Much of the Church today is suffering from an advanced case of what I call spiritual osteoporosis. It’s not widespread throughout the “body” of Christ, but is concentrated along the spine. What I have in mind is the Church’s loss of its theological backbone!
We see this in any number of ways. For example, some have begun to fudge on the ethical status of homosexuality. Fearful of being labeled “homophobic,” they’ve adopted a “live and let live” approach to the issue. Others, not wanting to appear elitist or exclusivistic, no longer insist on personal faith in Christ as essential for salvation. Then there are those who’ve gone “soft” on the very concept of doctrine itself, believing that theological orthodoxy is both elusive and divisive and should be minimized for the sake of some ethereal and ill-defined unity.
I’m certainly no fan of angry sectarianism or the sort of dogmatic arrogance that judges and separates over secondary issues. At the same time, there are standards of truth to uphold and principles of behavior on which we must insist.
It’s good to know that, notwithstanding the problems in ancient Thyatira, there were some in the church who refused to compromise or cut corners. Jesus describes them and delivers a special word of encouragement in vv. 24-25 of Revelation 2: “But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.”
There are four things here worthy of our attention.
First, they are described as those “who do not hold this teaching,” i.e., the teaching of Jezebel. Not only do they not embrace the doctrines she espouses but neither do they practice her wicked ways.
In other words, these are folks who refused to take the easy path by looking the other way. They were neither gullible nor easily persuaded by the novel and deceptive concepts circulating in Thyatira. These were people who weren’t afraid of calling heresy heresy! The men and women Jesus addresses here knew that sometimes discrimination can be a virtue. They believed in the existence of absolute truth and unyielding ethical principles and were prepared to identify deviations from it. These were people who refused to embrace theological relativism, as if what one believes is less important than the sincerity and fervency with which one believes it.
Second, they are described as those “who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan.” This intriguing phrase calls for explanation. Some believe it to be a sarcastic reversal of the claims of Jezebel and “her children”. They claim to know “deep [spiritual] things” when in fact what they know comes from and concerns the devil himself. In other words, the phrase “of Satan” is a sarcastic addition by Jesus designed to tell the faithful in Thyatira the true nature of their ideas and experience. Those of Jezebel may actually have used the words “of God” which Jesus deliberately alters to make the point.
Others suggest that the “deep things of Satan” is a reference to their insistence that in order to appreciate fully the depths of grace and of God (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10) one must first plumb the depths of evil and the enemy. They would claim that, because of their spiritual maturity and superiority, they need fear nothing from the devil.
On the other hand, the phrase “what some call” might be an instance in which the third person plural is used without a subject to express an impersonal idea. Thus the phrase, “as they say” (literally translated), would not refer to anyone involved in the conflict at Thyatira but would merely convey an impersonal passive idea – “the deep things of Satan, as it is said (by many),” the “deep things” referring to a well-known expression for such teaching which Jesus picks up to describe the situation in Thyatira.
In any case, it’s stunning to realize that people who profess to know Christ and attain to positions of authority and influence in the church can be proponents of Satanic doctrine and practitioners of ethical compromise. What we desperately need today, as they did then, is an increase of (back)bone density, a strengthening of resolve to hold fast the line of orthodoxy and a courageous commitment to that holiness of life that will assuredly evoke disdainful accusations of being narrow-minded and puritanical.
Third, Jesus obviously knew that what he expected of them wasn’t easy. It called for sacrifice and diligent attentiveness to belief and behavior, the sort that would expose them to ridicule and perhaps loss of income and influence. Thus he says, “I do not lay on you any other burden.” It is enough, says Jesus, that you stand firm. It is enough that you not lose heart. It is enough that you resist every temptation to cater to popular opinion or adjust your convictions to whatever theological “trend” is emerging in your city.
Fourth, and finally, he encourages them to “hold fast” what they have until he comes. In a word, persevere in what you have already received. Be immovable! Don’t yield an inch! Cut not a corner!
All too often, especially in charismatic circles, the penchant for novelty or the hankering after some “fresh” word from God dictates the ministry or mission of a church. The frequency with which a pastor or teacher offers heretofore unknown “insights” into Scripture is made the measure of his “anointing” and favor with God. I’m not saying there is nothing more to learn from the Bible than what we now know. Far from it! But we must be careful lest the allure of “newness” detract us from focusing on the “old, old story of Jesus and his love” (I fear that few will recall that hymn!).
By the way, lest you think that progress and improvement are incompatible with perseverance and stability, compare Revelation 2:19 with 2:25.
As for my concern with spiritual osteoporosis in the church today, I have no desire to see it replaced by a hardening of the theological arteries! Speaking the truth in love is never easy. But we must never play off one against the other. Jesus believed both were possible. So must we.