Non-revelation 2 & 3:
for Those Who Believe in Hierarchical Government
READ FIRST :In the book of Revelation, chapter 1, verse11, the Apostle John was told to write his Vision and send it to seven literal churches in Asia. While the entire book is prophetic, the messages to churches in Revelation 2 &3 must have also accurately described the conditions in those seven churches at that time. Each message was sent to a congregation in a specific city which John would have known. If the messages were only prophecies for the distant future, would our Savior use current church names? No, but He told John to actually send the messages to churches.
How does hierarchical or "top down" church government fit into Revelation 2 & 3? Where is the organization over the ministry of these churches? Was there a "regional director"? These congregations were within 100 miles of each other, so one man could have easily been in charge of all of them. If the Apostle John had been trained in hierarchical government by Christ, would not he know to put someone in charge of an area with so many problems? But there seems to be no evidence of any of these things.
Revelation 2 & 3 are messages from our Savior directly to His people! He promises rewards to individuals who overcome and punishments to those who do not. There is never a mention of a human hierarchy that will come in and "clean up" the problems, replace ministers, or disfellowship the sinners and false teachers. Each message is written to the "angel" of a church. The Greek word here is aggelos, which means "messenger" and is sometimes used to represent a human messenger (Matt 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24,27; 9:52; Jms 2:25). This word is never used as a mark of authority over another. The job of the messenger was to convey the message to the church (Greek ekklesiaan assembly of believers).
Obviously, each of these congregations could have had overseers (bishops), pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelists, ministers, healers, administrators, helpers, and other functions which our Savior promised to place in his church. But we simply do not find any hierarchical structure where some human has authority over other congregational leaders and where members are cast out of the congregation by one man’s decision. (For a detailed study of this matter, write for our article How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?)
1"To the pastor over the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2"I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those in other groups who are evil. And you have discredited brethren who have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and labeled those brethren liars; 3and you have persevered and have patience, and have continually promoted "the work" and have not become weary. 4Nevertheless I have this against your members, that they have left their first love. 5Tell them to remember therefore the amount of tithes and offerings from where they have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else someone from Church Administration will come to them quickly and disfellowship themunless CAD decides that they have repented. 6But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the "independents," which headquarters told you to hate. 7He who has an ear, let him hear what the person ‘over him’ says. To him who stays in the organization, I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."’
8"And to the pastor over the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. Also, fret not that you almost never hear from headquarters. They are very busy. Spiritually rich, physically poor, persecuted churches are a low priority for them. They trust Me to take care of you."’
12"And to the pastor over the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: 13"I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16Repent, or else headquarters will take action. If you, the pastor, cannot get control of the situation, you will be demoted or transferred to Smyrna. Those whom Church Administration determines to be ‘continuing in sin’ will be disfellowshipped. Big contributors, prominent men and pretty women who are solidly ‘behind headquarters’ need not be fearful if they have a little sexual immorality or other sin that is not well knownyou may even be surprised at Church Administration’s understanding of the need for mercy in such cases. We would not disfellowship someone if it might really hurt the "work" in Pergamos. 17He who has an ear, let him hear what the person ‘over him’ says. To him who stays in the organization I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it (and of course, those over him)."’
18"And to the pastor over the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: 19"I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. 20Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Therefore, John will come to Thyatira before this letter arrives to publicly mark and disfellowship both Jezebel, and you, the pastor, for allowing her. Others loyal to headquarters will come during the next few months in order to retain as much of the congregation as possible. 23Even though there are many old letters in Headquarters files complaining about you and Jezebel, we ignored them because they were all "in a bad attitude." 24Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, you are still responsible to sacrifice and give more to get the work in Thyatira going again. 25But hold fast to headquarters till I come. 26And he who stays in the organization, and follows it’s instructions until the end, to him I will give power over other people in the organization27‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’as I also have received from My Father; 28and whoever has a ‘big job’ in the Work now, will also have a ‘big job’ in the God’s Kingdom. 29He who has an ear, let him hear what the person ‘over him’ says."’
1"And to the pastor over the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 3Remember therefore how you have received and heard; dig out and study old hierarchical literature; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, a visiting evangelist will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour he will come upon you; but he will kick out those losers who do not measure up. 4You have a few names even in Sardis who are 100% behind the organization, and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5He who remains loyal to the organization shall be clothed in white garments, and church administration will not blot out his name from the corporate membership list; but will confess his name before the Father and before His angels. 6He who has an ear, let him hear what the person ‘over him’ says."’
7"And to the pastor over the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens": 8"I know your works. See, I have set before you the open door of TV, radio, and magazines, and the only one who can shut it are members who do not send in enough money; for you have a little strength compared to the Roman Catholic Church, but more money than nearly all Sabbath-keeping groups in history, and you have claimed to be the only ones doing a work in My name. 9Indeed I will make those members of your congregation come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10Because you have persevered with your hierarchical government, in spite of the individual suffering you have caused, I will let you teach your members that staying in your organization will keep them from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. That will compel a lot of members to stay who would otherwise leave. 11Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast to headquarters so that no "dissident" group may take your crown or your tithes. 12He who stays loyal to the organization will get the awesome, humongous Philadelphian reward which will make everyone else in the Kingdom look like a peon in comparison. 13He who has an ear, let him hear what the person ‘over him’ says."’"
14And I, John, decided to use my authority and write directly to the Laodicean brethren myself. It is true that there are a few problems with 15your works, that you are neither cold nor hot, yes, even 16lukewarm; and that you think you are 17"rich, wealthy, and have need of nothing," But the ministry has authority over you so I am going to tell you your number one problem the way everyone in Church Administration sees it. The problem is that you Laodiceans are in a lukewarm organization. You should be in our organization where the "big work" is being done. 18You need to buy "gold refined in the fire" which means you ought to be sending your tithes and offerings only to us. 19We are not being unreasonable in our request to you, As many as we love, we rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20Behold, we stand at the door and knock: We are sending you free literature, and designing our "gospel preaching" to capture your attention as much as we are trying to reach the unconverted. If anyone hears our voice and opens the door and looks like he wants to become a member of our organization , we will come in to him and dine with him, and he with us. But if anyone comes asking difficult questions or upsets our paying members, we will spew you out of our mouth. 21To him who joins our organization, we will "put in a good word for you" so you can hopefully sit with Him on His throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear our definition of which organization is doing the work, and let him join and submit himself to us.
(We hope this helped you compare some of today’s "church letters" with Christ’s letters.)
Norman S. Edwards
We dogmatically state that this article is not scripture. Our Messiah’s instructions to the churches can be read in Revelation 2 and 3 of any Bible. We have written this article to show how many changes would be necessary to make these chapters fit into the standard practice of hierarchical congregations. Sometimes, sarcasm will reach people when simple, kind words will not (1Kng 18:27; Gal 5:12; 2Cor 11:23,19.)
return to Sept-Oct 97 index