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Will the American Church Be a New Smyrna?

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  • Will the American Church Be a New Smyrna?

    by Rick Phillips



    As the Supreme Court deliberates on the question of homosexual marriage, American Christians are bracing for a level of government persecution yet unknown to us. The fear is that with homosexuality declared a constitutional right, opposition will officially be akin to racism. Under such a ruling, Christian institutions who refuse to grant homosexual rights may be subjected to official oppression and lose their tax exempt status as non-profit institutions. Even churches may lose their tax-free status if they refuse to permit marriages between two men or two women. This would deal a heavy financial blow and may be a precursor to the removal of our religious freedoms, so that public speech against moral perversion becomes a crime punishable by fine or imprisonment.

    Christians who know the book of Revelation will notice a striking parallel between this potential situation and that which Jesus described to the church of Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11. This ancient city was a jewel on the Aegean Sea, the chief city of the Roman province of Asia. With over 200,000 residents, it was noted for its historical loyalty to the Roman empire. In the year 26 a.d., the city even competed for and won the honor of erecting a temple to the emperor Tiberius and was famed for its commitment to the Roman imperial cult. As such, the church there was vulnerable to the persecutions that the emperor Domitian was about to unleash on those who would not bow to his supposed deity.

    Of the seven letters to the churches of Revelation, the one to Smyrna is the shortest. It contains no rebukes, but reveals Christ's close familiarity with the sufferings they had and were about to experience: "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander. . . . Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison" (Rev. 2:9-10). The word tribulation means pressure of great oppression. Already, the Christians of this city were financially impoverished, probably because participation in social and economic life was forbidden to those not willing to worship Caesar as Lord. Jesus is not speaking of a mere removal of tax-exempt status, but the word for "poverty" means a crushing situation in which even basic needs cannot be met. Their situation reminds believers today that this kind of persecution should not be unexpected by those who name Jesus as Lord.

    A second form of persecution took the form of slander, which Jesus says was coming from the Jewish community, who did not want to lose their privileged status by association with the Christians. We know that Christians in the early church were falsely accused of drowning their children and eating human flesh, wrongly associated with the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. This form of persecution is currently escalating against Christians in America, as we are accused of "hate crimes" because of our moral stance against homosexuality. Jesus warned that more persecution would soon come: "Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison." When he adds, "Be faithful unto death," it seems that some at least would also be slain (Rev. 2:10).

    As Christians brace for official oppression in America, Jesus' words to Smyrna offer a great hope. Primarily, Jesus declares his sovereignty over such tribulation. We see this in his ability to foretell these events. He begins his letter saying, "The words of the first and the last" (Rev. 2:8). As the Lord of the beginning and the end, Jesus is sovereign over everything in between. Jesus also foretold that it would not be an interminable persecution: "for ten days you will have tribulation" (Rev. 2:10). "Ten days" is probably a symbolic number indicating a lengthy but not indefinite period of time. There would be an "eleventh day" when he would remove the trial. Jesus also informed Smyrna of the reason for this suffering: "that you may be tested" (Rev. 2:10). So it will be in America when Christians are forced to pay a tangible earthly price for our fidelity to God's Word. Will the loss of tax-exemption and the threat of cultural exclusion cause us to yield our allegiance to Christ? This is the matter about which we should be praying: what truly matters is not whether or not we suffer persecution but whether we remain faithful should it come. As Christians brace for a Supreme Court ruling that would have been incomprehensible just a few years ago, together with an intensity of opposition we have seldom known, we too should be comforted by Christ's sovereign control over present history. If persecution comes, we must receive it as a test from our gracious Savior and an opportunity to show his power as we gladly endure it in faith to his Word.

    Jesus had a simple message for the believers in Smyrna that is needed by American Christians today: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer" (Rev. 2:10). Do we doubt our Lord's ability to preserve us under trial? Do we question his willingness to support us under unjust oppression? Then of what are we afraid? Jesus' message to Smyrna reminds us that we have every reason for confidence and joy if we are given the privilege of suffering for his name.

    Jesus' letter to Smyrna included three incentives that American Christians should hold in view. First, he tells us that even if we are utterly impoverished in a material sense, yet "you are rich" (Rev. 2:9). If biblically faithful churches should be subjected to punitive taxes and if individual believers are fined or oppressed, we will be abundantly compensated with spiritual riches. In fact, the very affluence we are threatened with losing is often the greatest barrier to the simplicity, vibrant joy and sheer spiritual wealth we ought to be enjoying. With this in mind, it is possible that his reference to a trial for "ten days" is an allusion to the testing of Daniel and his friends in Babylon, when they refused to transgress God's law by eating forbidden foods from Nebuchadnezzar's table. In this case, Jesus was reminding the believers of Smyrna that like Daniel they would emerge "better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food" (Dan. 1:15). Trusting in the same Lord, the believers of Smyrna and America would emerge from tribulation strengthened in faith and with a greater public testimony to the power of our Savior. Armed with this confidence, the Bible urges to rejoice in the prospect of suffering for Christ, "knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (Rom. 5:3-4).

