All seven of the churches of Christ that are addressed in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation were subject to currents that threatened to undermine their commitments to Christ. The most prominent threat came in the form of accommodation to culture. The cultural norm and expectation were to do things like eating food sacrificed to the gods and demonstrating support of the political and social status quo. These activities were being advocated and practiced by some within these congregations by various individuals and groups.
The advocates of accommodative practices are given symbolic names by the glorified Christ as He addressed the churches: the Nicolaitans at Ephesus (2:6), the followers of Balaam and the Nicolaitans at Pergamum (2:14–15), and Jezebel and her followers at Thyatira (2:20–25). Hicks notes that “Balaam is a well-known symbol of syncretism, assimilation, and compromise as he attempted to subvert the faith of Israel (Numbers 22-24).” The leaders in these movements are referred to as pseudo-apostles and pseudo-prophets (2:2, 20).
The consistent message to these congregations by Christ is “do not compromise with secular and false religious forces.” The church is called on to be counter-cultural, yet there is a strong tendency for congregations tend to take on the character of their community to fit in. Faith communities have often compromised their faith by making concessions to culture, often embracing materialism and tolerating sexual and moral perversion. This raises several questions. To what extent can Christians conform to society? What cultural customs can Christians adopt for the sake of economic survival, commercial gain, or sociability? How can we be counter-cultural and still be relevant? How do God’s people live in the world and yet remain distinct from the world?
The seven churches of Asia demonstrate the struggle the saints have in determining “where the lines between culture and Christianity” are. This continues to be a struggle for the saints today. However, it seems that the question has moved from “where are the lines” to “are there lines”?
Jesus’ divine message at the end of the first and century and His message today is for the people of God to refocus our faith and resist worldly compromise.