More Questions and Possible Answers

A Further Attempt to Understand The Ideology of Brenton Tarrant
What was the motivating ideology of the Christchurch mass murderer?  It’s hard for folk living in NZ to work it out, since Brenton Tarrant’s “manifesto” is now under wraps, as they say.  It remains an open question as to how much of Tarrant’s ideology will become public through the trial process.  

At this point more information is available to folk overseas.  Robert J. Delahunty is a professor of law at the University of St Thomas in the United States and has taught Constitutional Law there for 15 years.  He rejects the concept “white nationalist” as applied to Tarrant.  Here is his attempt to understand Tarrant’s ideology:

Was the New Zealand Shooter Motivated by Nationalism?

. . . With this framework in mind, we can address whether the New Zealand murderer was motivated by “nationalism.” It seems clear that he was not. A subtler and more searching explanation for his violence must be found.

To begin with, there is no indication at all, either from his actions or his writing, that he was an Australian nationalist. How would Australian nationalism be advanced by murdering Muslims?

More plausible is the thought that he was an Anglo-Australian (ethnic) nationalist. Certainly, he highlighted his British ancestry. Perhaps the Anglo-Australians might be considered to be a “people” or a large “tribe” within contemporary, pluralistic Australia. In the same way, the Dutch or English in the Union of South Africa might be characterized as distinct (minority) peoples or tribes in that setting.

Carrying this thought even further, one might argue that the (ethnic) English in the current United Kingdom were a distinct people or tribe within that country. One might even attempt to claim the same of “WASPs” in the United States.

But, again, the New Zealand shooter did not identify himself as an Anglo-Australian nationalist. Rather, he identified himself with the figure of the convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal, Radovan Karadzic. But Karadzic could hardly be described as an Anglo-Australian nationalist: he was an ethnic Serb. The New Zealand shooter based his personal identification with Karadzic on the most important thing he thought they had in common: a murderous hatred of Muslims, everywhere on the planet.

Now, it is open to question whether Karadzic would have harbored murderous feelings towards Muslims in Christchurch New Zealand, which is pretty far away from Bosnia. But let that pass. The more salient point is that the group of people who hold murderous or genocidal views of Muslims do not, in any way, constitute a “people” or a “tribe.” The latter are relationships rooted in kinship, not in attitudes or beliefs. So if this shooter centered his identity on hatred of Muslims, it is hard to see how that could be said to have made him a “nationalist.”

The obvious retort to this is that he describes himself as acting on behalf of the “white people” or the “white race.” But would that make him a nationalist?

True, in some situations it might be reasonable to describe particular groups of “white” people as a distinct “nation,” “people,” or even, in a loose sense, “tribe.” Anglo-Australians might conceivably answer to that description; so might white South Africans. But in what sense could the “white race” throughout the entire world be described as a single ethnic nation?

Granted, the Poles, the Jews, or the Irish can plausibly be considered to be ethnic nations. But can all these groups be considered to be the same ethnic nation? How many of the world’s 800-900 million persons of straight European descent would see themselves in that light? How many of them would wish to form a distinct nation state?

The New Zealand Murderer as a Globalist

We should be looking for some explanation for the New Zealander’s violence other than nationalism. I submit that his perspective was a globalist, not a nationalist, one. The resemblances between this shooter’s violence and that practiced by the Islamic State (ISIS) are striking. They may give us the right clues to understanding his real motivation.

Like ISIS, the New Zealand murderer selected soft targets: the victims of his atrocity were innocent Muslim men and women at prayer. Like ISIS, he exploited to the full the resources of modern social media in order to call attention to himself and his actions. Like ISIS, he aestheticized violence: in his hands, the mass murder of the innocent, live-streamed as it was happening, was designed to be a work of art.

Most importantly here, his violence, like ISIS’s, was addressed to a global audience in the service of a global cause: in their case, the renewal of a caliphate subsuming all Muslims spread across the planet, the umma. In his case, the “white race” throughout the world, faced (in his view) with demographic catastrophe and extinction. He was in effect calling on his intended audience to grasp the seriousness of its condition and to meet its global danger.

Whatever name we give to this kind of motivation, “nationalism” is not adequate. It is absurd to maintain that the white race throughout the entire planet forms a single, unitary “people” or “nation” in exactly the sense that particular white ethnicities do. Such a position is intelligible only from the globalist perspective that this mass shooter held, in which the differences between (say) Anglo-Australians and ethnic Serb Bosnians are entirely blotted out.

What I suspect the New Zealand killer was looking for was a kind of transnational or globalized community that defined itself in terms of “whiteness” and that adopted a violent and even genocidal attitude to the Muslim world as a whole. Yet, at the same time, that community, despite its global reach and teeming inner diversity, was to offer persons like himself the solace, intimacy, protection, and recognition characteristic of a tribe.

