There is a brand of Christianity that is always talking about the cross and the importance of dying to self. At best it is an imbalanced over-emphasis–a half-truth–and at worst, flat-out error. It promotes sin-conscious introspection, feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, self-hatred, unworthiness, spiritual paralysis, and legalism. It promotes spiritual pride in a reverse sort of way—you are esteemed for how worthless you feel about yourself and how “humble” you have become in appearance to others who control access to power in the specific church culture.
The city of Laodicea was founded around 260 BC, in the Lycus River valley in what is now Turkey. It was a bustling city known for its great wealth from medicine, textiles/wool and finance. Laodicea was so wealthy that when it suffered a major earthquake in 60 AD, they refused the support of the Empire and financed their own rebuild.
Laodicea had it all – except water. So they constructed two aqueducts. One sourced from the cold mountain water of Colossae, and the other flowed from the hot springs of Hierapolis. However, by the time the cold fresh mountain water from Colossae and the hot, healing waters from Hierapolis flowed through the aqueducts, the water had become lukewarm. This provides some context for the images that John writes concerning the Laodicean Church in Revelation 3:14-22.
The Spirit of the Lord challenges the citizens of Laodicea on their self-sufficiency stemming from their wealth. They think they are rich because of their finance, textile and eye medicine, but the Lord sees them as blind, bankrupt, and threadbare. We also find this strong statement: I wish you were hot or cold but because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth!
The image of cold speaks of the refreshing that cold mountain water brings. Likewise, hot speaks of the healing, therapeutic aspect of the hot springs. They are neither refreshing or therapeutic – they are lukewarm. The religious elite of Jesus’ day had some lofty thoughts about God, they knew the scriptures well and lived with moral excellence. They had become comfortable, all about their traditions, interpretations, practices and knowledge but missed the very Messiah they had been anticipating. In spite of their religious prosperity, they were neither refreshing to others (cold) nor were they healing and comforting (hot).
Laodicea: What could this mean for us as a church today?
What if lukewarm is where we are no longer refreshing to others, or no longer healing and a comfort to folks? Is this the same as salt losing its saltiness? Could it be that sometimes despite all our great doctrines, practices and traditions we have subtly lost sight of Jesus and His mission? The place where to love God and love others as Jesus loves us becomes a mere platitude or a sappy sentiment? To do so is to be lukewarm.
I am not diminishing the importance of healthy theology or healthy practice, but they are not an end unto themselves. They posture us towards Someone and something greater – Jesus and His mission. This posture helps free us from the trap of self-righteousness that is often so darn intoxicating and yet makes us so lukewarm. Like the Church in Laodicea, we are invited deeper into a relationship with King Jesus. It is here that we discover what it means to buy gold refined in the fire, to be clothed in the garment of Heaven, and to buy medicine for our eyes so that we might see, really see! This is to be hot and therapeutic or cold and refreshing for a world that longs for good news that is actually Good News!
Copyright 2014, Michael Rose. Michael is a spiritual director and the author of Becoming Love, Avoiding Common Forms of Christian Insanity.
His passion is to help others to learn to live loved and live lives of love. He blogs at IamSignificant.ca
Like sequels to a lousy B-grade horror movie, bad ideas often get recycled in the Body of Christ. It happened again for me this week in a painful phone conversation with a dear, damaged, soul. The bad-penny doctrine I am referring to is the concept of absolute submission to an alleged “spiritual covering” as a necessity for your spiritual welfare and advance. The spiritual covering is allegedly embodied in your pastor/leader, etc. This issue has been hit hundreds if not thousands of times over the years by myself and other authors and bloggers. As confirmed by my phone conversation this week, like a zombie, it just won’t die. For Jesus’ sake, and for the well being of His church, I am going to briefly hit it again here.
Clichés lodge in our minds for a reason: they’re catchy, memorable. However, they’re frequently only capable of capturing a partial truth . . . or maybe no truth at all. A preacherism cliché that is often heard in teachings and especially among “de-churched” folks goes something like this: “I am a human being, not a human doing.” I know what that statement is trying to reach: we are more to, and for, God than what we can produce. I understand how a nagging sense of inadequacy before God can be paralyzing. However, in Christ’s kingdom, being and doing are not in competition with each other and being is not superior to doing. They are incomplete without each other.
Understanding Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 is critical to understanding all of the new testament and the genuine spiritual authority of a new covenant priesthood. These two Psalms are the scriptural base the apostles used to “justify” the existence of a new order of priesthood based on resurrection life! It is not an exaggeration to say, that the apostle’s interpretation and application of these two Psalms is the doctrinal foundation of the entire new testament, as they tried to explain the “Christ-event” to their generation.
Abusive spiritual authority is epidemic. Reactionary responses to abusive authority are also epidemic. My friends Don Atkin, Greg Austin, and myself address what genuine kingdom authority looks like: a serving nation of priests, patterned after the Head, the High Priest of our faith, the resurrected God-man, Jesus, the Messiah. That requires, as Desi used to say to Lucy, “some ‘splainin’.”
Abusive spiritual authority is epidemic. Reactionary responses to abusive authority are also epidemic. My friends Don Atkin, Greg Austin, and myself address what genuine kingdom authority looks like: a serving nation of priests, not chief executives and “visionaries” of an organization. In this installment, Greg Austin talks about the “descending priesthood” as a necessity for genuine NT kingdom authority.
In Matthew 18, the people asking the questions (and Jesus) were Semites/Jews. Their background, worldview, and psychology (self and other awareness) were not the same as ours. The backdrop for trespass and “aught against” was the Mosaic Law, and their psychology was corporate/others-centered, not individualistic. If we import our western values and sensibilities into the text, we will misunderstand, and misapply it, with resulting great negative consequences.
Neither Jesus nor Paul, practiced Matthew 18 the way it is typically taught and implemented in many local churches.
Jesus publicly rebuked Peter and called him a name (satan).  According to typical understanding, this violates the alleged requirement of Mt. 18 of first speaking privately with a brother with whom you have an issue. Jesus didn’t take Peter aside and gently try to “counsel him” so as not to hurt Peter’s “feelings” and “offend” him. It was . . . bam . . . there it is . . . an action that feel-good American Church culture is incapable of embracing as biblically legitimate, yet accurately reflects part of Christ’s nature. Christ is not conflicted in His own ethic.