Goodnews Christian Ministry
"On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed." ---Daniel 7:14
"The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches,
and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches themselves."
The number seven in the Bible is the symbolic reference to perfection. It also stands for entireness and completion.
When John addressed the Book of Revelation to the "Seven Churches in Asia" (Rv.1:4), he barely veiled a metaphore that aimed his work, not just to a group of congregations in a nation we now call 'Turkey' (See Map 9), but to the entire world community of churches -- every church that was ever formed in the name of Jesus Christ.
At the time of John's writing, Rome was fiercely battling the growing Christian presence in its empire. That is why the book John wrote is so wildly symbolic. It was designed to communicate the coming victory of the Christian religion on earth to converts and believers without antagonizing the pagan Roman government which was highly sensitive and easily inflamed.
The letter was addressed to seven cities, but its contents were meant for the entire Church community of the world. That this letter was designed from the beginning to have a world-wide audience was confirmed immediately -- just a few sentences later -- when John explained his vision.
As he was standing by the seashore on the island of Patmos, an apparition appeared before his eyes bringing the glorified image of Christ into view. In the Lord's right hand were seven stars, and seven golden lampstands surrounded Him.
Jesus told John that the seven stars were the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands that surrounded His image were the seven churches themselves. (Rv.1:20).
The heavenly structures (the stars and the lampstands) are universal, therefore the seven churches that they represent are clearly universal as well.
So in the vision we are presented the concept of a universal Church made up of many diverse and scattered individual churches whose number represent the completeness and perfection of the Christian community on earth.
That the number seven would reference the entire Christian Body is confirmed in the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Proverbs, where these seven churches are termed the 'seven pillars' of the House of God:
"Wisdom has built herself a house, she has erected her seven pillars, she has slaughtered her beasts, prepared her wine, she has laid her table...Who is ignorant? Let him step this way...Come, eat my bread, drink the wine I have prepared! Leave your folly and you will live, walk in the ways of perception." (Prov.9:1-6).
'Wisdom' is the Old Testament designation for the Holy Spirit. Her 'house' is the kingdom of heaven. The seven pillars she has erected are the seven churches. The beast that has been slaughtered is Babylon and the table laid out is the feast of communion, a preparation for the great wedding feast that will celebrate the marriage of the lamb with the new Jerusalem that God has rebuilt in the heavens.
The Water of Heaven
The same 'Wisdom' that erected these seven pillars, the Bible states, is a river that flows from the throne of God. Uniting that river with the Holy Spirit, Jesus said that the 'living water' of God flows from His breast. (John 7:38-39).
This same river of Spirit flows through the churches that have been set up in His name. The scriptures are filled with metaphores which describe this holy river and its seven tributaries.
The Bible tells us that this river rises from the throne of God and of the Lamb and that it flows crystal clear down the middle of the city street in the kingdom of heaven. "On either side of the river were the trees of life..." (Ez.47:7; Rev.22:1).
Branching into seven streams, God's river and its tributaries are filled to overflowing with the power of sanctification. "There is a river whose streams refresh the city of God, and it sanctifies the dwelling of the Most High." (Ps.46:4).
Called 'the river of life' (Rv.22:1), it passes into this world in the form of the Holy Spirit bringing peace to all who are washed in its waters. "Now toward her I send peace, flowing like a river." (Is.66:12).
Although God's water is spiritual, we can see images of this river on earth in the waters of baptism, a washing which brings Christ's Holy Spirit into our hearts. For this reason, the water of God can be seen to flow through the churches which offer Jesus to the world.
These churches are not a refuge for the perfect. They are hospitals for the spiritually sick. They offer to all who come into them, the life-giving waters that flow from God's throne.
So that all the churches can share equally the Lord's fountain, God has divided His river into what the Bible calls 'seven streams'. "And God will...stretch out his hand over the River, and divide it into seven streams, for men to cross dry-shod, to make a pathway for the remnant of his people..." (Is.11:15).
The Holy Spirit flows throughout the entire Church community. Seven streams for seven churches. The Spirit of God had to branch out this way because the captive people of Israel were so widely scattered.
Isaiah's words show that the river of divine water which flows from the breast of Christ (Jn.7:38) has been divided into enough branches to reach all parts of the dispersion -- the number 'seven' the metaphoric representation of the totality and perfection of its distribution.
As a result, these 'seven holy springs' of God now bathe the seven continents of the world.
These streams mirror the churches through which they flow -- all the holy lighthouses that shine the message of Christ's salvation toward God's people who are lost and held captive in Babylon.
The importance of water to life on earth has been verified even by science. God, knowing all this long before science was born, has equated both creations (the new and the old) on water.
This creation of Babylon, for instance, is a product of the 'lower sea'. Interestingly, science acting independently has discovered that life actually began on earth in the ocean. That beginning is a physical metaphore of God's creation blueprint.
