In the book of Revelation, there are seven churches that are addressed. Ephesus was the faithful church. Smyrna was the persecuted church. Pergamum was the indulgent church. Thyatira was the compromised church. Sardis was the dead church. Philadelphia was the mission-minded church. Laodicea was the lukewarm church. Some have postulated that while these seven churches were historical churches with issues, the seven churches could also represent seven church ages. Those who purport this idea state that Ephesus represents the apostolic church, Smyrna represents the persecuted church of the second and third century. Pergamum represents the church after Constantine. Thyatira represents the church of the Middle Ages. Sardis represents the church of the Reformation (before the Reformation that is). Philadelphia represents the church of the Great Awakening. Finally, the church of Laodicea represents the modern church beginning around the mid-1900s. Regardless of the truthfulness of the church age interpretation, it must be admitted that the modern church greatly resembles the Laodicean church…especially in America. The church should desire to keep God at the forefront of everything performed in and by the church. In such a case, humility is mandatory. In this article, two warning signs that the modern church is like the Laodicean church are presented. Then, some ways to keep from possessing a Laodicean mindset are offered.
1. Warning Signs of a Modern Laodicean Church
A few years ago, tornadoes developed in our community. Although we were lucky in that the twisters did not come our way, the ominous arm-like funnel clouds were visible from our home. The town was deafened by the eerie alternating sounds of the tornado alarm, warning everyone that danger was lurking near us. Likewise, the warning sirens should sound off for the modern church…especially the American church. For we resemble the only church listed that made God sick.
The phrase is translated, “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). However, the Greek text states, “οὕτως, ὅτι χλιαρὸς εἶ καὶ οὔτε ζεστὸς οὔτε ψυχρός, μέλλω σε ἐμέσαι ἐκ τοῦ στόματός μου” (Greek NT: SBL Edition, Revelation 3:16). This is literally translated as: “Thus because lukewarm you are, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” Why did God become so annoyed with the church that God wanted to puke them out? It was due to lukewarmness. They had become a church of compromise. Understand, the church must adapt its means to evangelize more effectively. However, the message MUST NEVER change.
I am not one who normally bashes other preachers. However, I must make an exception. Last night, I was in the process of changing channels and my attention fell upon Joel Osteen. I have mentioned Osteen before as he was ill equipped to handle the important questions of the agnostic interviewer from the Huffington Post. However, Osteen went a step further. Osteen purported that there are other ways to heaven than just by Jesus. While I whole-heartedly agree with him on statements that we should love people whether they agree with us or not, and whether they are living right or not, there were a few statements that seemed to suggest that Osteen holds that there are many ways to God. Osteen said, “So many times we have this narrow view of God. We have our little circle of what we believe and who we think is right and we exclude every one else” (Osteen “Loving Unconditionally”). Now wait. If Osteen is speaking of denominationalism, I agree wholeheartedly. But he just finished speaking on how God is the God of all people. I agree that God is the God of all people. However, he then spoke on “little circles.” Did he mean that there are other ways to God than through Jesus Christ? “Well Joel what about their false doctrine? What about your false doctrine? Nobody is correct 100%. The reason denominations were established in the first place was to try to protect the doctrine that they believe was right” (Osteen “Loving Unconditionally”). Now wait. Is Osteen speaking of Christian denominations or is he speaking of world religions? By his earlier comments, it seems that he is referencing the latter. But then to be fair, Osteen then says “The main thing is that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, He rose from the dead, and now He’s our Savior. My love for you is bigger than what church you go to. It is bigger than what faith you practice. It’s even bigger than a political or philosophical difference.” (Osteen “Loving Unconditionally”). He then adds that Lakewood Church has a variety of people including Buddhists and then states “This is what heaven is going to be like” (Osteen, “Loving Unconditionally”). If Osteen is speaking of the unity that we all share in Christ, I would agree wholeheartedly with him. I would also agree that we should love individuals who differ from us. However, there were subtle hints that he was referring to salvation outside of Christ. Also, it seems that Osteen is claiming that truth is unknowable…if so, this has all the hallmarks of post-modernity. It seems that he went back and forth claiming that Jesus was the only way in one breath, to claiming that heaven would hold those who did not accept Jesus as their Savior. Well which is it? If I am misrepresenting Osteen, I would gladly apologize to him and recant my antagonist claims. However, as the old saying goes, “The Devil is found in the details” and I am not so sure that Osteen is not promoting a possible form of unitarianism. Why this Osteenian exegesis?
