Discernment, Rebuke and Redemption in the Seven Churches
The burden of this article is the right dividing of the gift of discernment and the exposing of error relative to the spirit-filled church at large in our present time. It comes as the fruit of recent personal intercessory burden for local church ministry together with plural correspondences from some First Love readers regarding this ministry’s fairly steady exposures and discussions of such error.
The Lord has raised up end time watchmen with the gift of discernment to alert the church to the enemy lurking about and within our midst. First Love Ministry is among those ministries that exercise this gift to the exposing and warning of errors, specifically regarding the prophetic-intercessory-worshipping church.
The gift of discernment itself however requires calibration. It must be true and perform accurately to a standard. If the gift fails to undergo proving for its own accuracy, it in turn becomes a false gift. That is, it becomes an anti-gift unto accusation and condemnation rather than of redemption, contrary to its purpose.
We briefly touched on this in a recent article relative to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2. The Ephesians possessed the gift of discernment whereby they tried the claims of those calling themselves apostles. But in the process of this exercise, they had abandoned their “first love.”
This means their gift became unhinged from its calibrating purpose, which we said was to seek redemptivity in the objects being tested under light of this gift. Love does not issue indiscriminate wholesale condemnation upon men and movements, but exercises targeted discriminating discernment with a motive of redemption toward that which proves erroneous or flawed under its light.
When the motive of redemption is absent or lost from the gift, discernment corrupts into a false self-standing power of suspicion casting generalized aspersions, innuendos and accusations against men, ministries and movements. It is focused on looking for error and thus finds error based in its own presumptive conclusions of superficial unproven readings and appearances of what men may be saying and doing. From here and on this basis, this power of anti-discernment freely slanders the names of men and ministries it has adjudged to be guilty of error.
The truth is that many many so-called “error exposing” and “cult watch” ministries are based on this corrupted anti-gift. You will easily find this in operation for example on YouTube and other social media sites in which non-contexted sound bites, photographs, quotations and circumstantial constructs of appearances and associations are strung together over a bed of dramatic music implicating a certain church leader or ministry or movement. None of this is the demonstration of the true gift of discernment and falls under the admonition repeatedly made before, “Don’t believe a word of it.”
The Discernment of Jesus in the Seven Churches
To observe the true calibration for exercising the gift of discernment in the church at large, we need look no further than the messages of Jesus to the seven churches of Revelation. In these messages, we see the gift of cutting discernment at its truest and finest, perfectly tuned to the Lord’s loving purpose of redemptivity. Let’s watch how this plays out.
Firstly, all rebukes aside, there is only one church of the seven for which Jesus had nothing praiseworthy or virtuous to commend. This was the church of Laodicea, a church marked by its sense of complete self-sufficiency in the world, and the one which most characterizes the affluent culture-accommodating churches of our day.
By contrast, in two of the seven churches, the Lord had no fault to find. He had nothing but encouraging words to the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia, both which had withstood serious attacks from false Judaizers, and were yet destined to suffer further. Nevertheless he still exhorted these churches to hold fast and not lose their grip. Love still held them accountable to His standard.
In the remaining four churches, we find the Lord has a serious contest with error. The Ephesian error we have already cited.
The churches at Pergamum and Thyatira were severely chided for tolerance of teachings based in the spirits of Balaam, Jezebel and the Nicolaitans. And we must make no mistake, these were very evil spirits to the Lord. We’re talking about spirits of monetary greed, spiritual harlotry, literal fornication, clerical lordship over the laity, and the feeding on teaching that magnified cultural personages and values, such as political and entertainment icons and their causes. (Jesus called this “food sacrificed to idols.”)
Lastly, the Sardisian church was soundly rebuked for its superficiality without substance. Today, we might call this the program-driven church. It appeared to be full of activity, but it was dead fleshly activity profiting nothing. It was not of the Spirit that alone gives life.
Strategic Reproof and the Hope of Redemption
Here is what we must notice in the Lord’s discernment. First of all, wherever He could do so, the Lord found and accented the praiseworthy elements of each church. And as noted, every church except for Laodicea was credited with a praiseworthy element.
