Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Churches in Revelation with Jennifer White – Part II

I love these paintings by Jennifer White, not just because they show in image the ways the church can get “deformed”, but they inspire me to think about what does it mean to be the “faithful church”.   In Part I of this series, I introduced you to Jennifer White and her series of paintings on the churches in Revelation.  We also took a look at the painting of the church at Sardis.

Today, let’s take a look at the church at Ephesus, which Jennifer entitles “Remember and Return”.  As you may remember, Jesus had a lot of good things to say about this church, but the one thing he had against them is that they had left their first love.  Take a moment to read about the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7 and then contemplate this painting, asking yourself the questions that I have listed just below the painting.

"Remember and Return"

As you reflect on the scripture and this painting, what does it cause you to think about? What in the painting shows the churches distance from Christ?  When it comes to the church you are involved with, how would you rate the churches love quotient as it relates to loving God?  In what ways can you help re-kindle people’s love for the Father, Son and Spirit?


4 Responses to Churches in Revelation with Jennifer White – Part II

  1. CO Fines says:

    JR, sir, if there was a crowd of responders here I would make a short comment and step politely aside. As it is, be forewarned, I may exceed your patience. If we were together face to face I would surely buy you the beverage of your choice. The nice thing about online interaction is that you can skim and skip and no one knows.

    I only have these two paintings to consider. One is mostly light, the other mostly dark. Apparently. Both churches are chastised severely. Two elements in common, aside from the church buildings, crosses and bloodstains. Jennifer calls the crosses “lines” and has a somewhat theological explanation for them. The crosses are everywhere. They intersect all of reality tho it is not possible to tell if they go inside the church buildings.

    Not all of them are geometrically neat like Christian jewelry. Many are more like what you might come up with chopping down a tree to make a gallows, maybe only a single pole. The big one outside the Ephesian church is leaning protectively but also may be getting ready to topple and crush the building to rubble. The bloodstains are also everywhere outside the churches. We can’t see within.

    Jennifer speaks of the lines as symbolizing God’s sovereign presence as Architect. This sets off my Calvinist alarm. But she also speaks in the next breath of “our free will and journey in life.” Nice save! I believe the Rob Bell debate ultimately comes down to how seriously we take the concept of free will. Or perhaps how seriously God takes the concept. I only live about 50 miles from Rob’s meeting place. Really would like to know what he has to say about these paintings but that’s a lot of gasoline. Maybe he will post the series.

    Changing subjects now, tangentially, and you don’t need to pretend you read all of this. In any new translation of the Bible one of the first places I turn to is the last sentence of the first chapter of the Book of Revelation to John. What does it call those stars that Jesus is holding?

    Most, not all, refer to them as “angels”. Most now, not all, have a footnote saying that this also means “messengers”, including your NIV, even in the new revision. So what? Is it unbelievable that a church would have a guardian angel watching over it?

    Not at all. What is unbelievable, at least to me, is that if God had a message to deliver to one of His angels, He would choose to use a vision given to someone isolated off on an island and then have it written down and sent by a mail system that would give exponential meaning to the term snail mail. This when God has available a communication system that makes our online communication look like the Camel Express.

    And why would God keep on using angels that, most of them, were severely screwing up, in danger of losing all that they had been assigned to watch over, real ding-a-lings? Well, you say, God wasn’t talking to the angel, He was talking to the churches. That’s how each message ends.

    Then why does He address the message to the “angel”? The venerable King James can help us out here. “I know thy works.” Sevenfold. Correct me if I’m wrong. Not “your” works but “thy” works. Only old timey American Southerners and English Northerners make that distinction any more between thou and you, between you and you all. God is not speaking to the congregation here, He is talking to the angel, singular, standing alone with a intensely bright light shining down on him. Toward the end of the message it broadens out to include the assembly. What is wrong with these angels?

    Or is He talking to the messenger? Who would that be? Well, how about the person who gives the messages to the gathering? The preacher, the pastor, the shepherd, the minister/servant, whatever you might want to call him. Or her. Would that make any more sense as someone making some very human screwups?

    Makes sense to me, but what do I know? Why would all these many years anyone want to cover up the apparent fact that God was chastising church leaders who were responsible for transmitting God’s Word and setting a moral tone, and put it all off on those awful parishioners who are uneducated and don’t have a clue? Who is responsible for these translations anyway?

    All eight translations in The Evangelical Parallel New Testament call the recipient of these, mostly, scathing letters “angels”. Even Eugene Peterson does it in his Message and he Capitalizes it! Eugene, please!!! I could give you names of people who have translated this word as “messenger” but most would never have heard of them.

    I wish I could have gathered every pastor, every priest, every minister, every church leader into one big super Mega Church auditorium so big you would need a big screen multi-screen super screen to be able to see me from the back rows and I would preach this rant to them, hopefully somewhat subdued, but then those letters to the (Hah!) angels weren’t subdued, and, what?

    Wouldn’t make a ripple. JR, my brother, if you actually made it this far, I am thinking you just possibly might not write me off as the responder from hell. Jesus wasn’t talking to y’all in those messages, he was talking to thee. And me. I’m thinking you don’t need the AV to check this out but can go directly to the Koine.

    I’ve really abused my privilege here but no one else was stopping by and this has been heavy on my mind for a long time. I think it pertains to Jennifer’s paintings. She seems like a lovely child of God and friend of Jesus. So do you. God bless you both in your ministries and life adventures here on this very special planet.

