We’ve been looking at the history of the Church from the perspective of the seven letters Jesus sent to seven churches in Asia Minor.
Each letter outlines an era of Church history. The last four churches are promised to endure to the end of the 6th Dispensation.
This post will examine the 7th letter, written to the final generation of the Church age. (If you’re reading this post, you can consider yourself part of that generation).
The seventh church was in the city of Laodicea. The translation of that name is “the rule of the people”. The strong implication is that this church is ruled by men instead of God!
Laodicea was a very wealthy city due mostly to a local breed of sheep which produced a highly prized lustrous black wool. Residents were known to wear robes made of the wool as a status symbol.
Laodicea was a center of medicine known particularly for a poultice widely sought for eye ailments.
Jesus’ message to the Laodiceans was not pretty. Most of the other letters began with Jesus commending the church on what they were doing well, but Jesus had NOTHING good to say about Laodicea!
Jesus’ primary accusation is that they were neither “hot” nor “cold”. “Hot” in this context refers to the pursuit of good, righteousness, and life. “Cold” would be the pursuit of evil. The Laodiceans refused to intentionally pursue good OR evil. This was a church that would not take ANY stand at all!
Evil is better than nothing
Jesus actually told them that it would be better for them if they chose to pursue evil over no choice at all! Why? Because once you make a choice (any choice), God can interact with you! BUT this also means that the converse is true – if you REFUSE to make a choice, God CAN’T interact with you!
All of God’s actions are just. Thus God can ONLY interact with us based on justice. It would be UNJUST to take action for or against someone without knowing their intentions! God can’t execute any kind of justice until we make an intentional, deliberate choice!
Remember, God’s plan for man is based on a choice (to choose God over himself). Love itself is a choice. Arguably two of the most important things to God are dependent on intentional choices.
Jesus died to redeem man, but man has to CHOOSE to accept it. Only THEN can he be justified. But sanctification is also a choice, and this is where Laodicea failed.
Obviously if they chose to pursue good (hot) God could justly encourage them to greater growth in sanctification by rewarding them. But even if they pursued evil, God could still work to help them get back on the right path by bringing judgment and correction into their lives to encourage repentance.
But with no choice (no stated intention to pursue good or evil) there was NOTHING God could do to interact with this church.
What’s God’s reaction to the lukewarm church?
Jesus makes one of the most graphics statements of disgust in the Bible to the Laodiceans – He literally says that they make Him sick and He will vomit them out of His body!
Interestingly, the city of Laodicea had no native water supply. The city was located between Hierapolis, known for their medicinal hot springs at a higher elevation, and Colossae, known for their cold water reserves at a lower elevation. Laodicea piped their water from a hot spring at the higher elevation 5 miles away. By the time it arrived at the city, it was LUKEWARM! Drinking too much of this lukewarm mineral water at once would cause vomiting! It had to be heated or cooled to be consumed (Jesus is good at word play it seems).
So why were they in a condition where Jesus reacted to them like eating a bad scallop?
Comparative thinking! Specifically, the pride of false self-perception. They thought they were in good shape because of their material prosperity, but Jesus told them that spiritually they are poor, naked, blind, and wretched! (They are in the opposite portion of the persecuted church of Smyrna who were materially poor but spiritually rich).
Worse, the Laodiceans were cowards! Being lukewarm and not taking a stand means not taking a risk. They valued their prosperity so much, they didn’t want to risk losing it. By not pursuing good or evil (by not moving in any direction at all) they figured they could preserve what they had. They risked nothing, they gained nothing and (they thought) they lost nothing. They lived in fear, and fear is antithetical to love. They had no faith, no love, and no intentions. They were worthless.
Unfortunately, as I said, Laodicea coincides with our current age, or more accurately, the “post-modern” church.
How did we get here?
How did the church go from the Great Awakens of the Philadelphian church (easily the darling of all the churches) to the most despised church of all?
The church became a victim of its own success! As I stated in the last post, the freedom and liberty of the Great Awakenings led to tremendous prosperity and abundance. And in its abundance, the western church became comfortable, lazy, and stagnant.
The church forgot that their prosperity was an EFFECT of their righteousness. They began to think it was a cause! They measured their righteousness by how much power, influence, and largess they possessed in the world. The church began to judge itself by the world’s standards!
A history of Laodicea in our time.
After the tumultuous 1960’s and the rise of secular humanism (more on that in the next post), the church leaders wanted to invigorate the church via another “Great Awakening”. But unlike the previous revivals, this one would not be based on spiritual courage, but on existential cowardice!
With comfort, prosperity, and secular intellectualism eroding membership, the church was afraid of becoming irrelevant. And in that fear, they became willing to compromise doctrine in order to appeal the younger generation.
The church repackaged the message of the Gospel and redefined the nature of God in a way that would appeal to the 60’s hippies. This resulted in the “Jesus Movement” of the 1970’s. Feelings were emphasized over knowledge. The new “theology” was the idea that God isn’t a set of legalistic rules and cold doctrine. God is what you FEEL when you worship Him; and what you should feel is His “love” – not the ACTUAL love of God, but the transitory emotional high of subjective human love.
