The Church and its Environment in the Book of Revelation: Integration and Separation


Ladies and gentlemen,

The last book of the newtestamentical canon, the Apocalypse of John, poses as many questions to exegetical scholars as before, which can neither be discussed at length nor completely solved in our seminar group[1]. But it seems to be evident, that the writer of the Apocalypse especially tries to admonish his adressees, the Christian communities and in the same way the Christian individuals, to remain faithfully and steadfastly in their faith in Christ. The Christian individuals are exhorted to keep their belief purely and unadulterated, to restrict themselves to the worship of the God of the Old Testament and of his Píßïí Christus and to avoid any participation in cultic-religious worship of other, of pagan gods, in particular of the Roman Emperor, reigning at the time of the composition of the Apc. Especially in his letters to the Christian communities in Pergamon (Apc 2,12–17) and Thyatira (Apc 2,18–29), John fights against inner groups of these communities, whose members join in the cultic-religious Emperor worship in their cities and, above all, justify their participation by pointing to theological reasons. In Apc 2,24, the Thyateiric prophetess EÉåæÜâåë and her followers were described as such, who hãíùóáí ôN âáèÝá ôï™ óáôáíO ©ò ëÝãïõóéí, as such, who have, according to their own testimony, “recognized the depths of Satan”. In my opinion, this formulation seems to indicate, that the Christian followers of EÉåæÜâåë are of the opinion, that the óáôáíOò and the pagan gods and goddesses including the Roman principes, which all depend on him, are finally only helpless and powerless figures, insignificant for the salvation or the fate of the Christians. But the theological conclusion, which is drawn by EÉåæÜâåë and her followers from this knowledge, is as follows: The participation in the cultic-religious worship of pagan gods and goddesses and of the Roman Emperors cannot harm the Christians in their past and present status of salvation, cannot result in loosing their right to salvation far now and far the future[2].

Contrary to this opinion, which tries to interpose and to integrate the Christian faith and the participation in the cultic-religious worship of pagan gods and goddesses, also by pointing out to theological reasons, John opposes this in his Apc very fiercely and sharply: These Christians, who, founded by theological reasons or not, participate in the cultic-religious worship of pagan gods and goddesses, are called to account by the Pñíßïí Christ already in present times (Apc 2,16.22f.) and will be excluded from salvation in the future, described in Apc 21f. (Apc 2,17.26ff.). Against this theological position, which tries to interpose between the pagan environment and the individual existence as a Christian, John himself polemizes and developes a separating, respectively separatistic statement: Only the Christian individual, who stays faithfully and steadfastly in his faith in Christ, who keeps his belief purely and unadulterated, will participate in the present and also in the futuric salvation.

From this exegetical thesis results, the in my view exciting question, if and in which way John could work as a Christian missionary in his pagan environment, in the presence of his separating respectively separatistic statement. In my opinion, the theological statement of John implies the following basic principles of a theory of Christian mission: (a) Christian mission has to be practised on condition that present and futuric salvation can be created, granted and obtained only by the grace of the God of the Old Testament and its Pñíßïí Christ. (b) Christian mission has to be practised in clear and distinct delimitation and distinction from other, non-Christian religions, from other, non-Christian cultic-religious worship. (c) Christian mission has to be practised by clearly characterizing other, non-Christian gods and goddesses as evil, forces, whose worship and positive evaluation leads Christians to the loss of their salvation, which they have already experienced in Christ. Summa: Christian mission cannot be seen on as interposing or integrative dialogue between different religions and cultures, but only in a sharp and also polemical distance and distinction of them.

But now, what shall we, Christians, Christian theologians, priests, pastors and missionarys in the year 2004, do with this non-integrative, separating respectively separatisting statement of John? Here are some short remarks concerning this question: (a) At first, we have to realize, that the Apc of John, like all other writings of the New Testaments, was written in a specific historical situation, and reflects, at least for the present, the theological position of only one appointed historical person. The voice of this person, whose writing has been taken into the newtestamentical canon, is, at least for this reason, to be heard and also to be considered, but in every case also to be refered to in relation to the other voices and positions within the newtestamentical canon. This may lead to a new and different valuation of the theological position of John. (b) As a historically grown theological position within the early Christianity the theological statement of John cannot be immediately fully accepted and adopted in our present times, but should be interpreted at first. Nevertheless, we are admonished by John, that in our work within the Christian mission, we have to keep and hold out as a central aspect of Christian proclamation, that present and futuric salvation can be created, granted and obtained only by the grace of the God of the Old Testament and its Pñíßïí Christ. In my opinion, we have again and again to keep this aspect very clearly in mind, especially within our mutual work and in our dialogue with representatives of other religions and with non-Christian individuals. If we want to follow the statement of John, Christian mission can take place integratively, also in our times, only by having a mutual belief in the God of the Old Testament and his  Pñíßïí Christ.

Thank you very much for your attention.

[1] I hope to clear in my Habilitationsschrift „Hadrian oder Christus? Untersuchungen zur Datierung der neutestamentlichen Johannesapokalypse“ the problem of the dating of the Apc.

[2] The same manner of faith, may be not in the same way founded theologically, has be practised by the Nicolaitans living in Pergamon.