Have you ever wondered what Jesus would think if he came to your church on Sunday morning? What would he do? Would he be comfortable? Think about it for a second.
For seven churches in the first century, Jesus did show up for a visit — sort of. In Revelation, there are seven short, but powerful letters written to specific local churches. In these letters, we gain insight into what Christ thinks about them, and we see how our church might stack up.
The letter to the church in Laodicea is particularly striking (Revelation 3:14-22). In it, we see some remarkable parallels to the church today.
Passion! Do we really have it?
God writes to this church: “You are neither cold nor hot.” Christians yearn for something we call passion. But what is this passion? Is it the tingly feeling we get when the lights go down, the volume goes up, and we are enveloped in a sensation of sound and lights? Is this true, deep, genuine passion, or is it a surface emotion? To be sure, many Christians experience true abiding passion that comes from a right relationship with God. But often, we mistake fiery passion for a fleeting emotion. Christ takes this issue seriously. Revelation records that “because you are lukewarm…I will spit you out of my mouth.” True passionate love for God does not come from a good show, but from a deep and abiding relationship with him. Perhaps our entertainment-fueled passion is nothing but a lukewarm nod to God. Perhaps we risk God’s displeasure over our mock passion.
Purity? Is it really present?
Christ also targets the sham purity of this church. He counsels them to “buy from me gold refined by fire…and white garments so that you may clothe yourself.” This church had an issue with purity — or more specifically, the lack thereof. When a church is besot by moral and mental sin, it is difficult to develop the passion we praise. What tolerance do we have for moral laxity in the church today. Our entertainment choices do not reflect a pursuit for purity, but for a salacious interest in moral impurity. True purity comes through Christ, and righteous passion will follow.
Prosperity? For real?
There is no doubt about it; the American church is materially prosperous. But does material prosperity mean that we are spiritually prosperous as well? The Laodicean church thought they were prosperous, too. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” But Christ knew better. “[Youy don’t realize] that you are wretched, poor, pitiable, blind, and naked.” Could it be that our material affluence has contributed to our spiritual bankruptcy? It’s easy to depend on the comfort of riches to insulate us from the coldness of a spiritually depleted life. What would our churches look like if we stripped away everything American, everything technological, everything cultural, everything material, and everything manmade? Would we even have a church left — at least one that we recognize? Let us see our prosperity for what it is — a tool to use for kingdom advancement, not for personal comfort.
Christ’s loving discipline will be dispensed.
Jesus provides a warning for churches in this state: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Perhaps if Jesus entered our churches, he would see our need for discipline. We need to repent of where we have wronged him.
The church has become so consumed with showiness and presentation, that we have neglected the heart of worship. We think that big crowds equal a big impact for God. We attempt to coerce the Holy Spirit to do our bidding, by means of manipulative tricks with lights and sound. Yet true worship has nothing to do with fog machines or sound systems.
In Jesus Made in America, Stephen Nichols writes, “Christians in all cultures and ages have the tendency to impose their understandings and cultural expressions on Scripture or beliefs.” There is nothing wrong with media, with prosperity, or even with fog machines. But there is a need for a purer understanding of Scripture, shed of its cultural accretions.
From Scripture, we see that we are to:
- Cultivate true passion (Revelation 3:15-16)
- Pursue Christ’s purity (Revelation 3:17-18)
- Build true prosperity (Revelation 18)
- Repent of our sin, and welcome Christ into our lives and churches (Revelation 3:19-20)
Let this transformation begin in your heart and in your church.