to see in “our” churches is growth in godliness:

  • Revelation 2:19 (HCSB)
    I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.

It’s the last phrase i want to key in on here. Jesus encourages this church—and thus the holy, catholic church—to grow in godliness. It is not pleasing to God for His people to stay stagnant in their faith. Jesus expects His people to grow and mature. If we are more knowledgeable in the Word of God—the Gospel—more prayerful, and more anxious for Christ to return today than we were last year, then Jesus can encourage us with the words, “Your last works are greater than the first.”

Are the people in your church—and yourself—growing in godliness?

Love (2:19)

The fourth thing Jesus loves to see in “our” churches is love:

  • Revelation 2:19 (HCSB)
    I know your works—your love, faithfulness . . .

Jesus admitted Himself that the greatest commandment is love toward God, and the second is love toward neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). John records Jesus saying, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Look back at the verse: “I know your works—your love.” All work is action. Love is no different. When Jesus says He loves the love in the church at Thyatira, He is not saying, “I know that you guys greet each other more warmly on Sunday mornings today than you used to.” He is most assuredly not saying, “I know that you guys have more fuzzy, euphoric feelings about each other on Sunday mornings than you used to.” He is saying, “You guys are moved to sacrifice for each other more than you used to be. Keep it up!”

How is the sacrificial love in your local church?

Faith (2:19)

The fifth thing Jesus loves to see in “our” churches is faith:

  • Revelation 2:19 (HCSB)
    I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance.

The verse—in this specific translation—reads faithfulness, but it contains a footnote that says, “or faith.” I would add that the text concludes by saying, and endurance, so it is likely that Jesus is thankful for their enduring love, faith, and service.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times (and if I’ve never written it here before, you’ll see it repeatedly in the days and weeks and months ahead), but as Christians, we do not graduate from the Gospel. If we are called to endure in the faith, we must keep close to the object our faith—Jesus Christ. But where is Jesus proclaimed? Yeah—in the Gospel.

For this reason, Jesus loves to see the Gospel being preached in our churches. How much faith can there be in a church where the Gospel is not proclaimed?

Would Jesus encourage your church in its faith and the preaching of the Gospel?

Repentance (2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19)

The sixth thing Jesus loves to see in “our” churches is repentance:

  • Revelation 2:5 (HCSB)
    Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
  • Revelation 2:16 (HCSB)
    Therefore repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
  • Revelation 2:21-22 (HCSB)
    I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.
  • Revelation 3:3 (HCSB)
    Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you.
  • Revelation 3:19 (HCSB)
    As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent.

Even the churches that are not in a healthy place are encouraged by Jesus. But the encouragement is to change. I would be remiss if i didn’t explicitly state that the most loving thing you can do for someone is to tell them they are wrong, and if they continue without changing there will be severe consequences. By Jesus telling the churches to repent, He is proving His love for them. (In our culture we have redefined love to mean that telling someone they are wrong is hateful, and unfortunately, this attitude has snuck into the church as well; we must cast this thinking out, or else the Bible will not make sense in many locations.) Jesus loves His church enough to tell the worst—“farthest gone”—people within it to repent and turn to Him. If they don’t, then hell is waiting, so it is quite loving of Him to warn them that they are perilously hanging over the pit of hell. Jesus tells the church at Laodicea—and the others as well—the result of refusing to repent: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth” (3:16, emphasis added).

To be clear, it’s not just the “sinners” who need to repent. Even those who are reading this and thinking, “Well at least I’m not like Jezebel from Thyatira,” need to repent of the pride in their hearts; it is only by God’s grace that you are not a false teacher; and Jesus even offered Jezebel time to repent (2:21), so you’re no better than she.

Does your church exhibit repentance that would make Jesus encouraging toward you?

Righteousness (3:4)

The seventh thing Jesus loves to see in “our” churches is righteousness. In the letter to the church at Sardis, Jesus says:

  • Revelation 3:4 (HCSB)
    But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy.

The motif of clean, white clothes is common in Revelation (3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 19:14) and in each occurrence, it refers to righteousness, whether of the saints or of Christ. Jesus is righteous—and those found in Him are clothed in His righteousness. Jesus doesn’t fall for false righteousness. He encourages those who are truly living out of their position of justification in Him.

Does Jesus view the members of your church—and yourself—as righteous?

Confessing Christ (3:8)

The eighth thing Jesus loves to see in “our” churches is people actively confessing Christ:

  • Revelation 3:8 (HCSB)
    I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.

