EDITORIAL -- The Location of a Church
To the church in Pergamum, the apostle John wrote: "I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is; and thou holdest fast my name, and didst not deny my faith, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth" (Rev. 2:13).
In connection with this passage, we want to make a few observations about the location of a congregation's place of worship. Since assemblies of the church are commanded of God, a church therefore must have some place to assemble. Much concern, very likely too much, is given to the choice of a location. Some brethren excuse their lack of growth on the grounds that they have a poor location.
There was a time when most of the churches in this country had "poor locations." The building, if the church owned one at all, generally was inexpensive and poorly located. The church frequently was thought of as that body of people who meet across the railroad tracks, or down that dead end street, or over there on that back street. But with the growth of churches, and with the increasing affluence of the brethren, most of the churches have moved up on Main Street, and have as commodious buildings as anyone.
Yet there are some brethren who think that if their location is not exactly ideal, there are no growth possibilities. Some really think that if their location is three miles out 'of the geographical or population center, they cannot grow. Brethren are giving every consideration to securing and maintaining as propitious a location as is possible.
As brethren seek ever more suitable locations, we see the massive move to the suburbs. A good location is now viewed as one in a nice middle-class, suburban neighborhood, preferably adjacent to a new expressway. It is not too unusual to hear of a church spending $1,000,000.00 upon a lot and a meeting house. At least, several churches have spent that much. The Manhattan church in New York City has begged money for about thirty-five years. They have now spent about $2,000,000 on a piece of property. $330,000 was spent on a lot alone. This incident headlines the point I am making. Brethren think the location is of supreme importance.
From the point of view of many brethren, how could any church have a worse location than that of the church in Pergamum? They were dwelling "where Satan's throne is" and "where Satan dwellest." Yet there is no indication by the Lord that they needed to move to a new location. At the time of the writing of this letter to Pergamum, the Imperial religion of Rome (emperor worship) was just getting underway. The deification of the Roman emperor had been a gradual process. One of the first temples devoted to a Roman emperor had been built in Pergamum. At the time that John wrote, there were three such temples in their city. Paganism also was rampant. An altar to Zeus, which was about 50 feet high and about 400 feet long, has been discovered. There is one tradition that says that the "Antipas" mentioned in Rev. 2:13 was the first Christian put to death by the Roman state because of his unwillingness to say "Caesar is Lord." Soon thousands of Christians would die rather than to worship Caesar. Yet Jesus did not indicate that the Pergamum church should move out of the city.
One's location is important, but which location one chooses is dependent upon what the objectives of that church are. Sometime ago I talked with a preacher who was being partially supported by the church for which I then was preaching. I asked him how the Work was going in the community where he lived. He replied that they were not doing very well, for "We never yet have been able to break the ice among the socially elite of this community." This objective probably explains why they were not doing very well. Paul stated, "For behold your calling, brethren, that no many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (I Cor. 1: 26). If a church insists upon locating itself among the "wise," "mighty," and "noble" of this earth, it is highly probable that not much progress will be made among those about their location.
"Where Satan's throne is" is a splendid location, if one's objective is to engage the Devil and his cohorts in conflict. If a church seeks peaceful co-existence, "where Satan's throne is" is not apt to afford such peacefulness. But it is a fine location from which to fight, to contend with Satan, to deal with error, to suffer for righteousness' sake, and to overcome. If our objective is to preach the gospel, anywhere people will listen is a good location. No doubt entirely too much emphasis has been placed upon the material aspects of a church's location.
The choice of a location is very much like deciding when to start a gospel meeting. The truth is, it makes no difference when the meeting begins if that church really wants to have a gospel meeting. And it likewise is true that it matters not when the meeting starts, if the church does not want to have a good gospel meeting. In like manner, if people really want to do the Work of the Lord, they will do it wherever they are. Pergamum held fast His Name and did not deny the faith, even though they dwelled where Satan dwelt, and where the Devil had set up his throne. If they can serve God in such a location as that, no doubt too much emphasis has been given by us to the physical aspects of our locations.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 12, pp. 3-4