We’ve been looking at the history of the Church in the 6th Dispensation from the perspective of the seven letters Jesus dictated to seven churches in Asia Minor.
Generally speaking, in each letter, Jesus gives the church a commendation for what they are doing well, reproof for their shortcomings, the consequences if they don’t heed His corrections, and a promise to the obedient “overcomers”.
When examined in the order presented, I believe the letters outline the history of the Church in advance.
The first post in this series looked at the apostolic and persecuted churches in Ephesus and Smyrna, and the second post dealt with the compromising church in Pergamos.
The last post documented the millennium in which Mystics dominated the Church (and most of the western world), and probably pissed off many Catholic readers (actually, based on the e-mails I’ve received in response to the last post, I think it’d be safe to change “probably” to “definitely”)
In this post, we will examine the fifth letter addressed to the church at Sardis.
The letter to Sardis has the unfortunate distinction of being one of two letters in which Jesus has NOTHING positive to say. Unlike the other five letters, Jesus gives no commendation to the church at Sardis.
Jesus admonished the Sardis Church because they claimed that they were alive, but Jesus said that they were actually dead! Pretty harsh stuff.
If the previous letter to Thyatira coincides with the salad days of the Catholic Church, then chronologically, the fifth letter to the church at Sardis would represent the Protestant Reformation; a movement that began in the 16th century and heavily influences Christian doctrine to this day.
Reforming the Mystics
There had been many attempts to reform Catholic practices and reinforce sound biblical doctrine throughout the reign of the Mystics, but those early reformations met with little success early on. But it became down right deadly to the erstwhile reformers as the Catholic power structure grew.
But all that changed thanks in large part to a man named Martin Luther. Luther was a devout German Catholic who was studying law at the University of Erfurt when he was caught in a severe lightning storm. Fearing for his life, he called on Saint Anna (his patron saint) for protection and vowed to dedicate his life to Catholicism if he was spared.
After the storm, he remained true to his word. He quit law school, became a monk and began living a life of religious piety.
Unfortunately this led him to the predicament faced by most people who embrace religion; he soon began to realize that his religious works did not alleviate his guilt debt.
In Luther’s case, he was plagued by “immoral thoughts” (specifically of a sexual nature” which would not go away no matter how many rituals and sacraments he performed).
Luthor predictably follwed the common path of religios adherants. Instead of his failure at self-justification leading to contrastive thinking and true righteousness, he chose the path of brain damage, doubled down and became MORE religious.
He physically beat and flailed himself in order to “punish his flesh”. He obsessively performed every religious ritual he could think of. He went to confession so often, his priest eventually told him to “go do something worth confessing”, or don’t bother coming back (I guess even mystics get bored).
Blinded by the bling
Luther eventually took a pilgrimage to Rome, and what he saw there would change his life (and the course of western history).
He saw the vast wealth the Mystics had accumulated by literally charging the poor masses for a ticket to heaven. He noticed that their opulence was an affront to the mission and message of Jesus.
This FINALLY led Luther to begin asking contrastive questions about Catholicism. As he sought answers from God, he was led to the passage: the just shall live by faith.
Luther understood that man is NOT justified by the “good works” he does or the money he feeds to the clergy, but by faith in God alone!
Luther went back to Germany and in 1517 nailed his famous “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg church, condemning the idea that you a can be saved by buying “Indulgences” from the Church (Mystics always come up with cool names for their con jobs).
Luther’s position became very popular and was embraced by powerful German Royals who provided safe haven from the Mystics in Rome and allowed Luther’s following to grow. And thus the Protestant Reformation began in earnest.
Leave Salvation alone
The focus of the Reformation was the vital doctrine of Salvation and directly contradicted the doctrines of the mystics on the matter via the 5 “Solae” (alone’s)
Scripture alone is God’s word – as opposed to mystic’s “sacred tradition”. Justification by faith alone – instead of rituals meant to pay the guilt debt. Salvation by grace alone – not merited by good works or by financing the lifestyle of the local mystics.
Salvation through Christ alone – not through the Virgin Mary (Semaramis) or any of the other assorted “saints”.
And the glory for it all goes to God alone – not to any man (no matter how many sweet robes, hats, and staffs he owns).
But if the Protestant Reformation did so much good, why was the letter to Sardis so negative?
The Reformation did great work on salvation doctrine but didn’t go far enough to separate themselves from the Mystics. In fact, Jesus explicitly says that their works were “not complete”!
To this day, you will still find many of the Mystic’s trappings in Protestant Churches. The buildings are often filled with the same symbols, and glyphs. There is usually a single, quasi-worshipped “Minister” often adorned in elaborate robes and collars who is the primary (or sole) source of doctrine for the entire congregation.
And if you watch any of the charlatans that occupy most religious television broadcasts, (and why would you do that?), you’ll witness a plethora of mystics and con men selling favors from God if you “sow” a monetary “seed” into their coffers.
The Doctrine of Death
Yet even with all this, there is a much more damaging doctrine that gained primacy during the reformation that is probably most responsible for Jesus’ condemnation of that church – Calvinism.
John Calvin is on par with Luther as being the most influential figure of Protestantism.
Calvin believed in the all-powerful God of the Bible and the doctrine of salvation by faith, however he had a very low opinion of man. He believed that man was so inherently evil that there is no way he could EVER choose God (and salvation) on his own.