This is, perhaps, an ersatz and Christ-less form of Christendom. It may be a weird hybrid of globalism and tribalism. It is no recognizable form of nationalism.

Robert J. Delahunty is a professor of law at the University of St Thomas and has taught Constitutional Law there for 15 years.


The Next Iteration

Did the New Zealand Shooter Change the Cultural Script?

By David French
National Review Online

In livestreaming the massacre, he may have created the next innovation in the mass-killing contagion.
As the number of massacres mounts, the best explanation for the never-ending stream of copycat killers, both here and abroad, remains the one articulated by Malcolm Gladwell in his seminal article on school shootings, called “Thresholds of Violence.” Essentially, he argues that each mass shooting lowers the “threshold” for the next, and inspiration matters — a lot.

Gladwell’s focus was on school shootings, and he does an effective job of demonstrating the way the Columbine killers laid down a “cultural script” for subsequent school shooters. In fact, subsequent shooters often imitated the Columbine killers so much that their own shootings were essentially “versions” of the Columbine attack.

If you translate this analysis to the horrific New Zealand massacre, you can see similar patterns emerge. The New Zealand suspect allegedly called out previous mass shooters, such as the Charleston church shooter, and even apparently went so far as to pay tribute to mass killers by name on his magazines, including the Quebec mosque killer. Note that two of the individuals he highlighted slaughtered innocent people in houses of worship. To an extent, his crime was a version of theirs.

But here’s the thing that is even more disturbing than the simple, horrifying fact that this depraved man killed 49 people. Here’s the thing that’s more disturbing than his apparent copycat killing: He livestreamed the act, and in so doing he not only made millions of people direct witnesses to the slaughter, he may well have created the next innovation in the mass-killing contagion. He may well have written a new cultural script.

Of course the New Zealand killer is not the first person to film his own horrible crime.
We’ve sadly seen “live” killings before. But he’s the first mass killer to so prominently turn his massacre into a brutal, real-life approximation of a first-person-shooter video game. He’s the first mass shooter to bring every aspect of his evil straight into the virtual world.

And don’t think for one second that we can fix this new problem by yelling at social-media companies to “do better” — to demand that they block videos before they can be seen. It’s an impossible task. The Internet is too diffuse, and the technology of video broadcast too ubiquitous. There is no ability to effectively, instantaneously police abuse.

In both my military and my civilian careers, I’ve been in meetings and discussions where someone points out a potentially unsolvable weakness in our systems and says, “Well, I hope the bad guys don’t figure this out.” I have a sick, sinking feeling that a vicious terrorist just “figured out” a path to even greater notoriety.

After mass shootings, we often focus on the instrument of death to the relative neglect of the culture of death. There are very human reasons for this — the cultural problem feels so big, so impossible to address, that we fix our eyes on the things we think we can control. We seemingly can’t control whether shooters become famous. We can’t control the fact that there are young men drawn to their example. We can’t control which aspects of their murders will capture the imagination of the next wave of killers.

And here we go again. The actions of a single man in a nation half a world away are the biggest story in America, and millions of people watched him commit his murders from the murderer’s own view.

There will be much to think about in the coming days. For example — as if we didn’t know this already — no longer can we look at the far-right message boards and laugh off the worst speakers as “just” trolls or “edgelords.” In fact, given the New Zealand shooter’s rather obvious effort to manipulate American public opinion, here the murders and manifesto seem to be part of the troll itself, woven together in an inseparable stew of hate and spite.

I’m old enough to remember Columbine vividly. We all recoiled in horror but, in hindsight, weren’t horrified enough. We did not realize that a new cultural script was written right in front of our eyes. I hope and pray that I’m wrong, but the New Zealand shooting feels more momentous even than the killings of the recent past. This was online darkness brought to life, then streamed back online. Another threshold has been crossed, and I fear there is no going back.

— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. @davidafrench


that awful difference

closeup photo of primate

Photo by Andre Mouton on

Psalm 19:12-14

Psalm 19:12 Who perceives his unintentional lapses? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.

Psalm 19:13 Also, keep your servant from willful sins; do not let them rule me. Then I will be blameless and cleansed from blatant rebellion.

Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the musing of my heart be acceptable to you, Yahveh, my boulder and my Redeemer.1

that awful difference

After looking at the sky, David was overwhelmed by the magnificence of God. After looking at the Scriptures, he was overwhelmed by the sweet holiness of God as reflected in them. But when he looks inwardly, reflecting on the words of his mouth and the musing of his own heart – he sees a creature that is unacceptable to such a great and good creator. He sees a creature whose iniquities range from unintentional lapses, to hidden faults, to willful sins, to blatant rebellion.

