The Lukewarm Church

by Mike Ratliff

30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. (Ezekiel 33:30-32 ESV)

In the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3 contain the seven letters Christ dictated to John to be sent to seven churches that existed in John’s time in Asia Minor. I have heard several sermons and read some exposits of these chapters that were geared towards these seven churches each representing one of the seven church ages. For this to be true there would have to be seven separate, distinct church ages that we could clearly line up with the each church description in these two chapters. First, let me say that I am not 100% convinced that this is valid, but it is intriguing.

For reference here are the seven churches and the church age each “represents.”

  • Ephesus – the apostolic period of the church (A.D. 30-100).
  • Smyrna – the age of martyrs of the church in the second and third centuries.
  • Pergamos – the age of the state church, beginning with Constantine and continued until the first pope was recognized to have authority over the Roman Catholic church (A.D. 313-590).
  • Thyatira – this church corresponds to the time period when the church was firmly established not only as a church, but also as a state (A.D. 590-1517). It begins with the first pope, Gregory the Great, and continues to the time of the Protestant Reformation.
  • Sardis – this church represents the Reformation era of the church (A.D. 1517-1790).
  • Philadelphia – represents the age of the missionary church which began with the rise of modern missions under William Carey (A.D. 1730-1900).
  • Laodicea – represents the apostate or lukewarm church of the last days (A.D. 1900-present).

Again, I am not completely convinced of the validity of this hypothesis, however, it is compelling in many respects. I would like to concentrate on the last church mentioned, Laodicea, because I do believe that its description by the Lord Jesus in Revelation 3:14-22 does resemble the sorry condition of the Church in our own time. Here is the passage in its entirety.

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:14-22 ESV)

Needless to say, I have also heard various interpretations of what Jesus meant by “lukewarm.” Some feel that this is describing a church that has lost its fire. Some believe that  they are simply distracted. All they need to do is get busy again. Others have said that Jesus’ description, taken in its entirety, gives us a picture of a church full of unregenerate, unredeemed, lost people who are simply religious. I am in agreement with the latter. I also am in full agreement that Jesus’ description of the church of Laodicea is a valid comparison with the 21st Century church we are in now.

Let’s dig some here in this passage to see what markers Jesus was pointing out to us that we can compare to our own experience. First, he says that they are neither cold nor hot, but are lukewarm. This lukewarmness could also be described as halfheartedness. In the passage I placed at the top of this post we read of God’s description of the Judean exiles in Babylon with Ezekiel. He says they delight in “religious” things, but only to be entertained by them, not to hear from Gods in order to obey Him. Does that sound familiar? Doesn’t the Willow Creek and/or Purpose Driven Church models create church environments actually built entirely in and around entertaining these types of people? The Seeker Sensitive churches actually create an climate that encourages this.

The next characteristic we see in v17 is that these people in Laodicea were backsliders. They were sinful unregenerate people. The Puritans referred to these people as “temporary Christians.” They believed when it was convenient for them to do so, but as soon as things got tough they split. As long as the only requirements put on them are religious in nature then they stay and appear to be part of the church, however, as soon as God’s genuine requirements of personal holiness are brought to bear they can’t stand. They are all form and function with no spiritual substance. They can stay and be content in a formal church setting, but forget that repentance stuff.

The Laodiceans were also indifferent. “Hey, so what if that speaker we had in here last week is anti-Trinitarian, he spoke well and I got a lot out of his message.” I call this the Unitarian complex. This is prevalent today within the Emergent Leaders, their mouthpieces, and apologists. They accuse everyone who has a problem with their indifference of being judgmental. 

We see also that since these are unredeemed, unregenerate people they are also subject to reprobation. They have no way to control their sinful desires because they do not have the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Since they can’t control their sinful desires they do away with the “rules” so that all are welcome. After all, God doesn’t expect anyone to be perfect and He loves everyone the same, so come on in.

They are self-righteous. Their theology has blinded them to the point that they see themselves as having a corner on God. Why? They have a secret. The secret to having a corner on God like them is possess that same secret. While we study theology to know God as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, they say this is a work of pride and God wants us to be humble so the secret is to profess that it is impossible to know the truth and so this “humility” God will bless. This is post-modern Gnosticism. They have him while everyone else calling themselves Christians are simply bogged down in old-fashioned religion. They say they are rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing. Even in their paganism they believe they are on the inside track with God while, in reality, they are in spiritual poverty, They are full of the world and destitute with God. Their spiritual blindness keeps them from seeing their own condition. Instead they see what they want to see. When a believer rebukes them or shares the truth with them they scoff and refuse to listen. This is Spiritual Pride.