John's Book of Revelation shows us that the water of the lower sea will pass away forever. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea." (Rev.21:1).
The creation of the kingdom of God which replaces the nether sea is the river which flows from the throne of God and which we know as the Holy Spirit.
Bringing down to earth the waters that lay above the vault (in the Book of Genesis), Jesus has been able to transport us from one creation to the other. He has changed the 'water' which surrounds our soul.
This exchange, of course, can not be accomplished until our souls have been purified through baptism and repentance. This is why Jesus preached so insistantly "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins". (Mark 1:4).
The Captivity of Satan is Spiritual
Concealing the lost tribes of Israel in a spiritual captivity rather than in one genetic, God has been able to manifest their reappearance in the world in a way that has defied racial boundaries.
Because their identity reflects behavior rather than race, the lost tribes of Israel have reappeared in theological form -- as congregations of churches.
In heaven there will be no tribes -- no churches -- just one people in Christ. But on earth, these divisions still exist (Rv.1:4). Divisions now defined by the mechanics of the scattering rather than by nationality: ('...a man's enemies will be those of his own household').
The Seven Churches Cover 2000 Years
With the House of Israel dispersed to the farthest ends of Babylon, the call to return has had to be made in the most distant recesses of the world.
When the House of Israel was concentrated in one land, it was easy for a single church to handle the entire flock.
After the dispersion however, God's people were everywhere on the planet, speaking thousands of different languages. Stretching from one end of the earth to the other, this dispersion was much too widespread for one church or one language alone to make the call to return.
"It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. " (Is.49:6).
Many churches in many languages were needed. Especially since God's call for return (the preaching of Christ) has been going on now for almost two thousand years.
During all these centuries, entire world populations have come and gone countless times over, showing that God intended to reach far more people than the earth could hold at any one time.
"Look round about you, look, all are assembling, coming to you...your desolate places and your ruins and your devastated country will now be too small for all your inhabitants. " (Is.49:18).
By having His message proclaimed over this long span of years, God has brought His word to a world the size of a hundred earths -- bringing Christ's message to untold billions of people and to gigantic nations that did not even exist in the world when Jesus was born.
"Once more they will speak in your hearing, those sons you thought were lost, 'This place is too small for me, give me more space to live in'. You will then say in your heart, 'Who has borne me these? I was childless and barren, who has brought these up? I was left all alone, and now, where do all these come from? "
"Thus speaks the Lord God: I beckon to the nations and hoist my signal for the peoples. Kings will be your fosterfathers and queens your nursing mothers. They will fall prostrate before you, faces to the ground, and lick the dust at your feet. You shall then know that I am God; and those who hope in me will not be put to shame." (Is.49:20-23).
Time, then, has added a vast dimension to the size of Babylon.
It has added centuries of unfolding new nations and peoples and thousands of kings and queens to the rolls of those who have fallen on their knees in worship to Jesus over the years.
Covering all these different facets of Babylon has necessitated many callers in many different languages and social structures. This has produced Christian churches that number in the thousands.
And although some seem to overlap, each church exists because it reaches a part of the world not completely touched by the others.
The existence of all these different churches, then, has far less to do with the fact that one is better than the others than with God's need to penetrate much deeper into the scattering than any single church alone could accomplish.
God, for instance, could not reach those whose ears were tuned to the Coptic church through Greek preaching, and He could not reach those who were Protestant through the Catholics.
But in their combination -- in all their different combinations -- the Holy Spirit has brought everyone who is lost in this world to an identical fountain of salvation (the Gospel of Jesus Christ).
So while we see on earth a virtual reality of thousands of different churches, underlying them all is the single, but authentic reality of just one message -- Jesus preached.
That is God's secret intention. (Rv.10:7).
He has used many vessels to carry it, but God has sent a single cup of wine and made all the nations drink it to the dregs. (Jer.25:15).
"Take this cup of wine from my hand and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it, let them drink and reel and lose their wits at the sword I am sending among them." (Jer.25:15-16).
Jesus told us that he, himself, was this sword: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother...a man's enemies will be those of his own household." (Mt.10:34-36).
Seeing many different cups and thinking many different wines, the nations and their people have all been fooled.
"God roars from on high...the sound reaches all the inhabitants of the earth...for God is indicting the nations, arraigning all flesh for judgement; the wicked he abandons to the sword. See! The disaster spreads from nation to nation." (Jer.25:30-32).
"It is for judgement that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight turn blind." (Jn.9:39).
Seven Visible Churches but one Invisible Church
The fact that Christ's seven churches do not see themselves as offering the same cup of wine to the world does not change the reality. As we have all seen, many of these churches see only themselves in this plan.
