THE DEGRADATION OF THE CHURCH
Leaving the First Love toward the Lord
Now we must see how the church as the new man became degraded. According to the first of the seven epistles in Revelation 2 and 3, the church left the first love toward the Lord (2:4). The church turned from the Lord Himself to something that was for the Lord but not the Lord Himself. It turned to works and labor, to do many good things for the Lord (vv. 2-3).
Teachings Bringing in Leaven
Following this, because the church turned from the living, present, and instant Lord Himself to something else, teachings came in. Because someone does many works, he needs the teachings; he labors much, so he needs the knowledge. When the teachings came in, they opened up the door for the subtle one, Satan, to come in. First the good teachings came in, but eventually something corrupting, evil, and ruining was hidden in the teachings. We can see this from the parables in Matthew 13. In Matthew 13 the Lord first came sowing Himself as the seed (vv. 3, 24). This seed grew up as wheat, and from the wheat we have meal, the fine flour (v. 33). Then a woman, that is, the degraded Roman Catholic Church, came in and hid leaven in the meal. By what means did she do this? It was in the way of teachings. Matthew 13:33 says that this evil woman hid leaven in the meal. This means that she picked up many hidden, pagan, and evil things and put them into the fine flour as the hidden leaven.
Revelation 2:20 says that in Thyatira there was the evil woman Jezebel. The Lord Jesus said, “You tolerate the woman Jezebel, she who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads My slaves astray to commit fornication and to eat idol sacrifices.” The teachings of Jezebel are the teachings with leaven. The Roman Catholic Church teaches people many things. Of what they teach, some things are good, but some things are truly corrupting. In many Roman Catholic cathedrals, for example, there is an image of Jesus. Some may say that the image of Jesus is good, but in the eyes of God it is an idol. I have gone into a number of Catholic cathedrals both in the United States and in Manila. I checked with the people there, asking, “Why do you have this idol here?” They answered, “Do not say this is an idol. This is not an idol; this is our Lord Jesus. Without this image, we can tell people about Jesus, but it is hard for them to apprehend Jesus. If we put an image in the cathedral, right away they can see Jesus. Not only so, they can come here to touch Jesus.” This may seem good, but it is a small part of fine flour with a great part of leaven.
When I was in Manila, I found out that some there even changed the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 in order to fit their situation. They took out the second commandment, which says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, nor the form of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water beneath the earth” (v. 4). Then they split one of the other commandments into two in order to fill up the number of ten. This is the subtlety of the enemy, Satan.
Christmas is another item of leaven. How much leaven there is in Christmas! Almost every item of today’s celebration of Christmas is pagan. Even the date, December 25, was the day that people in the ancient time worshipped the sun and celebrated its birthday. Moreover, in the ancient time the evergreen tree was related to the worship of idols. All these pagan items in Christmas are related to Satan and to idols. The degraded church, however, says that without such a celebration people cannot appreciate the birth of Christ.
None of us should have a picture of Jesus in our home; that is an idol. The popular picture of Jesus today is a painting of a famous artist in the Middle Ages. However, Jesus did not look like this. Isaiah 53 tell us that while Jesus was in the flesh, He had no beauty; rather, He was despised by people (vv. 2-3). In 1936 in the province of Honan in China we dealt with the case of a sister who was demon-possessed. From our experience we knew that demon possession mostly comes from the worship of idols. Behind any kind of idol there is a demon; if someone has something related to idols in his home, he is in danger of possession by demons. Because in China there are many idol worshippers, I asked the people of that sister’s house if they had idols in their home. They said they did not, but eventually I found out that in their home was a picture of Jesus. Later we came to know that the sister many times knelt down to pray to that picture of Jesus. A demon took this opportunity to possess her. I told them to burn that picture, and when they did, the demon left her.
Do not listen to teachings that seem to be good but are leavened. People use a picture of Jesus to help others to appreciate Him. On the one hand, it is good to help people to appreciate Jesus, but there is something subtle there. Leaven is hidden there. The way the church became degraded was first by leaving her direct love to the Lord, taking care of other things which seemed to be good. However, this opened the way for the teachings to come in, and with the teachings leaven came, corrupting, ruining, and leavening the whole church.
Please read Revelation 2 and 3 again. The Lord Jesus mentions teaching several times, but not one mention is positive. He said, “But I have a few things against you, that you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam.…In the same way you also have some who hold in like manner the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:14-15). In verse 6 the Lord said that He hates the things of the Nicolaitans. Then in verse 20 He says, “But I have something against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, she who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads My slaves astray to commit fornication and to eat idol sacrifices” (v. 20). The Lord Jesus commended “the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching” (v. 24). In Revelation 2 and 3, the Lord Jesus hates the teachings.
We should be careful about saying that the Lord Jesus hates only the evil teachings and not the good teachings. How can we know which teachings are good and which teachings are evil? Rather, we should not care for mere teachings. If we do, we will be cheated by them. We must learn to say, “Do not talk to me about mere teachings. I fear them because some are good while others are awful. I may not have the proper discernment, and by the time I find out, I already may have been poisoned.” Do not say that this is my opinion or my own teaching. Read these two chapters again and you will see that the Lord Jesus mentions teachings several times, but always negatively.
(Enjoying the Riches of Christ for the Building Up of the Church as the Body of Christ, Chapter 17, by Witness Lee)