What does David do when confronted with that awful difference between himself and his God? He prays to God for cleansing and sanctification and perseverance.

Lord, when we see the evidence of you in the universe and in your word, we see an awful difference in ourselves. Cleanse us, sanctify us, and make us strong to stay in your holiness.

1subscription: For the choir director.


“Pity is Treason”

The Jacobins and Their Influence Upon the West
The term Jacobin refers to an extreme political radical.  The Jacobins were part of a political club in Paris, established in 1789.  They were both ruthless and radical.  They took over the French Revolution and were responsible for the Reign of Terror where hundreds of thousands of people were killed, many via execution.

The Jacobins have been imitated by many  in following centuries.  Philosopher John Gray provides a brief description and summary:

The Jacobins form the clearest link between medieval millenarians and twentieth-century revolutionary movements.  The French reign of terror was more than an ‘aristocide’ of the privileged classes.  As would be the case later in Bolshevik Russia, the largest numbers of casualties by far were common people. . . . Around a third of the population perished in the region, where the methods of repression used by the revolutionary forces included burning crops, razing villages and mass drowning. 

The human cost of the French Revolution runs into hundreds of thousands of lives.  Producing leaders such as Maximilien Robespierre, who as a member of the Committee for Public Safety orchestrated the execution of around 20,000 enemies of the Revolution in Paris and was himself guillotined in 1794, the Jacobins acted on the maxim–formulated by Robespierre himself in a speech to the National Assembly–“Pity is treason.”  [John Gray, Seven Types of Atheism (London: Penguin/Random House UK, 2018),  p.78.]

Alexis de Tocqueville points out that the Jacobins and the French Revolution became a new kind of religion.  Like Islamism, “it inundated the earth with soldiers, apostles and martyrs”.  Gray adds that the Jacobins adopted their own secular forms of worship; they offered a glorious future life in an imaginary earthly paradise. 

In the twentieth century they were followed and imitated by Fascism and Communism. 

The modernist world sowed to the wind.  It inherited the whirlwind.  We are still living with the consequences.  It is not too far a stretch to see the Christchurch mass-murderer as a latter day Jacobin in action.  Robespierre’s curse is still  bearing its poisoned fruit: “pity is treason”. 


Trans-Gender Ideology Draws on Gnosticism

The Ancient Heresy Driving Modern Identity

Identity is a hot topic.
Since the 1960’s, the western world has been rocked by different movements around identity. Different groups—especially disenfranchised minority groups—have pushed their identity-based agendas. Women have demanded equal pay for equal work. People of colour have fought for equality under the law. And LGBTI people have demanded rights and freedoms they saw as missing.
But over the last decade, ‘identity’ has only become more politicised, and more controversial. Identity politics has moved from the fringes of society to the mainstream. Queer theory and its radical view of gender and sexuality has moved from the ivory tower to the public-school classroom.
And so, it’s not surprising that the New York Times Magazine declared 2015 as ‘The Year We Obsessed Over Identity’. (Although that obsession didn’t end in 2015).
And so, what’s driving many of the modern secular views of identity?
While there are many streams flowing into the river of modern identity, one stream is quite old. Ancient, in fact.
It’s called ‘Gnosticism’ (from the Greek ‘gnosis’, meaning ‘knowledge’). It was common in the ancient Greco-Roman world of the 1st century, but it hasn’t disappeared. It influenced Christianity—especially in the early centuries—and was rightly recognised as a heresy—a distortion of the truth.
Surprisingly, it’s still influencing so many of our modern views of identity. Psychiatrist and Christian author Glynn Harrison writes:
According to theologian N.T. Wright, ancient Gnosticism has surged to become a ‘controlling myth’ of our age…[I]n the Gnostic worldview, the material world is essentially evil…As a result, all the so-called ‘natural’ distinctions in the world—for example the difference between male and female, or the notion of there being a natural order to human sexual relations—are at best illusory and at worst corrupted deceptions. All the belongs to the ‘outer’ world of society and religion, indeed the outer world of your own body. It’s all irrelevant and deceptive.’ [1]
In other words, the external world of physical gender, and a ‘natural order’ to sexual relations—these are all imagined and untrue.
Here are 4 features of Gnosticism, which is influencing modern secular views of identity:

1) Freedom is Found by Escaping Any ‘Natural Order’

In Gnosticism, freedom is found by finding a particular type of ‘gnosis’, or wisdom. This wisdom is meant to free you from the false impressions of the material world (which is deceptive, and enslaving). It’s a rebellion against the natural order.
And the more you rebel against the natural order, the better off you’ll be.  [2]

2) Freedom is Found By Looking ‘Within’

Harrison writes:
Ancient Gnosticism…and modern [secular] modes of thought…share the deep-rooted conviction that the source of the self is found by looking within. They share a revolt against the external, against the body, against nature itself. [3]
To put it in biblical categories, both ancient Gnosticism and its modern equivalents share a revolt against God, and against His creation (see Romans 1:18-32).

