Death of the Seven Churches
August 15th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
THE DEATH OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF ASIA
Dr. W.A. Criswell
8-15-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Death of the Seven Churches of Asia. Once in awhile, not very often, but once in awhile I just take time out to make a particular study, something that pertains to the Word of God and this is one of those times.
In the Revelation, chapter 2 and chapter 3, the Lord in His address to the seven churches of Asia, said some very threatening things. For example, to Ephesus He said, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and turn, repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick, thy lamp stand out of his place, except thou turn, except thou repent." [Revelation 2:5] Again in that same chapter [verse 16] to the church at Pergamos, He wrote, "Repent, turn; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." And again to the church at Laodicea in the third chapter [verse 16], "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."
Those are very stern words addressed to these churches in the Roman province of Asia. For just a moment, we’re going to look at Asia Minor in New Testament times. It was Greek, it was as much Greek as Athens, or Sparta, or Corinth. Back yonder in 1000 [BC] the Greeks began to colonize what we know today as Asia Minor, and they built beautiful Greek cities such as, as beautiful as the city at Athens, Ephesus, Pergamos, Smyrna, all of them were beautiful Greek cities. And the culture and life of Asia Minor was Greek. Some of the great artists, and philosophers, and poets of the Greek Hellenistic world came from that part of Greek civilization. And the seven cities named here as the location of the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, which was the great central part of Asia Minor, these seven churches were located in seven beautiful Greek cities.
Now, the churches had a marvelous apostolic background. The churches in the Roman province of Asia, which I say again is in the heart of Asia Minor, the churches in the Roman province of Asia were founded by the ministry of the apostle Paul. On his third missionary journey, he spent more than three years at Ephesus, and out of that marvelous, incomparable, effective ministry of the apostle Paul, all Asia heard the gospel and those churches were founded in the instance at Ephesus by Paul himself. In the other instances, by disciples of Paul who going to their homes in those other cities won others to Christ and founded the seven churches of Asia.
In the case of Ephesus, the pastor after Paul left was Timothy. And in the case of Ephesus, in 69 AD, fleeing from Palestine in the tragic war that destroyed the nation and the city, the apostle John came to Ephesus and was pastor of the church there from 69 to 100 AD. At Smyrna, the disciple of John, Polycarp, who was martyred, Polycarp was pastor. At Heriopolis, which is just across the Meander River from Laodicea, Patheus was pastor. Right up the Lycus River from Laodicea, Colossi was located to whom Paul wrote a letter, as he said he did, to the Laodiceans. So the background of these churches in Asia is apostolic, it is tremendously noble in the extreme.
Now, when you visit the country today, it is an astonishment. You can hardly believe what you see with your eyes. We shall take each one of them briefly and look at it today.
Ephesus is nothing but a buried ruin. They have uncovered about one seventh of it, but the city lies buried beneath the silt of the Cayster River. In 263 AD, the Goths sacked it and largely destroyed its beauty, and it never quite recovered from it. In 1308, the Turks took it and deported or murdered its inhabitants, and Ephesus disappeared from the face of the earth. And it is only in recent times that they have begun to dig up the ruins of that vast and beautiful Greek city. It went with the wind. It just vanished from the earth.
In Smyrna, there are a few ruins, just a few. Tamerlane, Timur, came in 1402, destroyed the city and built an enormous pyramid out of the heads of the captives he decapitated. Today, the Turks have made it their great merchandising city on the Aegean Sea. It has a population of about six hundred fifty thousand people. It’s the largest Turkish city in Asia Minor.
Pergamos, underneath the soil they have begun to dig up the ruins of Pergamos, and just to the side, there is a Turkish city named Bergama of about thirty thousand people. Thyatira has vanished. There is not sign of any ancient city. Above the ruins where it once stood, and even the ruins are buried if they’re there at all, there is a modern Turkish town called Aksehir, about twenty five thousand people.