  2. JR Woodward says:

    CO,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your “extended” (lol) thoughts on the nature of who the message was to. I am aware of the the various translations, “angel” and “messenger”, and I sometimes wonder if there is an element of both in the as you say singular.

    What is your thinking for churches which have multiple pastor, teachers and equippers? It does make sense to me that it is about the culture of the church as a whole and those who shape it. For we shape culture and then our culture shapes us.

    Walter Wink in his trilogy on the powers has fascinating things to say in regard to the topic at hand. Listen to how he puts this in the summary book of his trilogy “The Powers That Be”. “All of us deal with the Power That Be. They staff our hospitals, run City Hall, sit around tables in corporate boardrooms, collect our taxes, and head our families. But the Powers That Be are more than just the people who run things. They are the systems themselves, the institutions and structures that weave society into an intricate fabric of power and relationships. These Powers surround us on every side. They are necessary. They are useful. We could do nothing without them. Who want to do without timely mail delivery or well-maintained roads? But the Power is also the source of unmitigated evils.

    “A corporation routinely dumps known carcinogens into a river that is the source of drinking water for towns downstream. Another industry attempts to hook children into addiction to cigarettes despite the evidence that a third of them will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses. A dictator wages war against his own citizens in order to maintain his grasp on power. A contractor pays off a building inspector so he can violate code and put up a shoddy and possibly unsafe structure. A power plant exposes its employees to radioactive poisoning; the employee who attempts to document these safety infractions is forced off the road by another car and dies. All her documents are missing.”

    Welcome to the world of the powers. Walter Wink goes on to say this:

    “But the Powers aren’t always that brutal. Some people enjoy their jobs. Some businesses make genuine contributions to society. Some products are life enhancing, even lifesaving. The Powers don’t simply do evil, they also do good. Often then do both good and evil at the same time. They form a complex web that we can neither ignore nor escape.

    One legacy of the rampant individualism in our society is the tendency to react personally to the pain caused by institutions. People blame themselves when they get downsized. Or they blame the executive officers for their insensitivity. But to a high degree, corporate decisions are dictated by larger economic forces – invisible forces that determine the choices of those who set policy and fire workers.

    So the Powers That Be are not merely the people in power “flesh and blood” or the institutions they staff. Managers are, in fact, more or less interchangeable. Most people in managerial positions would tend to make the same sorts of moves. A great many of their decisions are being made for them by the logic of the market, the pressures of competition, and/or the cost of workers. Executives can be more humane. But a company owner who decides to raise salaries and benefits will soon face challenges from competitors who pay less. Greater forces are a work – unseen Powers – that shape the present and dictate the future”

    You’ve given me plenty to thank about. Have you read Wink’s trilogy on this? It is fascinating and speaks to this idea of “angel” “messenger” “powers that be” idea. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. CO Fines says:

    JR, been aware of the Powers That Be for a very long time. Spent way too much of my life fighting them. Still don’t like them for the most part but as you point out they are necessary and there are a lot of good, well-meaning people scattered thruout the middle levels. Even in the upper levels there appear to be those oriented toward service to others if not actually citizens of God’s Kingdom. And who is to say that Jesus doesn’t have moles at work.

    There are many names for this structure. I have come to think of it primarily as The World System. I know of someone who lately has started referring to The Powers That Were. That is telling, in my view. I believe their time is short and they increasingly are aware of this possibility. I believe they are not monolithic in thought, that there are factions, and that sometimes the inner struggles become deadly. Literally.

    In the meantime, I am quite happy to have them keeping the wheels spinning. The alternative would not be fun and I expect we will all get to see that side of the coin. Jesus did not pay much attention to the oppressive occupying empire he grew up under. Paul advised cooperation as much as possible. Our present system is a direct descendant of that empire and it extends back to Babylon and Hanoch before the Flood. I believe that those within the Kingdom who spend their energies fighting this system are sadly misguided and wasting their life on something that is going to happen anyway in God’s good time.

    If those pulling the strings of Power are regarded as the enemy, the recommended course of action would be to bless them and pray for their ultimate awakening and healing. My whole course is set now for the time when all systems grind to a halt and people are left dazed and confused, trying to figure out how to survive the day, pick up any pieces, and start over.

    I expect there to be survivors of the World System trying to impose their machinery of control and exploitation again. I expect this to include survivors of the Church Industry. I would like to be able to warn people of the price to be paid for going down that road and to be able to give them an Alternative.

    In order to do this, it seems important to me both to understand how the World System works and how the Alternative works. Neither is easy but I feel like I’m making progress. At this point I am concentrating most of my effort on understanding the Alternative as Jesus explained and demonstrated it. And a lot of that involves setting aside millennia of doctrine from the good church doctors. Or at least running it thru a good sifter.

    Those churches that are set up in the corporate model? I don’t join in the general condemnation. Jesus meets us wherever we are. If Joel Osteen is proclaiming the central message of Jesus as loving God and neighbor, most churches seem to have forgotten that along the way. If Benny Hinn gets someone to open up a Bible and read it, more power to him. I started out with old Herbert Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God. Got me going on a lifetime study of the Bible and never asked me for a nickel. I just found out that Rob Bell doesn’t pass the plate. Good for him, neither did Jesus, unless it had your lunch on it.

  4. JR Woodward says:

    CO,

    Thanks for sharing a bit more about your life and thoughts.

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