3) Being a Fulfilled Human Being Means Obeying your Inner Feelings

Because the external world is deceptive and corrupt (in the Gnostic worldview), it’s our inner ‘world’, our inner feelings that are good. Our inner realities define who we are: they define our identity. And so, if you want to be a fulfilled, flourishing, healthy human being, then you need to express these inner feelings—even if (or especially if) they go against your external body.

As a result, ‘just be yourself’ has come to be viewed as something much more important than simply pleasing yourself. It’s about becoming a proper person: an authentic, flourishing, human person. [4]

4) Being Human Means Creating Your Own Identity

In the past, your identity was based on several ‘givens’ that you had little control over, like your sex, family background, race, culture and nationality. Your task was to make the most of what we had been given.

But today, secular culture encourages people to ‘discover’ their true identity within, or create their own identity in any way they like. And so, where there is a conflict between your ‘given’ external identity, and your feelings, the modern approach says it’s your external identity that is the problem—and needs fixing—rather than your feelings.
Where there is a conflict between your ‘given’ external identity, and your feelings, the modern approach says it’s your external identity that is the problem—and needs fixing—rather than your feelings.
And there is no better example of this than the transgender movement. Harrison writes:
The experience of people with gender dysphoria is often used to justify a radical new ideology about what gender actually is…But we can be fully sympathetic to the complicated (and mysterious) experience of those who struggle with gender dysphoria, without buying into the new gender ideology that has been built around it.’ [5]
And yet, this gender ideology is being mainstreamed in school classrooms across Australia through programs such as ‘Safe Schools’, which teach children that a person’s gender is not necessarily the same as that ‘assigned at birth’.
But it doesn’t stop with gender. Rachel Dolezal was a 37-year-old black civil rights activist who worked for the NAACP. In 2018, the secular newspaper The Guardian wrote:
There was a time when Dolezal was a well-respected figure in the city; she served as the president of Spokane’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) from 2014 until June 2015. Things fell apart, however, when it was discovered she’d been lying about her race.’
It turns out Dolezal is not black at all, but white. Yet, she identifies as black, as ‘transracial’. (Netflix released a documentary about her, called ‘The Rachel Divide’).
Interestingly, there are few secular voices affirming her ‘trans-racial’ identity. Evidently, it’s good to be transgender, but trans-racial is going too far—at least for now.

The revolution against reality

Ancient Gnosticism and it’s modern equivalents are revolutionary. They view God’s good order in creation as inherently oppressive, and try to overturn it. The idea that we should live in line with God’s creation is repugnant to such thinking.

When the Revolution Fails

But like many revolutions, ancient Gnosticism and its modern equivalents are doomed to failure. However much human beings want to rebel against God-given reality, reality will always crash upon them. This happened with ideologies such as communism, which thought they could remake humanity into its own image. And such collisions happen whenever we try to conform our identity to our innerfeelings, if those feelings aren’t in line with reality.

Sadly, many human beings will be hurt in the attempt, before the foolishness of the revolution becomes obvious to all.

First published at
[1] Glynn Harrison, A Better Story—God, Sex & Human Flourishing (London: IVP, 2017), 16-17. (Emphasis added.)
[2] Harrison, A Better Story, 17.
[3] Harrison, A Better Story, 17.
[4] Harrison, A Better Story, 15-16.
[5] Harrison, A Better Story, 20-21.


sweet holiness

person holding opened book

Photo by Eduardo Braga on

Psalm 19:7-11

Psalm 19:7 Yahveh’s instruction is complete, renewing one’s soul; Yahveh’s testimony is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise.

Psalm 19:8 The precepts of Yahveh are right, making the heart happy; the command of Yahveh is radiant, making the eyes light up.

Psalm 19:9 The fear of Yahveh is pure, enduring continually; the ordinances of Yahveh are reliable and altogether righteous.

Psalm 19:10 They are more desirable than gold– than a pile of pure gold; and sweeter than honey dripping from a honeycomb.

Psalm 19:11 In addition, your servant is cautioned by them, and in keeping them there is a hefty reward.

sweet holiness

The God who magnificently reveals himself in nature has not left it to that. He has also revealed himself in his his word: the Bible. It is described as pure, sweet, reliable, and more desirable than a pile of pure gold. The revelation in nature reveals God’s greatness. The revelation in scripture reveals his holiness.

Lord, show us your sweet, holy self in your word.


