Don't you love the letters to the seven local churches from Jesus in the book of Revelation (chapters 2 - 3)? That whole scene thrills me. John saw Jesus walking in the midst of seven lampstands, which are the local churches! And in his hand he was holding seven stars, which are the angels of the seven churches (angel = messenger, possibly pastors; 1:20). Jesus loves his local churches, scattered over the earth, which together form his one people - the church.
In studying these letters recently something grabbed my attention that I never noticed before. Jesus addresses each local church as a whole, yet notices individual sins and righteousness within that church.
Let me explain. Jesus expresses his pleasure or displeasure with each local church based on their works and faithfulness (or lack thereof) to him. He speaks to each church as a whole. But there are a few instances where he reprimands the entire church for the sins of a few people within that church! Don't believe me? Look at these words to the church in Pergamum:
"But I have a few things against you (the church as a whole): you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam...So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans" (2:14-15).
Do you see my point? Jesus Christ takes the time to write a letter to a local church, which he views as a unit. And he reprimands the entire local church because "you have some" who believe false teaching! Do you feel the weight of that? What kind of mail would we personally cause our local church to receive from Jesus?
The church in Thyatira - "But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel...But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching...hold fast" (2:20, 24, 25). First Jesus comes against the entire church for tolerating Jezebel's sins in her midst. But then he acknowledges that some do not hold to her teaching. Again you have the "you" (whole church) and the "some" (or in this case, "the rest of you").
The church in Sardis - "You are dead...I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God...Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments" (3:1b, 2b, 4). The church is addressed as a whole, and declared dead. Then Jesus points out that there are a few names in them who aren't like the others.
Wow. I do not want Jesus to write a letter to my local church and speak this way to the whole church because of my personal sins! Do we realize how our sins affect the local church to which we are connected? And on the other hand, do we understand the encouragement from Jesus we can receive when we hold fast to the truth even in the midst of a local church filled with people who are in sin?
Of course, all of this affirms the New Testament pattern and call for believers to connect themselves together in local churches, where they are committed to one another, meet together regularly, and hold each other accountable. When John wrote these letters and sent them to the seven churches, one had to be in the assemblies to even read the mail! In our day you don't have to be connected to the church to read the Bible; An individual can pick up the church's mail at the Christian bookstore, Wal-Mart, or even some gas stations. There is an individualistic emphasis in our day. But the Bible is written to a corporate, connected people; FOR a corporate, connected people.
Oh, the beauty of the way God has set this up! Loving church discipline can correct these instances in the church of "some" believing false teaching or walking in sin. Paul criticized the church at Corinth for tolerating the sin of one believer (1 Cor 5) just as Jesus came down on the whole church at Thyatira for tolerating Jezebel and her teachings. Jesus takes church seriously! He shed his blood to wash his bride clean. And through the Holy Spirit he continues to sanctify her by the washing of water with the word. "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent" (3:19, to the church at Laodicea).
Holiness in the church is important! Personal, individual holiness in the lives of local church members is important! Let us not live in such a way as to bring sin-blasting mail from Jesus to our local church! But by his grace, let us walk in holiness, knowing that this will not go unnoticed by our Lord Jesus, who is walking in the midst of the churches.