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June 16, 2011

Thursday Is for Turkey: The Church in Pergamum

I am currently in the middle of a series of posts reflecting on my recent trip to Turkey on a Jet Set Vision Tour with the Upstream Collective. We visited the locations of the seven churches from the Book of Revelation. You can look back at earlier posts on The Church in Ephesus and The Church in Smyrna

Scholars like to debate the reasons for Jesus' warning to the church at Pergamum in the Book of Revelation. It's full of cryptic references to the "throne of Satan" and the teachings of the "Nicolaitans." I'm no scholar, but after visiting the site, I have a much better understanding of the passage and how the warning applies to us today.

What's left of the city of Pergamum (also called Pergamon) is situated on a hill overlooking the modern Turkish city of Bergama. In fact, you've got to take a gondola to reach the ruins at all. Rolling green hills were the backdrop for carefully-reconstructed marble columns and intricately carved friezes. We couldn't help but marvel at the ancient Greeks' engineering and craftsmanship.

This Acropolis is filled with temples. Built in honor of Athena, Dionysus, and the Roman Emperor Trajan, these places of worship established the city's reputation throughout the empire as a spiritual place. Pergamum was home to a significant number of Christians as well, and although they had not denied Christ, Jesus says that they had allowed themselves to be influenced by paganism, idolatry, and false teachings.

I preached from Revelation 2:12-17 in the center of the steep 10,000-seat Hellenistic Theater. In the middle of my sermon (starting at about 2:23), you can hear the Islamic call to prayer ringing out from mosques in various neighborhoods of the town below. It was a startling irony: gospel preaching in a place that was once filled with Christ-followers, but is now 99% Muslim, about the dangers of compromise with pagan philosophies.

What about the church today? What can we learn from Pergamum?

For starters, we need to look at what we've allowed to influence us. Some historians say that the "Nicolaitans" referred to in John's Revelation from Jesus are authoritarian clergy who sought to oppress the laity. Are we on the watch for manipulative leaders within our ranks?

Because its citizens worshiped men and false gods, Jesus referred to Pergamum as being, "where Satan lives." Are we certain to worship the Most High God and Him alone? What worldly and satanic philosophies have we allowed to creep in? The result of these infidelities is enmity with God.

The lesson for us is that it isn't enough to simply not deny Christ in the face of opposition. We must also stand against the subtle influences of the world around us, especially the empty religion that tend toward. We must continually repent from those things and turn toward Christ.

In the end, I believe that Jesus mentions the church at Pergamum in Revelation because the believers there faced a similar spiritual climate to what we face today. As we explored the beautiful ruins of ancient Pergamum, it occurred to us that we were, in a sense, viewing one possible future for the church in America. Our only hope against evil and deceit is to hold tightly to the gospel of Christ; to know the Word of God and to hold every practice, philosophy, and teaching to its standard.

For more information on how your church can get involved in strengthening the church in Turkey, visit the Upstream Collective.

NEXT WEEK: The Church in Thyatira

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Thursday Is for Turkey: The Church in Pergamum