It is encouraging when churches make steps toward reform. By reform, we mean getting back to what they should be doing. In all areas of life, we drift. Both as individuals and as communities, we get track over time. “We all, like sheep, go astray; each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Since individuals and churches tend to drift, we need to have seasons of introspection to assess where we are, rediscover where God would have us, and determine what we must do to get back on track – “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD!” (Lamentations 3:40).
God can use all sorts of moments as “wake-up calls” to spark reform. The further we get off the path, the easier it is to see that we are off it. Sometimes we can’t see it for ourselves and others speak the need for change into our lives. These are the biblical prophets – not usually people who predict the future, but rather people who speak God’s words to God’s people. They speak on behalf of God when the rest of our ears are clogged or our minds are distracted. (Trivia: the word “prophet” comes from two Greek words meaning “on behalf of” and “speak”!)
In Scripture we see a church that lost its way after a golden start and needed called back on track by a prophet. In Revelation, John spoke on God’s behalf to seven different house church conglomerations. Each of the messages pinpoints troubles for correction and strong points for commendation in these churches. God’s message to the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) reminds us of the importance of regular reform.
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who calim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” (verses 2-3).
Honestly, that’s a pretty dang good spiritual resume. I’ll be content if my friends and family and disciples can say half of that about me. Ephesus was full of good deeds, like many churches. They worked hard, like many churches. They persevered instead of falling to hardship, like many churches. They stand the line when it comes to rebuffing wickedness and testing those with messages that run counter to God’s gospel message.
Yet, they’ve lost the gospel themselves. They have done so much doing that they got all caught up in it. They started feeling like “any old deeds” were the main point instead of obedience to and relationship with God. Any church is good, as long as it’s doing good things, right? Being a busy church is a mark of health, right?
God reminds Ephesus that the motives are just as important, and the relationship that comes with service to Him. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (verses 4-5).
It’s easy to get so busy doing deeds that you forget to keep up your relationship with the One who empowers us (Acts 1:8), the One who commissioned us (Matthew 28:18-20), the One who loves us (John 3:16) and provides for us (Luke 12:24).
It’s easy to do a deed, and then do a similar deed, and then shift to another deed, and then agree when asked to do yet another – but when you take pause to assess, you realize you’re no longer doing God’s deeds at all. You’re doing things you weren’t called to, things that didn’t need done, sometimes even things that are actually detrimental. The further you drift, the worse things you might do.
How have churches signed off on witch hunts, crusades and holocausts? Not by monumental mistakes but rather by slow drifts, forgetting their first love, staying busy but never stopping for regular introspection to ask if the deeds they are accomplishing are godly deeds at all.
It is exciting when churches spend regular periods in introspection with a mind toward reform – and I dare say we need more of it. The church I attended for the last 8 years has recently stepped up to the plate in this regard. They announced this week that leaders feel the time is right to “press ‘pause’ to respond to Revelation 2:1-7.”
While I no longer attend, instead leading a house church, I’m excited to see the congregation finally placing value in taking stock of where they are, if they have strayed, and what a return to following their first love will demand of them. So many of us have left because the purposes and activities of the church and leadership felt like it had strayed so far – and resistance to reform was so entrenched.
Consider inviting your own congregation, house church, or family to spend time looking over where they are and asking God what could change for the better. If you haven’t strayed far, it’s powerful when you hear hear, “Well done, faithful servant” – and if you have strayed far, it’ll be its own reward know you’re getting back on track.