To try to resolve this contradiction, Calvin sought to create a comprehensive doctrine that allowed for the 5 Solae, God’s sovereignty, AND man’s depravity.
Unfortunately what he came up with was a religious dogma that conflicts with (and in some places outright contradicts) God’s word, plan, and nature. Even more unfortunate is that Calvinism is the foundational doctrine of most Protestant churches.
What are the “5 Points” of Calvinism, and why are they dangerous?
Calvinism contains five key doctrines or “points”.
Point 1. Total Depravity: Man is born a sinner, and cannot become righteous and just on his own – so far so good. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here…
Point 2. Unconditional Election: God sovereignly chooses who will be saved without any input from the person – This has ALL KINDS of problems. First of all, it denies free will. It means man has no choice in God’s plan, which also means that man can’t ever really love God!
It completely negates the process of the Meaning of Life and makes being the Bride of Christ tantamount to a shotgun wedding (if not rape!!).
It also means that God intentionally and arbitrarily sends the people He doesn’t “elect” to hell without any clemency!
Unconditional Election is unrighteous, unjust, and contradicts God’s nature in just about every way imaginable!
Point 3. Limited Atonement: Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world, He ONLY died for the sins of the unconditionally elected – This doctrine has many of the same problems as Point 2, and it also means that Jesus lied in John 3:16.
Point 4. Irresistible Grace: The people who are “elected” to be saved will be irresistibly drawn to accept salvation – This is an extremely weak attempt to make the god of Calvinism seem less like a tyrant. It makes grace a benevolent tractor beam that forces the elect to “choose” God through a siren song. Furthermore it relies on an incorrect definition of grace and the denial of free will.
Point 5. Perseverance of the Saints: Once you are saved you can’t ever change your mind – Again, this denies free will. In order for this to work, God would have to damage or remove the part of your brain that allows cognition. This doctrine renders you a prisoner or a zombie. God gives you a new heart when you’re saved, not a new mind.
But why does Calvin’s doctrine render the church “dead”?
Calvinism causes “death” because to live is to repair and grow. In order to repair you have to think contrastively – you have to admit that you could be wrong, which is uncomfortable and goes against our nature.
But if you believe that God elected you unconditionally and you can’t lose salvation no matter what you do, what’s your motivation to repair?
And if you also believe that God sovereignly chose to send some people to heaven and others to hell without their input, then why obey the great commission? What’s the point in evangelizing or trying to disciple others?
If they were meant to be saved, Irresistible Grace will draw them. If not, Limited Atonement means He didn’t die for them anyway (so there’s no wasted blood). In Calvinism, you have NO responsibility for your salvation or the spreading of the Gospel.
Calvinism makes God nothing more than a cosmic puppeteer while absolving men of all responsibility for their actions. If you’re “good”, it’s because God made you good. If you’re evil, well that’s God sovereign Will. Enjoy Hell!
What does this mean for today’s Church?
As I mentioned at the end of the last post, the structure of Jesus’ last four letters changed slightly to indicate that these four churches will be in existence in some form when Jesus returns for His Bride
If you take a close look at this letter, you will find the term “name” featured. This is intentional word play by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word this is translated from is “onoma” the root of the English word “Denomination”.
Sardis is the contemporary traditional or mainline denominational church! (Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc.)
The advice Jesus has for the dead church is to “Wake up and strengthen that which remains and is about to die! Remember what you have already learned” In other words, “make sure you don’t lose the one thing that you are barely doing right – salvation doctrine”.
The best this church can hope for is to be saved. But they will have little or no reward in heaven. Because they did nothing to benefit God on earth.
As hard as the last post was on Catholicism, at least the Catholics do some good works (which Jesus commended in the letter to Thyatira). Even though the works don’t save them, they at least offer SOME benefits.
Again, if a Catholic finds a way to meet the criteria for salvation (mentioned at the end of the last post) they will be better off than a Protestant who embraced Calvinism because they will have done something profitable with their lives!
If the dead church does not “wake up” Jesus said His return for his Bride will be to them like a thief! They won’t recognize the signs of his coming because they are not watching for Him vigilantly! Why? Because Calvinism tells them they don’t need to! They have no responsibility!
New clothes for the overcomers
Jesus ended the letter by saying there are some “names” (denominations?) in Sardis that have not gone down the path of death. Jesus specifically says they have not defiled their garments. In the Bible, clothes/garments are often symbolic of righteousness. This speaks again to the incompleteness of Sardis.
Redemption (like everything associated with God) is righteous and just. Justice is represented by Salvation (Jesus taking on the just punishment for sin). Righteousness is growth and sanctification. This church got salvation right, but Calvinism greatly hinders (defiles) righteousness.
And no, I’m not going to speculate about WHICH specific denominations Jesus might be referring to in His message to the overcomers. I think this letter makes it clear that denominational churches are not the best place for Christians to be. Period.
The Churches in the last four of Jesus’ seven letters look to be in pretty bad shape for the most part (and we haven’t even gotten to the worst one yet), but there is one bright spot in the bunch.
In the next post we will look at the most exemplary church of them all. The church which is not only free from any condemnation, but one which Jesus explicitly promises to rescue from the coming Tribulation. Next time.
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