Assembly, Body & Bride: The Voice

John’s Revelation describes (among other things) the conflict that believers will have in this age before Christ’s return. He depicts that conflict as a battle between them and a great dragon, representing Satan. John reveals that the battle will be won by Christ. Christ will return and depose the great dragon from his usurped place in heaven.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. …”[1]

Here, John explains that there will be three key elements to the church’s endurance, which will overcome the dragon. Those key elements can be described this way: 1) the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, 2) the things proclaimed by the church as Christ’s voice on the earth and 3) the courage and selfless devotion of the church in the face of demonic opposition.

The first of these three key elements is what Christ did for us on Calvary’s cross. It cannot be changed, and its results are ours to enjoy. We know that whatever happens to us in this life, another awaits us at Christ’s return, because the sin that would keep us from eternal life has been atoned for. The tree of life is once again available for redeemed humanity to partake in. What’s more, any victory we might experience over the devil in this life is contingent on that victory already accomplished.

The latter two elements in the success of the church in enduring Satan’s attacks are conditional. Believers must have the courage to deny themselves and follow Christ wherever he leads, even if we too must go to our deaths. Believers must also take up the task of testifying to the existence and significance of Christ. We overcome the enemy by testifying of Christ. We, the church, must be the current earthly voice of our risen Lord.

The church has not exhibited an unbroken succession of centuries dedicated to the high ideals established for her in Scripture. Rather, the current earthly voice of God has often struggled with Satanically orchestrated political antagonism from without and religious apostasy from within. The marks of the true church have not always been evident, but have never been completely hidden. One place where the Bible shows that reality is Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in the second and third chapters of Revelation.

Letters from Jesus

John was the last of the apostles who had trained under Jesus and witnessed his resurrection. He had been instrumental in establishing a number of churches throughout the Roman province of Asia Minor. The Roman emperor had banished John to the island of Patmos, but allowed people to visit him. These visitors could bring messages from the churches to their elder, John, and receive messages that they could bring back to the churches. The Greek word for messenger is ἄγγελος, so our English Bibles usually refer to these messengers as “angels.”[2] But, they were not. They were human messengers, and often Jesus condemned their sins as well as those of the churches they served. These letters to the churches described the state of the church in general in the late first century, but they also serve as a pretty good description of the church in general down through the ages.

A survey of these letters can give believers a good glimpse at the kind of struggles that await us as we seek to be Christ’s earthly voice in this age of conflict. Jesus has some very high praise to give to some who were victorious in the conflict (in the first century), and some severe warnings to those who did not quite measure up to that aspiration. Readers today are left to determine which category they should be placed in.

Ephesus – the orthodox voice

The letter to Ephesus begins, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”[3]

The salutation reflects back on the vision of Jesus revealed in 1:12-16, where our Lord is pictured holding stars in his hand, and walking among seven lampstands. Revelation 1:20 leaves no question as to what these images stand for: “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels [messengers] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Both lampstands and stars are images that suggest the shedding of light, which is often used in the Bible for the passing on of knowledge.[4] As believers, the messengers were responsible to take the message of Jesus, the light of the world,[5] to the world. The churches they represented had the same responsibility, because all believers are also the light of the world.[6] Jesus stands amid the lamp-stands, ready to remove any church that refuses to remain lit with the knowledge of the gospel.

It can be reasonably assumed that Ephesus had remained orthodox. They were continuing to teach the gospel message, unadulterated, in spite of challenges they had faced. This is actually encouraging news, because the city of Ephesus was known for its paganism, and Paul warned Timothy that he would have to confront false teachers as he ministered there.[7] Jesus commended them for their endurance under this pressure to paganize. He told them, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”[8] He also commended them because they “hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which [he] also” hated.[9] It is not clear whether this refers back to those who falsely claimed apostleship or another group. Regardless, it is clear that Ephesus had a reputation of remaining orthodox in spite of the challenge of false teachings.

But, Jesus did have a warning for these stalwarts of orthodoxy. He told them:

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. …”[10]

His complaint was not that the church in Ephesus had abandoned the truth, but that they had abandoned the work. They were theologically accurate but missiologically flawed. They had stopped doing the things that they were still teaching. Jesus warned them that if they did not turn back and do the things that they had originally done — their first love — they were in danger of being replaced.

