In the Nov-December 2010 issue of its Bible Advocate magazine, CG7-Denver has an article from its former president, Calvin Burrell on the churches of Revelation 2 & 3:
Q: Do these churches of Asia Minor represent
seven church ages since Christ’s time?
A: Promoters of this theory have not agreed on
how each church is “fulfilled” over 2,000 years.
Rather, traits of each may be found in every age of
church history and in most churches today.
Q: How do these church letters relate to the prophecies
that fill the rest of Revelation?
A: The entire book was read by all seven churches,
providing support and hope in their struggles
against first century forces that were even then opposing
Regarding the first question, I have seen Protestant answers like the one CG7 provided. That is a “red herring” argument. There is also debate amongst scholars as to what date and year Jesus was born, but just because there is disagreement about dates does not mean that Jesus was not born. Thus, because there are differences of dates for the ages/eras of the church proposed does not mean that the doctrine should be discounted.
Several years back, the United Church of God (UCG) ran a series of articles that said essentially the same thing as the second question shown from CG7 above. From January 2002 through August 2002, UCG ran a series of articles on the 7 Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 written by David Treybig. Unlike anything that WCG ever produced, these articles never say anything about Church eras, did not indicate which Church was predominant at any particular time, did not mention who or when the Church may have been primarily extant, never mentioned that Herbert Armstrong was used to raise up the Philadelphia era (or that he left the Sardis era), or anything else suggesting that UCG officially believed in Church eras (which is because officially UCG does not). If you disagree with what I wrote, then please ask yourself how United could allow a series of articles on the Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 and never mention Church eras, Herbert Armstrong, etc.
Here are some statements from UCG itself:
“You asked if the messages to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 can be applied to eras of church history. As Mr. Herbert Armstrong said in the past, there were seven churches in Asia minor during the life of the apostle John that had certain strengths and weaknesses. Those same strengths and weaknesses could be evident in any church congregation today. Some believe that they also described church eras that began with the apostolic age and until Jesus Christ returns. Since some have disputed this idea, it is a subject that needs more study to see what we can know for sure and what remains in the unknown.” (Internet Correspondence from email@example.com to Dr. Thiel. November 13, 1997)
“Since seven represents completeness, these seven lampstands seem to portray a composite picture of the Church of God, the light of the world. Paul explains that the Church is one body (I Corinthians 12:12-13; Ephesians 4:4). However, it has multiple congregations and members scattered throughout the nations. Therefore, these seven specific assemblies of believers appear to effectively represent the totality of the Church. It appears likely that the prophecies of the Church in Revelation 2 and 3 have multiple meanings and applications” (Foster, Roger. God’s Church in Prophecy. Good News, expanded edition. Jul-Aug 2000; p. 8).
“Mr. Walker asked for the Council’s input on this question – how should the Church deal with honest differences in opinion on prophetic topics? Not every issue of prophecy will create this dilemma, he stated, but some will. How do we deal with alternate explanations? Richard Thompson: ‘It could be that the traditional teaching is that we allow three different explanations – for example, the seven churches of Revelation’ ” (Johnson, Doug. United Church of God, an International Association Council of Elders Meeting Report Monday, March 4, 2002 – Cincinnati, Ohio).
Which meant then (and is still true now) that while some in UCG probably believe in church eras, officially UCG will not teach them.
Actually, one of the last times I visited a UCG service, once again, even though the subject was the churches of Revelation 2 & 3, he did not in anyway teach the idea of “church eras” like the old WCG and the current LCG teach.
Basically, neither CG7 nor UCG officially teaches that the churches in Revelation 2 & 3 represent seven semi-sequential history of the church from the time of the apostles until the return of Jesus Christ.
However, the knowledge of church eras helps people understand the history of the true church, the situation with the churches of God today, and some of the prophetic ramifications about being associated with each era (as well as the surviving remnant on the non-predominant eras). This is information that all who profess Christ should know.
Some items of possibly related interest may include:
The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 from 31 A.D. to present: information on all of the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3.
1. The Ephesus Church Era was predominant from 31 A.D. to circa 135 A.D. The Church of James, Peter, Paul, and John, etc.
2. The Smyrna Church Era was predominant circa 135 A.D. to circa 450 A.D. The Church led by Polycarp, Melito, Polycrates, etc.
3. The Pergamos Church Era was predominant circa 450 A.D. to circa 1050 A.D. An especially persecuted Church.
4. The Thyatira Church Era was predominant circa 1050 A.D. to circa 1600 A.D. The Church during the Inquisition.
5. The Sardis Church Era was predominant circa 1600 A.D. to circa 1933 A.D. Discusses early history of the Seventh Day Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and COG-7th Day.
6. The Philadelphia Church Era was predominant circa 1933 A.D. to 1986 A.D. The old Radio Church of God and old Worldwide Church of God, now basically the Living Church of God.
7. The Laodicean Church Era has been predominant circa 1986 A.D. to present. These are non-Philadelphians who mainly descended from the old WCG.
Church of God, Seventh Day: History and Teachings Nearly all COG’s I am aware of trace their history through this group. Whaid Rose is the president of the largest CG7 group (Denver). Do you know much about them?
Differences between the Living Church of God and United Church of God This article provides quotes information from the two largest groups which had their origins in WCG as well as commentary.
Attending the Church of Choice This article discusses whose choice is important to worship God; should you attend the church of your choice or the church of God’s choice?
Unity: Which COG for You? Why so many groups? Why is there lack of unity in the Churches of God? Has it always been this way? What can/should be done about it?
There are Many COGs: Why Support the Living Church of God? This is an article for those who wish to more easily sort out the different COGs. It really should be a MUST READ for current and former WCG/GCI members or any interested in supporting the faithful church. It also explains a lot of what the COGs are all about.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?