Sardis has disappeared. It is deeply buried in the earth. They are beginning to excavate a little of Sardis. The great citadel has eroded through the years. By the side of ancient Sardis there is a wretched Turkish village called Sart.
Philadelphia has absolutely disappeared. There is no sign or trace of the ancient city. There’s a modern Turkish town there that I visited with an archaeologist who said to me, "On such and such rise near the town is a drive-in restaurant, and you could be able to find possibly some broken pieces of pottery."
Laodicea has vanished from the earth; buried beneath uncounted tons of silt and soil. It’s about three or four miles out from a Turkish town called Denisly. When the guide in the bus took us there, they had to inquire the way out to the site of Laodicea; the city has disappeared. There’s no trace, no sign, just a little post with somebody writing a sign on it. Down that dusty road is the site of Laodicea.
What has happened? The ancient peoples all are gone. The Greeks have disappeared from the earth, the Hellenes. And Christianity has disappeared from Asia Minor. It is solidly Turk, and it is solidly Muslim, Islam, Mohammedan. What has happened? Now, I have found that we cannot trace the history of each one of these churches. It is lost in decay and the blank, forgotten days of those first centuries after Constantinople, it cannot be traced. We don’t know. It is a blank. But, I can follow the broad outlines of what happened very easily, and that’s what we’re going to do this morning.
In the providence of God, and one that I cannot quite understand or explain, a great change came to the churches in the conversion of Constantine in about 320 AD. Here-to-fore, the churches – now we’re talking about the seven churches of Asia, the Greek churches of Asia; of course, what I’m saying pertains to all of Christianity – but this morning we’re thinking about them. The change came from an ekklesia, the Bible word for the "congregation of the Lord," to a kuriakos, a kirkas, a kirk, a church. There’s no such thing as a church in the New Testament. In the New Testament, it’s an ekklesia, it’s a congregation, it’s a called out people of the Lord. And the word referred to wherever they met, in a den, in a cave, in a house, in a hall, anywhere. They had no church buildings.
But after Constantine, the name changed to kuriakos, Lordly house, and referred to the marvelous temples that were built or taken over, the basilicas. A basilica is heathen temple used to worship the heathen gods. They were taken over, and the priests were baptized, and the idols were baptized, and the images were baptized, and the temples were baptized, and the church became something else. Inside of the church you would find images, and icons, and priests. There is no priests in the New Testament, but after Constantine, the church became something else.
All right, second; After Constantine, the church turned aside from its great missionary passion and zealous evangelism in which it had won the entire Graeco-Roman world, the civilized world in three centuries. Those first early Christians, though persecuted, had literally unhinged civilization and placed it at the feet of Christ. But after the conversion of Constantine, the church turned inward, and it began to debate fiercely doctrinal procedures. There arose Arianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Monophysitism, Sabellianism. The church turned inward in bitter debate, and it was afflicted with Simony, the buying of ecclesiastical office, and again debating over ecclesiastical appointments and preferments.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.The Death of the Seven Churches of Asia.
In the Revelation, chapter 2 and chapter 3, the Lord in His address to the seven churches of Asia, said some very threatening things. [Revelation 2:5]
Those are very stern words addressed to these churches in the Roman province of Asia.
Now, the churches had a marvelous apostolic background.
In the case of Ephesus, the pastor after Paul left was Timothy.
Now, when you visit the country today, it is an astonishment.
Ephesus is nothing but a buried ruin. In 263 AD, the Goths sacked it and largely destroyed its beauty, and it never quite recovered from it.
In Smyrna, there are a few ruins, just a few.
Pergamos, underneath the soil they have begun to dig up the ruins of Pergamos, and just to the side, there is a Turkish city named Bergama of about thirty thousand people. Thyatira has vanished.
Sardis has disappeared.
Philadelphia has absolutely disappeared.
Laodicea has vanished from the earth; buried beneath uncounted tons of silt and soil. writing a sign on it.