Love does more than just say “I love you.” Love proves itself by works. Faith that does not work is dead faith.[11]

If Ephesus passes this test and goes back to practicing what it preaches, Jesus promises them this: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”[12] Readers will remember that the Garden of Eden had two prominent trees in its midst — one forbidden, one not. The forbidden tree was that of the knowledge of good and evil. After eating of this tree, our ancestors were banished from the garden so that they would not have the opportunity to partake of the tree of life and live forever.[13] God prevented humanity from having immortality because immortality would be a curse in our fallen, sinful condition. Jesus promises the Ephesians that if they continued to do the works of the gospel, as well as proclaim its truth, they would have access to the tree of eternal life. In the final vision of Revelation, we discover that this tree will be present in the New Jerusalem.[14]

At many times throughout its history, the church of Jesus Christ has resembled the church at Ephesus. We have often gone to war with ourselves over doctrine rather than obey his teachings about loving one another. We have acted like the Pharisees, whom Jesus said would “travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, [they] make him twice as much a child of hell as [themselves].”[15] Good theology is important, but it can never be the only goal. We were commanded to make disciples, not merely converts. A convert knows, a disciple does.

Smyrna – the tested voice

Jesus introduces himself to the church at Smyrna as “the first and the last, who died and came to life.”[16] He is the first of the children of Adam who would be raised from the dead, and the last of the children of Adam who would ever need to fear death, because now he has the keys to death and Hades (the grave).[17] Death is a prison that we all await, but we need not fear it because Christ came before us, conquered death and has a set of shiny keys dangling from his belt. No one need ever fear death again because he can rescue us from it. He will do that by raising us from the dead when he returns.

If anyone needed to keep that picture before them, it was the believers in Smyrna. Notice how what Jesus says to them is sandwiched by the word “tribulation.” He says:

“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.”[18]

Believers in Smyrna were about to undergo severe trial, persecution, accusation, imprisonment and would be threatened with death itself.

As a missionary, I have at times struggled with just what to say to people who are putting their lives on the line by preaching the gospel in a hostile culture. I want to encourage believers to keep being salt and light in their contexts. At the same time, I have questioned my own motives, wondering how vocal I would be if I lived in a nation that forcefully opposed that voice.

Jesus told the believers in Smyrna to be “faithful unto death” and promised to “give [them] the crown of life.”[19] Their ordeal of testing was likened to an Olympic game, in which the winning contestants would have undergone great testing, but would emerge from it victorious, wearing a crown. The crown would be the same thing that Jesus had promised the victorious church at Ephesus: life itself. To wear the crown of life is the same thing as taking from the tree of life: it is to be raised from the dead when Christ returns. In the end, that is the only victory that matters.

The believers at Smyrna could also take solace in the fact that Jesus promised their time of testing to be limited. What those ten days of testing were, we can only speculate. We do know that at least some would pass the test. Some would live to see the time of testing completed and gain victory over the apostate Jewish community by surviving their attacks. Others would gain victory by martyrdom, as all of the other apostles besides John had already done. In either case, Jesus warned that this time of testing was coming, and urged the believers in Smyrna to be like their brothers in Ephesus, who had been famous for their endurance.[20]

The church of Jesus Christ has never known a time when not put to the test. Although some speak of “the tribulation” as if it is some special event that will happen in history, Jesus told his disciples that in the world they (and we who follow them) would have tribulation.[21] He spoke of some professing Christians whose lives have no root, who fall away in time of testing.[22] The sad fact is, many who claim to trust in Christ will give in to the temptation to abandon that faith if it is challenged. The voice becomes the voice of the accused and incarcerated. It is then that we need to hear the encouragement of the apostle Paul:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[23]

A voice that keeps proclaiming the gospel of life in the midst of threats of its own death is an authentic voice. There can be no suggestion that this voice is being sounded out of ulterior motives. The gallows and chopping block have a way of purifying the church. It is no wonder that history records many of these times of testing. While it is improper for Christians to pray for persecution, it is quite possible that without it, the earthly voice of Christ might have been muted.

Pergamum – the compromised voice

Jesus introduces himself to the messenger from Pergamum by again referring back to the vision that John had just seen of him. He describes himself as “him who has the sharp two-edged sword.”[24] In the vision, Jesus is not holding that sword. It is coming out of his mouth.[25]

In the Old Testament, God’s people were pictured as wielding two-edged swords, executing his vengeance on his enemies.[26] Fathers warned their sons to stay away from forbidden women because, although their lips seemed to drip honey and their speech was as smooth as oil, in the end they would prove to be as bitter as wormwood and as “sharp as a two-edged sword.”[27] The common denominator in these two references is that of impending judgment.

In the New Testament, apart from the two references in Revelation, the two-edged sword appears in a passage from Hebrews:

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.[28]

The church at Pergamum is in danger of some kind of heresy — some kind of compromise. They live in a place so well-known for its evil that Satan himself is said to live there. A church living in such a place is bound to be tempted to contextualize a bit too much.

Jesus identifies two different teachings that were prevalent in Pergamum. First, he spoke of the “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.”[29] Most of us remember this prophet for his tendency to speak to animals. Jesus reminds his readers of another incident in Balaam’s life, when he tricked the Israelites into sinning. Pergamum apparently had some prophets who were leading the church astray.

