Exminster Methodist Church, Main Road, Exminster EX6 8BT
Email email@example.com, Minister: Rev Ben Haslam, Telephone (01392) 256716
We have learnt an awful lot from the great sweep of history, and one standout lesson is that where God’s kingdom grows and His Kingdom advances, there is always opposition. You can, if you look carefully, see broad patterns within this opposition too and, roughly speaking, you can identify three kinds of ‘forces’ that oppose Christ and His Church.
Firstly, there is persecution. Horrendous in the earliest days of the Church and still raging fiercely today in many parts of the world. The powers that be of this world cannot cope with the full-throttle, no-holds-barred power of God in its midst and tries, unsuccessfully, to stamp on it.
Secondly (and in our part of the world, this will be more in line with our experience), there is untruth. Belief systems that don’t originate in God, and very often seem perfectly good and rational in themselves, make us question whether our faith really is all that God says it is. We half consciously, even unconsciously, move away from understanding our faith as something given, revealed, a gift, towards believing it to be something that we construct. Thus is Living Faith replaced with anxious managerialism.
The third form of attack is what’s outrageously called ‘sin’ – settling for being less than what God intended. Being our own version of good rather than being who God is calling us to be.
The churches that Jesus addressed through John in the book of Revelation in Ch 2-3 struggle with all of these as they try to bear witness to the gospel in sometimes nightmarish circumstances. They don’t get everything right. Much of what they lived through, we can’t even imagine. For the next seven months, this bit of the newsletter will be a short reflection on the message given to each of these churches. It’s a ridiculously short space in which to do this – but I hope it will help to encourage you to reflect on these challenging messages and ponder what they might have to say to us today.
So – the first church – Ephesus (Revelation 2. 1-7) The Ephesians are a hard working, efficient bunch. They’ve got the ‘doing’ thing down to a fine art. They have hung on to the integrity of their faith too, in a world with many competing belief systems and pressure to opt for a faith more acceptable to the powers that be. They resist and are commended for it. This is no mean feat, and there is nothing hollow or glib about Jesus’ praise of their integrity. It is truly astonishing, given the circumstances.
In all their activity – their ‘doing’ however, their ‘being’ has suffered. The love they first discovered in Christ Jesus, the ‘love they were born to know’ in John Betjeman’s lovely phrase, has blown away like sand in the wind and revealed bare rock beneath. If only they had realised that being and doing are two sides of the Christian coin, that we have nothing of value to give if we are not nurturing our own relationship with Christ and opening ourselves to His love – His love note, not our weak imitation of it, in every part of our lives. Christian faith isn’t just about what we do. It’s about being changed inside. It’s about becoming Christ-like, and that can only happen through the work of the Holy Spirit inside us. Christian faith begins inside us and then works its way outwards. Our doing flows from our being. Doing unnourished by being becomes hard, arid and mechanical. It doesn’t delight God. It’s the same with doctrine. This much the Ephesians learnt. Yet when good Christian practice and right Christian belief, both issuing from a deep love for God become evident, there is singing and dancing in heaven. We see in Revelation churches settling for just one of these and neglecting the rest and getting a sharp rebuke for it. God is relentless in urging us on to the very best – because He is perfect love and can do no other.
Today, you can still see the ruins of ancient Ephesus. Massive public buildings. Houses. Shops. A Gladiator’s graveyard. The Temple of Artemis. Archaeologists eventually found the ruins of a church. There are however, no remains of a church later than the period this letter was written and no active churches in the area to this day. God did indeed take away their lampstand. God bless, Ben