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I was recently at a conference called Fresh Expressions in Alexandria, Virginia. The conference was a gathering of more than twenty denominations, which were united in their desire to cultivate new expressions of Christianity within established and newer churches. As I was attending the conference, I was reminded of a section in the book of Revelation. Specifically, my mind was taken to the message Jesus gave to Ephesus – the first of the seven churches in Asia Minor.

This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. (Revelation 2:1-5, NLT)

As we talked about fresh expressions of Christianity at the gathering, I was reminded that all churches were initially fresh expressions. Every church began with a spark of hope. But over time the fire died out in many churches. This led to two thoughts.  

First, the message the church is to share with the world has not changed. In fact, it’s a very simple message: We are to love God and love others. I like how the New Living Translation makes verse four explicit: It’s not just love in general that the church in Ephesus is on the verge of losing, it was love for God and love for others.

Second, we must always remember that it is Jesus and his Spirit that holds each church in his hand. It’s tempting to think that we are the ones in control. But we aren’t. And because Jesus and his Spirit are the ones who hold the authority of the church, they are able to blow out the flame of the church when that church has lost its mission. And if you don’t think Jesus was serious when he warned the church at Ephesus about blowing out their flame, you should know that all the churches mentioned in the book of Revelation – and not just the one in Ephesus – ceased existing centuries ago.

As we are led to think about fresh expressions Christianity, it is important to keep in mind that these fresh expressions exist first and foremost to advance the love of God and of others. It’s a simple message, but time has shown how difficult it is to put into practice and maintain over the long haul. Let us always hold up one another with the prayer to make the love of God and of others the central aspect of our lives – and of our churches.

 
Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Manton-Thought-Puritan-History/dp/1596382139/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319153564&sr=8-1#_. See his faculty page at: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.

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