12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my 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.’
Sometimes the opening sermon illustration writes itself. Listen. This is an actual article:
“Hinduism no Barrier, it Seems, to Keeping Job as Priest in Church of England”
INDIA, September 8, 2006: A priest with the Church of England who converted to Hinduism has been allowed to continue to officiate as a cleric. The Rev. David Hart’s diocese renewed his license this summer even though he had moved to India, changed his name to Ananda and daily blesses a congregation of Hindus with fire previously offered up to Nagar, the snake God. He also “recites Gayatri Mantram with the same devotion with which he celebrates the Eucharist,” according to The Hindunewspaper. The Hindu this week pictures him offering prayers to Lord Ganesh in front of his house. However, he still believes he is fit to celebrate as an Anglican priest and plans to do so when he returns to Britain. Mr. Hart, a former chairman of Christian Aid in Loughborough and chaplain at Loughborough University, now serves in the Hindu temple in Thiruvananthapuram, a village in Kerala, southern India.
He was initiated as an Anglican priest in 1984 and, before leaving for India, was serving the Diocese of Ely. Anthony Russell, the Bishop of Ely, sent Mr. Hart his license, along with a personal letter, just three months after Mr. Hart published a book, Trading Faith: Global Religion in an Age of Rapid Change, in which he writes about his conversion to Hinduism. Mr. Hart is the international secretary for the World Congress of Faiths, the world’s oldest interfaith organization, and is a strong advocate of pluralism. He says in his book that Hinduism is an especially tolerant and open faith.
In an interview with today’s edition of Church Times, Mr. Hart admits that he had not told Dr. Russell that he had converted, but said that he would be amazed if his conversion were treated with any suspicion. “I have neither explicitly nor implicitly renounced my Christian faith or priesthood,” he said. The renewal of his license was sponsored by the Rural Dean of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Mr. Hart believes that his change to Hinduism would be “read in the spirit of open exploration and dialogue, which is an essential feature of our shared modern spirituality.” He also said that he would continue to celebrate as an Anglican priest when he visited England, but he would visit a Hindu temple while there. However, not everyone in the Church of England is impressed by Mr. Hart’s passion for Hinduism. Pauline Scott, the team vicar of St. James, in Stretham, said that she would oppose any attempts by Mr. Hart to celebrate in the Ely Diocese.
A priest. In the church of England. Who “daily blesses a congregation of Hindus with fire previously offered up to Nagar, the snake [g]od.” While remaining a priest!
Now, listen to Leon Morris’ description of the city of Pergamum, the city in which the third of the seven churches of Revelation resided:
It was an important religious centre. People came from all over the world to be healed by the god Asclepius, and Pergamum has been described as ‘the Lourdes [a Catholic shrine in France] of the ancient world’. Zeus, Dionysos and Athene also had notable temples in the city. Pergamum was a centre of Caesar-worship, and it had a temple dedicated to Rome as early as 29 BC . It attained the coveted title neōkoros, ‘temple-sweeper’, before either Smyrna or Ephesus, and took its devotion to emperor-worship seriously. In due course it added a second and a third temple in honour of the emperor. It was the principal centre of the imperial cult in this part of the world. But emperor-worship was not its sole religious activity. Behind the city was a great conical hill, the site of a multitude of heathen temples.
And what was the symbol of Asclepius, the god of healing? The serpent. The snake.
It might be argued that the church in every age is metaphorically faced with the same challenge: will it keep its worship centered radically and exclusively on the Lord Jesus Christ, or will it make room for the snakes. Whether it is David A. Hart in India offering fire to Nagar the snake god or the Christians of Pergamum having to combat the subtle influence of Asclepius or modern American Christians being tempted to the altar of various gods and idols, the church must decide: will we be a people focused solely on Jesus, or will we not? Will we make room for snakes in our hearts or will we not?