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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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Dr. James Emery White

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The “Seven Letters to the Seven Churches” is one of the more well-known and frequently taught sections of the book of Revelation. 

In it, seven letters from Jesus were sent to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. While they may be seven letters, they aren’t seven distinct messages, or symbols of seven types of people, or reflective of seven eras. They contain one collective message for the church in all times and all places. In other words, any church might be like one of these seven churches, and within any church there can be people who are like the people in these churches.

Most expositors like to focus on Laodicea, and it is fun to exegete. First, Laodicea was wealthy. So wealthy that when they were hit by an earthquake in A.D. 60, along with several other towns in the region, they refused all government aid from the Roman Empire – aid that was being offered and going out to other cities – because they had more than enough wealth to rebuild on their own. Second, it was known for producing the finest clothes in the world. That city was at the center of the fashion industry. Third, it was known for its medical school, and specifically the invention of an ointment that helped clear up vision issues. And finally, despite all that they did have, they were known for not having their own water supply.

It had to come to them through a series of viaducts and pipe ways over at least six miles, and then it came from a series of hot springs. By the time the water got to them, it was often still lukewarm, and unless it was treated it was disgusting to drink. It would make you retch to drink it. If the water had come hot, it could have been useful for bathing; if it had come cold, it could have been used for drinking. But lukewarm water was good for nothing.

It’s a powerful backdrop to what Jesus said to them:

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me — gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” (Revelation 3:14-19, NLT)

But for current cultural issues within the Church (and these seven were meant for the Church, not for culture at large), Thyatira might be the most relevant. They were doing much in the name of social ministry but overlooking sexual ethics. Here was what Jesus had to say to them:

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service… But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman — that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet — to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols.” (Revelation 2:18, 20, NLT)

The church at Thyatira had love for others and serving others at their point of need down. Social ministry? Nailing it. Caring for the poor, the widow, the homeless, the hungry, the orphan? No one had a bigger heart for the physical, felt needs of people than they did.

Jesus’ problem was with their embrace of Jezebel. 

Jezebel was an actual historic figure during the time of the prophet Elijah who was known for being incredibly evil. In Revelation, in relation to the letter to Thyatira, her name is used to signify a prominent woman who undermined loyalty to God by promoting tolerance toward certain pagan practices; specifically, eating food sacrificed to idols and engaging in sexual immorality.

Thyatira was well known as a center for trade guilds. They were so strong that you couldn’t work without belonging to one of them. But the trade guilds were very pagan in orientation. Membership involved attending the guild banquets where meat that had been sacrificed to idols would be eaten in celebration of the idol.

This put the Christian in a difficult position. If they didn’t attend, they were out of a job. If they did attend, they would be compromising their faith. Jezebel came along and said: “No problem – eat away! It’s okay – God understands.”

So many of them did.

This led to greater compromise because those feasts were tied to acts of sexual immorality—particularly with the Temple prostitutes. In essence, “Jezebel” was teaching that you could embrace doing all the good of the Christ life while simultaneously engaging in an immoral lifestyle – or at the very least accepting and tolerating and even affirming it in others. 

They were a church full of love, but no truth. Love and acceptance turned into affirmation and licentiousness. They would give food to the hungry and housing to the homeless, but then worship false gods and sleep with prostitutes—and they felt this was fine. The heart of the condemnation was that this was tolerated without being confronted by the church itself. It was as though nobody wanted to seem intolerant or judgmental about what appeared to be a personal lifestyle choice. 

But Jesus says that they should have never let that spirit, much less that teaching, exist within the church or within anyone’s life.

The letter to Thyatira is increasingly the letter that churches need sent to them today. They are socially minded in terms of ministry and justice, but in so being, they seem complacent on sexual ethics. Even compromising, as if affirming homoerotic lifestyles, gay marriages, non-binary identities and more is part of what it means to be loving and socially conscious.

Jesus commended the church at Thyatira for their social commitments but reminded them that there is no place for the spirit of Jezebel in a Christian Church.

James Emery White

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

If you’re not familiar with the many scandals that have plagued Hillsong as of yet, I can only say, “Google it.” Just compiling a sequential set to tell the unfolding story would be a blog unto itself. Suffice it to say, one of the world’s largest and most influential network of churches has found itself drowning in sexual and financial misconduct, not to mention a culture within the church that both facilitated it and, when confronted, attempted to cover it up.