The second group Jesus refers to as “some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”[30] Jesus had commended the Ephesians for hating the works of the Nicolaitans, but did not explain what those works were. Both the Ephesians and the believers in Pergamum knew full well what the Nicolaitans were teaching. While the Ephesian Christians had been able to resist their influence, the church at Pergamum had not. They had been compromised by, not one, but two heresies.

It is possible that the reference to the two-edged sword is a clue to the nature of the problem at Pergamum. The author of Hebrews spoke of the grace of God as a new Sabbath rest for the people of God. Believers can trust in God’s completed work through Christ and rest in his grace, with no need to prove their worthiness by works of their own. Christ is our high priest, interceding for us, and because of his atonement, we can now enter into God’s presence by his merit, not our own. Probably the heresies being propagated in Pergamum were adding some kind of works for personal merit to grace.

Jesus commands the church at Pergamum to repent. This is significant because Jesus has not charged the entire church of heresy. He had merely stated that some within the church were holding the teaching of Balaam, and some (others) the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Yet, Jesus warns that he is coming soon and will actively “war against” those heretics “with the sword of [his] mouth.”[31] He promises to actively intervene in the affairs of this congregation and execute his vengeance on those who have fallen away from grace. The implication is that if the whole church does not repent and rid itself of these heresies, the whole church is in danger of losing its lampstand.

The church in history has — at times — sought to eradicate itself of heretics. Many have turned away from religion altogether because of stories of hangings, drowning, torture, burnings and beheadings in the name of eradicating heretics. It sickens people to know that such things have been done in the name of Christ, and rightfully so. Jesus has never commanded such action. His one command in the face of heresy — so evident here — can be summed up in one word: repent. The problem is not that such teachings exist. The problem in Pergamum was that the congregation was allowing them to exist within it. A church that repents of false teachings, disassociating herself from them, is a church that overcomes this test.

Jesus promises that those who overcome this test will be given some of the hidden manna, and “a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”[32] These references probably also identified the particular teachings Jesus was warning against. He wanted the believers to realize that the promises of these false teachers were false. Throughout its history, the church has been inundated by esoteric teachings which promised some secret blessing to their adherents. By speaking out against this kind of thing at Pergamum, Jesus is warning us all against falling for that kind of deception. The true gospel is not a secret. It is a message for everyone.

Thyatira – the seduced voice

The problems in Thyatira are very similar to those in Pergamum. False teachings have entered into the congregation and threaten to cause the church to lose its identity as a source of the gospel. In Thyatira, however, the false teachings appear to come from a leader within the church itself. Jesus names her “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants.”[33] This woman has apparently gained some kind of position of authority within the group of churches and is passing her false teachings on to other leaders within the congregations. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was the queen of King Ahab and a powerful woman who forced her pagan religion upon the Israelites. She took advantage of her position of authority to introduce syncretism and impurity into Israel. The New Testament Jezebel was doing the same thing.

Jesus introduces himself to the messenger from Thyatira as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”[34] Unlike Jezebel, whose power was in her impurity and her ability to make others impure, Christ’s power is in his purity. He will invade the churches at Thyatira, first throwing Jezebel onto a sickbed and giving her followers tribulation, unless they repent of her works. He will then strike her children dead, so that “all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”[35]

The members of the churches at Thyatira were, in one way, opposite of those at Ephesus. Ephesus had been commended for defending the truth, but criticized for not following their orthodoxy through with appropriate works. Jesus told the believers at Thyatira, “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.”[36] He does not call on this church to repent. He did call on Jezebel to repent, and she refuses to do so. He will visit those who have been seduced by her. To the rest, he simply encourages them to “hold fast” what they have.[37]

Sardis – the sleeping voice

Jesus told the messenger from Sardis that he was a dead man. He said, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”[38] This was a church that was going through the motions, but was asleep to its own existence and calling. Jesus commands them to wake up, and warns that if they do not, he will come against them suddenly, like a thief.[39]

Philadelphia – the faithful voice

The only church that Jesus has no criticism for is that at Philadelphia. Instead, he tells them, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”[40] The churches and believers who remain faithful in spite of the challenges they face will become pillars in the temple of God, residents of the New Jerusalem.[41]

Laodicea – the lukewarm voice

Jesus condemned the seventh church because they were like lukewarm water, neither cold nor hot.[42] Since they had the things they needed in life, they felt no compulsion to be radical with their religion. They were just there. It is to this group that Jesus presents himself as a visitor, knocking at the door. That relationship that the church in Laodicea assumed they had was possible, but they had to pursue it. Taking it for granted was producing a tepid faith, and remaining in that lukewarm state would be disastrous.