They focused only on the “nice” sayings and actions of their Idol Jesus (the beatitudes, healings, etc.) and ignored or trivialized His teachings about sin and judgment (they made the same fatal mistake as the Pharisees).
The Jesus Movement popularized the phrase “God is Love”, as their definition for Him. However it’s an invalid definition that reversed causality – love is an EFFECT, and God is a CAUSE! Nevertheless the movement was tremendously successful (because ambiguous, touchy-feely “love” is much more appealing and comfortable than righteousness and justice).
“Love” never lasts…
But once the emotion of the movement died down, the leaders were ironically faced with a predicament – defining God as the embodiment of human love didn’t resolve the questions that the secularists of the 60’s used to assault Christianity, they merely shifted the questions to the congregants!
If God is “love”, and love is a benevolent emotion, then how can God allow suffering? How can He judge and punish sin? Why does He make us feel guilty for all the fun stuff we like to do (get drunk, have promiscuous sex, lie, gossip, watch cable TV)? How can He be intolerant of “alternate lifestyles”?
The church was given an opportunity to be make a dispensational choice – they could have either repented by confirming that the Bible is right, and God’s nature is always and completely right and just (which demands holiness and judges sin), or they could reject the God of the Bible and intentionally embrace their idolatry.
But if they chose righteousness they would risk their prosperity by alienating the secular world, not to mention their new congregants.
And if they chose to openly reject Biblical doctrine, they would risk their power and influence by no longer being considered a “church”.
So which did they choose?
The post-modern church made the worse decision possible – They chose neither!
They rejected the idea that they even HAD to choose. How? By rejecting the idea that the choice existed! They avoided the question of how to deal with the absolutes of righteousness, justice and morality, by denying that those absolutes even exist!
They became lukewarm!
They actively avoided the tough questions about things like fornication, homosexuality, evolution, abortion, and objective morality.They dodged or ignored controversial Biblical issues such as eschatology, Hell, Satan, sin, holiness, and salvation through Jesus alone.
The only “biblical” commandment they accepted as an absolute was “thou shall not judge”.
Unlike the faithful and courageous church of Philadelphia this church was driven by fear and cowardice. And its greatest fear was being seen as “judgmental”.
Instead of the clear and fiery justice of God they embrace the ambiguous subjective morass of “social justice”. Instead of focusing on growth through righteous sanctification, this church obsesses over growing their congregation and building the biggest “mega-church”.
Instead of preaching the revivalist message or repentance and holiness, the milquetoast modern ministers spew Jesus-scented pop-psychology to help their audiences feel better about themselves.
Christian country club
Sedated by its material comforts, blithely ignorant of their true spiritual state, and in somnambulant fear of being irrelevant, the post-modern lukewarm church became a bland, toothless, trite and inoffensive religious country club whose main goal is to be universally appealing and offer a superficial Christian experience.
It provides the semblance of (ineffective) guilt relief so that people can claim they “go to church” without ever actually experiencing Church. The only real “sin” this church recognizes is the sin of being unpopular.
The only passion exhibited by the otherwise tepid post-modern ministers is the race to see who can attract to most lukewarm congregants by presenting the most watered down, emetic message possible.
In their effort to neuter God into something more socially acceptable, the Laodicen church committed the worst sin possible. By denying the absolutes of righteousness and Justice, they deny the very nature of God! This church claims they believe in God, but they tacitly deny His existence! Is it any wonder it is church makes Jesus want to barf?
Video evidence of Laodicea
Here is a short video of an interview with popular post-modern “pastor” which encapsulates everything I’ve written in this post. See if you can watch the entire thing without reaching for a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.
The post-modern church experience has been described thusly: A mild-mannered man standing in front of a group of mild-mannered people, teaching them how to be more mild-mannered.
On the outside looking in
Jesus final word to the church at Laodicea is about as sad and tragic as any passage in the Bible.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. – Revelation 3:20 (NKJV)
Ironically, this verse has classically been used in churches as an invitation to accept Christ and salvation (and I’m not discounting that use) but when looked at in context, it’s a scathing indictment of Laodicea.
Where is Jesus in the relationship to this church? He’s OUTSIDE! He’s knocking on its door asking to be let him in! Jesus is not even in this church! His appeal is all the more tragic because he’s NOT addressing the church at large. He’s basically given up on them (People tend to do that with sputum). There is no call to repentance, because repentance requires an intentional choice, and Laodicea eschews being intentional about anything!
He’s calling out to any INDIVIDUAL in the church who is still capable of hearing His voice! (HOW He calls them will be more poignant two posts from now when we talk about how Jesus returns for His Bride).
What caused the end?
Its clear that The final church is in a truly deplorable condition. But their cowardice, avarice, and lukewarm-ness are actually an EFFECT of their theology and the end of the 6th Dispensation, NOT the cause. What causes (caused?) the end of the Church age? We’ll answer that question next time.