So, does Jesus’ description of the church at Laodicea bear any resemblance to our 21st Century church? I say yes. We are in the midst of a very long and protracted downgrade that Charles Spurgeon fought in his day. We are reaping the fruits of well over an hundred years of growing apostasy that began with the liberalization of the church in the 19th century. Humanism has all but replaced the genuine Gospel with a counterfeit gospel that preaches a different Jesus. Spiritual blindness is rampant. Church after church is falling under the spell of the Purpose Driven Church model where within the sheep are entertained and taught to focus on each other rather than God.

The high-jacking of the church is nearly complete. There are two clear paths before us. Either God sends a tremendous awakening to counter Satan’s lies or the Church we have before us is the Great Harlot that is judged by God in the Great Tribulation. I fear that the latter is the most probable, but I pray for the former. God’s will be done.

Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “The Lukewarm Church

  1. Andrew Miller, in his series of Short Papers on Church History, uses that basic approach. He was a 19th century man and the historicist view you’ve described was common in that era. I agree that it is interesting but am more convinced that the entire letter was written with the entire age in the mind of God when He directed John to write what he saw.

    I think churches that align with each of the 7 in chapters 2 & 3 exist in each generation.

    There is no doubt that many are polluted by man centered theology, Finney with a Rick Warren book cover. There are many who would rather trade with the guilds than suffer a little and stand for the Truth.

    We do need to be encouraged to stand on the Word of God as our foundation and under the Word of God as our authority. Thank you, Mike and press on for the glory of our Lord and the good of His people.

  2. Hello Mike,

    I haven’t left a message and I haven’t had much time to read your posts recently, but I saw this one. To bring you up-to-date, I left Willow Creek 6 years ago, and now I’m a deacon of my local church.

    We have about 40 people here. And I’m frustrated. No one, and I mean NO ONE wants to hear the gospel, and people think I’m homophobic and worse because I believe God’s word to be the absolute truth. Trying to share the gospel is like pulling teeth. Try it on Facebook, no one will listen who are unbelievers. A friend of mine who went through a bad divorce, I counseled over for 3 years, and finally, he had had enough and renounced his faith in Christ. I’m saddened and frustrated by it. I asked the Lord for wisdom on sharing the Gospel with him, trying to mentor him…and yet, here we are. I am not giving up, because I am still alive to point hi to Christ and Jesus never gave up on this rotten sinner. How can I?

    As our church is shrinking as people leave, or grow old and pass on, trying to get new members is usually reserved for those already saved, rather than presenting the Gospel and seeing people be regenerated, because everyone rejects the Gospel. And of course, I have to battle my own flesh daily. I hate it, because it wants to do fleshly things all the time. I hate sin, I hate it, hate it, and hate it, and hate what I see Satan and his minions doing to my friends, family, colleagues, and others. And I need to hate it even more.

    All that (sorry) to say that I agree with your assessment. It’s like Satan is just running rampant all over us. People lack discernment and wisdom. While I need a lot more, I really wonder if we are about to live in 2 Thessalonians:

    9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

    Obviously, he has not been revealed yet. But brother, I have to believe we are close. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

  3. Mike my thoughts in ( brackets ) on this section of this passage from Revelation 3: 17-18

    ” For you say, I am rich ( I am “Saved.”) , I have prospered ( I am getting / going to “Heaven”), and I need nothing ( “No need to change / strive or repent “) , not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked ( Living under a false so-called ‘gospel’.) 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire ( Repent ) , so that you may be rich ( Eyes Opened ), and white garments ( The Spirit of Holiness ) so that you may clothe yourself ( covered with Holiness by His grace of Repentance and walking in the Spirit of His Holiness ) and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes ( Spirit of Holiness to guide ), so that you may see.”

  4. I agree with what you’re saying. However, I don’t think that the churches represent church ages. Those who believe this also believe that the reference in the letter to Philadelphia about keeping them from the trial to come on the whole earth is to do with the rapture. If that was the case, we would have missed it. Also, the church is different in places of persecution. Laodicea would not describe those believers who live under the threat of prison or loss of life for their faith in Christ. I do heartily agree that Laodicea represents the vast majority of those in the west who call themselves Christians or Christ Followers. I also believe we’re very close to the end when the man of lawlessness will be revealed. We’re facing world wide persecution for true believers. My flesh shudders, but my spirit knows that God is with us through all circumstances as he is with other believers suffering persecution & grace is given as needed, not before it’s needed. Thank you for your work teaching the truth of what the Word is saying. May more people listen & repent of their sins, surrendering to the Lordship of Christ.

  5. those attending worship services at Grainger Community Church singing 1980s rock hits, or Newspring Church singing ac/dc in church, or those watching the Grinch Stole Christmas or Michael Jackson Thriller in church will quickly realize how shallow their spiritual life really is, once persecution towards the True Church becomes unavoidable. however some of us will understand full well what is taking place when it happens. we will have already studied up in the Word of God, put on the full armor of God, and thus be more prepared than our other feel-good half. in matthew 24 Jesus said caution trouble ahead….. that means caution trouble ahead,

    ~andy k

Comments are closed.