For a good while now, Christians in the Western world have been able to practise their faith with relatively little interference from the state. We have even enjoyed the luxury of society in general accepting the validity of Judaeo-Christian values.
However, you don’t have to look too far or search too hard to discover that the moral consensus between church and society is beginning to tear apart. In fact, it broke down a long time ago, and we are now feeling the tension created by church and society taking different moral directions.
Of course, the church in the East has had to live with far greater state interference and intolerance than we could ever imagine. And the church throughout its history has often found itself the target of hostile authorities.
The church at Pergamos (Revelation 2.12-17) was no stranger to conflict and persecution. Pergamos was the place where Satan had his throne (Revelation 2.13) – possibly a reference to the imperial cult. Revelation 2 records that it had stood faithful to Christ in the midst of severe opposition. At one point the opposition was so great that a man named Antipas lost his life.
A church that is able to withstand such hostility would appear to be in good spiritual health, so you might think. That, however, was not the case. This church had allowed false teaching to creep in and that teaching was undermining its faithfulness to Christ. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans was, it seems, a bigger threat to the church’s future than the external pressure applied by the Roman authorities and the demonic atmosphere that surrounded the city’s pagan religious traditions combined with its commitment to emperor worship.
What was happening within the church was more of a threat to the church’s future than what was happening around it.
Although the present circumstances of the Western church might not exactly mirror those of Pergamos, the principle holds true for us: what is going on within us and amongst us is far more crucial than what is going on around us. That doesn’t mean to say we should not respond to the challenges of our day. Or that we should not challenge those who seek to detract from our faith. But it does mean that successfully handling the external pressures on our faith is no substitute for a church that has good internal health.
The same applies to us as individuals: what is going on within me is actually of greater long term consequence than what is going on around me.
When Jesus challenged the church at Pergamos about its health, He did so in order that it might become healthy again. He wanted Pergamos along with the other six churches he addressed to become overcoming churches. He still wants the same for His church today. And He wants individual believers to live the overcoming life. Thankfully, as the same John who wrote Revelation said elsewhere, we have the assurance that He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4.4).