Rejecting all the other tribes of God, they view themselves as the sole administrators of God's Gospel on earth. "Here!, Here!", they cry. "No!, No!, Not there! -- Over here!"
But all such claims are in vain. Jesus said, "The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, 'Look here! Look there!' For, you must know, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21).
While truth is Christ alone, every church in His faith has its own function to perform as far as God is concerned. This is true whether we understand that function or not.
When Jesus told the story about the great supper (Lk.14:16+), he was preparing us to understand the scattered (seven-fold) nature of the Christian Church -- describing how so many different churches could come into being from just one Gospel.
In his parable, Jesus said that when the invited guests refused to come to the dinner, the master of the house turned to his servant and said, "Go out into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame."
When he had finished carrying out the master's instructions, the servant returned and said: "Sir, your orders have been carried out and there is still room."
Then the master said to his servant, "Go to the open roads and the hedgerows and force people to come in to make sure my house is full..." (Lk.14:21-24).
Jesus told this story to illustrate the world's relationship with God.
The ones who refused the banquet when it was first offered were the Jews. Those who were invited in their place were the people of the world.
Jesus has shown us in this parable that God's first search for these people did not fill the banquet hall and so the offer was extended and made even broader:
"Go to the open roads and the hedgerows..."
We see both God's offer and the extension of His offer in all the scattered churches which have become even more scattered and more diverse as the time has gone by.
The Protestant church, for instance, did not even appear on earth until almost 1500 years had elapsed following Christ's crucifixion. Obviously, even after all those centuries had passed, the banquet hall was still not full, so God expanded His search -- sending His servants farther out into the community.
The explosion of churches which followed the birth of Protestantism has feathered God's Gospel into the minutest cracks of the population, and as these churches are born and grow, they continue to give evidence that "there is still room".
Looking at many of them there can be no doubt that some people have even been forced to come in, fulfilling Christ's exact words.
It is to make certain, then, that God's house is full that all this diversity exists -- a diversity which many Christians tend to think of only in terms of theological heresy.
Thousands of Theologies, but Only One Gospel
Because the scattering is so diverse, every church on earth has its own unique theology. Since there are literally thousands of churches, there exist thousands of different theologies.
In fact, there are billions, because every person's theology is unique. Like fingerprints, no two are exactly alike.
In one way, this is chaos.
Yet all these churches and their congregations have only one Jesus who speaks the exact same Gospel in every different church.
Theology is chaos because it has to search the scattering, but the Gospel of Jesus unites all who are found.
This is what Isaiah meant when he said that God would "stretch out his hand over the river and divide it into seven streams, for men to cross dry-shod, to make a pathway for the remnant of his people..." (Is.11:15).
The river is the Holy Spirit and the churches are the seven streams through which God's Spirit flows.
Isaiah's words show that God is using the chaos of theology to bring us to the unity of the Gospel.
The hidden jewel that we are looking for is Jesus and his Gospel -- it is not a concealed theological truth that God has hidden away from the world in some obscure and remote church or individual.
"I am God, unrivalled, I have not spoken in secret in some corner of a darkened land. I have not said to Jacob's descendants, 'Seek me in chaos'. I, God speak with directness; I express myself with clarity." (Is.45:19).
Perfect truth exists everywhere the Gospel is preached -- it is something that God has put out in the open for everyone -- so that truth is no longer the domain of church lawyers.
God has brought us to Himself so that our lives are no longer dependent on men. "Trust no more in man..." (Is.2:22).
"Human pride will be humbled, the arrogance of men will be brought low. God alone will be exalted..." (Is.2:17). "Do not put your trust in men in power, or in any mortal man -- he cannot save." (Ps. 146:3). "
I am going to feed my flock myself." (Ez.34:10-11). "He will stand and feed his flock with the power of God...then the remnant of Jacob will...put no hope in men, expect nothing from mankind." (Micah 5:6-7).
Theology makes the call, but the call is not to itself. In every language, we are called to obey Jesus. It is the preaching that is important now, not the individual theologies which drive it.
Preaching exposes Christ to the world and when it does so, it makes God's offer of salvation visible.
The perfection of theology, therefore, is in Jesus preached. And perfection of atonement lies in simple obedience to the Gospel that Christ taught. (Jer.31:34).
This is how Jesus rescued us from the Law -- not by destroying the Law -- but by bringing something into it that had a higher worth -- something that transcended theology completely.
"Happy the man who cares for the poor and the weak: if disaster strikes, the Lord will come to his help." (Ps.41:1).
When we are baptised in Jesus and follow His Gospel of compassion, all the legal boundaries dissolve.
The churches exist not for themselves, but to bring everyone who comes into them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the church which rescues us, it is the word of God. All churches are the same in this respect.