    A second incentive has to do with the eternal glory that is gained by those who suffer for Jesus in this life: "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). This promise connects to the athletic games held in Smyrna, which rivaled those of Mount Olympus in Greece. Jesus thus promises an ornament of glory, life, and power to crown believers who conquer through faith. He began the letter by declaring himself the Savior "who died and came to life" (Rev. 2:8), and who thus has the power to give us grace under trial and glory in heaven.

    Third, Christ reminds us of the greatest blessing awaiting us in his soon return: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Sprit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death" (Rev. 2:11). Instead of fearing and reviling the cultural enemies of Christ today, Christians should look on them with pity for the eternal judgment awaiting those who perish with sins unforgiven because of unbelief in Jesus, and we should make it our prayerful priority to offer a living witness that may lead to the conversion of many unbelievers. Even if we should be threatened with death (which is not a current prospect in America) we should not fear, for he will raise us to eternal life. Jesus promises those who endure in faith, "I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).

    Jesus placed a single requirement on the persecuted church of Smyrna: "Be faithful," even "unto death" (Rev. 2:10). There were not to look at the suffering to come with fear but with anticipation of purification and deliverance by our Sovereign Redeemer. With Jesus in view, we are to make faithfulness for his sake our single goal and most urgent prayer.

    When the book of Revelation arrived in Smyrna, one believer who was almost certainly present was Polycarp of Smyrna, who was martyred in 154 a.d. as the bishop of that city. Church tradition tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of John's who was consecrated to his church office by the apostle himself. This makes it possible, even likely, that Polycarp was actually the church leader who read this letter when it arrived in Smyrna. We know that he survived the persecution about which Jesus warned. But years later the day came when he was required to renounce Jesus or face the penalty of death. His immortal answer is recorded in church history: "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?" With that refusal Polycarp was executed by public burning, having been faithful to the end and being certain of the crown of everlasting life from the hand of his beloved Lord. May his godly spirit - a spirit of humility, meekness, gospel love, and courageous resolve - be evident among American Christians should a time of persecution fall upon us for our loyalty to God's Word. Jesus told his followers in Smyrna words that surely apply to American believers today: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).

  • #2
    What's really wrong too is that Americans are letting the Judicial branch of government legislate. Where is the Legislature on all this stuff? The same place they were for Roe V Wade; cowering in a cave somewhere. The Judicial branch is only to determine Constitutional authority, not legislate from the bench. The reason this is all going backwards is because the Supreme Court is not held accountable for whatever they decide, so the Legislature, who are accountable pass the responsibility off to the Supreme Court, which is liberal. People are too stupid to see the danger to our freedoms in these kinds of maneuvers. We should not obey the Supreme Court if it dictates law from the bench, and force the legislature to act on the issue. Gutless worms that they are.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by William View Post
      by Rick Phillips



      As the Supreme Court deliberates on the question of homosexual marriage, American Christians are bracing for a level of government persecution yet unknown to us. The fear is that with homosexuality declared a constitutional right, opposition will officially be akin to racism. Under such a ruling, Christian institutions who refuse to grant homosexual rights may be subjected to official oppression and lose their tax exempt status as non-profit institutions. Even churches may lose their tax-free status if they refuse to permit marriages between two men or two women.
      [FONT=Helvetica][SIZE=13px]If they refuse to permit marriages[/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=Helvetica][SIZE=13px]? [/SIZE][/FONT]

      There are so many reasons why Christians and real libertarians are getting creamed in the culture war. Here's another reason, we follow the narrative of the enemy, even when it's a complete lie. The immediate issue isn't that we're refusing to permit marriages. The immediate issue is whether the government will refuse to permit churches to stay out of supporting immoral behavior.

      Even the issue of government "banning same-sex marriage" isn't about refusing to permit marriage, it's about not having our government support immoral behavior (which primarily is the foundation to coerce others to support immoral behavior). Before the courts began to legislate same-sex marriage, sodomites were free to have wedding ceremonies and live as what-and-what. It's just that the government wasn't involved in it.
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      • #4
        Cornelius, what you say is true, and to explain why same-sex marriages are being sought after is due to the root of all evil--money and the love thereof. Married couples receive benefits from governments and corporations, especially in the tax codes and corporate benefits. Homosexuals who partner-up want a piece of that action. Since they have no reverence for marriage as a God-inspired institution, they don't look at this so much as a religious issue as much as they do a money issue. They are also antichrists, in that they seek to punish churches who do not want to perform a ritual that is not part of the church religion in the first place. Why go to a church and its pastor to do something the churches don't hold to? Why not just seek out a Justice of the Peace? The reason is that these homosexuals are attacking churches and church values and are attempting to attack our pocketbooks as well through the tax code. All this is done out of hatred for Jesus Christ. Do other religions allow same-sex marriages? Not that I know of. So once again, Jesus is the stumblingblock. Further, they want to be recognized as an entity that really doesn't exist, in spite of their claims that it should. Man can't fly by flapping his arms, so man invents the airplane. That is not a sin. Homosexuals cannot procreate or have sex they way God made us, so they invent their own sex (verbally speaking). This is a sin, as the Bible clearly points out. They don't care about the Bible or God. They live for themselves to satisfy themselves. God is to be glorified and we are to glorify and serve Him. How many people want to do this? Not as many as one might think.
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
          Cornelius, what you say is true, and to explain why same-sex marriages are being sought after is due to the root of all evil--money and the love thereof. Married couples receive benefits from governments and corporations, especially in the tax codes and corporate benefits.
          You aren't just wrong, you are very wrong. You've bought into another blatant lie of Sodomites trying to get SSM by claiming marriage laws are unfair to them. The government has been punishing marriage for decades through marriage penalties.

