good church: pergamum

At the heart of the Biblical narrative there is theme that flows through both the old and New Testament that is that we are made in the image of a God who created and loves us.  All of humanity bears the image of God and are called to be God’s reflection to the world.  However, through all of time there has been competition to that image.  Kings and rulers have put their faces on coins and built statues.  Kings have forced their empire on their subjects and have compelled them to reflect what the empire looks like.  Some are coerced and still others are so deeply in-tune with the empire that they naturally reflect it.  The other day I saw a common bumper sticker that read: “It’s God’s job to forgive Bin Laden, it’s our job to arrange the appointment.” I was thinking about this guy who drove this truck.  He is simply a reflection of what the bulk of his country is feeling.  This thought isn’t in every American’s head but it is enough to be national sediment.  This isn’t uncommon in history.

There was a town called Pergamum in the first century that was a political and religious powerhouse.  It was a part of the Roman Empire.  The town didn’t have great economic wealth but in order to gain political clout, the town would hold events that would reflect what Rome was all about.  To show the military power of their country they would celebrate violence by cutting off the hands of criminals and throwing them into the pit with wild beasts.[1] Imperial worship flourished in this town and if you were to walk into the town you would see statues all over representing the different pagan God’s.  On the top of a hill stood a massive monument to the god Zeus.  It was not easy to follow Jesus in this context.

In Jesus’ critique of the church in Pergamum he references an episode when Balaam taught the people of Moab how to seduce the Israelites.  Balaam didn’t teach them anything revolutionary, he simply taught the people of Moab to integrate the people of Israel into their culture of eating food sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality.  This reference is key to understanding what Jesus was talking about; the church in Pergamum began to lose its reflection of their creator.  The church didn’t look any different.  In essence Jesus was put on a shelf with the other god’s of the town and the church started to look like the empire not the King.

So it is in this context that I ask the question, what makes a good church?  If you were really to study the church in Pergamum I think you’d come to the conclusion that a good church looks nothing like the culture.  A good church is a counter cultural revolution.  An outsider should walk into a community of believers and notice that it is uniquely different, there is a love and generosity and kindness that is not found anywhere else.  An outsider should walk into a community of faith and see the reflection of the living God.  A good church should go out and reflect their creator to the world.  Are you in a good church?  Does your life reflect the one who has created you?



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  • M. Borer

    Well said, and applicable to all people of faith. Houses of worship should not be concert halls, nor shopping malls, but places to recuperate from our consumerist culture and revivify our souls in the light of the Most High.