We must stand for the truth. Lukewarmness is a mediocre, hodge-podge, form of spirituality. I agree that we must love everyone…especially those who differ from us. However, we cannot stray from the truth on which we stand. If Jesus is the only way to heaven, I could not think of anything more unloving than to give those without Christ a false sense of hope. If you knew that an airplane was defective and still allowed someone to fly the plane knowing that the plane would crash, could you claim that you loved the person flying the plane? Of course not. If you do not think the truth is worth standing for, go talk to one of the prophets of the Old Testament…they were not popular, but they stood for the truth because of their love for the people.
There is another warning given to the church of Laodicea. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). There is yet another problem with our modern church. Many churches…and many megachurch pastors…have become obsessed with materialism. This is what occurred to the church of Laodicea. They thought that they were rich, but they were actually spiritually poor. Why is it necessary for a church to spend multiple millions of dollars on a complex? It is one thing if the expenditure is necessary for ministry. There are several large, GOOD churches that need to spend that kind of money on complexes. However, there are many others that spend this kind of money in order to look fancy. I guess I could understand this more than I could understand a pastor purchasing a million dollar home…as pictured above. In one such instance, a megachurch pastor built a home bigger than an NFL team owner. How does this fit with the Jesus who said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20)? It seems that some have lost their focus. One cannot keep a focus on God and money. Oh wait, that sounds familar. Who said that? Oh yeah, Jesus did. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). So which is it going to be church? Would you still desire to minister if the money and prestige are gone? The answer will reveal where your focus lies.
2. Ways to Fight Against a Laodicean Church Mindset
The Bible gives us some ways to fight against such a materialist, lukewarm mindset.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-4). Never think of yourself bigger than what you should. Never lose the wonder of living. Never lose the wonder of your life in Christ. My child sees the beauty in all things. He holds complete trust in us. This is what we should have with God. Never lose focus on the fact that God is the author of your salvation. God is responsible for bringing you into this world. God owes us nothing, yet we owe God everything. Keep that child-like trust in God.
“Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD” (2 Chronicles 34:27). This submission means that one is submissive towards God. Stand for the things that God stands for. Realize that you do not dictate things to God. Some have claimed that we need to remind God of His promises. Fiddle-faddle. Do you think God has forgotten? Seek God and submit to God’s authority and not man’s. Realize that God is the source and sustainer of all things. God is Who has given you purpose.
Cut off Things that Dishonor God
“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30). If there is something in your life that is dishonoring to God, cut it out. You don’t need it. It may be an old tradition. It may be a way of life. It may be a bad habit. Why hold on to something that ultimately dishonors God and is ultimately bad for you?
“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:7-11). As mentioned earlier, you cannot work for God and money. So which is it going to be? There are greater rewards in working for God. You may not have a large sum of money in the bank account. You may not have a luxurious home. But you can leave this world knowing that you have given God glory and been an instrument to change someone’s life for the better.
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble'” (1 Peter 5:5). The ministry is far greater than you. Truth transcends your opinion. God has existed eternally. You have not. The church is far greater than your little place of worship…even if you have thousands of members at your church. The ministry, the gospel is not about you. It is about glorifying God and seeing lives changed. This message has been here before you were born and will be here after you leave this earth. So what makes you think that the ministry or the church is all about you? Church…Christians…WAKE UP!!! This is about God and not about us!!! When will we realize this? We must stay humble. We must give God the glory that God deserves!
I believe that there can be another Great Awakening. However, we must open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit and allow God to infiltrate our lives. This does not have to be the last rodeo. We can still see some great days ahead even though we are in the end times. Will you allow the Spirit of God to awaken the person…the minister…that God has called you to be? Will you join me in getting back to the basics of faith and truth? The time is now…the world is lost…the gospel still saves…and the Spirit is still empowering. Will we get on God’s agenda?
Holmes, Michael. The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition. Logos Bible Software, 2010.
Osteen, Joel. “Loving Unconditionally.” Telecast. http://www.lightsource.com/ministry/joel-osteen-ministries/video-player/loving-unconditionally-373741.html. Accessed October 28, 2013.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.