The Letter to Pergamum reads:
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The
words of him who has ethe
sharp two-edged sword.
13 “‘I know where you dwell, fwhere Satan's throne is. Yet you hold
fast my name, and you did not deny
even in the days of Antipas hmy
faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But
I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught
Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat
food sacrificed to idols and practice
sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore
repent. If not, I
will come to you soon and war
against them with the
sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to
the churches. To
the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and
I will give him a white stone, with a
new name written on the stone that no one knows
except the one who receives it.’
I believe there are two primary
ways Satan attacks the church – by killing the saints and through false
teaching. The letter to Pergamum in the
book of Revelation plays this out.
First, we find Antipas, the
faithful witness, killed. This is the
work of the first beast in Revelation 13.
He attacks the saints of God through persecution and at times, death. Even this week, Newsweek’s current
cover-story is “The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World.” Are you surprised?
A few years ago ago Italian journalist Antonio Socci presented his work during a
conference on "Anti-Christian Persecution in the 20th Century" held
at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
"I handed in the draft of the book in January; since then the
martyrdom of Christians has had no letup," the author noted. Socci´s map
of the current persecution highlights countries where Christians are dying for
their faith and it includes the Molucca Islands of Indonesia, Bangladesh, India,
Nigeria, East Timor, Cuba, the former Soviet republics, Saudi Arabia and other
Muslim countries, Vietnam, China and others.
According to the author, the two currents that fuel the persecution of
Christians today are Communism and Muslim fundamentalism.
In two millennia of Christian history, about 70
million faithful have given their lives for the faith, and of these, 45.5
million -- fully 65% -- were in the last century, according to "The New
This is attack can be pretty easy
to see. It is slightly complicated by tribalism (not necessarily direct persecution of faith, but tribal warfare), but the bottom line is still the same. Persecution that causes economic and physical hardship is easy to identify.
The second attack comes through
false teaching being introduced into the church. This is the work of the second
beast of Revelation 13 who looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon. You can’t tell the work of the beast by how he looks, but by what he says. False
teachers never wear a sign announcing themselves. You have to discern who they are by the content of their words.
In Pergamum false teachers were syncretizing
the Christian faith and with it came some sort of moral compromise (like most
false teaching!). The church of Ephesus had tested every teacher who had come into their fellowship (Rev 2:2) and identified those who were false. Pergamum has failed in this regard. It is amazing to think that while physical persecution was taking place, Jesus still challenges them. You think Jesus would just pat them on the back and encourage them. Instead, He threatens!
So here is the question: Which one
is harder to deal with?
Satan’s attack of phyiscal
persecution is easy to see and agree with others that is happening. It typically unifies the church and rallies
brothers and sisters in Christ of a wide theological spectrum together. I am not saying that physical persecution is
not hard, but at least we can agree on what it is when we see it. Plus, when a Christian dies, they ultimate
False teaching causes all sorts
of problems. One, Christians can’t even
agree on what false teaching is, sometimes when it concerns the most basic of
doctrines. A cursory reading of the New
Testament finds that false teaching is the primary cause of problems in the
early church. Sure, Stephen was stoned
and countless others were killed, but
that only caused the roots of Christian faith to sink deeper and spread farther. Someone once said “the blood of the martyrs
is the seed of the church.” That is not
always true, but most times it captures what happens during physical
False teaching splits churches,
confuses saints, ruins ministries and inhibits evangelism. Has martyrdom ever
done that? Maybe at some level, yes, but false teaching does more harm. No wonder a significant portion of the New Testament is focused on
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren overseas the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.