HOW THE LETTER MIGHT BEGIN – To the angels of the churches in America write: These are the words of the God in whom you trust.
Of course, there is no such salutation in the book of Revelation, or anywhere else in Scripture for that matter, addressed specifically to the churches in America. For at that time, these churches were only known by God. But after reading the letters to the seven churches one cannot help but wonder what Jesus words to the churches in America today might be. Would there be words of praise or words of rebuke? Would He be walking amongst the candlesticks or be on the outside knocking to be let back in? But we need not speculate, because the spiritual lessons in the letters to the seven churches of the first century AD are just as instructive to the 21st century church (America and around the globe) as they were then.
Background – Colonized by immigrants fleeing religious persecution, the United States of America was established as an independent nation that recognizes religious freedom as a fundamental right of the governed. Few Christians could deny that the United States has been highly favored, blessed and used for good by God. But today, many might think that the church in America needs to “Wake up [and] strengthen what remains and is about to die.” It is certainly true that the church in America lacks the authority, strength, and near universal acceptance that it once had. In fact, today the opposition from the nation’s increasingly pluralistic culture has never been greater. As a result, the American church appears to be facing a crisis at the crossroads of its Christian roots in a post-Christian society. It must, therefore, ask itself whether it will “hold on to what [it has]” and remain “a pillar in the temple of God” or if God will eventually remove its “lampstand from its place?”
Greeting: What’s in A Name – The motto of the United States of America is IN GOD WE TRUST. While this phrase had long been a motto for currency (first appearing on United States coins in 1864), it was not adopted as the national motto until 1956 when the United States Congress adopted it (H. J. Resolution 396) as the official motto and it was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The official seal of the United States, adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782, contains the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum, meaning out of many, one. Traditionally this was understood to mean that out of many states (or colonies) there emerged a single unified nation. But it also suggests that out of many peoples, races, religions, languages, and ancestries there emerged a single people and nation. This is illustrative of the concept of the melting pot for which the country has long been known. Never codified by law, E Pluribus Unum was also considered the de facto motto of the United States until it was replaced by In God We Trust in 1956. Also on the seal are the phrases Annuit cœptis (Latin for He [God] approves of the undertakings) and Novus ordo seclorum (Latin for New Order of the Ages).
Praise or Criticism – Given the current state of the country, and the waning influence of Christian values, one might wonder if God still approves of the undertakings of the church in America? As with the seven churches He knows its deeds (Ephesus), its afflictions (Smyrna), where it lives (Pergamum), its service (Thyatira), its reputation (Sardis), its strength (Philadelphia) and its spiritual temperature (Laodicea). As previously noted, there is unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) no letter to the American churches to look for words of commendation, criticism or correction. But the seven letters in Revelation can still provide the means for the churches in America to diagnose their current condition and the prescription for treatment as needed. The question is will it have ears to hear with enough spiritual discernment to overcome whatever ails it? Figure 11.1 might provide a good diagnostic checklist.
Exhortation – How strong would Christ’s urging need to be? Would it most closely resemble words of rebuke or words of encouragement?
- Remember… repent and do the things you did at first (Ephesus).
- Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life (Smyrna).
- Repent therefore (Pergamum)!
- Only hold on to what you have until I come (Thyatira).
- Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent (Sardis).
- I am coming soon (Philadelphia).
- 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. So be earnest, and repent. 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 him, and he with me (Laodicea).
Warning – How stern would His warning need to be?
- If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (Ephesus).
- 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 (Smyrna).
- I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth (Pergamum).
- I will cast her on a bed of suffering. I will strike her children dead. I will repay each of you according to your deeds (Thyatira).
- 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 (Sardis).
- Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown (Philadelphia).
- Because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Laodicea).
Promise to Overcomers – Is the church in America overcoming or is it being overcome?
- I will give the right to eat from the tree of life (Ephesus).
- Will not be hurt at all by the second death (Smyrna).
- I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it (Pergamum).
- I will give authority over the nations. I will also give him the morning star (Thyatira).
- Will be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels (Sardis).
- I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him 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 him my new name (Philadelphia).
- I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne (Laodicea).
Reflection – The church in America needs to remain dedicated (or rededicate itself) to the principles on which it was founded – continued trust in God so that He approves of its undertakings. Someday, there will be a new order of the ages (the millennium). Will the churches in America be pillars in the temple of God in that order because of their faithfulness until the end?