          I did a few simple tax returns to generate some examples. Consider the tax refund for 2014 of two people each making $20,000, and no withholding. If they're unmarried with two children, they get a combined federal refund of $7012. If they're married, the refund drops to $2746. That's a marriage penalty of $4,266 PER YEAR! And, that doesn't even consider all the government benefits to low-income families that they lose by being married.

          If we increase the kids from two to four, the marriage penalty increase to $10,049 PER YEAR! Their marriage penalty is equal to the cost of a mid-west home mortgage!

          If we drop the kids and double their income, but throw in a $10,000 mortgage (and related deductions), the marriage penalty is $1215. They've lost over a $1215 just because of the marriage penalty impacting their mortgage deduction. Kids, IRA/401Ks, education, day care, etc. all come with a marriage penalties.

          Businesses might give marriage benefits. But, they don't need the government involved to get SSM benefits. The only reason to get the government involved is to coerce businesses to give SSM benefits. But, the fact is, being married actually costs employees and their spouses. With IRA/401Ks replacing pensions, there's no more marriage relevancy to retirement plans. With Obamacare, people who can pay to get health insurance through their spouse's employer, they are disqualified from getting free/subsidized insurance. On health insurance, spousal health benefits actually cost married couples an additional thousands of dollars per year.

          So, no, money is a big reason to get not get married.

          Sodomites and their fellow Reprobates want SSM only as a weapon against Christians. SSM is a tool to poison our culture, a tool to coerce others to support a homosexual lifestyle, and a tool to otherwise marginalize Christianity as something immoral.
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          • #6
            Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
            Do other religions allow same-sex marriages? Not that I know of. So once again, Jesus is the stumblingblock. Further, they want to be recognized as an entity that really doesn't exist, in spite of their claims that it should. Man can't fly by flapping his arms, so man invents the airplane. That is not a sin. Homosexuals cannot procreate or have sex they way God made us, so they invent their own sex (verbally speaking). This is a sin, as the Bible clearly points out. They don't care about the Bible or God. They live for themselves to satisfy themselves. God is to be glorified and we are to glorify and serve Him. How many people want to do this? Not as many as one might think.
            I'm pretty sure that all long-established religions have prohibitions against homosexual acts. Christianity does. Islam does. Hinduism does. The only countries in the world that have SSM are predominately Christian countries and the Jewish state. If other countries get SSM, it will only be because of pressure from predominately Christian countries. SSM isn't just a result of an attack on Christianity, but it's also a result of a very sick church.

            Our enemy is authoritarian. A handful of authorities call the shots, and the masses of Atheists/Liberals just follow orders. But, the Church has become leaderless, and every Christian calls his own shots, or just goes where the enemy is blowing. We let our enemy define the terms and then we lose because we're laboring under their false terms.
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            • #7
              The church is not leaderless. The church's leader is and always will be Jesus Christ. The leader is not supposed to be an ordinary man, but God Himself. The trouble is, not enough people are following orders from our Leader. They do what they they did before becoming professing Christians. They go their own way, heap teachers on themselves, having itching ears, and don't trust the Holy Spirit to be our teacher. They are ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth with this kind of behavior. I get wrongly criticized for saying that, but it's true. People just want to let other people do their thinking and leading for them, not realizing God is in control. As for taxes, if you are a CPA, I guess I can't really dispute what you say. I agree that we have a very sick church. It's because people rely too much on what they hear and read from other people and relay the info all over the place; and don't rightly divide the word of truth. Further, I do not at all favor SSM, if that is what you think.
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              • #8
                God told that his people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. And, God has given us human leaders, such as pastors and apostles, to help us gain knowledge. It's also the role of kings and governors to lead us in the ways of godliness.


                Our people are so ignorant that Reprobates are getting away with having it both ways, heavily punishing marriage while convincing the public that heterosexuals unfairly get marriage benefits that are denied to homosexuals. Marriage is punished, and even if not, homosexuality (which is immoral and doesn't produce children) is not the equal of heterosexuality. Even if Marriage had legal benefits, even if homosexuality were the equal of heterosexuality, the First Amendment was meant to protect people's speech and religion. Sodomites should be losing every argument, but in eyes of the general public, they're winning every argument. Why? Because Christians have no leadership.

                Now, we have Christians not only punished for being married, but now also punished for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman.

                But, while the intent of SSM is to persecute Christians, the biggest losers will be children. Children are being robbed of healthy adult role-modeling and are also being subjected to higher risks of sexual abuse.
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