Back in the summertime, I was trying to plan some preaching series for church. At the time, I was considering dipping in to the opening chapters of Revelation 1-3, the letters to the seven churches. So John Stott's little book 'What Christ Thinks of the Church' came with me on holiday. As it turned out, we didn't do the Revelation series (yet), but it was still worthwhile to read Stott doing what he does best - exposition of Scripture. Even though I don't agree with everything he says, there is much that is solid and profitable in this book.
As he points out in the introduction, 'Many Christians fight shy of the book of Revelation.' It's seen as a difficult book - a 'happy hunting ground for fundamentalists' was how it was described at Theological College. But Stott immediately provides some clues for the interpreter from the text: 1. Apocalupsis (apocalypse) means unveiling, a revelation. So put out of your head those tabloid headline notions of apocalyptic freak weather and such like. 2. This revelation is given to the church, so that we know what is going on. 3. In persecution, error and sin, the devil's tactics don't change from one generation to the next. 'The substance of the revelation is Christ himself.'
The rest of the chapters explore the letters of Christ to the seven churches in turn. Stott helpfully summarises each, with lots of helpful observations: Ephesus - love; Smyrna - suffering; Pergamum - truth; Thyatira - holiness; Sardis - reality; Philadelphia - opportunity; Laodicea - wholeheartedness. Here are some of the stand out lines:
'It is clear that the risen Lord is in a position to evaluate the condition of each church and to commend or condemn it, for he knows its state with perfect accuracy.'
'It is not a living church if it is not a loving church' - on Ephesus.
'A willingness to suffer proves the genuineness of love' - on Smyrna.
'With the call to suffer there went the promise of accompanying grace.'
'The way to lose fear is to gain faith.'
While in Thyatira there is much to commend, 'it is sad to read a little further and discover its moral compromise.'
'But outward appearances are notoriously deceptive; and this socially distinguished congregation was a spiritual graveyard.' - on Sardis.
'We turn now, with some relief, from the rebuke... to the remedy.'
There were moments when I didn't agree with his conclusions, mostly in the last of the letters to Laodicea. It all centres on the famous images of the lukewarm to be spat out of the mouth, and of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. Stott argues that Jesus was us either burning hot for him or else icy cold against him. I don't think he's right on this bit. Similarly, he seems to want to follow the popular individual evangelistic appeal application of Jesus knocking, so that any individual can open the door for salvation. But is that really what Jesus is saying here, writing to a congregation of Christians who presumably are already saved?
The last chapter notwithstanding, the book is what you would expect from John Stott. Thorough exposition with warm and pastorally sensitive application. This would be most useful for the pastor preparing to preach from Revelation (and not just the letters themselves), but would also be suitable for any Christian wanting to use it devotionally over a longer period of time. There is much to ponder, any many warnings to hear as the Spirit speaks to the churches. What Christ Thinks of the Church by John Stott is available from Amazon.