Remember, Jesus changed the sacrifice. No longer do the sacrifices inside church carry us to heaven. It is the sacrifices of mercy and good faith that we make outside the church that Jesus has made the doorway into the kingdom.
Jesus said that God's commandments are kept only when we are kind, giving and compassionate to our neighbors. We cannot do this when we isolate ourselves from humanity. We have to reach out.
The Apostle John said, "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the dark. But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling..." (1 John 2:9-10).
The True Temple Is Christ
What, we might ask, constitutes a true church in Christ?
The root of this question goes back to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the city of Jerusalem ended up the focal point of worship.
Yet the power of Jerusalem was never the city itself -- its authority was vested in the temple.
When John revealed in the Book of Revelation that Jesus and God were the real temple ("I saw that there was no temple in the city since the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb were themselves the temple." -Rev.21:22), it meant that whoever carried Jesus and His word in their hearts carried the temple and the Holy of Holies within them as well.
Verifying that God's true temple is now within us, Jesus said, "Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I will be also."
Because He is the true temple of God, every person who believes in Jesus brings the true temple into their heart no matter where they are or which church they might be in.
This means that the full authority of Jerusalem and its temple has been scattered across the earth by God along with the people.
And it means that whenever two or more people gather together in Christ's name, a true church of Jesus Christ is formed by the association -- with all the authority that had formerly been vested in the Law of Moses -- as much and probably more authority than Jerusalem ever had.
Anyone who has Christ has the temple, and it is that temple alone which gives absolute authority -- in both covenants.
How Can We Tell a True Church From a Cult?
Since a legitimate church of Jesus Christ can be formed by two or more people who gather in his name, we can logically ask, 'what constitutes a cult?'
This question was addressed in the very first days of Christianity by the Church when it had to deal with a great many heresy's -- especially Gnosticsm which taught that a person progressed to God through possession of a 'secret knowledge', parceled out on a fee-pay basis by its ministers.
This, of course, is very similar to what Scientologists teach today.
This heresy became so widespread that the early leaders of the Church formulated a legal statement of faith that defined the borders of Christian theology. That statement is called the Apostle's Creed.
It is a simple doctrine that was formulated about 100 A.D. This early creed was followed by a manifesto coming out of the Council of Nicea which declared the concept of the Trinity -- i.e., that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit were three persons in a single nature.
For 19 centuries these two catechisms remained the definitive determination of the boundaries between a legitimate Christian Church and a cult. All disagreements between the churches revolved, not around the Gospel, but the creed.
For instance, when the Eastern Orthodox split away from the Roman Catholic Church one thousand years ago, it was over just a single word in the creed.
When Martin Luther formed the Protestant Church, he retained the basic structure of the Apostles' creed.
It was not until just before the 20th Century that these two creeds came under serious attack. Starting in the 1840's, churches like the Latter Day Saints, the Salvation Army and the Seventh Day Adventists appeared which no longer accepted the ancient creeds.
The Seventh Day church was born out of the writings of a New England Baptist named William Miller who, upon reading the Book of Daniel, proposed that the end of the world was at hand and announced the then-revolutionary idea that Christ was about to come down to the earth and rule in a 'thousand-year millenium'.
He determined the date for the world's 'end' as 1843, which of course, came and went without incident.
As our current century began, churches outside the creeds of the early church began to surface in large numbers.
The fundamentalist movement was born out of the 1920 preachings of a Los Angeles evangelist named Aimee Semple McPherson. Her evangelism spawned a great array of non-denominational (non-creed) pentecostal churches like the Assemblies of God, the Christian Disciples of Christ Chuch, etc.
Over the ensuing 70 years, these evangelistic churches have evolved into hundreds of offshoots -- now too many to count.
Many of these modern groups have replaced the Apostles' Creed with a single theological principle -- a simple sentence in the Book of Romans -- which states that everyone who verbally acknowledges Jesus as their savior and who believes in their heart that Christ is the Lord will be saved.
There are hundreds of such groups today, but their combined population relative to the orthodox church still remains small.
Some churches teach that a cult is defined by size, a definition which eliminates all such small gatherings completely.
But the true definition is cemented in the Gospel.
A church is transformed into a cult, not by size, but by its rejection of Christ's Gospel of compassion and humanitarian love for all people.
Filled with fear and driven by hatred themselves, cults always teach that God hates most people who call themselves Christian. This puts them at war with the Body -- with almost all the other churches.
Holding to a selfish (and self-righteous) arrogance, they harbor little love for mankind. This is why we often find them holed up in secretive enclaves hiding out somewhere. They love each other, but they hate everyone else.
Ruled by fear and paranoia, cults often stockpile weapons to protect themselves against their many enemies.
Where the churches of Jesus Christ always reach out into the world community to help the downtrodden and the poor, cults shun the rest of the world except to broadcast their hate tracts, withdrawing into tightly-knit clusters designed only to help themselves.
