“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write . . . Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick [lampstand] out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:1, 5).
As I study Revelation afresh, my attention has been drawn to the severe warning that the Lord will come quickly and will remove a candlestick, or lampstand, apart from individual and congregational repentance. A natural inquiry comes: How does the Lord remove a lampstand?
When the Lord begins to remove a Lampstand, He usually does so by degrees. Sometimes an established church closes suddenly, but more often, the departure of the glory of the Lord is a long process that emulates a person in steady decline with a malignant cancer.
The removal of a Lampstand begins with a diminishing of the gospel diet. In a conservative church, there tends to be a doctrinal imbalance. A gifted minister who specializes in one area neglects to preach the whole counsel of God. The result is a spiritual diet deficiency.
When a church is new, and filled with spiritual life, there is a hunger for the milk of God’s Word, which is commended. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: 3 If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Pet. 2:2, 3).
However, the Lord wants His people to grow and feast on the meat of His Word. A strong spiritual diet will include an understanding of the great doctrines of sovereign grace, such as propitiation, sanctification, expiation, glorification, redemption, atonement, an alien righteousness, and a substitutionary death. The heart of mature hearers will respond to the rallying cries of “SOLA SCRIPTURA!” (Scripture alone); “SOLA FIDE!” (faith alone); “SOLA CHRISTUS!” (Christ alone); “SOLIA GRACIA!” (grace alone), and “SOLA DEO GLORIA!” (to the glory of God alone).
When it is obvious that individuals need to be taught again, “the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat” the gospel light is being dimmed, and the lamp is being removed (Heb. 5:12).
The removal of a Lampstand continues when doing God’s work God’s way is suppressed, supplemented with worldly techniques, or simply set aside. Traditions of men replace the apostolic example. Holy standards for church leaders are removed, ignored, or rationally overlooked, thereby allowing the least spiritual to surface to guide the congregation. In times of stress, rather than being an example, rather than guarding the sheep, these church leaders are not to be found. Where is the David that will fight for his own against every beast of the field, and against all odds? Where is the good shepherd that will lay down His life for the little flock entrusted to his care, if necessary? The roaring lion has come, and devoured many. Not all, but many.
The removal of a Lampstand proceeds by allowing unauthorized worship to be practiced. Strange fire is offered to the Lord. It is sincere. It is well meant. It is wrong.
In the end a Lampstand is removed completely when enough individuals in a local congregation are determined to be self-willed, self-centered, and at ease in Zion. When enough individuals are committed to hating someone more than they want to love them, when enough individuals justify that which is unjustifiable, and engage in self-destructive, and other destructive behavior, the Lord takes notice, and will issue a strong word of warning. Often, to no avail.
As a result, many young people rebel, and turn away from the church, foolishly believing they have been converted because they once walked an aisle, said a prayer, or was baptized. They have decided they no longer need the local church, and so the lampstand of the assembly grows dim. If questioned, they will say they still believe, but find nothing satisfying or attractive in the local assembly. Desperate parents hope against hope their child will yet return when they are old, forgetting that is a proverb, a general truth, but not a precise promise. Christian parents would do better to plead to God for the salvation of their wayward children, and not allow wayward loved ones to be believe they are simply being a carnal Christian, which is a contradiction of terms. A “carnal Christian” is an oxymoron, “for to be carnally minded is death” (Rom. 8:6).
Spouses abandon each other in a frantic search for happiness with someone else. Of course, there will be no happiness, says my God to the wicked. Such souls are on a fool’s errand. The lampstand of the congregation grows dimmer through divorce as marriage is made to be a mockery. The lure of the world is enticing, and what the world has to offer is embraced. No judgment. No guilty conscience. No holy commitments. No more listening to gospel sermons, or exhortations. No more accountability to anyone, but self. No more serious study of the Bible. There is freedom just ahead in Vanity Fair. Eat! Drink! Be merry! And of course, everyone has their own good reason for not attending the assembly of the saints.
“Demas has forsaken me,” said Paul, “having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). Maybe Paul should not have used the name of Demas. People knew Demas. That must have been embarrassing for him. Paul should have been more discreet in his writing.
But the apostle was not discreet for Paul was more concerned about the holiness of Demas than his personal happiness. Demas would have preferred to go his own way quietly and without any obstacles, challenge, or call to repentance. Nevertheless, let every Demas, in every generation know this. What is a secret sin in life is an open scandal in heaven.
In order to get to the world, Demas had to forsake godly fellowship, for Paul would have continued to evaluate his bad behavior, and call him to live out the ethics of his Christian faith, and repent. Run Demas, run. No doubt, Demas might have said to Paul, “You don’t understand.” Run, Demas, run.
Paul did understand. Paul knew that it is easier to justify unholy passions, and flit about from one place to another, than be to be settled, committed, authentic, and sorrowful over sin.
Demas might have felt a personal burden lifted when he left Paul, who had loved and cared for him for so long. No more gospel work needed to be done. No more fellowship meals had to be eaten. No more forgiveness had to be extended. No more long suffering with others had to be put up with.
I tell you, when the light of the gospel in the hearts of enough people in a local assembly goes completely dark, when the heart becomes hardened, the lampstand will be removed. God said it, and individuals better believe it.
Of course, no local church has to be closed down. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. No local assembly has to have its lampstand removed. But something must be done, and that something is called repentance. But, “What does it mean to repent?” The word itself seems to be cold and formal. It is not. Repentance is a word that involves the mind, will, and emotion.
To repent means to change one’s mind. To repent means to move in a different direction. To repent means to do things differently from what is being done at the moment, no matter what is emotionally felt. To repent means to put away anger. To repent means to say, “I am sorry.” To repent means to gather, not scatter. To repent means to begin to do God’s work, God’s way. To repent means to seek the will of the Lord. To repent means to do what God says to do in His Word. To repent means not to do what is known to be wrong. To repent is to forgive those you believe have hurt you. To repent is to love the unlovely. To repent is to remember how much God has forgiven one’s sins. To repent is to sing with Bill and Gloria Gather, and expresses Christ-like emotion.
I am loved, I am loved;
I can risk loving you.
For the One who knows me best
Loves me most.
I am loved, you are loved.
Won’t you please take my hand;
We are free to love each other;
We are loved.
I said if You knew You wouldn’t want me,
My scars are hidden by the face I wear.
He said my child My scars go deeper,
It was love for you that put them there.
Forgiven, I repeat it, I’m forgiven;
Clean before my Lord, I freely stand.
Forgiven I can dare to love my brother,
Forgiven I reach out to take your hand.
Who will repent? Who will be faithful to the principles and practices of Scripture? Heaven waits for the answer. The guardian angel of each congregation waits for the answer. The local leadership waits for the answer.
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of Kings.
Rise up, O men of God!
His Kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.
Rise up, O men of God!
The Church for you doth wait.
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up and make her great!
Lift high the Cross of Christ!William P. Merrill
Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man
Rise up, O men of God!