Before we move onward to the next post in the introduction to this series, we are actually going to take a step back. What was really not supposed to be a big deal, really, has generated a lot of interest and discussion. Go check the comments on the first one and you can get caught up. There were some great comments, and I think some clarifying remarks are in order.
The first question is: Who were the letters to? I don’t really know of anyone who argues that the letters were anything but seven literal letters to seven literal churches. It seems clear Jesus dispatched them to John the Apostle to address specific issues in specific congregations. Each of them was a real church at the time of the writing, and the letters spoke of things very specific to each of them. So far so good. The problem is…what about now? God’s word is for today, even when it may have been delivered to a certain person or group then. I was relevant then, is relevant now, and will be relevant until Jesus comes back and makes everything new. The remaining question is: What do these letters mean to us now?
There are two schools of thoughts, more or less, about this matter. They have names which I won’t use because it seems nobody even fully agrees on what to refer to the different thoughts as.
The first school of thought is that the seven churches were prophetic and to be representative of different stages of the church through the ages historically. Such and such church is the church of the Apostles, such and such church is the church after the Apostles, such and such is the church under Constantine, such and such is the Roman Catholic church in it’s prime, such and such church is the Reformation…and so on. Complicated, right?
In my post and comments, I said this thought was not without merit. I didn’t say it had much merit; that’s because I really don’t think it has that much. First, squeezing time periods in history to specific churches who got letters is hard; they just don’t fit very cleanly. Next, even proponents of this system don’t come close to agreeing on what fits where; seems folks sometimes base the fits on their theology. See the comments on the previous post for a good example. Finally, what are we to do if God allows time to continue for another couple of thousand years? It’s just too complicated. As I said, the view has some merit, but I don’t think it really nails it properly.
The other view is basically that once we move beyond the specific churches addressed, that the application is for all churches, at all times, potentially at one time or another. This is my view. Why? Well, it fits. We can look through history and see that the issues identified have been issues in different churches at different times. Always, there have been churches exactly like these. Today, there are churches exactly like these. Oh…and from the previous comments: Seven churches? Seven always represents completeness as found in God. Jesus…seven letters…his church(churches.) That math works.
So, while the discussion is interesting, like it or not this is the approach that I’ll be using as we move onward.
Next up: the authority of the letters.