Deliver Us From Salad Bar Religion

Revelation 2:12-17

We live in an society where choice has become one of our most esteemed freedoms. Choice is at the centre of some of our society's most hotly debated issues, and it has even become central in some of the less important aspects of life.

One area where "choice" has reigned supreme is in the market place. Today's companies are not simply evaluated on the quality of their products, but they are evaluated on the number of products they offer.

A car company is challenged to produce a car for the younger driver and another car the senior driver. They are challenged to produce a sports car and a family car. They are challenged to produce a car for the upper class and another car for the middle class. The more cars produced, the more choice, and the happier the customer.

In the battle for your television set, companies selling satellite systems insist on their superiority over your local cable company on the basis that they provide you with more choice.

The abundance of choice in the market place is never more obvious to me than when Allie sends me to the grocery store with a list. I find nothing more paralyzing than staring a grocery list and reading something like "Peach Yogurt". Which kind of Peach Yogurt do I get? Do I buy the one with the peaches on the bottom, or the one with the peaches mixed in? Do I buy "low fat" or regular? Do I buy the small, medium, or large, container? Do I buy the one with the lowest price or the one with the best reputation?

I can tell you that one place where I really enjoy having a choice is at the salad bar. Many of you who know me well, know that I'm not a big fan of vegetables. But, if you give me some choice, I am more likely to fill my plate at the salad bar. As long as I can have romaine lettuce in my salad instead of iceberg lettuce; as long as I can have carrots and not turnips; as long as I can turn down chickpeas and lima beans I will be able to enjoy a trip to the salad bar.

What I fear, however, is that many people import a salad bar mentality into their approach to the Christian life. A fairly recent Newsweek article quoted a young churchgoer as saying, "Instead of me fitting religion, I found a religion to fit me." The writer of the article observed of this mentality, "They don't convert--they choose" and "by this standard, the most successful churches are those that most closely resemble a suburban shopping mall."

In the market place, choice is a good thing. In the church, however, choice can lead to serious error. At the salad bar we choose according to taste. We choose according to personal preference. And, not only is this perfectly acceptable, but it is expected. At the salad bar, we load up on what we like, and we leave behind what we don't like.

We cannot do the same as we approach the Bible. As we approach the Bible, we do not choose to believe the things we find palatable and leave the rest behind. When the apostle Paul tells us that "all Scripture" is "profitable"(2Tim.3:16), he leaves no room for the neglect of certain doctrines. Nor are we free to bring new, innovative, doctrines to the Christian life. In the closing verses of the New Testament we read this warning, "if anyone adds to (the words of this book), God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book"(Rev. 22:18).

If the salad bar analogy is an example of how not to approach the Bible, then visiting a friend as a guest for dinner may serve as a helpful example of how we should be approaching the Bible. I am sure that many of you were taught as a child what I was taught: eat whatever is put in front of you and do not leave anything on the plate. To turn away food, or to leave some behind, was to insult the host.

In the same manner, when we neglect certain portions of Scripture, we insult our Heavenly Father by implying that He has served us something distasteful or something we do not need.

Imagine, once again, that you are a dinner guest in a friend's home. Now, imagine in the middle of the meal, you reach down into a bag and pull out some food that you brought. You begin to unwrap the food and proceed to scoop it onto your plate. Then you notice that the host's eyes are fixed on you as if to say, "What are you doing?". You then say to your host, "What you have cooked is pretty good, but I don't think it will fully satisfy me and so I brought some of my own food."

It is difficult to imagine such a scenario. And, if such a scenario were to take place, we can be certain that such an action would greatly offend the host.

Friends, what are we saying to our Heavenly Father when we adopt the various philosophies proposed by secular society? Are we not saying, "What You have provided in Scripture is good, but I doubt it will satisfy me"?

In Revelation 2, verses 12 through 17, we read about a church that has adopted a type of salad bar mentality. In this passage, Jesus addresses the church in Pergamos.

There is much I could tell you about the city of Pergamos and its prominent position within the Roman Empire. And, there is much I could tell you about the abhorrent religious groups in the church in Pergamos. I fear, however, that too much historical detail might lead us away from the point Jesus is making in this passage.

Jesus begins His message by commending the church in Pergamos for "holding fast to (His) name" and keeping the "faith"--even in the midst of tremendous persecution (Rev. 2:13).

However, in the very next verse, Jesus utters the words that no church wants to hear, "But I have a few things against you". These are words that need to be taken seriously. We all know that there is no such thing as a perfect church. Yet, at the same time, when we hear Jesus say "I have a few things against you", the correct response is not to shrug your shoulders and say, "Nobody's perfect".

A wise church, a faithful church, upon hearing these words should attempt to rectify the problem. And the problem in Pergamos was that the church had begun to tolerate harmful doctrines. Unlike the church in Ephesus who opposed the Nicolaitans (2:6), this group, along with those who held to the doctrine of Balaam, were extended the "welcome mat" in Pergamos.

Rather than submitting to one standard of truth, the church in Pergamos allowed a type of doctrinal buffet to develop. A type of salad bar church developed where, if you didn't like what the apostles were teaching, you could appeal to the teaching of another group.

We are told, in verse 14, that one of the effects of the erroneous teaching was sexual immorality. The belief was that they were now "free from the law", and therefore, felt at liberty to engage in many activities that brought pleasure to the senses.

Friends, we are naive if we think the challenges for Pergamos are irrelevant for us in the church today. The pressures of "political correctness" weigh heavy on the church in the 21st century. The pressures of society call for us to accept multiple opinions--even when these opinions are in opposition to one another.

The pressures of society also call us not to judge moral behaviour--particularly sexual behaviour. Secular society would love nothing more than for us to adopt a Salad Bar Religion where we can feast on what we prefer and politely leave behind what we do not like.

Secular society, even well meaning folks in the church, like to quote, out of context, Jesus' words, "Judge not, lest you be judged"(Mt. 7:1). But let me ask you this morning--What does Jesus have against the church in Pergamos? What does Jesus find objectionable about them?

I reckon that what Jesus has against the church in Pergamos is that they refused to judge sin.

Those who held to the doctrine of Balaam, those who held to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, have brought their own food to the table. And our response should not be, "Great, now we have a buffet!". Our response should be disgust.

Listen to what Jesus says in response to this sin, "Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth"(2:16). "The sword" referred to here is the Word of God coming in judgment (Isa. 49:2; Heb. 4:12). The message of Jesus was 'hurry up and judge this sin before I am forced to come and do it Myself'.

As we examine our own context, we need to be constantly testing our beliefs against what the Bible says. Scripture makes no allowance for competing "truths". Scripture makes no allowance for a salad bar religion where you can leave behind that which you do not like.

I confess, there are doctrines in the Bible which are distasteful to my natural senses. But I believe that our Heavenly Father would never ask us to digest anything harmful. I trust our Heavenly Father as He sets the table with His Word to feast on. It would be foolish for me to think that I could bring to the table anything better than His Word.

Let us, therefore, repent of our salad bar religion. Let us feast on the Word of God. Amen.