I know, it’s a stupid headline. Of course God is up to something! He’s always up to something, right? But, in this case I mean something specific.
About 18 months ago, my accountability partner and I started noticing something new happening. God was directing us to clear off our plates of all the extra stuff and focus more and more on Him alone. Kind of get rid of the good and focus on the great as Craig Groeschel would put it. But it wasn’t only us; several other Godly men we knew were getting the same message.
In the meantime, we noticed a distinct change in the church. More and more churches were embracing cultural norms rather than Biblical commands. Church-going Christians were doing the same in larger numbers.
It hit us over coffee one morning that God is winnowing the church; He’s separating the wheat from the chaff! I find this both terrifying and exciting all at once!
If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the years, you know that I’m not an end-of-times guy. The fact is every generation can point to things happening in their era and connect it to the end times. However, we know from scripture that we are moving that way and one of the signs will be people leaving sound doctrine, embracing the culture and becoming apostate.
In the Book of Revelation, John recount Jesus’ rebuke to the churches. Of the seven churches mentioned, only two are doing what Jesus commands; Jesus holds things against five others! Here is what Jesus says about those churches:
· Ephesus – You have forgotten your first love
· Pergamum – People in the church hold to other teachings (Balaam and Nicolaitans)
· Thyatira – They tolerate false teaching and sinful acts without repentance
· Sardis – Dead church; deeds not complete in Jesus’ sight
· Laodicea – Neither hot nor cold, just lukewarm
Two things strike me when I read this section of Revelation. First, it implies that less than a third of our churches will hold to the true doctrine of the gospel, which honestly is depressing. Second, I can see these five issues springing up throughout the American church everywhere! Let me take a moment and just dig a little deeper on these.
What does it mean to forget your first love? As the church, everything we do must be to glorify Jesus. The section tells us that Ephesus was going through the motions doing the right things, but not for the right reason. I liken this to today’s churches that do just like Ephesus: Hate wickedness, test people’s faith, and work hard yet they do so not because they love Jesus but in order to control others, out of legalism, and even spite! The section says Ephesus needs to see the height from which they fell and repent. Many of our current churches have fallen as well – they don’t act out of the love of Christ, they present truth without grace which actually does more harm that good. They aren’t saving people for Jesus, they are using the gospel to beat people and that is not what Jesus calls us to do.
Jesus tells us in John 14:15 that if we love Him, we will obey His commands. In Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me Lord Lord but don’t do what I say?” The church at Ephesus had the appearance of doing all the right things but it wasn’t doing it for the right motive, the love of Christ.
In Pergamum, the church was tolerating other teachings. You see this in the American church everywhere! So many churches have decided that God’s word is not really God’s word at all, just a collection of ancient writings that are meant to guide us. And as a consequence, those churches then pick and choose which parts of God’s word they accept and which they reject, in effect taking the authority away from God and giving it to themselves. As I’ve written before, the real danger here is when anyone determines for themselves what sin is and is not, they can then determine for themselves where they need and don’t need Jesus in their lives. A number of American churches have capitulated to moral relativism instead of the absolute truth of the Bible becoming the church of Pergamum.
Thyatira had a similar problem as Pergamum – false teachings and sin. I’m not a fire and brimstone preacher, but the church has nearly abandoned preaching about sin and hell. It’s not polite, it offends people and we wouldn’t want our congregations to get upset because they may withhold their tithe! Cynical? Yes. True? Yes.
I often preach Matthew 7:21 where Jesus tells the crowd that many will come to Him at the end at say, “Lord Lord” and He will say He never knew them. They will protest that they did healings and exorcisms in His name and Jesus will reply, “Away from me you evil doer.” I preach this because people need to understand that it is not enough to know who Jesus is. You must be born again, become a new creation in Christ, be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, be transformed into the likeness of Christ, and then do as Christ commands! Short of this, I’m sorry to say, you’re going to hell. You will not be with Jesus and you will be very surprised when you hear His words from Matthew 7:21 directed at you! There is a reason Jesus told us the gate is narrow and while many will try to get through only a few will. These are the most frightening words in scripture as far as I am concerned and many of our current churches are plainly missing the message.
Like Thyatira, they preach tolerance of things God clearly calls sin, a doctrine of love without truth, grace without holiness, and forgiveness without repentance. I’m no genius but from what I read that’s not going to cut it with Jesus.
