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Strengthening What Remains - The Book of Revelation
Week 48, 2016
We will now study the Church at Sardis (1400–1844):
To the angel of the church in Sardis write; these things says He that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but are dead.
Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found you works completed before God (Revelation 3:1-2 NKJV).
Sardis means, “that which remains.” The periods of each church are general, and I have this church period spanning from the beginning of the Reformation until the 1844 Advent Movement—also the high water mark of the Second Great Awakening. Some of these church periods overlap one another, and perhaps all of them do, as is often the case with biblical prophecy. As one church period began to wane, another would emerge to eclipse it.
The period of the Church of Sardis saw dramatic changes in civilization, government, culture, and the church. Powerful Reformation preachers such as Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli sent spiritual and political earthquakes throughout Western civilization. However, as we have discussed, just as the political alliance with the Roman Empire released a terrible corruption into the church, many Reformation churches gave in to the same sources of corruption through similar political alliances. Soon they did virtually the same things that they had accused the Catholic Church of doing, just a little differently.
Soon Reformation churches became as cruel to their detractors as the Roman church had been to them in the Inquisition and previous persecutions. The Reformation churches may have recovered more biblical truth, but by their actions they were dead, even though they claimed to be alive. Truth is important, and the truth that gives life will always align with the Scriptures. However, if we know the truth but do not live it, then it is a snare to us.
Yet the church of this period did much to “strengthen what remains,” as the Lord exhorted it to do. The Reformation’s motto became “the Scriptures alone,” declaring that every doctrine of the church must be established by the Scriptures. The Word of God is the truth that sets men free. As study of the Scriptures became the most noble devotion of the times, freedom became a basic cry of the people. John Calvin is even regarded as the “father of modern democracy,” and his teachings brought profound change to governments by empowering the people.
There is a dichotomy in this period that is prevalent today. The church’s political alliances brought corruption into the church, but it also released light into the governments. One of the crucial questions asked in our time is how can the church influence governments without bringing bad influences from the government into the church?
America’s Founding Fathers wrestled with this question while writing the U.S. Constitution. Their conclusion was to build a firewall to keep the federal government out of the church by declaring that, “congress shall make no religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof.” At the same time, they declared that the government would not last without the influence of moral and religious people. It is obvious from their other writings that they wanted a one-way street for the church to influence the government, but also to keep the government’s influence out of the church. In recent times there has been a movement to reverse this so that the church would not have influence with the government, but yet the government would be able to dictate policy in the church. History screams that this is a dangerous turn.
Many still wrongly believe that there is a “separation of church and state” in the U.S. Constitution, but there is not. There is only the prohibition for the federal government to establish a religion, or prohibit the free exercise of religion. The Constitution also declares that any authority not specifically given to the federal government by the Constitution remains with the states and the people. Therefore, the states are free to establish a religion, and many did until the middle of the 19th century. For example, in some states you had to be a Protestant Christian to hold office. States like Pennsylvania had laws favoring Quakers, while some states had laws favoring Catholics. I am not saying this was right, and later most states dropped these provisions. As they almost all did this for a time without protest from the Founders or Constitutionalists, it at least proves that the states had the authority to establish a religion if they so chose.
Now how does this apply today? How has the misunderstanding that the Constitution mandated a separation of church and state affect us? The federal government has, in violation of the Constitution, mandated to the states many things, such as the removal of prayer in schools. That authority rests only with the states and is an obvious violation of the federal government’s forbiddance by the Constitution to prohibit the free exercise of religion.
The American Founding Fathers lived in a time that still witnessed the persecution of Christians in Europe, and the French Revolution was one of the historical events illuminating the tyranny of the mob and anarchists. They saw the potential for tyranny coming from either a too strong executive, or federal government, or from the unrestrained madness of the mob. To counter both of these, they designed a government with firewalls that protected from the excesses of either. This was based on the proven history of fallen human nature.
The American Founding Fathers sought divine help and wisdom, and when you study their works it is obvious that they received it. The Constitution is not Scripture, but it remains the most brilliant governmental document ever written. One thing it has in common with the Bible is that many presume to know what is in it yet they have never read it. I have been told by those who studied Constitutional law that they never once read the Constitution, or any part of it, during their courses.
We have office holders from Presidents on down who swear to uphold and defend the Constitution but have never read it. This is at the root of much of the conflict and chaos we’re now experiencing as a nation. The same thing has been happening in the church because many preachers hardly know, or really preach, from their Bibles.
next week 49