Secondly, every church, including Laodicea, was given hope for reform. Every church was given a promise of the possibility of redemption where fault was identified. These were the promises to the overcomers. Every church was either already an overcoming church in character or had a contingent within it of those who were so, and otherwise still had the potential to become so even if it didn’t have such a contingent. Jesus was always looking toward such hope.
- Rebuke vs. Condemnation
Importantly, the Lord did not mete out total unmitigatable rebuke on any church and leave it at that. All His rebuke had a tempering context. In other words, the Lord did not bring forth a wholesale condemnation of any of His churches. He did not voice snide cynicism toward any of them. His heart was for these churches to all “make it.”
This is not to say there was no condemnation uttered. There was! The Lord specifically condemned the Nicolaitan, Balaamite and Jezebellic teachings and practices, and did threaten to condemn those who would not repent of them. (He threatened to kill the Balaamites and the Jezebellic “children,” ie, her adulterous prophets).
But see how he surgically isolated these from the rest in these churches who held to no such thing! In no case did Jesus issue a broadbrush indiscriminate condemnation of any of His churches.
Discerning the Churches from the “Anti-Church”
This next observation is exceedingly important. It is that Jesus makes a difference between His true churches which contain error, and those pretending bodies / organizations that are not His church at all.
There are two clear examples of bodies in Revelation that were not the Lord’s true church. The first is those He identifies as belonging to the “synagogue of satan.” The satanic judaizers who were afflicting the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia were not of His church. These therefore were to be condemned.
About these, whom He calls liars, Jesus says He will make them come and bow down to acknowledge that He has loved His churches who they have hated and opposed (3:9). (This echoes His prayer to the Father regarding these same haters the night of Gethsemane: “so that the [hating] world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” Jn. 17:23).
The other example of those who are not of the Lord’s true church are those represented by the harlot of Revelation 17-18. This body is in fact drunk with the blood of the saints, and is commonly understood throughout church history to refer primarily to (as “mother” of all others) the Roman Catholic Church, which is indeed a “haunt of every unclean bird” under the sun (18:2).
So watch this most carefully. Among the seven true churches, Jesus acknowledges the presence of those who are pedaling the falsehood of Jezebel the harlot. Yet He distinguishes these churches from this later harlot church body, which is not His church and is under His condemnation, finally drinking in the plagues of the wrath of God!
Intriguingly, regarding this harlot body, Jesus yet acknowledges that there are yet some of His own who are ignorantly found within its midst, to whom He calls:
18:4 "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; 5 for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
So what are we seeing here? We are shown that on one hand there are those within the true churches given to falsity who must repent or be expunged, while on the other hand there are those in the false church given to truth, though ignorant of what they are part of, who must depart that body.
But in all cases, Jesus does not mix up the two bodies! Notice that Jesus never tells anyone to leave any of the seven true churches, in spite of the errors contained within them. He never says to the Pergamites or Thyatirans or Saridisian faithful, “Come out of her my people….”
Another Look at the Revelation 12 Woman and the Parable Virgins
The Lord has given us much truth to see by the portrayals of the signs given us in Revelation and in the parables. For our purposes today, we especially want to again target the distinction between the bodies of the Harlot of Revelation 17-18, the Woman of Revelation 12, the Manchild of Revelation 12 and the wise and foolish virgins of Matthew 25.
Firstly, there is a grave difference between the harlot of Rev. 18 and the Spirit-filled woman of Rev. 12. This should be plainly obvious to anyone. The Rev. 12 “Woman” is the true Spirit filled church of God. The Rev. 18 harlot is the false anti-church. The one is protected. The other condemned and destroyed. The one flees the dragon and the beast. The other rides the dragon and the beast, to be finally destroyed by them.
But at the same time, there is a difference between the manchild within the Woman and the Woman herself. The manchild is a people who become separated out from the Woman and caught up to heaven. They are not “fleeing” the woman as those in Rev. 18 are told to do from the harlot. They are instead “born” out of her. But why are they caught up to heaven and not the Woman? Why do they rise to defeat the dragon with Michael the archangel while the Woman has to flee into the wilderness to escape the dragon?
