Let’s take stock of ourselves: Why is the divorce rate among Christians no better than among unbelievers? Is the “Gospel” preached in your church? What is the status of Biblical literacy in your fellowship? Is our Christianity lukewarm?
John must have been puzzled. Exiled to the lonely island of Patmos, he has just begun to receive what will become known as the most elevated vision of things to come given to any person in the history of the planet earth. The vision begins with a resurrected, immortal Jesus of Nazareth dictating seven letters for delivery to the pastors of seven churches that existed during the latter half of the first century. With eyes of flames like fire and feet like bronze that glows in a furnace, the God-man—who once was dead and now is alive forevermore—is ill. In fact, He is about to vomit!1
For those who recognize the role and perspective of the seven letters of Revelation 2 and 3, it is clear that we are, indeed, in the Laodicean Age. The focus and design of each of the letters have local, admonitory, and personal application. However, they also profile—in advance—the history of the church through two thousand years. (In any other order, this wouldn’t be true.)
These seven letters constitute “report cards” of the performance of each church, containing commendations and admonitions regarding needed correction: “good news” as well as “bad news.” And, apparently, each church is surprised. Those who thought they were doing well, were not. Those who thought they weren’t doing so well were encouraged and doing better than they knew. (Each of these letters gives us insight and food for introspection.)
Regarding Laodicea, Jesus is really sick of “lukewarm” Christianity. He is about to vomit:
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”3
They think they are “rich and in need of nothing,” but are actually “miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” That’s about as graphic and antithetical as you can get.
There are many who lay the blame for the astonishing and sinister years of the Holocaust in Germany in the 1940s at the feet of the silent pulpits in Germany. Let’s take stock of ourselves: Why is the divorce rate among Christians no better than among unbelievers? Is the “Gospel” preached in your church? Can you even define it? (1 Cor 15:1–4). What is the status of Biblical literacy in your fellowship? Is there an effective program underway to improve it? (We could continue to explore the impending enslavement of America, but that’s a topic for another article!)
We can’t help but notice the silent exodus of people slipping out the back doors of many churches almost unnoticed: attracted but not retained; interested but not inserted into fellowship; touched but not transformed. They looked in briefly but were disappointed in what they saw. We also notice that many serious believers shun the label “Christian”; they meet during the week in study groups, but have not found a Sunday fellowship they find fruitful or challenging.
It is relevant to recognize that our present concept of “church” is a product derived from 4th century politics. It ought to be obvious to even the casual observer of history that the real story of the church is not the one recorded in secular history.4 Who were the Waldensians? The Lollards? The Stundists? The Anabaptists? The Priscillians? The Bogomilians? Petrobusians? Patarenians?
These names were given by their enemies to those who claimed only the name of Christ, and who were prepared to suffer for His cause rather than submit to those man-made traditions that they believed contradicted the Word of God. These were independent fellowships that were outlawed and persecuted. Those intrepid believers, “of whom the world was not worthy,” were not only persecuted by civil authorities, they were denounced, defamed, and decimated by the professing church.
While many of us may have some awareness of the history of tensions between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, it may come as a shock to discover that Protestant leadership also persecuted deviant groups who attempted to adhere to Biblical doctrines.5 And some still do. As we approach the “end times,” our Lord admonished us:
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”6
Notice that the Lord is outside the Laodicean door, knocking! And His call is to the individual. How insightful… The Lord’s displeasure to Laodicean “lukewarmness” is in stark contrast to a note that was found in the room of an anonymous African martyr:7
I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His.
I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colourless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity.
I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labour by power. My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, or let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problems recognizing me—my banner will be clear!
Some further thoughts about specific challenges for the Church in the End Times, and suggested remedies, are the subject of a featured Briefing Pack this month.