Cults, then, are diametrically opposed to what the Holy Spirit has spent the last 2000 years building on this earth. Instead, they preach the same message Satan tried for so long to sell to God: that most people who worship God are intrinsically evil. (Job 1:9).
Up to now, such doctrines of hate and fear regarding worship have not been widely shared. Although a few of these groups are very vocal and have made their views known throughout the world, as far as Christianity in general is concerned, they constitute only small groups of dissidents, forming just a tiny fraction of the world's religious body.
It was to protect the developing Church from the preaching of such cults that the early disciples of Christ drew up the two creeds in the first place. For as long as these two creeds governed the churches such doctrines of hate and fear regarding worship were easily combated.
But now, with a great number of churches being formed outside these creeds, the cults have been able to edge in with them and for this reason, now constitute a far greater threat to true worship.
The Bible teaches that Satan will come to militarize the world, filling it with war. (Rev.20:7-8). Since a great many cults are like-minded, they follow Satan's call with the vengeance of a Jihad (holy war).
That is why it is important for those who love Jesus and the peace He taught to remain wise enough not to become absorbed in the evil they encourage.
Any 'church' that stockpiles guns and weapons, or encourages its members to do so is not of Christ. See Matthew Chapter 5.
The same is true of hatred. If we do not love people, we do not love God. That is why Jesus told us that we must pray for our enemies and be kind to those who are still embraced by the chains of Satan.
Jesus warned, "You will know them by their fruits." (Mt.7:16). And he made it easy. Ministers are witnesses, they are not intermediaries or teachers. (Mt.23:8-10). Jesus, alone is the Teacher about God.
Salvation does not come from any church or minister or prophet. Salvation comes only from the words of Jesus Christ. It does not come from theology. It does not come from church laws or rules.
When Jesus told us to follow him, he was not telling us to follow someone who talks about him or who claims to have inside knowledge of him.
Yet sound advice is critical.
So despite the fact that Jesus has set us free from the chains of theology, God has made the seven churches of Christianity the central focus of the ingathering. This would seem the ultimate paradox, but it shows, that with God, Law and faith must go together. (Mt.5:17-19).
That is why we always find Jesus associated with 'creed' -- especially with those creeds that come to us from the time of Paul and the Apostles and which guided the early Church.
The Unity of the Seven Churches
God showed John the seven churches in the image of seven golden lampstands. His vision ties the design of the scattered churches to the structure of the ancient Hebrew lampstand (the Menorrah) which stood inside the Tabernacle of the Testimony at the time of Moses.
In the Old Testament the golden lampstand can be seen as a central component of the Hebrew temple.
This lampstand was created according to directions given to Moses by God:
"You are to make a lamp-stand of pure gold...Six branches must extend from the sides of it, three from one side, three from the other. "
(Each) "branch is to carry three cups shaped like almond blossoms...The calyx and the branches must be one piece with the lamp-stand, and the whole made from a single piece of pure gold, beaten out..."
"Then you are to make seven lamps of them and set them so that they throw their light towards the front...See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." (Ex.25:31-40).
As we saw before, the fact that Jesus equated these seven churches with one of the key objects at the heavenly altar is certain proof that John's representation is symbolic. These seven cover the whole world, not just seven cities in a country we now call 'Turkey'.
As divine metaphor, the vision is designed to show us that God sees the scattered churches of Christianity as the essential framework of His entire religion -- a framework encompassing every church on earth dedicated to Christ's Gospel.
The divine unity of these seven different lamps was made clear when Moses was instructed by the angel of God to design all seven exactly the same down to the smallest detail, and all out of the same piece of gold.
It is obvious in Jesus' revelation to John (Rv.1:20), that this seven-pronged Mosaic lampstand (the menorrah) was made to prefigure the structure of the ingathered Church.
The design of that lampstand was the result of a vision from heaven (Ex.20:32, 37:17+), and though it has been altered today by modern Jews, it's structure in biblical times followed the seven-lamp format dictated by God to Moses.
Everything in the Old Testament was created for Jesus. We can now see that this even included the lampstand.
The Holy Spirit ordered the construction of this lampstand and made an important issue about it's details in the old Testament specifically to highlight the seven churches of the Messiah.
That is because these seven churches were to be the mechanism of God's 'lamp of life' on earth.
God has always presented Himself to us in the form of graphic metaphoric images.
In his vision, John witnessed Jesus in the image of a lamb -- the Lamb of God in heaven. John said that this Lamb had "seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits which God has sent out all over the world." (Rv.5:6).
The seven eyes correlate with God's instructions that the cups on the lampstand be shaped like almond blossoms. The almond was called the 'watchful tree' because it was the first fruit tree to blossom in the spring (thus it 'watched' for spring's appearance when new life appeared).