The church at Philadelphia did not deny Jesus. Or, in other words, they confessed Him. We must be vocal in our belief in Christ. If we could live our whole life without people knowing that we belong to Christ, then we are doing something wrong. In essence, we are passively denying Christ.

Would Jesus say that your church confesses Him in the world?

Things Jesus hates to see in “our” churches

As briefly touched on in the introduction, a lot of the churches in Revelation 2-3 are nothing to emulate. However, they still represent the “holy, catholic church.” Also, Jesus loves to see repentance in His people.

He says He hates certain things in the church because He loves the church enough to tell it the truth. If sin is never pointed out, then people don’t know what is sin, and they will blindly continue in their ways all the way to the grave, and to the judgment and hell beyond. The most loving thing a person can do—and Jesus sets the example for us here in Revelation 2-3—is to confront people about sin.

Jesus loves His church, and the following eight things that disgust Him in our churches proves that He loves His church. He wouldn’t confront the church if He didn’t love it.

Forsaking love (2:4)

The first thing Jesus hates to see in “our” churches is when we turn our backs on our first love:

  • Revelation 2:4 (HCSB)
    But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love ⌊you had⌋ at first.

Jesus is the church’s first love. Jesus hates it when the church passes over, ignores, walks away from, or otherwise decides that He is not essential. In reality, this is probably the root cause of most other ailments within our churches. It’s undoubtedly the root cause of the other seven items discussed in this post:

People turn to false teaching because the Gospel of Jesus is not enough.
People turn to false religion because the grace and forgiveness found in Christ are not enough.
People turn to idolatry because they think comfort and security are better found somewhere other than Jesus.
People turn to sexual immorality because they are not finding their fulfillment in Jesus.
People make religion an external show because they are scared to let Jesus into the deepest recesses of their hearts.
People become useless because they don’t trust Jesus enough to do anything with their lives.
People become prideful because they forget that Jesus was the most humble person in existence.

The solution to all of these ailments is the preaching of the Gospel. If we want our churches to be healthy, we must never depart from the Gospel of Christ. We must never elevate people or buildings or mission over the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Would Jesus say your church is holding onto its love for Christ, or would He say that you have forsaken it? Jesus hates it when we abandon our first love.

False teaching (2:6, 14-15, 20)

The second thing Jesus hates to see in “our” churches is false teaching:

  • Revelation 2:6 (HCSB)
    Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
  • Revelation 2:14-15 (HCSB)
    But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
  • Revelation 2:20 (HCSB)
    But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

False teaching is what leads to false religion, false practice, sin, and eventually hell. Jesus does not take false teaching lightly. His heart is that the false teacher would be convicted of his/her false teaching and repent and believe, but Jesus will punish the false teachers who refuse to repent.

Is there false teaching in your church? Jesus hates false teaching.

False religion (2:6, 15)

The third thing Jesus hates to see in “our” churches is false religion.

  • Revelation 2:6 (HCSB)
    Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
  • Revelation 2:15 (HCSB)
    In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

I keep this separate from false teaching because Jesus emphasizes in 2:6 that He hates “the practices of the Nicolaitans.” False teaching always leads to false applications, which can be just as dangerous as the teaching itself. This is partly due to the simple fact that if the doctrine teaches, “Do all you can to be a good person to get into heaven” (not that the Nicolaitans were teaching this), it removes Jesus from the equation. And if Jesus is removed from the equation, then the end result is hell. Practices have consequences, so false religion—which emphasizes practice—also has consequences.

Would Jesus be pleased with the practice in your church, or would He hate it?

Idolatry (2:14, 20)

The fourth thing Jesus hates to see in “our” churches is idolatry:

  • Revelation 2:14-15 (HCSB)
    But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. 
  • Revelation 2:20 (HCSB)
    But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

It is an early theme of the Old Testament that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). This does not mean that He is guilty of sin. It does mean that as the highest being in existence, to put anything ahead of Him is to lie about Him. If i worship a tree, then i am saying that that tree is more worthy than God; but God created that tree; He is right to be jealous. This is why the Westminster Shorter Catechism states in answer to Question 1: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” God is the only one who deserves glory.

Jesus is God. As such, Jesus is the only one who deserves glory. To worship anything else is to provoke His wrath. This is why Jesus hates idolatry.

Would Jesus say that your church is free from idolatry?