Ears and shoes

To each messenger and church Jesus repeated this same advice: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”[43] The advice is similar to the common expression “if the shoe fits, wear it.” Jesus challenges all churches and all believers of all ages to consider the plight of these seven churches in first century Asia Minor. The challenges they faced as they attempted to be Christ’s earthly voice are the same challenges we face. The church must not be distracted or sidetracked. The testimony must continue. The voice must not be allowed to be silenced.

By Rev. Jefferson Vann

(Rev. Jefferson Vann is a graduate of Berkshire Christian College, Columbia International University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife Penny have been involved in Advent Christian ministry since 1984, serving as missionaries in the Philippines and New Zealand. Jeff is the author of “An Advent Christian Systematic Theology” and “Another Bible Commentary” and is a contributing editor to “Henceforth …”)


[1] Revelation 12:10-11.

[2] Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14.

[3] Revelation 2:1.

[4] Psalm 43:3; Daniel 2:22; John 12:35.

[5] John 8:12; 9:5-6.

[6] Matthew 5:14.

[7] 1 Timothy 1:7; 2 Timothy 4:3.

[8] Revelation 2:2-3.

[9] Revelation 2:6.

[10] Revelation 2:4-5.

[11] James 2:17, 26.

[12] Revelation 2:7.

[13] Genesis 3:22.

[14] Revelation 22:2, 14, 19.

[15] Matthew 23:15.

[16] Revelation 2:8.

[17] Revelation 1:17-18.

[18] Revelation 2:9-10.

[19] Revelation 2:10.

[20] Revelation 2:2-3.

[21] John 16:33.

[22] Luke 8:13.

[23] Romans 8:35-39.

[24] Revelation 2:12.

[25] Revelation 1:16.

[26] Psalm 149:6.

[27] Proverbs 5:3-4.

[28] Hebrews 4:9-16.

[29] Revelation 2:14.

[30] Revelation 2:15.

[31] Revelation 2:16.

[32] Revelation 2:17.

[33] Revelation 2:20.

[34] Revelation 2:18.

[35] Revelation 2:23.

[36] Revelation 2:19.

[37] Revelation 2:25.

[38] Revelation 3:1.

[39] Revelation 3:2-3.

[40] Revelation 3:10.

[41] Revelation 3:12.

[42] Revelation 3:16.

[43] Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.


Resetting the Rigging For Stormy Waters

Radical, Encouraging Stuff

One of our readers has commented on the writings and ministry of Rosaria Butterfield, which he has enjoyed and from which he has benefited. 

It may be that readers are unfamiliar with the life and ministry of Rosaria and her husband, Kent and her children. 

The video link below is just short of an hour.  It provides a window into ways families can minister to neighbours under difficult circumstances.  This is timely.  As our culture moves more and more into the perils of Gnostic deconstruction, maintaining a Christian culture becomes a matter of urgent necessity. 

We encourage our readers to set aside some time and view the video.



sunrise under cloudy sky illustration

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on

Psalm 19:1-6

Psalm 19:11 The skies record the magnificence of God, and the expanse displays the work of his hands.

Psalm 19:2 Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge.

Psalm 19:3 There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard.

Psalm 19:4 Their message has gone out to the whole land, and their words to the ends of the world. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun.

Psalm 19:5 It is like a bridegroom coming from his home; it celebrates like an athlete running a course.

Psalm 19:6 It rises from one end of the sky and circles to their other end; nothing is hidden from its heat.


God is magnificent, and the sky itself tells us that. He created this enormous expanse and set it above and all around us. The story is told every day and every night. The story does not need to be translated into my language, because everyone from the youngest baby to the most elderly can immediately understand it. Just look at that blazing sun, elegantly marching across the horizon. The sun tells the story too. It says, “He who made me is magnificent.”

Lord, thank you for showing off. Your sky is awesome, and so are you.

1superscription: A Psalm of David.


audio of message ‘It’s a new day Whangarei’ at St Andrew’s Whangarei

On February 17th 2019  I had the privilege of speaking at the first combined service for the three Presbyterian parishes in Whangarei who are planning on combining half way through this year into a new multi-campus church, single entity. I was doing a very Presbyterian thing…’preaching to a call’ which means that I was in the process of working out if it was God’s will that we(my family) move to Whangarei and I take on the position as senior Minister at St Andrew’s and head up the merging of these three parishes into something new and exciting an missional…

 Since then in our Presbyterian way… the parish councils up in whangarei and the congregations have voted and extend a call to me and I have accepted it and will be heading to take up a position in New Zealand’s winterless north in May, ironically just in time for winter…

The message was posted on my blog in text form, and is on the St Andrew’s website in two parts (Must have talked too long)…

here are the links

Part 1
Part 2