Church-Autopsy: Mutilated by Abidan Shah, PhD

CHURCH AUTOPSY – MUTILATED by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  About twenty years ago, I got a phone call from my dad that my mom and my sister had been in a terrible accident. Over there, you are better off riding a motorcycle or a moped because of the heavy traffic. My mom was riding behind my sister when a farm tractor bumped into them knocking them into the median and making them fall back under the tractor. My sister fell between the wheels of the tractor with just inches from the big back tire running over her head. My mom’s leg was mutilated where part of the wheel ran over her. Thank God the traffic was not moving very fast, and the onlookers shouted for the tractor to stop. My sister had a few scratches on her face and side, but my mom had to go through a series of skin grafts and surgeries to help her leg. When we went to visit them, my mom showed me her leg. Even though it was healed, I could tell that it had been badly mutilated. As you know, we’re in our series titled “Church Autopsy,” where we are examining what went wrong with the seven churches of Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation. Today our message is on Pergamum, the third church on the list, and the message is titled “Mutilated” because bad doctrine was mutilating the body at Pergamum. It was beginning to look something other than what it was designed to be, and Jesus had some stern warnings for them. Main point: Bad theology can mutilate the church body. It corrupts beliefs and behaviors. Refusal to stop false doctrine is to incur the wrath of Jesus himself. Repentance and return to the truth approve us to feed upon the truth and entitles us to more truth.

Revelation 2      15 “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”

Context: The ancient city of Pergamum sits about 400 meters high over the valley of the River Kaikos overlooking the present city of Bergama. We had to ride a cable car to get to the top. It is about 10 miles inland of the Aegean Sea. The Pergamenes claimed that their city was founded by Telephos who guided the Greeks to Troy. Clear evidence for the city shows up in the fifth century with the ruler King Gongylos of Eritrea. Later it was controlled by different rulers: the Spartans, then Lysimachus (Alexander’s generals), then Philetairos under Seleucan control (who built it up in architecture, sculpture, philosophy, and even a massive library – which I will discuss in a moment), and this led to the Attalid dynasty. Later, it came under Roman rule. There’s so much we can get into which we don’t have time for. There are couple of things that are worth mentioning. It was a major religious center. The four major deities were Zeus, Athena, Dionysius, and Asclepius. The Temple of Athena was the most important. The entryway is sitting in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin. Inside here they found a library from 2nd century BC which held as many as 200,000 volumes, maybe more. It was the second largest in the world, next to the one in Alexandria, Egypt. After Ptolemy V (204-180BC) kept papyrus from being exported there, they perfected the art of making parchment. The Romans called it “charta Pergamene,” which gives us the word “parchment.” It also held the Temple of Zeus from 2nd century BC. The altar is also at the museum in Berlin. There was also the Asklepion where people came for all kinds of healings and therapy. Some of the techniques they used for therapy are no different than today. It was kind of like the Mayo Clinic. Finally, there was the imperial cult, the worship of the Roman Emperor. There were temples to Rome from 195BC. Augustus had permitted building temples to himself in 29BC. Later, in AD114, the got the charter to have a second imperial temple in honor of Trajan. This became a test for one’s loyalty to the empire. This is very important for us and will all make sense in a moment.

Application: Can you see that we are living in a similar environment as Pergamum these days? We are seeing people rely more on knowledge, technology, tolerance, and government than the truth of God.

Just like the Churches in Ephesus and Smyrna, Jesus had to send a letter of warning to Pergamum as well. As I mentioned last week, all 7 letters have the same format. To keep in line with the medical imagery of the autopsy, each point has a medical reference, which will be in each message in this series.


Revelation 2:12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword.” There are 2 kinds of swords mentioned in Revelation – “machaira” and “rhomphaia.” The first is a dagger about 18 inches long, which Roman soldiers carried. The second is a longer sword about 5 feet long, which Thracian soldiers carried. Here, it is the rhomphaia.

We immediately think of passages in the New Testament:

Hebrews 4      12 “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

Ephesians 6:17 “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Also, it is a reference to the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah:

Isaiah 11:4 “…He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.”

Isaiah 49:2 And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, And made Me a polished shaft; In His quiver He has hidden Me.”

The point is that Christ takes bad doctrine very seriously, as we will see, and he comes to destroy those who do.

Application: How do you see Jesus? Can you see him as this end-time judge?


Revelation 2       13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.”

Hence, I discussed so much on the location. The Imperial cult was probably in reference here. The church was facing some very difficult challenges. Domitian (AD81-96) required to be addressed as “Dominus et Deus” = “Lord and God.” Does that sound familiar? This is also where the proconsul (governor) lived who carried the title “ius gladii” = “right of the sword.” Is it making more sense why Jesus described himself as the one who has the “sharp two-edged sword”?

13 “…And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” According to later Byzantine hagiographers (writers of the lives of the saints), he was killed in a “brazen bull,” where they would put a criminal inside a hollow life-sized bull and heat it. They had a system of tubes and stops that made the screams sound like the bellowing of an angry bull. As the person died, people enjoyed the sounds!

This martyrdom did not exempt them from the diagnosis – 14 “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” We don’t know for sure what was the doctrine of Balaam. Balaam was a pagan diviner hired by Balak, the Moabite king, to curse God’s people. Peter talks about them in 2 Peter 2       12 “But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. 15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” So also, Jude 10 “But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. 11 Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.”

Revelation 2:15 “…because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” By the way, beliefs effect behavior. Eating things sacrificed to idols may not seem like a huge deal, but it is compromising our convictions. It starts with “it’s not a big deal to me” or “I don’t even think about all that” or “I don’t agree with it but I am going as a friend” or “Jesus wants us to show mercy not judgment.” Need I go on? How interesting that it is connected to sex! Pre-marital sex, Cohabitation, Deviant sex, etc.

Revelation 2:15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” We don’t know precisely what they believed. Going by the meaning of the names, Balaam and Nicolaus, they both meant “devourer of people.”

Application: What is Christ’s diagnosis of you or our church?


Revelation 2:16 “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”

We cannot cajole such people. At this time, you will those who will claim “mercy” or “lets show mercy.” It’s usually “mercy on someone else’s account.” They will claim that you are not very loving. What is true love? Failing to tell the truth. “Well, I felt this in my gut…” Maybe, it is gas. True love hung on the cross! We have to repent about such people. We have to use the sword of God’s Word and deal with such things. Of course, we don’t have to be hateful or mean, but we have to be forthright and bold.

Folks, I preach encouraging messages, but it will not be at the expense of truth. It is a sword that cuts and cuts hurt. I rather do it or else he will! Also, I don’t align with every church. We may not agree on core doctrines of the faith. I have to navigate that with wisdom and grace. It is tought!

Application: Will we stand for the truth or will we face his sword?


Revelation 2:17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

Jesus is the true manna, and the white stone is a new name that is an invitation to the eternal banquet. So much more can be said, but will you receive them?

Invitation: Do you believe bad doctrine will be judged? Do you see Christ with the sword of his word? Are compromising the truth? Is it reflected in our lifestyle? Are we saved?

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