This leaves churches that both love and use Hillsong music in a dilemma: Should they keep using the music? At Meck, we’ve made our decision. But for many, it won’t be easy.

The music of Hillsong has filled our churches for decades, from “Shout to the Lord” in 1994 to the more recent “Oceans.” Currently, four of the 10 most popular worship songs come out of Hillsong: “The Goodness of God,” “What a Beautiful Name,” “Who You Say I Am,” and “King of Kings.”

There will be many who say that the sin of the leadership should have nothing to do with the power and efficacy of a song. There is truth to that, and historical precedent in the history of the Church.

Under the Roman emperor Diocletian, there was enormous persecution of the early Christian Church. It began in 303 and didn’t end until the conversion of Constantine. During that time, Christian books were burned and churches demolished. Those Christian leaders who turned their books over to be burned were labeled traditores, which is the basis for our word “traitor,” which literally means “those who handed over.”

Then came the dilemma: Once Christianity stopped being persecuted, did the traditores still have the right to function as ministers? Of particular interest were the sacraments. Did whatever grace and meaning involved in overseeing a sacrament depend on the person who did it or on the sacrament itself?

Two groups, with very different ideas, emerged. The first were the Donatists, named after their leader, Donatus. They felt that lapsed bishops were deprived of all ability to administer the sacraments or act as a minister of the Christian Church. They had left the church and could no longer administer the sacraments properly. To their thinking, anyone who was a traditor under persecution needed to be replaced by someone who had stayed faithful, regardless of whether repentance was evidenced.

The other view was taken by a group that came to be known as the Catholics (not to be confused with the formalized Catholic Church but rather “catholic” meaning “the church universal”). They felt like the person could, by their repentance, be restored to grace and continue in their role. 

The two sides were at a stalemate until the towering figure of Augustine stepped in. He maintained that every Christian is a sinner, and that whatever holiness there is in the Church is not found in its members, but rather in Christ. He argued that the Donatists placed far too much emphasis on the human agent, instead of on Christ as the One who works through such things as the sacraments.

In the annals of Church history, Donatism was labeled a heresy, and it was maintained that the validity of the sacraments is independent of the merits of those who administer them. This did not mean that just anyone could administer the sacraments – they must stay within the confines and authority of the Church and in the hands of those ministers the Church authorizes – but the efficacy of the sacrament itself does not lie in those authorized hands.

But with the music of Hillsong, there is a very important difference: Every time a church uses one of their songs, financial remuneration goes to Hillsong. Not just the individual(s) who wrote the song, but also to the church itself. And when a person singing a Hillsong song at church goes out and downloads it, this again helps Hillsong financially.

When all matters of Hillsong debauchery began to break across many Hillsong churches, I had a “wait and see” mentality. Meaning, let’s see how the church leadership responds to it all, particularly the latest incident with the central leader, Brian Houston. Unfortunately, that response was to ask all Hillsong leaders to simply sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements). 

It was then that I knew that in good conscience we could no longer use Hillsong music in any way that financially supports the continued culture of financial and sexual misconduct at Hillsong Church.

This grieves me. At Meck, we had approximately 10 or so songs from Hillsong in rotation when we made the decision. Songs that meant something to me and to many others in our church. But there are some things that mean more, specifically worshipping God in both spirit and truth. Worshiping in a way that supports what is happening at Hillsong does neither.

It is not simply Hillsong. I hope all churches will evaluate the source of their worship music and ask if they are wanting to financially support that source in terms of its approach to ministry and theology.  An individual song might be fine, but the royalties might go to support a church teaching a prosperity theology, a distortion of the Trinity, or even just very expensive sneakers worn by preachers. But make no mistake—when you use a song from a church, you are not only giving that church money, but also their “brand” legitimation. 

As musician Dan Coogan put it, “If I wouldn’t quote their pastor or allow him to preach in our pulpit, then I won’t use the songs their bands write.” This isn’t “cancel culture.” This is about biblical and theological integrity.

There will be fresh music coming for the Church. The Holy Spirit has no limits for creativity. It will, hopefully, encourage many churches to support the artists in their midst to turn their giftings toward the writing of new songs.

