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The Devilís Chapel
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Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Wendy Wippel

Back from my second honeymoon and we saved the best for last, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Breathtaking. Majestic. Utterly beautiful.  Remember, however, that God called Satan beautiful (Ezekiel 28;12), and warned us that he would seek to destroy the church. God promised that Lucifer will fail. But He also warned us there’d be casualties.

That’s basically what the churches of Revelation are about. At least partially. The opening verses of the book define the book’s purpose as to show the saints what would shortly come to pass.

And although the seven churches addressed existed as churches when John wrote about them, (he founded six of them), the text of Revelation two and three indicates that the audience is broader than just those six specific churches. (Every church, and every church age, has its share of all the churchgoers described. And remember, the whole book is prophecy. What is to come. 

So… at this stage of church history, Bible scholars have come to the realization that the churches themselves, in the order described, present a very clear picture of church history.

(If you are familiar with this way of looking at these chapters, my apologies. I am not real sure how familiar this really is among the body as a whole. But hang on. This explanation will be brief, and then we’ll move on.)  

And even their names betray their slot in church history.

Starting with Ephesus.

1) Ephesus ("desirable,"), the zealous early church that was nonetheless losing their first love.

2) Smyrna, (root word myrrh, the embalming spice), the church persecuted church by two centuries of Roman rule, with an estimated 5 million martyrs.

3) Pergamos, (thoroughly married,or mixed marriage), the church under the Emperor Constantine, who essentially married the pagan religious system of Rome with the fourth century church, introducing a host of pagan concepts that eventually created the church at  …

4) Thyatira, (continual sacrifice), the Papal Church of the Middle Ages, forerunner to the Catholic Church today, which has elevated Mary to co-redemptrix (the most important cult of worship in Rome was the Temple of the vestal virgians), worships of multitude of saints (just like Rome had a blue million Gods) and literally believes that the wafer baked by the priests turns into the body of a God.

And what’s more, when you eat that God, you’re safe for another day! Which means that you have to keep making sacrifices to stay on God’s good side. (Ergo “Our lady of perpetual sacrifice”).

Host and perpetual sacrifice courtesy of Roman worship practices. Not any verse in the Bible.

5) Sardis, (to come out), the church of the reformation, who rediscovered the gospel but nonetheless continued to be highly anti-semetic and for the most part sterile.
6) Philadelphia, (brotherly love),  the church that spurred on primarily (finally!) by bibles in their own hands and in their own language, rediscovered God’s word and took the gospel to heart, creating the great evangelical movement of the last three centuries.

7) Laodicea, (the people rule), the apostate church, with nothing that can be said of them that’s good. And since the Lord is outside of this church, trying to get in, it would seem that this is the “church” of the tribulation. The one ruled by the antichrist, after the rapture has taken all church age believers home.

OK.  Back to the Basilica of St. Peter.

It really is just incredible. Michelangelo’s statue of the Virgin Mary, cradling the dead body of her son (the Pieta). It’s hard to believe that a block of cold marble could make you weep.

The dome over Peter’s grave. Also by Michealangelo. Just incredible. With seemingly thousands of other works of art by every Italian painter or sculptor of note, on every wall and in every corner. 

And though the church is a work in progress, It’s easy to see why centuries of good Roman Christians, literate or not, must have believed that God must be accessible in that place. And that everything the man that preached in that place (nearly 1800 years of popes), according to the Roman Catholic Church, must be absolutely true.

But, as we saw in the “what’s to come” that John’s prophecies promised to clue us into, things starting going south in the time of the church of Pergamum. The mixed marriage church, when Constantine married the pagan worship of Rome to the Christian church, putting pagan priests, in fact, in charge of some Christian congregations. (And apparently, like the frog being boiled alive) things changed slowly enough that the true Christians didn’t recognize the threat.

Or maybe the true believers had pretty much all been martyred in the age of the church of Smyrna.

It was, in fact, Constantine himself that had the original Church of Saint Peter built over Peter’s traditional burial site.  And something like 3500 generations of worshipers have (largely by the selling of indulgences) added to its earthly grandeur since, making it, according to one guide book,  "the greatest of all churches of Christendom".

If popularity counts, no doubt it deserves the title. It draws nearly a million visitors a year.

Ditto for quality (and amount) of decoration.

It’s also the largest Christian church covering nearly three square acres.

But for me, the wonder of the sheer glory of the place began to be pierced by other perceptions.  Much of the decoration consists of sculpture or pictures of the popes, or recognitions of their awards, anniversaries, or accomplishments.

And about 45 minutes in, the tour guide totally burst the bubble by cheerfully informing us that the nave of the edifice was built specifically to the dimensions of the Pantheon.

The pantheon being another ancient Roman building, on the other side of the ancient city core, whose purpose was defined in its name, pantheon, meaning “all Gods”.

It was a temple built to worship a multitude of gods.

And that formed the basis of St. Peter’s Basilica.

You may have heard that Constantine became a Christian.  He didn’t. (Although his mother did). He was, in fact, forcibly baptized on his deathbed. But he served his purpose. He married the Christians of Rome to the system of pagan worship, and the pagans got the last laugh.

Today, the pantheon has few visitors, but St. Peter’s is always packed.

Wasn’t it Luther that said “wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel"?

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: The Days are Evil

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