Anyone familiar with this ministry knows that the answers to these dynamics are already painted for us by brother Leland Earls, whose in-depth writings on these types we have posted. I exhort anyone unfamiliar with these writings on the Woman, the Manchild and the Bride to review them at our website. We have also written on them as well. (Please study the articles found here and here.) We will not reinvent the wheel here on these teachings.
But with these teachings as background, we will just say this: The Woman represents all those who for various reasons are not ready for the Lord’s return when He comes as a thief in the night to take His jewels unto Himself ahead of the impending time of Great Tribulation. There is going to be a great shocking division in the church between those who were ready and those who were not. The Manchild represents those sons of God and that corporate Bride of Christ who passed through the necessary rigors of identity severance and discipleship from within the midst of the church necessary to be found worthy to escape those things Jesus said were coming, to ascend to His side as His fit companion.
Within the Woman not taken, those of long time in the Lord are those who could and should have known better, but failed to enter and come into true full identity severance from this world. These same are the foolish virgins, whereas those of the Manchild and Bride taken were the wise virgins.
Those of the Woman are those who could not or would not hear the word of uncompromised identity and practice. These tolerated Balaam, Jezebel, the Nicolaitans and food offered to cultural idols. They are the Sardisians with spotted garments. And they are those of the wilderness Ephesian church who in pride of their own discernment and discipleship, failed to discern the foolish but real body of Christ from the harlot, condemning all with any hint of error as false apostles—for whose sake this article is especially written.
Discerning the (Foolish) Body of Christ
It is imperative that we who consider ourselves gifted in discernment pertaining to the church come to reckon with these nuances as portrayed through these revelatory signs and parables. We must learn the difference between foolish virgins and the harlot. We must learn the difference between harlots in the midst of true bodies of Christ and the harlot at large. The two are not the same and may not be treated the same. There is significant error in many believing churches today who love God and the brethren. That error however does not necessarily categorize such churches as part of the harlot.
Paul specifically tells us that if we do not discern the true body of Christ, we will be weak and sickly and will even die. That is not a good place to be found. If we are aspiring to be wed to the Bridegroom, then we must aspire to the fullness of His discernment in all respects. We must learn the difference between rebuke and condemnation, knowing the rightful target of each. We rebuke foolish virgins. We condemn proven harlots. We do not condemn foolish virgins.
This is admittedly hard to come to. The only way to come to it soundly is through a spirit of ceaseless intercession. We must pray through what we are encountering in churches and among our brethren before we express determinations about what we have encountered. And we must always be looking for the redemptive edge in our perception. We want to know, “Father, can the discernible error in this church or movement be corrected? Do you have a redemptive out here for these believers?”
In our landmark series on the Mystery of Spiritual Gender, we go to extreme lengths to discuss the nuances of the spiritual validities and weaknesses of the dual-tempered nature of the Lord deposited throughout His people. This is a must read series in order to understand the heart behind this teaching ministry.
From this platform, we will continue to expose the errors of foolish identity-compromised “culture prophetic” virgins while acknowledging the validity of the passionate heart of God for men they bear and uphold. We will seek to bring redemptive adjustment to all such hearts, bringing forth the missing masculine military elements of the Lord, while soundly prosecuting false doctrine as it appears in our midst. This is the balance of truth reconciliation to which we have been called. It is part of the true Elijah ministry to prepare the way of the Lord in His people.
My prayer is that we might all be able to come to the wise discernments necessary in this conflict. And it is a conflict to be sure. But the Lord honors this prayer and will answer it for all of us.
Thank you for the faithfulness of intercession on the part of all you who are an engaged part of this ministry….interceding not merely for this ministry, but for the larger body in bringing forth the Lord’s completed perfection in a people for whom He can finally return, wherein all things have been apostolically and prophetically restored that must be restored!
New Meadow Neck, Rhode Island
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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