And if or when Hillsong church shows true, institutional repentance,

… I’ll sing “Shout to the Lord” louder than anyone.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Kelsey Kramer McGinnis, “Should We Keep Singing Hillsong?” Christianity Today, May 2, 2022, read online.

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

When the movie Skyfall released in 2012, it was the 23rd installment in the James Bond series that began 60 years ago in 1962 with Dr. No.

Skyfall was heralded as the best Bond film in years and Daniel Craig the best Bond since Sean Connery. It is, without a doubt, a Bond-lover’s feast. From the revival of Q to Miss Moneypenny, throwback villains to Aston Martins, it deserved its critical acclaim and box office success.

However, there are 24 mistakes in the film.

I know this because somebody poured over the film multiple times and counted them.

For example, when Bond drinks Macallan in M’s apartment and puts the bottle down, the label is facing away from the audience. A few scenes later, the label is facing toward the audience.

Gasp!

During the scenes on the London Underground, Bond gets on at Temple Station and gets off at Westminster, but Embankment, the station between these two stops on the District Line, is nowhere to be seen.

Oh, my!

Bond is seen driving down Whitehall in London. Behind him, the #38 bus is visible. However, the #38 bus does not travel down, nor is it particularly near, Whitehall. 

Scandal!

When Bond is fighting on top of the train at the beginning of the film, his footwear changes from black lace up shoes to black slip-on ankle boots.

How dare they!

Of course, the 24 mistakes in Skyfall are nothing compared to the 395 found in Apocalypse Now nor the 310 found in The Wizard of Oz.

When I ran across the article on the 24 mistakes, I sat back and thought: Really? Who has the time to count such minuscule mistakes? Who has the kind of “life” or spirit that would want to?

Who looks at the larger-than-life story told through skillful acting, writing and cinematography in such a film – much less Academy Award winners such as Apocalypse Now and The Wizard of Oz – and walks away with bottle labels, Tube lines and bus schedules? Who wants to major on the minors?

Actually, I know. Most leaders do. They are the same kind of people who analyze any number of other people, places or things for mistakes. And I know at least one of the reasons why they do it, too. (We’ll bracket off personality for the moment.)

They have misplaced missional energy.

When I speak of missional energy, I confess I have no verse to take you to, no great theological architect from history to cite. Only decades of working with people as a leader. But I will tell you that I believe it is very real and must be considered. When I talk to other leaders, they believe it’s real, too. They may not use my language, but they know what I mean when I describe it.

Here’s the idea: It is as if there is a certain amount of missional energy within a person and, by extension, within a community of people.   

This energy can be turned inward or outward. 

If turned outward, toward authentic mission, the life of the community is relatively peaceful. There isn’t the time or energy to focus on minor disagreements or petty arguments, trivial mistakes or inconsequential missteps.

Within the life of a church that is turned outward, no one cares what color the carpet is, the fine points of another’s eschatology, or splitting a Sunday School class into two to make room for others.

Instead, Kingdom victories are celebrated by all, grace is extended to all, and minor mistakes are overlooked in all.

Why? 

There are obviously far larger issues at hand. 

However, if that energy is not turned outward, the energy still exists. And when that energy is not spent on authentic mission, it turns inward, like a dog gnawing a sore on its leg. Pseudo-missions come to the surface, feigning an importance equal to authentic mission. Suddenly minuscule matters of order, trivial variants of biblical interpretation, and trifling questions about lifestyle all come rushing to the forefront with a sense of gravitas that is wickedly out of proportion.

Of course, this isn’t limited to churches. You see it in schools, homeowner’s associations, sports leagues… anywhere people are gathered. 

Yes, there are times to point out mistakes and errors, moral lapses and incongruities. This isn’t about turning a blind eye to incompetence. 

But let’s make sure the mistakes we’re pointing out are major ones, shall we? Ones that really matter? 

And in the meantime, let’s focus on using our energy toward something more productive than finding 24 inconsequential mistakes in a 143-minute film. 

Like making a film or two yourself.

James Emery White

 

Sources     

“Fans Notice 24 Mistakes in New James Bond Film Skyfall,” The Telegraph, November 23, 2012, read online.

The actual compilation of mistakes upon which the article is based was made by moviemistakes.com.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

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