God expanded this metaphore when He spoke to Jeremiah. "Jeremiah, what do you see?" asked the Lord. Jeremiah answered, "I see a branch of the watchful tree." Then the Lord said, "Well seen! I too watch over my word to see it fulfilled." (Jer.1:11-12).
Since John had earlier described the seven spirits as "the angels of the seven churches" (Rv.1:20), his statement here infers that Christ's 'eyes' and 'power' are all brought to a single focus in the seven churches these angels oversee.
The number 'seven' itself is metaphoric and stands for perfection (for complete fulfillment).
That is why, when we read the Holy Spirit's admonition to these seven churches, we see ourselves as well as all the other members of Christianity in John's address.
The Holy Spirit meant Christ's words for all of us -- no one is left out. The seven churches describe the totality of Christianity on the planet. From the largest to the smallest -- every church in the Christian faith.
The unity of the Hebrew lampstand (the perfect equality in its construction that Moses insisted upon) is the Holy Spirit's way of showing us that God has no favorites -- that all churches in Jesus enjoy the same favor since each one has its own specific part of the darkness to illuminate.
Each church expands Christ's proclamation deeper into the world, so that the Lord's light can reach into every part of the darkness, allowing the Holy Spirit to search through the murkiest shadows of this world for the lost people of God.
In the spread of this preaching, God's Church has not grown haphazardly. The Holy Spirit has built these 'seven' lighthouses of Christian faith precisely the way God instructed.
Yet they, themselves are not faultless. John's whole address to this lampstand of churches in the Book of Revelation consists of seven congratulations mixed with stern warnings for improvement.
The Holy Spirit Builds God's Church
According to the World Almanac, 57% of Christ's Church on earth is Roman Catholic. About 20% is Protestant, and 18% is Greek. Roughly 4% is Anglican. The final 1% includes all the other denominations.
These numbers illustrate a worldwide distribution of Christians formed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
They show us that sturdy and time-tested mechanisms for helping Christians hold onto their faith throughout their entire lives is very important to God.
Three-quarters of all Christians on earth are either Greek or Roman -- two churches filled with religious images and promoting strict rules concerning confession of sins and repentance for forgiveness.
Binding faith in Christ to strong mechanisms of church worship is useful for many because it helps secure life-long adherence to the Gospel's teachings and guarantees protection from cults -- a grave danger for those of weakest faith.
This enables many people to hold onto their faith more securely because it gives faith discipline. The statistics prove that a great many Christians need this kind of structure in their faith.
By changing the sacrifice, God made us responsible for conducting our own worship. We, ourselves, have to offer the sacrifices that please God -- justice, mercy and good faith. No longer can the church make these sacrifices for us.
We have to make our own walk in Christ. All we can get from the church is encouragement not to stray from that journey.
We have already seen that grace is a variable. It must be held onto for life. This 'holding on' is the essence of Paul's 'race'. Anything that helps us maintain our faith for a lifetime is good and necessary.
And that brings us to another revelation Paul preached. All people come to Christ the same; not through superior knowledge, but only by faith.
The classic picture of this faith is expressed in the image of a person kneeling before God. And no special knowledge or magic statement is needed to improve this picture.
The Bible assures us that anyone who kneels in repentance before Christ receives divine forgiveness.
God, who has no favorites, has scattered His offer of salvation across the entire earth. No one who lives in Christ will be turned away from this salvation.
The 'smartest' Christians who claim to have achieved a superior understanding of Jesus will have no advantage over those they view as 'simplistic or 'superstitious'.
God made it this way so that our faith "would not depend on human philosophy but only on the power of God." (1 Cor.2:5).
All our arguments are just foolishness to God. He has built the Church the way He wants it -- a way that is completely contrary to our earthly intelligence.
The Holy Spirit has given us a Church filled with Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Greeks, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and hundreds of others as well.
A Church put together not by ritual or knowledge or by some kind of secret 'holy intellect', but simply by faith in the salvation of the one Jesus Christ.
The Church as a Fortress
Without the churches to support us, we would be at the mercy of Satan and soon lose the war that he is waging against us. These churches are the fortresses which God has provided for our protection against the onslaught of the dominions and powers of the underworld.
As the citadels of our faith, they offer us a place of refuge against the secular world. Offering baptism to the world, they keep us safe from the ravages of the Destoryer.
The church as a fortress plays a key role in scriptural prophecy.
Daniel said that when the beast attacks the people of God he will house his forces in the sanctuary 'citadel'. It is in this Christian fortress, he prophesied, that they will erect the Abomination of Desolation. (Dn.11:31-32).
The beast cannot put up his sacrilege in the temple itself, because God has made the temple spiritual. The temple is in the hearts of the people. Only the sanctuary 'citidal' remains as a building.