What has happened?
In the providence of God, and one that I cannot quite understand or explain, a great change came to the churches in the conversion of Constantine in about 320 AD. ekklesia, the Bible word for the "congregation of the Lord," to a kuriakos, a kirkas, a kirk, a church. ekklesia, it’s a congregation, it’s a called out people of the Lord.
All right, second; After Constantine, the church turned aside from its great missionary passion and zealous evangelism in which it had won the entire Graeco-Roman world, the civilized world in three centuries.
As I think of the established church under Constantine and the years that follow, I cannot help but remember what the Lord said in a parable in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows to be a great tree, and being a great tree, every fowl and unclean bird rests in its branches and dirties the ground beneath. Then in the next verse, he likened it to leaven, which is always in the Bible a symbol of evil, leaven, until all of it is leavened. The churches became corrupt from top to bottom, from side to side, and it was filled with murder and violence and simony.
Third; the churches not only changed to be temples of idol worship with priests filled with images and icons, and it not only turned aside from its missionary and evangelistic passion and began to debate fiercely inside itself, and divide, and to seek ecclesiastical preferment, advancement, but the churches became formal, and liturgical, and cold.
And last of all, the people who face – as we’re going to see – the people found themselves shallow Christians without depth or commitment. And when it became politically expedient, they were very willing to change allegiance from Christ to Mohammed.
All right, we’re going to pick it up again. The great, critical confrontation that the churches of Asia eventually faced, this is not something that surprised God, for He said to the church at Pergamos that "there is coming a time when I will bring trial upon the whole earth." Trial: the great confrontation with the churches of Asia came in a way and in a place you would never have thought for. It arose out of the deserts of Arabia.
In those deserts, its 570 AD, there was born an Arabian. He died in 632 A.D. His name was Mohammed. He was an ignorant camel driver. In working, he married the rich widow who owned the trains, camel trains. And married to her – a rich widow – upon a night, so he says, there appeared to him the angel Gabriel with a silken scooll. And then I take a sentence out of the Koran, "the angel Gabriel said to him, ‘Read, the Lord God that made man from a drop, read.’ And Mohammed was called to be a prophet." He couldn’t read. He couldn’t write. But in the vision, he could. And Mohammed presented himself as the last, and the final, and the greatest of the prophets. The prophets were Adam, Noah, Moses – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses – Jesus Christ, and last and finally, he. And he presented himself as the last and the greatest of the prophets because he said God gave to him the sword in order that he might destroy idolatry, and in order that he might forever destroy the infidel unbelievers who did not accept him and his message.
In 622, the Hejira – which is the first year of the Mohammedan calendar that marks the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, and the beginning of his armies of conquest in Medina – in 632 AD he died. And in twenty-five years after the death of Mohammed by the sword, they had conquered Egypt, Palestine, Syria, all the way through the Mesopotamian Valley and Persia. And in fifty years later, they had conquered all of North Africa and Spain. And in those years, as the Mohammedan turned eastward as well as westward, from Persia they went up to Turkistan. Turkistan is the name of a great vast area in Central Asia from the Caspian Sea to the borders of China. And in Turkistan, they won the Turk, the wild Turkish tribes of Turkistan and among them; Timur, Tamerlane.
First there poured into Asia Minor the Seljuq Turks. They were pushed out of those great central areas of Asia by the Mongols. There poured into Asia Minor the Seljuq Turks, Seljuq is the name of a dynasty of chieftains. In the 1100s, 1200s, 1300s, the Turks came, and then in 1400s, the Ottoman Turk. That’s a strange little thing. There was a little Turkish tribe in Central Asia that fled before the Mongols, and their chieftain was Ertegrul. And Ertegrul with his warriors was wondering around and he came upon two armies locked in fierce battle. He rode to the defense of the army that was weakening and about to surrender and totally defeated the other side.