Sexual immorality (2:14, 20)

The fifth thing Jesus hates to see in “our” churches is sexual immorality:

  • Revelation 2:14-15 (HCSB)
    But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. 
  • Revelation 2:20 (HCSB)
    But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

Paul explains the theological reason for marriage in Ephesians 5, and as such proves beyond a shadow of a doubt why He says that sexual immorality is so sinful in 1 Corinthians 6. To commit sexual sin is to paint a blasphemous picture of redemption.

This goes for all forms of sexual immorality. Heterosexuality—outside of a marriage covenant. Homosexuality. Bisexuality. Prostitution. Incest. Bestiality. Pornography. It is all blaspheming the picture of the joyful, ecstatic union between Christ and the church that is supposed to be pictured by the union of a man and his wife.

If our churches take a weak stance on this topic, then Jesus will not smile upon them. Does your church permit sexual immorality (in the sense of saying it is okay to partake of)? Jesus hates sexual sin.

Again, i would be remiss if i failed to quote 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, because Jesus does love to see growth and improvement in His people in this area, even though perfection will never be achieved in this life (cf. Matthew 5:27-28),

Finally then, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you must walk and please God—as you are doing—do so even more.  For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality,  so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor,  not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God.  This means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you.  For God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification.  Therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you His Holy Spirit.

Paul the Apostle, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

So, if you are growing, and gradually putting sin to death in this area, be encouraged.
But if you reject this, and say, “I don’t think Jesus will judge me for being myself with my sexuality,” then i warn you to beware, because you’re not rejecting me—you’re rejecting God.

External religiosity (3:1)

The sixth thing Jesus hates to see in “our” churches is external religiosity:

  • Revelation 3:1 (HCSB)
    I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.

This is different from false religion because false religion is hardworking. External religiosity is another word for hypocrisy. In other words: It talks a good talk and might even convince people that it is real Christianity, but in reality, it is dead. This is not a healthy place to be.

Would Jesus say that your church practices true religion, or would He accuse your church of hypocrisy? Jesus hates external religiosity.

Uselessness (3:16)

The seventh thing Jesus hates to see in “our” churches is uselessness:

  • Revelation 3:16 (HCSB)
     So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.

As the church of God, we are called to either patch up peoples’ spiritual wounds with the Gospel (hot = heal), or encourage people with the Gospel (cold = refresh). When we lose sight of the Gospel, the simple, distressing fact of the matter is that we become useless to God. He heals and refreshes people (spiritually) through the Gospel. To depart from the faithful preaching/teaching of the Gospel is to allow your church to become useless.

Would Jesus say that your church is useful? Or would He charge it with uselessness? I pray that it is the former. Jesus uses violent language when it comes to useless churches.

Pride (3:17)

The eighth thing Jesus hates to see in “our” churches is pride:

  • Revelation 3:17 (HCSB)
     Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked,.

Pride disgusts Jesus because pride says, “I got this on my own.” The problem is that Jesus Himself said, “You can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5). As i said earlier, we never graduate from the Gospel. If we try to live our Christian life apart from Christ, then we are acting with incredible pride. Disgusting pride. Remember that this verse comes on the heels of Jesus warning Laodicea that He will spit them out of His mouth.

Would Jesus say that your church is humble, or would He charge it with pride? Jesus hates pride.

How should we then live?

So at this point, i will not be surprised if you are worried about the state of your church. Don’t stop reading yet!
And if you stumbled upon this post and read this far, and you are neither a member of a church nor a member of Christ, i beg you to keep reading for another minute.

The reason why these two chapters exist is so that Christ can encourage His church in the way He wants it to walk. If your church is currently falling short in any of these areas, Jesus holds out His hand, saying, “If you repent, I will come in and fellowship with you” (cf. 3:20).

We must heed the call of Christ to repent. He loves His church. In Revelation 5:9, we read, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed ⌊people⌋ for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Simply put, Christ purchased the church. He will get those who are His.

Believe in His sacrifice—recommit yourself in that belief every day—and repent from sin daily as well. Pray for your friends and family, church members, and the “holy, catholic church” that we would all live lives pleasing to Jesus Christ—the Lord of the church.

He died. He rose! He is worthy! Give yourself wholly to Him for the rest of your life!

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura
Sola Gratia
Sola Fide
Pro Ecclesia

Thanks for reading.

The next entry can be found here.

2 thoughts on ““The Holy, Catholic Church”

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