John writes a letter to another church, this time to the one at Pergamum. And the story here is not unlike our own story as the church.
The church at Pergamum is being pressed from all sides. She's being pressured to abandon her faith, to change what she believes about God and the way that she believes it. She's being pushed to recant her faith, under severe threat from the world around her. And John praises her because, so far, she hasn't.
It's the challenge we all face, particularly as our world continues to press in and pressure us to keep our faith "private." To make it one of those things we do behind closed doors, one of those things that the world doesn't need to know about. It's almost improper in today's West to talk about faith - at least, Christian faith - openly, the way that it used to be improper to talk about sex. (Just think about that for a second. Our world is more comfortable with fifty shades than with one Lord and Savior.)
Just last week, I entered into a conversation that began with an idea supposedly advocated first by one of the world's most famous atheists, and that idea was that people - namely, Christians - need to stop believing their religion is a valid basis for morality and law. The argument went as it usually does, that a person can be a good and moral person without a faith and so faith must be relegated to a person's private ritual and nothing more. We can all, they argue, agree on what is good and right and moral without relying upon God for authority on the matter.
Which isn't actually true. Just take a few of our deeply-held convictions that seem "natural" to us, so natural that they don't require any foundational belief system to reach. Murder. Overwhelmingly, most in the West would say that murder is wrong. But in other parts of the world, they have honor killings that are considered right. It's murder, but it's sanctioned murder. So murder is not a universal wrong; it's not woven into the fabric of the universe that murder is wrong. It's not something we can all just know and agree on. It comes from a shared belief system that we have that, if we're being honest about it, came from someone's Christian faith a long time ago.
Rape. We would most all say that rape is wrong. But again, go around the world, and there are cultures where rape is not the atrocity that it is. We see it in the headlines all the time, mostly because we're supposed to be outraged by it or something. But it's not our culture, so it's not our value or our norm. Again, it's not a universal wrong woven into the fabric of the universe. It, too, comes from a shared belief system that we have that, if we're honest, came from someone's Christian faith a long time ago.
How about equality? Certainly, it's a universal human value, no faith required, to believe that everyone is just as good and worthy and valuable as anyone else. Nope. There are plenty of cultures who retain social hierarchies, where someone is better or more valuable than someone else for any number of reasons or where non-conformists or the disabled or the disfigured are less valuable innately than others. And in our own country? Read the entire statement in the Constitution, not just part of it, and you'll see that the equality that the founding fathers wove into our brand new society is intimately connected with the belief in a Creator God who made us equal.
But still, the world says, faith is invalid. It has no rightful place in telling us how we should live, even though any real, honest discussion of the topic must confess that it is only because of the Christian faith of others that we believe what we believe in our society.
So we're pressured as Christians to give it all up, to push it all aside. To deny it in public and pretend that we're "just" human and not necessarily Christian. To disregard our faith, to put it away when it's inconvenient. Or even to change what it is. It's the story of Pergamum all over again.
John says they refused to go along with it. John says they refused to be pressured. John says they kept their faith in the face of it all, and he loves them for it.
Let us love the churches who are still doing this. Who are standing up to the cultural currents and standing firm on faith and saying, unashamedly, no. This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is how we live. And we will not be bullied or shamed or threatened into breaking our faith or changing it or denying it or discounting it.
Here's to the churches in modern-day Pergamum who never abandon the faith, but who keep it firmly and resolutely. For this is who we are.