Poor Sardis. How many churches do we see today that are just dead or at least dying? Formerly vibrant churches that became obsessed with self that have now grown old and stale. Instead of sharing the love of Christ outwardly in their communities, they became country clubs taking care of the 99 sheep in the pen instead of searching for the lost one! Today, we see so many churches that no longer “go” and instead “meet” and “fellowship” with programs just for them. The church does not exist for the healthy, we exist to equip the saints to go seek out the sick! Yet, these churches complain about falling membership because people are not just coming to their church as if it’s the 1950s where if you build it they will come!
These churches are not complete in Jesus’ eyes. We are not doing the work of the gospel! We are not going out and making disciples and teaching them everything Jesus taught us! We are not engaged in our communities spending our time, talents and treasure to help the least of these. We are not being a light on a hill, bringing healing to the darkest places in our society. We simply meet on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays and go through the motions. And that is why by conservative figures roughly 4,000 churches are closing a year in America. Simply put, they are dead.
Then there is the last category – the church that is neither hot nor cold that Jesus is just going to spit out of His mouth! Recently, I attended a Pentecostal church called Tabernaculo de Salem – yes, a bilingual church. Talk about a HOT church! It was ROCKING! There was no doubt whatsoever that these people love Jesus! Sure, there was some emotionalism but it was sincere emotionalism from the heart of people who know they are sinners and know even more how much they need Jesus in their lives! It was eye-opening to me because we all think our church is warm and not cold until you see a smoking hot one and realize that you may not be as warm as you think you are!
I want to tell you more about my experience there because I think it make the point Jesus was making about what a lukewarm church looks like.
Lisa and I went there to watch the baptism of a woman to whom we minister at another location. As soon as we got out of the car, someone yelled, “The Manns are here!!!” Kind of creepy, actually, but intriguing all the same. A woman named Deanna came up and said, “We’ve heard all about you and are so glad you are here!” She was incredibly sincere! We tried to hide in the back; we were just there to support the baptism. However, Deanna quickly told us we had to sit up front as honored guests. Then I was introduced to the Pastor, Jerry Miranda. He immediately told me about his church and offered the building to me 24/7 for anything I needed. REALLY??? Who does that? A true 1 Corinthians 12 guy? Unbelievable!
Like I said, the service was powerful! A different style and tradition than what I am used to but clearly Holy Spirit driven with all glory given to Jesus. I was even asked to come lay hands on a missions team who were being blessed.
My friends, that is a church that is alive and well – warm and active. Not one that Jesus will spit out of His mouth for being lukewarm.
It wasn’t just the energy, it was the focus! All glory to God! Jesus was gathered with us. Their focus is outward doing tremendous work in the church. They want to partner with others to do kingdom work. They love as Jesus loves. And they clearly have the spiritual fruit of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self-Control.
How about your church? Is it hot, warm, lukewarm, cold? Laodicea had become lukewarm because it was self-sufficient. It was able to care of itself without having to rely on God. I see a lot of churches – especially the mega church run by celebrity pastors that really are lukewarm. Their message is based less on gospel truths and more on topical “feel-good” messages that focus on you and not Jesus and your need for Jesus.
Our power comes not from ourselves but from Jesus. We are nothing without Him and Laodicea forgot that. Many of our churches today have become Laodicea – they are doing just fine and have lost their zeal for Jesus. Woe to you, as Jesus would say! He’s going to spit you out!
As I said at the beginning of this blog, I am both terrified and excited about what’s happening. I’m terrified because I see the American church going apostate with so few truly holding on to sound doctrine no matter the cost. I see Christian friends abandoning the absolute truths of God for a more palatable gospel that fits better with the times and culture which will get them nothing but a “I never knew you” from Jesus. I grieves me deeply to see Satan blind the eyes of the people I love, convincing them of anything their itching ears what to hear.
Yet, I trust Jesus completely. I trust that His justice is perfect and that He will always do the right thing! As the American church continues to fall away like the churches in Revelation, those of us who are going to stand strong to the end must realize that we will be the ones persecuted for doing so. Scripture is clear on that point as well.
Here’s what I tell people: At the end of the day I’m going to meet Jesus and when that happens, I can more readily defend my belief in everything the Bible says than I can defend picking and choosing only those things I liked. I know that my beliefs will become more and more costly as Christianity gets watered down to look more and more like the culture. So be it. I am willing to pay any cost to follow Jesus and I do so with my eyes wide open.
Is it the end times? Who know? Only the Father, according to Scripture. But times are changing and if you call yourself a Christian you will have to pick a side – will you stand firm or will you compromise? What price are you willing to pay to love Jesus as He loves you?