He found that the army that he helped was that of the Seljuqs, Sultan of Asia Minor, and the army that they defeated was a hoard of Mongolians. He was given a place in Asia Minor, this Ertegrul. He had a son named Osman. In Western Europe, they call it Ottoman, and the Ottoman Turks began to rule the country, all of that area in 1400 on through until it was destroyed, the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
Fanatically zealous, the Mohammedan felt called to destroy idolatry, and with the sword, when he came to a pagan temple and on the inside were images to Jupiter, and Neptune, Aphis, Osyrus, Demeter, Mercury, Apollo, Venus, Artemus, he felt called of God to destroy the people who were idolaters, and to destroy the idols, and to destroy the temples, and he did it. And when he came to a kuriakos, a heathen temple that had been baptized and rededicated in the name of Christ, he went inside that temple, a kuriakos, a kirkos, a kirk, a church, and there he saw an idol, to him it was an idol, an image, except they had renamed it Joseph, and an idol, they renamed it Mary, an idol, and they had renamed it Veronica, an idol, and they had renamed it Peter. And the bitter zealous Muslim felt called of God to destroy idolatry, destroyed the Christian churches in the same way that he destroyed the pagan temples and put the people to death unless they converted to Islam.
So Christianity died in Asia Minor. And the seven churches of Asia died in a blood bath under the avenging sword of the Turkish Mohammedan. "Well, pastor, what does that mean to us today? Looking at these visitations from God, and what the Lord says, what does that mean today?" I tremble as I try to say these things now. For the living Word does not just characterize these who lived in a Hellenistic culture two thousand years ago, but the living Word, like unto, like a double edged sword, quick, powerful as God says, is addressed to us today.
"What does this mean, pastor, where I am, and where I live, and the society in which I dwell, my city, and the culture to which I belong? What does that mean for us?" Oh, I repeat, I tremble before it! So let’s just take in the time that remains some of these things and name them.
One; I just supposed that the Turk came into Asia, Roman Province of Asia, I just supposed that the Turk into the Roman Province of Asia and there he was won to Islam, not so. Those zealous and fanatical Mohammedans by the power of the sword went east as well as west through Palestine, took Jerusalem, Mount Moriah, have a mosque on it today, Palestine, and Syria, and Mesopotamia, Iraq, and Persia, and then turned north into the great central steps of Asia where lived those fierce, wild tribes of Turkistan. And they won those Turks to Islam. And when the Turk came down and conquered and destroyed the cities of Asia Minor, he was already an Islamic devotee, he was a Mohammedan.
For us, these sociologists say to us that there is coming a soon time when the majority of the citizens of Texas will be Mexican. I’ve not read that once, nor have I heard that once, I have heard it countless numbers of times. The prolific birthrate of the Latin population in America is increasing and increasing and the tide of the Mexican population is moving north, and north, and north from the Rio Grande Valley, ever north and in ever greater numbers. What kind of a civilization, and what kind of a culture, and what kind of a religion will Texas be when the Mexican is the majority of the citizens of the state? That answer lies in what is done now. When the Turk came, he was a Mohammedan. And he made Asia Minor solidly Mohammedan, solidly. You won’t find Christianity in it, not enough even to speak of. And what Texas is in these future years lies in who wins that Mexican now.
Second; what do we learn when God speaks to us? This, the purpose of the church is evangelism. It’s soul winning. It’s missions. It’s outreach. It’s witnessing. It’s testimony. That is the great call and purpose of the church of Christ. I was never more astonished in my life than I was Friday night right here. As you know, our people by the several hundreds went out into this Trinity Valley Mission, and they brought together here this auditorium full of children with their parents that they had taught in Vacation Bible School. And when I gave the appeal there was such numbers until I did not know where to turn or what to do, nor did any of the fellow staff members. That is the purpose of the church. It is outreach. It is evangelism. It is missions. It is soul winning. It is testimony. And when the church departs from that great assignment, it dies inside in its heart, and it dies up there in God’s mercy in heaven.
