Modeled After Sardis & Laodicea
What was missing in both Sardis and Laodicea is very similar to what is still missing in many congregations today; a relationship with Jesus Christ. Although the Lord continues to knock on the door, the Sardis/Laodicean style of church remains oblivious to His knocking, believing that He is pleased with the various activities that continually occupy its time; it has learned to excel without the abiding presence of Christ. The church, not the Lord, has won the hearts of this people; their unspoken attitude may be verbalized as follows:
“Wow, thanks God for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can take it from here. We appreciate the greatness of Your sacrifice, but now we want to show You what we can do. By the way, if Jesus wants to come with us, He’s sure welcome. Again thanks, we’ll let you know if we need any additional help.”
When it comes to relationships, lukewarmness is the last thing that a lover wants from his beloved. Lukewarm, mediocre, or average are not the types of expressions one wants to hear, especially regarding the one they are about to marry. This is like a woman who dates a man, but refuses to marry him because she has other priorities she wants to pursue. Instead, she engages in an off-and-on, shallow relationship with him, keeping him on a string but never really committing to him.
The leaders within this form of church are Christians that know about Him and understand foundational theology, but if anyone speaks with them about pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus, that one will quickly be labeled a charismatic fanatic. This is a very controlling leadership and those people who disagree with their direction for the church are strongly encouraged to leave. Their inherent belief is “as long as one’s sins are confessed, and the person is baptized and identified with a church congregation, that is all that is necessary.” They confess a belief in Jesus, but in actuality, how can one believe in someone they don’t really know?
Contrary to what they say, the priorities of these church leaders are not intimacy with Christ, but watching Sunday attendance climb along with the size of the offering. More time is spent organizing programs rather than agonizing in intercessory prayer. Intercessors give way to intellectuals and businessmen now run the church like a business. The Sardis/Laodicean Churches of today must awaken to the fact that baptism and church attendance is not the end, but the very beginning of an ever-progressing relationship with the Lord. We need to become not only His subjects but also His children. He is our Lord and King, but He’s also our Father. Yet, despite the lukewarmness of today’s Laodicean Christians, Christ continues to knock on the door of their hearts. But, unless the individuals of this church awaken and respond to His knocking, they will remain lukewarm and thus, a terrifying time lies ahead. He will spit them out of His mouth, for this is a church that is nauseating to the Lord.
Many of the members of a Laodicean and Sardis church have common parallels with the Israelites when they were delivered out of Egypt only to begin a challenging journey through the wilderness. They were so excited and worshiped the Lord when they were delivered across the Red Sea; but as they experienced the bitter waters in the wilderness, they grumbled and complained that the life of slavery to the Egyptians was far better than the wilderness journey.
It is so easy to express joy when things are going well and this is exactly the scenario that the American church attempts to maintain. We can praise the Lord during a Sunday morning worship service, but do Christians continue to praise Him in the midst of life’s wilderness journey? The lukewarm church does not comprehend that it is the wilderness journey that tests and strengthens the hearts of God’s people and thus, there is little equipping in these churches for the Christian wilderness journey. This form of leadership simply preaches all the good things that God will do, but fails to prepare them for the certainty of a wilderness journey.
While contemplating the differences between the warrior-spirited churches like Smyrna and the weaker Sardis/Laodicean style of leadership, I was reminded of the following story experienced by Al Houghton, a minister of the gospel and a former Navy pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam:
During combat in Vietnam, most of the time is spent in routine tasks, but attack can come suddenly. When hours of routine boredom is turned into 10 minutes of panic, two very visible and dramatically different groupings of men emerged. One group (Smyrna) had already made their decision, “this war is worth the sacrifice of our lives” while the other (Sardis/Laodicea) was somewhere in “limbo land” having not yet made any real commitment. The first group functioned without the paralysis of fear and was empowered to do what was necessary to save lives. Those in the second group were literally “locked up” and looked like they were swimming in molasses. Fear is the spiritual heritage of the unprepared. Fear will be eclipsed by faith if we will embrace the covenant promises of eternal life.
The Sardis/Laodicean style of church is commonplace in America today; they have repackaged God so as to make Him user-friendly. The God who deeply desires a relationship with His Bride and is jealous for His holiness has been elbowed aside and replaced by a happier faced model of Christ who always smiles approvingly at whatever we say or do. How could anyone who has met the living God, the all-consuming fire, become lukewarm about Him?