To me, our 10 days STM Turkey Study Trip 2013 was like being caught in a tornado and dropped into the land of Oz (no, not Australia). There are these periods of hurried packing and unpacking, been awoken at unearthly hours, and hours of boredom on planes and buses. I do not believe I have seen so many different types of stones in ruins, and toilets in such a short period of time in my life before! These stones of ruins (not the toilets) carry an ambiance sense of antiquity and spiritual power of ancient gods such as Artemis and Apollo.
Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women. Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the ancient Greek deities. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. However her influence was so powerful that the ancient Romans continued to worship her as Artemis as evidenced by Artemis Ephesus in ancient Ephesus. Artemis Ephesus predates ancient Greece and may have even earlier roots in the ancient bear cults. Artemis Ephesus is also the Mother goddess of Anatolia, the ancient Romans being syncretic in their approach to religion, merging the Greek and Mesopotamian deities.
Her brother Apollo is recognized as a god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, healing, plague, music, and poetry. As the patron of Delphi, Apollo was the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle. Medicine and healing are associated with Apollo mediated through his son Asclepius, yet Apollo was also seen as a god who could bring ill-health and deadly plague. As the leader of the Muses and director of their choir, Apollo functioned as the patron god of music and poetry.
Between the two of them, they control all aspects of human existence: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion (also known as the seven mountains or spheres of influences of culture). As gods, they also control the fate of human beings (souls). The cult of emperor worship during the latter part of the history of the Roman Empire is another manifestation of these powers. These deities and their cultic institution of worship are the faces of spiritual powers and principalities that early Christians have to face and struggle against as they seek to follow the demands and worship a monotheist God. This struggle was intensified when Christianity herself become institutionalized and political after Constantine.
Walking among the ruins of Ephesus, Laodicea, Sardis and Hierapolis, I cannot help but feel the spiritual battles these early Christians have to face as they live in a culture of the bondage of fear, materialism, hedonism and consumerism. It would have been a great struggle to be a people that stood apart from influences of these which Reformed pastor and author Timothy Keller called ‘counterfeit’ gods. The letters in the Book of Revelation to the seven churches reveal certain aspects of these struggles. The struggles against the bondage of fear, materialism, hedonism and consumerism have not changed over the millenniums. The faces of the powers and principalities have changed but they themselves have not. These faces are no longer known as temples, agoras, nymphaeums or theaters. Nowadays, they are recognized as shopping malls, banks, Hollywood, online shopping, multinational corporations, governments and institutional religiosity. These powers and principalities are still controlling major sectors of the seven mountains. It is still a daily struggle for many of us not to follow the seductive ways of these counterfeit gods.
The spiritual battle has been ongoing for two millenniums and is still going on. Modern Turkey which is the cradle of early Christianity and later, part of the Holy Roman Empire has a population of 74.4 million people in 2011. Of these, only less than 0.2% is Christians! This shows that the spiritual forces working against God are still active and powerful. This is a powerful reminder to us to take heel of the warnings contained in the letters to the churches in Revelation. The spiritual warfare is still waging all around us. The modern Church ignores this at her own peril. We are to choose to intentionally walk closer to God, be holy, reject the seductions of other gods and be in continual communion with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
Help us, O Lord, we plea.