"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and turn, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and remove thy lamp stand out of its place, except thou turn." All right, again. In every life, and in every denomination, and in every church there comes ultimately and finally a critical confrontation. It comes. It always comes. As the Lord said, "I am He that triest the reins and the heart." [Jeremiah 17:10] Reins, kidneys, that’s the ancient expression of the inside of a man. Let’s say the mind, "I try the mind and the heart." There comes that ultimate confrontation with every church, as with every individual, and every denomination.
For example, if I could look at the whole world today, in Africa, and in Indonesia the Christian churches are battling to the death with Mohammedanism. In Russia, and in China, and in the satellite nations the churches are battling to the death with communism. And in America, our churches are battling to the death with secularism, and materialism, and hedonism. Our values are no longer Christian or spiritual. Our values have become material and hedonistic. And more, and more, and more, and I say this with trembling words, I am seeing in America, and in Europe, in England, in Canada, I am seeing the churches begin to wither and to die under the onslaughts of secularism.
The attendance is down. The number of churches is down. The passion for Christ and winning souls is cooling off, and in increasing throngs, the churches are cold, and formal, and dead. A man can attend and go out the door unmoved, unmotivated. It’s a ritual. It’s a matter of respectability. It’s a matter of being nice. Sit there, yawn – go out and play golf – but the throb of it, and the passion of it, and the zeal of it, and the dedication of it, has been lost and Christ seems so far away. Like the song says, He’s real in the song, but He’s not real in life.
I think of an instance that brings a sadness to my soul in a way that you wouldn’t think for. As I walked in the cities of Russia, and I was free to walk in the cities where they allowed us to go, to Leningrad, Europa Hotel right around the corner across the street there’s a church and it’s a railroad station. Walked on down the beautiful main avenue of Leningrad, a church with the biggest padlock on the door I ever saw in my life, a padlock that big. Walked on down through the streets of the city, there’s a beautiful church, it’s a warehouse. Walked on down the streets of the city, there’s a beautiful church, it’s a granary. Walked on down the streets to the Kazan Cathedral, one of the great beautiful churches of the world, it is dedicated to Atheism and has in it all kinds of demonstrations that purport to teach the people that God doesn’t exist, there is no God.
As I walked up and down the streets of the city and looked, the sadness that came to my heart was not that the church had been turned into a railroad station. This one was padlocked, that one is a granary, this one is a warehouse. The sadness that came to my soul was not that the churches were locked, or turned into stations and greeneries, but the sadness of my soul was this. Out of a city as big as Chicago, there was a little group that would, say, fill this area of our choir in a church down on their knees crying before God. The tragedy and the sadness is that the people don’t care. They don’t miss it, nor do they want it. They have passed it by.
There made just one other observation. When I look at the effectiveness of communism to destroy the Christian churches, as I read in history the effectiveness of the sword of Mohammed to destroy the Christian faith, absolutely obliterate it from the earth, when I look at the effectiveness of hedonism in America, wanting to be entertained, wanting to live a life of uncaring, freedom, joy, and happiness, when I look at the life of America which is increasingly secular and material, and the withering of the churches before it, I cannot help but think what is that rapture going to be when the Lord comes and He says will He find faith in the earth? Will He find faith in the earth? When the Lord comes will He find faith in the earth? Will He?
You know I see these children taught about the rapture, and they’ll have pictures of all around will be saints carried up to heaven, great throngs of them. Could it be that it’ll be as it was in the days of Noah when the whole earth was filled with violence and just one righteous family? Could it be as it was in the days of Abraham when the whole earth was give to idolatry and there was one family, Abraham? Could it be as it was in the days of Elijah, in the great apostasy? Could it be as it was in the days of Isaiah who under God taught us to doctor the remnant? Could it be as it was in the days of the apostles? There were one hundred twenty.