Ministry by Walking Around and the Network of Seven Churches of Revelation

Ministry by Walking Around and the Network of Seven Churches of Revelation

Although the Book of Revelation has been vastly studied and interpreted throughout church history, usually the focus is on one major issue within the text, namely, the role and future of the church. The main reason for this has been the in-depth prophetic and pastoral messages to the Seven Churches.

The value of the messages to the Seven Churches of Revelation is constituted by the fact that they are the last recorded Biblical messages to the Christian Church.[1] The letters to the Seven Churches obviously do not contain all of the usual elements used in the New Testament epistolary form.  It is generally accepted that they were written as an application of the Revelation context and not as individual messages to the churches.

This contextual connection between the seven letters suggests a network of inter-church communication which was established between the seven churches. Several common elements are obvious from the text, the most obvious is their common geographical location as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Distances between the Seven Cities of Revelation

The addressed churches are located clockwise, almost like they are forming a strategic circle of ministry.[2] Most churches are located thirty to forty miles from one another, which perhaps was the possible daily limit for traveling during that time. The shape of the circle of ministry, based on the order in which the churches were addressed, suggests a method of managing known today as Management by Walking Around (MBWA). The example in Revelation not only presupposes such methodology, but purposefully gives its clockwise direction in relation to the location of origin of the letters from the Island of Pathmos.

The purposeful positioning of the churches provided a common network (circle of ministry). It is also obvious from the text that at the time of writing, simplicity and democracy in organization were characteristics of the New Testament church government.[3] In the context of networking, each church maintained its own individuality because it is addressed separately in the text.[4]

Furthermore, the seven churches shared a common context of ministry in the area of Asia Minor which consisted of a great mixture of languages, customs and religions. All of the seven churches were located in cities which were under Roman rule and combined the customs of Roman, Greek, Assyrian, Persian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Jewish cultures as well as the various languages and dialects within them. The commonality in the context of ministry continued with the presence of numerous religious groups, cults, sects and gilds which were closely interwoven with civil affairs. Universal citizenship, universal religion, and a universal church were all ideas for which the Roman Empire was beginning to prepare. In such context, the seven churches shared a common goal of ministry, namely, spreading the Christian message.[5]

The seven letters were inspired by one occasion and one purpose as a tool for inter-church networking.[6] The message was not sporadic or spontaneous but thoughtfully planned and designed for each of the churches, based on an in-depth knowledge of the individual problems, members and solutions for future development.[7] The text demonstrates a common structure within the church illustrated by the common structure shared by each message. The letters reveal that the congregations shared similar practices of worship, ministry and teaching which were accompanied by problems and persecution.

A significant part of the common structure was the leadership because each church had a divinely-appointed messenger,[8] addressed by a common “divinely-charged”[9] network elder, who received a transmitted divine message. Such process shows that the networking was done by means of communication, of which the epistolary form is also proof.[10] The written text was only a formal documentary or a contract of the holistic communication accomplished through various multimedia means including those that relied on audio, visual and other senses. It constructed a mystical, divinely-inspired, supernatural and non-virtual reality which transformed the recipient of the message in the same way it did the messenger. Through this means, the network communication was not a miscommunication, but rather an authentic translation from the divine source to the very members of the congregations.

This form of communication was absolutely necessary for the common context of ministry in which the seven churches operated. This common context was the earth, not heaven,[11] and their common goal was to conquer.[12] Yet, at the same time the text is undisputable in that each church contained people prepared to conquer. This fact makes the victory of the church inevitable. Thus, while the churches are dealing with various problems and persecutions, they are already conquerors.

This observation brings the reader to the final commonality which the seven churches share; namely, that besides the earthly network of ministry there is another greater, divine, heavenly network which is in control. Such a conclusion is obvious from the fact that all of the churches without exception are known to the sender of the messages.[13] Their problems are relevant, criticism and encouragement which are prophetically delivered solutions are divinely provided and conquest of the church over the problems is definite and inevitable. This is undisputable proof that a God-centered New Testament networking of churches is the dependable and enduring model for both ministry networking and church government. Precisely this heavenly network is the supernatural source of the unique approach through which problems of the churches are to be solved. Thus, in addition to a common present reality, the churches share a future earthly applicability of the paradigm of ministry which makes their message relevant today.[14]

[1] Wade H. Horton, Lectures on the Seven Churches (Cleveland: Pentecostal Resource Center, n/a), 6.

[2] Henry M. Morris, The Revelation Recorded (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1987), 66. Merril Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pubslihing Co., 1957), 50. For an in-depth discussion on the geographical location of the Seven Churches, its significance for the circulation of the letters and the leadership organization see William M. Ramsey, The Letters to the Seven Churches (Grand Rapids: Baker book House, 1979), 186.

[3] McDowell, 38.

[4] McDowell, 37.

[5] Ramsey, 120-21.

[6] Ramsey, 40.

[7] Ramsey, 39-40.

[8] Bruce M. Metzger, Breaking the Code (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 30. Ramsey, 69, 74ff.

[9] Ramsey, 80.

[10] McDowell, 37.

[11] Metzger, 29.

[12] Metzger, 30.

[13] Wade Horton, Seven Golden Candlesticks (Cleveland: Pathway Press, 1974), 72.

[14] Edward A. McDowell, The Meaning and Message of the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1951), 35. Clovis G. Chappell, Sermons from Revelation (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, n/a), 59.