Last week I wrote about the church of Smyrna which endured great persecution for being faithful to God, even when facing death. Bible Scholars agree the church of Smyrna represents the Christian era from 100 to 313. This brings us to the church of Pergamum, which represents the time period of 313 to 538. During this time period persecution of the church seemed to cease. Why did persecution cease? Here is what Jesus says about Pergamum,
But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. Revelation 2:14-15 NLT
While the world appeared to convert to Christianity, in reality the church was converting to the world! Christ had nothing to criticize at all about the persecuted church of Smyrna, but when the church started to compromise to gain the approval of the world, it began to lose the approval of Christ.
The nominal conversion of Constantine, in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit controlled the church. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Pages 49-50
Persecution is what kept the church pure, and I believe persecution will one day purify the church again. In order to avoid persecution the church began to compromise its standards and beliefs. As the church compromised to gain the world’s approval paganism seeped into the church. Such compromise was worse than persecution. Now there is a balance we need to be aware of. I mean you have Daniel living smack dab in the heart of Babylon, and yet the king was his friend. Daniel had a way of never compromising truth and yet still being promoted by a Babylonian king! In Daniel 4 the king is converted. I pray in the last days for men and women of integrity in high positions to influence pagan leaders to give their hearts to Jesus. The stories in Daniel 3 and 6 will be repeated in the last days, and I believe the story of a converted pagan politician in Daniel 4 will be repeated in the last days as well. This calls upon Christians to use tact. With much prayer and Spiritual wisdom I believe we can live with the non-compromising faith of Daniel and Jesus, while being friends with sinners. See Luke 15:1-2. Even so, I realize that Daniel was still thrown in the lions den, and Jesus was crucified. We can’t make every sinner our friend, but we can use Christian tact to win many. And Christian tact does not, and in fact cannot include compromise with evil. Compromise with evil does not convert the world to the church, it converts the church to the world.
The sad thing is, even when the church made peace by compromising with the world, persecution still continued towards God’s faithful followers. Because the church was trying to win the approval of the world, the church itself began persecuting its own members who put the Word of God above the traditions of the world. It was no longer politically correct to call sin by its right name. It was no loner politically correct to put the Bible above human philosophy. I will let Paul explain what went on.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 NLT
To win the world to the church and escape persecution, the Pergamum church decided to start preaching what everyone wanted to hear, and not preach the things people did not want to hear. Did this please God?
God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors, than to have sixty make a nominal profession, and yet not be thoroughly converted. –Ellen White, Evangelism, Page 320
When the Waldensians wanted to continue following the Bible they were seen as troublemakers invoking persecution on the church. To avoid being persecuted by the world the church joined the world in persecuting those who still followed the Bible! So by compromising with the world the church organization was no longer being persecuted, but the faithful members continued to be persecuted not only by the world but also by the church! When I was taking 9th grade algebra, our teacher graded on the curve. The highest score was considered 100%. So if they highest score was 80 and my score was 60 then I got 60 out of 80 instead of 100, which of course would raise my percentage score. There was only one problem. The same girl on every single test got 100%. So we never got a break! This girl was not popular when we all got our test scores back, because she made the rest of us look bad by keeping the standard where it was supposed to be. Likewise when the church is trying to lower the standard to make the world look good and feel comfortable in their sins, those in the church who keep the standard right where it belongs stick out like a sore thumb.
Years ago, my friends were telling me about how their daughter was being ridiculed and persecuted in her new Adventist School for being vegan. They were surprised because no one teased her about it when she was in public school. The public school kids thought veganism was novel and admired her for being a free spirit and standing apart from the crowd. So her parents were disappointed when the Adventist kids gave her such a hard time about being vegan. The public school kids were not offended by her veganism but the Adventist kids were, because they took it as a rebuke to their lifestyle. She was raising the standard and they all thought it made them look bad for not maintaining the same standard. Of course my friend’s daughter never thought was better than anyone else just for being vegan, but we often condemn ourselves when we see others following their convictions while we ignore our own convictions. And if we can persecute and find fault with them, then it makes us feel all better about ourselves.
May God give us the wisdom to be people of integrity while being friends to sinners. Jesus and Daniel did not compromise God’s Word in order to be friends with sinners and neither should we. That is nothing new. The Jews crucified Jesus in order to secure favor with Rome. So today so called Christians are persecuting those who “follow the Lamb Wherever He goes” in order to secure favor with a sinful world.
Jesus Himself never purchased peace by compromise. His heart overflowed with love for the whole human race, but He was never indulgent to their sins. He was too much their friend to remain silent while they were pursuing a course that would ruin their souls,–the souls He had purchased with His own blood.-Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 356
You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.