God has done the same with church government.
The Torah Dictates the Template for Church Government
Previewed in the structure of the lampstand of the Torah, the seven churches have been built by God in the schematic of that document.
Hebrew government in the Old Testament was divided into three offices: priesthood, governor and prophet. From Aaron stemmed the priesthood and from Moses stemmed the governorship.
The same fundamental structure is replicated in the formation and development of the churches of Christianity. Looking at the Apostolic appointments made by Christ, we can see the very same offices that were earlier prescribed in the Torah.
For instance, when Jesus commissioned Peter, He appointed him the 'rock' upon which God would build the Christian Church.
This appointment transferred into Peter the sacred image of the temple 'rock', the threshing stone on Mount Moriah upon which Solomon built the Hebrew temple.
Solomon's action made that rock in Jerusalem the holiest material entity on the planet as far as the Jews were concerned. That rock, according to Hebrew Law is the only place on earth where God's temple can legally exist.
By the power of God, Jesus transferred the sanctifying power of this boulder into Peter.
The implication was enormous.
Upon Peter, the temple of God could be built and spread across the earth in the hearts of all who came into line with him through baptism.
As the first priest in the line of Christ's highest priesthood, Peter's appointment (Mt.16:18-19) secured an office held ready for him by Aaron -- the first High Priest in the Hebrew Law.
It is a station we all become a part of when we are baptised in Jesus. That is because Jesus is the temple. Bringing Him into our hearts puts us in unity with the Holy of Holies.
While Peter stands in the office of the priesthood, Paul was selected to head a position which equates to Moses, and therefore, to the Law.
The station he assumed was termed in the Old Testament: 'Governor of the Sanctuary and Covenant'. It was the office originally held by Moses -- a divine appointment which carries with it dominion over the Law.
We know that God gave him this office because it was Paul whose theology forms the basic structure of the New Testament, just as it is Moses' theology upon which all the words of the Torah are based.
It was his appointment to this office that gave Moses authority to write the Law in the first place.
And now we can see in the writings of Paul, that Moses was actually holding the office for his successor in Christ.
This change was critical to our developing faith because it allowed Paul authority to legally revise the Law. This office gave him authority to pen scripture itself -- a New Testament that was different from the old.
Since Paul's post is theological in nature, Jesus made it subordinate to the office of faith which was the commission of Peter.
Because in Christ, faith rules law, Jesus reversed the authority the Hebrew's applied to these two offices.
The old covenant had given Moses dominion over Aaron. So while Jesus retained the Old Testament schematic, by reversing the authority of the two offices, He has given faith dominion over theology.
By amending the Law of Moses with the theology of Paul, God has brought law and faith together.
The Book of Moses with all its rules about killing animals and its obsession with strict regulations rather than kindness was not accountable to God.
So Jesus appointed Paul to bring the Law into line with the Gospel.
God authorized him to reform Moses' guidelines so that all theology would clearly point to Christ. And we know that this is true because Paul himself has now become the very 'Bible' he reformed. His words are now scripture.
As such, they dictate the fundamental principles guiding all churches which are formed around Christ.
It is no longer the Torah that rules us, but the New Testament.
Yet even that New Testament has been made subservient to the Gospel Jesus preached. So, under Christ, Law is not supreme -- it must obey faith.
That is the true meaning of Peter's authority over the Christian Church.
That is why Peter heads the Church and Paul stands in his shadow.
As the rule-book which defines the conditions governing the relationship between God and the people of Israel, the Bible shows us two tiers of authority (tiers reflected by its two priesthoods).
The one leads us to the other.
Law leads to faith. In other words, the churches with all their diverse theological dogma and differing creeds, no matter where they come from, always lead to the same place -- to the Gospel of Christ.
Scripture's first set of rules acted as a guardian of behavior until the coming of the second which turned out to be a prescription for eternal life. And it is to that one divine program that all theology leads.
The Seat of Moses
When Jesus placed the rules for getting into heaven clearly before us, He set us free from the dominion of the guardian. Mankind's theologies could no longer dictate rules to God. Everything has been made subservient to the words of Christ.
That is why we are free now to celebrate Christmas or Easter if we want to, or sing or dance if we wish, or worship on any day of the week we please without fear of God's wrath.
That is also why we can go from one church to another and not lose the salvation Jesus guaranteed us.
The key to salvation is Christ and His Gospel, not the churches.
We can see this by the fact that all the scattered churches in Christianity have vastly different rules and regulations, and in some cases, even different Bibles. They all have the same Jesus, but none of them have the same man-made rules or inspirations.
Jesus defined our obligation to this diverse structure when he said that the ministers all sit in the 'Seat of Moses' -- the seat of the Law.
