What is the most effective way to destroy The Church? Is it persecution? No!
Most true churches, when persecuted, actually over time get stronger!
So what is it?
If our enemy can't 'bully' us into submission by persecution, he'll seduce us into compromise, and ruin us from within.
I remember once we had a watermelon. We'd had it for some time, and I finally got around to cutting into it. It looked and felt fine when I picked it up, but when I did, I found that it was all funky inside. It had apparently been decomposing from within, and was mush! All appearances on the outside were fine, but on the inside, it was a mess.
The church in Pergamum is in a similar state. (Revelation 2:12-17). This church extisted in hostile territory ("I know where you live—where Satan has his throne..." (v. 13). In spite of this, they had not renounced their faith in Jesus, even when one of their leaders ("Antipas, My faithful witness" (v. 13)was killed for his faith. In other words, despite direct attack and opposition from those around them, they had remained faithful to Jesus--and He commends them for it!
This city was the place that the first temple to Ceasar was built...it had the largest altar to Zues in the world on the highest hill in the city, and it was known to be the place that originated the worship of Asklepios, the 'god of healing' who was symbolized by a serpant, and was worshipped with snakes.
This is hostile territory, and that hostility had resulted in the martyrdom of atl least one--Antipas. The pressure was intense, yet they remained faithful!
"Nevertheless, I have a few things against you..." (v. 14).
Specifically, he confronts them for having people in thier midst--in thier congregation--who held to the "teachings of Balaam" and the teachings of the "Nicolaitans". In both cases, they are teachings of compromise.
Balaam (see Numbers 23-25) was a 'prophet for hire'. He would basically prostitute himself and prophesy against someone for someone else, who would pay him off. Once he was paid by the kinf of Moab to prophecy against Israel, but he was stopped from doing so. Therefore, in order to accomplish his task, he tried another strategy: He got the Israelites to intermarry with Moabite women, adopt thier customs, traditions, and (eventually) gods, and thereby eliminate the power in Israel, and enable Moab to be supreme.
The Nicolaitans basically taught that, because a person was a Christian, they could (and even should) do anything and everything they wanted--to celebrate forgiveness! Specifically, they advocated for drunkenness and sexual sin.
The church in Pergamum had withstood the frontal attack of satan through persectution, but they were rotting from within because they were 'allowing' (and were gradually compromising) those who would compromise with the standards and practises of the world around them.
The warning was ominous: Repent (turn around quickly--turn back to pure faith in Jesus and the willingness to follow), or I will come to you and fight against them..." (v. 16)
Remember that He introduced Himself as the "One who holds the double-edged sword" (v. 12), and that the Word of God is called a "double edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12). Jesus is saying that they MUST get back to uncomprimising obedience to His word, and in order to do so, they MUST stop allowing those who comprimise to continue, unabated, in their church. They MUST expose this teaching for what it is--a comprimise with satan--; for what it does--rot people's faith (and thier church) from within; and for the effect it will have--the judgement of God.
Again, there is promise for those who overcome (v.17). Those promises seem a bit cryptic, but suffice it to say that it means that Jesus will personally--within thier hearts--encourage and reward them.
So, what's it mean for us today?
I believe that this is quickly becoming the #1 reason that the Church in America is so impotent and lacking...because (in many cases) we comprimise witht this world! We adopt their practises, we adopt thier philosophies, we adopt their morality...and if the Word of God becomes a problem, we are actually prone to 're-interpret' the meaning--or to disregard it altogether. All the while, we SAY that we're Christians!
WE...TODAY...must repent of our comprimise!
We must commit to the True Word of God, and to following Him--no matter what that means! Do so graciously, with humility and mercy, to be sure...but WE CANNOT COMPRIMISE ANY LONGER!
If Jesus were writing this today, I wonder if the only word that would have to change is the location--Pergamum. Could He substitute "the U.S." for it? "Michigan"? "Kalamazoo"?
Let's not keep living in a way which brings His judgment. Let us purify ourselves, stand for His name, and stand fast on His Word!