"The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say, but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practice what they preach." (Mt.23:1-3).
God made Jesus our supreme guide because men were not trustworthy. This is why He reduced the authority of all the shepherds and rescued us by Himself.
We can see this divine demotion of ministerial authority in the scattering of the 'Seat of Moses' -- a scattering which has now made that one seat a great auditorium of chairs, most having identical (but subservient) authority in Jesus, since what was once one chair under Moses has now become thousands under Christ.
We know that Jesus set us free from all this theology because we are free to choose between church and church. If a Catholic becomes a Methodist, salvation is not affected by the move. Nor vice versa.
Christ commanded us to obey the law because God keeps the law, and Jesus wants us all to behave like God. A just judge does not break the law.
But now, because of Christ we are bound to the law by rules of justice rather than by rules that dictate life and death.
We can see this commitment to justice in God's own actions.
Because God bound Himself to Moses' decrees, everything Jesus did was done so that the Law would be kept and the scriptures fulfilled.
He kept all those rules (even the ones that God did not care for -- like the killing of birds and sheep for instance) for justice's sake, and so that we would not have to.
In fact, the only reason Jesus had to die on the cross was so that God could keep the Law.
While faith may free us to some degree from the Law, it does not free us from Christ. God led us out of the Law so the rules of Jesus would have no competition. We cannot throw out the baby with the bath water; if we toss the Gospel out with the Law, we will lose salvation.
The Rule of the Church is Ironclad
With its power to bind or unbind sins, the rule of the seven churches is ironclad. (Ps.2:8-12).
Many question whether or not the church has the power to forgive sins. Jesus said we all have that power, so how could the church not have it?
"Those whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven, but those you retain, they shall be retained." (Jn.20:23).
This is the law of the iron scepter.
As we shall see in the pages ahead, this 'rule of iron' is what the seven churches are all about -- it is the 'power of the holy people' -- the scepter of the reign of Christ on earth.
By sending His Gospel across the globe, Jesus has made the whole world (not just 12 tribes of Israel) accountable to the Mosaic decree of sin and death. Not in Mosaic terms, of course, but in terms redefined by Paul.
The choice now is only Jesus or death. For everyone. There is nothing in between.
Death was inevitable from the beginning. That has not changed. What is different now is that Jesus offers an escape from death.
The New Testament, then, controls the destiny of the entire planet, because every man woman and child that is born on this earth has been offered the opportunity for escape that it contains.
As a part of this offer, God has given Christianity power over all secular law -- placing church law on a higher level than any secular or religious judgment on the planet.
God gave the churches this power of forgiveness so that they would have authority to go out all over the earth and unbind the chains that the world had imposed on the people. In essence, this is the power of baptism.
The Law of Moses designated death as the penalty for sin.
Because God is a just judge, He could not simply sweep this mandate aside (as judges do in this world when their friends are in trouble), and rescue us outside the rules by using His absolute power and authority (something He had power to do easily).
Instead, He redeemed us by keeping the rules, so that our rescue would be entirely legal both in heaven and on earth and so that no one could come later and say that He had broken the Law to save us.
In the form of the cross, God passed His legality into us. When His covenant is marked on our bodies as demanded by the Law (Gen.17:13) -- when we receive his death as our own through baptism in repentance -- the Law's sentence against us is over and we are set free from it.
Despite their power to give us this freedom through baptism, the churches have no authority of their own to impart eternal life. Their power is to give us Jesus. He does the rest.
So while the churches rule the earth, faith has authority over the churches. This is why Catholics and Mormons and Protestants can all come to Jesus the same.
In Christ, faith rules the Law. If it did not, Catholicism could condemn Protestantism and Protestantism could condemn Jehovah's Witnesses. But that is not how it is in Christ.
When a person lives in the Gospel, nothing can touch him.
That is why a Mormon cannot condemn a Catholic or vice versa. "...each must be left free to hold his own opinion." (Rom.14:5). "If a person's faith is not strong enough, welcome him all the same anyway without starting an argument." (Rom.14:1).
The churches cannot use their authority to create sin, only to bind it or unbind it. This means that no Christian has power to retain sin in the sinless.
If God sees someone as sinless, no one on earth -- not even the strongest church -- has power to change that.
In saying this, scripture proved once and for all that how we behave in the compassion and love of Christ is far more important to God than what we believe theologically.
We know that this is true because the hostility of the Law makes us enemies of one another -- which is what the churches often do -- while the love of the Gospel brings us all together as brothers and sisters in the one same Lord -- which is something all the diverse churches have been unable to do.
That is why Isaiah told us to go back to basics in our search for God:"Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear these words behind you, 'This is the way, follow it'." (Is.30:21).
The 'right' and the 'left' are all the different churches. The voice behind us is that of Jesus when His Gospel first touched us.
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